The Most Neglected Spiritual Discipline
- Jan 25th, 2012
Bible reading, prayer, worship attendance, the Sacraments—these are widely affirmed by Christians as vital spiritual disciplines. Neglect of such practices impedes spiritual health and hinders growth in discipleship.
One discipline mandated in Scripture and faithfully practiced by John Wesley rarely appears in lists of required spiritual disciplines. It is, in my opinion, the most neglected act of devotion among contemporary United Methodists. In fact, few even consider it a necessary mark of spiritual wellbeing. Without it, however, the other disciplines lack power and authenticity.
The practice most disregarded by present-day United Methodists in America is visitation and friendship with the poor. Although the Bible clearly includes acts of mercy and justice toward the poor as indispensable components of faithfulness to God, many of us have little contact with the poor beyond almsgiving. Visiting with “the widow and orphan,” ministering with “the least of these,” and engaging with public policy decisions affecting the poor are largely left to agencies, hired employees, and elected representatives. Yet, we can no more delegate relationships with the poor to others than we can attain spiritual maturity by designating another to read the Bible or pray or attend worship for us.
John Wesley definitely considered ongoing relationships with the poor essential to Christian discipleship. He would no more neglect regular visits with the poor than he would abandon daily searching the Scriptures or persistent prayer. Historians document Wesley’s practice of eating with the poor, sleeping in their humble abodes, and providing holistic services to them. His friendships with the poor helped to shape the Wesleyan revival; and the poor were vital members and leaders of the classes, bands, and societies.
Relationships with the poor are essential to our spiritual growth because God has chosen to be especially present with, among, and through the poor and the most vulnerable. In Jesus Christ, God entered human history as a vulnerable baby born of a peasant maiden in a stable among the homeless. He spent the first two years of his life as an immigrant in Egypt. He welcomed the poor and outcasts into God’s kingdom, touched the untouchables, and fed the hungry. He died on a cross between two criminals and was buried in a borrowed tomb. God raised him from the dead as the firstborn of a new creation; and he declared that we can meet him in the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, and the grieving (Matthew 25:31-46).
Many volunteers in mission have discovered the transforming presence of the Risen Christ in their encounters with the poor and vulnerable. How often do volunteers serving among those in need find themselves exclaiming that they received much more than they gave? We should not be surprised! The poor and vulnerable are both recipients of God’s grace and means of God’s grace to others.
Want to meet God and grow in grace? Nurture friendship with “the least of these” and you will be blessed with an encounter with the Risen Christ!
About This Blog
Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.
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