Search for “spiritual disciplines” and you will come up with lists ranging from a few practices to giant, enormous, book-length lists.
You’ll hear people talk about prayer, Bible reading, silence, fasting, solitude, fellowship, and a bunch of others.
It can be kind of overwhelming, right?
I’m not sure where the phrase “spiritual disciplines” originated. The Greek word in the New Testament usually translated “discipline” is paideia, which is used for “the rearing of a child, training, discipline” (Strong’s Greek), and as far as I know, does not apply to what we call “spiritual disciplines.”
What are the spiritual disciplines?
When Christians speak of “spiritual disciplines” they usually mean regular practices that benefit our lives and produce fruit. Much like the discipline of daily exercise or reading will produce benefits in our lives.
The Bible has no comprehensive “spiritual disciplines list” we should practice, but it does give us commands to do certain things on a regular basis. And when we do, they produce fruit in our lives.
Here are a few “Spiritual Disciplines” or practices that will always produce fruit and blessings in our lives.
But before you read these and feel overwhelmed…
…the key is to start small and try to make them habits.
It would be better for you to read the Bible five minutes per day or several days a week than to read it once a month for an hour.
The key word? Habit.
It’s also critical to practice the spiritual disciplines in light of the gospel. While these disciplines are a means of knowing God, they don’t in any way contribute to your salvation. Christ alone is your salvation.
Spiritual Disciplines #1: Meditate on God’s word
God’s word is the foundation of our lives. In the Scriptures, God reveals himself and his will for us. If we want to know and enjoy God, the place to begin is God’s word.
Apart from the Bible, we CAN’T know what God is like.
We can see some aspects of God in nature and the creation, but we would never look at an oak tree or a butterfly and know that God is holy, sovereign or loving. We could never know what Jesus did to redeem us by hiking through the Grand Canyon.
We absolutely need God’s word, the only source of absolute, unchanging spiritual truth.
Here’s what Scripture says about itself:
To “eat” God’s words means we take them in; we hear God’s words or read them. And when we do this consistently and meditate on them God’s words become a joy and the delight of our hearts.
In Psalm 1, there are two forces that will shape our thinking: either the world or God’s word:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
We can either follow the counsel of the world or the counsel of the Word. Psalm 1 tells us that we should make God’s word our delight and meditate on it consistently – day and night.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines for the Christian life, the first thing we should seek to incorporate into our lives is regular meditation on Scripture.
To “meditate” on God’s word means to ponder it, dwell on it, chew on it and roll it over in our minds in order to apply it to our lives.
Charles Spurgeon, who always had a way with words, put it this way:
Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up into your very soul, till it saturates your heart! Set your heart upon God’s Word! Let your whole nature be plunged into it as cloth into a dye!
Two ways we can do this are to read or listen to God’s word and memorize it.
When I first became a Christian I heard someone teach that we should make our first priority each day (if possible) to spend some time in God’s word.
Not legalistically but because we love it and it blesses us. It’s like eating meals every day. I don’t eat breakfast because I have to. I like food and it gives me strength. If I don’t eat breakfast some days I don’t feel guilty about it (and obviously there is lunch and dinner). But a regular healthy breakfast is good for you.
Nothing is better for us than to spend some time in God’s word every day – even if it’s only a short time.
Remember, it’s better to read the Bible 5 minutes a day than once a month for an hour.
Some think it’s too hard to memorize God’s word. Here’s a simple way to get started: Write one Scripture on a 3×5 card and read it 2 or 3 times every morning (or whatever time of day is best for you) as the first part of your time with the Lord. Do this every day.
Next week or 2 weeks later, add a second verse to another 3×5 card. Read each card 2 or 3 times. There are lots of other ways to memorize scripture, but we can save that for another post.
Main point: take in God’s word, in whatever way is best for you.
Some prefer to listen to God’s word. Some read it with pen in hand, underlining, jotting notes in the margins. Some read study Bibles and look up every reference. But take God’s word in, and think about it.
Spiritual Disciplines #2: Giving Thanks
We can thank God in all circumstances because he is sovereign over all things, he is infinitely wise and infinitely loving.
He is in control of all things, nothing can happen unless he allows it, and in his infinite love and wisdom, he causes all things to work together for our good, as it says in Romans:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
This is the basis for being able to rejoice always, even in the midst of trials and tribulations.
