Those words echoed off the water and bounced off the enclosed walls of the swimming pool every day during swim season. It was during those years of high school I think I first discovered that I was made for community... just not necessarily competitive swimming. I loved being with the guys on the team, the camaraderie, the common goal. It's just that I was a horrible swimmer. Every day coach would walk the deck of the pool, whistle in hand, and shout the command..."do it again."
We called it practice.
I think I didn't like swimming all that much because I didn't like practice all that much. I discovered my body just was not designed like the other guys, I never could relax, never had a smooth stroke. Everyday I'd pull myself out of the water with leg cramps. I did it because I liked being with these guys. They were friends. We were doing this together.
Sometimes in January of each year, deep down within me, I hear the same call, "Let's try it again." Today that voice has more to do with my attempts at being a follower of Jesus. I'm learning to follow through some practices that I've chosen. Over the years I've discovered that I'm wired a bit different than others and so my practice is becoming more tailored to how I learn to listen for God's voice best. And so I practice. Practice means I don't do it perfectly and need to keep trying; that's inherent in the word.
Ancient Christian teachers taught about a practice schedule they called a 'regula.' That really means a 'rule' or as we call it a 'rhythm.' It's simply a chosen set of spiritual practices that help teach me to listen for God's voice throughout my day. Every January I set about to create a new rhythm. It's usually not really all that new, in fact very little of it is new. One of the insights I've had over the years is that my transformation is far more about learning what not do any more than about doing more stuff.
When I teach others how to create a rhythm of life for themselves I ask these questions:
1. What do you enjoy doing, what gives you the greatest amount of pleasure?
Most people find it kind of shocking that this one thing they enjoy doing could actually be a spiritual discipline, but it can, if you learn how to let it teach you to listen.
2. What are you already doing?
Every one of us already has a rhythm of life. It just may not be helpful in growing your faith. But it is necessary to take an inventory of what spiritual disciplines you are already doing. Most of the time you won't need to add anything more. Here is a list of what some consider to be classic spiritual disciplines.
Circle the ones you already do somewhat regularly (I'll let you decide what 'regularly' means). Some of these are done with others and some are done privately.
Meditation Prayer Fasting Study Simplicity Solitude Silence Submission Service Confession Worship Spiritual Direction Celebrations Secrecy Prayer of Examine Fellowship Praying the Scriptures Spiritual Reading Bodily Exercise Sabbath-Keeping Retreats Pilgrimage Tithing Journaling Sabbaticals Dream Interpretation
Looking at your list, are you surprised by how much you are already doing to help you learn to listen?
3. Based on your current circumstance are there any of these on your list that you may need to change? If they are not helping you learn to listen then they are helping you to become very religious, and we know what Jesus thought about those kind of folks.
4. What are you learning to listen for? Most of the time people think their spiritual practices are intended to give them some sort of spiritual goose bumps or warm feelings. You know, 'feeling closer to Jesus." Those things do happen...from time to time...but the purpose of any spiritual discipline is to first and foremost irritate you! When I teach on this I call it Holy Spirit irritations. But it's the irritation that we all too quickly avoid and run from. Some of us even attempt to blame the Devil and call it a demonic spiritual attack. The fact is, it's the irritations that transform us.
I'm learning the Holy Spirit uses the spiritual practices to speak to me about the things that hinder me from trusting God, from growing in faith, from allowing Him to transform me. These hindrances are deeply embedded and often feel like health, when in fact they are no more than my ego's ability to stay in control. It's the hindrances that Jesus was talking about when He said unless you lose your life you won't find your life. In another place he said unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies it only stays a kernel, but if it does die it produces fruit. Or again, take up your cross and follow.
So it's January again. A good time to 'try it again.'
The two greatest lessons I've learned over the years is that, first, I'm going to screw up, get used to it. I won't succeed like I desire. But even in my failure, Jesus loves me as much as ever. My failure does not stop Him from lavishing love on me.
The second lesson is that I need community to practice with. You do as well. Do it with others. I know you think you can do it on your own, but that is more ego talking. I attend a group every weekday morning before work. It literally is my recovery group. I'm addicted to my way of doing things. This group shares the same goal, we have a comradery, a friendship. The simple involvement with this group to learn to listen for God's voice together through a simple prayer exercise in the Scriptures has been life changing. So my encouragement is practice together.
If you want to learn more about your spiritual formation or the definitions and practices of some of the disciplines listed above, check out the course we offer called A Pilgrim's Process. For those of you who have been through the course, remember there is a significant discount for alumni!