Summary: In this last of the practices we find that the final product of the spiritual disciplines is joy in the Lord and we need to express joy in celebration.
We’ve finally come to the end of our series focusing on the practices God has given us to grow spiritually. We’ve looked at the practices of prayer, reading and reflecting upon God’s Word, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, living simply and giving generously, serving others, confession, and worship. All of these practices, or disciplines as they are sometimes called, help us draw closer to God, and make us available to God to be transformed by him from the inside out so we reflect Jesus more and more. Last week I reminded us of the importance of spiritual growth because there are only two things we can work on in our present life which we will take with us when we die, our relationship with God and our character (love, faith, obedience).
I hope you have used these last ten weeks as an opportunity to begin putting these practices into your daily or weekly life (if you are not already doing them) to grow deeper in your relationship with Christ. Without these practices (and there are others which we didn’t get to) it is virtually impossible to grow spiritually. It is impossible to become more obedient to God. It’s just like the doctor says, if you want to be physically fit, eat healthy meals with more veggies and fruits and exercise three to five times a week. If you want to be spiritually fit, practice the disciplines, and find someone to help hold you accountable, whether a Bible study group, or Christian friends of yours, without these friends you are more likely to quit doing them.
We must also remember these practices aren’t just a spiritual to-do list, but a gift from God. If we see them as a chore, they will become a chore, and we will eventually quit doing them.
I remember when I was young I decided I wanted to learn to play the piano. I begged my parents to get a piano, that I would totally commit myself to learning to play the piano. My parents finally gave in, probably because they were tired of hearing me whine about it, and they bought a piano, and forked over the money so I could take lessons. As I began the lessons, I found out something I hadn’t realized, I actually had to practice. My piano teacher said I had to practice 20-30 minutes every day. At first it was fun being able to plunk out the notes and make it sound like more than just chopsticks. As the months rolled on, I got better at playing, but I noticed, I hated practicing. It became a chore and I lost the joy I once had for playing the piano. I finally quit. My parents still have that piano and none of us kids learned how to play it (and they like to remind me about this big living room decoration they have).
What happened? I got the attitude, the mindset, that piano practice stunk. We may begin practicing these discipline with all the right intentions but somewhere along the line, we may allow ourselves to think these disciplines stink. Maybe you made a commitment to pray but it seemed tedious and you grew to resent your praying time. Or you started reading and reflecting on Scripture every day but after a while it seemed more like work and so you gave it up. You started tithing 10% of your income to the church to be “generous” but it wasn’t a cheerful gift, more of a clenched teeth gift. If these are some of your experiences of exercising these practices and it has brought you less joy, then something isn’t adding up right.
These practices aren’t meant to be a chore, but a means of drawing us closer to God, and with that closeness one of the blessings we receive from God is joy. Richard Foster writes in his book The Celebration of Discipline, “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines functioning in our lives.” If after practicing these disciplines you are not receiving the joy of the Lord then something isn’t quite right. You need to reassess your attitude towards them.
Joy is at the Heart of God
God wants us to experience joy as we walk closely with him. In John 15, the chapter our memory verse came from, Jesus teaches us about the need to abide in him or to stay close in our walk with him, to remain in his love. He uses the visual illustration of the vine and braches. He is the vine and we are the branches, we must remain in him, getting our nourishment from him. Remaining in his love means we are obedient to him. We do what he asks us to do. And then comes our memory verse.