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Open Windows

It's been a while! In the past three weeks we've had a son get married and another move to Vancouver, WA for the summer. I took a break from writing to fully engage in the season, enjoy lasts and firsts, and to give myself some space to hold this season of good-byes and hellos. What a beautiful season it's been! I feel I hold the past in one hand and the future in the other and am slowly releasing my grip on the last one to embrace the new. 


Through the busyness of the season, I am grateful for all I am learning at The Renovare Institute. We are learning a lot about spiritual disciplines and how they help us grow in our lives with God. Honestly, had I heard the words 'spiritual disciplines' previously I would have been bored without reading further.  I would be negligent to not mention there are many negative feelings around them for some and for others they quickly feel like a way to earn our salvation or at least earn favor with God. How many times do we treat our spiritual life as a sticker on a chart life where we attempt to earn as many gold stars as we can and assume that the more gold stars we have, the happier God is? Or maybe we've thrown out spiritual disciplines altogether and grateful God doesn't have a chart, but also wonder why our lives don't look more free or why there are habits, ways of relating, sins or attitudes we just can't break free from.

God knows I love a good analogy and often speaks to me in pictures and story form. I think this is because I tend to remember them better and they are easy for me to apply to my life. I guess I shouldn't be surprised and I must not be the only one since a lot of Jesus' New Testament teachings came in parable form. I think of the spiritual disciplines as open windows. 

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On a brisk spring day when moving into our current home, I arrived after my husband and found every single window open and the cool breeze flowing through the house slamming doors and causing loose items to blow around. When I wondered why, my husband said, “The house doesn’t smell like us.” The scent of the previous owners was permeating the house and although not bad, it made us feel like guests in our own house.

When we first enter the Kingdom, we smell a bit (or a lot)  like our previous life. Ways of living that are ingrained by long held habits,  wrong ways of thinking, old walls of self-protection we needed in our life without God and other habits contrary to Kingdom life permeate our very being. What was once a body inhabited by sin and lifelessness has become God’s house, but often carries the ‘smell’ of the old owner. At first, the scent of the world is much stronger than the scent of the Kingdom life. For many it stays this way.

Just like it was necessary in our house to open the windows to allow the old scent out that permeated the house, we need to open the windows of our lives. The spiritual disciplines are like opening the windows of our life to God. Practicing them does not make us God’s any more than opening the windows made our house ours. Our house was already ours but it didn’t seem like ours. We owned the house even when it smelled like the previous owners. The open windows provided a way for the air to be cleansed and for the smell of our family to permeate instead. Opening the windows was our job and took action on our part. It is the same with the spiritual life. God's grace is available to us, but we have allow it in. 

The spiritual disciplines are important because they open up space in our lives for God to work and change us.  They in themselves don’t change us any more than opening windows in itself freshened up our home. It was the breeze that freshened the air in our home and it would have been blowing regardless of if our windows were open and ready to receive the breeze or not. God’s grace is available to us, but sometimes we don’t experience the grace of His movements and resulting change because we live our lives with our windows closed. Practicing spiritual disciplines opens our lives to the transforming movements of God.

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I realize that some may not be familiar with what the spiritual disciplines are. There are the standard spiritual disciplines that consist of the inward, the outward and the corporate. I plan to write more on this subject.

Inward: prayer, meditation, fasting and study

Outward: simplicity, solitude, submission, service

Corporate: confession, worship, guidance and celebration

*I will put a couple of book suggestions at the bottom if you would like to learn more.

It is true we can practice any of these and not be transformed. A lot has to do with why we are coming. If we are practicing them to check off the spiritual boxes, that is a whole lot different than coming to God relationally. If I am reading the Bible only to get information, my approach will be a lot different than if I am reading it to see what God may be saying to me currently. We can do any of the spiritual disciplines and still keep God at arms length. That's what the Pharisees did. The goal isn't to be spiritual but to grow in intimacy with God.

Instead of a monologue to a distant God, prayer becomes a rich interaction where we come to know Him more deeply. Study becomes a mean to understand His love more. Service becomes a means of acting with God in our world and joining Him in what He is doing rather than working to achieve status with Him. The disciplines serve to teach us and conform us more and more into the image of Jesus. Even Jesus practiced them while on earth. It is a funny thought that we would become like Jesus in attitude, heart and action without doing the things He did. One reason He came was to teach us how to follow Him in this life now. 

In our home, the goal wasn't to have open windows, but to allow the moving breeze into our home. The goal of the spiritual disciplines is not attain some spiritual status but to allow God's movements into our lives so we can truly live like Him - not just in action, but in our deepest places.

Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster