The Spiritual Disciplines
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2009|
|If we are to become fully devoted disciples, the practice of developing the spiritual disciplines needs to be honed on a daily basis. A fully devoted disciple pursues the daily disciplines of: 1) Fervent Prayer; 2) Bible Study; 3) Reflection; and 4) the Application of God’s Word to life.|
1 Timothy 4:7b – “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”
- 1 Daily Disciplines for Devoted Disciples
- 2 I. What is a disciple?
- 3 II. Remaining in Him
- 4 III. The fullness of Christ’s joy
- 5 IV. The cost of our discipleship
- 6 V. The process of transformation
- 7 What are some of the core or basic spiritual disciplines?
- 8 Appendix 1:
- 9 Appendix 2
- 10 Appendix 3
Daily Disciplines for Devoted Disciples
If we are to become fully devoted disciples, the practice of developing the spiritual disciplines needs to be honed on a daily basis. A fully devoted disciple pursues the daily disciplines of: 1) Fervent Prayer; 2) Bible Study; 3) Reflection; and 4) the Application of God’s Word to life.
What do you suppose is one of the most fundamental decision and discipline of a devoted disciple? It is to choose to live by faith in God’s Word rather than living life based on how you feel!
Without faith God says that it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6a). Furthermore, a devoted disciple must believe that it is worth his while to seek after God (Heb. 11:6b). Learning to live by faith will naturally lead to practicing the presence of God, learning to daily cultivate the attitude of gratitude, a gracious lifestyle of forgiveness and an ongoing willingness for God to work in our lives in ways that please and honor Him (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:13-14). The daily practice of the spiritual disciplines will lead to great joy and deep satisfaction in life.
We will never understand the place and importance of the classic spiritual disciplines until or unless we understand the power of sin that is at work in our lives (Rom. 7:17-21). What are some of the New Testament metaphors used to describe the true nature of sin? Sin: Captures, enslaves, is deadly, is a sickness, is impurity, corrupts, pollute and separates. Moreover, sin even disguises itself as thoughts or behaviors that have become second nature. Many of the sins we commit come so naturally that we barely notice them. On one hand, sinful habits can enslave us, but on the other hand, godly habits can set us free as God intended.
What is the path way from breaking old sinful habits to establishing new godly habits? The path way is the road less traveled – the pathway of the classic spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines are: practices we do regularly that help us change, by the power of God’s Word and the grace of the Holy Spirit, our sinful habits into godly habits that conform us more to the character and conduct of Christ and bring us closer to God.
Spiritual disciplines are not: unrealistic expectations or legalistic burdens that we place on ourselves nor are they benchmarks for judging the spirituality of others. Further, they are not an indication of our spirituality or a substitute for faith or a way to hide our sins with good works.
I. What is a disciple?
A fully devoted disciple is a person on a life long journey of learning to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and learning to love everything that Jesus loves.
1) Our spiritual journey begins with a) regeneration, b) repentance, c) faith and d) the belief that it’s worth our while to diligently seek after God (Heb. 11:6). We recognize that we’re accepted by grace and that we can’t earn or merit God’s love and approval by anything we say or do.
2) Our journey continues as we learn to daily abide in Christ’s love by: a) sharing our lives with God and b) relating all of life to Him, c) depending on Him for the desire and power to please Him and d) by understanding, accepting and applying His Word to our daily lives.
We need to daily practice the spiritual disciplines that show our gratitude and cultivate our relationship with Him. God loves us despite the condition of our hearts. As we come to grips with the reality of His love, we realize that we’re dependent on God for the desire and power to love Him and others. The spiritual disciplines are like having a spiritual hearing and vision test.
How intently do we seek after God and how intently do we seek to listen to His voice? James promises that if we draw near to God that He will draw near to us (Jas. 4:8a). How conscious are we of God’s wise and loving presence with us?
Once we learn to abide in Christ, we need to learn to remain in Him (John 15:4). Once to hear God’s Word, we need to continue to heed His Word (John 8:31-2).
II. Remaining in Him
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
What is it that God promises His people?
- His Presence – God is always with you.
- His Power – He is mighty to save you
- His Passion – He takes great delight in you
- His Peace – He will quiet your heart with his love.
These are just some of the good gifts that God freely grants his children.
Do you presently experience God’s presence, power, passion and peace in your life? When was the last time, in solitude, that you experienced the richness of God’s presence? A disciple recognizes that God wants to have a relationship with us more than we do with Him. The key is to become anticipatory, alert and attentive to God’s voice via His Word and Spirit.
