The Discipline of Worship

It occurred to me as I read this chapter of Celebration of Discipline that there are some basic principles that apply to all the disciplines. No matter which discipline, the best way to learn it is by doing it, and you should do it even when you don’t feel like it. Emotional readiness is unimportant, even irrelevant. What matters is obedience. How you feel about it is likely to change anyway. The adage that right feelings follow right actions has universal application.

Take the discipline of worship. As Foster states, the call to worship is repeated throughout Scripture, and obeying that call can take various forms. We should expect worship to look and feel very different across cultures and populations. Even among the same demographic, each person is unique. So why would the worship of two very different individuals look exactly the same? Yet there are people who think they know the one right way to worship.
And quite honestly it’s hard not to judge. I’ll tell you a personal story to illustrate my point. In May of 2005, my husband was in Germany for work, and I had the opportunity to hear Ravi Zacharias speak at an event sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Institute. Sometimes it’s almost liberating to go to an event by yourself because you are not distracted and not tempted to analyze someone else’s perception. Anyway it was a two-day event that I almost didn’t get to. I remember my babysitter fell through and my darling neighbor across the street encouraged me to go: “I’ll keep the boys,” she said. And so I did. I went that night and the next morning. Ravi’s message was the best I’ve ever heard in my life. He tied together the biggest longings and the most nagging questions of human existence, and in the end he eloquently showed how all of these are answered and fulfilled at the Cross. I had never heard anything so philosophically satisfying, so intellectually beautiful, and the idea that the intellect and the philosophy stemmed from Jesus’ love for us! Well, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. When Ravi was done I had the strongest desire to lay down on the floor of the church and sob my heart out. But I didn’t. People would have thought I was nuts. I would have thought that I was nuts.
But maybe we need to let people be. Maybe we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that we know the one right way. Because I think it would have been a profoundly sincere form of worship if I would’ve laid down and cried that day.

Confession

This chapter is pretty heavy, and I do not intend to delve too deeply into the theology. But what really struck me as I’ve read and pondered this chapter is how this discipline is really a component of corporate prayer. If you are not praying with other people, then the discipline of confession is probably not a part of your life. If you are meeting with one to two to three others, then I imagine that confession plays at least some role. I have two lovely women that I pray with once a month, and confession is not a formal part of what we do, but it is to some degree a natural part. I’m not saying we confess anything horrifyingly big or shocking, but in the natural course of us talking about what we might pray about, confession is implicit. There are a whole host of reasons why we should do this, but I want to focus on two.

Knowing You are NOT Alone
One of the great deceptions of Satan is to try to convince us that we are the only one who’s ever done or thought such a thing. But the Bible is clear: “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Through transparency and confession you quickly learn that other people have been tempted in the same way or even committed the same sins. Confession is a great way to combat that little voice that doesn’t want you forgiven, that beats you up mentally over and over again for the same transgression. Obviously, it is not that you can only be forgiven by telling another human being, but confessing it to someone else might be a great help with embracing the forgiveness that is already yours. And like Foster said, it is not just anyone that you’d want to do this with. So if you don’t have friends that listen to you, love you and pray for you and can keep a confidence, then seek them out and ask God to bring them into your life.
Transformation
There is amazing transformation in forgiveness, and it is, in many respects, a person’s greatest need. There’s a Newsboys song that says, “you are only sick as all your secrets.” Is that not true? We can be so transformed, so freed from our secrets, through confession and forgiveness. But God won’t make you do it. Your friends, the very best most godly friends, can’t make you do it. It is 100% up to you.
So let me just close with that great summation from St. Alphonsus Liguori: “For a good confession three things are necessary: an examination of conscience, sorrow, and a determination to avoid sin.”
May we examine our hearts this week and ask God for guidance and wisdom in implementing the discipline of confession.

Service: The Ministry of the Towel

This chapter of Celebration of Discipline almost leaves me with a sick feeling, so convincing and convicting is Foster’s argument. My husband works a lot, he is in the midst of earning an MBA, and we have three children–the youngest of whom is home every day. These were my feeble rationalizations for why I could not, presently, lead a life of service. But Foster really puts to shame my wrongheaded thinking.


