THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: DOOR TO LIBERATION
As you begin this study of the Christian Disciplines, advance warning may help you to avoid several pitfalls. Briefly, I shall list seven of these pitfalls--though, surely, there are more.
The first pitfall is the temptation to turn the Disciplines into law. There is nothing that can choke the heart and soul out of walking with God like legalism. The rigid person is not the disciplined person. Rigidity is the most certain sign that the Disciplines have gone to seed. The disciplined person can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. The disciplined person can live in the appropriateness of the hour. The disciplined person can respond to the movings of divine grace like a floating balloon. Always remember that the Disciplines are perceptions into life, not regulations for controlling life.
The second pitfall is the failure to understand the social implications of the Disciplines. The Disciplines are not a set of pious exercises for the devout, but a trumpet call to obedient living in a sinracked world. They call us to wage peace in a world obsessed with war, to plead for justice in a world plagued with inequity, to stand with the poor and the disinherited in a world full of individuals who have forgotten their neighbors.
A third pitfall is the tendency to view the Disciplines as virtuous in themselves. In and of themselves, the Disciplines have no virtue, possess no righteousness, contain no rectitude. It was this important truth that the Pharisees failed to see. The Disciplines place us before God; they do not give us "brownie points" with God.
A fourth pitfall, similar to the third, is the tendency tocenter on the Disciplines rather than on Christ. The Disciplines were designed for the purpose of realizing a greater good. And that greater good is Christ Himself, who must always remain the focus of our attention and the end of our quest.
A fifth pitfall is the tendency to isolate and elevate one Discipline to the exclusion or neglect of the others. The Disciplines are like the fruit of the Spirit--they comprise a single reality. Sometimes we become intrigued with fasting, for example, and we begin to think of that single Discipline as comprising the whole picture. What is only one tree we see as the whole forest. This danger must be avoided at all costs. The Disciplines of the spiritual life are an organic unity, a single path.
The sixth pitfall is the tendency to think that the twelve Disciplines mentioned in "Celebration "somehow exhaust the means of God's grace. I have no exhaustive list of the Christian Disciplines, and as far as I know, none exists. For who can confine the Spirit of God? "Celebration "is merely one attempt to compile those acts of devotion that the writers of Scripture and the saints throughout the history of the church have said were important in experiential faith. But Christ is greater than any attempt to describe His workings with His children. He cannot be confined to any system, no matter how worthy.
The seventh pitfall is the most dangerous. It is the temptation to study the Disciplines without experiencing them. To discuss the Disciplines in the abstract, to argue and debate their nature or validity--these activities we can carry out in comparative safety. But to step out into experience threatens us at the core of our being. And yet there is noother way. Prayerfully, slowly, perhaps with many fears and questions, we need to move into this adventurous life of the Spirit.