The Spiritual Disciplines: In Conclusion

By Peter Amsterdam

October 14, 2014

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We’ve come to the end of the series on the Spiritual Disciplines, having covered 15 disciplines which are generally listed by authors who write on the topic.1 My purpose in writing this series was to offer a resource to those who seek to pattern their lives after Christ, who wish to live in a manner which honors God, and who want to apply the teachings of Scripture in their lives in a meaningful way. As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, train yourself for godliness,2 as there is great gain in godliness;3 and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.4 Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines is a means of training for and pursuing godliness. I hope that reading about the disciplines has given you a general understanding of them and shown you some of the potential benefits of practicing them.

Having read about them, you might be considering and deciding on your own practice of the disciplines. Perhaps you’re wondering if you need to engage with all of them, or which are most important for you, or if you’d be at a spiritual disadvantage if you don’t apply them at all. Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines takes time and effort, and since most of us lead busy lives, you might have a hard time seeing how you can bring them into yours. Even if the idea inspires you, on a practical level you might question whether it will work for you, and whether devoting time to them is worth it for you.

It’s important to understand that at a basic level, the disciplines encompass spiritual life components that each of us should regularly partake of as part of the practice of our faith. Scripture tells us that we should abide in God’s Word, pray, spend time alone with God, evangelize, confess our sins, fellowship, learn/study, be good stewards, use our time for God’s glory, serve, give, tithe, fast, and worship. While Scripture doesn’t necessarily state we need to celebrate, there are certainly examples of it within Scripture. Journaling isn’t specifically spoken of in the Bible, but keeping a journal can definitely play a role in praise, worship, and meditating on our spiritual growth. So while it’s not necessary to practice all of these components as Spiritual Disciplines, as believers we should engage in them to some degree in the course of living our faith.

Practicing any of these components as a Spiritual Discipline means making a specific effort to focus on that practice, to commit to aggressively participating in it—for the purpose of living a God-centered life, maturing in our faith, and aligning ourselves with God’s Spirit, Word, and will.

While all of the Spiritual Disciplines can help us to strengthen our relationship with the Lord and to live in a Christlike manner, one shouldn’t feel that it’s necessary to practice each component as a discipline. You may practice some or many of them on an occasional basis, and then choose one or two or more that you will bring into your life in a stronger way, as a discipline. And perhaps a few months from now, or a year from now, you will be led to add others to your regular practice.

God has created each of us as unique individuals, and as such, each of us connects with Him in a manner which is best suited to us personally. Some of the disciplines may not naturally fit your disposition. For example, someone who is very relational, who loves to be around people, might find the discipline of solitude and silence unappealing, while someone who loves to spend time alone would be attracted to it. A tactile person might have difficulty embracing learning via study, while a studious type might love it. Those who are more introverted might be paralyzed with fear at the thought of evangelism, while a people person might be very comfortable engaging in it.

When deciding to focus on one or more of the Spiritual Disciplines, you will most likely be attracted to the ones which appeal more to your nature. Trying those is a great place to start. It can help you to get a feel for practicing the disciplines. It’s a good incentive to kick-start your training toward more Christlikeness in your life.

Once you’ve engaged in a few of the disciplines that resonate with you and that you are generally comfortable with, you may want to move on to some of those you find less appealing. And when doing so, you might consider cutting back on the time and effort spent on other disciplines you have been practicing. This doesn’t mean you would stop doing them completely, as they are still components of a healthy Christian life, but once you have been strengthened in them, you can turn your focus to other areas. This is similar to how, with physical exercise, you might focus on a particular part of your body which needs strengthening, but once you have strengthened that area, you can concentrate on another area.

As with exercise, it’s sometimes important to put effort into strengthening our weaker areas. If we tend toward selfishness, then we may want to engage in the discipline of service, or giving. If we find ourselves constantly involved with others—friends, relatives, keeping up with everyone’s lives via social media—or if we spend a lot of time engaging with various sorts of entertainment, to the point that it has edged out our time alone with the Lord, we may want to practice the discipline of solitude and silence in some form. When we feel overconfident or proud that we are able to accomplish a lot, fasting may remind us that we are weak creatures who depend on our Creator. If our prayer life has waned, or if we find ourselves rarely praising and worshipping God, then focusing on these components as a discipline will help boost our relationship with the Lord.

Certain seasons of life can affect the use of the Spiritual Disciplines, making it difficult to practice particular ones. For example, parents of young children will most likely find it difficult to engage in silence and solitude. When that season of life changes and their children are older and attending school, certain disciplines which couldn’t be practiced earlier can perhaps be tried. If we are passing through a season of ill health, we may need to forgo some of the disciplines. Even short-term events or changes might be a cause for suspending their use. When I’m traveling, for example, I sometimes decide to pause on some of the disciplines I am practicing, as I know it will be very stressful or nearly impossible to keep up with them during that period. When I’m back home, I resume their practice. The seasons of our lives, and our circumstances, can influence our involvement with the Spiritual Disciplines.

To grow spiritually through the disciplines, it isn’t necessary to practice all of them all the time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. The goal of practicing the disciplines is to bring us into closer alignment with God, to strengthen our relationship with Him, to put ourselves in a position where He can bring about in us the spiritual growth that we desire. These things don’t happen overnight; it’s a process. As we endeavor to live our lives according to the teachings of Scripture, according to the words and example of Jesus, we are transformed. While the initial transformation happens when we receive Jesus as our Savior, the transformation process continues throughout our lives, especially when we seek to apply God’s Word to our everyday living. The disciplines help us do this.

Which disciplines you practice, and when, are matters between you and the Lord. If you desire to grow in your spiritual life and you choose to use the Spiritual Disciplines as a means of doing so, you can trust that He will guide you as to which disciplines to engage in, as well as when to start and how far to go.

Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines isn’t mandatory for Christians. It’s not the only means to spiritual growth or the only way to align one’s life with God and His Word. It is, however, a tried-and-proven means of training for godliness. When we make the commitment and put in the effort to apply the Spiritual Disciplines in our lives, we are consciously deciding to take specific action for the purpose of becoming more God-centered and Christlike. We become people who are determined to become proficient in our faith, who choose to put in the time, effort, and energy to develop this area of our life.

Proficiency in our spiritual life requires discipline, practice, study, and application. For those who deeply desire to walk with God, who want to live closely aligned with Him, who hunger for His Spirit to be manifest in their lives, practicing the Spiritual Disciplines is a path worth pursuing.

My prayer is that you who wish to be more deeply connected to God, who wish to be more like Jesus in your daily life, who want to position yourself in a way that the Holy Spirit can shine through you even more brightly, will give the Spiritual Disciplines an opportunity to work in your life. You won’t regret it.


Note:

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1 Bible intake, prayer, stewardship, simplicity, giving, wise use of time, fasting, solitude and silence, journaling, learning, confession, worship, celebration, service, fellowship, and evangelism.

2 1 Timothy 4:7.

3 1 Timothy 6:6.

4 1 Timothy 6:11.

 

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