The Value of Spiritual Disciplines
Somehow, in today’s grab-it-and-go society, we have developed a similar attitude with spirituality. We think we can pull up to the church parking lot on Sunday, pop in for a sermon, place our “order,” fill up on good feelings, and we’re good to go for another week. But having a relationship with Jesus Christ is so much more. It’s like having 24-hour access to a five-star buffet and settling for one fast-food meal a week. No matter how good the sermon sounds, how spiritual the experience is, it cannot substitute for daily nourishment.
The term spiritual disciplines has almost become lost in modern day Christianity. For some it has developed a negative connotation. Some people have begun to associate spiritual disciplines with works and works-based salvation. Some people just don’t have a clue what spiritual disciplines are or why Christians should have them.
Author Delia Halverson wrote, “Spiritual disciplines cannot set up your relationship with God, because Christ has already done that. Disciplines do not act as brownie points, getting you closer to ‘heaven’s gates,’ and they certainly are not magical acts that cause God to act in a certain way. No discipline will make you a more valuable person to God, because God values each of us to the fullest. Life may or may not go smoother when you practice spiritual disciplines, but that is not the point.”
So, if that’s what spiritual disciplines are not, then what exactly are they? Spiritual disciplines are practices or exercises that Christians perform in order to turn their hearts toward God or to develop more God-like qualities in their lives. While there are a variety of exercises that can be classified as spiritual disciplines, some of the more commonly discussed are prayer, Bible study, worship, and giving.
“Well, those are things I already do on Sunday morning,” you may say. And that is true. Many spiritual disciplines are practiced during a typical Sunday service. However, if you consider the use of the word discipline, it becomes obvious that spiritual disciplines should be more than once-a-week endeavors.
You will find several different definitions for the word “discipline,” but many of the entries contain similar words, words such as training, exercise, correction, and instruction. In fact, we often use the term “disciplined” to refer to athletes who have prepared their minds and bodies for sporting events. Just like the discipline of athletic training works to strengthen the mind and body of the athlete, so do spiritual disciplines work in the mind and body of the Christian making them into individuals who are more like Christ. Spiritual disciplines then are those things that Christians do on a regular basis to help produce more Christ-like thoughts and behaviors in their lives.
Just as fast-food can provide some nourishment and is certainly better than none, so too can Christians receive some nourishment from church services. In fact, corporate worship should be an important part of a Christian’s life. But it shouldn’t be the only “meal” of the week. Simple practices of prayer, Bible study, and giving are valuable sources of spiritual nourishment for Christ-followers.
Prayer does not have to be kneeling beside our bed or sneaking off to a quiet room. While times of meditative private prayers are definitely uplifting and beneficial, we need to remember that prayer is simply a conversation with God, and a conversation can take place anywhere. Don’t relegate prayer to certain traditional times and places. Pray whenever you have the opportunity.
Driving in the car to work? Pray. Pray about the day to come. Pray for your family. Pray for the people you work with. Pray for the people you see on the road beside you.
When my son was young, I pulled up behind a car with a vulgar license plate. At first I started to gripe, and then I prayed. Without thinking, I prayed out loud, “Lord, please be with the man driving that vehicle. He needs you Lord. Please help him come to realize his need for you. In Jesus name, Amen.” My young son asked what I was doing. I told him that I was praying for the man in the vehicle in front of us. A few minutes later, my son said, “Let’s pray for that man.” He pointed to a man walking down the road. So, we did. Praying doesn’t have to be a formal affair, but it’s certainly nice when it’s a family affair.
Heading to the ball park for your daughter’s game? Pray together as a family for the safety of the players, for the wisdom of the coaches, for a good time to be had by all.
Sitting down for a meal? Try something different. How about a thank-you prayer? Start with “Thank you God for the food we are about to eat and…” Let each of your family members add a thankful statement.
In the shower? On the bus? Out hunting? Playing a game? Preparing a lesson? Pray out loud. Pray to yourself. Sing your prayers. Write your prayers. The important thing is to make prayer an integral part of your life. God loves you. He wants to hear from you. And He wants to talk to you as well.
While the Holy Spirit certainly converses with Christians in their hearts, we also know that God uses the Bible to speak to us as well. Unfortunately, several studies have shown that the majority of Christians do not read their Bible even once a week outside of the Sunday worship service. The Bible is like a letter to Christians, and yet most of us are failing to read it.
Again, we have a lot of excuses. “I don’t have time to read the newspaper let alone the Bible.” “I can’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense to me.” “The Bible just isn’t relevant to my life.’ But today, Christians have more resources available to them than at any time in history. The excuses are simply invalid. Don’t have time to read? Purchase an electronic Bible. Listen to it in the car or on your ipod, while you’re running or shopping or waiting in line, on your break or at lunch. Buy a devotional book that offers a short passage of scripture followed by a small summary or story that illustrates the point. Don’t understand it? Purchase a Bible in an easy-to-read version or an audible version that has been recorded like a play or a novel. Not relevant? Of course it is. The Bible offers stories of love, hate, jealousy, depression, family conflicts, and business matters. It gives lessons on morality and how to deal with the stress of everyday life. It has adventure and romance and poetry, even battles and futuristic predictions that would give any sci-fi movie a run for the money. The Bible is not only relevant, it is interesting. But you will never know if you don’t pick it up.
Giving is more than just slipping a few dollars into the offering plate. For Christians, giving should be a way of life. Of course, giving often involves money, but perhaps the most costly gift is that of time.
How can Christians make giving a spiritual discipline? They can give to their families. Reading a book to your daughter when the dishes need to be done, pushing your son on the swing when you are supposed to be mowing, talking to your teenager when it’s way past your bedtime, taking care of your aging mother—those are all ways that you can give your time.
But you can also give time to friends, by helping someone move, babysitting for a single mother, mowing a elderly neighbor’s lawn. That’s giving, but there’s more.
Giving to strangers can take the form of giving blood, donating to a mission, helping build a home, volunteering to serve a meal at the local shelter. One thing is for sure. When you make giving a spiritual discipline in your life, you will always get more than you give away.
Instead of thinking about all the reasons we can’t develop spiritual disciplines in our life, why not take the advice of the old tennis shoe commercial and “Just Do It!” Start by asking the Lord to give you a desire to spend time with God. That’s a prayer God will surely answer. Then take small steps towards making spiritual disciplines a part of your daily life. Don’t be satisfied with a fast-food diet of spirituality, go for the buffet and experience the delights the Lord has to offer.