Spiritual Disciplines: Props of the Intangible Kind
Although spiritual disciplines sounds complicated and holy, spiritual disciplines are actually straightforward and familiar. We may already use them in some form, but call them something else. Listed below are ways that spiritual disciplines can provide teachers props when it seems the underpinnings have fallen away.
One great advantage about teaching the Bible is that it lets God speak to us. When we let a verse teach us before we teach it to others, we lay the curriculum before God and ask, "What do I need to learn from this? Show me how this principle affects me, how I should change my heart and behavior."
Recently I paused while preparing a lesson on the great scene in which Christ says: "I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me." (Matt. 25:35, 36). I had intended for months to volunteer to work at our town's new drop-in center for the homeless, but I hadn't gotten around to it. I set down the teacher's book and made the phone call. Although my volunteering didn't help my class directly, it provided me as a teacher with energy and insight I would never have had if I weren't working out this truth in my life.
The enjoyable, but overlooked discipline of meditation provides teachers the picturesque details we need for storytelling. It's easier to get a class to experience the story if we have already pictured it first and felt the dustiness of the Middle East and the desperation for water.
I also like to envision how my class members or I would have behaved in a certain passage. Like when Christ insisted on blessing the children, how would we have responded? How would Christ have looked beyond these behaviors to the need inside each of us? This urges me to pray, "What is it this passage saying to me and about my behavior?"
Through the ages, Christians who have longed for spiritual growth have had spiritual directors who help them see the boulders in the road and help them walk around the boulders. As teachers, we need not only to attend workshops, but we also need to talk to other teachers regularly. If we're on the verge of burning out, we might want to ask a teacher whom we consider a mentor to join us for a few weeks to encourage us.
Too often, we approach the task of teaching in a John Wayne fashion: I'm here to wrestle this class with no help ftom anyone else, thank you. A great help to me has been to find a prayer partner with whom I can be honest. My first partner I asked to pray for me and my class. I would give her specific prayer requests for me and general requests for my class. I would confess my shortcomings and frustrations, it helped to know I had someone I could confide in and who was supporting me through prayer.
At times, I've tried too hard to be someone I'm not. Like I've been too strict with children; at other times I've tried to entertain youth, and worked too hard to challenge adults with Bible reference tools. As I sat praying one day, I realized that all my trying too hard only distracted me from my class and their needs. I wrote on the front of my file folder full of preparation materials the following: "Help me to listen to my class instead of trying too hard."
My lesson preparation time became easier after I got to know class members better. As I listened more I began to hear members share their needs, hopes, and dreams. I have come to realize that most of my frustrations about teaching boil down to forgetting how important my role is.