The Need for Spiritual Disciplines
Christian spiritual disciplines have existed since biblical times. Jesus and His apostles practiced them daily. Gentile believers of the first century as well as the Jews also practiced them. Jesus used spiritual disciplines to lead believers back to Him. Spiritual disciplines helps believers to acquire a deeper familiarity with Christ and makes one more responsive to God's leading.
"Whoever claims to dwell in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:6)
We must first understand the power of sin before we can understand the meaning and necessity of spiritual disciplines. Today's society is captivated with spirituality. Go to any bookstore and there will be shelves filled with spiritual guidance and self-help books, including some concerning the occults. The Bible tells us what sin does to us.
"His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
Bad habits have to be replaced with good ones. This can be done with spiritual disciplines. These are practices we do regularly that help us to change with the power of the Holy Spirit. Our sinful habits become good habits, making us more like Christ and bringing us closer to God.
God wants us to live a fulfilled life. Although He does not guarantee us a trouble-free one. However, He does give instructions that strengthen our connection with Him.
God’s purpose is to develop a loving relationship with each one of His children. One way to draw us closer to Him is through spiritual disciplines.
Joh 14:7 “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. “
We can become like Christ by imitating His lifestyle. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe He knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in.
We can do nothing to earn our salvation because we are saved by God's grace alone. Spiritual disciplines are not practices making us right with God. They are simply tools the Holy Spirit uses to renew our heart. Spiritual disciplines help us to:
Recognize Jesus as our King.
Acknowledge we belong to Him.
Seek the fruit of the spirit in our lives. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Spiritual disciplines helps us recognize God's calling in our lives, and identify areas still needing to be renewed. They also train us to respond in a responsible manner when we face difficult problems life throws at us. They are instruments of God's grace through the Holy Spirit which transforms us into people who show Jesus' love, obedience and humility. Through them we can enrich our lives and those around us, focusing on building up God's body and in each believer.
Grace or Discipline?
Is discipline an enemy of grace? What need is there for discipline if we are saved by grace? Christians are saved through grace, not works. We can't brag about any of our works, no matter how good or well-intentioned they are. Even the faith we have is a gift of God. Everything we do should be for the glory of God and not ourselves.
So, if all glory goes to God, should we just watch and do nothing? Should we not study, pray, or do good works unless God motivates us? Of course not. Reading the Bible is the best way to stay connected to God. The best way to memorize something is by finding partners who will help and challenge us to work together. Studying the Bible doesn't mean we become experts on the Bible. However, the more we study the more we will understand how much God loves us.
Many say they just don't have the time. Have you stopped to consider how many hours are spent in transportation, watching TV or on hobbies? Traditionally, Christians read their Bibles early in the morning, after meals, or before going to bed. You will be surprised at how much wasted time you spend that could be used in bible study. The discipline of prayer is commanded in the Bible. Prayer builds up our humility, dependence on God, and compassion for others. If you have trouble knowing how to pray, start by praying simple, short prayers, or practicing with a friend. Prayer, is fundamentally a private conversation between man and God. Prayers should include praise for God's greatness, His gifts, petitions, and confessions of sin.
Finally we should remember our prayers are not primarily for changing God's mind about something. Prayer changes our mind about who we are, what we need, and how we are to please God. Prayer is our way of having intimate communication with God. We also pray in order to hear from God.
Discernment is primarily a spiritual gift. However, all believers are called to be wise and discerning. We develop discernment through prayer, Bible study and meditation as well as fasting. As we become more sensitive to God's voice, our ability to discern God's plans for our lives becomes easier. We may be convinced God is leading us in a specific direction. However we could be deceiving ourselves. Having joint discernment of God's people can keep us from making this mistake. In a nutshell, discernment is the spirit inspired ability to separate our imperfect will from God's perfect will and recognizing, judging, and choosing what is right and good.
Evangelism is another command for every Christian.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:1928:19-20)
Worship is far more than an activity. It's an attitude. An attitude of humble submission to God. It shouldn't be something done only on Sundays at church, but part of our daily life. We can worship alone but worshiping together with other Christians brings us together as a body.
When we render service to others it should be done expecting nothing in return. We must find ways to serve those with the greatest needs, not just those we like or feel comfortable around. Any service we give should be done for the glory of God. This will show others what being a Christian is all about.
One common example of Spiritual discipline is observing the Sabbath day of rest. Many Christians today continue in this tradition, but what about the rest of the world? Some of us might remember when all stores closed on Sunday.
Putting Spiritual Disciplines to Practice
We shouldn't just "go through the motions" when practicing spiritual disciplines. To know the mechanics doesn't mean we are practicing the disciplines. The inner attitude of the heart is more crucial than the mechanics when coming into the reality of spiritual life.
As we have seen, practicing spiritual disciplines isn't easy. Jesus told His disciples they would suffer hatred and persecution for his sake in the book of John.