An Open Book

I recently said goodbye to a good friend who is being led by God to the other side of the country. It shouldn’t be one of those things that affects our relationship; we have the sort of friendship that you can get together after month’s apart and the intimacy is still there. As if it were only a day. His being far away just gives me an excuse to see somewhere new.


His moving is going to bring he and his wife closer to her family, a fact that is going to change the dynamics of the relational system of their marriage. A fact that I pointed out to my friend, along with things he can consider in order to lead his family and prepare for the new situation.

Imagine the irony of me doling out marital advice, and my friend who knows all my mistakes sopping it up eagerly. I don’t know why I get surprised, but I am. That God can (well, it’s not that He can that surprises, but that He does) continually put me in situations in which my experience has value. He is able to use it, and I can be a blessing to a friend who is yearning to define himself as a man in his marriage.

In the course of our time together, we somehow got on the topic of discipline. Maybe because we are both very similar, and for some reason, while the desire is there, discipline does not come easy to us. This is my year of discipline that flows out of God’s love, and my friend is going back to school in order to be forced to study the Bible. That’s an expensive way to develop discipline.

There really is a tension to developing spiritual discipline. On the one hand it can be just a routine. The thing you check off on you list in the morning. Pray. Check. Read the Bible. Check. “What’s next? Oh, it’s Thursday, my google calendar says I need to fast.” Check. It becomes such a routine, habitual behavior that the reasons for engaging in it are lost. “Why do you fast? Well, obviously because it’s Thursday.” There becomes a disconnect. You have a big heaping order of discipline, but hold the spiritual. It’s just something you do, like washing your hair. “Lather, rinse, repeat.” (By the way, how many of you actually follow those directions and repeat?)

On the other side is the person who practices discipline in order to prove themselves to God and everyone else. Much like the pharisee described by Jesus who thanked God that he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of everything. That is what made the Pharisee different, and in his own eyes, what made him closer to God than the tax collector. His discipline was his justification.

Be honest, as you read that, you have someone in mind. We have all met that person who when you ask how their week was or how they are doing in their relationship with Jesus, they will regale you with a list of all they have done. For them, spiritual and discipline are expressly linked. And that’s how they know God loves them, because they perform enough disciplines. The measurement of success is how long did I pray for, how many chapters did I read in my Bible, how many meals did I miss, and let me count how much time and money I gave. There is always a record for those practicing self justification or works righteousness.

Where then do we land on the spiritual disciplines? Why practice them, if not to prove your righteous worth? What value do they have?

Disciplines provide the opening for God.

When we fast, pray, read, give generously, meditate on scripture, or any of the others, we open ourselves up to the God who saves us. We show that our lives our open to him. He is allowed to come in and continue his work. They serve as a reminder to us that there is a God who is bigger than we are. Disciplines are the opening.

What better way to open yourself to dependence than to fast.

How better to trust than to give generously.

Nothing fosters the reality of a relationship like prayer, reflection, and listening (you do listen, don’t you? or do you just implore?)

When scripture is meditated on, it is thoroughly digested and becomes part of who you are.

Disciplines are the opening. More than a routine, they are a connection point to the God who loves us. In an of themselves, they do not make us righteous, but they allow us to remain in the one who is righteous on our behalf. Through our disciplines we open ourselves up to God. Then He can flow out.

I’ll miss seeing my friend, I only hope to remember to send him an email.
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