“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” (Foster, first paragraph, Chapter 1).
If we consider that this book has been published in 1989, we should be able to see that this statement is a type of prophesy of what was to come. We see more and more fast-food and fast-whatever shops in the world. People want what they want now… Yesterday might be even better! E-mail have replaced “snailmail”; Facebook have replaced e-mail and face-to-face contact (and, with that, spending time in building a relationship of any kind); Twitter has replaced Facebook…. Speed and mobility and getting things now and instant gratification/satisfaction has become a kind of comfort zone for most of us.
The Spiritual Disciplines call us to move beyond the surface living and toward the depths. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.
Disciplines are not exclusively for “spiritual giants” or preachers or for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation or maybe some missionary somewhere in the unreached world. It is not out of our reach. God wants “ordinary” humans (people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes, who mows lawns) to experience the Spiritual Gifts. The Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our relationships with our husband or wife or brothers or sisters or friends or neighbours or bosses or colleagues. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
We so often think that there are different classes of people, also in the spiritual life and circles. The pastor or preacher is more “up there”, and thus better equipped to do the Spiritual Disciplines. The missionary has a closer relationship to God, and therefore the Disciplines are easier for him to do. But that is not true. We all have equal access to God. We can all “do” the Spiritual Disciplines. It isn’t some secret that only a few “super Christians” do. Everyone can “do” the Disciplines.
Spiritual Disciplines are not dull and boring and things that are aimed at removing laughter from our lives. Joy is a big part of all the Disciplines. One of the purposes of Disciplines is to liberate us from the stifling slavery, caused by self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from everything that wears it down, or puts weights on it, there has to follow singing, dancing and even shouting! (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
Jesus said that He came to give life in abundance (John 10:10). Now, most people believe that this is material abundance. I believe it is even more than just in terms of material things. It may include material stuff, or it may not include material stuff. The fullness of life, I think, is to live a life connected to God, no matter what our circumstances looks like. This is then what happens when we “do” the Disciplines. It will help us to focus on God, and that will free us from looking at our circumstances. It will cause us to stop being stressed about whatever might be going on in our lives, and live a life in the company of the One Who are carrying us through the circumstances. That will give us joy, despite circumstances that might cause fear.
In a way, Spiritual Disciplines are not hard. We don’t have to be theological masters to practice the Disciplines. Recent converts, and even people who have no relationship with Jesus Christ yet, can and should practice the Disciplines. The most important requirement is a longing after God. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
David knew this longing. We see it when we read Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (42:1-2) (2010 New International Version)
In Psalm 42:7, David says that “deep calls to deep”. Maybe you have also heard or felt that deep calling to a deeper, fuller living from the depths of your own heart. You might even have reached a point where you have become tired of “shallow teaching” and mere experiences, that comes and goes. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
Those who have heard this deep call from within, and who desire to explore the world of the Spiritual Disciplines, are immediately faced with two difficulties. In the next instalment, I will go through the two difficulties that we might face when we want to explore this world of the Spiritual Disciplines.