Nine Actions that Produce Lasting Growth

Spiritual disciplines… that phrase has such a strange ring to it. We think of “discipline” as correction, or perhaps as greuling hard work that never ends. It doesn’t usually have a positive connotation, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Having said that, I believe that deep down, we all crave to become people of self-discipline. God put that desire in us to help us become more like Christ, which is his ultimate desire and purpose for everyone who follows his Son, Jesus.

I’ve loved and grown through the writings of Don WhitneyDallas WillardR. Kent HughesRichard Foster, and Chuck Swindoll, all of whom have written excellent books about the subject of spiritual disciplines.

They all have different lists. I’ve looked them over many times, but ultimately arrived at my own combination of spiritual disciplines I consider essential to spiritual growth for the Christian life. It isn’t comprehensive, but it’s fairly complete. I divide my list into three categories…

  1. Spiritual disciplines for my walk with God.
  2. Spiritual disciplines for my walk with other believers.
  3. Spiritual disciplines for my walk in the world.

These three overlapping circles really represent the realm in which believers live in this world while living an other-worldly life. And the nine disciplines, as I see them are…

Spiritual Disciplines for my Walk with God

  • Prayer – In prayer, we talk to God. And in prayer, we follow Jesus’ model which included praise, purpose, provision, pardon, people, protection.
  • Fasting – Fasting actually improves our discipline, and it’s highly appropriate when we’re praying over “drop your fork” sized moments in life.
  • Study – Reading the Bible is a great start, but study involves getting into the Word and getting the Word into your life through meditation and memorization as well.

Spiritual Disciplines for my Walk with Others

  • Worship – And while all of life can be worship, I’m referring more specifically to gathering corporately with God’s people to praise Jesus as a crowd.
  • Fellowship – And inside the crowd, we need a smaller group of people with whom we do life together for mutual encouragement and accountability and where we learn to live in love toward others.
  • Giving – If corporate worship matters greatly to me and the mission of the church is important, tithing and giving generously to support the body must become a discipline.

Spiritual Disciplines for my Walk in the World

  • Moderation – I use the word moderation to refer to a broad sense of self-control for our testimony’s sake. We can’t just eat, spend, drink, or party all we want to. There are limits. There is moderation.
  • Sharing – That is, telling others about Jesus and sharing our faith story. If sharing my faith isn’t a discipline to which I apply some intentional planning, it often won’t happen.
  • Caring – Living on mission and contributing to human flourishing, serving the needs of fellow human beings and becoming unselfish and more like Christ.

Again, my list doesn’t cover everything, but these three categories and these nine practices prepare the way for me to grow in my relationship with God and with others, both inside and outside the body of Christ.

What’s really important is that we understand that the disciplines aren’t intended to earn us any favor from God in and of themselves. Having gone to church and read our Bibles doesn’t make God love us more or like us better. These disciplines simply create the capacity in which God leads and teaches us, day by day, to fulfill his purposes for our lives.

This isn’t a checklist in which can find a path to self-sufficiency. Rather, it’s a guide to the practices that help us root our sufficiency entirely in the person of Jesus Christ.

The spiritual disciplines are relational, not transactional. Imagine if I said to my wife, “Honey, we’re supposed to talk and stuff – it’s on my list. So let’s spend thirty minutes talking so you’ll be happy with me.” I don’t think the conversation would flow well beyond that point. But because I love my wife and want to have an intimate relationship with her, we share times of conversation, and we’re purposeful about it, but those conversations naturally flow out of our mutual desire to know one another better.

Another big truth about the spiritual disciplines is that they definitely cost us energy and time, but the cost of not being disciplined is always greater than the momentary sacrifice of disciplining ourselves.

When I am disciplined in my eating, I give up some of the pleasure of tasting all the sugar and fat I want. But when I am not disciplined in my eating, I wind up with major health issues and hospital bills.

In the same vein, when I’m disciplined in my spiritual walk, I give up some time to read my Bible, my Sunday mornings to gather with my church family, some of my income as I pay my tithe and give my offerings. But when I’m not disciplined in my spiritual walk, I drift from God and experience the painfulness of that distance.

The disciplines are worth the cost of practicing them, both now and in eternity.

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Brandon Cox

Brandon Cox has been a Pastor for fifteen years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as Editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders ( He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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