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Our longing for closer walk with God shows need for spiritual disciplines

As a longtime professor at a Christian university, I have had many conversations with students who seriously seek to live for God.
When I was an elder, some of the best dialogues I had were with preachers, other elders and dedicated Christian people who were concerned that they were missing out on something really significant in their walk with God.
I have those feelings in my life and have come to realize that few ever believe that they are as close to God as they desire. A small number of these believers have thought that some great sin was wedged between them and God, but most only were longing to have a greater sense of God’s presence.
To help me sense a greater connection to God, I have explored many paths. I have read widely, seeking advice and instruction for drawing close to God. I have followed the thinking of those teaching the concepts of spiritual formation. This school of thought believes that our best course for reaching God is to view the world and all that is in it as a manifestation of God’s creative and redemptive work.
What has been most fruitful for me personally has been the practice of spiritual disciplines to establish a closer relationship with God. These disciplines are reflected in the lives and teaching of biblical personalities from Adam to the apostle John.
I value the works of Richard Foster, who has written widely about the disciplines that allow God to have a central place in all we see and do. The spiritual disciplines, he writes, are “a means of receiving God’s grace.” They “allow us to place ourselves before God so he can transform us.” Foster writes that the spiritual disciplines are like a narrow ridge with a sheer drop-off on either side. There is the abyss of trust in works on one side and the abyss of faith without deeds on the other.
The spiritual disciplines included in Foster’s writings are solitude/silence, fasting/frugality, secrecy/sacrifice, study/prayer, service/submission, worship/celebration and fellowship/confession. In his most recent works, he includes spiritual autobiography as a helpful way to trace spiritual development in all parts of our lives.
What has been most helpful to me is my spiritual journal. I have kept a journal for most of my adult life, but in the past 10 years my journal has tracked my practices of the spiritual disciplines.
I also keep a prayer journal, and that practice has revealed to me how shallow and superficial my prayers often are. I have learned that my prayers are mainly requests of God (“give me”) with a note of thanks and another of praise.
My journal is helping me express thanks more thoughtfully for all the blessings I have received — often without asking for them. When I started the prayer journals, most prayers were 10 percent thanks and adoration and 90 percent petition. I have almost reversed that pattern. The more I seek wisdom in finding ways to adore, honor and worship God, the greater my awareness of his greatness and meaning to mankind.
The spiritual discipline of silence/solitude is most challenging in this era. We are so accustomed to TV, music, telephones and conversation with friends that silence seems weird.
Often the great characters of the Bible were sent into deserts or lonely places where they were strengthened for a challenging mission. Runners tell me that the solitude and quiet of the track lets them look into their hearts and souls.
Meditation is a possibility only in solitude where consideration of life and God’s nature flow naturally. But the human mind jumps rapidly from thought to thought, requiring some discipline for the serious pursuit of insight and understanding.
All spiritual discipline requires carefully learned concentration and focus.
I urge you to learn more about all of the disciplines. Foster has great insights, but of course he is mortal and not always perfectly correct. Others have written on these subjects, and the Bible is replete with information about godly people developing habits and practices to draw closer to God.
Read the Bible through, looking specifically at ways people sought to know God and get closer to him. God will bless you with spiritual vitality.
Contact [email protected].

Filed under: Insight

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