The Disciplines of Relationship
In my last post (The Disciplines of Abundance - Part 1), I suggested that there are two categories of disciplines that are the essence of abiding in Christ. The first of those categories is the disciplines of relationship. To abide in Christ is to have a relationship with him. And that relationship is of first importance.
We evangelicals often talk about a personal relationship with Christ. But what does that mean? How do you have a relationship with a person that is, in a very real way, quite different than any other?
There is a way in which all personal relationships are the same. All personal relationships are made up of three disciplines: spending time together, speaking, and listening. These disciplines are the fiber of any personal relationship. They're what holds things together. Without these three disciplines a relationship simply does not exist. Of course we have to allow for a sufficiently broad understanding of what it means to spend time together, speak, and listen. It's possible to spend time together on the phone and to speak and listen in texts; let's not start a debate on the merits of fancy new ways to communicate or the legitimacy of corresponding relationships. Don't miss the point. However it's done, there are three ingredients in all personal relationships: spending time together, speaking, and listening.
So, if we want to abide in Jesus Christ -- if we want to have a personal relationship with him -- then we must do these three things. Of course, here is where the similarities between our relationship with Christ and all of our other relationships stop. The way we spend time with, speak to, and listen to Jesus is different than the way we do the same things with Nick or Jess.
There have been pleanty of books written on the subject (try Foster's Celebrating the Disciplines, Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines or Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life) so I won't belabor the point. But, if you want to have a relationship with Christ, three disciplines are vital. First, we spend time with God by putting down our distractions and recognizing that wherever we are, there God is present with us. In a manner of speaking, this recognition creates the environment for you and God to have a conversation. Second, we speak to God in prayer. And, to be clear, prayer happens when we commune with God in our minds just as much as it does with hands folded, eyes closed, and words said out loud. Third, while God certainly speaks to his people by his Spirit, God speaks to us first and foremost by his word, the Bible. Spend time, speak, and listen. These are the disciplines of relationship. And as Christians, we should practice them every day.
Perhaps you were hoping for something a bit more novel. Another suggestion to read your Bible and pray may seem like a lackluster crescendo. But I hope this framework will help you see that nothing could be further from the truth. Reading the Bible and praying aren't vain duties. These disciplines aren't arbitrary religious busywork. If we abide in Christ, we will bear fruit. If we abide in Christ, we will live abundantly. These disciplines are the fiber of our relationship with Christ. They're what we must do to live abundantly.
And that bottom line is the good news. If we abide in Jesus Christ, we will bear fruit. Guaranteed. It's a slow and life-long process, no doubt. But the result of our relationships with Christ is that our very natures change. That's what sanctification is: God changing who we are. Our participation in the process is certainly required, but in sanctification God does for us yet again what we cannot do for ourselves. You and I may make some progress changing our behavior, but God alone is capable of this sort of identity overhaul. In sanctification, by God's grace we become the sort of people who are naturally less angry and more peaceful; who are more content in any and every circumstance.
I began by suggesting that our relationship with Christ is of first importance. That's because this sort of nature change is of first importance. Before we can significantly change what we do, God has to significantly change who we are. Before we can live differently, we have to be different. So, we must abide in him. But we haven't finished when we do. Foundational as these disciplines are, there's more to Christianity than reading your Bible and praying. After all, Christ himself said that if we loved him, we would do what he commanded (John 14:15). So it's to that issue we'll turn in the final post of this series.
Grace be with you.