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The Path to Spiritual Growth
It is a wonder to me how God uses squiggles on paper to do his work in the hearts and minds of people. How are these squiggles transformed into letters and words and sentences and, finally, meaning? Oh, we may congratulate ourselves on knowing a little about the function of neurotransmitters in the brain or about how endorphin proteins affect learning and memory retention, but if we are honest, we know that thinking itself is a mystery. Doxology is the only appropriate response.
At this writing, it has been two decades since this particular I set of squiggles, Celebration of Discipline, was first published. After the first decade, the publisher, no doubt puzzled by its longevity and popularity, wanted to celebrate this milestone, and asked me to revise the original text-which I was glad to do. And now, after a second decade, the puzzle continues. Somehow (who can ever explain how?) people continue to find help in their daily walk with God through the pages of this book. To celebrate this twentieth anniversary, the publisher has asked me to write an introduction, and, again, I am glad to comply. And perhaps in fulfilling their request it is appropriate to tell how the book you hold in your hands came into being.
Fresh out of seminary, I was ready to conquer the world. Myfirst appointment was a small church in a thriving region of Southern California. "Here," I mused, "is my chance to show the denominational leadership, nay, the whole world, what I can do." Believe me, visions of far more than sugar plums were dancing in my head. I was sobered a bit when the former pastor, upon learning of my appointment, put his arm on my shoulder and said, "Well, Foster, it's your turn to be in the desert!" But the "sobering" lasted only a moment. "This church will become a,shining light set on a hill. The people will literally flood in." This I thought, and this I believed.
After three months or so I had given that tiny congregation everything I knew, and then some, and it had done them no good. I had nothing left to give. I was spiritually bankrupt and I knew it. So much for a "shining light on a hill."
My problem was more than having something to say from Sunday to Sunday. My problem was that what I did say had no power to help people. I had no substance, no depth. The people were starving for a word from God, and I had nothing to give them. Nothing.
Three Converging Influences
In the wisdom of God, however, three influences were converging in that little church that would change the direction of my ministry, indeed, of my whole life. Together they would provide the depth and the substance I needed personally and the depth and the substance that, in time, would lead to the, penning of Celebration. But that is running ahead of my story.
The first thing to happen was precipitated by an influx of genuinely needy people into our small congregation. They simply flowed in like streams after a thunderstorm. Oh, how they hungered for spiritual substance and, oh, how willing they were to do almost anything to find it. These were the castoffs of today's fast-track culture-"the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on"-and so their neediness was quite obvious. Just as obvious was my inability to give them substantive pastoral care.
This lack of any real spiritual density led me, almost instinctively, to the Devotional Masters of the Christian faith-Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich and so many others. Somehow I sensed that these ancient writers lived and breathed the spiritual substance these new friends in our little fellowship were seeking so desperately.
To be sure, I had encountered many of these writers in academic settings. But that was a detached, cerebral kind of reading. Now I read with different eyes, for daily I was working with heartbreaking, soul-crushing, gut-wrenching human need. These "saints," as we sometimes call them, knew God in a way that I clearly did not. They experienced Jesus as the defining reality of their lives. They possessed a flaming vision of God that blinded them to all competing loyalties. They experienced life built on the Rock.
It hardly mattered who I read in those days-Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, John Woolman's Journal, A. W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy--they knew God in ways far beyond anything I had ever experienced. Or even wanted to experience! But as I continued to soak in the stories of these women and men who were aflame with the fire of divine love, I began desiring this kind of life for myself. And desiring led to seeking and seeking led to finding. And what I found settled me, deepened me, thickened me.
The second influence came from an individual in that tiny congregation, Dr. Dallas Willard. A philosopher by profession, Dallas was well versed in the classics, and, at the same time, had an uncanny perception into the contemporary scene. He taught our fledgling little group: studies in Romans and Acts and the Sermon on the Mount and the Spiritual Disciplines and more. But regardless of the specific topic, he constantly drew us into the big picture. It was life-based teaching that always respected the classical sources and always sought to give them contemporary expression. Those teachings gave me the Weltanschauung, the worldview, upon which I could synthesize all my academic and biblical training.Celebration of Discipline
The Path to Spiritual Growth. Copyright © by Richard J. Foster. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster
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