The “ministry of the towel” demonstrated by Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet is a high standard. He sacrificed the honor due him to engage in the humble task of washing feet. Isn’t it interesting that right then the disciples were bickering about who was greatest among them? It’s clearly not that they earned a good foot-bath for their loving and selfless support. Yet we often want to serve the deserving and we want credit for our efforts. Contrast that with Jesus: He served his undeserving disciples and then instead of being grateful they fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying and then denied even knowing Him. Even so, we are somewhat comfortable with the idea that God’s system is not merit-based. The real struggle is applying this economy in our own lives. If we deign to serve someone, we don’t want to be slapped in the face in return. But Jesus example illustrates that we should be okay with that. As Foster says, “If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated.” Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p.132. Incredibly countercultural, and I must admit that the very idea of being taken advantage of stirs a proud defiance in a dark corner of my heart.

So I need to start by being much more available and vulnerable. And I need to bear in mind that my stage of life is not an exemption, especially since “Service is not a list of things we do…but a way of living.” Celebration, p.134.

I also really liked how Foster broke up service into different components. We can all minister to others by listening. I’ve been learning the importance of “listen, love, pray.” Sometimes we are so quick to give advice, when what the person really needs is a listening ear, a loving heart, and a thoughtful, believing prayer.

May we daily pray, as Foster suggests, for someone to serve in some way. At the very least we can listen, love and pray.

Submission and Romans 12

Submission is a daily, often unpredictable battle. We may always have our ups and downs, but Celebration of Discipline has some great thoughts on leading an increasingly surrendered life. I liked Richard Foster’s discussion of the “cross-life” because who among us doesn’t have a lot of work to do in this area? And I especially love the end of the chapter where he talks about seven distinct acts of submission, because we can really get a hold on how we are doing by looking at these seven areas. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me once again encourage you to obtain and read the book. Click here to purchase.


But there was one thing that Richard Foster didn’t talk about that I think is really important when it comes to submission. A few years ago I heard Chip Ingram give a life-changing message on this topic. (check out Chip’s ministry at www.lote.org) Will and I were attending a conference in Asheville, North Carolina. Chip was teaching that weekend out of Romans 12, and on that Sunday morning he was wrapping up his remarks by reviewing, in part, what it means to live a life fully surrendered to God. Many of us know Romans 12:1 pretty well: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God –this is your spiritual act of worship.” (NIV) But I’d never before considered the verb tense used in this familiar verse. Interestingly, in the Greek the tense means something that is ongoing but also something that happens at a point in time. Don’t you just love the nuances in God’s Word? I mean the ongoing part isn’t surprising. We know we need to work at being submissive. Surrender doesn’t come naturally and we need to declare that Jesus is Lord everyday. But what really struck me, what Chip so artfully pulled out, was that this surrender also happens at a point in time. And it’s not when you give your life to Christ. In other words, this verse is asking you to make a one time, all out surrender. We may rationalize that we can never attain perfection — “it’s a journey”. And it is. But it is also a moment. A moment between you and God where you commit to Him, not for the sake of your salvation, but for the sake of Christ’s Lordship in your life. Have you made that kind of commitment? Or is there something or someone you’ve held back?

May I boldly invite you to surrender all to Him today?

Simplicity and Solitude

Simplicity

As I’ve prayed and thought more about simplicity over the last few days I haven’t had any big revelations. I know there is yet a lot to chew on, and certainly there is a part of me that yearns to be simplified, organized and disciplined, but there is also a part of me that fights back. Something about aiming for simplicity just doesn’t ring true for me; it doesn’t sound joyful, and I’m not convinced that it should be the goal. I’m not saying that simplicity doesn’t have its place. It does. But the balance isn’t struck by setting out to lead simple lives. The balance comes in embracing the lavish love of Jesus and in realizing that all we have comes from Him. Material possessions are held loosely by a humble person. A humble person doesn’t derive worth from things. So isn’t humility the goal? Isn’t knowing who you are in Christ the goal? Isn’t recognizing the source of true fulfillment the antidote to “the mammon spirit”? Maybe it’s semantics, but I like humble more than simple. Simple is just not something I feel called to be. Simple sounds boring. Humble is different. Humble never diminishes the intrinsic worth; it just points to the source. A leader can (and should) be humble and great at the same time. For me simple is not about pointing to someone else–yet this is the call of a Christian. Foster claims that simplicity is freedom. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p.79. But I’m uncomfortable with that statement. Simplicity has its place. My need for simplicity is great. But I cannot equate it with freedom. The paradoxes of this life are many. Freedom is found in submission. True identity is best found in death to self. And undoubtedly less is often more, but I cannot agree with the absolute “simplicity is freedom.”


