Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by by Donald S. Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
Last time, we started to look at some of the spiritual disciplines – or habits – that we can develop in order to grow closer to God and get to know Him better.
Of course, Bible in-take and prayer are two of the most important habits to develop – they are how God speaks to us, and how we speak to Him.
But there are other spiritual disciplines we can practice. Today, let’s consider three more: Service, Evangelism, and Worship.
As with prayer, there are both formal and informal types of service. We should, of course, look for ways we can serve God and others in our church. For example, we can teach a Sunday School class, help out in the nursery, greet people at the door, or help clean up after events.
But our service should not just occur inside the walls of the church; as the Body of Christ, we should serve those outside the walls, as well. And while serving food at a homeless shelter might be the first type of service that comes to mind, we shouldn’t neglect the little things.
For example, we can help our coworkers when they are overwhelmed by a project; take our grocery cart to the nearest cart rack instead of leaving it in the empty parking spot next to our car (perhaps we can even collect a stray cart someone else left out). We can pick up that piece of litter someone else thoughtlessly dropped, or pet sit for a neighbor when they have to visit a sick relative out of town.
When we do small things without expecting anything in return, others will notice – and they might even ask you why we’re always so nice and thoughtful. And such a question can lead to a conversation…
In a previous post, we talked about the importance of sharing the Gospel, and how it shouldn’t be as frightening as most of us think it is.
In short, remember that it’s not our job to convince people that God created the universe (and whether or not that was in six literal days or six figurative stages). It’s not even our job to convince people that God exists.
Jesus simply asks us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Peter tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
That is, why do we believe in God? How has knowing Him changed our life? (If our life hasn’t changed since we committed it to Christ, then we should talk to our pastor about the conversion process; there should be evidence of the Fruits of the Spirit in our new life. See Galatians 5:22-23).
We just need to tell others our personal Gospel story, and let the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.
Whitney takes a broad view of worship, and defines it as “focusing on and responding to God” (page 104). In other words, it’s much more than just singing hymns on Sunday mornings.
In fact, I saved this spiritual discipline for last because worship should be part of all the other spiritual disciplines – notice Whitney’s use of “focusing on and responding to,” in his definition above.
But Whitney makes an important observation: if we are not focusing on God, then we are not truly worshiping Him. It’s good that we come to church – but if we spend half the time texting a friend to make plans for the afternoon, then we are not focused on God.
When it comes to worship, there is a difference between attendance and attention.
Similarly, we can sing along to all the hymns, but if the words coming out of our mouths don’t match the words running through our minds (as we, perhaps, mentally plan our next vacation or try to solve a problem at work), then we are not worshiping God.
Indeed, our actions count for little if we don’t have the right attitude. Worship (or the practice of any of the spiritual disciplines) should not be done out of a sense of obligation or mere habit. Whitney provides a relevant example:
If I take my wife out for the evening on our anniversary and she asks me, “Why do you do this?” the answer that honors her most is, “Because nothing makes me happier tonight than to be with you.”
“It’s my duty,” is a dishonor to her.
“It’s my joy,” is an honor.
How shall we honor God in worship? By saying, “It’s my duty”? Or by saying, “It’s my joy”? (page 90)
It is important to remember that God doesn’t want us to practice spiritual disciplines out of a sense of duty; He wants us to enjoy getting to know Him and spending time with Him.
Remember, in the Garden of Eden, God walked with Adam and Eve. God chose David as king because He found in David “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
Start the habit of spending some “quality time” with God, and you’ll soon find that it’s something you enjoy doing.
Although God wants our focus and attention, and a heart willing to spend time with Him, we shouldn’t be surprised if our new spiritual habit requires some self-discipline at first. After all, new habits are hard to form – again, think of all those resolutions made (and broken) in years gone by.
The key is to be intentional about it. Commit to performing at least one new spiritual discipline regularly. As Whitney points out, “Spiritual Disciplines are activities, not attitudes” (page 6). We have to do these things.
As Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).
In Atomic Habits, James Clear says, “The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do” (page 38). If we want to be stronger Christians, we must be intentional about growing closer to God.
And keep in mind that although these five spiritual disciplines are fundamental ones, Whitney also identifies several others. Feel free to learn more about them, too, and try something new.
Other disciplines include stewardship (of time and money), fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, learning, confession, accountability, simplicity, spiritual direction, celebration, affirmation, sacrifice, and more.
It’s also worth noting that Whitney takes a deep dive into each of these spiritual disciplines, and a deep dive may or may not be what you’re looking for at this time. For a more introductory look at the spiritual disciplines, you might read Habits of Grace, by David Mathis.
Finally, remember that when our relationship with God seems distant, or not where it should be, it’s not because God has gone anywhere; we have. We’re allowing life to pull us away from Him. It’s up to us to heed the calling of the Holy Spirit and return to Him.
Next month, let’s see what James Clear can teach us about forming new habits in his book Atomic Habits.
Which of the spiritual disciplines do you want to start doing? Let us know in the comments below…