Christians have always been attentive to reality that prayer, worship, the sacraments and other spiritual practices are important. In many churches and individual people’s lives it is simply a given. But why? Why are those practices important?
One of the first things we tend to say is that spiritual practices help us grow closer to God. They improve and deepen our personal faith. That’s true and it is a good thing.
John Calvin wrote that sin is our hearts turned in on themselves. Spiritual practices are how we turn our hearts outward. A friend made an apt analogy. When plants get too dry they shrivel and their leave curl up. Water allows the leaves to uncurl and the plant expand and grow. Spiritual practices are how we uncurl our parched, dry souls.
But I think there is another reason also. Spiritual practices are for us but they are also for the world. Spiritual practices ground us in the heart of God. They help give us eyes to see and ears to hear what delights God and what breaks God’s heart. Spiritual practices change us so that we can change the world and help God’s vision for the world- as best as we understand it- to become reality.
When our hearts are curled inward, we focus on ourselves. What Eugene Peterson calls the unholy trinity, my wants, my needs, my desires. Spiritual practices give us the ability, the strength to long for God’s desires. We are re oriented outward.
This is, for most of us, slow work. But through prayer, worship, reading the Bible, deep conversations we become increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are. We begin to long for a more just, more fair world.
Can you think of a time the practice of a spiritual discipline changed your outlook?