What Are Spiritual Discipline and Why Are They So Important?

What Are Spiritual Disciplines and Why Are They So Important?

Brushing crumbs off the dining room table, I plunk down my portable pile: Bible, journal, devotional book, another Bible, and they all land with a THUD. The pens go skittering across the table, mirroring my scattered thoughts. Then, pushing my mug of tea out of the danger zone, I settle into reading, my favorite of all the spiritual disciplines.

Today, it’s Deuteronomy 15: the Sabbatical Year, generosity to the poor, and God’s decree to Israel concerning firstborn animals. What keeps me coming back, day after day, year after year to the practice of meeting with God over his words?

Is there sustenance there? Even in Deuteronomy  15?

Certainly, the trappings of worship described in Deuteronomy are long gone. However, the truth about God revealed in his instructions is unchanged:
He is a Canceler of Debts.
His heart is for the poor.
And best of all, he invites us into his presence.

Spiritual Disciplines are Relational

If I come to my reading in the morning looking for Ouija board insights on how to go about this particular Tuesday, I might be disappointed in what I receive. However, if I come to scripture with the question, “What does this teach me about God?” I have begun to approach the purpose of a daily exercise in spiritual formation.

Our relational God has ordained that conversation forms the basis of his dealings with humans. He speaks through his inspired Word, and we listen. We pour out the contents of our hearts to him or pray his own words back to him. Prayer and Scripture. Scripture and Prayer. Through the means of grace, relationship grows and flourishes.

Our relational God has ordained that conversation forms the basis of his dealings with humans. Prayer and scripture. Scripture and prayer. Through the #meansofgrace, relationship grows and flourishes.

Eugene Peterson blurs the distinction between prayer and Bible reading, for, in actual practice, one informs the other. “Prayer detached from Scripture, from listening to God, disconnected from God’s words to us, short circuits the relational language that is prayer.”

Spiritual Disciplines Don’t Earn God’s Favor

The prevailing attitude toward a daily spiritual practice bumps dangerously against a works mentality. We picture a tradeoff:  salvation is “God’s part” and my faithful observance of the means of grace is “my part.” We imagine God loving us more on days when we “succeed” in our Bible reading and prayer. We picture varsity level Christians being carried off in flights of spiritual bliss every time they crack the leather cover of their ESV.

The prevailing attitude toward spirituality bumps dangerously against a works mentality. We imagine God loving us more on days when we “succeed” in prayer.

The rhythm of my faithful practice doesn’t have equal weight to God’s work of grace in my life. God pours out his lavish goodness, and my right response is to delight in holy living. I don’t get MORE of God’s grace or approval or love through obedience.

Spiritual Disciplines Make Room for Grace

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this very moment to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  

II Timothy 2:1 NEB

Any spiritual practice–prayer, fasting, scripture reading, or meditation–is a tool for setting aside time for devotion to God. They create space for him to work, to speak, and to change our thinking one faithful day at a time. Spiritual disciplines are the way we make room in our lives to be amazed by grace and to delight in the goodness of God.

What is your biggest struggle in maintaining spiritual disciplines?
Which of your habits of holiness bring you the greatest joy?

Share your story in the comments, and scroll down for my review of a new resource that’s made its way into my portable pile in 2022.

Holding you in the Light,

And now, let’s talk books…

On the second Sunday after Epiphany, I opened Fleming Rutledge’s Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions, clueless about the significance of many of the dates on the liturgical calendar, but, nonetheless, jumping with both feet into the sixty entries that will carry me through this year. Each brief chapter serves as a connection to God’s redemptive story, an invitation to pay attention to the big picture of scripture’s narrative arc.

Under the lens of Rutledge’s sanctified imagination, the personal ads become a “comprehensive index of human longing,” and she leads her readers in a poignant meditation on desire, a condition common to humanity and slaked ultimately only in Christ. The message I am gleaning from these excerpts from her published works is this: In every way, God is intimately tied to our everyday life.

I’ve added Means of Grace to my portable pile for another slower read-through in 2022 and am especially eager to spend concentrated attention on the prayers at the end of each entry, lifted from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Whether you are new to Fleming Rutledge’s work (like me) or have a long history of being blessed by her wordcraft, the collection will enhance your devotional life with glimmers of sacred fire and a weekly challenge to sink deep roots into the means of grace God has provided. He never intended for us to go it alone.

In every way, God is intimately tied to our everyday life. This is the message of #MeansofGrace by @flemingrut. Sink deep roots into what God has provided. He never intended for us to go it alone. Via @eerdmansbooks

And One Last Thing…

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Many thanks to Eerdmans Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Eilis Garvey on Unsplash

59 thoughts on “What Are Spiritual Disciplines and Why Are They So Important?”

  1. I loved stumbling upon this piece. I’ve recommitted myself to delving in The Word daily. So far this year it’s been a success and I am slowly growing in my understanding and acceptance of His Grace.
    Thanks for this and all the very best. #Dreamteam

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  2. My spiritual discipline that brings me greatest joy is reading the word and praying as God reveals himself to me. I love this time of my day. I do have a problem making time for this every day. I am too easily distracted. Also, I allow my household duties to make me put off this discipline. Thanks for all you share. I do enjoy reading your posts and feel they help me to grow in my faith. Thank you!

