Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Understanding Spiritual Formation Conclusion: More You and Less of Me

One of my favorite bands is a group of guys I met at a musical festival several years ago. They gave me one of their CDs out of the back of their trailer as they rolled out of time. I probably play that CD more than any other CD I own. I don’t even know if they’re still together, but Telecast’s song “More of You” is always a powerful reminder to me of the secret of life. The words of the chorus are simple:
More of You and less of me
Jesus come and be a light in me
Burn like the sun for the world to see
Be glorified

This is the secret of the fruitful life. The more Jesus shines through us, the more He will be glorified. The more Jesus is glorified, the more fruitful our lives will be.

Every time I hear this song, I think of a story about Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. Many of John’s followers were leaving him to follow Jesus and some felt that maybe John should do something to keep his followers with him. John responded by reminding the people that he had only come to point the way to Jesus. He said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Disciplining ourselves spiritually is necessary if we are going to allow our lives to be a channel for more of Jesus and less of us. Spiritual disciplines are regular activities which help us refocus our eyes on Christ and help enable the formative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Virtually any activity (that isn’t inherently sinful) can serve as a spiritual discipline, if it is done to assist you in the process of focusing more on Jesus and less on yourself. As you consider how you can engage in spiritual disciplines, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, consider beginning with some of the disciplines which have been exercised throughout the history of the church.

One category of spiritual disciplines is disciplines for provision. These are additions to your lifestyle in order to promote more of Jesus in your life. Following are a few disciplines of provision:
  • Disciplines of Scripture. God’s Word is to be a light to our path. It should illuminate the direction of our life. Adding Scripture to our daily routine is a powerful way to provide more of Jesus in our life. Ideas for engaging the Bible include reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, or even listening on CD or MP3. Whichever method or methods you choose, the key is consistency.
  • Disciplines of Prayer. We never pray enough. Paul encouraged the early Christians to pray continuously. We always have room to pray more. Remembering the purpose of these disciplines is to bring more of Jesus into our lives, we should design our times of prayer to be more focused on Jesus’ agenda than on our own desires and requests.
  • Disciplines of Service. When Jesus wanted to demonstrate to his disciples how to truly love one another, he washed their feet. He found a very practical need they had, a need most people wouldn’t have been willing to address; and he took action to meet the need. All around you are people with significant needs just waiting to be met. Being more like Jesus means learning to see others with Jesus’ eyes. Setting aside time on a daily basis to look for and meet other’s needs is a powerful way to have more of Jesus in your life.
A second category of disciplines is disciplines of denial. The first categories of disciplines addressed the need to have more of Jesus. These disciplines are designed to help you have less of yourself.
  • Disciplines of Abstinence. The most common type of abstinence for Christians is fasting. Often we equate fasting with going hungry. Certainly, the majority of contexts for fasting are food related. Even hospitals use the term “fast” when they tell you not to eat before a procedure. However, abstaining for a Christian can entail much more than just food. Giving up something of value causes an emptiness and a longing. Sometimes the emptiness is momentary, other times it may be on-going. During these times when we are most acutely aware of the thing we have given up, we are reminded to turn our attention to God, remembering that He desires to have complete control over our lives and that He can fill the emptiness in our lives. Sometimes denying ourselves the pleasures of life can be a powerful reminder of our need for God.
  • Disciplines of Silence. Some very devout Christians have taken long term vows of silence as a sign of their devotion to Christ. While their self-denial is certainly admirable, nowhere in the Bible are their suggestions we should never talk. However, I once saw on the side of a Starbucks cup the words, “It is impossible to listen while your mouth is open to talk”. Sometimes less of us means fewer words and more listening. Setting aside a time to simply be quiet and listen for God can be a great time of spiritual growth. These times can be five minutes or five hours, depending on who you are and what your life options provide.
  • Disciplines of Sacrifice. Giving away something you love or need is never easy. However, when someone is willing to give away something they love or need for your sake, you are usually moved by their care for you. When we are willing to regularly give our things away so we can make ourselves less, we are opening ourselves to be filled by God. Sacrifice can be financial, material, and emotional. Sacrifice may even be the giving away of our time or our energy.
The fruitful life belongs to those who hear and understand Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught that those who truly desire to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow.

Spiritual disciplines provide the opportunity to do just that, to make yourself less so that Jesus can be made more in your life. Remember, don’t discipline yourself for the sake of discipline. Such activity is meaningless repetition. Discover one, two, or three of the disciplines above and go for it with all your energy. Make a new habit which will help you be the new creation!

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