The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Disciplines
(This post probably contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.)
In the book Celebration of Discipline author, Richard Foster describes spiritual disciplines as “practices that lead to spiritual growth.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. So I won’t.
While an exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines may start to look like new-age Christianity, today we’re just sticking with the basics: disciplines we should all be practicing as we seek to draw closer to God. But if you’re not a Christian, but curious about our faith, I’d recommend the first two disciplines as you seek to find answers about Him.
There is no hard and fast list of spiritual disciplines because they really can be any practice that pushes us closer to God and teaches us to become more Christ-like. This can include the ones we all know about like prayer, fasting and Scripture reading, but they can also include not-as-well talked about ones such as silence, service, worship, and confession.
Adding to the above definition of spiritual disciplines, I’d also include that it must be some sort of activity. While God is the one who brings any increase, we must act in faith by sowing seeds too.
So the four disciplines I am going to focus on today include scripture reading, prayer, fasting, and meditation. While we can’t necessarily rate the disciplines in importance, I would argue that without scripture reading and prayer the other disciplines are either going to be ineffective or cross into dangerous waters that are not built on the Word, especially with ones like meditation.
Without further delay, here we go…
5 Spiritual Disciplines to Bring You Closer to God
1.) Scripture Reading
My friend Sara wrote an awesome guest post on my blog called 6 Tips for Growing in Your Walk with God in which she says, “If we’re spending time in God’s Word, we’ll know what He wants us to do, and can drown out the ungodly opinions and thoughts of what the world thinks we should do.”
Reading our Bible every provides a guide not only for our day but for our life. It provides TRUTH when the world is telling us a million other contrary things. Most importantly, it teaches us about God and His character. You’re not going to get very far in your walk with God until this becomes a daily habit. Growing in your faith without reading your Bible consistently, would be like allowing a student to graduate from medical school who didn’t even know basic anatomy.
I highly recommend you read Sara’s piece above. I also wrote one called Six Ways to Get More Out of Your Devotions providing some very practical tips in studying the Word.
Ever know you need to pray but am not quite sure how to begin? Ever wish you could ask someone how to start? Good thing the Bible already tells us exactly how we should pray:
I went to a Bible Study once when we dissected and meditated on each line of that prayer. I suggest you grab a few people and do the same, or pray to God for wisdom and try the exercise yourself. One thing I noticed the first time I REALLY looked at the prayer was the first word “Our” Father. He was our Father collectively – my family, my co-workers, even people I didn’t like very much. Go on and make that an exercise today or when you get a chance. I know it really opened my eyes.
Also, when I was a little girl, I had a Sunday School teacher who taught me the “recipe” for prayer. It was, of course, based on the Lord’s prayer: worship, praise, confessions, and requests.
Additionally, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we tack “If it’s God’s will” at the end of our prayers. While the Bible does warn us against being presumptuous about claiming what we will DO with our lives (James 4:13-15) I do see differences in using that phrase in our prayers.
How Jesus Prayed
Here’s a quote from the Celebration of Discipline that has given me a lot to think about. Perhaps it will give you a lot to think about too:
“Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus’ praying is that when he prayed for others he never concluded by saying “If it is thy will.” Nor did the apostles or prophets when they were praying for others. They obviously believed that they knew what they will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the milieu of the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation, they knew what should be done. Their praying was so positive that it often took the form of a direct, authoritative command: “Walk,” “Be well,” “Stand up.” I saw that when praying for others there was evidently no room for indecisive, tentative, half-hoping, “If it is thy will” prayers. (page 37).
My prayer today is that I am walking so closely with the Lord that He shows me how to pray in His will.
Sadly, I have only fasted a few times in my life. I used to meet on a weekly basis with two close friends and we would fast either a day or a meal before we met and prayed together. The other times I fasted were in times of a crisis or need an answer.
However, I have other friends who are prayer warriors and fast constantly as a discipline to hear from the Lord.
Here is my friend Kristin’s take on the discipline:
“One of the MOST important spiritual disciplines is Bible reading and study. If the word is our “daily bread” (“Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” – Matt 4:4) then we need it to maintain spiritual strength and to remain “alive” spiritually. To me, all other disciplines come AFTER this. It is the building block to all others. This is part of our fellowship with God. One can pray, fast, attend church & small groups, but without a foundation on the Word, are you really taking ground for the kingdom in your life or others? The word of God is our “sword” and the only offensive weapon listed in Ephesians 6’s Armor of God.
