In late February, I had the treat of sitting under the teaching of Dallas Willard and John Ortberg at the Knowing Christ Conference sponsored by the Martin Institute/Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College. I took dozens of pages of notes, which I’m editing and sharing over a number of posts.
My standard disclaimer is that these are insights that I gained from listening to John. They are sometimes his exact words. They are sometimes my own words or reflections. So, don’t assume that every word here is straight from him. And these are lightly edited, so bear with possible typos or grammatical goofs. With that in mind, I pray these notes will help you in your own journey with Christ.
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Disciplines disrupt the normal pattern of thoughts and feelings in me to give room for new ones. You can’t so much choose your attitude, but you can, over time, disrupt one attitude and gradually replace it with another.
Joy? One of the great invitations and commands. What disciplines would help? OT Feasts, for example. Eat good food you love. Deut. 14 – Those at a distance use their tithe to buy the best food for a great feast.
The discipline of celebration. Maybe one day a week you eat and drink what you love, listen to great music. Wear comfortable, attractive clothes. Etc.
Solitude: I deliberately withdraw from people, work, external stimulation. Dallas talks about disciplines of abstinence (non-doing, or maybe undoing) and disciplines of engagement (doing). Fasting and silence are abstaining from food or conversation. Sins of omission (don’t do right) and commission (do what’s wrong). Is my doing muscle or non-doing muscle strong or weak?
Disciplines of disengagement help me overcome sins of commission. Disciplines of engagement help me overcome sins of omission.
The discipline of fasting helps with issues of lustful behaviors, for example.
We aren’t going for records of spirituality. We are seeking to train ourselves for godliness.
Creativity and spontaneity is good. They can accompany a life of discipline.
Dallas story: We were talking about reading. What should I read? “When it comes to reading, aim at depth, not breadth. If you get depth, you will have breadth thrown in. If you aim at bredth, you get neither.” I read Dallas’s book over and over and over. Osmosis.
When it comes to disciplines, solitude is a basic practice. So is community. Certain practices will always be fundamental.
Solitude is about what I don’t do. Deliberate withdrawal to be alone with the Father. Eliminate all the scaffolding in my life. Jesus practices this so regularly. 40 days in the wilderness. Mark 1:35. Before choosing disciplines. After feeding 5,000. I might meditate. I might study. I might pray. There might be engagement. But what matters in solitude most is the non-doing. Undistracted, I find out what is in my mind.
In the beginning, solitude felt to me like an enormous waste of time. That’s not a bad definition of it. Just waste time with God.
Easy for me in the church to think my identity is determined by the opinions of others. In solitude, I feel that leave my body. I hear the voice of the Father, “You are my beloved son.”
In solitude, I’m free. Disciplines are always about producing freedom. Discipline frees a musician to play a challenging piece well and easily. If a discipline does not produce freedom, something’s not right.
Study: I immerse my mind in thoughts that lead towards the kingdom. “Flow.” Consciousness is central to what it means to be human. “When left to itself, the mind turns to bad thoughts, trivial plans, sad memories and worries about the future.”
Paul tells us that the mind controlled by the sinful nature is death.
The discipline of service: How do you pursue humility? Do you ‘try’ to be humble? The next thing that happens is, “Look at my humility!” Servanthood as a practice indirectly develops humility.
Romans 12:1-2 – “Beseech” (an appeal to the will), offer your bodies, be transformed by the renewing of your minds. How?
Information does not change my physical reality. It isn’t sufficient. By experiment, we can come to believe in our bodies that we are safe.
We need a ropes course for discipleship so we come to believe with our whole bodies what we believe about discipleship. Even my sweat glands, hormones, etc. come to believe. Spiritual disciplines help my body learn new habits.
“Present your body” is making it available to God through practices.
Through regular practices, transformation eventually wins. The spiritual life is a domain of actual practice.
I once asked Dallas where are the churches doing this? Many do teaching, music, evangelism, assimilation, justice/compassion amazingly. Where are the churches producing abnormally loving, joyful, courageous people in inexplicably high percentages?
Not a question of technique or methodology.
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