My first encounter with the term “Spiritual Discipline” was in my college years. I was eager to learn, and devoured the one book most people I knew were reading as well, one by Richard Foster.
(Fast forward a few years…and add in my love for Sola Scriptura) The past several years of enjoying various works by Puritan pastors and theologians, I’ve realized that Foster was not writing anything new (though he does sway away from Scripture at times). He was writing anew for his generation, but these ideas are not new. And the Puritans, who wrote with a dependance on Scripture, were not the first to pass on these traditions. But, they wrote about them beautifully, and draw you in with the beauty and goodness of these ancient paths.
In “The Glory of Christ” John Owen writes about these means of grace:
“The apostle gives thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). Indeed, the beginning here and the fullness of glory hereafter are communicated to believers by an almighty act of the will and grace of God. But yet He has ordained ways and means whereby they may be made receptive subjects of the glory to be communicated to them. That this way and means is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith shall be fully declared in our progress. This should excite us to this duty; for all our present glory consists in our preparation for future glory. Virtue will proceed from a real view of Christ’ glory in a transforming power to change us “into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). How this is done and how we become like Christ by beholding His glory will be fully declared in our progress.”1
My denomination, the PCA, has beautiful teachings on the ‘means of grace.’ Thus, in this summer’s ladies’ fellowships we will be discussing a few–as a means of encouraging one another and as Hebrews teaches, stimulating one another to love and good deeds. Having just finished a study on Galatians, we will ponder what it is to “sow to the Spirit” and reap from the Spirit. (Galatians 6). Some of these ‘means’ or ‘disciplines’ are obvious to us, as when Jesus teaches “when you pray…” and “when you fast…” but others we infer from many passages–like pondering how often Jesus retreated to be alone with the Father up on a mountain, and how Paul’s ministry began by retreating for a season of solitude, how do we seek solitude and come out refreshed and ready for fellowship and serving God? True Christians need and thrive on discipline–Spirit-willed self-control, seeking first the Kingdom of God, being constantly nourished on His Words. Yet, it is all too easy to try to turn the Christian life into “morning devotions” of reading something written by a contemporary, saying grace before a meal or two, and attending weekly worship services. We were born into much more, we called to something much richer, more deeply satisfying. These ‘disciplines’ are not a way of earning, or a way of manipulating God; they are a way we crucify a bit of flesh, take off the old and put on the new. They are a way that we enter into being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and being transformed by that renewing (His renewing). These disciplines are a way for us to enjoy the intimacy with (and dependance upon) God that we so deeply long for. Foster defined it as our making room for His grace. We come boldly before the throne! We enter His throne room begging grace, and finding deep stores poured out into us. We pull out the weeds, and we tap into the Vine, in ways He’s invited us to. We walk in what Paul termed ‘the obedience of faith’ (Romans 1 and 16).
In order to refresh myself I’ve been reading “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald Whitney. When he started quoting the Puritans I knew I was reading just the right book! Seriously though, he gives a very Biblical explanation, and encouraging advice for how to enter into several different disciplines with a heart to know God, to love God, and to live for God’s glory. I look forward to a summer immersed in these thoughts. One last post on Owen to follow, check back next week!