To grow in their faith and understanding of God, Christians engage in spiritual disciplines.
What are spiritual disciplines in Christianity? Spiritual disciplines are the various practices outlined in the Bible intended to help believers grow in spiritual maturity. Examples of spiritual disciplines include:
I have been learning a lot about the spiritual disciplines recently and am excited to write this post. This post will explore the main spiritual disciplines, what the Bible says, and how it contributes to your spiritual maturity.
Inward disciplines are the spiritual disciplines done in private. In fact, the Bible cautions against hypocrisy in these disciplines when done in public.
People like the Pharisees would often make a show of their participation in these disciplines by praying on street corners and distorting their faces while they were fasting in order to show off their religious devotion (Matthew 6).
However, they sought only the approval of man, not God, and reaped all the reward they would get.
Meditation is the practice of dwelling on God and/or his word. It is not as intense as a study and is more about hearing from God than it is about dissecting the words.
It can also be a time of imagination where you get to “experience” and be a part of the scripture you are meditating on.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.Joshua 1:8 ESV
Meditation helps you to grow in spiritual maturity by getting to know God better, both by his character through the Scripture and by his voice through listening.
If you want to learn more about meditation, check out this post Christian Meditation: Definition, Biblical Examples, & More.
Prayer is another inward discipline illustrated in the Bible. Many times we see Jesus go off by himself to pray throughout his ministry, and he speaks to this idea in his Sermon on the Mount.
When we pray, it is not for show but a time to interact personally with God. He then contrasts the example set by the Pharisees with his own example of how to pray.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:6 ESV
Prayer helps you grow in spiritual maturity because it is, at its core, communication between you and God which is the foundation for any relationship. So, by participating in the spiritual discipline of prayer you communicate with God and deepen your relationship.
Read this blog to learn more about Christian prayers you can recite.
Another discipline that Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is fasting. Just as with prayer, some of the Pharisees were showing off their piety by expressing their discomfort while fasting. Instead, fasting should be done in private, so that it is between you and God.
Fasting is the process of giving up something, usually something you need for survival like food, as a way of expressing your dependence on God.
Fasting allows God to become a sort of spiritual food that sustains you, even in the absence of physical food.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:16-18 ESV
If you want to learn more about fasting – click here.
Another spiritual discipline that we see is the discipline of study. Study is deeper than meditation. It is digging into Biblical text and searching for understanding with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jewish people have show their extraordinary commitment to this throughout the Old Testament as all the boys were required to be educated in the Word of God.
Study helps you to grow in spiritual maturity by getting a stronger grasp on the key things we know about God. It’s primary difference is that there is less emphasis on just reading and listening and more emphasis on digging into the words and phrases and context to see what God has revealed about himself.
Outward disciplines are those disciplines that impact your interactions with other people. They are still an individual activity, however, they are not done in private and impact your interactions with other people.
This being said, still be cautious about falling into hypocrisy. These disciplines do require interaction with other people but you can still be humble and subtle about it.
Simplicity is a spiritual discipline that many people are unfamiliar with. Essentially, by practicing simplicity you commit to being your real self around people.
It means not puffing yourself up to appear better than you are but simply being yourself. It doesn’t hide flaws or shortcomings but accepts them and works towards growth.
This may look like choosing to be silent when someone points out a flaw instead of defending yourself. Or perhaps it’s not overspending on beauty products to hide age or other flaws.
It isn’t spending beyond your means to appear wealthier. It is being the realest version of yourself you can be.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.Romans 12:3 ESV
Simplicity helps you grow in spiritual maturity for two reasons. First, it develops humility and helps us not to think of ourselves more highly than we should. And second, it forces us to recognize those areas in which we had been trying to look better than we really are.
Solitude is the practice of getting alone with God. It is finding a place where you can sit for a time, be with God, and purposefully stay away from other people. When we do this, we are better able to hear the voice of God which is sometimes drowned out by the voices of everyone else in our lives.