III. The fullness of Christ’s joy
In John 3:29-30 John the Baptist said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
The joy we discover in the intimacy of our walk with Jesus begins with worship: the celebration of all that He is. Let’s consider and reflect on the “I am” passages in the Gospel of John:
John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry….”
John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness…”
John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live….”
John 15:1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
When we meditation on the “I am” passages, we reflect an attitude consistent with who Jesus is. Jesus invites us to come and follow Him (Matt. 11:28) and to remain in Him (John 8:31-32; 15:4).
Jesus practiced the spiritual disciplines and so must every disciple who desires intimacy with God. John 15:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Out of the joy of our relationship with Jesus, we’re called to bear fruit glorifying to God (John 15:8). In John 15:16 Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
Specifically, what is it that we are chosen for? We are chosen for:
- Joy – is a fruit of the Spirit (John 15:11; Gal. 5:22).
- Love one another as Jesus loves us (John 13:34-35).
- Friendship – Jesus calls His followers His friends (John 15:13-15).
- Partnership – we are partners in the Gospel (Eph. 5:7).
- Ambassadorship – we are to represent the King of kings (2 Cor. 5:20).
- Advertisement – we are to go and bear fruit that lasts (John 15:16).
- Family Membership – God gives us the right to become His children (Jn. 1:12).
- To know Christ and make Him known – be and make disciples (Matt. 28:19; John 17:3).
Out of the incredible gratitude in response to God’s grace, we are compelled to be transparent with our Maker as we daily cultivate our relationship with Him. God knows us inside and out and loves us with an unconditional and everlasting love.
IV. The cost of our discipleship
What do you call a disciple without discipline? An oxymoron – there’s no such thing – for you can’t have one without the other. A disciple is one who is taught and trained (disciplined) by his Master.
The high cost of discipleship begins with the cost of discipline-ship: being willing to devote a part of each day in surrender, silence and solitude. The disciplines of the heart that longs after God’s heart are the life blood of our calling to remain in Christ. When we are not centered on Christ, our lives become shallow, superficial and empty of purpose, meaning and eternal significance.
How many of us need a spiritual check up? Here are some criteria to consider:
- Come to God with your own troubles (1 Pet. 5:7; Matt. 11:28-29).
- Question your doubts as much as your faith (Heb. 11:6a; Rom. 4:20-21).
- Don’t attempt your spiritual journey alone (Heb. 10:24-25).
- Allow the God’s Holy Spirit to control you (Eph. 5:18).
- Eliminate whatever distracts you from God (Heb. 12:1-2).
- Unzip the lip: Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17).
- Don’t put down and criticize your (church) family members (Rom. 12:10).
- Forgive daily those who offend, hurt or sin against you (Eph. 4:32).
- Continue to listen to God and act on what you hear (John 8:32).
- Daily investments of time with God will reap great benefits (Heb. 11:6b).
V. The process of transformation
A life of blessing is a life of discipline and grace-well balanced, properly understood and gratefully lived in the grace of God. Dallas Willard said that, “Spiritual formation is shaping the inner person in such a way that the words and deeds of Christ naturally flow from us.” Spiritual formation is really spiritual transformation wrought by the Word and Spirit of God. Spiritual transformation is a lifelong process of becoming more like Christ, reflecting more and more of his image in every aspect of our lives. Spiritual transformation by definition involves discipline (2 Tim. 4:7b).
What are some of the core or basic spiritual disciplines?
1. Prayer – Practicing God’s Presence.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” Is this a feasible goal for a devoted disciple? How can anyone have a vital relationship with Christ apart from prayer? An important part of praying without ceasing is learning to practice the presence of God! Just like you want to be with someone you love, if you love God you want to hear from Him and you want to talk with Him and share your life with Him through prayer. Prayer and God’s Word form the basis of our relationship with Him. For a balanced prayer, we have the acronym: ACTS. How can we develop life patterns that prioritize the place of prayer?
A – Adoration – When we adore God we are praising Him for who He is (the romancing of God)
C – Confession – When we confess we’re seeking to see our sin from God’s point of view (1 John 1:9)
T – Thanksgiving – When we thank God we are praising Him for what He has done (1 Thess. 5:18)
S – Supplication – When we petition God we are seeking to ask according to His will (1 John 5:14-15)
Without faith it is impossible to please God and prayer is an important expression of our faith.
2. Scripture – Read and Discover.
The second and even more important discipline for a devoted disciple is to pursue the daily reading of God’s Word. Scripture is undeniably the most significant daily nutrient for the health of the soul – a discipline for the soul as important as bread and water are for the body. In it we see the heart of God, the Mind of Christ and the movement of the Spirit.
