It is a profound truth about human beings that our first area of freedom concerns where we will place our mind. Until solitude and silence have had their effects, our minds will very likely continue to be focused on the wrong things, or on good things in an anxious attitude of trying to dominate them. But as we, through relocating our bodies into solitude, escape and change the inputs that have constantly controlled our thoughts and feelings, we will have additional freedom to place our minds fully upon the great God, His kingdom, and its peace and strength.

This, in turn, will transform our emotional state, and thereby the very condition of our body. Most of those around us will sense that and begin to act differently themselves. The social context will change for the better, and what we have to respond to will be much more in the spirit of the kingdom. I have observed this on many occasions.

Once solitude has done its work, the key to progress in spiritual formation is study. It is in study that we place our minds fully upon God and his kingdom. And study is brought to its natural completion in the worship of God.

When I study anything I take its order and nature into my thoughts, and even into my feelings and actions. At one time I did not know the alphabet, for example. But then I studied it. I brought it before my mind, with the help of my teacher, and related my body to it in ways well known to all. Before very long the order that is in the alphabet was in my mind and body. From there, that order enabled me to reproduce, recognize, and use the alphabet and its parts. The order that I took into myself by study gave me power to do many good things that I could not do until, by study, it had become mine.

What we learn about study from this simple example of the alphabet is true in all areas, from the most theoretical to the most practical. It is also true when we study what is evil, a very dangerous thing to do. Then we take on orders and powers of evil—or they take us. But, thankfully, most of what we naturally come to study is good. A student of plumbing or singing, for example, takes into his or her mind certain orders by purposely dwelling upon the relevant subject matter and activities in appropriate ways. That is how study works. And, of course, it always enables individuals “to do what they cannot do by direct effort”—the mark of a discipline.

The “blessed man” of Psalm 1 (and Joshua 1:8) is one whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” You can’t achieve that outcome on your own. You do it by indirection, absorbing you mind in the ways of God.

Now disciples of Jesus are people who want to take into their being the order of the Kingdom of God that is among us. They wish to live their life in that Kingdom as Jesus himself would, and that requires internalization of its order. Study is the chief way in which they accomplish that. They devote their attention, their thoughtful inquiry, and their practical experimentation to the order of the kingdom as seen in Jesus, in the written word of scripture, in others who walk in the way, and, indeed, in every good thing in nature, history, and culture.

Thus Paul’s practical advice from his jail cell to his friends at Philippi: “Whatever things are true, serious, right, pure, lovable, well regarded, any virtue and anything admirable, let your mind dwell on them. What you have learned, received, heard and seen in me, do that. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). For all such good things are of God and his reign.

Of course, in all our study as and with disciples, the person of Jesus is the center of attention. But he is not really separable, for us, from the written revelatory word, including the law, the prophets, the history, and the wisdom of the Old Testament. One who would train disciples “to hear and do” will direct them to all these, still centered on the person of Jesus.

And the Twenty-third Psalm is also an exquisite summary of life in the kingdom. The mind of the disciple should have it prominently displayed within, to always foster the joy and peace of the kingdom as well as to orient all of his or her actions within it. The Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 8, Colossians 3, Philippians 2-4, and a few other passages of scripture should be frequently meditated on in depth, and much of them memorized. This is an essential part of any training for Christlikeness. Positive engagement with these scripture will bring kingdom order into our entire personality. This is something you will strongly experience as you go through the process of such study.

I know many people who profess serious allegiance to Jesus, and claim him as their Savior. But, unfortunately, they simply will not take essential scriptures into their soul and body and utilize them as here indicated. The result is that they continue to recycle their failures and make little or no real progress toward the abundance/obedience essential to “walking worthily of the calling wherewith we are called.” Some of them even try to use other spiritual disciplines, but with little result. An essential ingredient is missing, and the order of their mind and life remains other than that of the kingdom.

Study is by no means simply a matter of gathering information to have on hand. Intensive internalization of the kingdom order through study of the written word and learning from the Living Word establishes good “epidermal responses” of thought, feeling, and action. And these in turn integrate us into the flow of God’s eternal reign. We really come to think and believe differently, and that changes everything else. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Psalm 119:11)

Now we must not worship without study, for ignorant worship is of limited value and can be very dangerous. We may develop “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10: 2), and then do great harm to ourselves and others. But worship must be added to study to complete the renewal of our mind through a willing absorption in the radiant person who is worthy of all praise. Study without worship is also dangerous, and the people of Jesus constantly suffer from its effects, especially in academic settings. To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them.

In worship we are ascribing greatness, goodness, and glory to God. It is typical of worship that we put every possible aspect of our being into it, all of our sensuous, conceptual, active, and creative capacities. We embellish, elaborate, and magnify. Poetry and song, color and texture, food and incense, dance and procession are all used to exalt God. And sometimes it is in the quiet absorption of thought, the electric passion of encounter, or total surrender of the will. In worship we strive for adequate expression of God’s greatness. But only for a moment, if ever, do we achieve what seems like adequacy. We cannot do justice to God or his Son or his kingdom or his goodness to us. So we must constantly return to worship.

Worship nevertheless imprints on our whole being the reality that we study. The effect is a radical disruption of the powers of evil in us and around us. Often an enduring and substantial change is brought about. And the renewal of worship keeps the glow and power of our true homeland an active agent in all parts of our being. In the atmosphere of worship, to “hear and do” is the clearest, most obvious and natural thing imaginable.

Now we have very briefly touched upon four specific spiritual disciplines: solitude and silence, worship and study. Around these a individual and group “Curricula for Christlikeness” can be framed. It should be clear how strongly such disciplines will nourish and be nourished by the principle objective of such a “curriculum”—that of bringing the disciple of Jesus to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Other disciplines, such as fasting, service to others, fellowship, and so on, might be discussed as well, and, indeed, in a full treatment of a curriculum for Christlikeness they must be discussed. But if these four are pursued with intelligence and prayer, whatever else is needed will certainly come along.

The important insight to guide us at this point is that, to build our house upon the rock of obedience (Matt. 7:24-25), putting off the old person and putting on the new, we must have a definite plan for doing so. Although this cannot be done without interaction with the grace of God, neither will it be imposed upon us. We must devise steps to the fullness of Christlife that are biblical, time-tested, realistic, experimental. Such steps, as seen in the disciplines for the spiritual life, are not laws of righteousness; they are wisdom, and our Teacher will help us in every need

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