Spiritual Discipline

The Holy Spirit rarely shouts. He very frequently whispers. So it is a spiritual discipline to find a way – to search for a way – to take his whispers and make them unavoidable.

I frequently lecture myself when there isn’t anyone else around to listen. It’s really kind of embarrassing. I’m sure if there were anyone around to see me, I’d look like some crazy goon, gone mad with senility way before his time. But then, if there was anyone to see me, I’d be lecturing them instead. (This explains why it is so beneficial that I enjoy being alone, but it brings into question how Valerie can stand to be near me.)

Most recently, I was noticing how deathly still everything seemed as I got out of the car and walked to my apartment, compared with how loud it had just been in the car. See, I’ve just recently gotten my first two CDs from my new Hosanna subscription. I you’ve known me for very long, you’ve had an opportunity to marvel at my vast collection of praise and worship CDs (“church music”), and heard me grouse that, for a few years, I can present you with a veritable snapshot of what was going on in contemporary Christian worship – up until about 1998. And then it falters. And then slows down to a trickle, until it almost completely stops. Now I only have around 100 worship CDs, and I’ve very nearly memorized them all, and there’s nothing good for me to listen to at all. I say this all with open faced equanimity while you blink over a vast array of music you’ve never heard of. What on earth am I talking about?

Well, I say, I used to go through about a CD a week back when I had money…
Yeah, a lot of money! you say.
I shrug. It’s undeniable I had little else to blow summer job money on. But then I ran out of money (you snort), or time, or something, and I just haven’t been able to get back in the game…

But the truth is that, in the late 90’s, very nearly everything that was worth listening to was coming from one source – Vineyard Music Group. But then John Wimber died, and Vineyard music just hasn’t been the same since. And so, finding “the good stuff” hasn’t been the same since. It was coming from Martin Smith, from Matt Redmond, Passion, college bible studies, 100Portraits. Finding a regular stream of good music took research, which I didn’t have the time and energy to do.

Vineyard has a subscription program which I tried several times, but it kept just getting worse – little demo CDs done by kids and packaged in cardboard. For this I should pay $70 a year? There was another subscription program by Integrity, called Hosanna!, but somehow I never could find it so as to subscribe. They seemed to cater almost exclusively to actual church music directors. And then, about a month ago, quite by accident I’m sure, among a stack of materials dumped on me as the new youth minister-elect was a subscription card to Integrity! Hallelujah! Eureka! (and any other appropriate exclamatory words of foreign origin). I’m back in business, baby!

Which brings me back to stepping out of my (inappropriately) loud car into the cool quiet of rural Massachusetts. I’m remembering my mom coming early to pick me up from my lifeguarding job (during the summer of CD prodigality) and having bewildered sun-darkened college students ask me to make my mom turn down her music. And I’m imagining some neighborhood kid pulling up on a bike as I get out of the car, staring at me like the next door neighbor kid in *The Incrdibles*, and asking me, “why do you play your music so loud?” (my “music,” which is so obviously **not** modern rock.) And I try to answer him.

Why *do* I play this music so loud? Every time Valerie gets into the car, the first thing she does is turn the music down. Why do I listen to it at all? I have a seminary friend who tells me he’s never listened to “worship music.” “Listening to music” isn’t worship.

Well, I begin, It’s a kind of spiritual discipline. (Seriously, this is what I say to him. This imaginary kid I’m talking to, he’s smart. He’s on the up-and-up. He knows what it’s about. Which is why he’s *imaginary*.) Then I start to expound: I turn the music up to force me to pay attention, to drown out everything else. Why? Am I worshiping the music? No. I’m worshiping the living God and his Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit rarely shouts, and he very frequently whispers. So it is a spiritual discipline to find a way – to search for a way – to take his whispers and make them unavoidable.

Spiritual discipline. “Mortifying the flesh.” We box ourselves in, not because the body is evil, or because the spirit must be “released,” but because the amalgam of man must be quieted down to decrease the noise of humanness, because God in his sovereignty so very rarely increases signal.

The “signal” or “whispers” I’m talking about aren’t necessarily what you might call “prophetic words.” (I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that God may dish *those* out with more discretion than some people think.) Rather, I’m thinking of the foundational, almost subterranean *experience* of being a Christian that Adrian Warnock and Hobbes at Castle Sands have been talking about. Romans 8:15-16: “By Him [the Holy Spirit] we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

Everyone who can call themselves a child of God has this basic message resonating through them by the Spirit of God. How else can they be Christians? Calvin refers to it as the most basic proof a person has of being a true Christian: “What, then, does he mean when he bids the Corinthians examine themselves whether they are in the faith, to prove themselves whether they have Christ? Unless one knows that Christ dwells in him, he is reprobate” (Bk III, ch 2:39). But, like I said, frequently it’s a whisper, and so one of the purposes of spiritual disciplines (be it loud music, fasting, or otherwise) is to quiet ourselves enough to listen and reaffirm this basic Christian experience.

Okay. So now I’m pumped (which, of course, is the value of lecturing oneself). To be honest, I had forgotten the value of discipline. Every once in a while, the thought would come to me, *why don’t you fast for a couple of days, just for old times’ sake. This was usually followed by a pang of guilt that it’s been so long since I fasted and the thought that I could stand to lose a few pounds. But the obviously unspiritual motivation of weight loss-by-fasting usually served to counteract the negative motivation of spiritual guilt, and I stayed right where I was. But now I have some positive motivation, nay, even excitement, about the idea of spiritual discipline. Who knows? You may soon hear of me fasting (joyfully – with no ashes)!

*Plus, I could stand to lose a few pounds…*

* * *
A few questions for the sake of fostering comments:

* Do you agree with Calvin that there is a basic Christian experience of the Holy Spirit testifying within us that we are Christians and that we can actually test this in some way and have the Holy Spirit reaffirm this experience?

* What exactly is that experience?

* Do you agree with me that one of the purposes of spiritual disciplines is to quiet ourselves down so we can reaffirm this experience?

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