“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” Mark 4:8 (NIV)
Our faith is more of a journey than a destination. That may not be a profound statement. In fact, you probably have heard me use it before in various contexts. I begin this month’s newsletter contribution with such a statement because of where I will be heading in the coming weeks with the next series of sermons. I am not exactly focusing on the subject of faith in and of itself, but rather the journey aspect and how it is that we make forward progress along the way. To suggest that our maturation into the image of Christ is quick and simple would be deceiving, so let me be honest. The process of wholeness through Christ is hard. Is it rewarding? Without a doubt. But easy? Far from it.
So, what do we do and where do we turn in order that we might grow in our faith and see fruitful development within our souls? I am glad you asked! As I began to write this article, Kelsie came up to me and asked, “How can you type so fast and without looking at the keys.” I told her it has come through years of practice and that long ago I could only search for and click the keys a letter at a time. I then shifted to a comparison to which she can currently relate. A few months ago, Kelsie began taking piano lessons. Each Tuesday afternoon I take her to Wilson where she meets with a lady who is well-versed in the piano and has been teaching for several years. While Kelsie may have a formal lesson on Tuesday afternoons, learning to play the piano takes practice in between sessions. The teacher provides Kelsie with weekly assignments and a place for Marci or me to sign indicating she has put in X number of minutes in a week. While Kelsie does not always like to practice, we try to instill in her the importance of the weekly assignments. As she does it frequently, her ability to play the piano will become more natural.
Practice goes a long way in our faith development as well. But how do we go about this? It is not the same as piano lessons and sitting in front of eighty-eight keys and a sheet of music. Herein lies the importance of spiritual disciplines. I know that word “discipline” does not exactly sound exciting, so let me explain. When we hear “discipline,” our minds may revert back to our childhood days and those times in which we disobeyed our parents. Such disobedience often resulted in grounding, loss of certain privileges, or even a spanking. The resulting discipline most likely did not feel good in the moment, but it did teach us something about respect, responsibility, and remembering household guidelines. However, to describe something as not “discipline,” but rather “a discipline” it means, according to the Collins English Dictionary, “something that, in order to be successful in it, you need to behave in a strictly controlled way and obey particular rules or standards.” In this understanding, it is not a repercussion for something done wrong, but rather a means by which to become more proficient in a given area.
Many people are wanting something more in their experience of God, but simply do not have the right resources to help them feed, nurture, and strengthen this aspect of their lives. By this, I am not suggesting a certain Study Bible or the latest read by a well-known author. I am, however, suggesting the importance of those practices which enable one to move deeper in his or her commitment to Christ and the living out of one’s faith. Spiritual disciplines provide us with the tools necessary to help foster a thriving relationship with God. Some years ago, Richard Foster penned a work entitled A Celebration of Discipline which considers various practices which are aimed at enriching our faith by inviting us into new and creative means of approaching God. One thing that can appear intimidating about a discussion of spiritual disciplines is the movement toward deeper things. Much modern Christianity has become focused on the latest fads and whatever causes one to feel good. As a result, many expressions of Christianity have a superficial nature to them. This means such Christians have become content with a surface understanding of the faith and, when the challenges of life come along, they are ill-prepared for what is to follow. God longs for us to put down good roots in order that we might be established, nourished, and enabled to bear the good fruit which results in a bountiful harvest.
Over the coming Sundays, we will consider various practices which can, when they become a regular part of our lives, prepare us for a better understanding of the Christian life, to enjoy our relationship with God, and for how better to practice our beliefs.
Growing Deeper Together,
The Reverend Kelley Smart