Spiritual Disciplines For All Christians

It's a new year, and most of us make at least one or two resolutions about things we want to accomplish in the coming year. Not surprisingly, the top resolutions are generally something about losing weight and getting into better shape, physically. For Christians, their resolutions are often something like “read the Bible more” or “spend more time with God”. In other words, to get in better shape, spiritually.

These are all great – but they are not going to just magically happen. We have to work at them, whether our resolutions are physical or spiritual. We have to practice discipline: in other words, train ourselves to do what we need to do to reach our goal. Just as an athlete trains his body every day to reach his goal, we must train ourselves to make these disciplines a part of our daily lives in oreder to reach our goal of growing spiritually.

Just as our bodies grow weak and sluggish without physical exercise, our spiritual lives also becomes weak an sluggish without exercise. We don't become physically fit and healthy by sitting on the couch, and we don't become spiritually fit and strong by just sitting in church on Sundays. It takes discipline. Paul wrote numerous instructions about self-discipline:

“But refuse profane and old wives' tales, and exercise yourself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profits for a little while: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.' (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

So, what are spiritual disciplines, and why should Christians practice them? Spiritual disciplines are practices found in Scripture that help believers grow spiritually. They draw us closer to Jesus Christ and make us more like Him, because they are habits that Jesus himself practiced. There is nothing new about them: these things have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times.

Spiritual disciplines, when practiced daily, become firmly ingrained habits. They help us build our spiritual muscles, to become stronger and more effective Christians. Making these disciplines a part of our daily lives also strengthens us against the enemy of our souls. They strengthen us for each battle we may face, helping us walk in faith and obedience, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. We cannot be strong against our enemy unless we have built up our faith muscles with daily exercise.

Spiritual disciplines can be identified by these four attributes:

1. They are meant to be practiced both personally and corporately, as the body of believers. Bible study and prayer, for instance, are to be done individually and also within the church. Some think they can practice their religion alone, apart from the body of Christ, His church. But the Bible warns about that attitude: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Just as a log stops burning brightly when it is removed from the fire, so does our spirit stop burning brightly when we are removed from the body of Christ. We are created to function in unity with the church!

2. They are actions, are not attitudes. The goal of these disciplines is to make us more like Jesus. Scripture tells us: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”. (I Timothy 4:7) Spiritual disciplines require action on our part, they are not fruits of the Spirit, or gifts from God. They do not come naturally to us, we have to work at them.

3. They are modeled in Scripture. It is important to emphasize that spiritual disciplines are practices taught or modeled in the Bible. Otherwise, people can claim anything as a “spiritual discipline” that brings them closer to God. We've all heard someone say something like "I always feel close to God on the golf course" or "Fishing is a spiritual activity for me". Fishing, gardening, exercise, or any other activity may be quite pleasurable for those who practice them, but they have no Biblical support, and thus cannot be considered a spiritual discipline.

4. They are the means to an end, not the end itself. We do not become godly just because we practice the spiritual disciplines. It is as we humble ourselves and subdue our own desires in order to practice these things that we become more like Christ. Remember the words of Jesus: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38) That is the goal of our spiritual life: to love God more and more, not just to cross something off our to-do list!

That was the great error of the Pharisees. They believed doing these things made them godly – in other words, they depended on their own works to achieve righteousness. No, these spiritual disciplines are the means to help us grow and become more Godly, they do not make us more Godly simply because we do them - it is possible to read the Bible for an hour, for example, and still have no idea how what you just read applies in your own life.

Like I said, these things aren't going to just happen, we have to make them a priority and deliberately and diligently put them into practice. There will always be distractions, our lives will always be busy, something or someone will always need our immediate attention, so it is imperative that we set aside specific times each day for the two most important disciplines: Bible reading and prayer.

1. Bible Study – The first and foremost spiritual discipline is studying the Scriptures. All the other disciplines rest on this one; they must have as their basis the living Word of God. The Bible is where God reveals Himself to us, teaches us His will and His ways, and gives us instruction in how we should live righteously in our daily lives.

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Bible study includes four distinct areas: studying the Word, meditating on the Word, memorizing the Word, and teaching the Word to your family. Meditating on God's Word means we don't merely read the Word to cross it off our to-do list, we read it to understand how it applies in our daily lives, and what is the message God has for us.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Reading the Bible regularly is beneficial to us in more ways than one. It teaches us sound doctrine, it reproves and corrects us, and shows us what righteousness looks like. We will not have much success in any of the other spiritual disciplines if we do not make Bible study a priority in our lives. Our sinful nature will try to keep us from daily Bible study: there is always something else that requires our attention, something else that we need to be doing. But nothing is more important than our daily time studying God's Word. Scripture is literally from the mouth of God, and contains the power of God:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

