Spiritual. A word with many meanings and interpretations. When I think of spirituality, I think of everything that has to do with the spiritual, as opposed to the physical. There is more than what you can see, touch or feel. The spiritual has to do with the connection between my spirit and God’s Spirit. This is less complicated or vague than it may sound. The body, the mind and the spirit are connected. Therefore, when I think of spiritual practices, I think of the things that I do (i.e. with my body) to make sure that my spirit is able to receive God’s Spirit and power. This will, in turn, change the way I think, feel and act.
When I think of spirituality, I have a Christian spirituality in mind. We are only able to receive God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ. Jesus was a real person, as human as we are, sent from God. He lived in a close relationship with God, his Father. He modelled the spiritual life for us. And he made it possible for us to have the same closeness to the Father as he has. Paul says it like this, in his letter to the Galatians:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:4-6)
God gives, we receive. God sent his Son, and we either accept him or reject him. When we accept Jesus as the redeemer of our lives, God redeems us. And then we receive the adoption to sonship, the right to be his child and to call him Father. God sends his Spirit, and we receive. We are on the receiving end. But this is not passive receiving. We actively receive and accept God’s gift of redemption and the gift of his Spirit. We actively call out to him ‘Abba, Father’.
This is only the beginning of a new kind of life, a life led by the Spirit of God. John writes how Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd and said he had come to give us life:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
It is all there for us to receive: a life led by the Spirit, a full and abundant way of living. So what can we do to actively receive this life, and to live it to the full?
The things we can do to live this full, spiritual life, as Jesus did, are traditionally called Spiritual Disciplines. It means making a choice to do certain things and to abstain from others, in order to be in a position to receive all of God’s gifts and to become more like Christ through the things you practice. You could also call it Spiritual Practices.
I recently read two books on the Spiritual Disciplines. The first is considered to be the classic on the subject: ‘Celebration of Discipline – The Path to Spiritual Growth’, by Richard J. Foster (1978). The other book was written 10 years later, by Foster’s friend Dallas Willard: ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines – Understanding How God Changes Lives’ (1988).
These books propose several Spiritual Disciplines that can be put in practice to help you grow spiritually. Willard’s book, however, starts with an elaborate explanation of why these disciplines are important and how they do actually change your life.
A note for my Dutch readers: Richard Foster’s book is also available in Dutch: Het feest van de navolging – groeien in spiritualiteit. Some of Dallas Willard’s book have been translated in Dutch, but not The Spirit of the Disciplines, as far as I know.