Over the last few months, we’ve been walking our church through a study on spiritual disciplines. We’ve talked about Bible intake, prayer, giving, fasting, solitude, journaling, and reading. Along the way, we’ve tried to be practical, helping our people know how to put the disciplines into practice on a regular basis. We’ve also tried to be kindly confrontational, explaining that these disciples are for all followers of Jesus, not just an elite few.
In the midst of practicality and confrontation, we’ve had another aim in mind. In teaching the disciplines, we’ve tried to keep the big picture in mind. That big picture is summed up with one word: Why? Why practice spiritual disciplines? Why devote ourselves to these things that take time and don’t come naturally? Who commits to Bible intake, prayer, giving, fasting, solitude, journaling, and reading? Why do we need to do these things?
Throughout our study, we’ve tried to keep focused on the motivations of our heart. We don’t want to fall into the trap of legalism, whereby we impose a set of manmade rules on people and call them to earn their way with God. Neither do we want to fall into the trap of antinomianism, whereby we minimize the importance of the disciples and present them as optional add-ons for advanced Christians. To that end, here are six reasons every Christian ought to be devoted to the spiritual disciplines in a regular, intentional way.
- We practice spiritual disciplines so that we can enjoy God (Psalm 63, 73:25-28). When you read the book of Psalms, you don’t come away thinking the psalmist was burdened with the responsibility of spiritual disciplines. Bible intake and prayer and giving were not tasks to be enjoyed. Rather, they were means by which the psalmist enjoyed the very presence of God.
- We practice spiritual disciplines for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul called Timothy to “train” for the purpose of “godliness.” No one accidentally slides toward holiness. No one naturally drifts toward holiness. We must train. We must be disciplined. In heeding the biblical calls for God’s people to be holy, we must see the disciplines as a means of training.
- The book of Psalms assumes God’s people will practice spiritual disciplines (Psalm 1, 19, 119). Just as the book of Genesis assumes the existence of God, the book of Psalms assumes God’s people will engage in spiritual disciplines. Psalm 1 assumes we will to meditate on God’s Word. Psalm 19 assumes we will desire God’s Word more than gold or honey. Psalm 119 assumes we will memorize God’s Word.
- Jesus assumes his people will practice spiritual disciplines (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus talked about spiritual disciplines in the most famous sermon he ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus assumes we will be people who pray and give and fast. There is no consideration given to the possibility that we simply will not do these things. Jesus just assumes we will practice these disciplines.
- Nothing great happens without discipline. Concert pianists don’t reach the pinnacle of their craft without discipline. NBA All-Stars don’t bask in the limelight without discipline. D. graduates don’t walk across the stage without discipline. Nothing great happens without discipline. Oddly, many hopefully assume something great will happen in their spiritual life without discipline.
- Discipline leads to freedom. The hours of piano practice may have seemed like drudgery, but the result in freedom to play complex pieces of music. The hours of running and weight lifting may have seemed like torture, but the result is the freedom to do what the rest of us only dream about. The hours of study and writing may have seemed like a prison, but the result is freedom to think great thoughts.
I don’t know where you are spiritually, but I do know you can start today. Be intentional. If Bible reading is a struggle, start with 5 minutes a day. If prayer is a struggle, start with a journal where you can record the prayer requests of your family and friends. If meditation is a struggle, try to set aside a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect on God’s Word. The spiritual disciplines are not always easy, hence the name “disciplines.” The good news is that God gives grace to His people. God’s grace moves us to the disciplines, and the disciplines enable us to experience God’s grace.