Search for “spiritual disciplines” and you will come up with lists ranging from a few practices to giant, enormous, book-length lists.
You’ll hear people talk about prayer, Bible reading, silence, fasting, solitude, fellowship, and a bunch of others.
It can be kind of overwhelming, right?
I’m not sure where the phrase “spiritual disciplines” originated. The Greek word in the New Testament usually translated “discipline” is paideia, which is used for “the rearing of a child, training, discipline” (Strong’s Greek), and as far as I know, does not apply to what we call “spiritual disciplines.”
Spiritual Discipline #1: Meditate on God’s Word
God reveals himself and his will for us. If we want to know and enjoy God, the place to begin is God’s word.
Apart from the Bible, we CAN’T know what God is like. We can see some aspects of God in nature and the creation, but we would never look at an oak tree or a butterfly and know that God is holy, sovereign or loving. We could never know what Jesus did to redeem us by hiking through the Grand Canyon.
We absolutely need God’s word, the only source of absolute, unchanging spiritual truth. Here’s what Scripture says about itself:
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16
To “eat” God’s words means we take them in; we hear God’s words or read them. And when we do this consistently and meditate on them God’s words become a joy and the delight of our hearts.
Spiritual Discipline #2: Giving Thanks
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
We can thank God in all circumstances because he is sovereign over all things, he is infinitely wise and infinitely loving.
He is in control of all things, nothing can happen unless he allows it, and in his infinite love and wisdom, he causes all things to work together for our good, as it says in Romans:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
We don’t have to thank God for pain or tragedy or sadness, but we can thank him that even in the midst of horrible things he loves us and will somehow work all things for our good.
But even when God blesses us, or when life is going fine, we can so easily forget to thank God for our blessings. So one of the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life is to thank God every day.
Spiritual Discipline #3: Prayer
…pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this spiritual discipline for the Christian life. Prayer is simply asking God for help or strength or provision.
We should not worry or “be anxious about anything,” but bring all our needs and concerns to our gracious Father, because he loves us.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5.6-7).
It is humbling to ask our Father for everything. Prayer says, “Father, I need your help. I need your grace. I need you to provide for me. To give me wisdom and strength. To lead and guide me with my children.”
Rather than try to solve our own problems or relieve our own anxiety, we should cast them on our Father. Why? Because he cares for us – He genuinely, truly cares for us.
Spiritual Discipline #4: Giving
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” – 1 Corinthians 16:2
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give regularly. Not under any kind of legalistic pressure but freely and cheerfully. The “discipline” involved was to set apart and give on a weekly (for them) or regular basis.
It also takes a measure of godly “discipline” to do this cheerfully. But as with all God’s commands, when we obey them he blesses us. He doesn’t promise to give us Cadillacs, but “to make all grace abound” to us, and meet our needs, that we “may abound in every good work.”
And when Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give in the passages above, it was not for the support of the church, but for the poor saints in Jerusalem who were going through a famine. We should give to our church, but we certainly need not restrict giving to the church.
Proverbs 19:17 says:
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
And Jesus said:
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
So Jesus commands us to give. It is in a sense, a “spiritual discipline.” But it brings great rewards as Jesus said. The final discipline I want to talk about is:
Spiritual Discipline #5: Serving
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).
…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10.43-44).
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10).
Serving may not technically be a “spiritual discipline” but I’m including it because we are to practice it regularly, and in a sense, it often requires discipline. There are times we won’t feel like serving others and we will need to cry to the Lord for grace, then “discipline” ourselves to serve even when we don’t feel like it. Even using our gifts can require discipline.
The more we obey Jesus’ commands to serve others, the more joy it will bring into our lives.
Sometimes we can “schedule” our serving, at other times it is more spontaneous. But I believe Jesus calls all of us to imitate him and serve others, whether we feel like it or not, in the same way God calls us to regularly meditate on his word and pray, though we will often not feel like it.
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