The Regimens Part 2
As we continue learning more about spiritual disciplines, it’s important to keep in mind that regimens are different than rhythms, which are part of the flow of daily Christian living. You can read about spiritual rhythms here. This second part is geared toward helping you explore more spiritual regimens and the purpose behind them. Remember, these should be approached prayerfully and not by just “plowing into them.” Regimens are often considered practices of abstinence, meaning they use self-restraint to avoid or to get rid of something. In that sense, they often feel abrupt and difficult.
Have you noticed just how much self-promotion runs underneath our communication these days? Social media makes it easier than ever to promote ourselves in subtle ways – look at my kids, look at where I’m at, look who I’m with! Or consider people who bring conversations back around to themselves or who try to play the game of one-upmanship in telling stories. Our society emphasizes self-importance over humility.
One key regimen, secrecy, is difficult because it really runs against our desire to be accepted, recognized, and important. Author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us Adele Calhoun writes, “We want people to know just how generous, smart, successful, and popular we are. But we don’t want to appear to be a braggart so we come up with subtle and socially approved ways of promoting ourselves and our image.” Whether we let people know about the insider conversations we had recently or the organizations we have given to, ours is a culture built on being noticed. Dallas Willard once wrote, “Secrecy, rightly practiced enables one to place the public relations department entirely in the hands of God.”
Jesus Himself valued secrecy. In John 2:24 we read, “But Jesus would not entrust Himself them (people), for he knew all people.” Jesus knew the real motives of people. Much of His own motivation for instructing others not to report what they had seen and experienced stemmed from his desire to keep people from coming to him only to get something they needed.
Secrecy then is an abrupt spiritual discipline that is practiced to literally “not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). The best way to start practicing is to land on a start and end date, preferably longer than a week and shorter than two months. Examine yourself and your instinctual desires to improve your own image in others’ eyes. During this time I would recommend praying over what is revealed in your own heart. Confess this and remember that God considers you valuable not because of what you contribute, but because of who you are in Christ. You might think about incorporating the following regimen into your time of secrecy and making it into a covenant with the Lord:
Decline adding to any conversation with stories that put you in a good light or trying to one-up someone else.
Avoid wanting to know more in most cases. There is a kind of curiosity for the sake of wanting to be “in,” which is a vice
Practice your devotional time in seclusion
Give to another in secret
Refraining from telling others about your talents, skills, or good deeds.
Refrain from trying to be funny to get people to accept you.
We often deal with crazy schedules and responsibilities that pull us in endless directions. Our lives sometimes seem like they are full of clutter that actually makes us feel more enslaved. What becomes valued more is comfort and ease. Ironically, we who have much as a nation in terms of the world’s wealth are often the most distracted, miserable people on the earth.
The truth is that Christians throughout history have had to intentionally carve out a life that was simpler. Some left cities to live in the desert (the Desert Fathers) as a way to reject the temptation of accruing possessions and power. Some fled to monasteries and convents to build communities where, without distraction, God could be found in the present moment.
Jesus reminded us of the power of treasure. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”(Matt. 6:19-21). Our real treasure is not found in this life but rather in God’s kingdom. The practice of simplicity is necessary to remind us that our treasure is not what we accumulate, but what we already have access to. We actually get to practice caring less about material possessions and caring more about offering ourselves to our heavenly Father.
When we practice simplicity, we are engaging in a regimen that is counter-cultural. You should always expect some spiritual pushback when you enter into any regimen, especially one of simplicity. In this practice we are rejecting our sinful desire to accumulate more and our feeling of entitlement in order to place our identity squarely on how we are already declared to be spiritually rich because of Christ’s poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9). Richard Foster in his article, “The Discipline of Simplicity” writes, “The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.”
For a season, think about specific ways you could release possessions, power, and privilege. Focus on ways in which you could give away more, downsize your current standard of living, or trade out one weekly activity for one where you serve the poor. Others find ways of limiting consumption – food, entertainment choices, adult gadgets, simplifying leisure choices. The point is to find ways to trim your life down and make an effort to live more simply than you currently do.
SHORT TERM MISSION TRIPS
I’m including this as a spiritual regimen because short-term mission trips represent an intense, abrupt experience in a spiritual greenhouse. While our lives should reflect mission as a rhythm (regular witness to others), there are opportunities to step outside your comfort zone to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others in unfamiliar settings around the world.
Mission work is not about fixing others, problems overseas, or yourself. You don’t go on a missions trip to make much of you. You participate in missions because like any regimen, they put you in a place where you get to the end of yourself. It’s only there that you can then “find yourself.” This spiritual regimen emphasizes trusting God because we can’t make it work with our own power and strength.
It’s while you are on a mission trip that you begin to see God’s heart and how much bigger it is than just your happiness. To see orphans, the poor, those who have no access to Christian material, and those who are vulnerable is a reminder that you are blessed to be a blessing to others (Psalm 67). This forms your soul because you not only begin to see the world’s population in a different light, but you begin to see your own life in a different light as well.