Rowland Croucher writes:Richard Foster's The Celebration of Discipline is not a comfortable book, says David Watson in the foreward: "in an arresting and challenging way it brings us right back to the most basic essentials for knowing God and for living the life of Jesus."
Foster calls these essentials "disciplines". There are four inward disciplines - meditation, prayer, fasting and study and four outward disciplines - simplicity, submission,service and solitude.
Of the four outward disciplines solitude is perhaps the most scary for many of us.
Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfilment.
In his "Life Together" Bonhoeffer wrote: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community ... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone." So we need both community and solitude: each is necessary for the enrichment of the other. It is only in the discipline of silence and solitude that we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.
But if we take seriously the discipline of solitude we will at some stage pass through what John of the Cross calls "the dark night of the soul". It is a time of apparent desolation, but in reality God is at work in divine surgery, bringing us to a profound stillness, so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul.
Thomas Merton observed: "It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them."
The discipline of submission frees us from the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. We can be given the grace to love people unconditionally, and give up the right for them to return our love.
Jesus calls us to self-denial (which is not self-hatred or self-contempt). Self-denial is simply a way of coming to understand that we do not have to have our own way. Our happiness is not dependent upon getting what we want.
The spiritual classics make lavish use of the language of self-denial. For example, Thomas a Kempis says "To have no opinion of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others, is great wisdom and perfection". The teaching of the New Testament is revolutionary, challenging the contemporary customs of super-ordinate and sub-ordinate and calling upon everyone to "count others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3).
We are to submit to God, to scripture, to our family, to our neighbours, to the believing community, to the broken and despised, and to the world. Followers of Jesus come to perceive that authority does not reside in positions or degrees or titles or tenure or any outward symbol. Rather we are given a spiritual authority, marked by both compassion and power.
Occasionally, however, revolutionary subordination to temporal authorities has its limits - when those authorities violate biblical injunctions and become destructive.
As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service. It's hard to wash feet, isn't it?
Jesus did not abolish ideas of leadership and authority, rather he radically redefined them. He did not merely reverse the "pecking order" either. He abolished it.
"Self-righteous" service may be frantically energetic, is impressed with the "big deal", requires external rewards, is highly concerned with results, picks and chooses whom to serve, is affected by our moods and whims, is temporary, insensitive, and fractures community.
Humility, on the other hand, is never gained by seeking it. It is more "choosing to be a servant" than "choosing to serve". When we choose to serve we may still be in charge: we decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. But when we choose to be a servant we give up the right to be in charge. If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated.
The "service of hiddenness" - even for leaders - is a beautiful grace. Listen to Jeremy Taylor : "Love to be concealed and little esteemed: be content to lack praise, never be troubled when you are overlooked or undervalued."
Then there is the service of loving speech. We must "speak evil of no one" (Titus 3:2) nor allow others to speak disparagingly of another. There is also the service of common courtesy, of hospitality, of listening, of bearing one another's burdens and sorrows, and sharing the word of life.
Service that is duty-motivated breathes death. Service that flows from Christ-within-us is life and joy and peace.
Perhaps, suggests Foster, you would like to begin this beautiful journey with a prayer at the beginning of each day: "Lord Jesus, I would so appreciate it if You would bring me someone today whom I can serve."
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This article is published courtesy of Rowland Croucher, John Mark Ministries. If you would like to peruse more articles from the pen of Rowland Croucher, visit his website at http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm.
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