Days before my wedding and shortly before she went home to be with the Lord, my mother shared with me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received: remember to bring everything to the feet of Christ in prayer. Eight years later, I am still committed to following her advice, and as a result I have learned that prayer is indeed a spiritual discipline. And like any discipline, it requires effort and dedication.
When we hear the term "spiritual disciplines," many things might come to mind. We may think a discipline is something extremely complicated or something that requires enormous effort on our part. According to V. Raymond Edman,
Ours is an undisciplined era. The ancient disciplines are collapsing. . . . above all, the discipline of grace is being made a mockery of as legalism, or is totally alien to a generation that is largely illiterate in the Scriptures. We need the resilient force of Christian character that can only come from discipline.1
Why use the term discipline? And what are spiritual disciplines, and how do they benefit me? I really like Donald Whitney's definition in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: “Spiritual disciplines are those practices found in the Scriptures that promote spiritual growth among those who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that God's people have practiced since biblical times.”2
Spiritual Disciplines Are Practical
Thinking of them as “practical” changes the whole perspective we might have about spiritual disciplines because it puts them on a more accessible plane and tells us that they can be part of our daily lives. As my mother used to tell me, “Pray in everything and for everything!” Jesus Christ is our model to follow, and in the Gospels we see several accounts of Him putting into practice the disciplines that we are called to practice today. We see Jesus constantly praying and interceding for His disciples, but that’s not all. He prays for us! Yes, for us!
Spiritual Disciplines Are a Blessing
The purpose of these practices is not that we might have a list to check off or a method by which we can change God's will. Nor is the purpose to fulfill our desires. The spiritual disciplines are for our growth, for our blessing, and they are instruments that help us grow in godliness. When we come before God in prayer, presenting our petitions, desires, dreams, difficulties, and plans, we come to recognize His sovereignty, power, dominion, love, fidelity . . . and the list goes on! As I practice spiritual disciplines, God changes my mind and makes me focus on Him, on His plans, and shows me the way to go. Remember, we are called to imitate Jesus, and He is our best model when it comes to prayer.
Spiritual Disciplines Must Be Cultivated
Spiritual disciplines do not develop overnight, and we must be intentional in making them part of our lives. They are not something we feel but something we do. That’s why we need spiritual "sharpness," meaning that we have to discern those activities that are biblical spiritual disciplines and separate them from those that are not. A spiritual discipline is not simply what we like to do in our time with the Lord or some fashionable activity that some say is "spiritual." Let's not forget that the world constantly seeks to deceive us, and we have to be wise as we evaluate these practices.
The Bible must always be our map, and we must not deviate from it, as says 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” If an activity is called a spiritual discipline it must pass through the filter of the Word of God and must certainly point to its Author.
The What and Why of Spiritual Disciplines
These spiritual disciplines are recorded in the Bible:
Each of these is modeled primarily by Christ, but if we look closely, there are undoubtedly Christians arounds us who practice at least one.
It may seem daunting to look at that list and think, How could I possibly implement all of those? But the truth is that normal circumstances in our lives provide obvious opportunities to begin the practice of one of the spiritual disciplines. Whether the situation includes pain, suffering, joy, or even anger, there is a spiritual discipline that will reorient a believer to keep her eyes on Jesus. If I think back for a moment about something that provoked a reaction in me, I ask myself, Am I being moved to pray, worship, and fast?Or am I moved toward self-sufficiency, bitterness, and complaining?
We must remember that the goal of every spiritual discipline is to love God and to live for Him. We don’t need to become more spiritual; we need to become more like Christ. We do that by growing in the knowledge of Him and His Word. Practicing spiritual disciplines won’t change your life overnight and perhaps your prayer will not be answered exactly as you expected, but I assure you that your life will not be the same.
Which of these disciplines are you going to start practicing or which ones are you already practicing? Tell us below—we love to hear from you!
1V. Raymond Edman, The Disciplines of Life: Choosing Growth in Every Circumstance (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2003).
2Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).