How do spiritual disciplines help the spiritual life? Up front, it must be admitted that in today’s society anything with the word “discipline” in it sounds unappealing. Nevertheless, historically, spiritual disciplines (such as reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, worship, etc.) have been practiced by the church as a means to reveal sin and grow in godliness.
This post is not about five profound and practical points pontificating the poignant purpose spiritual disciplines serve in proliferating godliness in the believer’s life. Okay, that was ridiculous. No, this post is just an honest assessment of how I’m so easily drawn into sin, my daily struggle against my sinful tendencies, and how basic, personal spiritual disciplines help me walk in greater faithfulness and experience greater intimacy with God. So, here goes…
I am my biggest enemy. No really. Day to day, my biggest struggle lies within. Emotions of complacency flow to internal explosions of anger, laziness, lust, impatience, worry, and frustration. Throw in a little envy and voilà, a perfect dish of self-pity, self-justification, and self-condemnation all rolled up in one.
As a believer, I still live within a fallen context, and so long as I live in this world, I will have desires that battle for my attention and affection. These desires seek to lure me, like a bass chasing a spinner bait, right into self-fulfilling sin (James 1:14). Sinful thoughts will invade my mind and desires will bring shock and awe to my heart: not because I am inherently evil as a believer, but because I am inherently human and live in a fallen world (that sentence really deserves another post by itself).
The Bible warns that these sinful thoughts and desires will come. 2 Corinthians 10:5 states that I am to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” and Galatians 5:16 commands me as a believer to “walk in the Spirit,” so that I “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The implication is that ungodly thoughts and desires will bombard me. These desires in and of themselves are not sin; rather, it is the engagement of these thoughts and desires that results in sin.
As a believer when emotions seek to burst forth unrestrained, when sinful thoughts come calling, when fleshly desires dangle their lures, I am to bring them in submission to the will of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). I am to submit to him. This act of the will is critical in walking in obedience.
Unfortunately, too often, I don’t recognize the will of the Spirit and the attacks of the enemy until it is too late. That’s where certain spiritual disciplines help me. Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture, prayer, confession, fasting, etc. all work together to continue to reveal areas in which I need to live in greater submission to the Spirit. The Lord faithfully uses these disciplines and others to constantly show me a distinction between fleshly desires and godly ones, his will versus competing ones. Thus, I find that God is so faithful in bring passages to mind, fanning the affections of my heart, and guiding my soul to him in the midst of the chaos of life through these basic disciplines.
So, that’s my encouragement and reminder. I don’t “have to” read my Bible every day, I need to. I don’t have to pray, meditate on Scripture, fast, etc., but I need to. I need to seek him, and the spiritual disciplines are means by which God helps train his children to be godly (1 Tim 4:7). Spiritual disciplines then are not something I do to check proudly off my list as if something has been accomplished. No! They are not a cure-all. They are not magic bullets, but they are tools that help bring perspective and balance to life. They steady the ship so that the horizon can be seen and the course can be set. They are means to draw me close to Christ so that I might be ready for the battle ahead and choose to serve him this day versus myself. For, I am my greatest enemy.