An Unlikely Pathway to Freedom

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Let’s start off with a confession: I’m a bit of a science nerd. Anatomy and physiology truly fascinate me. Every time I pause to consider the intricacies of each system of the human body, working together to perform millions of microscopic miracles every second, I’m left speechless. There’s a cellular orchestra performing epic symphonies, mostly unheard by the human ear, underappreciated, taken for granted, yet stunning in its rhythms and harmonies. As I type, neurons in my brain are firing signals to nearly every major muscle group in my body – torso upright; eyes focused on the page; thoughts formed into words formed into sentences. In the meantime, my body is taking care of things I never even consider on a minute-by-minute basis: heart, beat! Lungs, expand! Liver, protect! You get the idea.

While those organ systems work on automatic, my fingers didn’t know where the home keys were on the keyboard from birth. I had to train them. Now, as I type, I do not think of where ‘h’ or ‘g’ is. My fingers rapid-fire across the alphabet, utilizing the skill gained from all those keyboard-typing games I played as a child. I have repeated the actions of typing with my fingers in the correct places so many thousands of times, my brain no longer has to do great mental gymnastics to get there. As athletes and musicians, we term this ‘muscle memory.’ It’s like the difference between a poorly cleared forest trail and a smoothly paved roadway. One takes great care and attention to navigate. The other removes danger and allows you to speed on through, focused on things beyond where your next step might fall.  I’ve created well-paved highways in my brain regarding what finger holds down the “shift” key, when to hit the space bar with my thumb, how to reach up for ‘u’ with my right index finger. Because of this muscle memory, my mind is free to concentrate not on the way to type my words but instead on the words I want to share. What did it take to achieve this freedom? Discipline.

Ah, and there it is: Discipline leads to freedom.

Can I just say that I really don’t like that statement when it sits by itself like that? I am a free spirit. A creative. A musician. I don’t like to be boxed in, forced to abide by a schedule or routine day in and day out. So, discipline is a struggle for me – unless it serves a purpose for my creative endeavors. I have spent tens of thousands of hours playing the violin, practicing when no one could hear me, like the neurons performing their silent duties in my brain. Those thousands of hours have led to my instrument becoming an extension of my body, so when I lift that beautifully shaped block of wood under my chin, I am free. Free to express. Free to create. Free to worship. Free to be fully alive.

God created us to be capable of developing habits. Have you ever thought about that? There’s an ability in the way we are wired to actually change the way our brain works. We have that power. God gave us this gift so that we could choose to love Him, developing that relationship with a foundation of powerful habits. Do you see where I am going?

“Do not conform to the pattern (habits) of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

When we choose to put into place the mind-renewing habits that lead us closer to Christ, we will discover that it completely changes our perspective. We find power to discern God’s will and way as we navigate through life, because we have paved a smooth highway to the Spirit of God. And the more we nurture those habits, the more automatic they become, until we find ourselves free to grow spiritually in ways we never dreamed possible.

The process towards a successful spiritual life begins with habit. Discipline. Are you wondering where to start? I’ll share in more detail in coming posts, but here’s a quick rundown of some key disciplines that have revolutionized my life, with progressively deeper challenges under each one:

  1. Prayer: Begin with the habit of starting and ending your day with conversation with Jesus. Discover the power of praying God’s Word. Perhaps the most powerful change in my prayer life came when I utilized the advice from The Practice of the Presence of God, bringing an attitude of prayer and worship into daily, menial tasks. Ready to graduate to a deeper discipline of prayer? Set aside a time on your calendar to commit to focused, concerted prayer. Don’t let anything get in the way of that appointment. Guard it like you’d guard a trip to your favorite restaurant with a best friend. Make it a habit. Speaking of friends, what about going deeper with a friend by becoming prayer partners, committing to praying weekly – maybe even daily by phone – just to pray together?
  2. Reading God’s Word. Again, the force of habit helps so much here! It seems daunting, until you make it part of every day, just like brushing your teeth. Start with a devotional that sends you to a specific verse or two (check out the Bible app or read online here for some great resources! They’ll even send you a daily reminder to help you with your habit-building). Dig deeper with a longer reading plan. Already done that? Set the truths in your heart by journaling about them (I strongly recommend the SOAP method!). And here’s a challenge that will truly revolutionize your thought life – prayer life – everyday reactions to life: memorize it.
  3. Community: Yes, community is a spiritual discipline (the churchy word is ‘fellowship’). Join a church. Done that? Get into a small group that meets weekly to discuss the Bible and do life authentically together – this is where it’s at, people. Call some of those folks and have lunch with them outside of group. Seek out a mentor. Be a mentor. Find an accountability partner. Serve as a volunteer at church or in the community. Make these habits part of your daily and weekly life and see if you don’t find that your world is richer for it.

Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard details this habit-forming life in a powerful way. In it, he lists spiritual disciplines under two categories: those of engagement (things added into my life) and those of abstinence (things I take out of my life). Perhaps you feel you have those three I mentioned down and are wondering what might challenge you to dig deeper as you try to be more like Jesus. Here’s his list:

Disciplines of Abstinence:

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement:

  • Study
  • Worship
  • Service
  • Celebration
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Confession
  • Submission

Oh, I have a long way to go in this arena, friends. This blog post was me preaching to myself. I can celebrate what God has already done, and when I consider the freedom discipline brings, it motivates me to keep pressing on into deeper habits. I have some bad habits I am trying to rid myself of, but the act of writing about discipline has reminded me of the truth every addict knows: you have to replace a bad habit with a good one. Waking every morning with a sense of dread about my impending failure will only defeat me. Waking instead with a plan to instill good habits into place – well, my friends, that brings freedom. And who doesn’t want to be a little more free?

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