Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

And in my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.

Andrew Murray comments boldly, but I think rightly, on Christ’s pledge: “Ask and you shall receive; everyone that asks, receives.” This is the fixed eternal law of the kingdom: if you ask and receive not, it must be because there is something amiss or wanting in the prayer. Hold on; let the Word and Spirit teach you to pray aright, but do not let go the confidence He seeks to waken: Everyone who asks receives. . . . Let every learner in the school of Christ therefore take the Master’s word in all simplicity. . . . Let us beware of weakening the Word with our human wisdom.[18] Because God answers prayer, when we “ask and receive not” we must consider the possibility that there is “something amiss or wanting” in our prayer. Perhaps God has indeed answered, but not in an obvious way. And possibly our prayers show nothing amiss, but we don’t yet see the answer only because God intends for us to persevere in praying about the matter awhile longer. Still, we must learn to examine our prayers. Are we asking for things outside the will of God or that would not glorify Him? Are we praying with selfish motives? Are we failing to deal with the kind of blatant sin that causes God to put all our prayers on hold? Despite what we see in response to our prayers, however, let’s not become so accustomed to our shortcomings in prayer and to the perception of asking without receiving that our faith in the force of Jesus’ promise is diminished. Prayer is answered.

Can we expect the flames of our worship of God to burn brightly in public on the Lord’s Day when they barely flicker for Him in secret on other days?

Elisabeth Elliot is more precise when she explains that “freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline.

Evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life. Every Christian should be able to talk about what the Lord has done for him or her and what He means to him or her. But evangelism is also a Discipline in that we must discipline ourselves to get into situations where evangelism can occur, that is, we must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.

FASTING IS EXPECTED To those unfamiliar with fasting, the most surprising part of this chapter may be the discovery that Jesus expected His followers would fast. Notice Jesus’ words at the beginning of Matthew 6:16-17: “And when you fast. . . . But when you fast . . .” (emphasis added). By giving us instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, Jesus assumes that we will fast. This expectation is even more obvious when we compare these words with His statements in that same passage—Matthew 6:2-3—about giving: “Thus, when you give. . . . But when you give . . .” (emphasis added). Compare also His words in the same section—Matthew 6:5-7—about praying: “And when you pray. . . . But when you pray. . . . And when you pray . . .” (emphasis added). No one doubts that we are to give and to pray. In fact, Christians commonly use this passage to teach Jesus’ principles on giving and praying. And since there is nothing here or elsewhere in Scripture indicating that we no longer need to fast, and since we know that Christians in the book of Acts fasted (see 9:9; 13:2; 14:23), we may conclude that Jesus still expects His followers to fast today.

Freedom through discipline is the idea behind what has become known as “the ten-thousand-hour rule.”[9]

From biblical times to our time, godly people have always been spiritually disciplined people.

Godliness requires disciplined worship.

He lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained to be done.

If you will not worship God seven days a week,” said A. W. Tozer, “you do not worship Him on one day a week.

In most Christian circles you will rarely hear fasting mentioned, and few will have read anything about it. And yet it’s mentioned in Scripture more times even than something as important as baptism (about seventy-seven times for fasting to seventy-five for baptism).

Many of the great movements of God can be traced to a small group of people He called together to begin praying.

Martin Luther expressed God’s expectation of prayer this way: “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”[2]

Memorizing Scripture strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it again.

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how God wants us to live, and what brings the most joy and satisfaction in life. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God—intimately.

Prayerful people become godly people, for prayerfulness with God cultivates godliness in all of life.

So “come, let us worship” (Psalm 95:6) the one, true God who has ordained the Spiritual Discipline of worshiping Him—in public, in the family, and in private—as one of the most bountiful means of receiving the grace to grow in Christlikeness. For as we grow in the worship of God, we grow in the likeness of Christ.

Some wag remarked that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all church members who were neglecting their Bibles dusted them off simultaneously.

So while we cannot be godly without the practice of the Disciplines, we can practice the Disciplines without being godly if we see them as ends and not means.

The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.”[5]

The people of God do not serve Him in order to be forgiven but because we are forgiven.

The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.

To read the Bible and not to meditate was seen as an unfruitful exercise: better to read one chapter and meditate afterward than to read several chapters and not to meditate.

What value is there to reading one, three, or more chapters of Scripture only to find that after you’ve finished, you can’t recall a thing you’ve read? It’s better to read a small amount of Scripture and meditate on it than to read an extensive section without meditation.

When there is little awareness of real need, there is little real prayer.

Where God leads you to pray, He means you to receive.

Why do so many Christians neglect the study of God’s Word? R. C. Sproul said it painfully well: “Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.

Without a clear biblical purpose, fasting becomes an end in itself.