It has truly been said of the Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book”. Daily Bible study helps us overcome both the enemy and our own sinful nature. Without daily Bible study, we simply are not equipped to fight the spiritual battles that confront every believer. Paul instructs all Christians to put on the full armor of God, but “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” is the only offensive spiritual weapon we are given to defend ourselves against the enemy.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

Memorizing Scripture helps us to always keep God's Word in our hearts and minds. We may not always have a Bible handy, so memorizing Scripture is important. It lights our pathway so we don't stumble and fall. Memorizing Scripture will help keep us from sin and help us to live in a Godly manner in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. (Psalms 119:11)

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalms 119:105)

Finally, we must understand that we are also responsible for not only learning God's word for ourselves, but then to teach it to our families as well. If we don't teach them to love God, the world will teach them not to! We are responsible for their spiritual well-being as much as their physical well-being.

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: And you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
(We must be careful to understand this verse in Joshua properly, however.
Despite what the “prosperity gospel” preachers would have us believe, the
phrase “be prosperous and successful” has to be understood in light of how
God Himself defines prosperity and success for us, rather than how the world
defines these things. It is NOT an absolute promise of material wealth!)

2. Prayer - The second most important spiritual discipline is prayer. The purpose of prayer is not to just give God all our requests, but to grow daily in our communication with Him. Prayer is a two-way street; we don't just talk to God, we have to listen as well, and allow Him time to speak to our hearts. Talking with someone is how we best get to know them personally and intimately. There is no shortcut to this: we have to spend time talking to God daily to get to know Him.

Prayer is something we are taught to do both alone and within the family of believers. Jesus modeled the importance of prayer, both individually and in community. Prayer was always a priority with Jesus, so it should be our priority as well. He told His disciples:

And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-
We all love to see answers to our prayers. But the most important purpose of prayer is growing closer to God; having our prayers answered is a blessing for sure, but it is really secondary. Growing in closeness to God is even more of a blessing. Always remember the purpose of prayer is not just to get God to do what we want; it is for us to grow close enough to understand His will and learn to trust in it. It is so easy to trust God when we see answers to specific prayers, but when we don't see answers, or don't get the answer we want, we must have faith enough to say “Not my will, Lord, but Thy will be done”. The only way to grow our faith to that extent is to be in constant communication with out Heavenly Father.

All the rest of these spiritual disciplines spring from these first two. They are all necessary to help us to grow in our faith and walk closer to the Lord. It may seem overwhelming at first, but don't be discourage! Start by practicing the first two, then add more as they become a daily part of your routine!

3. Fasting - Fasting is the practice of giving up something, usually food, in order to turn away from worldly things for a period of time and focus our attention on the Lord, through prayer and Scripture reading. It demonstrates humility, in giving up what we would like to focus all our concentration on God. We must depend on God to sustain us while we voluntarily deprive ourselves. It is obvious this is something all followers of Jesus are to practice, as He instructed His disciples to do so. He did not say “IF you fast...”, He said “WHEN you fast....”

Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; That you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father who is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16-18)

4. Confession- Confession may be one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to master. We usually tend to think we're good, we don't have much to confess. It's really hard for us to admit we are sinners, through and through. We deceive ourselves into thinking we're better than we are. We know the Bible says our own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), that none of us is without sin. Understand, our confession is not for our salvation, that was settled when we first believed and received Christ's forgiveness. Our confession is to recognize our own unworthiness and that it is only through Jesus Christ we are acceptable to God. But He promises that when we confess, He willl be merciful!

There are also times when we are to confess our faults not only to God, but to one another. There are two reasons for this: humility and accountability. When we have wronged somebody else, whether in thought, word, or deed, we need to humble ourselves to confess it to that person directly. When we are struggling with temptation or wrong attitudes, we need to confess that to a trusted friend or pastor, who can both hold us up in prayer and also hold us accountable. This also requires a great deal of humility on our part, but it is necessary if we are to grow in our faith.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

5. Self-Control – Another discipline we as Christians need to incorporate into our daily lives is self-control. Unfortunately, we live in a world that encourages self-indulgence, in every area of our lives. Our advertising slogans are all about what we deserve, and treating ourselves well, putting ourselves first and doing whatever seems best for us. We indulge ourselves in so many ways every day: overeating, overspending, overdoing, over-working. We give way to temper, to bitterness, jealously, to pettiness, to fleshly lusts... the list goes on and on. But the Bible is clear: if we belong to Christ, we must begin to exercise self-control, and crucify the lusts and affections of the flesh. We cannot do this in own our strength, but it IS possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, as self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit that we receive when we are saved. However, it is like anything else: we have to diligently work at it!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, self-control: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

And for this reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge self control; and to self control patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

6. Tithing and Charitable Giving – To practice freely giving, we must deliberately discipline ourselves to do without some things, to live below our means. We have to truly believe the truth: “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35). We should practice giving gracefully and cheerfully because nothing we own really belongs to us; everything we have belongs to God. (Ps 24:1). We are just managing the resources God has blessed us with. And God never gives us anything merely for our own benefit, to hoard it for our own profit or enjoyment. Everything He gives us is meant to be shared with others:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

But to do good and to share forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)

It is so very easy for us to fall into the snare of worldly riches. The problem is not the money itself; it’s our attitude towards money.

