Insights From The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
Dallas Willard teaches that discipline works by indirection. A discipline is something we can do that enables us to do what we haven’t yet been able to do by our own direct effort. We train and enlist a new skill using a power greater than our own. In the disciplines we use the Spirit of God that raised Jesus Christ, to lift us to greater ability.
More importantly, he emphasizes that the greatest asset to discipline is a joyful attitude! Imagine that your heart is smiling through it. Your most true part longs to be where this is leading you. We are encouraged to connect to the perspective of love and joy. Why are you drawn to the disciplines? Because you love God and desire the intimacy of Spirit filled-living. It is a loving reunion with the One that has always been faithful to you. We fill ourselves with the goodness that has always been There. Our own hearts and lives need the disciplines, or the chance to develop new perspectives and patterns of seeing and living so that we experience intimacy with God and walk in His Spirit.
As with all in the Christian walk we understand that by our own “muscle” and strength we falter and stumble. We get caught in ourselves and start controlling the outcome and numerous other mortal failings. But with the power of The Spirit, we surrender – we yield to what is Greater than ourselves (and die to self). We allow ourselves to Shepherded. With our hearts emptied by what hinders, we enter as disciples (who have been disciplined) and walk with The Spirit.
Discipline also works when developing new habits of body, mind, and heart. In daily living, we are faced with a multitude of choices at every turn. Developing a new habit means opposing a force that has “learned” to cope with these choices in one way and formed a set response.
A discipline asks that the pattern is broken. It asks that we “wake” from the habitual way of living long enough to purify and permit a new “aspect or perspective” to be born in its place. This will be by the power of Spirit, led by God. We joyfully walk in the discipline praying that we will re-form, emptied of what was needed to be left behind, forward renewed by The Spirit of God. We pray that our new perspective bears the fruit of Spirit-directed living.
Here are some main disciplines of abstinence and engagement that have been helpful to Christ-followers over the centuries as offered by Dallas Willard.
This Spiritual Disciplines List features some main disciplines for life in Christ with concise definitions for each. You will notice disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement.
Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)
These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.
Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)
Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.
Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.
Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)
Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).
Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)
Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)
These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.
Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)
Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)
Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)
Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)
Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)
Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)