Spiritual Disciplines in the 21st Century

Recently I was at a meeting where my District Superintendent was speaking. He told all present that over the next few months he would be asking the ministers in our district about their devotional lives. Honestly, I was pleased with this question because this is something I have been thinking upon for some time now. It is a question that I’ve wrestled with over the years because, honestly, I wasn’t very good at it.

I am looking at my bookshelf and see many devotional books I’ve purchased over the years. One of the most famous is, “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers and the other is “The Complete Works of EM Bounds on Prayer.” I remember when I first bought these books and tried to read through them. For some reason, they never quite seemed to work. It was as if something in the format didn’t work well with me. (I’ve come to realize part of the reason is they’re not conversational in tone. I’ll elaborate on the rest of it further along.)

I just couldn’t “get into it” and I would feel guilty after a few days went by and I had not read them. I tried other books over the years and some of them came from a very different theological bent than my own while others lined right up with the way I approached Scripture. Yet, during all this time, I thought I could never put together a consistent devotional time.

A few months back, I decided to try something different and I purchased some Anglican prayer beads. I found them to be very helpful in focusing my prayer life but I also realized, as usual, I would do it for a few days and then fall away from using them. Then, as in the past, guilt would come running into the door of my mind smiling and saying, “You’re not much of a Christian and definitely not much of a preacher. You #$%@ hypocrite!” (Yes, that’s the way my guilt talks to me. He’s not a very nice fellow.)

So, I decided I was going to fix this by practicing a bit of self-examination. After all, it’s good for someone in my type of work to look at how they spend their time. So, I started to be overtly conscious of how I would spend my days. Well, my morning starts off with me waking up, doing the “normal” things we all do, and then checking my Blog Feeds. The first thing I read is all the Christian writers I follow as well as a few inspirational writers as well. It is my goal to see what they may have posted that morning and examine how it speaks into my life. I ask myself, “What is Jesus saying to me through these writers?” and “How do I apply this to my life, my family, and the life of the church?”

Some of the bloggers I read are Richard Beck, Rachel Held Evans, Seth Godin, and a variety of UMC bloggers. Often, when the Holy Spirit hits me square between the eyes, I pray over the matter and try and find out how I can influence the world around me. The rest of my day is pretty normal. I check my email, log on to Facebook, and answer questions and various prayer needs as they come in. If it is a Monday morning, I also try my best to read over the texts I will be preaching on the next Sunday but I also have to logon to an online avatar based chat for my doctoral program. Chances are I will see what else is on the schedule and, since my calendar usually has a meeting or two during the week, I check on those as well.

In the late afternoon, if I haven’t already done so, I try and plan the evening meal. When my wife gets home, I help her unload the kids from the vehicle and then give them each a hug. (When I can catch them!) My wife then helps me prepare the evening meal because that’s our thing. We like spending this time together. In the evening, my family sits down and eats together unless there is a meeting to attend or I need to visit someone. We pray together, talk about the events of the day, and chase my son Arthur around the table as we try to get him to eat his dinner.

(As an aside, the family meals were started by our daughter, Laurel. One advantage to having a child raised on television was she thought it was “proper” for families to eat together. So, at the age of six, she pointed this out to her obviously improper parents, and since then we make it a practice to eat together. Or, as I like to refer to it, we make it a family spiritual discipline. Now that she’s a teenager she doesn’t always like the idea so I enjoy reminding her she’s the one who came up with the idea! Out of the mouth of babes and all that jazz…)

Some evenings I will take the time to go hang out with some friends and play a game or two. This is my own strange way of practicing outreach. Other times, I may grab a meal with them and share with what God is doing in my life. It’s my hope we grow to the point where they’ll share the same with me.

So, after looking at my life very closely for about two weeks, it hit me. I’m an idiot! I do have a devotional life! It just doesn’t look like what I was taught it was supposed to look like. After all, the “proper” devotional life means reading a few chapters of the Bible every day and praying for at least thirty minutes, right?

My spiritual disciplines are different, yet, when I think about it, they’re the same as many others. Why? Because God has me living in the 21st Century and my practices and personality work were made for these times. For so long I thought the spiritual life was meant to be such a chore, so my enjoyment of reading interesting faith-filled blogs and the pleasure of praying for complete strangers just didn’t seem right. Now, I realize these “disciplines” are not meant to be horribly back breaking but, instead, are to fill our lives with joy.

UPDATE: Someone recently asked where does Scripture play a role in my disciplines. The answer is relatively easy. The majority of Christian writers I read use Scripture and/or cause me to look at certain passages in a fresh light.

Also, I often preach through the Revised Common Lectionary which I read through and try to let it speak into my life on a weekly basis.

So, my friends, what are your spiritual disciplines and how do they look different from others? I hope you will comment on this blog and share them with me. Even if you have more traditional spiritual disciplines please feel free to share them. If you don’t have any, I’d like to hear about them as well.

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