Bondage to “Disciplines”

In the process of living out Jesus’ life, there are things we need to do. Notice, I said need.

Looking at shoes

I am convinced that Christians have created a shame-based culture when it comes to growth and discipleship. I see it all the time. We are constantly criticizing our performance. Sometimes I have heard questions in discussion groups which do this.  Without fail in Bible studies or discussion groups, the first question out the gate is something like “How do you/we fail at this.?” Everybody ends up looking down at their shoes, of course.

How can we expect to unpack these vital, powerful and beautiful things when the discussion begins with “Tell everyone how much you suck.” No wonder I see silence and shoe gazing. I think this approach is wrong headed, and it focuses far too much on us and not on God.

When Paul says in one of his letters “follow me as I follow Christ,” our first question should be,  “what was Paul’s example and how do we emulate it in our time?” This results in meaningful study and action. Not looking at your shoes.

The scripture was not given to us to shame us. It was given to equip and inform us. There is no reason to fashion God’s word into a paddle to spank ourselves with. Too much of that makes Bible study feel like punishment, don’t you think?

A different take on the disciplines

We have often described things like prayer, meditation, study and other things we do as disciplines. But in a culture of shame it just becomes another thing to fail at. This is not good, because the disciplines are good. Perhaps we can look at this a different way.

Think of the disciplines as your practices. These are things that you get to do. You don’t have to think in terms of shame. You can think in terms of working on your skills. Think of it terms of a craftsman, or athlete doing his or her thing and getting better and better at it. What craftsman, athlete, or artist hates what he or she is doing? Don’t they work at it passionately because it’s good and fulfiling and, dare I say, fun?

Paul uses that very image of an athlete himself in one of his letters to Timothy. So think of yourselves as working on your skills. Think of this as your practice. This is you transforming into the image of Jesus in the context of your life and circumstances. In other words, this is you being a disciple.

If this is what you want, you can’t fail at it. The only thing you can do to fail is quit trying. Shame is the main thing that can cause this.

Keep striving. Make your course corrections and personal adjustments in hope and anticipation, not shame. The only thing that can hold you back is what you choose to cling to. God is working in you and with you. Shame is not on the menu.

Php 2:12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

3 Responses to “Bondage to “Disciplines””

  • Brianna:

    Jim, I appreciate the thoughts you share on this blog.

  • Thanks, Brianna. I hope this is helpful.

  • Peter Rocca:

    Dear Jim,

    I wonder, could Jesus “see” into the future as he hung on the Cross? Could he see us taking the gift for which he paid the ultimate price and turning it into a sin management program where spirituality looks like going around with a headache all the time?

    Whatever we do with this, let’s not go around feeling guilty about feeling guilty. Let’s go forward into a quality of life that causes the watching world to want what we have! Let’s actually act on the reality that we are forgiven by the Creator / Redeemer of the Universe. Let’s go forward into living in freedom from guilt.

    Peter Rocca
    Newport Beach, CA

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