Sunday, 20 March 2011

Disciplines for Disciples

I always find that Lent reminds me of some of the basics I tend to forget. One of these basics is the notion of having "good habits" in my life

Christian discipleship begins with a decision that is then constantly renewed. Becoming like Christ is the result of the commitments we make as we co-operate with God. Nothing shapes our lives more than the commitments we chose. We become what we are committed to. The question is who or what will get our commitment? And that is where good habits come it.

Scriptures often compares training for the Christian life to the way athletes stay in shape. “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but the discipline of religion has far greater value, with its promise of life, here and hereafter” (1Tim 4:7,8).  The path to spiritual fitness is as practical as physical fitness. If we just keep it on the level of some vague, mystical aspiration – it will never happen.

Just Do It!

We learn by Doing

We learn by doing. This is true in all areas of life. For a believer it  is possible to be theologically knowledgeable but spiritually ignorant, having much theory but no experience of the divine reality. Spiritual maturity is not measured by what you know. We are indeed called to grow more and more in knowledge of God and the Christian life. But maturity in the disciple is demonstrated more by behaviour than by beliefs. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

All the theory in the world will not change me. No one learns to ride a bicycle or play the violin by reading about bicycles or violins. We have to get up on the bicycle or pick up the violin. In the same way, we learn to pray by praying. And the more we pray the better we get at praying.

Christian Character
It was a wise man who said:  “Sow a thought and you reap and act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”  Our characters are shaped in great measure by the habits we develop. Character is made in the small moments of our lives not in crises. Rather times of crises reveal our characters. For example, a life lived yielded to God’s will comes from the habit of daily surrender, even in small matters. Christ’s surrender to the Father’s purposes did not begin in the terrible crisis of Gethsemani. He could say: “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29).

Strength of character comes out of the decisions we make, the temptations we face, and the struggles we endure.  Dostoevsky said: “The second half of a person’s life is made up of the habits he acquired during the first half.” And the great Catholic thinker Pascal believed that “the strength of a person’s virtue is measured by his habitual acts.”

Good habits, patterns and rhythms in one's daily life that support and sustain us in our Christian discipleship are essential.

Some people do not like the notion of habits when speaking of the spiritual life. They feel that their relationship with the Lord should be spontaneous. No one wants to advocate mindless routine. But we readily understand that for our physical health good habits of diet and exercise are essential. In the same way, our spiritual well-being and growth are very practical matters.