What are spiritual disciplines for a Christian? This is a question that has been asked by Christians for over 2000 years. The answer, simply put, is that spiritual disciplines are practices that help us grow in our faith and come to know God better.
They are habits of obedience that we do out of love and desire to know Him more, not to make ourselves righteous. Let’s discuss what spiritual disciplines are and how they can benefit the Christian as they grow to know God better.
Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian
A relationship with God is an incredible blessing that is available to all of those who choose to participate. The God of the Bible to which we refer includes God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Because of God’s plan of salvation, we have the choice of having an incredible relationship with God that changes our lives, allows us the opportunity for peace and joy in this life, and offers us eternal life.
What we refer to as spiritual disciplines for a Christian are those actions, both inward and outward, that help us to develop greater trust in God and more intimate interaction with Him. They help us enjoy His great love and learn to experience those things that He has already given us as a result of trusting Jesus Christ as our Lord.
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3
What the Apostle, Peter, is saying in the above passage is that when we gave our lives to Christ (became born-again), we spiritually received the whole package from God. We have access to everything that we need spiritually.
Now it’s just a matter of learning to use those gifts and walk in the power of God. Spiritual disciplines are simply methods to help us learn to experience and have a greater knowledge of the incredible life we have been given in Christ Jesus.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
It Starts With God’s Grace
All of these wonderful blessings that we have been given by God do not hinge on our good behavior but on the risen Christ. So, although we will discuss Christian spiritual disciplines we must realize that these are not practices that make us right with God or bring us into right standing with Jesus Christ. That is only done through the grace of God given to us because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Everything that we have is because of God’s grace. There have been some very grace-based teachers, (such as Bob George, who wrote the timeless Classic Christianity), who did not even want to refer to these practices as “disciplines.” And, in a perfect world – where we all had the spiritual desires that we should – that would probably be correct.
However, much is taught in scripture about these spiritual practices that are considered spiritual disciplines. But, let us not pursue these acts in order to gain favor with God.
Let’s try to make sure that our motives are to experience God’s presence, express our love for Him, and increase our faith in God’s word while experiencing His incredible love for us.
In seminary, I had a very good professor who taught from one of the most simple but impactful books that I have ever read concerning spiritual disciplines. It’s simply called “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life” by Donald Whitney.
- Whitney, Donald S. (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 352 Pages - 07/01/2014 (Publication Date) - NavPress (Publisher)
It was easy to read and had a great impact on me. Many of the disciplines I write about here were learned before any seminary classes. However, that particular book had an impact on my beliefs about spiritual disciplines.
Also, I would have to recommend one of the most famous books on the disciplines of a Christian by Richard Foster. It’s a very refreshing book titled, “Celebration of Discipline.”
- Hardcover Book
- Foster, Richard J. (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 288 Pages - 02/13/2018 (Publication Date) - HarperOne (Publisher)
The Primary Spiritual Disciplines of a Christian
First of all, remember that this is not a list of things to check off in order for you to be right with God. Some of these actions are good to do every day. Some are habits that you may want to weave into your life as you believe God is asking you to do.
What follows is certainly not an exhaustive list of everything that one might claim to be a spiritual discipline, but we will list the ones that most would probably agree to be on the list. I won’t attempt to put these in an order of importance, because they are very intertwined. You may have others that you might think of, or believe to be disciplines of a Christian. Here we go.
1- Spiritual Discipline of Prayer
Well, obviously, we knew this one would be on the list. The practice of prayer, talking to and listening to God, should be an integral part of the daily life of a Christian.
Prayer is one of the most important things a Christian can do. It is our way of communicating with God, and it allows us to express our needs and desires to Him, ask Him for direction in our lives, and express our love for Him. It also helps us to grow in our faith and trust in God’s Word.
Although many times we set aside specific times to pray, prayer can be done anywhere, at any time. In the best scenario, we would have times of prayer that we set aside and also keep an attitude of prayer during the day.
