Friday, October 10, 2014

When Spiritual Discipline becomes Invitation instead of Obligation

I breathed in a rare moment of silence, interrupted only by a scurrying squirrel in the giant oak branches that shaded my patch of bright green grass.  Journal in hand, eyes to the blue sky, I sat very still.

I had been asked to spend 45 minutes talking to God and listening for his voice while considering what work he was actively doing in and around me.  At the end of the time, each of us in our cohort were encouraged to choose a spiritual discipline that we felt would complement God's existing work in our lives and help us be more aware and embracing of his presence.

Our group is led by a wise and gentle older man, he is lean and strong but has the silver hair and purposeful cadence of a grandfather.  His humility is almost startling.  He asked me kindly which discipline I had chosen.  I told him I was struggling to choose between two options.  He asked me a question that completely caught me off guard, a question I know I will ask myself many times again in the future.

"Do you have a sense of what God is inviting you to rather than what your self is feeling obligated by?"

"Come, Follow Me" is not a command wrapped in expectation or obligation, it will forever be a simple invitation.  Somehow when I think of spiritual discipline, I too easily forget the point of eliminating distractions and seeking out truth.  I forget the voice of Jesus and his tone of loving invitation that surrounds the journey of following him.

"Jesus' call was to journey with him.  In addition to his emphasis on the costs of discipleship, he assured his disciples that he would never leave them alone, would share the intimacy he experienced with the father with them, and ultimately would seal his friendship by laying down his life for them."
- David G. Benner, Sacred Companions page 64

Our Christian journey is meant to be a friendship with God that grows in depth and intimacy over the time, he invites us to "follow in his steps"- steps which lead to loving people who aren't like us, through suffering, and occasionally out on the water.

The invitation is to recognize a powerful, wild God in our own real world and follow him wherever he leads, knowing that if he is leading he must be close by.

God comes down from the cosmos once again.  He is no longer a distant power reigning over humans as a master rules over his slaves. Jesus says:

"I shall not call you servants anymore,
because a servant does not know his master's business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father." - John 15:15

Jesus considers you a friend, not just a follower.  "Follow me" is simply a loving invitation to journey with him.  He is offering to walk a few steps ahead of you as you follow the trail of his divine presence through the uncertainty, anticipation, beauty, suffering, joy, and all that life has to offer.

Discipline helps us follow Jesus well and nurture our relationship with him.  While there are many practices that help us maintain our focus, sharpen our character, and nourish our souls, such as:

  • Prayer
  • Silence and Solitude
  • Worship
  • Scripture Reading and Study
  • Fasting 
  • Serving
  • ...and others

None of these things will ever make him love us more.  None of them are designed to make us bored or stressed or guilty or shamed or miserable.

Could it be that the discipline of being mindful of our steps, looking ahead of us to keep our eyes on the one we are following, and spending time with our friend is ultimately a loving invitation?  Not an invitation to prove our worth, faithfulness, or goodness.  Simply an invitation to intimately follow.

What is God doing in your world?

How is he inviting you to engage with him as he creates beauty and goodness and acts in love?  How might he be inviting you to abandon obligation and simply follow him?

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