The rhubarb has made its wrinkled and deep green appearance, and it’s time for me to plant the peas, the annual spring gamble for this risk-averse gardener. I’ve driven stakes into the warming soil, because when I opened the package, I realized (too late!) that I had purchased seeds for a variety that requires a supporting structure for its vines. Since this is what the seeds promise, this is what will –most certainly — grow. After twenty-six years of spring plantings and fall harvests, this is no surprise to me, and yet it’s strange that there are days when I plant discontentment, impatience, and faithless talk, dark seeds into the soil of my heart, and then watch in hope for the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” to appear like spring violets.
Philip Nation makes this wise statement in the introduction to Habits for Our Holiness:
“The things we plant in our lives are the things that grow in our lives.”
Spiritual disciplines, then, are part of our planting, a means to the desired end of a mature faith. Not an end in themselves, they are (to veer abruptly into another metaphor) tools in God’s hands for molding the believer. What prevents the practice of spiritual disciplines from becoming stuffy and legalistic is love, for “as the central discipline of the Christian life, love is what propels habitual holiness . . . Internal transformation manifests itself in external action. It doesn’t work the other way around.” Habits for Our Holiness is an invitation to begin again in this life of obedience to — and love for — Christ’s commands. Thomas Merton said:
“We do not want to be beginners, but let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life.”
With that in mind, Philip Nation presents the disciplines of worship, Bible study, and prayer as the foundation by which we declare that God owns our hearts, that we will resist temptation, cynicism, and passiveness through immersion in Scripture, and that we will take delight in the “Great Conversation,” the my-life-for-yours of intercessory prayer, the mystery of approaching the throne of God.
The spiritual practice of fasting provides an interruption to our lives that reveals a deeper hunger for something that is eternal. For establishing God-centered living, for a revelation of what truly controls us, and for confirmation of our dependence on God, fasting forces us to acknowledge what we love the most.
Fellowship is not typically included in a list of spiritual disciplines, but its interlocking mechanism of face-to-face togetherness (like Legos!) is simple but effective. By allowing one another deeply into our lives, we experience a sort of growth that will not occur in the safety of solitude.
The practice of rest (or Sabbath) is a physical expression of a spiritual reality: the work for our salvation has been accomplished by Jesus. Furthermore, the book of Hebrews offers insight into the deeper significance of an eternal reality — the ultimate satisfaction and heavenly rest of which our single day is merely a shadow.
Simple living is actually a lived-out choice of contentment over craving. Philip zeroes in on stewardship, a well-known biblical attitude toward possessions, and introduces “shunning” as a path to simplicity: “avoiding those objects, thoughts, and even places that remove us from God.”
Philip Nation helps his readers to understand servanthood, the ministry of the mundane, via the juxtaposition of two New Testament bowls of water: (1) Jesus’ attitude toward service as holy privilege when He washed the disciples’ feet in the upper room; (2) Pilate’s hand-washing refusal to enter into the messiness of Jesus’ situation. Of course, the only acceptable motive for entering into another’s mess is the love of Jesus.
From Jesus’ example, we learn true submission, and we understand that it occurs in the context of relationship (practiced even within the Trinity). From the agony of Jesus’ garden prayer, we learn the lesson that comes as no surprise: submission is hard.
The introduction of spiritual leadership and disciple-making as habits for our holiness sets Philip Nation’s book apart from other books on spiritual disciplines* that I have read this year, for it is not only for the purpose of growing up that God has given us the means of grace to come into relationship with Him. It is also because He intends for us to be drawn together — and then sent out into bold, others-centered obedience that results in a public faith and a Great Commission life style. Not only are the disciplines not a solitary all-about-me affair, they are also best viewed in relationship to one another. I counted at least six instances in which Philip Nation prefaced a description of one of the habits for holiness with the phrase, “As with all the spiritual disciplines . . . ” From this insight, we see that “all of the disciplines”:
- are intended “to express our love to God and experience His love for us.”
- involve “truth, the gospel, and God’s character at work within us.”
- are “intended to keep us from a mediocre expression of faith.”
- find fullest expression when practiced in community.
- “require intentionality.”
- “reflect an ethic that the lost will thoroughly question,” which brings us full circle, back to my seed planting, for not only do the spiritual disciplines encourage plantings of righteousness in our own lives. Their presence in the life of a believer is salty and bright and leads to the all-important “why” — which opens the door to spiritual conversations, deeper relationships, and a public faith that is lived with love as the centerpiece.
This book was provided Moody Publishers in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
*For further reading, I have recommended and reviewed the following books on one or more of the spiritual disciplines:
Habits of Grace by David Mathis
The Radical Pursuit of Rest by John Koessler
The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh
Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
The Cultivated Life by Susan S. Phillips
The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster
Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm
Lectio Divina – From God’s Word to Our Lives by Enzo Bianchi
Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.