I need to continue to seek wisdom and guidance on this front. It is a tough topic — a topic most of us need to ponder more often. On a related note a great sermon on humility was given by Lon Solomon on 10/04/09; watch or listen at www.mcleanbible.org.

Solitude

There is a time to be silent. Have you ever been in a situation so far over your head that your only option of escaping with a shred of respect was to keep silent? I have. Many times. I can remember being in meetings almost laughing to myself at my utter ignorance. “What am I doing here?” I’d think. I didn’t dare open my mouth and reveal to everyone else how out of my element I really was. That cognizance of my own ineptitude was a good thing. It meant I sat there and listened; listened like my job depended on it, which it did. Well, I think solitude is the same way. We need to realize our ineptitude. We need to listen like our lives depend on it because they do. So let’s turn off the radio, the iPod, the Pandora, and the television. Let’s put down the book. Let’s have enough discipline to stop composing the mental to-do list. Let’s be still and listen.

This week may we be like little Samuel saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3: 10).

Simplicity, Part 1

I’m finding it hard to think too deeply about simplicity when I’ve been running from one thing to the next all day long. And yet this is such an important topic. So I’d like to share some initial thoughts and some quotes that I believe are worth pondering. Then maybe in the next day or two I’ll post something a bit more contemplative.

Foster, pointing to Matthew 6, says that simplicity is an outgrowth of having a singular mindset — seeking first his kingdom and righteousness. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) p. 86. Certainly this is true, and there is great wisdom in keeping first things first. But I’m wondering if there are some different ways of looking at simplicity too. (Disclaimer: This might be entirely self-serving. I do not live a life of simplicity. I may be prone to rationalize, and as Peter Kreeft says “Complexifying is a great cop-out. Excuses are always complex.”) First, wouldn’t knowing our true identity lead to greater simplicity? And secondly, wouldn’t a daily reminder (back to the old preach the gospel to yourself everyday) of where true fulfillment comes from also naturally lead to greater simplicity?

True Identity

A person who derives their identity from status and possessions is a person for whom simplicity is impossible, by definition. I am quite familiar with this status-and-possession-driven demographic. Fancy clothes and luxury cars surround me, but they don’t impress me. Neither do advanced degrees and big titles. None of these things are terribly bad in themselves. The issue is really whether these things define you. For a lot of people they seem to. There is a pervasive, unquenchable thirst for more. I love the quote from Arthur Gish that Foster used, “We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.” There really is a psychosis at work for people to labor so hard at something so futile. There is no satisfaction in a rat race. Ever. Because there is always a need for more, and Christians shouldn’t ever find themselves in such a race. Instead the identify of a Christian is based on Christ. That means we are to love Him, glorify Him, praise Him, and proclaim Him because that’s who we are. We are not stuff. We are not status. We are children of God and we have a high calling to fulfill. Oftentimes stuff gets in the way.

True Fulfillment

Blaise Pascal said this: “What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” (Pensees 7.425) In short, the God-shaped hole in our heart aches. We try to fill it with so many things, when only God fits. Isn’t part of the struggle with simplicity trying to shove something, often with force, into that God-shaped void? I think greater simplicity would be automatic if we’d stop shoving. Letting God be all He wants to be in our lives is so simple. Not easy, mind you. But so, so simple.

So there’s a lot to work through here. And we know where we stand on this. It’s pretty easy to self-evaluate.

A couple quotes:

“All of us, deep down, know that the meaning of life is just one word, and all of us, deep down, know what word that is.” (Peter Kreeft)

“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.” (C.S. Lewis)

This week I’m going to pray for eyes to see what God has for me here, and also for a willingness and resolve to put it into practice.