Only God can accurately reveal Himself, and He does so on the pages of Holy Scripture. It is in the Bible that we find the greatest source of joy, comfort, inspiration, guidance, love and awe.
We begin with prayer, asking the Spirit to enlighten our hearts and minds with the truth of God’s Word that we might be more conformed to the character and conduct of Christ. We are to read the Bible with a teachable mind, a receptive attitude, an open heart and an obedient will, ready to be edified, encouraged and electrified by God’s truth illuminated by God’s Spirit.
The Bible must be read in the context of our vital, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It has been said: either the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. There is no question about it, if you let it, the Bible will change your life for the better and forever! The amount of Scripture that you read is not nearly as important as prayerfully contemplating the implications of the Word for the life of the disciple today. Don’t take the time, make the time!
If you are too busy to regularly read God’s Word, you are too busy. The daily accumulation of wisdom will shape a life beyond anything you could ever imagine! You’ll never develop a biblical worldview without sufficiently understanding and assimilating God’s Word. Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
3. Reflection – Meditation and Personalization.
Keep in mind that there are no alternative activities that can be substituted for these spiritual disciplines. Therefore we need to hop off the treadmill of our lives in order to practice the spiritual disciplines. It is incumbent that we reflect on the occupations and preoccupations of our heart. For “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
What is keeping us from a more vibrant and healthy relationship with Jesus Christ? To whom are we listening more than the Spirit? How consistent are we in the Word and prayer? If you had the opportunity to relive the last 24 hours, would you have done anything differently?
There is an old adage that says, “Action without reflection is meaningless action.” If we go through life without proper reflection, how can we ever learn from our past mistakes or shortcoming? The puritans called this reflective process: “preview and review.” We preview when we begin each day in God’s Word seeking His direction for the day. The practice of review encourages disciples to spend an equal amount of time prayerfully reflecting on the day and reviewing our actions.
What is the best tool to help a devoted disciple preview and review the day’s activities? It’s called A Dozen Decisions for Devoted Disciples (found in the appendix of this article). As we learn to recognize God’s work in our lives, we can also discover what changes God would have us make in our daily lives. How can we better demonstrate God’s love and Lordship? God is at work in every relationship and in every experience and we need to discern His purposes. Previewing and previewing helps us to keep our spiritual eyes and eyes open to God’s direction.
4. Application of God’s Word.
Jesus was proactive and intentional in making it a priority to withdraw from His ministry in order to practice the spiritual disciplines. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Luke 5:16 says: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
The spiritual disciplines help us to keep our focus on God – specifically His Word and Spirit. They remind us of God’s great grace and love extended generously on our behalf. Spiritual discipline in the context of relationships, keeps us from becoming judgmental, self-righteous or legalistic.
5. Voluntary Accountability
Accountability with Family, Church Family and Friends. As a church family, we should encourage one another in our faithfulness to the call of God in our lives. God wants to use us to bring out the best in each other. “Just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It’s only when we are held accountable in a loving way that we receive the gift of such profound friendship. Who will you invest in as a spiritual friend and to whom are you being held accountable in your own spiritual life? The fully devoted disciple proactively pursues the spiritual disciplines of fervent prayer, faithful Bible study, meditation, reflection and the application of God’s Word to daily living.
What spiritual disciplines do you need to re-prioritize in your life today? Who do you need to invite into your life as a spiritual mentor to hold you accountable? Who around you needs the same kind of attention that you can provide for them?
Daily Dozen Decisions for Devoted Disciples
- Attitude: I will choose and display Christ like attitudes daily. I choose to have a PMA – a positive mental attitude – and positively impact others rather than having a DRA – a dirty rotten attitude – and negatively impact others (Phil. 2:5).
- Priorities: I will determine and act upon biblical priorities daily. I will prioritize my life and give focus and energy to those things that give the highest return for the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).
- Health: I will learn and follow healthy guidelines for daily living. Since my body is God’s temple, I will take good care of my body by getting the proper rest, nutrition and exercise needed (1 Cor. 6:19).
- Family: I will communicate and care for my spouse/children daily. I will adopt a family-based definition of success: “When those closest to me love and respect me the most” (Jos. 24:15b).
- Thinking: I will practice and develop good (godly) thinking daily. I will seek to cultivate the mind of Christ by thinking God’s thoughts after Him and by bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. I will think on things that add value to myself and others (Phil. 2:5; Isa. 55:8-9).
