First, a word about training
Let’s say I decide I want to run a marathon. I summon
all the willpower I possess and commit mentally to my
goal. I gather a collection of inspirational quotes. I ask
my friends and family to pray for me and cheer me on.
However, the one thing I overlook is any sort of
training regimen. I don’t run a single step in the
months leading up to the race. Will it matter that I
haven’t trained, as long as I’m willing to try my hardest
on race day?
Yes. It will matter. I can’t run a marathon for which
I have not trained.
Many of us spend a good deal of our lives as disciples of Jesus trying rather than training. We all have
our spiritual marathons, and most of us sputter out
in the first few kilometres.
For some of us it’s the challenge of curbing a loose
tongue. No matter our best efforts, we always seem to
say more than we should when temptation comes. But
what if we trained instead of tried If we spent 30
minutes with God “off the spot” every morning in the
discipline of silence, might we develop the muscle we
need to resist temptation “on the spot?”
Similarly, a marathon of overcoming anxiety might
be met with the exercise of committing the 23rd Psalm
to heart. The strength needed to resist pride could be
developed through a regular routine of secret service
to others. The self-denial needed to silence the clam-
our of an addiction might be gradually cultivated in a
rhythm of once-a-week fasting from food.
Those of us who have surrendered our lives to Jesus
have also committed our characters to His transformation. Only He can change us. But there are ways we
can co-operate, ways we can open ourselves up to His
spirit, ways – like the Apostle Paul – we can go into
“strict training” and “run in such a way as to win the
prize” (1 Corinthians 9: 24–25).
Second, a word about disciplines
Christians who have taken seriously the invitation to
train for Christlikeness over the past two millennia
commend to us a regimen of spiritual disciplines. Nearly four decades ago Richard Foster gathered up a list of
12 historic practices (prayer, meditation, fasting, study,
simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession,
worship, guidance and celebration) in his now classic
Celebration of Discipline (Harper Collins, 2002 ).
To Foster’s list we might add any other exercise that
helps us deepen our friendship with God and open us
up to His transforming power. Yours could include
mountain biking, journalling, gardening, playing with
your kids, or anything else that helps you practise
The possibilities are as limitless as the God who
draws us into relationship with Him.
Think about a few ways you might train instead of
try in your walk with God. As you hone your personal
list of potential spiritual disciplines, let me challenge
you to consider how the arts can help us co-operate
with God in His desire to transform us.
Four ways (of many) the arts are important in
our training to follow Jesus
1. The arts help us train to pay attention
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 11: 5
We live in a world of relentless stimuli and input. Even
before the advent of Wi-Fi, Henri Nouwen diagnosed
our problem in Making All Things New: An Invitation
to the Spiritual Life (HarperOne, 2009 ). He
noted how we live with so much noise – both in our
environments and our own heads – that we struggle
to hear God. In the ensuing chaos our lives become
“absurd” – a word we get from the Latin word surdus
When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become
obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the
Latin word audire, which means “listening.” A
spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move
slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a
life filled with noisy worries to a life in which
there is some free inner space where we can listen
to our God and follow His guidance.
As a follower of Jesus, I want to develop eyes and
ears that detect His presence and movement in the
world around me. But simply trying harder to see and
hear Him will not do. The arts (in concert with classic
disciplines like silence and solitude) can be important
allies in training to pay attention.
Carefully listening to a great piece of music – especially an initially challenging or foreign one – is a
powerful way of disciplining our hearing, much the
way engaging with a work of visual art trains our sight.
Might the scent of incense or lilacs discipline our
sense of smell? Could rough wood or cool marble rehabilitate our sense of touch? Might the culinary arts
retrain our taste buds to savour food which will both
nourish and delight?
Only God can release us from spiritual deafness and
blindness. But apprenticing ourselves to great art is one
of the spiritual disciplines we can use to co-operate with
Him in the healing of our senses. Receptivity to art
us spend a
good deal of
our lives as