Discipline. Just the word itself seems intimidating enough without us having to talk about it. But spiritual discipline is what the season of Lent calls for, and it is what Christians the world over hope to achieve. Through the disciplines of prayer, reading Holy Scripture, repentance, worship, fasting, works of love and giving alms, we hope to draw closer to God and strengthen our relationship with Christ Jesus. Through such practices as these, we hope to enhance our faith and grow as disciples of our Lord, following his example of servant leadership for the sake of others.
During this season of Lent, I find myself serving a new congregation in a new place. One year ago I couldn’t have imagined being where I am today. Yet, even as the scenery has changed and there are new names and faces to learn, the focus of Lent remains the same; understanding my need for God’s forgiveness and mercy, and leading my flock to grow in their understanding of the same so that we can be a powerful witness of God’s love through Christ Jesus to the world around us. How do I, and how do we do this? Discipline.
Becoming a disciple of Christ Jesus isn’t easy. Accepting Christ’s call to follow him and become fishers of people means Christians must become living reminders of God’s love for his people. In order to become such followers of Jesus, Christians must draw closer to God, strengthening their faith and relationship with Christ Jesus on a daily basis. The disciplines of Lent are the tools for building such faith.
The late Henri J.M. Nouwen puts it this way:
“Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.” (Bread for the Journey)
The disciplines of Lent focus us on God’s saving act through Christ Jesus. Daily prayer, Scripture reading, fasting and worship help us set boundaries where we can spend time with God so that we are able to heed Jesus’s invitation to follow and become disciples.
Sure, this year I am serving in a new place, but I still serve a congregation of God’s people who strive to be disciples of Jesus and witnesses to the power of God’s love. Collectively, our congregation has embarked on a journey of Lenten discipline focusing on three of the spiritual practices listed above. Prayer, daily reading of Holy Scripture and worship are the foundation of our pilgrimage to the cross of Good Friday. Through these three disciplines, we look to experience the complete joy of the empty tomb of Easter. I also urge all of our brothers and sisters in Christ to focus on the other four disciplines listed here. As pastor, I invite our members and friends to experience the spiritual benefits of repentance and fasting, along with the joy of doing works of love and giving alms.
The goal of Christian life is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as Christ loves you. Striving toward this goal requires a faith made strong through spiritual discipline. Becoming a fisher of people means one must first become a disciple of our Lord Jesus. Again, as Nouwen says, “Discipline is the other side of discipleship.” You can’t have one without the other.