Bible study, prayer, fasting, and solitude. When I hear the term spiritual disciplines that’s where my mind automatically goes. Then it quickly shifts to frustration as I have yet to master any of these things. I don’t seem to have nearly enough time for Bible study. My mind wanders when I pray. All I can think about is food while I’m fasting. And solitude. What even is that?
And why does it feel like other people can fit it all in? What’s wrong with 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. Far from it. God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns.Celebration of Discipline, p.1
Ordinary human beings? Well, that’s definitely me. You know what? Let’s grab some books off my shelves and do a quick dive into the disciplines. Maybe someone can help us pull it together.
Before we do anything else we have to understand what a spiritual discipline actually is, and I love this explanation:
Christians are called to make themselves do something they would not naturally do in order to become what they’ve always wanted to be, that is, like Jesus Christ.Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 20
A spiritual discipline is literally anything we make ourselves do that conforms us into the image of Christ. That’s a liberating idea! Kindness. Boldness. Generosity. These are all spiritual disciplines.
Bible study, prayer, fasting, solitude. These are important and should definitely be prioritized, but as I’m looking through these books there’s a whole list of ‘others.’
There are three lesser-known spiritual disciplines that are jumping out at me. They go against the flow of culture, and I believe they have the potential to completely alter the trajectory of our lives. Can I share them with you?
This one intrigues me because secrecy seems like something negative. How can keeping secrets make us more like Jesus?
In the discipline of secrecy we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We may even take steps to prevent them from being known, if it doesn’t involve deceit.The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 172
This reminds me of when Jesus would heal people and tell them to be quiet about it. I can see how this would cause us to be like him. Doing some good deed and NOT plastering it on social media is an exercise in humility. In trusting that God, “who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6: 4
If there’s one spiritual discipline our culture needs to exercise right now it’s secrecy.
Honest assessment. What are you more apt to do? Go through your day being thankful for what you have or wishing you had more? I know what my answer is. The latter.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to be grateful, but it is. And if you’re anything like me, a lack of gratitude leads to anxiety. That’s why I love this reminder from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. When Jesus was confronted with the need to feed 5000 using one small lunch he didn’t wish he had more. He gave thanks for what was there.
Jesus didn’t write off the loaves and fish as nothing. He noticed what was given and ‘gave thanks’ for it. And in these less-than-perfect circumstances, God supplied all that was needed.Calhoun, p. 30
Said another way:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
I love that fellowship is listed as a spiritual discipline, because so often we assume Christian community should come easily and be sustained easily. But what about in the life of Jesus?
For Jesus, fellowship with humanity was hard. The fellowship that came easily for him (that of the trinity) he willingly laid down to pursue the fellowship that cost him his life.
Now hear me out. Church hurt is very real, and if you’ve experienced that I’m so sorry. I would never want to heap on any guilt or shame because you’re protecting yourself from pain. But can I encourage you to consider putting yourself out there again?
One obvious reason we shouldn’t think of taking the Spiritual Disciplines and becoming spiritual recluses is that some Disciplines cannot be practiced without other Christians. Furthermore, one of God’s purposes of fellowship is to supplement the Spiritual Disciplines and to stimulate our growth in Godliness through them.Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p.239
A spiritual discipline is literally anything we make ourselves do that conforms us into the image of Christ. Whether it’s prioritizing the popular disciplines or focusing on the lesser-known ones we need to remember.
The disciplines are the means. Christ-likeness is the goal.
God, help us today to pursue you. I pray that we would prioritize the lesser-known disciplines and realize that you can use any number of things to conform us into the image of your son. Give us the strength, conviction, and encouragement to do your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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