October 1, 2011

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

I did something with this most excellent book that I think I have not done before. I read its 13 chapters out on the deck over 26 days, reading a chapter one day, and making notes on it the next. It was a lovely and peaceful highlight of my summer. The book outlines 12 disciplines for spiritual living, the purpose of which is to bring us closer to God.

The book was originally written in the late 70s and revised twice over the next two decades. Foster is a Quaker and you might think this means super-Conservative, but it is a very freeing book, not contradicting in any significant ways my reading of Rob Bell over the summer. Foster emphasizes over and over that there is no use in practising the disciplines for their own sake, and that doing so will lead to bondage and religiosity. You practise them because they are the way to understand and know God and that's what you want to do. They are all biblical and historic ways in which people have learned to experience God. Foster says you keep doing them because they work.

This was the most unique aspect of the book. Discipline sounds rigid, but the book is all about freedom. So for instance, yes, you can make a list of people to pray for, but ideally a person is on that list to begin with because you feel compassion for them (or love, as in a family member) and that's your indicator that you want to pray for them. In all the disciplines, Foster emphasizes that they are not about adding work to your life, but about doing things differently. So for instance in the discipline of Submission, you practise simply not always charging through a door first but often holding the door for somebody else. It's not a lot more trouble, just a different way of approaching things.

One of the disciplines that I really liked was Simplicity. He has nine beautiful practical ways for how to live simply(resist gadgets, learn to enjoy things without having to own them), and also offers three inner attitudes: Receive what I have as a gift from God, know that it is God's business to take care of what I have, and consider what I have as available to others.

I picked this book up from a pile of used books being sold for charity at an insurance office where I was buying my ICBC sticker. What a lucky find.

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