So this Sunday I intro’d a series on Spiritual Disciplines for an adult Sunday School class. Over the next seven weeks they will be experimenting with disciplines like petition, radical love, fasting, and sabbath.
Whenever I talk about spiritual disciplines I live in fear that I will only be heaping legalism and guilt onto people; so I try to begin with an illustration of how rituals and rules (spiritual disciplines) work within the context of the freedom of Christ. This week I used the illustration of a picture frame and puzzle pieces.
First, let’s get some definitions straight. A Spiritual Discipline (or spiritual exercise) is anything you do that is intended to bring you closer to God. So, going to church on Sunday morning is a spiritual discipline. Reading your Bible on a daily basis, prayer, even sharing your faith – all different spiritual disciplines.
You are also practicing a spiritual discipline when you abstain from something. For example not drinking alcohol, not dancing, not watching R-rated movies, or not listening to secular music – these are all spiritual disciplines.
I like to refer to spiritual disciplines as “rituals and rules.” Rituals are things we do. Rules are typically “do nots.”
Now for the illustration. That’s right. Its arts are crafts day! Yeah!
This frame represents my life. It contains all the time, energy, and emotional capital I have to invest in a relationship with God.
When I surrendered to Jesus people immediately gave me stuff to put in my frame. I was told there was nothing I could do to earn my salvation, that Jesus paid for all my sins; but when I asked what it meant to follow Jesus I was immediately given all these different rituals and rules. “You were saved by grace. Yeah! Now go do all this stuff.”
And after some practice, I pieced those rituals and rules together so that they fit into my frame like a puzzle. All was right with the world.
But then I went to college. At college I learned a new group of rituals and rules. They were shinny and colorful. My friends seemed to be able to fit them into the frame work of their lives; so surely I could too.
This only led to frustration. Some things fit, but they pushed others out. Some stuff I could simply never conquer.
For example, I had a friend that woke up two hours before he had to do anything so he could spend two hours in prayer and worship. We were part of a group that would meet once a month at 5am to pray together for an hour. Okay…now put those together. Thats right. My friend was getting up at 3am to pray and worship for two hours before he went to prayer. I so wanted to be able to mimic his discipline; but my alarm went off two hours earlier than it should have and I didn’t even hear it.
Not being able to fit these new pieces into my frame made me feel like a failure. The rituals and rules I was pulling off made me tired. The ones I couldn’t pull off made me feel guilty. I was immersed in religion at its finest and it was killing me.
To top it off, I was reading statements in the Bible like, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
But this is exactly how all the rituals and rules made me feel – enslaved. They were like chains of guilt and responsiblity that hung around my neck. They weighed down my soul.
I was trapped.
Tempted to just throw it all away.
So I went to the Gospel, specifically Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees. And I discovered that the problem was not the rituals in rules; but rather how I was using them.
That explanation will have to wait for tomorrow. This post is to long already (I lost Cory like four paragraphs ago). So I will just leave you hanging there.