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Monday, February 11, 2008

Discipline Drives out Distraction

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Laura from My Quotidian Mysteries

I've been especially moved by the recent teaching we've enjoyed as our Anglican church, situated in the Muslim Middle East, has begun the observation of Lent, the forty-day period of penitential solemnity that leads up to Easter. Like a bowl of corn flakes, and with the help of Father Bill, I'm tasting Lent again for the first time with his recent meditations.

Now, hearing the word “Lent” may invoke images of self-flagellation and self-conscious piety, or simply a long time live without chocolate. I’ve often approached the season by trying to come up with something to "give up." Then, like my New Years' Resolutions, I move through the 40-day period in fits and starts of my self-imposed piety.

Fr. Bill challenged that kind of twisted Lenten thinking when our church gathered last week for the Ash Wednesday service. In his sermon, he acknowledged that a lot of the efforts we go to for Lent can easily distract from the point of the season:

"Rather than focus on the things you 'should' give up for Lent, use this time in the church year to add a discipline or habit,” he said. "If there's one thing I want you to take away from this sermon, it's that discipline drives out distraction. And the whole point of Lent is to focus our attention on God's costly love for us in the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. It’s not to focus on what we have done for God in our disciplines, but to use disciplines to focus on what God has done for us in Christ."

It’s tempting to avoid the pitfalls of spiritual disciplines by abandoning them altogether. While Jesus warns us to “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matt 6:1, ESV), he doesn’t say, “So just forget about spiritual disciplines altogether.”

Nope. Jesus says, “You’ve missed the point of spiritual disciplines if they become their own end, if you’re just putting on a show of righteousness for the attention of others, or if it’s for your own sense of self-righteousness.”

Even as he warns about the pitfalls, Jesus tells us to practice spiritual disciplines: “When you fast…,” (Matt 6:16). Hunger from fasting is a powerful way to focus the mind and heart for prayer and meditation on God’s love for us in the costly sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

Engaging in spiritual disciplines doesn’t make us more worthy of this love; it makes us slow down to encounter it.

The Lord doesn’t want your pious efforts per se. He wants your heart. He wants to strip away the distractions that dull our loving communion with him. Any sin in our lives will most certainly sever that loving communion with him. But sometimes even the busyness and activity of church can dull our communion with the Lord.

Sometimes, our self-conscious efforts at trying to “please God” can utterly distract us from the truth that, in Christ, we are forgiven. We are saved, cleansed, and healed. God has done this work, with no help from us. He just wants us to slow down enough to let that loving truth sink into our sin-sick, and maybe self-righteous-sick, soul.

Just as I am without one, but that they blood was shed for me, and that thought bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Dig Deeper: Take time today to read through a chunk of Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to slow down and focus your mind, guide your reading, and open the eyes of your heart to encounter God’s great love for you. I’d recommend some traditional Lenten readings: Joel 2:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; and/or Matthew 6:1-21. If you'd like to explore more about classical spiritual disciplines, I'd recommend this book for further reading.

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Blogger Denise said...

Thank you for such a lovely post.

February 11, 2008 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger Belinda@upsidedownbee said...

Thanks for sharing, Laura. Love Foster, too. You've encouraged me to dig out Celebration of the Disciplines and go through it again. Be well. B.

February 11, 2008 at 5:33 AM  
Blogger Praise and Coffee said...

This is so good Laura. Fasting is beautiful way to honor our Lord and you explained it so well, thank you.


February 11, 2008 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Kerry - A Ten O'Clock Scholar said...

Hi, Laura! Excellent reminder about the spirit of Lent.

I'm still amazed everytime I see that in print: Anglican the Muslim Middle East. Truly an oasis in the desert.

February 11, 2008 at 6:42 AM  
Blogger Mocha with Linda said...

Wow. Great, great, thoughts. Much to ponder.

February 11, 2008 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Kelly @ Love Well said...

Great post, Laura. I've been thinking this exact thing over the weekend. I didn't grow up in a church that celebrated Lent, and I know it's already underway. But I might join late and add a spiritual discipline to my routine for the next however many days.

By the way, John Ortberg has a great book about the spiritual disciplines too. I'm reading it right now.

February 11, 2008 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger windycindy said...

Hello, I love your comments. They make me look deeper into myself! Thanks,Cindi

February 11, 2008 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Mary Lou said...

Thanks for your post....very good thought to ponder on...Discipline Drives Out Distraction. I like to sit on the front rows of church and groups....helps me to not be distracted by late comers etc...Being disciplined would most certainly drive out distractions. What a blessing this was for me tody. Mary Lou at dlowran1(at)comcast(dot)net

February 11, 2008 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Darnelle said...

"The Lord doesn’t want your pious efforts per se. He wants your heart."

So very well said!

February 11, 2008 at 11:17 PM  
Blogger ChristiS said...

Thank you Laura! Although I am doing this as my Lenten focus, I haven't truly stopped and waited for God to speak to me through what I am reading and doing. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes what we really need to do to focus on the Lord is be still and quiet and listen to Him!

February 12, 2008 at 11:27 AM  

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