The Journey of Spirituality:
The Law, Spiritual Disciplines, & Spiritual Practices
By Jason Phelps
Is the Law, Spiritual Disciplines, & Spiritual Practices different? Are they the same thing? For instance, fasting or the Sabbath fits within each of these. What is the relationship of these?
I propose these three be viewed as a natural progression. Maybe God began with the Law for those in the beginning stages of life with him. The Law still is holy, authoritative, and beneficial to life. However, it does not contain the whole of life with God. It is a full life with God, but not whole. Is this how Jesus understands the Law in the Sermon on the Mount?
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
He places the Law in its proper context. But he does not abolish the Law (see Matt. 5.17-20).
The Law then was given for the earlier stages, as we were in need of stability in more tangible forms. We need literal, practical, and clarity for growth with God. This understanding seems to fit with stages of development articulated be Piaget’s cognitive development, Erikson’s psychosocial development, Kohlberg’s moral development, and Fowler’s Stages of Faith. The Law fits perfectly for those in early stages of development. Not that it is limited to simply the early stages, but it does fit well there.
Progressing from the literal and clear commands of the Law. The Spiritual Disciplines has more critical reflection about those things we do in the Law. They construct their understanding on the narrative, which supports the Law (not the other way around). The tasks we engage, which were perviously commanded, are now disciplines we intentionally engage in as they help us move toward the vision in the narrative of life with God.
Spiritual Practices refers to the myriad of activities routinely done and relied upon in one’s life-with-God. At this stage we no longer need the Law, for our life is basically the Law. In other words, our routine life is found within the Law. The progression follows that what the Law commanded, and we willingly engaged in through Disciplines, we now regularly do or practice.
As a practical example, the Law commands a Sabbath rest. Every six days one relents from all work and on the seventh day they rest. This is a simple and practical command. In the beginning stage, I obey the Law as payment or my end of the covenant. It is my duty to obey and give the Lord his due for he rescued me and calls me his child. This is what is meant at one level when we say, “Jesus is Lord!” Rest on the seventh day is due to the Lord for his love, mercy, and grace. It is my payment to God.
At some point, I learn of my creation in the image of God. My purpose is live a life in participatory-union with God. The Law was given to assist me in this journey. Ravished by this vision I want to intentionally partner with God in my re-creation. I am struck by the corruption deep within my life, and am sadden by how driven I am to earn people’s approval. Thus, I passionately and intentionally engage in the spiritual discipline of Sabbath. This causes me to rest in God’s approval of me, and ween myself from the never-ending rat race of seeking other’s approval. At this stage, I willingly engage in this discipline for the purpose of becoming the person who rests in God’s approval and ceases to earn other’s approval. The discipline of Sabbath is simply a means to the ends of a vision of life-with-God.
Finally, at some point along this journey, I discover after several hard days of work in a row, or a long season with an intense project, I need to take a day or more to simply stop and be with God. In fact, I find I cannot even go an entire week, but I find myself routinely resting for brief moments most days, and at least one day every week. Then again, I don’t even count — it’s just life. It now adds up to multiple days once or twice a year. At this stage, the Sabbath becomes a regular spiritual practice in my life. I purely engage in this practice because of the regular connection with God I experience through it. It is no longer payment, nor passion motivating my regular and active engagement, but simple purity of life with God.
Grace and peace fam.