Spiritual Disciplines

I once asked someone who was espousing the benefits of spiritual disciplines if they were experiencing spiritual fruit as a result. I think that my question just confused them.

Best selling Christian author Dallas Willard defines a discipline as, "any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort." Did you catch the word "activity"? I think that Willard's definition is reminiscent of someone who believes that hard fleshly work will produce a spiritual harvest. It reminds me of the thinkings of many humanists.

Sadly many who read, study, fast, pray, tithe, and perform all kinds of religious things do it as a work and consequently really don't develop a character steeped in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (ala Galations 5:22-23). Many of them come across as people devoid of these qualities. It is like they believe that grace is initially unearned and unmerited favor but is needed to be earned and merited (by doing religious stuff) after you have received it.

Before you jump to any conclusions I need to say that I am all for discipline and I think that many would do well to discipline themselves unto godliness (per 1Timothy 4:7). The key, in my opinion, is to follow the Holy Spirit's lead in these activities.. let Him (not angry brainy preachers) tailor the discipline to your personality and life.. and when He does you will begin to experience spiritual fruit.. you will love more.. be more patient.. be at peace.. and you will have the self control to discipline yourself in a way that is pleasing to God.


  1. Good post. For myself, I find that the "power" is not in the discipline, but where my heart is while practicing that discipline.

  2. I so agree. I have had long discussions with people on this very subject; I just don't get how artificially constructed works are supposed to make me more godly. Without wanting to accuse any individuals, many of whom are sincerely pursuing God, it has always seemed more like a recipe for self-righteousness to me. And woe betide the person who doesn't conform, or who dares to question the expected practices of a given group .. (speaking as one who has been there)

  3. One value of conforming to a discipline is the development of humility; not choosing our own way, our own comfort, our own convenience, but submitting to another. If we follow a training guide that says to run two miles one day, one the next, strength train the third, and then repeat, we expect that by following this regimen, we will subdue our natural laziness and toughen up our self-control. Same for the spiritual life; it's just as capable of laziness and sloth.

    God welcomes a submissive, obedient heart, open to listening to His Will. A little spiritual discipline breaks down our defenses and makes us more open.

    Yay for disciplines!

  4. I agree with what you have written TZ.. as long as the training guide is the Holy Spirit :)

  5. I agree with ed g .It is where your heart is. I was very disciplined at one time and now am much more relaxed about how & when I do practice spiritual disciplines. for me it was about earning favor in some way. Not always but many times it was. I would never knock some one for having a regular prayer time or bible study time or anything like that. I just think that we always need to asking ourselves about what our motives are. If you pray for an hour every morning and your motives are wrong, What good did it do?

  6. Another fine post, Bob.

    "It is like they believe that grace is initially unearned and unmerited favor but is needed to be earned and merited (by doing religious stuff) after you have received it." Sadly, this describes probably 95% of the "Christians" today. But Jesus knows those who belong to Him. Praise God for that!!!!

  7. Thanks for this post, Bob. I'm struggling through this one every day. I know better, but my heart always strays into believing I HAVE to be disciplined. It seems as though God uses this dilemma I have - always pointing out that He has a plan in what, when and even if, I overcome.


  8. hi Bob,

    I believe I get the drift of your post. I think that Willard used the word 'activity' to describe what we do and did not nuanced it as 'work righteousenss.'

    Saying that, I agree with you that many had made spiritual discipline into a religiosity. We must think of spiritual discipines as normal activities we do for our spiritual wellbeing.

    For example we eat at mealtimes, sleep at certain time, go to the toilet, read to relax, and sometimes even do a lttle exercise. We do not argue about doing such activity because we know it is good for our physical bodies.

    Think of the spiritual disciplines as activities for the spiritual person, Bible reading, confession, sabbath rest, prayer and fasting. As we do physical activities, let us also do spiritual activities.

    The Holy Spirit cannot read the Bible for us, confess for us, rest for us, prayer nor fast for us. However he can do it with us. But we have to do it first :)

  9. Thanks all for the feedback!

    I agree with most of what you wrote Alex as long as it is in the context of being led by the Spirit and not led by the Christian flesh.. or something worse :)

    ..it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing..


I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply.
You can click here to see my comment policy.