“For the love of money is the root of all evil.” ( 1 Timothy 6:10)

We need to learn to be content no matter how much money we have (1 Tim 6:6). Ecclesiastes warns us that anyone who loves money will never be satisfied. (Eccl 5:10). Someone once asked J.D. Rockefeller, one of the world's richest men, “How much money does it take to make a man happy?” Rockefeller promptly replied, “Just one more dollar.” Paul teaches that whose who are wealthy in this world should not hoard their riches, but should “do good with their wealth, be generous and ready to share.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 Charge them that are rich in this present age, that they be not haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Jesus also warned about making money our primary focus when He asked:

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26).

He also made it clear, we aren't to brag about our acts of charitable giving, or call attention to them, but keep them secret. God rewards us when we give cheerfully and privately; such giving glorifies Him, not ourselves. If we give only to receive the praise of others, or so that they will know how generous we are, then that's all the reward we will ever get.

Take heed that you give not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you give your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: That your alms may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret himself shall reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1-4)

7. Communion – Partaking of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, is one of the spiritual disciplines we are to practice congregationally, with the body of believers. It is done in remembrance of our Savior and the price He paid for our sins. I have heard many believers say they do not partake of the Lord's Supper because they feel unworthy. The passage they point to is I Cor.11:27-29, which warns of the serious consequences of taking the Lord's Supper unworthily:

Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

The word used in that passage is "unworthily", an adverb meaning in an unworthy manner, not "unworthy" an adjective meaning unfit. It refers to the manner of observing the ordinance, not to our personal qualifications or fitness. I hate to tell you this, but no, we are not worthy - nobody is. But that doesn't mean we cannot take this sacrament in a worthy, reverent manner; that is, with a deep sense of our sinfulness and our need for a Savior! The basis for taking the Lord's Supper is not OUR worthiness, but Jesus Christ's! We do this in remembrance of Him.

And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)

8. Praise & Worship - Again, these are meant to be practiced both personally and corporately. Worship is the recognition of God's greatness, His glory and majesty, His goodness and love, His perfection, His holiness - all the wonderful attributes of God that make Him alone worthy of our worship and adoration. Praise is acknowledging Him as the source of every good thing in our lives. We praise Him for His love and grace and mercy to us, as well as for all the blessings He bestows. It is a mistake to emphasize one over the other, the two go hand in hand: Worship leads to praise!

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness (1 Chronicles 16:29).

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalms 29:2)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28)

9. Thanksgiving - We have to descipline ourselves to have an "attitude of gratitude" daily. This is not as easy as it may sound. We are far more prone to grumble and complain than to be grateful. In every situation we may find ourselves, there is always, always something to be thankful for! If nothing else, we can be thankful that the Lord is in control and the bad situation will not last forever. At the very least, we can be thankful for our salvation, knowing that we will spend eternity with the Lord in paradise! It is truly amazing how changing our attitude from grumbling and complaining to one of thanksgiving changes our whole perspective. Griping and grumbling all the time are negative emotions that only drag us down, until we don't even recognize the blessings even in the midst of our storms. Developing and attitude of gratitude and thankfulness will make the bad times and the hard things easier to bear, and multiply the joys of the good things in our lives!

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. (Psalms 95:2-3)

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. (Psalms 100:4)

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6)

10. Service – As Christ followers, we are not saved to just sit, we are saved to serve! We serve Christ by serving others, acting as His hands and feet here on earth. We must be willing to humble ourselves as Christ did, and serve others as He did.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).

And whosoever of you will be the first, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:44-45)

11. Fellowship – Fellowship within the church- the body of believers- is not just small talk over a meal. It's more than just socializing with our Sunday School class or at the church potluck dinners, although that's a good place to start! Fellowship involves lifting one another up, encouraging one another to follow Jesus. Fellowship is strengthening each other, and being there for one another in times of crisis or celebration. The early church knew the importance of fellowship: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

But fellowship doesn’t happen by accident. We have to make it a point to gather together with the body of Christ on a regular basis. Together the embers of a fire glow red-hot. But scattered, they soon grow cold. That is why the discipline of fellowship is so important. We all need brothers and sisters united in Christ to strengthen our faith.

12. Evangelism - Disciple-making is another spiritual discipline that simply will not happen by accident. To make disciples, as the Bible commands, we must actively seek out opportunities to share the gospel (Mark 16:15), baptize new believers, and teach them how to obey everything that Jesus commanded. (Matt 28:19-20)

Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: 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. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

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