Much has been written about spiritual disciplines, what they are and how to integrate their practice into our lives. But, why should we care about spiritual disciplines? Isn’t sanctification going to happen naturally by listening to sermons on Sunday, attending a Bible study or fellowship group, listening to a Christian radio station, occasionally picking up a popular, Christian living book, and trying to live a godly life, day-to-day? All those things seem pretty normal for a Christian. However, are they enough to really grow in the relationship the Lord would want us to have in our walk toward our eternal home? Is it possible that organizing and disciplining our spiritual life might expand and deepen our understanding? Could we appreciate the grace of God in Jesus Christ more deeply in a way that can touch every facet of our personal walk on this earth and impact our relationship with others that could lead them closer to God in their walk?

First of all, several places in Scripture, we are commanded to grow in the knowledge of our Lord. Peter strongly emphasizes in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He introduces that statement with a warning and responsibility to understand what Paul has instructed in his letters. Peter warns, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3:16-17, ESV).

Jesus directly instructed us to learn and warned against following the “tradition of men” and “precepts of men.” In criticizing the Pharisees and scribes in Mark 7:6-13, he accuses them of “neglecting the commandment of God” and “nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep their tradition.” Even though Jesus is calling out these religious leaders who should know better He is also instructing all who call themselves His disciples. We are responsible to know the commandments and Scriptures more than in a superficial way. He goes on to say, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Mark 7:14-15). Jesus goes on to explain that what defiles a man is what comes “from within, out of the heart of men” (Mark 7:21). He is making it clear that it is our responsibility to listen to His Word, take it to heart, and be responsible for our actions and fruit. As Dave Jenkins puts it in his book, The Word Explored, “What we hear and digest into action will become a reflection of what we love.”[i]

Jesus makes it crystal clear that He expects us to “abide” in Him. By this He means that His very “words” should abide in us. He even explains abiding as a way to “prove” we are His disciples. Those are pretty strong words. By abiding, not only will His Father be glorified but by doing, we will “bear much fruit.” However, as with other instructions to grow spiritually, a warning is given. If we do not abide in Him and His words, we will not bear fruit and will experience pruning, possibly severe pruning (John 15:1-8).

There are several spiritual disciplines which can assist a Christian in achieving a deeper level of commitment and relationship with Jesus. Donald S. Whitney discusses those he believes are important in his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. He makes the case for the benefit of studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word of God. He emphasizes the value and purpose of prayer, worship, and evangelism. Serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, and journaling are also included as important facets of the Christian walk.

Whitney’s list seems overwhelming which would be difficult for anyone to accomplish, especially those that are working full-time or have a family of children requiring their time and attention. Actually, with some organization and creativity, a spiritually disciplined lifestyle is not insurmountable. He says, “For starters, it should relieve some anxiety to realize that most of the Disciplines advocated in this book can be practiced in the same devotional episode.”[ii] That takes a huge weight off. As he explains, it becomes obvious that most Christians already pray while reading the Word, for example. Or, you may break into personal worship or spend some time in meditation on a passage while the Holy Spirit ministers to your soul. Each spiritual discipline can be studied and practiced but they don’t have to each be practiced separately for a specific amount of time.

Really, to begin with, one must first look at their heart commitment. Do you treasure the Word of God? Do you love the Lord enough to want to hear what He is saying? Jesus said, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Secondly, let’s take a look at our daily routine. We all have priorities of eating, sleeping, and keeping some semblance of order about ourselves and our environment. But, we need to ask ourselves what else fills our time outside the daily requirements for us personally and our families. What do we fill our time with in the way of hobbies, entertainment, and socialization? Take a real hard look at your favorite activities. Ask yourself if your activities reflect a godly lifestyle and whether you would be able to integrate spiritual disciplines within them? For example, socialization can, obviously, be a part of a group devotion time or just a discussion over coffee or dinner with friends where you discuss the things of the Lord as an important part of your conversation. It’s all about how we prioritize. Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 6 that “no one can serve two masters;” (Matthew 6:24a). He’s talking here about riches but anything that occupies our desire like riches, becomes an idol that chokes time out of our relationship with the Lord.

Finally, once the Christian has taken a real close look at daily activities, the question can be asked if these activities reflect the commandment of Jesus to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness?” (Matthew 6:33a). Can spiritual disciplines be a part of these activities? As we go about these activities, can our minds be focused on Him? We can have him in our thoughts and a song on our heart that worships and glorifies Him no matter what we’re doing.

With a committed heart, a prioritized lifestyle that seeks to follow and glorify the Lord, and a deeper appreciation for the grace and mercy God has provided through Jesus Christ, we can walk with more spiritual discipline. However, realize that your goal is not to see how perfect you can be in your own effort. This is not a contest to see who can be the most disciplined. Each individual must walk with the Lord in their own personal relationship. Remember that you are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10a). It is by the grace of God that you have the faith to believe. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us….” wants to “show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). If we keep our focus on Him, He will do the work in our hearts and increase our desire to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). Do not strive but relax in His presence and let Him show you how to make spiritual disciplines natural and a joyful part of your life.

References

[i] Dave Jenkins, The Word Explored (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: House to House Press, 2021), 14.

[ii] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 288.

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