This is a continuing series providing answers to the question posed here.
Almost a week ago, I posed Dallas Willard’s question from The Spirit of the Disciplines which you can read in the link above. Since then, I have been laying out my answer with the caveat that it is applied generically, even though spiritual direction is most effective when it is tailored to the strengths, weaknesses, and temperament of an individual. That being said, I still stand by the Daily Offices and the Eucharist as essential for all; tradition and a great cloud of witnesses support this. And no, I have not forgotten that I started with a shot across the bow at television and video games. I still stand by that as an epidemic problem for most Christians and will return to the topic of media in future posts.
Now, however, we turn to the portion of spiritual direction commonly referred to as “personal devotion.” Since it is truly personal, we have a much broader palette to choose from. Some things will come easily, even naturally, while others may seem foreign and require great effort. A proper diet would contain both for we need to use our inclinations to our benefit, but we also need to be stretched to grow. Some things, however, may be completely inapplicable.
Consider Peter’s reinstatement in John 21: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” We could assume this interchange took place around the breakfast fire, but we have a subtle hint this was not the case. Verse 20 indicates Peter and Jesus were walking with John following. It is my hunch that Jesus was leading Peter away from the sea of Tiberias toward the surrounding hills, where shepherds could serve as a visual aid to Jesus’ injunctions. Peter, the fisherman, was being told to be a shepherd—no more of this “fishers of men” talk. Peter had been discipled for three years and now it was time to move on to the next stage. For Peter, that meant he had to leave his boat and nets behind.
The picture above is not just a random image to decorate the top of this post. I put this picture of waves crashing across the breakwater at Oswego harbor because for me, the opposite of Peter’s call would be more challenging, more frightening. I am a land animal and having had a few harrowing experiences on and in water has not helped my opinion. I write this to point out that the direction your “personal devotion” should take may be very different from mine, and will almost certainly not be the exact same.
If you are serious about finding the answer to the question posed by Dallas, my best advice is to find a trusted believer to show you the way ahead. This is not foolproof—to some extent we are all blind guides—but it is better than trying it alone. As Dallas implies, though, it may not be easy to find someone a few steps ahead willing to “take you on.”
I will continue to look at disciplines to aid in cultivating Christ-likeness in upcoming posts and I suspect some of them will be more widely applicable than others. The goal is not to accumulate the most arduous regime you can, but to find those activities that help mold you to be more like Christ. Often times, one discipline, practiced faithfully over time, will be of more benefit than a dozen haphazardly and inconsistently practiced. Slow and steady wins the race.