The Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration
September 16, 2014
by Peter Amsterdam
The Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration
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The last of the disciplines covered in this series is that of celebration. It’s a fitting one to end on, as it’s a result of practicing other Spiritual Disciplines. The purpose of engaging in the disciplines is to change our lives, to fashion ourselves after Jesus. It is in this transformation that we become more Christlike, which brings greater joy into our lives. The discipline of celebration is intrinsically connected to the joy which comes through abiding in and following God’s Word.
It begins with accepting what the Bible teaches about salvation and redemption: that it is a gift of God, made available through belief in Jesus as our Savior, which causes us to be righteous in God’s eyes. Salvation brings us into relationship with Him and causes His presence to dwell within us. We then grow in this relationship through applying what He has taught us through Scripture. We seek to live according to His will and let Him reign in our lives through following His instructions for living in godliness. As we do, He blesses us by leading, guiding, protecting, and supplying for us, which results in joy. This joy is the root of the discipline of celebration as we learn to celebrate the things that God has done for us and to rejoice in Him.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!1 Let those who delight in My righteousness shout for joy and be glad.2 My mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night; for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.3 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.4
In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote: We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us.5
How We Celebrate as a Discipline
We all generally celebrate birthdays, holidays, and events such as promotions at work, the birth of a child, a graduation, etc. Celebration as a discipline focuses on celebrating both inwardly and outwardly in direct connection with God’s blessings and interaction with us. It’s regularly celebrating significant events in the context of God’s love and care and blessings, both physical and spiritual.
We practice the discipline of celebration inwardly when we take time to reflect on God's presence in our lives, when we acknowledge that every day is a gift from His hand. We recognize that the world we live in, the beauty we see, the food we eat, the companionship we enjoy, all the blessings we have, come from the hand of God. We rejoice in the knowledge of our salvation and find joy in living our lives attuned to God’s Spirit. We live with peace in our hearts, knowing that God will care for us, will “give us this day our daily bread,” that our needs will be met; that Jesus has given us peace so that we are not troubled or afraid,6 and that peace will guard our hearts and minds.7
We recognize that even during difficult times, in our darkest moments, we can still have the peace of the presence of God and the knowledge that, as difficult as things may be, we are safe under the shadow of His wings.
O God, be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.8 You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.9
Our inward celebration, rooted in our faith, joy, peace, and strength in God, also brings about outward celebration. One of the key ways to celebrate the peace and joy we have is through worshipping God by praising Him in words, song, music, dance, lifting our arms, doing whatever helps us to rejoice in His blessings. We also celebrate outwardly when we join together with others, whether they’re family or friends or fellow believers, to commemorate the joys, victories, and milestones that we experience. Sometimes you will simply want to celebrate life and God’s goodness with your friends and loved ones, apart from any particular occasion or event.
As a discipline, the outward celebration is connected to inward recognition of God’s blessings. We take time to celebrate the blessings He’s brought into our lives and the lives of others, the accomplishments, the completion of a major project, getting a new job, passing tests, saving souls. When we hold family celebrations such as for birthdays and anniversaries, graduations, marriages, or the birth of a child, we take these opportunities to both celebrate the event and show gratitude to God. There are, of course, religious holidays that can have even deeper meaning as a discipline when we focus on the spiritual and personal significance of the events being celebrated.
As a discipline, we outwardly celebrate events, milestones, and holidays, along with sometimes simply gathering with friends for a meal or a drink, to share hearts, to tell of progress made, in order to acknowledge and show gratitude for all God has been doing for us.
Each one of us faces tests, trials, and difficulties, which sometimes cause us to focus on our suffering, worries, fears, and the sadness of the struggle. Celebration is recognizing that every life has seasons of difficulty, but also of joy and happiness. It’s important for our faith that we rejoice and celebrate God’s goodness to us and to others, no matter what season we are in.
Trust, Peace, and Joy
The apostle Paul wrote that we should rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.10
Paul was echoing the teachings of Jesus, who said: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’or ‘What shall we wear?’… your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow.”11 This doesn’t mean we take no action, but that we bring our needs and concerns before God in prayer, and in doing so, that we put our confidence in His love and care rather than worrying. When we enter into that trust, we experience anxiety-free peace in our hearts, as we aren’t carrying the burdens of fear and worry.
Paul continues by counseling us to fix our thoughts on things that are worthy of praise, and as we do, God’s peace will be with us.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.12
Choosing to dwell on things that are excellent and good, worthy of praise, is an act of the will which requires conscious effort—in short, it is a discipline. Choosing to trust God and not worry, to believe He will care for you and to act accordingly, also requires an act of the will. These choices are part of the discipline of celebration. This discipline means making the effort to choose a way of thinking and living that is in alignment with God’s Word and which ultimately results in joy.13 With this joy and celebration in our hearts, we manifest the joy of the Lord in our actions and attitudes. We appreciate life, as we see God’s hand in all of it and we know it's a blessing from Him. We can appreciate good food, wine, beauty, the arts, music, humor, godly entertainment, and fun. We can delight in the beautiful world and all that God has put in it. We celebrate these things as we know they come from God.
The Spiritual Disciplines I have been practicing over these past years have given me a greater awareness of God’s hand in my life and of my great need for Him. This has helped me to be more perceptive of His involvement in my daily life and the lives of others, which has led to praise and thanksgiving—to celebration. In the past I often got so busy that I didn’t take enough time to recognize what God was doing around me, and I missed countless opportunities to rejoice. I’ve learned how important it is to acknowledge His presence and celebrate the wins I’ve experienced, whether small or large. Sometimes it’s a glass of wine or a special dessert, other times it’s a meal or a party. Often it’s just stopping for some praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His goodness and love, which bring so much joy into my life—joy that is rooted in His love and grace.
As Christians, we can be the most joyous people in the world—for we are saved, the Spirit of God dwells within us, and some of the manifestations of the Spirit’s presence in our lives are love, joy, and peace.14 God’s love and joy, the peace available to us through salvation, makes us joyful, free, alive, and able to enjoy God and others. This joy should exude from us and cause us to share it with others. It’s fed and strengthened when we read, study, and apply God’s Word, when we take time alone with Him in solitude and silence, when we confess our sins, and when we write down and review the wonderful things we see God doing. It’s expressed in our prayer, praise, worship, and fellowship; it’s shared in our service and when we tell others of salvation.
Any of the Spiritual Disciplines we partake of can boost celebration in our lives, as they help us draw closer to the Lord, experience His presence, and live in godliness. When we strengthen our trust in God, as we grow in faith, we experience more inner peace, resulting in abiding joy. When we discipline ourselves in abiding in God’s joy by trusting Him, casting our burdens upon Him, loving Him, and rejoicing in His love for us, we become joyous Christians who celebrate Him in every aspect of our lives. May we all be that kind of Christian, for it is that kind of Christian who shines as a city set upon a hill, for God’s glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Psalm 32:11.
2 Psalm 35:27.
3 Psalm 63:5–7.
4 Psalm 119:111.
5 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperOne, 1988), 179.
6 John 14:27.
7 Philippians 4:7.
8 Psalm 57:1.
9 Psalm 63:7.
10 Philippians 4:4; 6–7.
11 Matthew 6:31–34.
12 Philippians 4:8–9.
13 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 195.
14 Galatians 5:22–23.