Daily Riches: The Potential Pointlessness of Spiritual Disciplines (James Hannay, Dallas Willard, John Ortberg)

“What is clear … is that a small number of [spiritual disciplines] are absolutely central to spiritual growth. They must form a part of the foundation of our whole-life plan for growth as apprentices of Jesus. These are, on the side of abstinence, solitude and silence….” Dallas Willard

“Asceticism (askêsis) means an exercise, and an exercise is an entirely useless and meaningless thing unless it is undertaken with a view to something to be gained by its use. When St. Paul speaks of “exercising” himself he says that he does so in order to have a conscience void of reproach. In exactly the same way the monks practiced exercise, asceticism (askêsis), not as if the things they did were in themselves good, but simply as a means to the attainment of that perfection which they desired. …Fastings, vigils, meditations on the Scriptures, self-denial, and the abnegation of all possessions are not perfection in themselves, but aids to perfection. The end of the science of holiness does not lie in these practices, but by means of them we arrive at the end. He will practice these exercises to no purpose who is contented with these as if they were the highest good. A man must not fix his heart simply on these, but must extend his efforts towards the attainment of his end. It is for the sake of the end that these things should be cultivated. It is a vain thing for a man to possess the implements of an art and to be ignorant of its purpose, for in it is all that is of any value.” James Hannay

“I discipline my body like an athlete,
training it to do what it should….”
1 Corinthians 9:27

 Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Is there a sense in which you are training yourself so you can do “the right thing at the right time in the right way with the right spirit?” (Ortberg)
  • Do you have a “whole-life plan for growth”, or are you just drifting – leaving your development as a person of faith to chance? If you’re not working a plan, why not?
  • Do you realize the importance and value of some of the most praised spiritual practices (e.g., solitude, silence, self-denial, meditation on Scripture)? Do you realize how those same practices can be distractions or dangers – how they can be “useless and meaningless?”

Abba, help me train myself to be the person you created me to be.

For More: Wisdom of the Desert by James Hannay

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. Thanks!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

Daily Riches: The Fast that Pleases God (Larry Norman)

“You kill a black man at midnight just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress and you leave her without water,
and the sheet you wear upon your face is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer you don’t believe but still you keep on. …

You are far across the ocean in a war that’s not your own
and while you’re winning theirs you’re gonna lose the one at home.
do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies?…

Well, my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped from whispering through the fence.
You know every move I make or is that just coincidence?
Will you try to make my way of life a little less like jail,
if I promise to make tapes and slides and send them through the mail? …

You say all men are equal, all men are brothers, then why are the rich more equal than others?
Don’t ask me for answers I’ve only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.”
Larry Norman, “The Great American Novel” in Only Visiting this Planet (1972)

 “I will tell you the kind of fast I want:
Free the people you have put in prison unfairly and undo their chains.
Free those to whom you are unfair and stop their hard labor.
Share your food with the hungry and bring poor, homeless people into your own homes.
When you see someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and don’t refuse to help your own relatives.
Then your light will shine like the dawn … Your God will walk before you …
You will cry out, and [Yahweh] will say, ‘Here I am.’”
Isaiah 58:6-9

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you see yourself in any of the sins mentioned by Norman? by Isaiah?
  • How could God’s people really be so oblivious to their sin – fasting and oppressing others simultaneously? Does this happen today?
  • Notice how central caring for the powerless is for God. Is that central for you? If not, why not?

Abba, may caring for the powerless be at the heart of my following of the Son.

For More: for they shall be fed, ed. Ronald J. Sider

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

Daily Riches: Fasting From Seeking God? (Dan Clendenin, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton)

“Jesus describes our struggle between light and dark, life and death, salvation and condemnation, belief and unbelief. … ‘All of us,’ says Paul in Ephesians, are implicated. …So, what am I to do? Double down on earnest religious effort? …A friend encouraged me last week when he described how his spiritual director told him to abstain from all his tried-n-true ways of seeking God — conversational prayer, meditation … “Christian” books, lectio divina, and the like. He’s ‘fasting’ from all that hard work he does to relate to God. …John tells a story from Numbers 21 to point the way forward. Just as Moses lifted up a bronze serpent in the desert that healed people merely by looking at it, so today we only have to look to the love of God. There’s nothing else we can or should do. In his little epistle, John strips away all pious pretense with a shocking admission: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.’ The only thing I’m asked to do is ‘to know and rely upon the love that God has for us’ (1 John 4:10, 16). Paul says the same thing. I experience God’s favor ‘by grace through faith,’ apart from any human merit. His goodness is a free gift, not a reward for my spiritual efforts. And my faith? Luther compared faith to ‘the beggar’s empty hand’ that receives a gift. God only asks me to accept his acceptance, in the words of the hymn, ‘just as I am, / without one plea.’ This Lent I want to experience what Denise Levertov describes in her poem The Avowal.

‘As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
free fall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.’

A true saint, said Merton, is not someone who has become good through strenuous disciplines, but someone who has experienced the free goodness of God.” Dan Clendenin

“Cease striving and know that I am God….”
Psalm 46:10
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Moving From Head to Heart
  • Is your response to these words “But, but, but…?” What explains that?
  • Do you “work hard to relate to God?” Could there ever be a reason to abstain from doing that?

Abba, help me free fall into your embrace.

For More: “When Less Is More” Dan Clendenin

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

Daily Riches: Spiritual Maturity – What Does It Look Like? (Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, John Ortberg, Thomas Merton) *

“The aim and substance of spiritual life is not fasting, prayer, hymn singing, frugal living, and so forth. Rather, it is the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed. …People who think that they are spiritually superior because they make practice of a discipline such as fasting or silence or frugality are entirely missing the point. The need for extensive practice of a given discipline is an indication of our weakness, not our strength.” Dallas Willard

“The Rabbi [Jesus] implores, ‘Don’t you understand that discipleship is not about being right or being perfect or being efficient? It’s all about the way you live with each other.’ In every encounter we either give life or we drain it. There is no neutral exchange. We enhance human dignity, or we diminish it. The success or failure of a given day is measured by the quality of our interest and compassion toward those around us. We define ourselves by our response to human need.  …We reveal our heart in the way we listen to a child, speak to the person who delivers mail, bear an injury, and share our resources with the indignant.” Brennan Manning

“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them but to find out the way to do them the most good.”  Thomas Merton

“…love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  •  Are you aware of weaknesses in your life and your need for “help to do what you cannot do now by willpower alone?” (John Ortberg’s definition of spiritual disciplines) Are you practicing some disciplines for that reason?
  • Do you measure the success of your day by “compassion [demonstrated] toward those around you” rather than by faithfulness in the disciplines?
  • Rejecting the practice of spiritual disciplines could be evidence of pride, and serious practice of them could be a source of pride. In the next days, take some time to consider this before the Lord.

Abba, help me to do what I cannot do by willpower alone as I embrace life-giving rhythms and practices.

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For More: The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow my blog, and share it. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”