If the Holy Spirit indwells a Christian as the Bible says, then God is as close as our breath. We can communicate with Him at any moment of the day. We don’t have to dial Him up or rub some kind of magic lamp to get His attention. His presence is within us.
“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
Certainly, it is good to set aside more extended times of prayer where we focus more intently on talking with the Lord. However, let’s not diminish the idea of praying throughout our day even if they are short and simple moments of prayer. Keeping an attitude of prayer in our hearts and minds even in the mundane aspects of life can be incredibly powerful. Our prayers do not have to be long and complicated. In its simplest form prayer is just talking to God and listening for His response.
Let’s not fail to make prayer a fundamental part of our lives as believers.
2- The Discipline of Bible Study/Bible Reading
Within this discipline, I’m including scripture reading. We are so fortunate that we have access to so many accurate versions of the Bible so we can learn and grow in our faith. Most people will not do deep and intense Bible study each day. However, Bible reading on a regular basis, meditating, and memorization of some scripture verses are great habits to build. Perhaps weekly sessions of more intense study time are good practices to have,
In his book, “Spiritual Disciplines For the Spiritual Life” Donald Whitney refers to this as “Bible Intake.” I like that. You’re simply putting the word of God into your mind and heart.
If you want to grow spiritually, it’s imperative that you consistently have an “intake” of scripture in your life. Reading, studying, and memorizing the word of God will help you learn and grow in Christ.
3- The Discipline of Worship
As a musical worship leader for several decades, I know how easy it is for our minds to focus on music and singing when we speak of worship. Certainly, singing spiritual songs and hymns of praise to our Savior is a great way to express worship.
“Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord—rejoice in his presence!” Psalm 68:4
“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy.“ Psalm 68:4-5
Many teachers are quick to point out that God inspired an entire book of songs in the book of Psalms in the Bible. Throughout scripture we are encouraged to sing to the Lord, so certainly that would be one of the primary methods of worship.
But, worship is simply “ascribing ultimate worth and honor to something or someone.” So, we can worship God in many, many ways.
You are worshiping God when you perform acts of service or give to your church or the needy. You worship God by helping those who are less fortunate.
So, although many acts of service can be thought of as worship, we should still have times in which we set apart to focus on God and praise Him for Who He is. We should set apart those times to focus on Him with all of our hearts, souls, and strength.
Worship is an essential part of our lives as believers.
4- The Discipline of Service
Unless we have some sort of spiritual blindness, it’s impossible to read through the pages of scripture and come to a conclusion that God does not want us to serve Him and serve others. As a matter of fact, your acts of service to Him may very well be as you are performing acts of service to others.
By doing acts of service we are demonstrating that the needs of others are incredibly important – more important than our own. When we serve others we not only help them, but we allow ourselves to identify more with the actions of Jesus Christ.
Jesus fed the poor, helped and had compassion on the needy, heal people from disease, forgave sins, and ultimately gave His life for us. He set the greatest example of being a servant that anyone ever has.
The great thing about service is that there are so many ways to serve. God calls and gifts people to serve in various ways. I believe that we are all called and gifted to serve in some capacity.
You may serve by volunteering in your church in some capacity. Or, you may feel you are called to volunteer in the community in a different capacity. You may be called to serve in a type of ministry that is upfront and noticed by others.
However, also realize that where God calls you to serve may be behind the scenes where only a few, in any, notice your sacrifice of service. However, I can assure you that God notices.
On a personal note, I spent many years leading teams of musicians as they led congregations in worship. But, do you know what group of people God constantly reminded me of? As I looked over hundreds of people listening to and singing worship music, there were large numbers of volunteers who were faithfully taking care of babies and preschoolers in other areas of the church.
These volunteers gave their time so that parents would have the opportunity to focus on worship and hearing the word of God. They could worship knowing that their small children were in the hands of some of the most loving dependable and loving people in the church.