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  3. I too have a portable pile that is often accompanied by my “portable desk”. It is an old tattered frameless white board that fits on my lap in the car, in the recliner, and in the lounge chair outside. It has traveled many miles with me and when it goes missing my portable pile doesn’t know where to land!

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  4. There is so much I love about this post. Every time in the Word might not be Thanksgiving dinner level, but every post can nourish us. The steadiness and regularity of habit is so important. And I so agree prayer and the Word work together.

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  5. I’m a bit like you. I find reading to come easily for the most part when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. I struggle more with prayer. I tend to want a system, to cover all the bases, instead of allowing it to flow from my reading. Thanks for a great post on the subject. I always leave here encouraged in my walk with God.

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    1. Oh, you have put your finger on the heart of the dilemma for me! I feel a need for a system so I can cover all the people and programs that are close to my heart with prayer, but the system very quickly deteriorates into a straightjacket that I can’t live with anymore!
      Let’s just keep persevering, knowing that there is NO perfect way of praying, but we are called to pray anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Spiritual disciplines are the way we make room in our lives to be amazed by grace and to delight in the goodness of God.” Amen! I love that sentence. My quiet time in the morning is when God deposits into my heart and mind all that I need for the day. It is my most precious time of day.

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  7. Two days from now, we’ll enter a new season of Lent. 40 days when we consciously try to center our minds on spiritual disciplines. It’s always hard for me to slow down enough to engage in meaningful contemplation and prayer. Thanks for the reminder about the importance of spiritual discipline.
    Carol
    http://www.scribblingboomer.com

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  8. Yesterday we just began a 7 part spiritual habits series at church here. I so appreciate that you point out that this is not about changing the heart of God. It is about changing ours.

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  9. My biggest struggle is maintaining my spiritual disciplines whilst on vacation. I prefer to spend time with God at the beginning of the day (I’m a much nicer person if I do 😉 ), but sometimes it’s very hard on vacation to do that.

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  10. LOVE this insight, Michele: “Spiritual disciplines are the way we make room in our lives to be amazed by grace and to delight in the goodness of God.” Instead of gritting our teeth as we plop down with Bible and prayer list, what if we danced (in spirit!) to our quiet place with the anticipation of amazement by grace and delight in God’s goodness about-to-be-discovered? I for one love my quiet time each day. The Bible has become a beloved source of wisdom and encouragement over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I so love the practice of spiritual disciplines. From my first reading of Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I longed to know more so I could practice more. I also learned that some practices came easily to me and some were very hard for me!

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    1. Another author who inspires me to be more observant is Elisabeth Elliot. I can remember studying her books to discern exactly what she was doing to strengthen her growth in Christ. Like you, I find some aspects to be excruciating–but I think that adjective derives from the word “cross” so that’s probably appropriate.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. My biggest struggle is focus; my mind starts to wander and I start this whole stream of conscious thought tangent that completely distracts me from the prayer I had started in the first place.

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  13. This is a wonderful article. I shared it on my ministry Facebook page! You did an outstanding job articulating how prayer and Scripture are inseparable. I plan on directing participants for the upcoming Scripture Notebooking retreats/getaways/workshops to this article. Thank you so much!!!

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  14. My Type A personality loves checking the boxes of spiritual disciplines; but the procrastination part of me gums up the works sometimes. I appreciated your point, “The prevailing attitude toward spirituality bumps dangerously against a works mentality. We imagine God loving us more on days when we “succeed” in prayer.” It’s so easy to want to earn our way but it’s impossible!

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    1. I bump into this all the time, Jerralea. We come to God as Bible readers and chasers of truth on the same basis as illiterate and unobservant followers–we need his grace and mercy, too–maybe more?

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  15. I love that you have a portable pile! Me too, and it’s not complete without my to do list. It’s so easy to be distracted, but a glance at my to do’s always keeps me on track and focused. – Well, most of the time 🙂 Thank you for joining us for the #DreamTeam

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  16. I am not disciplined in spiritual matters and I feel that I react to personal and global issues rather than abiding by regular structures. Thanks for joining in with the #DreamTeam

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  17. My thought pattern was running somewhat parallel to yours but for a different reason. Cooking dinner is not a ‘husband discipline’ – out of love for him, I have an evening meal prepared. Laundry is not a ‘mother discipline’ – out of love for my children, I have clean clothes available for them to wear. Revelation 2:4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
    Matthew 5:6 / 1 Chronicles 28:9 / 2 Chronicles 15:2 / Jeremiah 29:13 / Proverbs 8:17 / Luke 11:13 all speak of finding God when we seek him – with all our heart. Not with our heads. Not with our disciplines. Jesus directed us to love Father with the entirety of our being. Not with our heads. Not with our disciplines.
    This is often difficult for me to execute – how to do everything out of a great love for Most High God. My head gets it. It’s my heart that sluggishly falls short.

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    1. SO well said and considered.
      I’m glad you shared this thought, because it’s where I also struggle. Every task feels different–lighter– when we do it from a heart of love.

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  18. Thank you for linking with #pocolo. I enjoy reading your posts, but I’m often lost to know how to comment, but it’s fascinating to read how others maintain peace in their lives

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