In 1980 theologian Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline, a book that explores spiritual disciplines. Based on the notion that ‘deep calls to deep’ (Psalm 42:7), Foster’s text invites us to respond to the call for deeper, fuller living. He outlines the following four inward disciplines as a pathway to such living.
Of all the disciplines, Foster states that prayer is central. Many see prayer as primarily asking things of God, but this is secondary to the main function of prayer which is to keep us in constant communion with God. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us, and He always meets us where we are at and moves us into deeper things.
Try this: Go through the gospels and highlight or write out all the references to Jesus praying or speaking about prayer. What do you observe? What can you learn from Jesus and apply to your own practice of prayer?
Biblical fasting involves abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. There are other things from which we can abstain for the sake of intense spiritual activity such the media, technology, advertising, television or consumer culture. Is it important, however, that we undertake the practice of fasting in a way that is initiated and ordained by God, and has His purposes foremost. A side-benefit of fasting is that it can reveal the things that control us and help us rebalance life. Is God calling you to fast from something so that you might spend more intimate time with Him?
Study involves asking questions and being analytical about the things that are around us – both verbal (eg. books, lectures, the media) and nonverbal (eg. nature, events, actions). Studying helps us to understand the reality around us as we observe and reflect upon what we have witnessed. It then enables our minds to move in a certain direction, perhaps to become free of fears and anxieties or to discover truth and freedom. Foster outlines four key steps in studying: repetition, concentration, comprehension and reflection. Which of these four do you think is the most important in bringing about personal transformation?
While study is analytical, meditation is devotional. Foster describes Christian meditation as a recreating silence that provides the emotional and spiritual space to hear God’s voice and obey His word. Contrary to Eastern forms of meditation that encourage the emptying of the mind, Christian mediation encourages the filling of the mind with Christ.
Try this: Find a time and a place that is free of distractions. Close your eyes and place your palms down as a symbol of all the things of which you need to let go. Name these things if it helps. After a while, perhaps when you feel a sense of release, turn your palms up as a symbol of being ready to receive from God. Do not ask for anything during this time, just let the Lord speak into your heart.
Foster also outlines some outward and corporate disciplines as well, but I encourage those of you who are interested to obtain a copy of his book for yourselves. In the pages not only can you read about these disciplines, but Foster also offers a study guide that includes daily scripture readings, questions and suggestions for further reading.