By Garth Gustafson
“Discipleship means discipline… without discipline we are not disciples… In an undisciplined age when liberty and license have replaced law and loyalty, there is greater need than ever before that we be disciplined to be His disciples.” – C.S. Lewis
What C.S. Lewis pointed out decades ago is even truer for us today. One of the last words that would describe our current generation today is disciplined. As Christians we claim to want to be disciples, but if someone talks about spiritual disciplines, many of us write it off as legalism or religiosity. The reality is that true maturity as a disciple means applying spiritual disciplines.
How many spiritual disciplines can you name off the top of your head? (See the end of the article for the answer, just like a crossword puzzle.)
Jesus modeled Spiritual Disciplines
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35
WWJD… What Would Jesus Do?… yes, I know it is old school, but it is what it means to be a disciple. A disciple literally wants to do what Jesus would do. Several years ago I was on a trip in Israel and I watched a Rabbi being followed by his disciples. Literally the disciples tried to replicate every step the Rabbi took, stepping in each place and every rock his foot trodden, finally to the point where the Rabbi jumped into a pool at En Gedi and all the disciples followed.
Disciples are disciplined to do what their master Rabbi does, even if it means jumping into a pool fully clothed in Jewish Rabbi garb. What did Jesus do? He woke up early, spent time with the Father, He had solitude, silence, prayer, study, simplicity, worship… He lived out spiritual disciples. As disciples what should we do? WWJD… we should live out spiritual disciplines.
Most of us couldn’t even list what spiritual disciplines are, let alone actually apply them consistently. This isn’t a critical statement, but rather an honest observation about the state of the body of Christ. We are a generation that has more resources than ever before but often lack the motivation to actually seek God, come into His presence and live out spiritual disciplines while contending for the dreams in
Spiritual Disciplines Individually and Corporately
Early on in my journey following Jesus into full-time missions and ministry God spoke clearly to a team I was serving with to fast, pray and contend for the dreams of God. We obeyed and for the next 3 years our whole team fasted weekly. At the same time God took me on a personal journey of fasting for long stretches of time. It was painful. It was not fun. But, it created depth in my relationship with God.
I believe that this season of practicing the spiritual discipline of corporate fasting and prayer laid the foundation for the next 10 years of our ministry, which has been incredibly fruitful. I share that because in my journey I look back and see seasons that I practiced spiritual disciplines individually, and times when I didn’t and that directly impacted my spiritual health and my fruitfulness. I believe this truth is accurate for us individually, as well as corporately, that the healthiness and fruitfulness of a person and a ministry is directly correlated with the application of spiritual disciplines.
Maturity is Mastering the Basics
As Christians we often talk about becoming spiritually mature. It is a classic mistake to think that maturity has something to do with age or how long we have been a Christian. Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with years and age, but everything to do with application of God’s word and obedience to Jesus.
Maturity means mastering the basics. Over time, spiritual disciplines wore on our community and we preferred comfort and our own desires, instead of diligence and perseverance. Now God is currently calling our community back to spiritual disciplines, to return to the simplicity of maturity, which means mastering the basics and applying spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual Disciplines Bear Fruit
Spiritual disciplines aren’t easy but they are worth it. Spiritual disciplines are painful, but they are fruitful. Spiritual Disciplines are what disciples do. The question that we must ask is “Am I really a disciple? Am I really spiritually mature?” Even after 15 years in full-time ministry, when I honestly evaluate these questions, I see in myself many areas where I still need to grow.
For me I am still pursuing to be a spiritually mature disciple, applying spiritual disciplines and putting off the generational-norm. This practically means rejecting the desires of my flesh and dying to the comforts of the world for the sake of the Gospel. How are you doing with being a disciple, walking in spiritual maturity and practicing spiritual disciplines?
**For more reading on this topic check out Richard Foster’s classic book “Spiritual Disciplines” which lists the following categories and practices as Spiritual Disciplines:
1) Inward Disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study
2) Outward Disciplines: Simplicity, Submission, Study, Service
3) Corporate Disciplines: Confession, Worship, Guidance, Celebration