Chapter 5

Relational Spiritual Disciplines

To the casual observer, watching individual runners go by may lead one to assume races are a solitary venture where each runner is completely on their own. However, most races have pace runners who are tasked with helping fellow racers maintain a desired speed from beginning to end. Other people participate as part of a running group that was created for training accountability and mutual encouragement. In the same way, while our personal spiritual journeys might appear to be solitary endeavors, they involve both giving and receiving support and assistance. One of the passages in the Bible where we see a strong emphasis on exercising faith in community is Paul’s description of the church as an interdependent body, each part reliant on other members for health and proper functioning (1 corinthians 12:12–26).

Relational spiritual disciplinesis the designation we give to those practices that highlight the communal aspect of our spiritual journeys, the exercises we undertake as part of a community to help and support each other. Two relational spiritual disciplines we will explore in more detail are service and hospitality.

Service

The word “service” may conjure visions of reluctantly doing menial tasks or an arduous list of demands. But while service does involve specific actions, at its core the spiritual discipline of service is the willing offering of one’s self, through the power of God’s Spirit, for the benefit of another person.

Service embodies the greatest commandment taught by Jesus, which calls us to wholeheartedly love God and “love your neighbor as yourself” (matthew 22:39). Jesus provided a beautiful picture of this love in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Samaritan goes beyond the bare minimum expected of him when he encountered a man who had been beaten and left for dead. The Samaritan cared for the man until his health was restored (luke 10:25–37). Jesus elevated the act of service beyond simply completing a task to assisting people out of an attitude of love. He radically transformed our philosophy of serving.

Despite our best intentions to come alongside friends and family, having a lifestyle that embodies the spiritual discipline of service is only truly possible when empowered by God’s Spirit. When our service is not enabled by God’s Spirit, it can feel like drudgery. In our own strength we become weary, or serve for the wrong reasons. While not completely removing all the difficulties associated with serving others, we can learn to rely on God’s Spirit, encouraged by Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul references the spiritual life as a journey and then urges his readers to live by the Spirit. As evidence of the Spirit’s work, Paul writes that those who live by the Spirit can choose to “serve one another humbly in love” (galatians 5:13).

Another aspect of the spiritual discipline of service is intentionality. Jesus knew the purpose for His earthly ministry, telling His disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (mark 10:45). Reminding ourselves of the purpose in serving helps us focus on why we are doing a particular task and pushes the “what” or the actual details of the task to the background.

Specific Practices

There are a wide variety of ways to practice the spiritual discipline of service. It can be as simple as choosing to relook at some of the ways we already serve. We may need to consider some of the people and places God has already put in our lives and invite God’s Spirit to empower us to care for others with a willing and loving attitude.

To look for ways to practice this discipline, consider identifying a ministry in the community or church that offers opportunities to serve others. Perhaps it might be working with children in the church nursery or at an afterschool program. Consider donating accounting skills to a local food pantry or electrical expertise to a widow in a church’s senior adults ministry.

Ask the Lord to highlight a family member or neighbor who might have a particular need, such as caring for a lawn or babysitting children, and offer to serve them by meeting that need at no cost to them.

As we consider incorporating service in our unique season of life, be encouraged that there are always opportunities to serve, right where we are. Pray for God’s help to see opportunities to serve others during our days, whether it’s opening a door or doing a chore for a family member, as a way to demonstrate God’s love to others in their everyday lives.

Hospitality

Although modern portrayals of hospitality often equate the practice with elaborate spreads of food or a beautifully decorated home all done with the appearance of ease, the spiritual discipline of hospitality is one of welcoming others into our lives. We can embrace this discipline as we come to understand that the goal of hospitality is not merely entertaining but sharing God’s grace and love with others.

In the Bible, we see numerous examples of hospitality involving the provision of food and shelter to those in need (genesis 18:2–8; luke 10:38; philemon 22). In the New Testament, hospitality became a mark of authentic Christian living commanded of believers along with other expressions of love (romans 12:9–16; hebrews 13:1–3; 1 peter 4:8–11). Hospitality is also listed as a qualification for church leaders (1 timothy 3:2; titus 1:8), an insight into the value God places on it.

Choosing to practice hospitality requires vulnerability, often asking us to reach out to others when we might be tempted to keep to our current circle of friends. Yet, enabled by God’s Spirit and remembering God’s compassionate heart inviting us into relationship with Him (1 john 3:1), we can learn to share our lives with others and welcome them into our communities.

Specific Practices

Welcoming others begins with noticing—for example, noticing those who are new or linger on the edges of established communities. As we notice new faces in our churches or workplaces, we gain the opportunity to share our lives.

Perhaps we can be willing to introduce ourselves to an unfamiliar face at church and, if they are interested in participating in the life of the congregation, offer to attend an event with them so they don’t have to go alone.

Those who live near a college or university with international students can investigate if the school or a local church offers opportunities to host a student. International students usually enjoy learning about the areas where they are studying and appreciate being invited for a typical local meal or included in a visit to a nearby attraction.

Another simple way to extend hospitality might be to host a casual potluck dinner. Extend an invitation to people who may not know each other as a way to create community and provide a welcoming environment for people to enjoy a meal and fellowship together. Having an easy activity or using a set of conversation-starting questions can help people relax and engage with each other.

Study Questions: In the parable of the Good Samaritan (luke 10:25–37), contrast the Good Samaritan with the priest and the Levite. How did the Good Samaritan go beyond what was expected of him? What might Jesus’s words to “go and do likewise” (V. 37) mean for us?

Reflection Questions: When was a time that you were a “stranger,” new to a college, company, church, or other community? How did you feel? What were the memorable and meaningful ways others reached out to you?

Application: Pick one of the specific practices listed above,
and consider how you might implement one of them. Or try to create your own practice of service or hospitality that aligns with your current life circumstances.

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