With one month down and eleven to go, we switch our focus today to a new spiritual practice!
Our focus this month, as you might have guessed from some of our verses above, is God’s Word. I’ve titled this month’s practice “Living the Word,” as these verses imply both an understanding of the scriptures and an obedience to them. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, calls this discipline “Study.” And he explains why this discipline is so very important in the life of a disciple:
The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is the purpose more clearly seen that in the Discipline of study. The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it…The Discipline of study is the primary vehicle to bring us to “think on these things (Phil 4:8)… Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting “high on Jesus” will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free. (Pgs 62-63)
We will discuss in more detail over the course of this week what the spiritual practice, as we are calling them, of study may look like for you in daily living. In the meantime, I urge you to be praying for the Lord to reveal to you both a course of study and a method. This means asking for guidance as to both WHAT you will study and HOW you will study it. As you consider what the Lord has been up to in your life as of late, he will often bring to mind a focus for you moving forward. We want to follow this prompting, in order for our practice to be more than merely checking off a task on our tracking sheet.
A few words about the tracking sheet: First, you can find a new copy of one here to begin your new month fresh: Monthly tracking spreadsheet V3. Second, a reminder that we are adding practices as we go, building upon one another throughout the year. So we will write in both this month’s practices and last month’s practices and track our progress with both throughout the month. Finally, I would suggest creating a file in which to keep both your previous tracking sheets and your previous Joy Scales, so as to be able to look back at them to monitor your progress over the course of the year.
But in monitoring that progress, we must remember just exactly what it is we are pursuing. The checkmarks mean nothing if the practices we are muscling through bear no fruit in our lives. We do not engage in these practices for the sake of the practices, themselves. We do not partake of them simply to be able to say we have accomplished them. We engage in them that they may bear the fruit of Joy in our hearts over time. And yet even that description of our pursuit in not quite accurate.
John Piper writes, in When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy,
It should be obvious from this, but may not be, that desire and delight [joy] have this in common: Neither is the Object desired or delighted in. God is. I make this obvious point because all of us from time to time speak loosely and say that the aim of our pursuit is joy. Or we say that we want to be happy. Those are not false or evil statements. A Christian means: I aim to pursue joy in God so that the infinitely valuable objective reality for the universe, God, will get all the glory possible from my life. “I want to be happy” may be Christian shorthand for “I want to know the One, and the only One, who is in himself all I have ever longed for in all my desires to be happy.”
This, friends, is our ultimate goal and desire. To know the One who is the Source of All Joy, that we may, in doing so, experience the fullness of the “entire measure of God” (Eph 3: 19).
Lord, we pray that out of your glorious riches you will strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3: 16-19) We do not want your gifts, Lord. Not as much as we want you. We long to know and experience the fullness of you, the love of you, the joy of you. We long to know you. Guide us in our pursuit. Show us the path of life. And fill us with Joy in your presence, in the mighty name of Jesus.