Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review (#7 of 2014) Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. I enjoyed reading another "classic" by Foster. Short, straightforward, and very encouraging book.

Foster breaks down thirteen Christian disciplines, the practice of which have largely gotten neglected over the centuries. He divides them into three categories (inward, outward, corporate). Here are what I gleaned from his discussion of each discipline:

Meditation - whereas the point of Eastern meditation is to empty your mind, Christian meditation is about filling your mind-- with Christ, with the Word, etc. Foster recommends a two-step process of giving and praying while you meditate.

Prayer - He wrote a whole book on this, I recommend it.

Fasting - This is a tough one. There are not specific instructions for how to fast or many details about how people fasted in Scripture because it was such a common practice over the ages, it needed no explanation. I'll take Foster's dietary recommendations with grains of salt, but agree that the clear New Testament explanation is for Christians to fast often. Why don't I do this more?

Study - Foster gives a little advice on various ways to study Scripture, but also encourages us to study works of church fathers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for further application and insights. 

Simplicity - Foster cautions that purposeful efforts to live simply tend to lead towards legalism, so he gives ten recommended principles. The basic idea is to free yourself from a desire to be like the world, or to have complications in your life that keep you from hearing God's call. "Conformity to a sick world is to become sick." Foster is a Quaker, and like him I believe it's important to make decisions about necessary purchases and lifestyles in community. (I've been thinking about this quite a bit since seeing a PBS Frontline documentary on the Amish. The motivating factor behind their avoiding technology is to avoid objects that would lead someone further from focusing on his/her community. Cellphones and automobiles, for example, make it easier for us to get away from those we are created to be close to. A washing machine or tractor, however, may not necessarily create that pull, so some Amish/Mennonite communities may choose to have them. American individualism hates community dependence, and that is contrary to how God set up Israelite society in His law.)
Does the latest gadget really help you be more productive, or is it about status? If you believe buying the latest fashions help you look better in the eyes of the world, then should you really be buying them?

Solitude - Being intentional about making quiet times alone, and personal retreats so that when we're with people we can be fully with them; just as Jesus did. I am up before anyone else in my household, and have about an hour to myself in the car each day, so I consider that my solitude.

Submission- Giving up your right to retaliate or to speak ill of others. To obey authorities. This is hard for Americans.

Service - Looking to do the menial out of love.

Confession - Having people in your lives that you confess sins to, and pray together with for forgiveness. James says that we're to confess our sins to one another and be healed. How much healing do we forgo in our lives and churches because we don't practice this discipline?

Worship - Embrace distractions in corporate worship, they may be a message from God. Bless the children when they raise a ruckus. Prepare your heart for corporate worship by reviewing the sermon Scriptures and hymns to be sung beforehand. That's a great idea (this is my preferred approach to Sunday school).

Guidance (corporate) - Foster makes the point that our churches do a good job of promoting guidance by the Bible, and personal guidance through reading and prayer, and sometimes even prophetic words or other Spirit-led acts in corporate worship, but argues that we need to go beyond this in terms of guidance. He's getting at something deeper here.

Celebration - Celebration should be the outflow of keeping the above disciplines. Embrace holidays and festivals, have your church and community create their own. Celebrate the answered prayers, the blessings, the hardships and tribulations.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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