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Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Spiritual Disciplines

February 21, 2007 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lent 2007 - Praying Disciples

Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 6:5–6:6

Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:5-6

"Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith through Spiritual Disciplines"

Without realizing it, we are engaged in many different disciplines every day. Like what, you ask? How about disciplines of personal care and hygiene? We brush our teeth, we bathe or shower, we comb our hair. How about disciplines of exercise? We may go to the gym, we may get out and walk or jog, we may do stretching exercises. Do you have a pet? If you do, then you're engaged in the discipline of pet care by feeding that pet, cleaning up after it, or taking it out for a walk. Are you a student or taking a class? If you are, then you have to use study disciplines to keep up with work for that class. We could go on and on here, but I think you get the point. If there are disciplines for the body like exercise, and disciplines for the mind like study, are there not also disciplines for the soul, the spirit? The answer is a resounding yes! We call them spiritual disciplines, and we are going to be focusing on these during the season of Lent. It's my prayer that this series will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do what it says: help us grow in our faith, enrich and strengthen us for the work of ministry and mission to which Christ calls us.

The very word "discipline" might make us groan and turn up our nose. Being "disciplined" often means being grounded or put on restriction, whether at home, school, or work. "Discipline" is a word that comes with a lot of baggage for most of us. It sounds like a heavy burden; like something that's unpleasant and joy-less. So, what better time than Lent to focus on all this? For lots of people, Lent itself has those same connotations: it comes with lots of baggage, and in the minds of many is unpleasant and joy-less. I want to turn this image of discipline and Lent upside down - sort of re-invent these things for the new missionary age that we live in. Our Lenten preaching series for both midweek and weekend worship services is entitled "Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith through Spiritual Disciplines." We'll be looking at various spiritual disciplines including fasting, self-denial, perseverance, fellowship, repentance, study, celebration, solitude, submission, and service. At first glance, some of these may sound unpleasant and joy-less. Don't be fooled here! Behind each of these is the opportunity to stretch our spiritual muscles, be strengthened in our faith, and discover deeper joy in our relationship with the Lord. At the heart of each one of these disciplines is prayer, and so we are grouping each of these disciplines together with prayer: prayer and fasting, prayer and perseverance, prayer and solitude, etc. These spiritual disciplines flow out of the relationship God began with us in holy Baptism, washing our sins away and claiming us as his own - children of promise and hope. Today, on Ash Wednesday as we enter into the 40 days of Lent, I invite you to re-think what Lent and spiritual disciplines are all about as together we go back and reclaim God's Baptismal grace for our life today.

Traditionally, Lent is a time that draws us closer to the suffering and death of Jesus. Lent leads us into the mystery and highpoint of what the Christian faith is all about: the death and resurrection of Jesus, who paid the price of our sins with his lifeblood upon the tree of the cross. Through Jesus' blood-bought redemption, we are declared righteous and acceptable in God's sight. That is God's gift to us. Now, what is our response? What are we going to do in response to all that God in Christ has done for us? Are we going to just sit on our hands and do nothing? It's time to do some spiritual stretching and exercising here! Why? So that we may grow in our faith toward God and in our love toward one another. We can't make ourselves any more righteous and acceptable to God than we already are. Jesus took care of that for us. What we can do is put ourselves in a position to be open and receptive to the power of the Holy Spirit so that He might work in us and through us. That is what these spiritual disciplines will help us do. As one author puts it: "Spiritual disciplines assist us to slow down, to hear, to pay attention, and then to listen for the word of God as it moves from our head into our heart. Once we understand on a heart level, we realize our need to turn to God to receive healing" (Invitation to Presence, by Wendy Miller).

Contained in that word "discipline" is the word "disciple." Both words come from the Latin root word, discipulus, which means "pupil." A disciple is a learner, a student, a follower. The One we learning from, the One we are students and pupils of, the One we are following is the Lord Jesus Christ. We are his disciples, and as his disciples there are things that will help us in following Jesus. These are what we call disciplines, one of the most important of which is prayer. Jesus tells us what prayer is, and what it is not in today's Gospel lesson. He invites us into a close, personal relationship with Him where we can communicate with him and our Father in heaven through prayer. I have so much to learn about prayer! Yes, even pastors - maybe especially pastors - have lots to learn about prayer. Maybe you feel this way, too. With this in mind, there is a helpful guide to deepening and strengthening our prayer life that is yours to take with you today. It's called Why Pray? and is written by Dr. John DeVries, founder of Mission India. It's a marvelous little book, written in simple and easy-to-understand language. There are 40 devotions - perfect for the 40 days of Lent! They are grouped under 5 weeks, plus an epilogue. Week 1 is "Why Pray?" Week 2 is "Why Pray First?" Week 3 is "Why Pray for Neighbors?" Week 4 is "How Should We Pray?" Week 5 is "Three Foundations and Three Functions of a Home of Prayer." And the Epilogue is "Building a Home of Prayer Every Day." May the Holy Spirit use this book as a tool to help each one of us grow in this foundational spiritual discipline called prayer.

There is so much more that needs to be said about prayer and spiritual disciplines. Today is just a beginning. The goal here is not just to talk about these things, but to do them - to practice them, to implement them in daily life, just as we do with other disciplines like brushing our teeth or physical exercise. A very long time ago I read a sign that said "7 days without prayer makes one weak (not week)." How true! God urgently invites us to turn our cares and worries over to Him in prayer. He calls us through prayer to give thanks and praise to Him, and intercede in behalf of others. He asks us to seek his face through prayer in all our decision-making and planning. He tells us, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me" (Psalm 50:15). In prayer, we speak to God, and God invites us to listen to him. Does it get any better than this? The Creator of the whole cosmos is willing to listen to us, and act in our best interest!

May this Lenten season be one of refreshment and renewal for us who are called to be praying disciples, that we may grow in faith through spiritual disciplines. May God make it so for Jesus' sake. Amen.


More in Lent 2007 - Praying Disciples

April 5, 2007

Prayer and Service

March 28, 2007

Prayer and Submission

March 18, 2007

Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Prayer and Celebration