Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spiritual Disciplines - The What and The Goals

This is the second part of a post I put up a few days ago. I might be crazy, but I'm teaching based off of both of these posts tonight at youth group...pray for us :) So, without further ado, here's the rest of my overall introduction to spiritual disciplines.


What are the Spiritual Disciplines?

The Spiritual Disciplines can be described as a set of “Holy Habits” that are designed to train us in godliness as we follow Jesus. Dallas Willard says,

“We are saved by grace, of course, and by it alone, and not because we deserve it. That is the basis of God’s acceptance of us. But grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically “infused” into our being in the moment of need…We only have to look at the facts. A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living…Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the ‘second mile,’ turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully—while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does.”

Often, we miss the point that Jesus practiced the Spiritual Disciplines all His life! Even Jesus realized that preparation, practice, and disciplined living were essential to living a life that is abundantly different than the world’s way of living! With everything else in life we see that hard work + time invested = success. The baseball star puts in countless hours to be able to make the play that sends his team to the World Series. The violinist struggles through thousands of finger drills to be able to make music that amazes and impresses sold out crowds. The soldier endures harsh conditions and pushes his body past it’s limits to be prepared for the time that his and other’s lives are on the line. It’s the same in every area of our lives. Yet, when it comes to our spiritual lives we somehow believe that “effort-at-the-moment-of-action” alone will allow us to rise above temptation. And we’re often left feeling discouraged and defeated when we fail to overcome the same old sins in our lives, time and time again.

Spiritual Disciplines are the habits we can develop to help us get both our body and soul on the same page: God’s page. This process is spiritual growth. It’s something that takes time and effort and abundant amounts of God’s grace, but it is what being a disciple of Jesus is about. To undertake the Spiritual Disciplines in our lives is to recognize that the call to follow Jesus is at least as big a challenge as playing the violin or baseball, and of infinitely more importance.

Spiritual Disciplines aren’t reserved for the super-spiritual. They’re for the entry-level, average Joe who wants to enter into what true Life is; who wants to have the Life of Christ made real in their own life here and now. Willard asks the question, “Why is it that we look upon our salvation as a moment that began our religious life instead of the daily life we receive from God?” Salvation isn’t just a “once upon a time” thing; it’s continually spreading throughout every aspect of our lives. Salvation isn’t a moment in time, it’s a lifestyle! The spiritual disciplines are tools to allow us to exercise that salvation in the different aspects of our lives.

What are the goals of Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual Disciplines are never the goal in and of themselves, they are the tools we use to train our bodies and spirits to line up with God’s will for the Church. If one tool isn’t helping us grow closer to God, maybe we need to set it down for a little bit and try a different one. That being said, here are some of the goals of practicing spiritual disciplines (This is not an exhaustive list)

1. To mature into the likeness of Jesus.

The spiritual disciplines are some of the best ways to mature as a follower of Jesus. A common bumper sticker says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” While this is true, it also leaves out half the story and can be dangerous. Christianity isn’t just about believing the right things about Jesus, it is also about being transformed into His likeness (Ephesians 4:11-13). God is the only one who can do this in our lives, through the power of His Holy Spirit. But we don’t grow spiritually without joining God and getting to work in our lives. Even though every believer has new spiritual life, it doesn’t mean we can be content to be spiritual babies in Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). There’s no such thing as the couch potato guide to spiritual growth.

2. To clear up space in our lives to connect with God.

God is definitely always at work around us. However, we are not always aware of it. Whether we’ve filled our schedules to overflowing, or there’s too much noise, or any number of distractions, it’s easier to be sidetracked from God and His work than it is to focus on Him. The spiritual disciplines are a great way to intentionally set aside time and energy to focus on hearing God and deepening our relationship with Him. Just like a light bulb is useless if it’s disconnected from electricity, so the Christian is pointless if they are not actively taking time to connect with God.

3. To train our bodies to fight for us and not against us.

When Jesus went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before being betrayed, He took His closest disciples – Peter, James and John – and asked them to spend time in prayer with Him. He prayed three times, and each time He came back and His followers had fallen asleep. And Jesus told them, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (See Matt. 26:40-41) There are countless times in our lives where we want to respond like Jesus would in our situation, but our habit is to respond the wrong way.

The goal of spiritual disciplines is to join with God in reprogramming, so to speak, our ingrained patterns of worldly living. The apostle Paul tells us that God wants our minds to be renewed, and for us to offer our bodies up in service to God (Romans 12:1-2). Also, in 1 Corinthians he tells us that we are to discipline and master our bodies so that we can run the marathon of life to the finish. If it makes sense to train our body to run a physical marathon, how much more does it make sense to train our bodies to run with our spirit the race of life? (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

In its simplest terms, spiritual disciplines are a matter of taking the necessary steps to be ready and able at any time to do the will of God in our lives. To reject them is to believe that spiritual growth is something that just happens all by itself.

There are obviously many more goals for spiritual disciplines, but these are some of the most foundational and basic. The more we join together with God in these three things, the more our lives will be shaped and molded to look like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross to lead the way for us to come into new spiritual life both here and now and on into eternity! (Hebrews 12:1-3)

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like the spiritual disciplines are necessary or irrelevant? What has been your experience with spiritual disciplines? Which of the goals presented here sounds the most awesome to you? Can you think of any other goals spiritual disciplines can help accomplish?


  1. Personally, I would like to practice solitude, being still and quiet, listening, praying, reflecting more often. Those things are overlooked in this culture.

    I'd like to spend a weekend in a cabin with only food, bible, pen and paper. Didn't some famous author do that? People would think you're crazy, but to paraphrase Dave Ramsey - normal is (spiritually) broke, I'd rather be weird.

    My spiritual life mainly consists of what I do. In John 15, Jesus talks about 'abiding' in Him. That doesn't sound too active.

    Also, I think we have to be discerning about our motives. Are we doing 'good' things for the right reasons and in the right way. Is it by our own strength? Have we really sought God's will in the matter or is it our desire?

  2. Oh, also, I think I've said this before, but John Ortberg's The Life You Always Wanted is a great, short, humorous, poignant look at spiritual disciplines.

  3. From CT: Because our brains—at the very least—mediate, process, and experience our spiritual lives, the disciplines can train us to become more attuned to God himself...they teach and enable us to live by deeper truths and in accord with a deeper reality than the basic cravings of our bodies.

  4. What is CT?

    Also, I was re-reading the "law of sacrifice" blog post from The Art of Manliness, and came away with this quote that applies here!

    "If you’ve ever wondered why you lack the discipline to attain a certain goal, it is likely because in your heart of hearts, you don’t really value that goal as much as you think you do."

    I was thinking about preaching in a couple weeks on "Is God's Will always accomplished" but I might preach on sacrifice and sprinkle in spiritual disciplines in the process.

    1. Christianity Today. I've got the link on the home page of the blog. Steve and I discussed this 'value' aspect of what we 'say' and what we actually 'do' in an earlier blog - unfortunately I can't locate it right now. But the idea was: do we really value what we say we do, if we're actually doing something other than that? I think I was recommending that we compare the two and see if they line up. And if they don't, reassess your value system.

      BTW, that Law of Sacrifice was one of the better articles on AoM

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. what comment did you remove?

    1. It was much too controversial to publish, because, you see, it held the secret to making your every desire a reality. You know you can't handle that, don't you?
      Nah, actually I just removed it and placed in the 'reply' section to your comment instead of replying to the original post.