6.Spiritual Discipline or Christian Practice?

CHAPTER TWO: A FAITH PRACTICE TAKES PRACTICE

The Christian life is a training ground

As a Kinesiology professor at a Christian college, my office was in the athletic complex. Around 3:00 p.m. on a typical weekday, athletes would begin streaming past my door on their way to practice-a two-hour period for which the coaches had made distinct plans for individual and team improvement. Most of us can relate to this notion that sports performance is enhanced by daily practice of the techniques and strategies necessary to be competitive. The same holds true in music; becoming proficient on one’s instrument takes years of daily practice with repetition of scales and scores on one’s own, as well as corporate practice with the band, orchestra, or ensemble.

So we have a natural understanding that these kind of skills-athletic and musical- require much repetitive practice to grow as an athlete or musician. But, this is often where this application breaks down. Once out of school, our busy lives fog our thinking when it comes to purposeful planning and practicing and cultivating maturation in our faith life. The Christian life is a training ground for eternity. We must, then, submit to its daily practice.

There are two important ways Christians can nurture and deepen their faith. One is to participate in any number of spiritual disciplines like the study of Scripture, prayer, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. The other is to engage in multiple Christian practices including worship, prayer, feasting, testimony, and the breaking of bread.

Notice here the similarities and differences between the two approaches. Both the spiritual disciplines and Christian practices take intention, planning, and follow-through. They require submissive and sacrificial practice that is consistent and repetitive, not unlike the way an athlete shows up to practice and follows a coach’s directions and plan. Both take time and personal investment.   Most importantly, both are formative in nature, meaning that when practiced consistently they become embedded in our daily responses, rhythms, and reasoning, and make us more skilled at handling change, challenge, and the needs of others with grace and wisdom. In other words, through time and practice we mature in virtuous living and Christlikeness, training to one day stand on holy ground.

The critical difference between spiritual disciplines and Christian practices is that the spiritual disciplines are practiced individually, much like a musician practices scales, whereas the Christian practices are performed in and through community with other believers-with an ensemble or the entire orchestra if you will. One has to do with “me” and the other “we”. Table 2.1 helps show where these activities overlap and where they are distinct.

Table 2.1. The Spiritual Disciplines and the Christian Practices

Both (Me and We) Spiritual Disciplines (Me) Christian Practices (We)
Prayer Sabbath keeping Worship
Bible study Solitude Hearing Scripture & teaching
Fasting Frugality Fellowship
Confession Honoring the body Feasting
Forgiveness, Reconciliation Testimony
Lament Hospitality
Submission and Obedience Co-mission
Sacrifice Breaking of bread
Stewardship
Discernment

Undertaking these actions in both our individual and corporate Christian life is not easy, especially at first. Life has a way of getting in the way. But, the more we practice the more likely these will become life habits that help condition and train us in ways which fortify our souls and insulate us against life’s trials and vagaries. In every way, they strengthen our ability to respond to God and neighbor. More importantly, the spiritual disciplines and Christian practices work together to form in us the twin habit of looking for God and looking to God in every life situation.  We will continue this discussion of being a practicing Christian next time, and you will begin to understand how and why the shared meal is, truly, a Christian practice in our homes and the Church.

If this blog is helping you, please leave a comment to stimulate further discussion!

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4 thoughts on “6.Spiritual Discipline or Christian Practice?

  1. Thank you Professor Walton for your messages. In my walk with Christ, I’m desiring more of Him in all of my life. May you be blessed in all you’re doing to challenge us…you are blessing me. Evelyn Thompson

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    1. You are welcome Evelyn, one of my best students ever! I know you work full time, and I think we easily get tangled up in thinking we have to DO everything, and that there are not enough hours in a day, especially a weekday. Still, there are ways, big and small, to make sure that the really important things get done. The thing about the practices is that they only work when we SHARE them! And, everybody’s got to eat, so the MEAL is the PERFECT place and time to come together. Thanks for reading and for the encouragement!

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  2. I really like the thought of the Christian practices being the community expression of the spiritual disciplines. Not sure I completely understand the chart – is there supposed to be a correspondence between the 3 columns?

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    1. The chart columns DO have overlap. It is really supposed to be a visual way to picture (in your mind) all the different ways the faith community practices together (most of which we DO but don’t always recognize we are DOING them, and some of which we ignore or relegate to a lesser importance in the way we live out our life in the church). I agree the chart needs editing 🙂

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