In Christian counseling we ask questions like “How is your prayer life?” or “Where are you in your Bible study?” as part of the getting to know the believer phase with one who has sought care. Almost to a person, where people’s lives have broken down and gotten off track, it can be traced directly to their contact with God. In church, a preacher or an elder saint might encourage you to “Read your Bible!” That’s no where near enough, and only some do, but honestly most don’t. Then, we wonder why we didn’t see things coming that a loving God would have revealed to us. Of course, we regularly ignore our contact with God, so it’s fair to ask “Who is responsible for seeing what God is telling us?” God is an unimaginably big God, and we are so microscopic.
In college we get degree requirements that have all kinds of course numbers and titles. Between ourselves and our academic counselors, we come up with a plan to make and execute the plan. I was amazed by all of the fun stuff lined up: Digging deep into Revelation/Daniel prophecy, learning Greek and Hebrew, apologetics… all the stuff a seminary student loves. Somewhere down the list is the less exciting church management and leadership; important, but no thrill-ride. And then you have the stuff that you get around to so you can graduate, but it looks really boring. That was my attitude toward “Spiritual Formation” – it would be a Zzzzz.
I put the course off until my next-to-last semester. It was a lower-level class that is supposed to be done in the beginning of grad-school, but I was too eager to do the fun stuff. What I failed to understand is why it is an early course for ministry students. Spiritual Formation teaches you the discipline of developing spiritual tools you need for the journey through seminary.
As I reflect, I see now how important our spiritual formation is to everything we do as Christians. This isn’t simply a grad-school thing. It is an “everything you do as a Christian” thing. Our spiritual discipline teaches us the habits of our faith. It keeps us ever connected to the Source of our power; almighty God.
So precisely what is Spiritual Discipline? Here is the definition from my school text, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney:
“The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.” 17
Indeed the disciplines are traced all the way back into biblical times. In the passionate “High priestly prayer” of Jesus, He directed his prayer over his disciples. If you plan on being a disciple of Jesus, know that he prayed protection over you; protection rooted in the spiritual disciplines:
John 17:14-18 (NLT)
“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”
Jesus told the disciples about another One like Him, who would come along side us and teach us. Earlier in the Upper Room, Jesus promised:
John 14:26-27 (NLT) But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit is as close as your own breath. Christ promises that He will teach you and remind you of everything Jesus said. We have immediate access to God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We simply have to practice the spiritual discipline to reach out in prayer, fasting, worship and other activities. We have to practice the spiritual disciple to take in the Word that God has planned for us. You may think you’re independent in your Bible study, but Spirit Guided, that is impossible as He is speaking through the Bible. Now that I understand it more, I am so glad I am dependent on the Spirit to guide my training.
This all takes a committed effort to actually training in the spiritual disciplines. The elephant in the room is that it will take time and dedication to become trained in godliness. You will do it for the rest of your life on this earth. And as you get adjusted to it, it actually becomes the most important part of your day. More than by food, let me be fed by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells his “son in the ministry” Timothy,
1 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
So what are the Spiritual disciplines? Though they are as varied as the believer, God prescribes certain disciplines for all believers. Start with the ones everybody should do. Schedule time on your calendar every day that is specifically set aside for “spiritual training”.
As we close this article, I’ll direct your attention to just a few disciplines that you can use for training in godliness. Please scroll down to the image below. He is a very big God. Start small, start now, and grow. You eat an elephant 1 bite at a time.