Your calling to service may be to the elderly or the senior adults in nursing homes. Maybe you are simply called to encourage people. Maybe you are the type who consistently sends encouraging messages or cards to those who are going through a rough time.
We could spend pages and pages on ways to serve. Just make sure that you listen to God and are willing to serve in the way in which He asks you.
5- The Spiritual Discipline of Giving / Financial Stewardship
Some will talk about the discipline of stewardship, which is certainly fine to talk about. However, if we talk about stewardship in general that can mean the stewardship of time and managing other aspects of your life that might be included in the other disciplines.
In this section, we’re primarily speaking of giving financial resources. Let me also say that, although our minds go to monetary resources from your bank account, God may call upon you to give other resources of monetary value from time to time.
The primary point here is that we should be obedient to God in giving to His purposes.
God considers the use of our financial resources as an elementary part of our spiritual growth and development. We are given resources by God in order that we can give resources. We are simply a conduit for those resources to flow to His purposes.
Giving should not be an afterthought after you have paid all of the bills and bought the things you want. It should be at the forefront of your financial plan. We won’t list them all but there are quite a few passages that mention that we make giving to God the priority rather than giving to Him from what’s left.
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.” Proverbs 3:9
Other translations of the above verse say to honor God with the “first fruits” of what you produce. Many Christian denominations teach the principle of the tithe, or 10% of your earnings to be given to your church. Others see the tithe as the Old Testament standard, believing that today’s giving should be as much as God tells you to give, sometimes being much more than 10%.
If you are not practicing the spiritual discipline of giving, I would encourage you to jump in. Some people who do not give to God’s work will say that, in their current life situation, there is no way they could give 10% of their income. It’s not my job to tell you what to do, but if that is your argument, I encourage you to jump in where you can. Start somewhere.
I’ve never been hard on people who were going through tremendous hardship and for a time were not able to give to the church as they would like. However, we can’t get around God’s instruction to us to give to His kingdom.
Even if you’re almost dead broke and you can only scrounge up 10 bucks, well, start there. If you trust God and will be obedient in your giving, you may find that He will provide you with the resources so that you will eventually be able to give 10% or even a much greater amount to His work.
6- The Spiritual Discipline Of Fasting
Here is something that is no longer only used as an act of Christian discipline, but in recent decades a lot of health-conscious people have jumped on the fasting bandwagon.
However, Christian fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for the purpose of spiritual growth and intimate communication with God. Spiritual fasting can help the body in certain ways, however, the purpose of fasting as a spiritual discipline is for spiritual growth or spiritual breakthrough in life.
Donald Whitney, author of “Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life” called fasting the most “misunderstood of all of the disciplines.”
Fortunately, in the last couple of decades or so there has been more teaching and practicing of Biblical fasting for the purpose of spiritual growth. Most people who engage in a time of fasting will give up food, or certain types of food for the purpose of having a greater focus on God and seeking Him in a greater way. When we deny our physical bodies something that it wants, we are more dependent on God for strength and power.
One of the most popular fasting methods that have been adopted by many churches is based on the prophet, Daniel’s fast appropriately called the Daniel Fast. I have personally done this fast several times, by myself, and also along with members of my church.
- Tyndale House Publishers
- Gregory, Susan (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 304 Pages - 01/01/2010 (Publication Date) - Tyndale Momentum (Publisher)
What type of fast to do is up to you. However, when Jesus mentioned fasting, he did not say “if you fast.” He said, “when you fast.” It would seem that Jesus wants us to fast. However, He doesn’t tell us when or how often.
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair[a] and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matthew 6:18-18
7- The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude
There are those teachers who sometimes write about the topics of solitude and silence together, and certainly, they can work in tandem with one another – but they don’t have to be.
The discipline of solitude is withdrawing temporarily and voluntarily to a place or state of privacy for spiritual growth purposes. It’s a time when you can seek God, be alone with Him, speak your prayers, and your thoughts, and worship Him.
