Approaching the Spiritual Discipline of Study

image Dallas Willard categorized the spiritual disciplines in two families, abstinence and engagement. The disciplines of abstinence are those which lead us to voluntarily abstain from normal desires of human existence such as food, sleep, sex, companionship, etc. Engagement is the counterbalance to abstinence. The disciplines that we engage here seek a deeper involvement in our faith and life as new creatures. There are logical counterparts within each list and our current discipline in focus, study, is the counterpart to solitude.

“Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.” Calvin Miller

The Christian studies two things, letters and the world around us. Our primary tome is the Bible, but our library of study material grows every year. Foster suggests 6 rules that we bring to a fully rounded practice of study, 3 intrinsic and 3 extrinsic. To fully embrace a book, whether the Bible, a book of the Bible, or a volume from the shelf requires three readings. The first is to understand what the author is saying and the second to interpret his or her meaning. Only when those steps have been accomplished can we evaluate whether he is right or wrong. Can the Bible be wrong, we ask? No. Our application and interpretation can be wrong and we must engage those concepts, in which we find our own thoughts superior to those of the scriptures, more deeply.

We expand our study by engaging life and bringing it to the desk with us. We bring our experiences, the reading of other books, and talk with trusted companions to our study. Experience bears out the reality of the concepts we study and talking about them with others either compliments or contradicts our own understanding. When challenged, it gives us purpose in returning to the study. Other books operate in much the same fashion. We read both sides of an issue to gain perspective. Like talk, the voices of the other authors can challenge our position and make it stronger or tear it down, as appropriate to the truth.

Remember, study is not an end unto itself. Like the mystic that Calvin mentions, study without experience can give us facts but no wisdom. The truths that we accumulate through study must be tested in the crucible of life. They will either withstand the flames or be burned up like dross, to be replaced by new thinking by any spiritually devoted disciple.

Grace and peace to you.

Advertisements

Four Steps in the Discipline of Study

image

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..

The Spiritual Discipline of Study

imageHow can a young man keep his way pure?

By living according to your word.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Ps 119:9-11)

The purpose of the discipline of study is the renewal of our minds. We renew our minds by putting them to work on the things of God: His Word and, His world and how we fit into it. Study extends beyond the mere accumulation of facts as we learn not only the significance of those facts, but how they apply to life in the Kingdom as well. For many Christians, lives of undue anxiety and fear are the result of superficial study discipline. They may have memorized a few passages of Scripture or a creed but they cannot apply them to life. Their minds have not done the hard word of understanding the meaning of the passages and thus, when trouble approaches, their minds are unable to properly guide them away and back onto the path.

What is Study?

Foster gives us a definition of study as “a specific kind of experience in which, through careful attention to reality, the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction.” The truth of the mind is that ingrained habits of thought will conform themselves to what we study. What we study becomes crucial in pointing our minds in the desired direction. Minds filled with rubbish or that are worked out only superficially are subject to be thrown about by the winds of life. As Paul teaches, those who focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious will posses minds that act automatically in true, honorable, pure, lovely, and gracious ways. Study forms habits.

Meditation is not study. Some are tempted to point out their devotional readings and call this study. Meditation on the scriptures turns our thinking to the Lord but it does not reveal significance to us. Study is analytical. Study reads that ‘God so loved the world’ and asks why and how. Study turns over in the mind what it means for God to love the world and as the understanding forms, the mind realizes that we too are to love the world. A new habit forms.