Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

One of the things I appreciate about vacation, aside from exploring new places, is the time to read. During our vacation in December, I finished 3 books, one of which was The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. I read it interspersed with other reading, since it is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t want to read too quickly. After almost every section I read, I would share some of what what I was reading with Bob, and say “This book is so good!” I would call it one of those classics like “The Pursuit of God”, which clearly articulates the fundamentals of life as a follower of Christ and also highlights and brings to life the Scripture.

Challenge of disciplined life cover

The book focuses on three main areas – money, sex, and power. In each area, Foster illustrates the ways that these ‘gifts’ can be perverted and used for evil purposes. However, each can also be used for good when we have the right perspective and discipline. While I enjoyed each section and though that it brought out some significant and relevant truths, the section that perhaps spoke to me most was the one on money.

In the section on money, Foster describes the greed that our culture encourages, and even how subconsciously we allow money to dictate our decisions. He describes specific ways to combat greed and “dethrone” money’s high place in our minds. For example, the disciplines of giving, simplicity and trust, and making a conscious effort to value people over things. I also appreciate that Foster encourages us to really question the status quo by the standard of the Bible, and his words are prods that might allow the Holy Spirit to convict us or guide us into a deeper inner life if we are open to it.

I want to share a few quotes – although each of these are explained much better in the context of the rest of the chapter. In a chapter dedicated to exploring a mentality of simplicity, he explains:

“If we take the Biblical witness seriously, it seems that one of the best things we can do with money is to give it away. The reason is obvious: giving is one of our chief weapons in conquering the god mammon. Giving scandalizes the world of commerce and competition. It wins money for the cause of Christ. Jacques Ellul has noted, ‘We have very clear indications that money, in the Christian life, is made in order to be given away.’”

Foster then proceeds to give some helpful recommendations about how to give, including “with glad and generous hearts, let us keep in creative tension “reasoned” giving and “risk” giving. There is one kind of giving that carefully evaluates the track record of organizations and individuals, and another that gives without calculation. Both kinds of giving are essential.” This spoke to me because I tend to be one who wants to ‘reason’ when I give, and know that it is a valid cause, or a worthy person, etc. Yet, I feel challenged that I also have to be open to the Holy Spirit and sometimes willing to give when it doesn’t make ‘sense’.

In our lives in Congo, we are often presented with opportunities or asked directly to give. Being open to the Holy Spirit and free from the power of money means being willing to give to something that is a “risk”…even if it means a sacrifice on our part. I admit that a few times we have given some money or tried to help someone we didn’t know well, and it turns out they lie to us or steal things from us and we feel taken advantage of. But far greater than those cases are those people we gave something to who were also a ‘risk’ but have become treasured relationships or where we have seen positive growth in their lives. As Foster articulates, I think erring on the side of giving is better than erring on the side of withholding because it helps discipline us not let money have too high of a value in our minds.

I happened to pick this book up at random at a guest house. It looked dusty, old, and worn, but when I started reading I was drawn in by the engaging way of illustrating powerful truths. I appreciate Richard Foster’s humble and vulnerable descriptions of the importance of discipline in the spiritual life and a constant searching to understand God’s heart.

This is one of those books that is a rare treasure – you read it slowly and thoughtfully, and have to be open to change. Even though it was written first about 30 years ago, it seems very relevant and current. It also felt like it brought to light and gave practical contemporary interpretation to the truths of the Bible. I always felt like Richard Foster was bringing truth out of the Bible rather than selectively using the Bible to support his own truth. I think this is one of those classic books that every follower of Jesus should read. If you do or already have read it, I would love to hear your reflections too!

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