Getting a Grip on Spiritual Discipline

Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1 of 6

For years my spiritual walk was marked by confusion. Not that I have entirely escaped any confusion characterizing my walk with Jesus, but a particular confusion is now — somewhat — alleviated, a confusion prompted when I allowed myself to ask What is the deal with spiritual disciplines?

Growing up Southern Baptist in as traditional and conservative a congregation as you might imagine, my early knowledge of spiritual disciplines was clouded by my cohorts’ nervous avoidance of fasting, which I managed to divine was a peculiar practice of the Catholics, and following the Council of Trent good Protestants were obliged to decline any behavior that resembled what the Catholics did.

Over the years I realized that the spiritual disciplines were not, in fact, frightening, and that they were actually beneficial for a Christian’s discipleship. This did not immediately lessen my confusion, for I soon discovered that no one quite agreed what the spiritual disciplines were.

Recently I have settled, however tentatively, on a pattern of practices that seems to correspond to biblical teaching and practice on the subject, and over the next few articles, will explain the pattern (outline) and what the practices are (I think). The outline looks something like this:

  • Personal Disciplines
    • Putting Off: Simplicity, Frugality, Chastity, Solitude & Silence, Fasting, Repentance & Confession.
    • Mind Renewal: Bible Intake, Prayer, Self-Examination & Reflection, Learning.
    • Putting On: Gospel Gazing, Obedience, Service, Submission, Disciplemaking, Stewardship.
  • Corporate Disciplines
    • Worship & Ordinances
    • Hearing the Word
    • Bible Study
    • Prayer
    • Fellowship

I have shamelessly culled from lists discussed by the familiar names in spiritual disciplines (Whitney, Foster), other not-quite-so-familiar players (Hughes, Mahaney, MacDonald), and some obscure ones (Harry Reeder, for instance, in From Embers to Flame). You’ll notice familiar terms, but in perhaps different arrangements.

Following this article, I’ll discuss how God’s discipline relates to our spiritual disciplines, then, in succession, the Putting Off, Mind Renewal, and Putting Off aspects of personal discipline (you’ll recognize the pattern from Ephesians 4:22-24), and last, the corporate disciplines.

This manner of looking at spiritual disciplines has proven the most helpful for me, and I trust will be helpful to you. Watch for upcoming posts, and join the discussion…

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