Every year, Lent makes me question the whole practice of Christian discipline. Shouldn't we always be willing to go without in order to better understand God's way in the world? Shouldn't we always be more intentional about a life of prayer and seeking after God's voice? Sometimes it feels spiritual disciplines like practicing Lent or setting aside time for "devotions" only further to compartmentalize my experience of God away from my everyday experience. Such a faith is the last thing I need in a world already full of distractions that prevent me from loving God and others as Jesus commands (Mt. 22:37-38).
Usually, however, these questions are just an excuse for my own laziness. To suggest I don't need to set aside time to pray and cultivate my faith in God because as a Christian I "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17) - which I don't - is a simplistic view of faith. It's like saying to a home builder she doesn't need to set aside time to read the design plans for a new home because she's already a home builder. No! The most seasoned home builder spends time understanding the project in order to build the house well. The faithful Christian, likewise, spends time understanding their faith in God - e.g. spiritual disciplines such as practicing Lent - in order to faithfully live out a love of God and others.
This morning I read a quote about liturgy (not just the church calender, but literally "the work of the people," such as spiritual disciplines) that relates well to why I think spiritual disciplines are so valuable in our experience of faith. Phyllis Tickle states,
"Liturgy only gives sanction to what the heart already knows" (Final Sanity, 69).
I like this. It describes my experience of Lent well, expressing the profound simplicity in spiritual disciplines. Something in me knows I need to re-prioritize my life, yet such re-prioritization doesn't usually happen easily. Spiritual disciplines can amplify our natural desire to connect with God (Ps. 63:1) - a desire our noisy world so often muffles. Reorienting ourselves to allow this natural tendency to become evident in everyday life takes work. Hence the phrase, "spiritual disciplines."
As Christians we all know life is not our own, but a gift from God (Ps. 8). Spiritual disciplines, perhaps, are the liturgical kick in the pants we need to remember that!
(Definition - "Liturgical kick in the pants" - a concise, well-ordered, thoughtful and challenging practice that protects Christians from laziness and consumer tendencies. Yes, I made this up:)