Spiritual Disciplines: Series introduction

Most people (that is if you grew up like me), cringe at the word discipline because it is usually associated with something like this

If the above image describes your thoughts when you first read the title of this article, I can assure it’s nothing like that. You can relax.  Breathe in and out. Again. Repeat three times. You can continue reading now 🙂

What are Spiritual Disciplines?

“Spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” describes Donald Whitney. “They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.”

They include Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, fasting, silence and solitude, simplicity, service, submission, meditation, Journaling, stewardship, learning among others.

God created us for one sole purpose. “To experience a life of intimacy and relationship with Him.”

That perfect relationship was however broken in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and sin entered the world.

Sin separates us from God.

But the story doesn’t end there. God in His love and mercies sent His Son Jesus, to come on earth, live the perfect life we were supposed to live but couldn’t, and be crucified on the cross to atone for our sins.

English Dictionary describes atoning as “to clear (someone else) of wrongdoing, especially by standing as an equivalent.”

The wages of sin death (Romans 6:23a).  We are all born sinners by the virtue of being Adam’s descendants. What we rightfully deserve is God’s wrath- which is death.

But Jesus Christ on the cross atoned for our sins. He bore God’s wrath on our behalf, and as a result, all our sins- past, present, and future were forgiven.

Therefore, for all those who believe in Jesus, sin no longer separates them from God, and they can perfectly commune with Him.

Why should we practice Spiritual disciplines?

1st Timothy 4:7b: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (NASB)

We practice spiritual disciplines because we want to grow in godliness (Christlikeness, holiness).

It is however important we understand two things in regards to spiritual disciplines:

  1. Salvation is a gift from God
  2. We are to grow towards Christlikeness

Salvation is a gift from God

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Salvation is a gift from God. It is not something that is earned. Our “good” (righteous) deeds are not righteous enough to impress God and gain us admission into heaven. God calls our righteous acts “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

We are only saved through faith in Jesus.

With that, we can view spiritual disciplines as the means God has granted us to receive His grace. Spiritual disciplines can do nothing by themselves. They only place us where God can work within us and transform us.

Failure to understand this could make us turn Spiritual disciplines into “tools” that recommend us to God.  Such that, instead of practicing them because we want to commune with our Lord and deepen our relationship with Him, or grow in godliness, we will be practicing them because we view them as a method of earning God’s favor.

We are to grow towards Christlikeness

1st John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet be made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Everyone who is born again will ultimately be conformed into the image of Jesus when he comes.

God has predestined us to be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Hallelujah! We shall be like Jesus when He comes again!

With that knowledge though, one may wonder, “What then is the role of Spiritual disciplines? After all, God has promised us that we’ll be like Jesus when He appears. Why not wait for that day?”

But God expects us to grow towards Christlikeness. Listen to what He says in 1st Peter 2:1 (among other verses) “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

God will indeed grant us Christlikeness when Jesus comes, but till then, He expects us to grow towards it.

Who should practice Spiritual Disciplines?

Perhaps after reading this far, you’ve been thinking, “this is deep stuff. It’s for those ‘serious Christians’ who probably want to be Pastors. Not for an ordinary person like me.”

“We must not be led to believe that the Disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation,” Richard Foster reminds us. Neither are they hard. “We need not be well advanced in matters of theology to practice the Disciplines. Recent converts—for that matter people who have yet to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ—can and should practice them.”

Or maybe you’ve been practicing them for a while now, but see no transformation in your life- your walk with God is still shallow, you are still overcome with the same old sins- and have despaired of practicing them.

If that describes you, take heart friend. Inner transformation comes from the Lord- not by your power, strength, or willpower.

God only requires one thing: a longing after Him.

As the Psalmist would say, “As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God” (Psalm 42: 1-2).

The same applies to us. If we long after God, we’ll place ourselves in the paths He has given us to experience Him. These paths are the Spiritual disciplines. And in due time, God will transform our lives, and we’ll experience the fullness of joy that comes with being in his presence.

And together with David, we’ll say,

“Better is one day in your courts

Than a thousand elsewhere.”

(Psalm 84:10).

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