Why Spiritual Disciplines?
The Bible tells us that we are to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Pet.1:15,16). But how do we get there? How do we gain a life that conforms to the likeness of Jesus Christ?
For centuries the church has relied on spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, solitude, and fasting to further the sanctification of God’s people.
Following this pattern, the church today needs to recover the spiritual disciplines that are so essential to the Christian life.
Here’s why. . .
The example of the Scriptures
The Bible shows us that the Christian life is marked by certain practices. When you look at the followers of Christ in the Bible, what did they do? They prayed, they spent time in God’s Word, they served, they fasted, etc. . .
And they did these because Jesus Himself did them. Before calling His first disciples, for example, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (Lk.6:12). The pattern of practicing the spiritual disciplines is well established in the Bible.
The instruction of Scripture
The Bible not only gives us the example of spiritual disciplines as a way of life, it also instructs us that we are to practice them. The Bible is straightforward when it tells us, for example, that those who live righteously and prosper are those who meditate on God’s Word (Ps.1:2).
Why does the Bible tell us such things? So we can be properly formed and developed as human beings to serve God in His kingdom.
To deal with the body
God gave us bodies, and with our bodies we carry out service to Him in the world. But the body is often a source of trouble for people. Many see themselves as imprisoned by their bodies and enslaved to its passions. It’s often thought that the only way to live a spiritual life is to escape from the body.
The spiritual disciplines are God’s means for bringing the body under subjection. By them we are able to bring our bodies into the service of the king rather live in service to our bodies. As Paul made clear, our bodies are to be our slaves, we are not to be enslaved to our bodies (1 Cor.9:24).
Godliness requires spiritual discipline
The Bible tells us that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, and it compares spiritual discipline with bodily discipline (1 Tim.4:7,8). Everybody is used to idea of bodily discipline for some purpose (like losing weight), but we easily presume that growth in godliness is automatic.
Could it be the reason why there appears to be so little godliness is that there is little serious application of the spiritual disciplines of the faith?
We have overestimated the contribution that right theology brings to the world
Theology is of critical importance. Understanding what the Bible teaches about topics like God, man, sin, Christ, redemption and the covenant is essential. But, we often overemphasize the good that is accomplished by right theology. Theology is a necessary means to the end of better living – it is not to put us in a place where we have mere “thoughts righteousness.”
Jesus said that we are to let our light shine before men so that they would see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Mt.5:16). In saying this, Jesus is talking about the way we live our lives before others. Faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines transforms our lives in a way that they can shine before the world.
We lack spiritual power
One of the greatest needs of the church today is spiritual power. Even for all that the church does right, it often lacks the spiritual power for these things to be effective and change lives. We need to recover the power of the Spirit.
God’s instrument for bringing power to the church is holy living developed by faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines. When Christ’s first disciples were frustrated by their lack of spiritual power, Jesus told them it was because of a lack of prayer and fasting in their lives (Mk.9:29).
The church really does have the answer for our times. Through Jesus Christ we have the hope of a new, transformed humanity, and the church is to bring this message to the world.
But in bringing the message to the world, we must do so as those who are transformed ourselves. This transformation can only come about as we practice the way of life that has changed people for ages.
We do not expect that an athlete or musician could ever excel in their callings without hours of disciplined practice. In a similar way, we cannot expect to obey the One we profess to love without incorporating the spiritual disciplines in our lifestyle.
May the same grace that draws us to Christ in the first place continue to be at work in us as we present our lives before Him by way of the spiritual disciplines of the faith.