Spiritual Discipline

by Ray Hughes

Discipline. Such a non-enticing word really. How about, “Spiritual discipline?” Now there’s a phrase that is even less inviting. For me, the image instantly emerges of a silent, morbid monk fasting until his body looks emaciated and his eyes are glazed over from the years of faithful studying by candlelight. Isolated and bound staunchly to his poverty, he is to be revered as a great spiritual giant of holy discipline. I don’t know. Something just doesn’t appeal. Maybe it’s because this is the twenty-first century. Maybe it’s because I am breathing. And then again, maybe those old guys knew something that I don’t.

I just know a few of you felt the slightest bit of agony sweep over you when you read this article’s title, Spiritual Discipline. I can hear some of you now….Oh man. Here it comes. Ten more things to add to my To Do list and feel guilty about not getting done for the Lord. Or maybe you immediately thought of two people you know who should probably read it. Please excuse me for taking a no-comment stance on that one.

Honestly, most of us are already doing everything that we can possibly do without burning out. And most of us have a pretty solid relationship with God, as well. We’re walking in most of the fruit of the Spirit. We have our “quiet time” pretty much every day. We might even have a better understanding of the Bible than a lot of our friends. When we pray, He answers. And He uses us. We are blessed and anointed. The problem is that when it comes to God, satisfaction is our greatest enemy; but then who among us is really satisfied?

The truth is, God doesn’t really care how disciplined we are, or how much we do for Him. Religious duty never impressed Him. He just wants our hearts. Us. He wants us! And that is what we really want–for Him to have us, and to completely have Him back. It was His passionate desire for us that provoked Him to give us the spiritual disciplines as a gift, a means of connection, communion and intimacy with Him. They’re like tiny fuses which, when properly put in place, become great conduits of His power and presence into our lives. Once acquired and plugged in, we still must daily choose to “turn on” the switch through active practice. We can practice as many or as few as we choose and in any combination. Yes, the joy of the free will allows us to have as much of Him as we want. It is almost frightening to realize the intense desire He has for us, and His choice to maintain such extreme vulnerability concerning our relationship with Him.

The Omnipotent Creator has put Himself in a position to be passionately affected by every little thing we do—or don’t do. He is actually sad when we forget to acknowledge Him or ask His counsel. Our indifference causes His divine heart to ache and groan within Him. He is grieved when we try to carry our own burdens and wounds. Is it not a total offense when we try to be holy and righteous without His mercy and grace? He is nothing less than devastated when we reject, or even just neglect Him. He is our God and His desire is for us.

His passions are equally affected when we do things like simply showing interest in Him. I imagine it is sometimes like the thrill of a love-sick teenager who gets an unexpected call from the ultimate girl of his dreams. His heart spins over the notion that we would want to invest our time into just knowing Him, much less dedicating our lives to the desire. Do our songs not enchant Him with pure bliss? Is it not His favorite time of the day that we set aside just to hear what He would say to us? He adores us and finds us totally irresistible. No, it’s not enough that we agree to be His wife, wear His ring, serve Him diligently and faithfully and do all the things that we know He approves of. He appreciates all the things we do for Him, but He yearns and aches for our hearts. He wants our affections more than our diligence. He wants our passion more than our gifts and abilities. The Lord just wants us!

He gave us the spiritual disciplines as just one more way to get to Him and for Him to get to us. And isn’t it just like Him to set it up so that we reap major benefits when we take advantage of them. We see many people walking in high levels of authority, blessing and God’s presence in their lives because they chose to walk through the door of prayer. Others are carrying a very special and powerful anointing because of their lifestyle of worship. Still others walk in awesome authority and revelation because they truly opened themselves to God’s Word. Imagine the amount of God’s presence, blessing and power in every area of your busy life if you were to engage more than one or two of these doorways that the Lord has given us.

These simple spiritual practices cause us to live life on earth as it should be lived; with true passion, depth, sincerity and freedom. They deliver the very things that this world opposes and steals, taking us out of the temporal mindset, into the mind of Christ. They help us combat the lie and break the laws that this world dictates we live by. The lies of satisfaction and superficiality and the disease of sin are vanquished in the light of His presence. These disciplines are doors to His presence that each individual must walk through alone. And we must walk through them again every day that He gives us breath.