There are times that you can get away from others and enjoy solitude without silence. There are times when you can spend alone with God praying, then maybe singing to Him, or even reading the word of God out loud. So, although solitude and silence can work well together, they do not always have to be paired.
Getting alone and being in solitude with the Father is something that Jesus modeled often. Several times in the Gospels we see occasions where Jesus went away privately to be with His Father.
“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16
Some Christians practice the discipline of solitude on a regular basis in their private times of worship, their quiet times, or what others call their “time alone with God.”
8- The Spiritual Discipline of Silence
Do you ever just sit, or stand, silently before God thinking or meditating on Him or the wonders that He has done? Being quiet is not the most popular thing to do in this world of high-tech energy along with the frenzied pace of modern life.
However, it is a discipline that has been practiced by many great saints of the past. To be silent and focus your thoughts on the God of the universe and what He has done through His Son, Jesus Christ can be a peaceful time for us and bring calm in the “storms” of life.
Much of the time we don’t realize the benefit of simply being silent at times. We are surrounded by noise and we are constantly contributing to the noise around us. Of course, that doesn’t mean our conversations and sometimes noisy involvement in life are wrong.
However, silence can be an extremely good habit of spiritual discipline for us to incorporate. In those times when you combine silence and solitude, that can be a very powerful combination. It’s wise to pursue them both.
9- The Spiritual Discipline of Evangelism
When we speak of evangelism we are talking about sharing and confessing the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. A lot of people struggle with evangelism. I have served along with fine Christians who were naturally gifted in evangelism. However, I have probably served with more who were quite tentative in evangelism.
Did that mean that they didn’t love God and didn’t want others to come into a relationship with Jesus? No.
However, sometimes we have to work harder to push the ball up the field when it comes to evangelism. In the U.S. we find that people are not nearly as receptive to the Gospel as they were many years ago. So, some Christians are quite nervous about sharing their faith with others.
There are ways in which even the most introverted person can participate in evangelism. First, it may require that you build a trusting relationship with a person before you share. However, some have a personality where the gospel is going to come out of their mouth almost immediately after meeting a person.
I’m not here to judge either method or personality trait in terms of evangelism. That would not be my job.
Let’s just say that Jesus’ last words to His disciples were to go and share His message.
“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
10- The Spiritual Discipline of Journaling
The discipline of spiritual journaling has meant a lot to me during various portions of my life. When I have practiced the discipline of journaling it has normally been in the context of having time alone with God. I was taught to read and meditate on a passage of scripture and spend some time in prayer. Then I might employ a number of possibilities for what I might write in my journal.
I would sometimes write what I think God showed me in the scripture passage that I read. Most of the time I would write down specific prayer requests that I was submitting to God. Many times as I have looked back into my old journals I was thanking God for His blessings and asked Him to guide and protect my family and me.
However, I always just used a small, but a simple blank notebook. Spiritual journaling is not a difficult practice, but it can be very rewarding. Here is a downloadable PDF if you would like more help in starting with your journaling.
The Joys of Spiritual Disciplines
Engaging in spiritual disciplines should not be seen as drudgery or a burden. When we look at these methods of growing in our faith we should look to them joyfully knowing that our God is alive, He loves us, and He is our life.
Once again, it’s my prayer that you do not look at these as an overwhelming list of things we must check off as a believer.
Sometimes you will engage in one of these practices and God may flood your emotions with peace or joy. On other days your emotions may not engage as much. But, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t learning or growing.
Sometimes we will have the need to pray when we don’t feel like it. We will have the need to read scripture when our minds are wanting to do something else.
Just because we don’t get our acceptance from God by doing these things doesn’t mean that we won’t ever have to “discipline ourselves to engage in the spiritual disciplines.”
It’s our prayer that some of these may encourage you and that you would seek God with all of your heart.