For The Kingdom: Joy-Filled Living In Difficult Days | Day 63

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9

“Just like riding a bike.”
How is it that a person can climb on a bicycle and operate the unique combination of motor skills and balance necessary to ride down the street without falling? If it were so easy, then why would we ever need training wheels? Why would there ever be exhausted parents running down the street with their hands on the back of their child’s bike yelling, “OK, I am letting go, you can do it, oh, ugh, watch out! Are you ok?!” as they dust off backsides and kiss boo boos?  The answer is “Muscle Memory;” once a child learns how to ride a bicycle, the skill becomes second nature and is essentially stored in their brain to be retrieved easily even years or decades later.

The neuroscience behind muscle memory is quite fascinating.  In the brain, there are different regions which are responsible for different types of memories.  For instance, the prefrontal cortex controls our “Declarative memory,” which is used for recalling facts and specific details.  The temporal lobe, or hippocampus controls our “Episodic memory,” allowing us to recall the more autobiographical memories from specific events in our lives, like a trip to Disney, or an encounter with a friend at the grocery store. Finally, the basal ganglia is the part of our brain which houses our “Procedural memory,” the muscle memories and motor skills necessary to ride a bike, play the guitar, type a sentence or catch a ball.  Malcolm Gladwell asserts in his book Outliers that for any person to become a world class performer in a given field, he or she must dedicate over 10,000 hours in focused practice in order to achieve breakthrough.  Neuroscience, however, shows that significant improvement to muscle memory development can be made in a much shorter amount of time.  What does this have to do with growing as a follower of Jesus?  Everything! Like a toddler learning to walk, it may take time to begin to walk confidently in our faith spiritually, but with discipline, practice and a grace-filled environment of encouragement and support, it will not be long before we are up and running.

While the saying, “practice makes perfect” is unachievable, it is accurate and insightful to say, “practice makes permanent.”  This is true in our faith.  We will never be a “perfect disciple” in this life, but what we put into our disciple practice will become a part of us.  Your spiritual habits, practices and disciplines will eventually embed themselves in your spiritual memory, like riding a bike. This is why we should commit ourselves to Kingdom practices, also known as spiritual disciplines, which are both repeatable and reproducible. 

So, what are the Spiritual Disciplines we should “put into practice”? Let’s look at two categories of Spiritual Disciplines: Spiritual Disengagement and Spiritual Engagement.

1) Spiritual Disciplines of Disengagement:  One helpful and often forgotten form of Spiritual practice is disengaging.  We might call it “unplugging.”  Yet, it is really a form of abstinence. These are not necessarily things we do every day, but we should strive to find times in our lives to practice these things regularly…

  • Solitude & Silence: Getting away from others and the noise of life in order to be alone with God and to be found by Him. As Jesus’ fame grew and the demands for His time and attention multiplied, His commitment to solitude and silence with God only increased. “News about Jesus kept spreading. Large crowds came to listen to him teach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.”  Luke 5:15-16 If Jesus made this a priority, we also should regularly receive the Lord’s invitation to “Be still and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10. Block your schedule and book time alone with God and see what God reveals to you in the silence that you would never hear in the noisy business of life.
  • Fasting: Going without food (or something else) for a period of intense prayer and dependence upon God. While Jesus was quick to call out the hypocrisy of fasting for the praise and admiration of others (see Matthew 6:16-18), He also believed fasting should be a regular part of every believer’s life. Take note that by saying, “When you fast…”, Jesus is declaring that this is a normal part of a disciple’s spiritual growth.
  • Sabbath: Honoring the Sabbath is not about checking a box to make God happy.  The command to do no work in order to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others is a gift from God to man. As Jesus reminds us, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27.

2) Spiritual Disciplines of Engagement:  These are many practices pulled from Scripture and church history which have been given to us so that we may be able to connect more deeply with God, self and others.

  • Bible Reading/Study: Trusting and studying God’s inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. If the Scripture is indeed “the sword of the Spirit” (see Ephesians 6:17), we should be dedicated to learning and handling it well. “Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
  • Scripture Memory/Meditation: We are instructed to focus our thoughts deeply on the truths of God’s Word so that they become a part of our way of thinking and seeing the world around us.  By memorizing God’s Word, we can like David say, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
  • Worship: Praising God’s greatness & worth through words, music or other expressions of praise. Much more than a song or an experience, our worship should be marked by spiritual intimacy and dedication towards God. “God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24
  • Prayer: Speaking to Him in trust and dependence.  Recognizing His greatness and power in our lives, circumstances, relationships and world.  “Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
  • Service: Humbly serving God by serving others in His name.  Serving others is a practice that develops the characteristics of humility, compassion, and empathy that is required of every great Kingdom leader. “The greatest among you must be a servant.” Matthew 23:11
  • Giving:  Growing in faith and worship of God through generous giving. Like fasting and prayer, giving is a regular practice that Jesus expects from all disciples. (See Matthew 6:19-21).  Giving sets us free from the master of money, empowering us to fully trust God in the tangible provision of our needs. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” Malachi 3:10

As you read this list of spiritual disciplines, you may find yourself thinking, “I’ve tried this stuff before and it didn’t work for me.”  Remember, “We talkin’ bout practice!” It takes time for the practice to pay off.  If you think you can pick up a tennis racket and play competitive tennis after a few lessons, you are mistaken.  You have to keep practicing over and over until it becomes a part of you.

Be encouraged, it doesn’t take 10,000 hours to begin to see growth and improvement.  Most research shows it takes between 21 to 254 days to make or break a habit. Though learning to ride a bike may produce some skinned knees and elbows, it will soon become second nature.  Trust that the journey to spiritual growth is an important part of the disciple’s development.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

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