This is the fourth in a series of posts about the spiritual disciplines. Understanding the disciplines is incredibly important. They are tools for cultivating the kind of persistent connectedness Jesus calls each of us to when he invites us to follow him.
Some have suggested we need to use a different term. “We don’t want to turn people away from the disciplines,” they say, “by using a term with negative connotations.” The Western church today is in desperate need of disciples. We need to stop practicing discipleship and start being disciples, and e don’t want people to reject an invitation to the life of a disciple because of a response to the word discipline.
Listen, I get it. However, the truth is the life of a disciple is difficult. Jesus never promised following him would be easy. In fact, he promised quite the opposite.
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
And the disciplines themselves are no joke. It may be relatively easy to read a chapter or two of scripture each day or toss up a prayer before meals and bedtime. But reading in a manner that connects us to the vine requires some intentionality, and you can’t just decide to start praying continually. What about fasting? If fasting doesn’t hurt a bit, you are probably not fasting. Silence? Have you ever tried to live a day in silence, no emails, social media, music, television?
Spiritual disciplines are not easy. They require effort. They require intention. If that bothers you, if you think the idea of working hard to follow Jesus is somehow a denial of God’s free gift of grace, let me point you to a frequent saying from my favorite thinker and theologian, Dallas Willard. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”
Some of the folks who have suggested replacing the phrase spiritual disciplines with spiritual practices are people I love and have a great deal of respect for. I mean no disrespect, but I think it is important we be clear from the start. Practicing the disciplines, living the life of a disciple, is not easy. It requires effort and discipline. Frankly, if you are not ready to give everything, including your effort and intention, to following Jesus you may not be ready to be a disciple.