But if you’re also like me, you’re terrible at disciplining yourself, especially with spiritual disciplines. It’s easy to start disciplining yourself and then fall off the wagon within a few weeks of thinking you’ve mastered the art of whatever discipline you're practicing. This can be incredibly discouraging and often leads us to give up disciplining ourselves altogether.
Podcasts and spiritual disciplines probably mean nothing to you together, but I promise it will all make sense.
This week I listened to the Podcast “Let’s Talk” starring Melissa Kruger, Jackie Hill Perry, and Jasmine Holmes. The episode was called, “Spiritual Disciplines in Busy Seasons”. Although their style is very much like an open discussion, I believe they offered some really great insight into practically putting into motion spiritual disciplines especially when our day-to-day lives seem to get in the way.
Their discussion was so good this blog is probably going to be 80% counsel from them, but I hope what they have to say, in addition to a couple other resources, and what is contributed by me will be helpful to you.
Another resource I will be referencing is a book called The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney, which was also mentioned in this episode of “Let’s Talk”, and was a book I read back in college. It’s also the book my church is currently going through during our Wednesday night bible study at church (things have a way of just working out, don’t they?)
First off, what are spiritual disciplines? In his book, Whitney lists out the following: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning as spiritual disciplines. Whitney said, “Spiritual disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth.” So, many others could be added to this list, but these are great to get down first!
I, just like you’re probably thinking right now, didn’t know half of those disciplines even existed, but each of them equip us to grow in our relationship and walk with Christ. Don’t worry though, my goal isn’t to give you a paragraph on each discipline and leave you on your merry way (you’ll have to read Whitney’s book for that), but rather to show you how spiritual disciplines are best applied in general and what obstacles stand in our way of practicing said disciplines.
For instance, an obstacle we face is the weight of discipline. It’s hard and sometimes because we have not been taught how to be disciplined so we end up just chasing our tails. Oftentimes we are weighed down by the pressure and the work that is disciplining ourselves in general whether that’s eating right, working out, waking up early (I feel a little called out with this one), or getting ourselves on a routine of any kind. It’s painful, hard work, and not so fun especially in those beginning days, weeks, and months. The same is true for spiritual disciplines.
“When we talk about spiritual disciplines, the goal isn’t misery,” said Kruger. “The goal is a soul that works right.” She later added,“Sometimes we think that it should feel good every time and that’s what actually makes us stop from doing it.”
If there’s anything that rings more true in my life, it’s that comment right there. So the encouragement is to press on. Keep disciplining yourself even though you may not feel so “spiritual” or as on top of things as you may think you should feel. The goal is more than just practicing any discipline, the goal is Jesus himself.
John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus is more interested in your heart than he is with how perfect your discipline may be. All he asks is that you abide in Him and he will do the same, giving you the strength and the wisdom to press on.
Spiritual disciplines are non-negotiables because “God demands our heart and our mind” as Jasmine Holmes explained. It is that abiding in Christ that brings us to a place of need for Jesus, not where we simply cross something off of our to-do list, but as Holmes described it - to a place where we feel like we could not survive without that intimacy and daily intake of Christ. In doing so we must guard ourselves from tendencies of pride and legalism.
“I choose to remember that I’m doing this to know a person. I’m reading so I can know a person, I’m praying so I can speak with a person,” Perry added. “So, when it becomes about intimacy, and knowing Jesus, and doing the things you need to do so you can grow in your love for Jesus then you actually get distracted because now you’re not even thinking about yourself enough to say, ‘oh, I’m doing this so I can be this person.’ It just literally becomes about Jesus at that point.”
Because, as Whitney and these women warn us, spiritual disciplines can easily be driven by idols. Our “discipline” can become legalism, a means of people-pleasing, and an act of shame without the joy that is getting to know the person who is Jesus. They listed things like unbelief, self-sufficiency, ambition, pride, and busyness as additional idols that keep us from growing in our relationship with Christ.
They brought up an interesting point that shame and despair (of feeling as if we have failed at being spiritually disciplined) often shuts us down to the point of not doing anything, never trying to discipline ourselves, and never reaching out to Christ for help or for that relationship. It’s the ever-hungry void that feeds on Satan’s lies and our stagnancy. It feels like overwhelmingly heavy chains that keep from our passion to draw near to Jesus.
“The cure is the thing that you’re running away from, because the more that you learn about God, the more you learn about who He is, the more you learn about who He loves the less opportunity despair has to take root in your heart,” said Holmes. “So, just keep in mind that shame can be a tool of the enemy to keep us from going to God. It turns into the very thing that’s going to heal you is the thing that you think is going to destroy you, but that’s how Satan has always worked.”
“Underneath the despair are some idols,” Perry explained. “It should be concerning to you or alarming to you if you can continue your day-to-day life without any spiritual disciplines. That should alert you to where am I that this doesn’t concern me that I haven’t met with God, that I haven’t read his Word. I claim to say that I’m in a relationship, but I’m not doing the things that will help the relationship grow and flourish.”
Kruger even suggested that sometimes our Christian actions can actually keep us from knowing Jesus. I think everyone, myself definitely included, is guilty of this to some degree. Sometimes our people-pleasing, busyness, and even our service in the name of God can look Christian. Service is important and is a spiritual discipline, but if we aren’t actually spending any time with God in our personal lives and the motives for our Christian service are sour, then our discipline is without real purpose. It’s all hollow if Christ isn’t who we’re running to through our spiritual disciplines. A passage Kruger, Holmes, and Perry brought up really speaks into this sin and comes from Luke 10: 38-42.
It says, “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Martha, although thinking that her busyness, her work, and her people-pleasing was righteous and justified, missed out on the intimacy that was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mary set her priorities from the beginning, deciding that the most important thing in that moment was to treasure and soak in every word of the Messiah.
We often miss out on the best portion, that intimacy with Jesus, and the joy of knowing and learning more about our God because the idols ruling in our hearts tell us what’s more important. “Our goal of spiritual disciplines is not to be perfect, we already lost that a long time ago,” Kruger said. “Our goal is to have a pattern of life that’s growing towards God.”
So be enthralled with the good portion, with Jesus himself. See spiritual disciplines not as a chore, but as a means to know your Father in heaven who commands your heart and your mind to Him.