Spiritual discipline: on feelings and focus

by Kim on September 22, 2009

Jack Bernard again, in How to Become a Saint (2007): two bits of matter-of-fact advice on spiritual discipline.

(1) “Saint Thérèse is surely right that holiness does not consist in doing our spiritual practices faultlessly. It does not follow, however, that we can do without particular spiritual practices that are carried out with some degree of regularity. Discipline means we exert willpower to do something that is not our natural inclintaion of the moment. The distinction between wanting to do something and feeling like doing something is crucial…

“…. Disciplines are devices to help us transcend our feelings of the moment and get on with what we ultimately want to do.

“For the most part, spiritual practices are boring, not exciting. The point is to open ourselves to God, not to entertain ourselves.”

(2) Most people struggle with concentration in prayer and we think we are uniquely unable to concentrate. If you do very poorly at it you are probably just average - but, as in everything else in seeking after God, comparative ratings are not important….

“Difficulty in concentration is no barrier to success. This feels counterintuitive. If I sit down to pray for a ten-minute period and at the end realize that I have spent eight of those minutes thinking about some work I have to do in my shop, I am inclined to think that I have only prayed for two minutes. Who is going to become a saint through two-minute prayer sessions? After all, Saint Francis went on for days. The answer to that question is this: anybody in Christ who is willing to. Holiness is not something we achieve and it does not consist in special abilities at doing anything, even praying. As for the mathematics of having only prayed two minutes out of ten, that’s great. I’ve managed to turn my attention to God for two minutes! That is far more than I would have done if I hadn’t tried to pray for ten. As for how much of that time our Father, who is all love, spent paying attention - do you want to have a guess? This isn’t to say that my effort doesn’t matter, but that it matters as a child’s childish effort matters to a loving parent. Such childish effort guarantees success because of the parent’s love, not the quality of the child’s effort. This kind of thinking enables me to persist in prayer and the hope of pleasing God. I suspect it is the only kind of logic of disciplined prayer that is actually pleasing to God.”

Jack Bernard, How to Become a Saint (London: SPCK, 2007), pp. 96-98.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


John 09.22.09 at 9:41 am

Please check out this reference as to why comprehensive psycho-physical disciplines are a necessary part of Spiritual Life.



DH 09.22.09 at 7:38 pm

Kim, I really enjoyed this post. It was real encouraging and I agree with all of it. I will say that God does call us to “be all that we can be” when the Apostle Paul says “I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward by Christ Jesus.” I agree God desires us to give our beings to Christ in all that we do like the childish acts of obedience toward a parent. However, God wants us at all times to “do our very best”. That is not to say that we are perfect but that doesn’t excuse the responsibility to Holiness by “doing our very best”. That is not to say that I disagree with the post in any way. I only mean to add this additional point.

Kim, fabulous post. If we know from our hearts we are doing our very best for God then we know that God will like Scripture says “crown our efforts with success.” :) Love ya in the Lord and may God give you more of these wonderful morsels for God’s glory to the rest of us. :)


DH 09.22.09 at 7:43 pm

With regard to the post from John. God has called us “not to have any other gods but Me.” and that Jesus says of Himself “I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus is the only way for Salvation and it is not Jesus++++ anything but Jesus alone with Jesus being fully God. I pray John that you would come to fully understand Christ and Him alone and the love only He can give for eternal life and to experience the fullness of this life on earth as well.

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