By Chuck Rodgers
Chuck Rodgers is senior area director for Young Life in the greater Abilene area. He and his wife, Cindy, have lived in Abilene for 25 years and raised their son, Taylor, and daughter, Molly. Chuck shares his story of implementing spiritual disciplines in his own life and sharing that with the high school and college students he encounters.
There probably hasn’t been anything in my life that has so powerfully impacted me as the spiritual disciplines. There definitely hasn’t been anything in my life that has been more difficult than trying to practice them!
When I speak of spiritual disciplines, I’m referring to the practices laid out for us by the scriptures and passed down through history: prayer, fasting, silence, solitude, confession and repentance, to name a few.
I was first introduced to spiritual disciplines in college through a devotional book called Disciplines for the Inner Life. The book came to me at a time when I wondered if there was more when it came to my relationship with Jesus. I was already an active Christian: church on Sunday, Sunday school teacher at my church, Young Life volunteer leader, and what one would call a “good Christian disciple.” Yet, there was still something missing. There had to be more.
The more, I discovered, was in the practice of the spiritual disciplines; the cultivating of the inner life, where Christ dwells in each of us (and I try to pass on that more to the young college volunteer Young Life leaders who give of themselves so sacrificially):
• more depth in my relationship with Jesus and with others
• more intimacy with Him and those I love
• more awareness of who I am, and even more of Whose I am
• more listening to the heart of the Father
Simply put – more of Jesus!
The difficulty for some (and certainly for me) is how much easier it is to focus on all of the things we do: the events, the services, the ministry opportunities, helping others and on and on and on. We begin to measure ourselves by how many of these things we are doing for the Lord, instead of who we are in the Lord. Couple that with our desire for the next “spiritual high” and we, or rather I, found myself worn out and asking the question, “Is this all there is?”
Once I began reading the works of people like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, St. John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, St. Augustine, Richard Foster, and so many others, it didn’t take me long to realize that the relationship with Jesus they spoke of was like cool water to my soul. Phrases like these leapt off the page:
– centering prayer
– the dark night of the soul
– the practice of the presence of God (a small book of the same name was written by a monk named Brother Lawrence)
– “spend 30 minutes with the written Word, and 30 minutes with the Living Word, Je-sus of Nazareth,” spoken by the spiritual director of my first silent retreat
– communion with the heart of God
– and the relentless tenderness of Jesus
These giants of the spiritual life brought a profound desire in me to seek the Lord, not for what He can do for me, but simply for who He is.
Now, I find myself trying to train and encourage college-age young adults, as well as high school kids, in this new-to-them arena of the spiritual disciplines. I say it’s new to them be-cause of what I see in their lives and lifestyles. More and more, young adult Christians are consumed with how they feel in their Christian walk. Their desire in life, as a whole, is to be happy, to feel good, to be entertained, to feel “up.” They have transferred that desire into their spiritual lives as they pursue where and from whom they can receive the spiritual highs to keep themselves “up.” If they attend one church and they don’t “get anything out of it,” they promptly try the next one on their list. What the church fathers and mothers would tell them is that “Church worship is not for you…worship is for God!”
Time and again I hear college kids lamenting how difficult ministry is for them and that “surely that must mean God wants me to do something else.” If we believe all God wants for us is to be happy, then we will miss all that He wants to show us and teach us through those un-happy times. The spiritual disciplines help us see the trials and temptations in our lives as opportunities for God to reveal Himself to us in ways the happy times could never possibly do. The discipline of fasting, for example, certainly doesn’t make one happy, but it serves to focus us, to center us in prayer to the only one who is able to grow us into mature disciples of Jesus.
In fact, Jesus makes it very clear in the Beatitudes that “blessed [or some translate it as ‘happy’] are those who are poor in spirit…who mourn…who are meek…who hunger and thirst for righteousness…who are merciful…who are pure in heart…who are peacemakers…who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” Those are all attributes given to us by Jesus himself and brought to life as one pursues the spiritual disciplines (i.e. the disciplines for the inner life).
For the most part, my struggles in consistently practicing spiritual disciplines come from my own lack of discipline (no pun intended). But that’s the gist of it! The spiritual disciplines require a commitment, a rhythm that I find more difficult now than when I began.
Brennan Manning, who was a contemplative author and speaker on the spiritual life, said that a person should spend at least one 36-hour time away in silence and solitude every quarter. He also said that one three-day silent retreat each year was an absolute must. Seriously?! Brennan then followed up his recommendations/orders by saying, “it’s the most important work you’ll ever do for your soul.” How in the world am I to shut off my phone, my computer, the world, for nine days every year? But maybe the better question is, how can I afford not to do so.
What I have learned for myself, as well as for the young people with whom I interact and lead on a daily basis, is that the spiritual disciplines lead me into an adventure; the adven-ture of discovery into how much the Father loves me, knows me, and wants so desperately to be known by me. Through the scriptures and these amazing men and women, most of whom have long since died; I see that there truly is an intimacy with the Father that can only be experienced. They are my guides into a depth of relationship with Jesus that my soul longs for, much as the psalmist wrote when he said, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for You, my God.” (Psalm 42:1)
The struggle for me 30 years ago remains the same struggle today: How do I slow down, silence all of the noise that is so prevalent in my life, and let God at me? You know what the very best more I receive from practicing the spiritual disciplines is? It’s discovering that above all else, Jesus wants more of me, too!