Can you imagine an athlete preparing for a marathon by simply thinking it’s a good idea some day, by watching others practice, by reading about in in a good book? In any sport, if you want to become good at it, you train. And you train under a coach whom you trust. Your coach will get you to do exercises you think are pretty remote from your goal, but you trust him. And you practice, practice, practice. And you hang out with people of similar interests, you talk about your training and you learn from each other. And one day you find yourselves doing things you never dreamed you could before you began practicing.
Do you think it’s any different about being a Christian?
We often get the feeling that we are “born Christian,” or that we make a decision for Jesus once and we are “saved” and don’t have to do anything further. We take our status of Christian for granted. You’ve got to work at being a Christian! If anything, being a Christian is living life a certain way. That certain way was shown us by Jesus through his life, his teaching, and his death. He is the model we are trying to emulate.
Spiritual practices are the exercises we undergo in order to develop the “spiritual muscle tone” we need in order to properly emulate our model. Like with the athlete, spiritual practices are about developing good habits of living rather than bad habits.
Like most athletes, Christians are not static – we grow and learn. An athlete who does not constantly develop and grow is a wash-out. Like the athlete, Christians see life as “quest.” We have a goal in mind. The goal is the joy and fulfilment of being a true human being the way Jesus was. We’ve heard Paul’s words: “Christ in me and I in Christ” and we’ve shrugged them off as an impossible dream. Just like running the Boston Marathon. No way.
Fortunately, we have a “holy longing” that nothing short of union with God can satisfy. Everything we do in this world – consume, acquire, climb the ladder of success, win in competition – is all about trying to fill that insatiable yearning within us. And when we are engaged in these activities, we tend to be blind to the reality around us which might begin to satisfy us. Spiritual practices are a systematic way to open ourselves to the presence of the Divine all around us and within us.
In traditional Christian language, being a Christian is being engaged in the task of “becoming Christ.” (Notice I didn’t say “become like Christ”…). Whatever else we might say about Paul, one thing is sure: he understood what was being offered us: the chance to “be in Christ and Christ in us.” “Becoming Christ” is the code word for living our lives as Jesus lived his. Jesus lived his life as a total openness to the Spirit. Openness to the Spirit meant that he engaged in regular, intentional spiritual practices, as attested to the many references to “the desert,” praying, going alone in the desert. Spiritual practices are ways to open ourselves to God’s Presence, to make ourselves available to God.
And everyone can do it. Just like everyone (well, almost) can run a marathon, or swim a kilometre, or climb a mountain. It takes intentional training, a careful lifestyle, a supportive community, a good coach, and lots of determination. Anyone can live in Christ and Christ in him/her if you put your mind to it.
If you’re a bit convinced that spiritual practices are important for anyone claiming to be Christian, then read on! There’s lots more on this website!
If you want to look at your life in terms of stages of growth in Christ, so that you might determine which practices are best suited for where you are in that growth, click here.
If you want to examine the kinds of spiritual practices we’re talking about, click here
If you don’t know where to start, click here.