WHAT ARE THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?
The spiritual disciplines are the God-ordained means by which we bring ourselves before God, experience Him, and are changed into Christlikeness. The Lord is omnipresent and we often encounter Him in unexpected places and surprising ways. Nevertheless, it has pleased Him to establish specific means—the spiritual disciplines—whereby we may expect to encounter Him regularly and be transformed by Him. If the Lord might be compared to a pure, life-giving river, the spiritual disciplines would be those ways by which we come to the river to drink from, dive into, swim in, eat from, wash with, and irrigate with it.
These devotional and sanctifying practices have been categorized in many ways. One approach classifies them as personal and corporate (or congregational) disciplines, meaning some disciplines are practiced in isolation, others are practiced in community. Examples of the former are the private reading of and meditating on Scripture, individual prayer, fasting, solitude, and the keeping of a spiritual journal. Disciplines that require the presence of others include congregational worship, corporate prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship. Many of the disciplines taught in the Bible can be practiced both alone and with the church. For instance, we can study the Bible on our own and with a group. Service for Christ’s sake can be practiced individually as well as collectively. The same is true with evangelism and Christian learning.1
Keep in mind that the spiritual disciplines are biblical, that is, God-given and found in His written Word. Whatever else might be said about them, those practices originating from ourselves, derived from the culture, or discovered in other religions may not properly be considered Christian spiritual disciplines.
Remember also that the spiritual disciplines found in Christian Scripture are sufficient. God has revealed in the pages of the Bible every devotional and transformational practice necessary. No other ceremony, rite, ritual, religious habit, or spiritual exercise is needed for progress in Christ’s likeness.
Moreover, the Spirit of God works through each of these disciplines in unique ways. What He gives through one discipline He does not duplicate in another. You cannot receive through a prayer meeting the identical blessings given through fasting, and vice versa. All the Christian spiritual disciplines are important and singularly beneficial. A discipline neglected is a blessing unclaimed.
Recognize, too, that the spiritual disciplines are practices, not attitudes. Do not confuse them with character qualities, Christian graces, or “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23). Prayer is a spiritual discipline; love—strictly speaking—is not. Faithful stewardship of your time and money is a discipline in a way that joy isn’t. Although we must never separate the external practices known as the spiritual disciplines from the internal realities that are their impulse and power, we may distinguish them.
Donald S. Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 92–94.