What Are Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual disciplines are taught by Jesus and the apostles of the New Testament. Jesus expected his followers to pray, give, and fast. Even though Scripture may not mention each discipline by name they can all be seen demonstrated and practiced in the Bible. “Spiritual disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken to bring personality and total being into effective cooperation with the Spirit of God so as to reflect Kingdom life.”[1]

Richard Foster, in his book,  Celebration of Discipline, The Path To Spiritual Growth, he explains spiritual disciplines as a means of God’s grace. “By themselves spiritual disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.  They are God’s means of grace.  The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads.  God has ordained the disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us.”[2]

Spiritual disciplines should not be seen as “will power,” but rather the surrender of our rights to Christ.  The essence of spiritual disciplines rests upon His life in us daily, not just in occasional decisions.  Spiritual disciplines include learning to live our lives like Jesus by giving our time, energies, and our total selves to Him.  These disciplines open us up to hear and receive His life more clearly. It does not mean one is separated from life as a recluse, but rather, one who is separated unto life in Christ.

Spiritual disciplines are for normal Christians, not spiritual giants.  “God intends the disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings:  people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns.  In fact, the disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors.”[3]

The Disciplines

Other spiritual disciplines could be added to the following list; however, I have chosen to use and add to Dallas Willard’s list from his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines.

Disciplines of Engagement

  • Study – diligently studying the Word of God.
  • Meditation – to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider the Word of God in order to clearly hear and obey His Word.
  • Prayer – practicing communing with and petitioning God.
  • Worship – to ascribe God’s greatness and holiness as centered in Christ.  This practice is done alone as well with God’s people.
  • Celebration – to come together with others to eat and drink, to sing and dance, and to relate stories of God’s mighty works in our lives.
  • Service – to give your energy and goods to help others.  This discipline is especially important to those who have influence.
  • Fellowship – to engage in the common life of the Church with other disciples by sharing and receiving of the spiritual gifts with each other.
  • Confession – to bear one’s soul and faults to those who can be trusted.  This discipline removes burdens and helps to avoid sins.
  • Submission – the highest level of Christian community involving humility, brokenness, trust, honesty, transparency, and at times repentance and restitution.  This preserves peace and unity.
  • Giving – the practice of honoring God with substance.  This includes tithes, offerings, and giving to those in need.

Disciplines of Abstinence

  • Solitude – having time alone during the day, week, or occasionally getting away from others to spend time with God by yourself.  It causes you to face your own soul.  Jesus often got alone.[4]
  • Silence – to close yourself off from sounds or noise whether it is music, words, or other distractions.  Life is on the go with whirling, buzzing, and chatter, so silence provides an atmosphere to hear.  To refrain from turning on the TV, radio, CD, or other sounds may be difficult at first, but necessary in times of listening to God.
  • Fasting – abstaining from natural food to feast on God.  This can include water for short times, less than three days.  Fasting can include one meal, an entire day, or extended times without food.  Partial fast is abstaining from tasty foods and eating or drinking only what is necessary for strength.  Fasting will reveal the strength of our desires.
  • Frugality – abstain from using money or goods at your disposal to merely satisfy desires for attention or status.  This discipline helps to keep priorities in line.
  • Chastity – “manifesting the qualities of sexual wholeness and integrity in relationship to oneself, to persons of the same sex and to persons of the opposite sex.  Learn to value highly your own personhood and sexuality.  Guard your thought life.  Abstain from any form of entertainment which might indulge improper sexual thoughts.  Deliberately develop positive relationships with those of the opposite sex which are healthy and do not focus on sexuality.  Don’t allow yourself to be put in potentially compromising situations with an individual of the opposite sex.”[5]
  • Secrecy – to practice not divulging or discussing to others your good deeds or accomplishments.  Allow God to vindicate you and be your promoter.  This brings great strength, trust, and confidence in God.
  • Sacrifice – to give to others out of your own need.[6] This heightens your awareness that God is your source.

Most Christians live as if spiritual disciplines are only for the real holy and committed Christians, however, Christ taught that all of us that all believers are to be true followers of Christ in all of these spiritual disciplines.


[1] J. Robert Clinton, Clinton’s Biblical Leadership Commentary (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1999) p. 615

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, The Path To Spiritual Growth (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978) p. 7

[3] Ibid., p 1

[4] Luke 9:36; Matthew 14:23

[5] J. Robert Clinton, Clinton’s Biblical Leadership Commentary (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1999) p. 616-618

[6] 2 Corinthians 8:3


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