Why practice spiritual disciplines?

Sep 27, 2017 by

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While discipline often has a negative connotation of punishment and rules, discipline can and should be associated with growth — especially when discussing spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual disciplines include meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration (I borrowed these from Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline table of contents).

The reason I practice spiritual disciplines isn’t to outdo others, to earn my salvation or to get God to do me special favors. It’s actually very simple:

I want Jesus.

Paul longed for the gospel. His desire led to the following statement: “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control (1 Cor. 9:23, 27).” Elsewhere he says our worship is like a living death (Rom. 12:1-2). Those verses describe sacrifice and hard work — a pursuit of God that is all-consuming.

No one forced me to go to college. I didn’t have to get a degree, but I wanted it. Does that mean I enjoyed diagramming complicated sentences at midnight three nights a week? No. But I wanted the education, and thus I wanted to do the homework.

I don’t always feel like praying, fasting, submitting or helping others. But I want to know God better and thus I want to do those things. “The primary requirement [of practicing spiritual disciplines] is a longing after God” (Foster).

Counterintuitively, many times spiritual disciplines bring me joy. I don’t know how to explain this paradox. I only know that I have experienced it. As Foster says, “Fasting is feasting!”

I love Jesus.

While it may be true that “doing things doesn’t make me a better Christian,” doing things absolutely does affect my relationship with God.

Foster argues that just like a farmer can’t grow grain, we can’t get to know God without God’s help. However, we can plant the seed and prepare the soil through spiritual disciplines.

If I never call or visit my friends, if I never am there for them when they are hurting, then eventually we will drift away from each other. Similarly, choosing to hang out with God and get to know him shows where my priorities are. It shows whom I love.

I need Jesus.

The Pharisees thought doing the right things would bring them closer to God. Jesus said that was true, but they were missing the heart (Mark 7:1-15; Matt. 5:21-37; 23:23).

The Romans thought that believing the right things exempted them from doing. Paul disagreed (Romans 6).

God calls me to love Him with all of me — my heart, mind, emotions, will and strength (Luke 10:27). I am a holistic being. What I love affects what I do (John 14:15, 23). What I do affects what I love (John 15:10). What I believe affects what I do (Colossians 2:4, 16-19). What I do and experience affects me spiritually (Romans 12:1; Philippians 3:10). It’s all connected.

I need God to touch every single part of me. If not, I’m missing out. My relationship with God is unbalanced and skewed. I’m in danger of limiting God to only one aspect of my life.

I love him. I want him. I need him.

Please don’t mistake passion for arrogance, legalism or an optional type of spirituality. Pursue Christ because he is worth it.

Tabitha Driver is a Mennonite who loves glimpsing God’s goodness on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She blogs at Life is a Metaphor, where this post first appeared.


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  • Conrad Hertzler

    I also recommend “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg, another great, easy-to-read book on Spiritual Discipline. Thank you for calling our attention to this oft neglected topic.

    • Tabitha Driver

      Thanks for the suggestion!