What are the Spiritual Disciplines?

The spiritual disciplines, as defined by Donald Whitney, are “practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[1] The spiritual disciplines are found in Scripture. And an important facet to note about them is that they are practices. There may be some who believe the spiritual disciplines are equivalent to something as the fruits of the spirit – i.e. character qualities – but this is not the case. The disciplines are practices – that is, acts of being – for believers in Jesus Christ to become like him (Rom. 8:29). Dallas Willard notes, “Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture, or other attainments is achieved without it.”[2]

Paul wrote to Timothy that he should train (discipline) himself for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). According to R. Kent Hughes, Paul is exhorting Timothy to experience some “spiritual sweat.”[3] The spirituality Paul was encouraging for Timothy was one that took determination and diligence. This type of pursuit does not simply come naturally to a man – one must fight for its end. Hughes proffers, “Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back.”[4] Often, pastors find themselves in spiritual slumps for different reasons and many excuses could be given as to seek a solution to their spiritual slump. But the only real problem is the neglect of the disciplines in their life – they no longer, as the psalmist writes, pant for God like a deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1). A neglect of one’s union with Christ results in many pitfalls in ministry – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Now, there is no specific chapter and verse that describe the disciplines. These disciplines are implicitly found in Scripture. However, when we take a closer examination of 1 Timothy chapter four, we find that Paul is exhorting Timothy to take on practices all resulting in the same dynamic – godliness. It could be that Paul had the same attitude as Jeremiah when he prophesies, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Eugene Peterson paraphrases the attitude very well in The Message: “What delight I took in being yours.”[5] Truthfully, this is the essence of what it means to discipline yourself for godliness. Suddenly, the pastor’s attitude becomes as Jeremiah’s and he delights in the truth that he is God’s and God is his.

It is to this end the disciplines work within your life – they give you the opportunity to know God. Yes, of course, we can logically conclude there is a God from the natural world (Rom. 1:20), but this conclusion only brings one to a knowledge that a creator exists. This knowledge does not allow one to know the Creator. This is, of course, why the Bible was written – so we can communicate with our Creator. Matt Smethurst declares, “Your bible is tangible evidence that the Maker of the universe is a communicator.”[6] If God is a communicator, then a couple of notions can be brought to our attention. First, if God can be known, we must make the pursuit to know him, as his creation. The Bible is clear that no one seeks after God apart from the Holy Spirit’s drawing (Rom. 3:10; John 6:44). Therefore, to know God is to first have been given grace freely by Him. Second, if God can be known as a communicator, he must have given a message by which we can know Him. The Bible, then, is God’s message to how we can know him. John Piper has famously said that if we want to hear God speak, we must read the Bible aloud.[7] The Bible is the means through which God has chosen for those He created to know Him. Therefore, we must engage with it in order to have communion with the Creator. Pastors are no different.

The Bible is the means through which God has chosen for those He created to know Him. Therefore, we must engage with it in order to have communion with the Creator. Pastors are no different.

Conclusion

There is no greater joy than that of knowing God and the pastor’s ultimate prize in ministry will not be measured by the number of people, amount of money, or any sort of church success. The pastor’s ministry will be measured by his faithfulness to the Word of God and knowing the one who created him.

May we all be found faithfully devoted.


[1] Donal S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 4.

[2] Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, and the Restoration of the Soul” Journal of Psychology and Theology 26, no. 1, (Spring: 1998), 106.

[3] R. Kent Hughes. Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 14.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugene Peterson, The Message.

[6] Matt Smethurst. Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word (Denmark: 10 Publishing, 2019), 16.

[7] Desiring God on Instagram accessed September 22, 2019, https://www.instagram.com/p/6h7KulSMnA/.

Ben Campbell