John Eldridge confirms that, “the discipline is never the point. The whole point of the devotional life is connecting with God. This is our primary antidote to the counterfeits the world holds out to us. If you do not have God and have Him deeply, you will turn to other lovers.”

The saddest thing to witness as you look around a church is to see a large group of “believers” whose hearts are without passion and depth. We have bought the lie in so many areas of our lives. We have turned to other lovers and settled for less than what God is offering. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

When we take the time to scrape away the layers of busyness, peel back the convenient distractions and wake our truest hearts from their fear-induced comas or their peaceful front pew slumber, we find that they are not satisfied one bit. They are far from pleased with the way things are. Success, nice family, health, wealth, security, usefulness, even effective ministry, are not enough. We must have Him, and we must have more every minute, just as He must have us to be absolutely fulfilled. He desires us so much that He created a huge master strategy to debase Himself by coming down to our human level and allow Himself to be betrayed, tortured and murdered so that He could rise again from the dead and create a door for us to enter into life and love with Him.

Now all we have to do is choose Him, lose our lives (our self-will) to find true life, vision, total acceptance, passion, confidence and that ultimate connection of unity with Him, our Creator. It’s time to own your longing and then never look back until you wake in His image. Trust Him that His invitation to a holiday at sea is going to be worth washing the mud off of your hands.

Spiritual Discipline vs. Self-discipline

Spiritual discipline then has little to do with soulish self-discipline, and even less to do with our will. When we aspire to achieve any level of holiness, passion or communion with the Father by way of our self-determination or personal achievement, we are setting ourselves up for failure, or an even more horrifying alternative–success. Anything that we birth by our own strength will be counted against us. Abraham discoverer that hard lesson. Successes from our own discipline only produces an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh, sin and separation (see Colossians 2:23). That is why losing life is our only hope for finding it.

We know that we can do nothing in our own strength. Even to pursue Him we must rely on His ability to be pursued. We can receive His passion to cultivate more passion. We must receive His faithfulness to have any faithfulness to show Him. And with this understanding we can venture into the study and practice of the spiritual disciplines. He is eagerly anticipating that moment we pick up each little fuse and connect our hearts to His in a new, electrifying way.

Practicing Them Today

So what are these radical, ancient little fuses? And how do we start plugging them in to make ‘em work for us today? We can only list a few of them here. Understanding that it would take volumes to explore and illuminate even one discipline, I pray that this list will provoke you to take hold of them and search out their depths like treasure. There are hundreds of resources, old and new, that reveal much of God’s heart on these subjects. Prayer, fasting, worship and study are a few most of us already appreciate at different levels. Some others include meditation, solitude, submission, service, celebration and guidance.

The truth is, the way to fully understanding them is to not only study them, but just start practicing them. We have to patiently and faithfully build up our spiritual muscles like an athlete would until one day we realize we have come farther than we ever imagined possible. The investment of today and tomorrow will not reap the benefits of the third day. And the third day will not cause the same effect of the thirtieth day. Thomas Merton said, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life!”

No matter how far we go in God there will always be levels and dimensions of Him that He is still longing to reveal. With all of our passion it is time to reject satisfaction. This may be the twenty-first century, but take a deep breath. I think we’ve yet got a good shot at becoming one of those spiritual giants of holy discipline. All He wants out of it is our hearts.

Biographical note: Ramey is the gifted 26 year old daughter of Ray and Denise Hughes. Saved at the age of four and filled with the Holy Spirit at age six, she has been in full-time ministry with her family since she can remember. By the age of 21 she had led worship and ministered in eleven nations as well as recorded two solo CDs. She anticipates her third release in October 2003. Ramey recently relocated back to Nashville to serve on the staff of Ray Hughes’ Selah School of Prophetic Worship. Their web site is www.selahministries.com and you may e-mail them by clicking here.

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