In our following after Jesus, there are certain things we are called to integrate into our lives so we can come to know Jesus’ more, understand His purpose and will, and align our lives with His character and will, reflecting Him to those around us. Such things are called “spiritual disciplines”, and include prayer, reading the Bible, praise and thanksgiving, and engaging in the Church.
These are known as spiritual disciplines because they are actions that we must intentionally make time for and choose to engage in. They are habits we must practice with purpose so they will become a lifestyle.
In Acts 2, we see this among the early Church:
They devoted themselves. That word devoted is a verb. It is something we must choose to do. It speaks of intentionality and commitment.
But sometimes, that devotion can seem scary. Because it does take time and effort, and even a change in the way we think and prioritize. And that word “discipline” can seem negative and burdensome. We don’t want to do these things as a duty. Especially when we’re not feeling the desire to do them. We don’t want to just be going through the motions and checking off our things-to-do-to-be-a-good-Jesus-girl-list. Especially when we have our schedules and other to-do lists full.
When it comes to the teaching and preaching about not going through the motions, I think to some extent, the Church has done itself a disfavor. We get so worried and caught up in trying to be “authentic” and not going through the motions, that we end up doing nothing at all.
We don’t want to read our Bible just to check it off the list, so we don’t read it. We don’t want to pray rote, cookie cutter prayers, so we just don’t pray. We don’t want to serve just because we have to, so we don’t serve. We don’t want our praise or thanksgiving to be empty, so we don’t offer praise or thanks.
We start engaging in spiritual disciplines, but because it feels more like a duty and desire begins to wane, we get afraid we are just going through the motions, and we stop, and any desire that was left disappears.
Spiritual discipline is not at all a negative thing. It is not simply performing a duty or checking of a to-do. Engaging in what I know I am called to do, even when I’m not feeling a desire to do so, does not mean I am just going through the motions.
2 Timothy 1:7 says to us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” And Galatians 5:22-23 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Self-discipline is from God; enabled by His Spirit inside us. Oftentimes, when I think of self-control, I think of not losing my temper, or not letting emotions get the better of me and dictate my actions and reactions. Self-discipline and self-control are not merely an abstaining from what is against God’s will, but intentionally engaging in what is God’s will. Even if our feelings and emotions are telling us differently.
As we engage in spiritual disciplines, we must persevere in them. We live in a society and culture that says if something doesn’t feel good or isn’t enjoyable, just stop and quit doing it. Sometimes this mentality carries over into our walk with Jesus. After a few days of trying to read my Bible and spending a few minutes in prayer, I just stop, because I’m just not feeling it. I don’t stick with it long enough to see any results. I don’t stick with it long enough for the duty to become a desire of my heart as I experience Jesus speaking to my heart.
Think of any new skill you want to learn. It takes time and practice to acquire that skill. At first, it may not be any fun, as you mess up and fall and miss the mark. As you have to re-do and retry and keep going. But eventually, all the hard work and practice pays off. You’re able to perform the skill with ease and excellence.
Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 9:
As we engage in spiritual discipline, we grow in our faith. We come to know Jesus more and understand His will for our lives. Spiritual disciplines are actions we engage in that allow God’s Spirit to move and work in us.
And the beautiful thing about all this? We can ask God to give us a desire for Him and a desire to seek after Him, and He will be faithful to do so. He is the One who does the transforming work in our lives. We just need to say "Yes" to Him in obedience.
That passage from Acts 2 goes on to say, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (vs. 43-47)
God was revealing Himself to and through His people. There was unity and generosity. There was gladness (true enjoyment and delight) and sincerity (authentic faith rather than hypocrisy or going through the motions) in their engaging in these actions of spiritual discipline. And it all started with devotion.