We don’t have to thank God for pain or tragedy or sadness, but we can thank him that even in the midst of horrible things he loves us and will somehow work all things for our good.
But even when God blesses us, or when life is going fine, we can so easily forget to thank God for our blessings. So one of the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life is to thank God every day.
I try to spend some time giving thanks before I start asking God for things. It’s not a legalistic thing, I can pray first if I want to, but I think of Psalm 100:4:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
One way I try to “enter his gates with thanksgiving,” is after spending some time meditating on God’s word, I usually try to write 1 page of things I’m thankful for in a Moleskine journal.
I start with something like, “O Lord God, thank you for…” and I begin to write. It’s not usually anything deep. It might be as simple as “Thank you for the sunshine,” or “Thank you that I got to spend some time with my granddaughter yesterday,” or “Thank you for another day of life.”
Or I might thank the Lord for spiritual blessings, like, “Thank you for saving me,” or “Thank you for paying for all my sins on the cross,” or “Thank you for giving me eternal life.” I don’t write for anyone else to read or worry about being profound, I just want to give thanks.
Spiritual Disciplines #3: Prayer
…pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this spiritual discipline for the Christian life. Prayer is simply asking God for help or strength or provision.
We should not worry or “be anxious about anything,” but bring all our needs and concerns to our gracious Father, because he loves us.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5.6-7).
It is humbling to ask our Father for everything. Prayer says, “Father, I need your help. I need your grace. I need you to provide for me. To give me wisdom and strength. To lead and guide me with my children.”
Rather than try to solve our own problems or relieve our own anxiety, we should cast them on our Father. Why? Because he cares for us – He genuinely, truly cares for us.
Remember, a “discipline” is something we do regularly. So don’t wait until you’re in trouble to pray. Do it every day.
A good pattern for prayer is the Lord’s prayer. I talked about how I use this in prayer for my kids and grandkids in my post last week.
If you like, you can read it here.
Spiritual Discipline #4: Giving
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give regularly. Not under any kind of legalistic pressure but freely and cheerfully. The “discipline” involved was to set apart and give on a weekly (for them) or regular basis.
It also takes a measure of godly “discipline” to do this cheerfully. But as with all God’s commands, when we obey them he blesses us. He doesn’t promise to give us Cadillacs, but “to make all grace abound” to us, and meet our needs, that we “may abound in every good work.”
And when Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give in the passages above, it was not for the support of the church, but for the poor saints in Jerusalem who were going through a famine. We should give to our church, but we certainly need not restrict giving to the church.
Proverbs 19:17 says:
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
And Jesus said:
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
So Jesus commands us to give. It is in a sense, a “spiritual discipline.” But it brings great rewards as Jesus said. The final discipline I want to talk about is:
Spiritual Disciplines #5: Serving
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).
…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10.43-44).
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10).
Serving may not technically be a “spiritual discipline” but I’m including it because we are to practice it regularly, and in a sense, it often requires discipline. There are times we won’t feel like serving others and we will need to cry to the Lord for grace, then “discipline” ourselves to serve even when we don’t feel like it. Even using our gifts can require discipline.
The more we obey Jesus’ commands to serve others, the more joy it will bring into our lives.
Sometimes we can “schedule” our serving, at other times it is more spontaneous. But I believe Jesus calls all of us to imitate him and serve others, whether we feel like it or not, in the same way, God calls us to regularly meditate on his word and pray, though we will often not feel like it.
Bonus Spiritual Discipline #6: Fasting
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).
In the New Testament, God does not command us to fast, though it seems that Jesus assumed we would – “And WHEN you fast…”
It certainly takes discipline to fast. The NT doesn’t give clear directions on how to fast or how long to fast. Because we are not commanded to fast, no one should feel like they HAVE to. But it seems to be a powerful way to pray. When facing a significant need or problem, or a family member or friend is suffering, we may want to fast.
It may be as simple as skipping a meal or 2 for a day or several days. Or fasting one day a week till supper time. A woman in our church has fasted every Wednesday for her family for decades.
In fact, starting small may be the best way to start. The lie of the enemy is “God isn’t going to do anything for you skipping breakfast.” We have no idea how powerful fasting is, or what happens in the spiritual realm when we skip breakfast to pray for someone.
Remember, God gives us these “spiritual disciplines” for our joy and gladness in him. Start small. Build habits.