Eventually, this winding path will get us to historic Christian spiritual disciplines. There goes the surprise.
But along the way, it could be helpful to chart out some of our non-negotiables, guardrails on our way.
1) Connect through Christ
Jesus declares himself to be "the way, the truth and the life." He is so bold as to say: "No one comes to the Father except through me." He is the point at which humanity and God unite, connect.
I love watching the Gulf of Mexico. My Grandmother spends some time there every summer. My Father recently bought a house on the Gulf as well. Warm water, small waves. If you go at the right time you can still find places on the beach where the rhythmic crash of the waves is all you can hear.
Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico there's a great horizon line, a visual representation that sky and water are meeting. From my vantage point in the shallows, the meeting, touching of sky and water seems far off, miles and miles away. But even in my knee-deep shallows, full of shells and sting-rays, sky and water touch.
Our techniques to connect with God are a lot like the water's reach to touch the sky. Looked at from up close, it's nothing, no big deal. From a distance, the horizon clearly makes the connection.
Christ is our connection, our place where sky and water meet. From some vantage points, it's tough to see how Christ fits into it (What does Jesus have to do with fasting?). But if you can back up far enough, if you get the right angle, you always see that horizon line between sky and water.
Every technique that allows us to connect with God does so through Christ.
2) Connection requires community
There is no option to connect with God without the people of God. This is one of the reasons multi-ethnicity is so important. This is one of the reasons the church is so important. This is one of the reasons evangelism is so important.
All of our techniques, practiced in isolation, go astray. This is one of the reasons the author of Hebrews urges us to "not give up the habit of meeting together." Discouragement floods in. Selfishness and self-centeredness sneak in. Stagnation sets in. We need community.
And this is a very difficult element to incorporate into our techniques to connect with God. Real community often devolves into...
- Mere accountability
- Once-a-week Christianity
Try fasting as a community. All manner of corruption rushes in and we begin to see why Jesus told us to fast in private. But Daniel and his companions fasted together. Moses and David called for fasts. Throughout the history of God's people, communal fasts have had a powerful effect, connecting and reconnecting people to God.
So many of our approaches to the spiritual disciplines are individualistic. We don't know how to let other people into our practice. I certainly don't well.
I tried a few months ago, tried talking some friends into reading Celebration of Discipline and putting some of the disciplines into practice together. That's right, I gave my friends homework. That's how it felt, at least.
But I know it's right. I know community is a gift for us as we engage in the various techniques God's given us to connect with him. Community is a gift. I just need to learn to unwrap it.