I was fourteen years old and can remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I sat mesmerized in the music room of my high school as I listened to one of my peers play Chopin with ease, sensitivity, and love. Yes, love! It was obvious she was absorbed in the music she was creating. As far as she was concerned, we were non-existent in that moment. It was the piano, the notes on the page and herself. Effortlessly her fingers moved up and down the keyboard producing exquisite music. When she “returned” to us, we asked her how long it took her to become so accomplished. I was stunned to learn that she practiced four to six hours per day and still kept up with school and one outside activity—the high school choral group to which we both belonged.
Discipline can be demanding, time-consuming and difficult. Yet, when exercised, discipline is one of the most freeing activities in which we can engage. Discipline focuses our attention on an activity or goal. It simultaneously includes and excludes. In the words of Dr. Terry Walling of LeaderBreakthru: “you say ‘no’ to the many things you could do so that you can say ‘yes’ to the one or two things you should do.” In other words, to sharpen our focus, to hone our skill(s), and/or to build our character, it is imperative that we willingly let go of even the good to concentrate on and for what is best. The “best” will be different for each of us as it relates to skills.
There are, however, disciplines that each of us needs to engage as we learn to walk with Jesus. I learned from my friend that fingers have muscle memory so that when a certain configuration is practiced over and over, you don’t even think about it—you simply let your fingers “go” and what has been practiced becomes easy movement. So it is with spiritual habits. It is not in our nature to naturally employ discipline in the area of prayer, Bible reading, solitude, generosity, etc. We discipline ourselves so that these become habits. They could become ritualistic. More likely, they will enable us to become so absorbed in living with God in new, improved, and exciting ways that we find ourselves turning more and more to Him, cultivating our relationship and deepening our love. Disciplines are not works to God; they are ways to God.
We will be offering information and exercises over the next few months as we concentrate on spiritual habits that, when embraced, will assist in cultivating the lives of spiritual leaders. Many of you are practicing spiritual habits. We invite you to offer ways in which they continue to help you.
Rather than focusing on weight-loss and physical exercise alone at the start of this new year, let us together focus on losing those things that hinder our walk and fellowship and exercise together in ways that increase and cultivate our love for God and each other.
Happy New Year!