When I hear the word ‘discipline,’ I realize I have a love-hate relationship with that word. Maybe it is because my strong-willed, stubborn self, needed a lot of correcting by my loving parents as I was growing up. That word, discipline, does not bring up warm-fuzzy feelings, that is for sure. “Discipline is good for you,” my parents would say as they sequestered me to a corner which supposedly helped me “think about what I did wrong.”
Consequently, when I first heard the term ‘spiritual disciplines,’ I shuddered! I knew I was not a disciplined person. What good can come from being disciplined spiritually? It did not sit well with me. Can we really benefit from all of that disciplining?
Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has had to struggle with being pulled in opposite directions because of our sin nature. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:5 that those “who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires,” describing this push and pull of our sinful flesh away from our spiritual self. I can totally relate to that scenario. I know I need to eat a healthy diet, but I have a propensity towards sweets (blame it on my early childhood sweet tooth). I think, “that dark chocolate looks really yummy,” but I have chosen to avoid sweets. I want that chocolate but know I shouldn’t eat it. The push and pull of temptation to give in or stand strong plays out over and over again. Can you relate?
If you are reading this article, I suspect you are like me, you have an intense desire to be more like Jesus but that sure seems like a lofty goal. We want to grow into a mature faith, but how do we do that? If we constantly have to battle our flesh, can we ever hope for a victorious, Christian life? It can be discouraging to feel like our Christian walk is two steps forward, one step back. Thankfully, spiritual disciplines (or practices) will guide us along in our faith journey, training us to stand strong in the push and pull of temptation.
Spiritual disciplines are practices observed in Jesus and exercised by sincere Christ-followers ever since. They are designed to build spiritual muscle and maturity in believers plus deepen and enrich our daily communion with God. Richard Foster, a modern-day author on this topic, puts the various disciplines into three categories: inward, outward, and corporate disciplines. Each category has various activities that are to be practiced alone or with others. But the idea is to ‘practice’ them intentionally and consistently. Like the Apostle Paul taught Timothy, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7,8).
As a master gardener I know how vital fertile soil is for seeds to grow and flourish. I see these spiritual disciplines as activities that prepare the soil of my heart to receive the seeds of God’s truth. If my soil is unhealthy, the seed can’t take root and grow into a healthy plant. The goal is to have a healthy environment for God’s seeds to grow, mature and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
When I practice spiritual habits like silence, solitude, study, meditation, confession, fasting and celebrating, I find the soil of my heart is more ready to receive the lessons and directions God has for me. I am better positioned to see a harvest take place. Although Hebrews 12:11 is speaking primarily of God’s correction, its principle is generally true for spiritual disciplines as well, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Through the years, I have learned to consistently include spiritual practices into the rhythms of my life. These help a “Type A” person like me slow down enough to listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Without these disciplines I tend to live as a “Martha” instead of a “Mary” (Luke 10:38-42). The intentional disciplining of myself results in less distractions and more attentiveness to Jesus. My desire to be applauded decreases. My passion for Jesus to be glorified increases. My sense of spiritual rootedness deepens. God’s mission for my life is clarified and renewed. I find the soil of my heart is producing a better harvest of righteousness and peace.
You might be asking, “How do I begin integrating these spiritual disciplines into my life?” Here are four suggestions you can do right away.
- First, do some reading on this vital subject. However, it is easy to get bogged down with so many titles to choose from. So, I put together a short list of some excellent, modern-day reads I have found valuable. You will find those at the end of this article.
- Second, start experimenting with a few of the different spiritual disciplines. Begin to integrate practices like prayer, meditation, fasting, solitude, silence into your daily or weekly routines.
- Third, find a ‘spiritual discipline’ friend or friends. Ask someone to practice a spiritual discipline with you. Hold one another accountable to forming new spiritual habits. When an accountability partner sends that daily reminder text, it’s exhilarating to be able to respond, “YES! I did it!”
- Fourth, ask the Holy Spirit to assist you and then just discipline yourself to do it. These are “spiritual” disciplines, meaning the Holy Spirit delights to help you become more spiritual.
So, returning to my initial question, “What good can come out of all that disciplining?” Well, I have discovered that my parents were right, “Discipline is good for you.” I also have found that when I consistently and intentionally discipline myself, the soil of my heart becomes more fertile, producing a good spiritual harvest and I experience the promise God made to Joshua, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
I am not yet the godly woman I desire to be but the more I practice these spiritual disciplines the more I feel my life growing that direction. God’s invitation to this spiritual training is something for us to celebrate together.
- Richard Foster—The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
- Dallas Willard—The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives
- Adele Ahlberg Calhoun—Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us
- James Bryan Smith—The Apprentice Series (Books 1-3) [Great for small groups]
- Myra Perrine—What’s Your God Language?: Connecting with God through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament.
- Gary Thomas—Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect with God
Dr. Deb Walkemeyer, Co-Pastor of Light and Life Christian Fellowship