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.

> Read more from Brandon


 

Download PDF

Tags: ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Discipleship >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders (brandonacox.com). He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Spiritual Disciplines

“The spiritual disciplines” sounds like a phrase for another era of history. Whenever a book is written or a sermon is preached on the subject, people wonder if it is a subject only for ancient saints or a group of monks cloistered away in a mountain retreat.

The spiritual disciplines, however, play a significant role in our spiritual development. They represent practices of our faith that give us the opportunity to interact with Christ.

To better understand them, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of over 2,900 Protestants in the U.S.A. using English, French, and Spanish. In the book Transformational Discipleship, the authors Geiger, Kelley, and Nation describe a “discipleship deficiency” that is plaguing the church. Given the research, I agree with their descriptor.

On a daily basis, only 48% “set aside time for prayer of any kind” on a daily basis. Even fewer – 19% — are reading the Bible on a daily basis. There is simply no good light in which to cast these discoveries.

So how do we address the fact that Protestants in the U.S.A. who attend church at least once a month (the basic requirements for participation in the survey) are not engaging in the most basis spiritual disciplines.

First, leaders must lead by example. I am one to give those in ministry leadership the benefit of the doubt. But I also believe in a high level of accountability. If a leader wants the people to read, pray, fast, and all the rest, then make sure you are doing it as well. The vision for spiritual maturity in a church will rarely exceed that of the leader’s life. So go where you want to take people.

Second, find ways to practice the disciplines in community. There is an old saying about leadership: If you are leading and no one is following then you are just out for a walk. Don’t walk alone toward spiritual maturity. Discover the various ways to lead people. The list is endless. Read the New Testament together over the summer months. Memorize a key passage that is follows the theme of a message series and repeat it during worship. Commit to a church-wide fast while making key decisions. Often the spiritual disciplines are misrepresented as exclusively practiced in solitude. Make sure they are used to draw the body of Christ closer together as well.

Thirdly, never measure disciplines as an end to themselves. For the sake of research, we measured people’s behavior at relatively broad level. As a local church leader and/or member, you are called to a deeper engagement. Over the last three years, we have studied the issue of transformation in the lives of Christians throughout North America. Our study gives conclusive evidence that lives, churches, and communities are being changed… but not without leadership and effort.

In the Transformational Discipleship study, an attribute that was discovered has been termed “Unashamed.” One of the issues we have known intuitively came hurtling out of the research: believers willing to publicly own their faith and have accountability for growing in their faith display lives of transformation. It is to this end that we create assessment tools to survey personal development. Whether you use a tool or simple conversations, you need to measure personal advancement.

Leaders need to grow, lead through community, and hold followers accountable. Using the spiritual disciplines as instruments for spiritual growth provides a great platform to do all of these.

This article first appeared in Facts & Trends, a free magazine from LifeWay. You can sign up for a free subscription here.

Read more from Ed here.

Download PDF

Tags: , , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Process >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Mr. Steven Finkill — 11/06/12 1:28 pm

I love this article. My struggle with the whole spiritual disciplines conversation is always that it's hard to have a conversation about them that doesn't lead to a to-do list and a "should" factor rather than a "want to" factor. That's why I like Ed's third point above. We can't measure disciplines as an end in themselves. They are only helpful if they lead to real life-change. That's the only time they matter. And, I think, that only happens when I approach them from a "want to" perspective rather than a "should" perspective. But maybe that's just me.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.