In my last post, I mentioned two books that encourage us to put into practice a number of spiritual disciplines, in order to grow spiritually. In this post, I want to look at what these spiritual disciplines are, and how you can begin to actually practise them.
The aim of spiritual growth is to become more like Jesus and to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. This will make you grow as a person, it will make you more stable and happy, but it will also give you more patience, more compassion with others, make you kinder and socially more involved. Spiritual growth is not just inward-oriented, it also has an outward effect.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Richard J. Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, groups the Spiritual Disciplines in 3 categories: the Inward Disciplines, the Outward disciplines, and the Corporate disciplines.
The Inward Disciplines are: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting and Study. These are the disciplines you can practise alone, by yourself, without anyone really noticing. Except for the people you live with perhaps.
The Outward Disciplines are still practised by you alone, but are more visible to others and have a direct effect on your relationship with others. They are: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service.
The Corporate Disciplines are practised together with other members of the body of Christ, the church. They can be an element of a church service, or they can be practised in a different context, wherever two or three (or more) Christians come together. The Corporate Disciplines are: Confession, Worship, Guidance and Celebration.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, gives us two groups of Spiritual Disciplines: the Disciplines of Abstinence and the Disciplines of Engagement. ‘In the disciplines of abstinence, we abstain to some degree and for some time from the satisfaction of what we generally regard as normal and legitimate desires‘ (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 159). It means that you choose not to do or to consume something (for a certain amount of time) in order to become more free from it and to become more focussed on what is more important. The disciplines of abstinence are:
- Solitude (no company)
- Silence (no noise)
- Fasting (no food)
- Frugality (no consumption of unnecessary goods)
- Chastity (no sex)
- Secrecy (no reward for good deeds)
- Sacrifice (giving up what you can’t miss)
The disciplines are not only about giving things up. We need other disciplines to engage in activities that help us grow spiritually. ‘The disciplines of abstinence must be counterbalanced and supplemented by disciplines of engagement. Abstinence and engagement are the outbreathing and inbreathing of our spiritual lives, and we require disciplines for both movements.’ (The spirit of the Disciplines, p.175)
The disciplines of engagement are:
Now, if you are like me, you get really discouraged when you see long lists of things you could, or worse, should do. And you give up before you have even started. But not to worry. First of all, look at what you are already doing. I am not more holy than you are, and I certainly don’t practise all the disciplines. But if I look at Foster’s list, I could say I practise Prayer and Study, Simplicity and Service, Worship and Celebration. Then, look at what you would like to add, one thing at a time. It is worthwhile to read more about the disciplines, to understand what they mean and what they aim to achieve. Choose one that you value most, or think you need most, and practise it for some time. It takes six to eigth weeks to form a new habit, and the spiritual disciplines are all about forming new habits. Habits of the mind and of the body.
The spiritual disciplines are not meant to make your life harder, they are meant to make your life more fulfilling and more focused. I would say simplicity (having one goal in mind, not being double-minded) is central to all the disciplines. They help you focus on what really matters, like a sportsman who lives a disciplined life in order to achieve the best: winning the prize.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. (1 Corinthians 9:23-25)