- Commitment: I will make and keep proper commitments daily. I will commit myself to following through on what I believe God wants me to do. I will not live by human impulse but by the clear guidance of God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. By the grace of God I will keep on keeping on (Matt. 9:29b).
- Finances: I will make money ethically and biblically manage money daily. I will earn money ethically, manage it biblically and share it generously. I will not make money my god, but I will learn to fear the Lord by offering to Him a tithe of my income. I will get out of debt and stay out of debt and be a faithful steward of all I give and all I spend.
- Faith: I will deepen and live out a vital Christian faith daily. Since I can’t please God without faith, by God’s grace, I will trust Christ as my Savior/Lord and I will deepen and live out my faith daily.
- Relationships: I will initiate/invest in loving relationships daily. Since we are relational beings, I will initiate and invest in establishing healthy relationships with others on a daily basis (Prov. 18:24).
- Generosity: I will plan for and model a generous spirit daily. In response to God’s grace, I will live to give. I will plan for and model generous giving daily by giving of my substance/self as God directs (2 Cor. 9:7).
- Values: I will embrace and practice biblical values daily. Since life is not a dress rehearsal and I only live once, I will embrace biblical values and practice them daily (Eccl. 12:13-14).
- Growth: I will make daily progress in the sanctification process. Since I never outgrow my need to grow, I will develop and follow a personal growth plan for my life (2 Pet. 3:18).
Spiritual Disciplines Can Help Transition Us from Bad to Godly Habits
- Engage in radical self confrontation: Ask God to help you see specific areas of your life that need changing. Pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
- Agree together with God concerning your sin: Learn to see your sin more and more from God’s point of view. Admit your weakness and humble yourself before God asking Him for His help. If we want God’s Spirit to change and transform us, we first must be willing to change. First John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- Draw near to God and submit yourself to God: James 4:7-8: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” When we submit ourselves to God, then His Spirit can control us and manifest His fruit (Eph. 5:18).
- Find a mentor and be voluntarily accountable: Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” We all need spiritual mentors who can pray for us and with us and provide the godly council and the structure we need in order to help break some of our bad habits.
- Substitute vice with virtue: Nature abhors a vacuum. It’s not enough to try and eliminate bad habits, we must be willing to substitute good ones for bad ones. God has a better alternative to our old habits and we need to discern that better alternative. James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
- Whatever you do, never, ever give up: Be patient and persistent. It takes months to break old habits and to establish new ones and there are likely be missteps along the way, but don’t get discouraged, God is with you and He will help you. Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
- Be as patient with yourself and others as God is: We need to develop realistic expectations about ourselves. God isn’t finished with you yet. The best is yet to come. You may take two steps forwards and one step backwards. If we stumble and fall, God will help us get up and get going. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
- Be graceful and grateful to God and others: Pursue contentment Avoid resentment. Remember, it is the Holy Spirit, not us, who transforms us into the image of Christ. Focus on a vital relationship with Jesus Christ – that will help you to be your best and do your best. Thank God that He gives us whatever resource we need to please Him by living a godly life. Second Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Spiritual Disciplines Essential for Spiritual Transformation Encountering God’s Glory (Avenues into His glory through His Word and Spirit)
Communing with God through His Word:
- Hear – He who has ears to hear, let him hear what God has to say in His Word.
- Read – Blessed is he who reads the words of this prophecy (Rev. 1:3).
- Study – to be approved by God correctly handling God’s true word (1 Tim. 2:15).
- Memorize – hiding God’s Word in your heart keeps us from sin (Psa. 119:11).
- Meditate – reflect, visualize, personalize and apply Holy Scripture (Psa.1).
Communing with God through His Spirit:
- Silence – listening to the “still small voice” of the Spirit (via conscience).
- Solitude – time alone with God – Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude.
- Prayer – is the central avenue that God uses to transform us.
- Fasting – abstaining from food in order to heighten spiritual sensitivity.
- Submission – Love is surrender or submission to God’s will.
Communicating with God through His Creation:
- Wonder – Contemplation of God’s work in creation.
- Service – Practicing good works as an expression of gratitude.
- Giving – of our time, talents and treasure in response to God’s grace.
- Faithful stewardship/conservation/protection of God’s creation.
- Recreation – enjoying God’s good creation – rest and renewing the spirit.
Communicating with God through His Body (the Church):
- Corporate Worship – to proclaim and reflect the worth of God in word and deed.
- Confession – taking pains to have a clear conscience toward God and men.
- Guidance – corporate guidance removes self-deception and blind spots.
- Celebration – our chief end and duty – the heart of a godly life – enjoying God.
- Voluntary Accountability – it takes others to bring out the best in us.