As a Christian, I found this book necessary and informative in explaining our way of life and discovering the meaning and purpose through the different disciplines highlighted. Although I was aware of some of the domains only in part, I had not delved deeper into each discipline’s importance and the proper way of practicing each of them. These disciplines are not a set of rules for us to follow but rather a guideline into self-discovery, spiritual growth, and connecting with those around us. That said, this book can be helpful to everyone regardless of their faith or religious beliefs.
The book highlights 13 disciplines categorized into inward disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), outward disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and corporate disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.) Disciplines like meditation, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, and confession teach us life-giving ways of self-denial and letting go. In contrast, prayer, study, service, worship, guidance, and celebration teach us life-giving ways of growth and affirmation.
These disciplines are the means of God’s grace for bringing about candid character formation characterized by love and joy and peace and patience. They allow us to open ourselves to God so that he can transform us.
Here is a highlight of some of the disciplines mentioned in the book:
Mediation (Communication between the Lover and the Beloved)
I learned more about meditation and how Christian meditation differs from Eastern mediation. Eastern meditation focuses on emptying the mind, while Christian meditation attempts to fill the mind leading one to inner wholeness by giving ourselves to God. The author says that mediation should be a way of life instead of a single act – constantly learning and growing. The sole purpose of meditation should be to get closer to God; the author takes the reader through the detailed reflection process, how and when to meditate.
Prayer and Fasting
“Prayer is to religion what original research is to science.”
Meditation heightens our spiritual sensitivity and, in turn, leads us into prayer. Prayer brings us into the most profound and highest work of the human spirit. Real prayer is life-creating and life-changing He shares how the discipline of prayer should be accompanied by fasting. Fasting helps us keep a balance in our lives by not allowing nonessentials to take precedence. He encourages the reader to start fasting slowly and grow into it with time, explains the process your body goes through when you are fasting, and highlights the point at which someone should stop (goes into starvation).
Discipline of Study
Study gives us discernment about ourselves and the world we live in. The focus of study is on repetition – it channels the mind in a specific direction. He emphasizes that reading or watching is not studying and offers guidelines on how to study. He also mentions studying the world around us, taking the time to recognize nature.
“He that studies only men will get the body of knowledge without the soul; and he that studies only books, the soul without the body. He that to what he sees, adds observation, and to what he reads, reflection, is in the right road to knowledge, provided that in scrutinizing the hearts of others, he neglects not his own.”
Simplicity (Simplicity is Freedom and Not Slavery)
Simplicity brings freedom as it brings joy and balance. Richard J. Foster highlights 10 things we can do to live a simple life;
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than status.
- Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
- Develop a habit of giving things away – If you find you are becoming attached to something, consider giving it to someone who needs it
- Refuse to be propagandized by custodians of modern gadgetry
- Learn to enjoy things without owning them
- Develop a deeper appreciation for creation – Get close to the earth, Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the texture of grass and the leaves. Smell the flowers.
- Look with a healthy suspicion at all things “buy now pay later” schemes.
- Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
- Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.
The discipline of Solitude (Loneliness is inner emptiness. solitude is inner fulfillment.)
“Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times.”
Eccles 3.7 says there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak. The key is control. Listening is more important than speaking, which is against what society has taught us – we need to talk all the time. Our goal is to be able to say what needs to be said and when it needs to be said. This discipline allows us to be present when we are around people genuinely. The fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others.
Submission and Service
“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” — MARTIN LUTHER
The disciplines of submission and service go hand in hand. Submission is laying down the burden of going your own way and more about giving. This is against what is encouraged in today’s world; self-denial is not encouraged as we are always encouraged to go out of our own way and get what we want.
“Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness.”
Worship is one of the corporate disciplines practiced in relation to others. It is more than singing, praying, or praising though they may lead to worship. Worship involves opening up ourselves to the adventurous life of the spirit. Worship is a human response to a human need- it’s an attempt to touch the heart of God. Worshiping together intends to bring us together in giving glory to God.
“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God”. — WILLIAM TEMPLE
Discipline of Celebration
Because we know he cares for us, we can cast all our care upon him. God has turned our mourning into dancing.
“In celebration, the high and the mighty regain their balance, and the weak and lowly receive new stature.”
Finishing this book for me is the beginning of a journey of practicing the disciplines highlighted; I hope to read it at least every beginning of the year as I start a new season to renew my mind and knowledge.