It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. Life truly is a vapor. We typically take this time to evaluate the past year as we also prepare for ways to improve in the upcoming year. Oftentimes, we set goals or New Year’s resolutions for ourselves. As you do so, I encourage you to take time to evaluate your spiritual life. How could you strive, in the Spirit’s power, to see transformation this year?
One of the ways the Lord continues to grow and shape us is through spiritual disciplines. Simply put, spiritual disciplines “are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth.” Examples include: “Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney, 17).
Growing in godliness is a work of the Spirit in our life, and we can’t do it on our own. With that said, the Lord uses spiritual disciplines as a means in which He does that work in us. He matures us as we take in Scripture, fast, pray, etc. Remaining consistent in the spiritual disciplines often takes hard work and, you guessed it, discipline.
We seem to understand that we must work hard to see growth in most areas of our life. Athletes must spend hours training to develop muscle memory and stamina. Musicians practice for hours to feel more natural with their instrument of choice. The more a carpenter builds, the more excellent he becomes at his craft. For some reason though, we often believe the lie that spiritual growth comes naturally with minimum effort and intentionality.
This is where the word “discipline” comes in. Scripture teaches us to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, NASB). The word for “discipline” can also be translated as “training” or “exercise.” There are times I simply don’t want to exercise, and I would rather stay home with a Dr. Pepper and bag of Oreos, however, I must fight that desire and discipline myself because I know that’s not best. In the same way, spiritual exercise will not always come easy or natural, yet we continue because we understand the importance of what the disciplines produce: godliness. If we’re not engaging in the spiritual disciplines, our growth in godliness will be stunted. Dr. Whitney on this point explains, ”So many professing Christians are so spiritually undisciplined that they seem to have little fruit and power in their lives“ (21).
Anytime we discuss the spiritual disciplines there will be a sense of guilt and recognition of our shortcomings. That guilt can often be the very thing that stops us from continuing. We set goals for ourselves, and things might go well for a while, but at some point, we fall short. We can easily conclude that doing these things are only for the “super spiritual.”
If you are a born-again believer, let me remind you that the Holy Spirit dwells in you. You’re correct that you are too weak and undisciplined to persevere, but we don’t depend on our own power, but rather the power of God at work in us. If you continually find yourself struggling, cry out to God to give you more of a desire to fellowship with Him through the spiritual disciplines and continue on putting your hand to the plow to grow in the grace of God.
The power for change and renewal comes from the gospel. As Jerry Bridges states, “’Discipline without desire is drudgery.’ What is it, then, that sparks the desire in our hearts to lead a disciplined, godly life? It is the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven, that no matter how much we’ve stumbled and fallen today God does not count our sins against us” (The Disciplines of Grace, 24). The gospel isn’t just a message we believe for salvation; it’s the good news and the power for transformation in our lives. Bridges continues, “We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime” (25).
In this series of articles, we will examine the spiritual disciplines in more detail. I hope and pray this series will be helpful and challenging to you in your walk with Christ. May we continue striving together to practice the disciplines and grow in godliness!
For now, here are some questions to consider:
- Do I take in the Word on a regular basis? We take in the Word by reading, memorizing, and studying it.
- Do I have a steady diet of biblical teaching? We can do this by listening to sermons, reading blogs (good job!), reading books on theology and Christian living, catechisms, podcasts…
- Am I praying daily? Do I commune with God throughout the day?
- When was the last time I verbally shared the gospel with someone?
- Do I actively serve in my local church?
- Do I regularly give to my local church?
- Do I fast? We can fast from anything (food, TV, sweets, etc.)!