Spiritual Excercise Routines

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Casey Caldwell

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

It has been over a month since we finished our look at holiness.  And given the fresh start of the New Year and the season of resolutions, it seems like a good time to check back in.  I think many of us were inspired by the idea of holiness, but if you’re anything like I am, a lot of us got a good look at those lofty heights, and said, “I don’t know about this…,” or “How am I supposed to climb this thing again?”

A huge landmark in my spiritual life was when I stopped trying to inspire myself to lofty heights, and started thinking about how I could just train to be a better climber.  Say you want to be able to run seven miles; you can’t just get inspired and motivated and make yourself run it.  You have to train.  And if you want to love your enemies, have an intimate relationship with God, have a deep and abiding sense of peace and joy, be holy, you have to train for it.  Holiness doesn’t come by wishing, or resolving to feel or think a certain way.  It comes from building your spiritual muscles.

I discovered that there are time-tested methods for this kind of training: spiritual disciplines.  I think of them like spiritual exercise routines.  Specific tasks you engage in to build your spiritual muscles. They are not the only way to grow spiritually by any means, but I love their practicality.  As I learned to adopt certain disciplines, I took more and more satisfaction in their simplicity, in the sense of taking one slow step forward each day.  So here are a few disciplines that I have found most helpful.  There are others, and many approaches, but this is a start.

The Discipline Of Study

Read God’s word.  Create a plan for daily Bible reading.  Stick to this plan and when you become un-stuck, go back and begin again.  You can pick a particular time of day like when you’re eating breakfast, and read for 15 minutes.  You can read a Psalm every day, read the One Year Bible, read the New Testament, or whatever—just be organized and purposeful about it.

The Discipline Of Prayer

Most of us pray, but we’re often pretty casual about it.  To treat prayer as a discipline, you create very organized goals and tasks for yourself.  This doesn’t mean you always pray this way, it just means you regularly do these exercises so that your prayer life in general becomes more mature.  Some ideas:

•    Use the Lord’s Prayer as a rubric.

•    Use the Psalms to give words to your prayers.

•    Create a prayer list, of people and things to pray for, and go through it every day or once a week.

The Discipline Of Memorization

Memorizing Scripture gets the Word in your blood.  Memorize a verse or two that is meaningful to you, or a Psalm, or some of the promises of God.

The Discipline Of Silence

Turn off the radio, the TV, your music, and be quiet.  This can be combined with prayer or study or many other disciplines.

The Discipline Of Fasting

For a set period of time, abstain in some significant way from food. “Fasting confirms our utter dependence on God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food.”—Dallas Willard. Or, fast from something else that feels like a source of sustenance, like television, or the news, or Facebook.

The Discipline Of Rest

In our work-obsessed world, forcing yourself to stop, to rest, to keep the Sabbath, can be a significant discipline, and can change your life.

The Discipline Of Frugality

Spend a little less eating out, and cook at home more with your family or your roommates.  Or drink coffee at home instead of at Starbucks for a few months, and give that money to another cause.

The Discipline Of Worship

Corporately, at church services, work on your ability to focus on the words we sing, and mean what you say.  Individually, sing a worship song while you wash the dishes, or praise God for the mountains when you drive to work. Work regularly to re-attune your heart to praise God.

There are manyother disciplines, and all of these are just suggestions.  I have found it very helpful to think about an area I want to grow in, and try to match or create a discipline to help me train in it.

If you’re new to the idea of disciplines, I would encourage you to start small.  Pick a simple discipline with a short time commitment, and build from there.  Have fun!

You can find out more about spiritual disciplines, and other lists of them, from a wide variety of sources.  A few books that have been helpful to me are:

      Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard (this is my favorite)

      A Celebration of Discipline  by Richard Foster

Disciplines of the Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes