Monday, April 18, 2011

Celebration of Discipline

A year or two ago I heard that two or three people in our church were reading through a book called Celebration of Discipline. I did a bit of research and found many comments that spurred me on buy this book and study it myself. It is interesting that a book written in the 70s by someone from a Quaker background should resonate so well will so many different groups of Christians today. Some might be critical of what is sometimes referred to as his ‘mystical’ approach. However, I would say that Richard Foster appears to have a grasp of hearing God and being in tune with the Holy Spirit that Christians whatever their background can find beneficial. Recently I have been reading through this classic discussion of spiritual disciplines again and each time I do so I feel uplifted.

Richard Foster takes twelve different practices and outlines how putting effort into them can help us grow spiritually. He classifies them as the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study, the outward disciples of simplicity, solitude, submission and service, the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

I find this book stimulating, inspiring and encouraging. At first the title made me fear that it would make me feel undisciplined and lacking in these areas. But as I began to read I didn’t find that at all. Richard Foster has such a gracious way of expressing even the most challenging ideas. If anything it was encouraging to see that so many things that I do already such as study and solitude can be seen as spiritual disciplines. It also articulates some of the things that I feel strongly about very clearly. I’ve never been someone to spend frivolously so I found that I resonated a lot with what Foster calls simplicity. In no way does this book make me feel that I should to be excelling at all of the disciplines. Instead I feel that what Richard Foster does is outline ideas for each one these that sometimes affirm my experiences and other times make me want to try to develop some of these further.

I love the way each discipline is elaborated giving interesting insights into its other possible aspects. For instance in meditation he talks about meditating on current affairs seeking God for insight, as well as giving practical exercises. I love his ideas for study that include the study of nature and the study of people. There is a good range of ideas on each discipline some much easier to do than others, for instance, he talks about partial fasts from different things as well as prolonged total fasts.

Richard Foster is also careful to point out pitfalls and cautions with the disciplines such as falling into legalism and is very practical about how to do them. He has some good physical advice on how to fast for instance and is clear that corporate disciplines such submission are very open to abuse but he still feels that they are important to explore. He gives very practical stories that show how the disciplines have been used and developed.

I found the structure of the book really helpful. The questions at the end of each chapter helped me in reading in the book. Although some of them are simply factual he also enabled me to think about his points by asking for reaction and even disagreement with his points. The way he clearly enumerates his points also adds to clarity and quick reading of the book. He is perhaps a little more formal and stilted than we are used to in Christian writing today but I could easily cope with that.

There are many copies of this book around that can be picked up very cheaply. So even if you’re not sure about it I would really recommend anyone having a look at this book.

1 comment:

Matt said...

That sounds like a good read Dave, I'll have to add it to my ever growing list of things to read!