Jesus did this throughout his ministry as a time to spend time with the Father.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.Matthew 14:23a ESV
This discipline helps us grow in spiritual maturity by dedicating one-on-one time to God. Just like your relationship with your friends or significant other grows through one-on-one time, so does your relationship with God. It gives him undivided attention and the opportunity to speak in an environment where he can be heard.
Submission, as one of my professors likes to say, is the discipline of “letting others have the last word.” It is recognizing that other people have authority, opinions, and desires. Yours is not the only one that matters.
It recognizes that we do live in a community. We rely on those that God has placed in our lives and by practicing submission we get give them the opportunity to have the last word.
Maybe this looks like allowing someone to think what they want without challenging them. Or, perhaps it is letting a sibling, child or spouse pick the movie they want without question because you know it makes them happy.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV
This helps to develop spiritual maturity by putting others before yourself, which is exactly what Jesus did throughout his ministry, and on the cross. It is a way of illustrating Jesus’ selflessness for others.
Service is the last of the outward disciplines. It is the process of selflessly doing something for someone else without seeking credit or recognition. Jesus exemplified this through the washing of the disciples feet.
He showed that there is no job too low for anyone and we must always be willing to serve others.
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them,
‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.’John 13:12-16 ESV
This helps us grow in spiritual maturity by giving us the opportunity to humble ourselves the same way that Jesus humbled himself. We serve others as a way of serving God.
Corporate disciplines finally are those that we engage in with another person. As I have made clear so far, hypocrisy is still a danger.
We must be cautious not to try and puff ourselves up for the group and keep our hearts focused on the reason we put effort into spiritual disciplines, to grow closer to God.
Confession is not an easy spiritual discipline but it is important and definitely biblical. Confession is the process of confessing sins to another person.
It helps us to face our sin and deal with it instead of pushing it under a rug or refusing to acknowledge our struggle.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9 ESV
When we confess our sins we grow in spiritual maturity because we learn to reconcile with our sin and grow from it.
Worship is probably one of my favorite spiritual disciplines. It often comes as music although that is not the only way to worship.
Ultimately worship is the process of glorifying God for who he is and the work that he is doing. And we know that he is deserving.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;Psalm 95:6 ESV
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
Worship helps us grow in spiritual maturity by realigning our perspective with God’s. When I am struggling with something, one of the best things to do for me is worship because it puts my focus back where it should be, off of my problem and onto God.
To dig more into the spiritual discipline of worship – check this blog out.
Guidance is a spiritual discipline not typically known by this name but definitely important to our spiritual growth. It is the pursuit of God’s will for our lives and the commitment to obey what he tells us.
It is the process of conforming our lives to his and his desires for us. We do this individually but also as a body of Christ as a whole.
Guidance helps us grow in spiritual maturity by challenging us to surrender our own desires and choose God’s while continuing to walk in obedience. This is also part of our witness, our continual conforming to the life of Christ. Then the body of Christ is a witness of who God is to the rest of the world.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matthew 6:33 ESV
The spiritual discipline is a new one that I have been learning about just recently. To participate in celebration is to set aside time and resources to gather and celebrate the goodness of God.
This should be taking place on holidays such as Christmas and Easter however, in our current culture this attitude has largely been lost.
In Jewish culture they had various big festivals intended for this specific purpose. They would set aside large sums of money each year and would spend it on up to a week of good food and celebration.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Celebration helps us to grow together in spiritual maturity by helping us to come to terms with his goodness, just as we face our sin in confession. So be joyful!
Gather together and celebrate the goodness of our God!
The Introverts & Extroverts Challenge
Some of these disciplines may come very naturally to you while others are more difficult. Introverts like myself are often much more familiar with the inward disciplines while extroverts usually tend towards the outward and corporate disciplines.
My challenge to you is to examine yourself. Look to see which of these areas need the most growth.
For the introverts I challenge you to try some of the corporate and outward disciplines.
Extroverts, I challenge you to try some of the inward ones. Pray into both and see where God guides you this week.
Celebration Of Spiritual Disciplines
If you are interested in learning more about spiritual disciplines, I highly recommend to you the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.
It will help you grow to understand these topics in a deeper way and give you guidance on how to apply them to your life as well.