However, fasting I think is one of the most overlooked, yet very powerful, spiritual disciplines. For years, I would feel the “tug” in my spirit to fast, but would make excuses or feared I would “waste away.” I think because I was in more of a religious spirit mindset at that time. I’m glad when I finally did implement fasting, it was in right relationship with God and Spirit led – not just a religious practice. At first it was a meal and for our country as a whole. Then it was for a day and for a prayer request of my own I had brought before the Lord and needed clarity on. I was amazed at how easy it was to go without meals.
Different kinds of fasts
It is important to note that there are many different kinds of fasts – partial fasts, total food fasts, fasts from sugar, fasts from television/media/social media, etc. etc. All of these are great but the most important part of fasting is REPLACING all those things with the Word of God (reading scripture) and/or prayer. Otherwise it’s a glorified “diet” and does not build you spiritually. I have found that every time I’ve fasted from something specific like sugar or my car radio, it has dramatically changed my life long after the fast. I DO eat healthier/more conscientiously now, and I usually have no desire to turn on the car radio – my commute now is almost always “talk time” and fellowship with the Lord.
Fasting brings great breakthrough and strength to your spiritual life. It reveals that NOTHING in this world has a hold on you. It’s important to implement a fasting sometimes just as a “reset.” I know a guy who was disciplined to the point of fasting one day a week, one week in a month, and one month in a year. One doesn’t have to be as regimented as this, but I found it inspiring. What you think you will be losing or missing out on, ends up fading into the background as the fast restructures everything. It creates a wonderful intimacy with the Father, and Jesus revealed how powerful it was for Him before He began His ministry.”
Great points, Kristin!
Lastly, I want to bring attention to the spiritual discipline of meditation. It is one I am “experimenting” with now (as much as I can use that word in a Biblical sense – don’t let it scare you!) Scripture tells us to meditate on God’s law night and day. That the words we speak and meditation in our heart should be acceptable to God. That our meditation should be pleasing to Him. And that we are to meditate on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and good.
As Richard Foster put it, “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word. It is that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult. It involves for no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.” (Page 17)
Meditation is not scary
Meditation doesn’t have to be scary or feel new-age-like. As he goes on to say, “Whenever the Christian idea of meditation is taken seriously, there are those who assume it is synonymous with the concept of meditation centered in Eastern religions. In reality, the two ideas stand worlds apart. Eastern meditation is an attempt to empty the mind; Christian meditation is an attempt to fill the mind.” (Page 20)
As both Foster and my friend Kristin mentioned, meditation must be replaced with the Word of God. This is partially why yoga can be so dangerous. Instructors tell us to “empty our mind” and either keep it empty or fill it with “whatever feels right.” Be very careful if you ever hear someone say that, That’s when the Devil likes to try to fill your mind with things that are against God. Or we ourselves fill our mind with thoughts that are self-centered. While we do need to empty our mind of discouragement, anger, bitterness, frustration, jealous – we need to make sure we are filling that gap with the Word of God.
This post on warming yourself at the fires of meditation can provide even more good info.
One very simple exercise is to take a verse a day and really think through it. Meditate on each word, and ask God for wisdom in discerning it.
If you want to step things up, this next exercise may sound a little intimidating but it’s one that Foster recommended in his book and I’ve really enjoyed. In the morning I literally list off everything that is bothering me, stressing me out, frustrating me – all to God. Get it all out there! And after each one, you say “palms down’ and then put your palms down. (Page 30-31)
Next, I go over that exact list and ask God for His guidance, wisdom, and direction. I then turn my hands over, ready to accept whatever answer God has for me. It’s an amazing experience if you want to try it. There is nothing mystical about it. It is just another way to talk to God and pour your heart out to Him, while still prostrating yourself in a way that submits to His will.
This week I challenge you to take on one of these spiritual disciplines and really go deeper with it.
Try an inductive Bible study to learn more about what God is saying. Fast. Spend time praying instead of watching TV, or even soak in His Word. Let it take hold in your life throughout your day.
Which spiritual discipline do you feel you could be stronger in? Which would you like to try this week?