There is something about the word “disciplines” that either invokes a sense of dread or excitement in people. Those who consider themselves more “free spirited” and “creative” may tend towards running from the structure implied in the word “disciplines.” Those who tend to think of themselves as more “logical” and “structured” may lean favorably towards the word. Personally, I tend to be the latter.
Yet despite how creative or structured a person may be, there is something about spiritual disciplines that seems to be a struggle for everyone involved. My guess is that despite being spiritual creatures by design, our fallen state of being fights against anything that draws us closer to Christ and consistently places us in the position for the transforming work of the Spirit to shine and operate on our hearts. We internally run from the light of God like cockroaches.
And yet, there is something about spiritual disciplines (especially prayerfully meditating on the Word of God) that can draw a person to the light of the presence of God like a fire on a cold winter day. When we have spiritually engaged with God there is something that stirs within the human spirit that fights against the cockroach nature of our fallen humanity.
I still engage in the spiritual battle of regularly, intentionally engaging in healthy spiritual disciplines and coming up with excuses to “get around to it” or treating the time as a “to-do” item rather than seeking the presence of the Lord.
But when I slow down and savor the time, especially on a regular and daily basis (even if only an intensely focused 5 minute time some days), the disciplines are less of an item to do and more of an opportunity to look forward to each day.
In his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney digs into the delights and dangers of practicing spiritual disciplines. I have personally experienced and witnessed both. In this two-part series of posts, I will share some of Whitney’s insights into the practice of healthy spiritual disciplines.
A “Why” Regarding Spiritual Disciplines
All love craves intimacy, especially your greatest love As you grow more intimate with Jesus, you will obviously gravitate toward the means of that intimacy. You will not think of the disciplines as mere duty, nor simply as Christlike patterns to follow, but rather as life and light from Heaven to your soul.
Intimacy with Jesus – because His beauty is ever fresh – promotes even deeper love, which in turn intensifies your desire for closer communion. So as you grow closer to Christ, you will necessarily grow in the depth, in not duration, of your experience with what ministers Christ to you. Because the spiritual disciplines are the channels of communion with Christ, there simply will be no growth in Christ without them (p. 96).
A Danger Regarding Spiritual Disciplines
Do not understand me to say that the mere rise of the disciplines in your priorities automatically indicates a rise in your likeness to Christ…[The Pharisees] were exemplary in discipline, but the epitome of ungodliness…
The spiritual disciplines are not by themselves the marks of Christlikeness as much as they are the means to it. Without understanding this distinction, it is possible for someone to practice the disciplines and be far from Christ…[Even] true believers can spend hours each week in the disciplines and not grow spiritually if their motive is misplaced or if they equate bare devotional activity with godliness. The disciplines are not machines that make us more like Jesus if we just use them. Only God’s grace working through the disciplines can transform those who practice them with eyes of faith on Him (pp 96-97).