Devotion: Spiritual Disciplines in the Balcony

While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

(Mark 1:35-37)

Ron Heifetz has a great metaphor for leadership, where he describes that leaders need to move from the dance floor to the balcony. Constantly shifting from the daily activity of their work–the dance-floor–towards the balcony where they can gain a greater perspective of what is happening.

The balcony metaphor captures this idea. Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom with a balcony up above. A band plays and people swirl all around you to the music, filling up your view. Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you serve whatever is left to make sure your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure that you don’t collide with dancers close by. You let yourself get carried away by the music, your partner, and the moment. When someone later asks you about the dance you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. For example, you might have observed that when the music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all…

Achieving a balcony perspective means taking yourself out of the dance, in your mind, even if only for a moment. The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. Otherwise, you are likely to misperceive the situation and make the wrong diagnosis, leading you to misguided decisions about whether and how to intervene….[However] if you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor…the goal is to come as close as you can to being in both places simultaneously…”

Leadership on the Line

Many of our modern worship experiences cultivate the dance-floor mentality, without helping people take a balcony perspective to their lives. You could translate Heifetz’s words to say, “When someone later asks you about worship you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with worshipers.” Perhaps, in all of the current chaos and uncertainty, this is what God is inviting us to do during this season–to get a balcony perspective.

Recently, I have begun to explore what I would call a balcony-view of spiritual disciplines.

Normally, when pastors recommend spiritual disciplines to their members they focus on training them to do the spiritual two-step: read more and pray more; read scripture and tell God what is on your heart. For the more advanced, they may recommend a whole list of practical dance moves:

  • Read Scripture
  • Pray
  • Give time and money
  • Attend Worship
  • Do good to others
  • Witness

Our natural proclivity is that when things get tough, we want to do more. We dance faster. But suddenly the dancing becomes more frantic and it really does not help us to get out of the circumstances we find ourselves in. We are working and sweating so hard, but are failing to see the bigger picture.

As Dallas Willard wrote, “Seventeen years of ministerial efforts in a wide range of denominational settings had made it clear to me that what Christians were normally told to do, the standard advice to churchgoers, was not advancing them spiritually.”

The problem?

We are so busy dancing, that we have failed to incorporate the spiritual disciplines that require less effort. We have failed to pause and climb into the balcony in order to observe. These are the spiritual disciplines done in the balcony:

  • Silence
  • Stillness
  • Solitude
  • Listening
  • Meditating
  • Fasting

When is the last time a pastor encouraged you to do these disciplines? Instead of wanting to do more, these help us to do less. They allow us to become more attuned to what God is doing in, through and around each one of us.

So when is the last time you got up into the balcony in order to assess all the moving parts of your life? How can you start to incorporate a spiritual discipline that causes you to pause, listen and reflect?

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