Lasting success in any enterprise or field of endeavor requires discipline. A scholar must be disciplined in her academic research and writing. An NBA player must be disciplined in perfecting his craft through lots and lots of practice. The late Kobe Bryant was known not only for his singular talent but also for his tireless work ethic. Proper training, discipline, and hard work are indispensable for success in education, athletics, business, public speaking, or any other area. The same is true of the Christian life. A successful Christian life requires discipline in the cultivation of healthy habits and routines.
You probably have noticed that the words "discipline" and "disciple" look very similar. In fact, the two words are closely related in meaning. To discipline is to teach or train someone in righteousness or proper behavior; whereas, a disciple is the recipient of this instruction. The twelve disciples in the Bible were followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Master Teacher who taught the disciples the will and the ways of God. With the exception of Judas, the disciples followed the Lord's supreme example until they looked like him in their character and actions. Like the original disciples, our goal should be to become more like Jesus with each passing moment.
Maybe you have read an article or listened to a teaching on the topic of spiritual disciplines. The Quaker author Richard Foster popularized the concept in his classic book on Christian spirituality entitled: Celebration of Discipline written in 1978. A spiritual discipline is a physical or mental activity derived from Scripture that a Christian does to aid his or her spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines are what we do in the natural to positively benefit our spiritual lives. These disciplines have been practiced by the people of God since Bible times. Please watch the following short video that introduces the topic of spiritual disciplines.
Like most Christians, you have probably cultivated a regular routine of prayer, Bible reading, and public worship. Perhaps you have even fasted on occasion. However, there are many other spiritual disciplines that both Catholic and Protestant Christians have practiced historically from which you may derive great benefit. For example, Lectio Divina (divine reading) is a monastic practice that combines Bible reading, Scriptural meditation, prayer, and contemplation to promote fellowship with God and increase knowledge (and understanding) of his Word.
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster examined the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. More recently, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook discussed over 60 practices that transform a Christian's life. My ministerial colleagues Dr. Kenneth Hammonds and Dr. Oscar Owens and I compiled a chart of 52 disciplines that can be accessed among the links at the bottom of this post.
In the Foreword of the Special Anniversary Edition of Celebration of Discipline, Foster states that spiritual disciplines are “the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.” Calhoun defined spiritual disciplines as “intentional practices, relationships and experiences that [give] people space in their lives to ‘keep company’ with Jesus.” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p.17). The regular practice of even a few spiritual disciplines can greatly enhance a person's walk with the Lord and help him or her to become a mature follower of Jesus. Spiritual disciplines allow Christians to create space in our lives for the Lord so that we can fellowship with him and become more like him. I believe that you are about to embark on a wonderful journey of learning and spiritual growth as we explore the topic of spiritual disciplines. My prayer is that your life will never be the same!
Wilfred Graves Jr.