Discipline is not usually a word that we think fondly of. We think of it as a lack of freedom. Often it conjures up feelings of being needlessly overbearing. Although these things may come to mind, discipline is not a bad thing. We don’t like it because it forces us to change and do things differently from how we might want to accomplish things, but the results of a disciplined lifestyle can’t be argued.
Discipline Leads to Success
“Over the course of [the Army’s] 237-year history, it has been proven time and again that discipline is the difference between winning and losing, between average and exceptional.” (Command Sgt. Maj. Shelton R. Williamson, 2017, Army University Press on military standards and discipline.)
The military is a prime example of what discipline looks like. Soldiers must strictly adhere to a set of rules, guidelines, and a schedule. These things aren’t suggestions, they are a must. Not following any one of them can lead to disciplinary action. Why do they follow such strict regiments? Is a system like this meant to deprogram or to brainwash? No, the structure and discipline of the military lead to the efficiency of the accomplishment of goals. It is what leads toward success. It is what leads toward excellence.
Discipline Leads to Health
There are many things that we do because we recognize that they are good for us: brush our teeth, take vitamins, get a certain amount of sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise. We do these things because we know that they will help us to not only survive but to excel physically and emotionally. In essence, they help us to accomplish our goals. In and of themselves, these things aren’t the magic pill toward success in all areas of our life. But together, they position us for healthy results.
Discipline Leads to Strong Faith
The same is true of spiritual disciplines. These are simple habits and practices that help us to develop, grow, and strengthen our faith in Christ. They are things like prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting, confession, solitude, worship, and celebration. These things don’t bring us salvation. They aren’t a recipe for God’s approval. Instead, they are what help us to develop a lasting faith, a strong faith, and a faith that is put into practice. They don’t have power in themselves, but they help to develop and strengthen a faith that connects to the one who is powerful over all things.
“Spiritual disciplines are like wires that connect us to the power of the gospel. They have no power in themselves, but they connect us to the place from which the power flows. They are gateways to the gospel, but not the gospel itself.” Pastor J.D. Greear
Strong Faith Doesn’t Just Happen on its Own
We don’t naturally grow in our faith on our own. It isn’t something that will accidentally happen. Whereas we did nothing to secure our salvation, Jesus is the one who did it all, there are things that we need to do that help to better connect us to the God of our salvation.
“I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made in the image of God, but with that image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think.” Dan Coggan
We won’t grow in our faith without intention. We need to take steps and discipline ourselves in certain practices. The good news is that God has provided ways for us to do this. It, then, is our responsibility, as followers of Christ, to take these steps, because we know that it will lead to spiritual health and strength.
We Become Disciplined Because We Want to Know God Better
“The primary requirement for practicing the disciplines is a longing for God.” Richard Foster, "Celebration of Discipline"
If Jesus is our Lord and Savior, our heart and desire should be for closeness with him. We recognize that nothing happens apart from God. We know that we don’t possess the strength to tackle the trials of this world on our own. We know that we will never experience the fullness of joy apart from knowing God intimately.
When we long for closeness with God, we can know that it is available. God has given us tools that we can engage in and practice that will lead us to a deeper intimacy with him. The good news is that it isn’t the work that we do and the strength of our effort that leads to this spiritual change, but instead, it is the work of God in us as we engage with him through these disciplines.
Four Ways Spiritual Disciplines Benefit Us
1. Spiritual disciplines protect us from our self-interest
We may be tempted to think that we possess the power to keep our faith strong. In doing so, we will live a life that seems to make sense to us. This lends us to the desires of our hearts without knowing if they are also the desires of God’s heart. Our minds, our gut, and our hearts will let us down. Practicing the disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, and meditation will help to align our hearts to God’s. It becomes the grounds by which God transforms our hearts to match his.
2. Spiritual disciplines position us for God’s transformation
God uses the disciplines to help align our hearts with his. Through the study of God’s Word, we see the heart of God, how he operates, and what he desires of us. Through prayer, He knits our hearts with his. The transformation process of sanctification takes place and we experience life-change. We begin to not only understand what God wants, but his wants become ours. We become more and more like our Creator. When we pause to spend time with our Father, He uses that time to mold and shape us. Our hearts are softened, and we begin to see ourselves and others the way he does.
3. Spiritual disciplines stretch our faith
If you want a faith that is strong, growing, and capable of carrying you through difficult challenges, you’re going to need to stretch it. Through the study of God’s Word, we see how God has been faithful throughout time. We see how he keeps his promises. We observe the desperate situations of believers and see how God was working through all of it. Through prayer, we faithfully offer our needs to the Lord and then watch how he works. These disciplines lead us to the feet of our Father and cause us to not only observe but rely on his power. This puts us in the habit of convening with and leaning on him; the natural result is a faith that grows.
4. Spiritual disciplines are a matter of gospel mission
Spiritual disciplines not only help us in our individual, personal faith life, but the world desperately needs us to have deep faith and connection to God. It is a matter of gospel mission. We have been called to take the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to our community, and our world. A deepened and stretched faith leads to boldness. A faith that is further formulated leads to a spirit that is compelled to share. A transformed heart softens toward those apart from Jesus and rallies us to share the good news. The world needs people of strong faith because it becomes the catalyst toward gospel mission.
These may be good reasons to practice spiritual disciplines, but they can still seem a bit daunting. Here are a few practical steps you can take to get started:
Four Steps to Becoming More Disciplined
1. Start simple but make a commitment
Start with just one or two disciplines. I recommend starting with reading your Bible and praying three times a week. Once you have developed this into a habit you can increase your frequency and begin to practice other disciplines.
There are at least 12 disciplines that I could encourage you to practice regularly in your life, but the best advice I can give you is to start simple. Don’t let the enormity of all there is to be practiced overwhelm you and keep you from starting. We don’t ask a one-year-old to run a marathon when we first start to teach them to walk. We start slowly, and we celebrate each step. It takes time to learn balance and become a natural walker. It takes time to build good spiritual habits. Start simple but commit to doing it. It takes dedication and consistency.
2. Find accountability
Having someone to help keep you on track, encourage you, and push you toward your goal can be immensely helpful. Allow someone the right to speak truth into your life as you set out on this journey. Training for something alone is an extremely difficult task. Building strong spiritual disciplines in your life will be much easier to accomplish with someone joining you in the journey.
3. Practice something new
What is one discipline you have never tried before? Is it reading your Bible? Regularly worshipping? Meditation? Fasting? Before you make a judgment on the effectiveness or benefits of a particular spiritual discipline, do a little bit of research and try it out. You may find that God uses it in your life in a big way. Trying something new can be an exciting thing, so have fun!
4. Make room by letting go of something
‘I’m so busy, I just don’t have time for something new.’ This is an easy thing to say, but it is simply an excuse. Yes, we have a lot of different things going on in our lives, but we should be able to find 10-15 minutes a day to start engaging in some simple disciplines. The best way to find this time is to let something go. Maybe you need to let go of some TV time. Maybe it is getting just a little bit less sleep. Whatever it might be for you, be honest, make a commitment, and try giving it up.
Progress - Not Guilt
Spiritual disciplines are not about guilt. They are not about being a better Christian. They help us to develop, grow, and strengthen our faith in Christ. They endear us to our Father. They stretch and strengthen our faith. They are worth it. How about giving them a try?
Note – I highly recommend the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. It is a book that I have read multiple times and will read again in the future. It is a great resource to help you learn about spiritual disciplines and how to practice them.