Thoughts on spiritual disciplines

DisciplineWhy do most of us seem to have a problem with spiritual disciplines? Well…let me ask you, what comes to your mind when you think of spiritual disciplines?

Most sincere believers will affirm that it’s a good idea, but honest thoughts will go something like, “Yeah, you’re right…I need to do more…read my Bible more…pray more…more quiet time…fast more…and so forth. Or, if you’re one who currently consistently practices them, pride may rise up a little and you may be tempted to say, “Amen! That’s right!…You all need to be more disciplined in your walk with the Lord! (like me).

Can I just say it, both of these responses are performance trips.

I saw a quote on one Christian blog that said, “Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don’t want to.” That sentiment is instructive. And while the blog was talking about exercise, it’s easy to carry this feeling subconsciously over in our attitude toward spiritual disciplines.

The underlying premise is, while I won’t really enjoy it, I should be doing it.

And if the dictionary defines discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience,” is there any wonder why we may have problems with it!

I would like to offer a different perspective on the whole subject.

First, consider that we are citizens of heaven, seated with Christ in heavenly places, and there are no spiritual disciplines in heaven (Eph.2:6; Phil.3:20; Col.3:1-3).

And there’s a potential problem with the popular view of spiritual disciplines. If engaging in it doesn’t lead us to greater intimacy with God, it becomes an end unto itself, a religious idol.

Another danger here is when we’re really just using it to make our old dead self behave.

But the bottom line is, spiritual discipline is only really needed when love is lacking.

Our faith works through love, not discipline. More discipline will not give us more faith, but encountering more of God’s love will.

Without God’s transforming love, discipline just makes us more hardened in religious pride.

While spiritual discipline can make us live like a dutiful slave it won’t necessarily make us live like a beloved son.

Let me say it this way, would I need to discipline myself to have an intimate relationship with my wife if I were madly in love with her? (Which I am!) And, if I’m head over heels in love, would I look at spending time with her as a discipline or as a delight?

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I only have to “work at” loving her more when love is lacking.

And here’s a question to ponder…why do you think Jesus went off to pray all the time? Was it because He needed to get His “quiet time” in?

And this gets us to the heart of the matter …

God seems to think that in His presence is fullness of JOY and PLEASURES forevermore (Ps.16:11; Jn.15:11). Do we actually believe this? Because I hardly think anyone needs discipline to fully en-joy pleasures, do you?

You see, our problem is not that we’re not disciplined enough, it’s that we’re not enjoying God enough.

It’s not a discipline problem, it’s a perception problem. We look at all these things (Bible study, praying, fasting, etc.) as a duty to perform, a command to obey, instead of looking forward to encountering the joys and pleasures of God.

If you were God and people had to be commanded before they would spend time with you, would you feel loved? Would that be a fulfilling relationship to you? I didn’t think so.

That’s why I think our religious view of spiritual discipline and loving God as a duty or obligation is so pathetically sad.

But we will always do with all of our heart what we enjoy most. We cannot escape this truth, but this truth can also lead us to freedom! (Jn.8:31-32)

You may ask, but doesn’t God discipline us? Yes, He does (Heb.12:4-6).

But He does so as a loving Father, not as a stern taskmaster. It’s not to control our behavior though fear of punishment. That would be disciplining the old “us.” He seems to think He nailed the old “us” to the Cross (Rom.6:6).

In fact, He’s not dealing with our sin anymore. He’s relentlessly about forming Christ in us, revealing what it means to be His son.

The “sin” we’re to be striving against is our unbelief. This is the whole context of Hebrews. Because the real “us” doesn’t sin, even though we might do so in spite our new nature (1 Jn.3:9). We “sin” out of ignorance of who we really are.

But what is our part?

Our part is to respond to God, our part is to abide.

And to abide means to stay put. To remain where you’ve been placed. There is nowhere we are to get to; we’re already there. And staying in a place full of joy, delight, and pleasure is pretty easy to do!

Abiding is more about “being” than “doing.”

This is not a “mystic” thing, it’s what it means to be “normal” Christian rather than an average one.

God created everyone of us to enjoy Him continuously, to live in the rest of His euphoric embrace, as a  son who is loved and affirmed by a good father. Except this Father lives inside of you and never ever leaves you.

He continuously empowers you abundantly more than you can possibly imagine, by His Spirit, to become who you already are in Him (Eph.3:19-20; Col.2:10; Titus 2:11-12).

We were created to be caught up in the constant and ever-increasing reverberations of His revealed glory (2 Cor.3:18). That’s abiding.

And we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength only because He first loved us all of His heart, soul, mind and strength. Imagine what that looks like! We love ourselves because when we see us we see His reflection, and with that same perspective, we love others.

That’s my idea of spiritual discipline…delight. 🙂


About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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9 Responses to Thoughts on spiritual disciplines

  1. You write so clearly about the things so dear to my heart. I pray that everyone reading your blog understands the significance of your words, clearly written from divine intervention of the Holy Spirit. I continue to read as a reminder of how dearly God loves me and that he awakens with me every morning, and blesses me and protects me while I sleep. Thank you so very much for your light and love, and the way you reach out to build His kingdom.

