Four Steps in the Discipline of Study

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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

The Christian wants to live her life according to biblical principles, but in order to do so, these principles must become a part of who she is, rooted deeply in her heart to become second nature. Enabling this transformation of heart is the purpose of the spiritual discipline of study. It trains the soul to default to the desired principles so that, in a moment of crisis, the renewed soul is not without its armor.

Your thoughts and subsequent actions will conform to whatever diet you feed them. If you elect to swamp your mind with cultural influences you cannot be surprised when your outward expressions begin to mirror what is seen on the screen and heard on the radio. To have your thoughts conformed to the mind of Christ and His Church requires a purposeful, directed intake of the scriptures and the ideas that have influenced the Church through the centuries. Follow Paul’s advice and give your soul a steady diet of those things that true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious.

Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, organizes study into four steps.

Repetition

New habits are rarely, if ever, formed by a single encounter with the truth. Just as muscles are not strengthened by the single lifting of a barbell, the mind must be repeatedly exposed to an idea and channeled into acquiring that idea in order to capture it and take ownership of it. Repetition works at the lowest levels of the mind. If you want to change a behavior, in many cases all you will need to do is to repeat the desired behavior or thought over and over for a period of time. The mind will accept this as the new reality and soon, the new behavior or thought will become the habit.

Concentration

Bringing the mind repeatedly to bear on a specific aspect of God’s truth is the initial step but then we must concentrate on that truth. The daily reading plan that you follow discourages this. It leads you quickly from one chapter to the next without the time to camp on the important truths that you are encountering. This is fine for devotional reading but not for study. You must spend time with a truth, fully devoted to searching it from every angle and testing it against other ideas. Remove distractions, slow down and sacrifice volume for quality of experience.

Comprehension

Most Christians can repeat at least a few Bible passages from memory. Few though can demonstrate an understanding of what those passages mean beyond a superficial level. Spiritual growth is not attained by simply knowing something, you must understand what a truth means to both you and the original author of the truth. It is knowledge that sets you free (John 8:32), not the mere accumulation of facts.

Reflection

Only when you truly understand a truth can you reflect upon it. The words of the best known truth in the Bible, John 3:16, are so simple and yet they have a significance that is often underestimated. Focused study and the development of an understanding of a truth open the doors to a realization of the significance of an idea. Grasping significance is the moment where we see and hear and experience a truth in a whole new way.

 

Grace and peace to you..

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Radical Strength from the Discipline of Solitude

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Mt 4:1-3)

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Dallas Willard reminds us that “solitude is the most radical of the disciplines for life in the spirit.” Until we have developed the discipline of seeking out solitude we cannot know the full presence of God unfettered by the myriad distractions of life. We pray and our thoughts wander to the other things on our desk or the sound of the neighbor’s dog barking. We worship but break the communion with the spirit by focusing instead on the bright shirt worn by the man three rows ahead. Submission is weakened by ego and meditation interrupted by scattered thought. The Christian who separates herself into the desert finds herself distanced from these enemies of discipline and completely open to the descending presence of the Lord.

The benefits of solitude extend to our other spiritual disciplines. The account of Christ entering the desert to be tempted is often read quickly to get to the temptations but this does a disservice to the text. We take note of the fact that Jesus seeks out the solitude for forty days before being tempted. He immerses Himself in the full presence of his Father and the Spirit to build the strength necessary to face the tempter. He fasts, removing all external influence so that he is single-mindedly prepared to face whatever will come. We can learn from this to build our own spiritual muscle. In solitude we know nothing and no one other than God. He becomes our sole center without any opportunity for distraction.

Our desire for solitude will be misinterpreted by others. Our friends and loved ones will want to know why we seek to be apart from them but we must be diligent in pursuing our life of discipline. Ultimately, the Father deals with each of us individually and corporately but we are not free to substitute one for the other. We must be willing to walk away into the desert leaving companionship and distraction engendered by those who surround us even though they have our best interests at heart.

Grace and peace to you..

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