As I was finishing reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy two days ago, this caught my eye. Talking about the need to practice spiritual disciplines, he says “The important point is to understand that some framework of disciplines . . . is needed to form a life plan for spiritual growth” (p. 418 n. 18). Willard is encouraging commitment to rhythms of spiritual disciples, but the phrase made me think of something even bigger. How often do we have plans for other aspects of our lives: career-tracks, five-year plans, family plans, etc.? But how rarely do we really set life-size goals to grow spiritually, or allow plans to grow spiritually to trump other factors in decision making? What would happen if major life decisions were made by asking which option forced us to become better disciples?
I have one friend who chose to pursue a Ph.D. in theology because he thought it would lead to spiritual growth. It will probably set him on a decent career track (as a professor or writer or pastor), but the purpose wasn’t his job. Nor was the purpose academics for the sake of academics. He wanted to grow spiritually and chose a path that would lead to it. Aside from that example, I can’t think of many people I know who have deliberately made major life decisions by the same criterion. Usually personal ambitions (or lack thereof), or financial, practical, or relationship factors determine our “life plans.”
One place where planning for spiritual growth is gaining popularity is in the concept of a Rule of Life, which I first came across through reading Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Most examples of a rule of life that I’ve seen, though, seem more focused on maintaining sanity and spiritual health, rather than consciously and deliberately growing in discipleship. I think the difference between a rule of life to a life plan for spiritual growth would lie in decision-making. Looking to the future, and seeking to grow spiritual as a disciple as one moves into the future God has for a person, a person makes choices based upon choosing the path of spiritual growth. For some examples:
- Vocational/career decisions are made not based upon financial criteria, but upon choosing a path that allows for greater discipleship. For example, my friend’s choice to pursue a Ph.D. in theology. Or, in my life, choosing church-planting over taking a comfy job at an established church because of the ways this life forces me grow as a disciple.
- Marriage/parenting/friendship relationships are seen primarily as crucibles for growth in discipleship. For an example of this in marriage, see Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.
- Schedules are determined by one’s spiritual needs, rather than one’s other perceived needs. In other words, we consciously align our schedules around spiritual disciplines.
- Geographical location – we move where God has called us, or where we will continue to grow spiritually or participate in God’s mission, rather than simply to be near family or near a well-paying job.
Most of what I listed are big decisions; what smaller choices are a matter of choosing the path of discipleship and spiritual growth as well?
- The books we read. Music we listen to. TV shows we watch. Which choices promote spiritual growth?
- The clothes we wear and food we buy. How can choosing simplicity and justice over excess and abuse of people and God’s creation help us grow as disciples?
- Our means of transportation. Can we choose to walk, bike, or ride the bus as a part of our “life plan for spiritual growth”?
What other types of decisions could be seen through this lens?