Teaching Disciplines (aka Spiritual Practices)

This is part of The False Promise of Discipleship blog series from The Bonhoeffer Project. Read the blog that came right before this one by clicking here.

Most people operating out of The Human Paradigm will ultimately avoid disciplines and spiritual practices (not to mention leave the church) because they resent them. Still, we’re not calling leaders to soften the call to spiritual practices, far from it. Instead, we have to make sure people are being oriented out of The Human Paradigm and into Jesus’ way of approaching spiritual disciplines. We’re confident that when Jesus “often withdrew to solitary places to pray”—while there was perhaps discipline to overcome His exhaustion and still make space for prayer— there was no drudgery in it. No doubt Jesus approached connecting with His Father and becoming more aware of His Father’s nearness and goodness as a delight. It was a meal to be enjoyed, not a mush to be endured.

And from this place, He was empowered to live a life of care and compassion for others. If, unlike Jesus, we have a root belief that we have to earn God’s favor, we will resent both God and the things that we believe we have to do to get close to Him—and we will rarely see our lives as an instrument of God’s grace for others.

Bill Hull and Brandon Cook, authors of this blog and eBook, will be teaching at this year’s Forum. Meet them and get more content like this in person at the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum.

This is one of the largest gatherings of disciple makers in North America with 65+ workshops, 15+ speakers, and 10+ tracks. Join us to learn practical ways to make disciples of Jesus this November 9-10 (Thursday-Friday). Register for the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum here.

I (Brandon) grew up in the South, where there was a huge focus not just on quiet times but also on reading Scripture. I liked the idea of reading the Bible. Yet, again I grew tired of trying to read it like I felt I should. And I watched most everyone around me struggle to read Scripture with any consistency, as important as we were told it was. To this day, I find that if I’m approaching spiritual practices as tasks to check off because I should do them, there’s no life in it. Asking, “How am I doing?” by itself just has no horsepower.

But (oh, glorious “but”) if I’m asking the questions, “Jesus, how can You be this good?” and “How am I doing loving others?” then everything changes. What emerges is a completely different approach to spiritual practices: We practice the disciplines not to earn something, but to become fully aware of how our lives can be energized to live in awe of God’s goodness and empowered for loving others. This is part of how we “grow in grace.”

What we find as we become aware of grace is that everything becomes a response to Jesus, not an attempt to be rewarded by Him. We don’t come to Scripture because we must read our Bible to grow close to Jesus. We read our Bible to become more aware of how Jesus has already brought us close to Him and how we can be empowered to live lives that bring hope and blessing to others. It’s not about earning a reward; it’s about responding to a gift that has been given. In this way, The Human Paradigm is interrupted, and all of the disciplines we practice become “get to’s,” not “have to’s.” We find ourselves actually wanting to spend time with the God who is so generous as to have invited us in with lavish love.

For example: Not long ago, my (Bill) wife, Jane, was spending a few days out of town taking care of the grandsons. I called her to see when she was coming home. She informed me that she was staying longer than expected and that she had made additional commitments for the next week. I began to question her and communicate that I was very unhappy with her decision. She had made that decision without talking to me and considering my needs and work that needed to be done at home.

Later, I began to talk to myself: Bill, Jane has supported you and let you be you for 46 years, and she has never complained when you made commitments to speak, go to meetings, or even play golf with friends, without talking to her first. I wasn’t finished talking to myself, so I went on, Taking care of people is what Jane does. There is a reason everyone loves her: because she loves them! She serves many, but she serves you the best. So stop trying to stop her from loving others as Christ loved. This could have been the Holy Spirit speaking because I am rarely that brilliant. I had to repent. In fact, I had to ask a question, Lord, what do I need to do to love Jane the way You loved? The answer came quickly: I would need to pray and meditate on Scripture. I would also need to serve her and help her with her work so that she could thrive in her ministry to others.

You see what happened? I realized I had to practice certain spiritual disciplines to become the kind of person that loves as Christ loved, so that I could live for others.

Once you realize that discipleship is being like Christ and that doing what He did always leads to loving others and serving them, there is such joy and satisfaction that you can never go back to the old Human Paradigm. You forget self, and when you do, your self gets better. This is God’s secret sauce. Transformation of the self happens when we’re learning to forego the demands of the self. The self, paradoxically, is transformed when we focus on others, not on ourselves!

As leaders, we must teach those in our sphere of influence an approach to disciplines grounded in the questions, “God, how can You be this good?” and “How am I doing with loving others?” We must teach them that they have already been brought close to Jesus, and they just need to become aware of this reality.

*Stay tuned by coming back to our blog for the next blog in this series, which will be coming soon!

This is an excerpt from the free eBook written Bill Hull and Brandon Cook of The Bonhoeffer Project. You can download the full eBook on their homepage here.

Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, and The Disciple Making Pastor, have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add his third in the popular trilogy, The Disciple Making Church, and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.

Brandon Cook is the lead pastor at Long Beach Christian Fellowship and a co-founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he studied at Wheaton College (IL), Jerusalem University College, Brandeis University, and The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He worked as a professional storyteller before joining a transformational training organization and moving to SoCal in 2006, becoming a pastor three years later. Over the course of five years of pastoring, he became convinced that his work—and the work of the church—is to become fully committed to discipleship and making disciple-makers. The Bonhoeffer Project is for him a quest to live into the question “How are people transformed to live and love like Jesus?”

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