    • melwild says:

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. Much appreciated. We are kindred souls. 🙂 I write because I want people to know this Father of love that I know. My view of Him has been so radically transformed, like a love affair that never ends, there’s no down side and it only gets better. Papa God has literally opened my heart and taught me how to love in His love. Oh, the joy of jettisoning my dutiful, empty religion to finally live His life. And He’s been right there, all this time, living inside of me!

  2. Ben Kilen says:

    Funny how people want to bring sheep into a worjs or attaining posture. I like your take on discipline. It was stated succinctly. Discipline over wrath and judgment. ..

    true Christianity is not something we have to strive for but that we are compelled to enter into on His merit not ours. Paul’s conversion is an amazing example. The poster child for or the template for us. He was moved by the compassion and grace that was poured out tiwards him. He was compelled to enter into His rest. It was no longer a labor or a job but a thing based on the knowledge of who he was in Christ and rhe gift that was give him.

    • melwild says:

      Amen. Paul said that Christ’s love is what compelled him. That means that he was gripped by God’s love, and as you said, lived out of that place of rest in Him. Imagine coming to the Lord the way Paul did. From terrorist to apostle in a flash of lightning! He was ruined for nominal Churchianity. People thought he was out of his mind. He was! He was caught up in the heavenly realm with Christ. Religion had no more hold on him. Likewise, we weren’t meant to live nominal earthbound lives. We were meant to soar in the heavenlies, to live in a constant state of ruin in His unending love and grace.

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    Great take on another of those “sacred cow” issues. “Our part is to respond to God, our part is to abide.” So beautiful, so simple … and so true! Yet, we’re “trained” to think we need to “do” more. I always say that one of most important, yet neglected, spiritual “disciplines” is that of taking our “thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.” If we could just manage abide in the reality of His crazy amazing love, the rest just might fall into place.Thanks for posting, Mel. Blessings!.

    • melwild says:

      Amen. Good point on taking thoughts captive. So true. Our religious mind wants to do something, but He wants us to learn how to open our heart to that crazy amazing love of His! Blessings to you too.

  4. jennynalzaro says:

    Reblogged this on thedreamyactiveinertbrain and commented:
    Sometimes I feel guilty if I can’t attend the church Sunday service, give my tithes week after, or unable to share and fellowship with unbelievers and fellow Christians alike because I believe this is our duty as Christ-follower, but reading this reminds me that Jesus first loves us; we must abide all what we think our obligations as Christians with LOVE then everything (if you think your duties as Christian are heavy loads) will be as light as a feather easy to carry.

  5. christian says:

    I’m sure your heart is in the right place, but you have a misunderstanding of what spiritual disciplines are used for. They are for training. For placing ourselves in the presence of God. You should read some of what Paul wrote about in his epistles related to the active part we have in our growth: 1Tim 4:7 (train yourselves to be Godly), 1 Cor 9:24-27 (need for training!) to mention the most obvious ones.

    Being a disciple of Jesus (which is what we are called to be) means being a student or an apprentice. Students spend time with the master in order to do what they do, to be like the master. I don’t know of anything worth doing that doesn’t take intentional effort, time, and placing yourself in a position to grow. If you just sit around “being”, you will have a very difficult time growing in Christlikeness. When Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing”, in John 15:5, you can be sure the converse is also true- If you do nothing, it will definitely be without Jesus!

    Our efforts- (practicing the disciplines, etc) do not save us, we are saved by Grace alone, but remember- Grace is opposed to earning! NOT effort! We must put in effort if we expect any spiritual growth at all.

    When the spiritual disciplines are practiced out of a Love for the Lord, they are a delight, they are not a duty… They bring you closer to Him.

    When you find yourself frustrated by your lack of spiritual maturity, faith, trust in the Lord or growth in Christlikeness, I pray that you give another thought to practicing some spiritual training exercises.


    • Mel Wild says:

      I appreciate your comments but I don’t think you understood my point because I basically said that we are to enjoy God and abide in Him, which is what I do all the time. And I’ve done the traditional spiritual discipline thing for over 30 years so I know what I’m talking about. And they’ve had some benefit for me. On the other hand, I don’t need exercises to enjoy my wife and grow in my relationship with her. I need openness, honesty and trust. And I spend time with her because I love her and I love being loved by her. It’s an enjoyment and a shared life, not a training school.
      The same holds true with my relationship with the Lord, While study is good, and I do study, my growing knowledge is based on intimacy and relationship, not study. My relationship feeds my study, not the other way around, Just as is with my relationship with my wife. And that was my point against the traditional Western view of spiritual disciplines. Disciplines become exercises, an end unto themselves, instead of this kind of intimacy I’m talking about. And when this is the case, no amount of discipline will make anyone closer to the Lord. They just make us more religious, full of zeal without revelation knowledge or the heart of the Father.
      Blessings to you too.

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