Being more naturally a people of grace and love takes training. Spiritual formation that focuses on one thing, God, to develop a faith that is holistic, affecting all parts of our lives. To be so devoted to God, so saturated in His presence, that we orient all aspects of our lives, our work, our play, our talk, such that they revolve around Him. As a community, we gather to know God better and live life together.

Every monastic community lives by certain values. Just as each member lives by a rule of life, the entire community lives by a credo. Vows if you will. Here are three such monastic vows:

The idea of living by a code of poverty works out differently in the context of modern American society. Many of us may be broke, but have little to no idea what true poverty is. The idea behind a vow of poverty is one of simplicity. It’s about not being controlled by money, things, or greed. Not being distracted by the things, the materialism, of our culture. Some times it means ordering your finances around God, but it can include lifestyles of conservation and a spirit of generosity.

Chastity is a discipline. It means abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Chastity is about the pursuit of purity. Chastity is the commitment to have sex in its proper place. It starts with not wanting to be controlled by lust. Sexuality is a part, a vital part, of humanity and our identity, which is why we must be committed to pure and whole living. This is also the catch-all vow that includes the ideas of decency, respect, and modesty in how we carry ourselves and how we treat others.

The spirit of obedience goes beyond sticking to the letter of the law, but rather the trickier adhering to the spirit of the law. With obedience comes the attitudes of peacemaking, endurance, respect, cooperation, and sacrifice. We are to make disciples, form one another in the way of Christ. The path of discipleship is a long journey of obedience in the same direction.

Here’s the thing, spiritual formation takes a long time, a life time of repentance. No one promised it would be easy. We need “tools” to help us along the way, practices that keep pointing us back to God. In I Corinthians 5:16, Paul gives a few of his spiritual disciplines.

1. Perpetual rejoicing – happiness as a spiritual practice? The reality is that we practice misery, self-pity, resentment, and bitterness enough. Sometimes it takes training of your mindset to realize that it is good to be in the presence of God. It is good to be with the people of God.

2. Continual prayer – we rarely thing of prayer as an on-going, constant conversation with God or that our lives are living prayers.

3. Constant thanksgiving – it sounds trite to remind people to count your blessings, but this practice does help develop a spirit of gratefulness. We look at the crapstorms that our lives become and focus on that (back to practicing misery, self-pity, resentment, and bitterness) rather than appreciating all that you have.

4. Living in the Spirit – I can’t get away from experiencing the mystical side of Christian practice. Living in the Spirit is about. not doubting that God can (still) speak to you and into your life. Sometimes it’s about shutting up: spiritual attentiveness and developing the ability to listen. Though it may take different forms or putt at you in different ways, don’t quench the Spirit.

No one said that spiritual growth would be easy. Doing so in community allows us to be there for each other, encourage each other to keep going, picking each other up when we stumble. And vows unites the communities already on a common path around a common method.