While reading through the different books about spiritual disciplines, you might walk away confused about which spiritual disciplines you should focus. One major book on Spiritual disciplines has 11; another has 17, and yet another 7. What’s more frustrating is that there is little overlap between these lists. When it comes to your quiet time, there are five disciplines that we need to include.
Before we consider these five disciplines, let me point out that I’m not saying these books on spiritual disciplines are wrong. Each of the books I’ve read on the subject makes strong arguments for the exercises they promote. I also believe that we should have more disciplines in our Christian life than the 5 I talk about here. However, when it comes to that time with the Lord each day, there are just five that are particularly impactful when consistently practiced.
The five most important spiritual disciplines
Let me start by listing these five spiritual disciplines:
- Bible Reading
Christians have known all these well except meditation and journaling. Most Christians would probably agree with this list in principle. What is left out? Some of the disciplines that I have excluded (but still valuable) include worship, evangelism, serving, fasting, work, friendship, silence, suffering, and church. All of these are valuable, but they are not, for the most part, something that is critical to a regular daily time with the Lord.
Why these five spiritual disciplines?
Why these five? The answer lies in how these spiritual disciplines work on the soul.
At this point, we need to remember that there are three functions of the heart that we’re trying to address to bring about holiness. Also, these spiritual disciplines flow together to create a powerful transformative effect. Let me explain the importance of each discipline and how it works on the human heart.
We discover from Scripture that the renewing of our mind transforms us (Rom 12:2). Because this is true, there are numerous instances in scripture when we are told to focus our mind on things above (Col 3:2) and think about what is good (Phil 4:8). Similarly, Paul wanted believers to know the will of God (Col 1:9), and ultimately experience and prove the goodness of it, which is why Paul describes the will of God as good, acceptable and complete (Rom 12:2).
The word of God is the key way we know God’s will so that we can obey and please Him. We can learn from the Bible about God’s character, sovereignty, and person. Knowing God allows us to honor Him appropriately and worship Him as He deserves and desires. Therefore, the goal of Bible reading is to align our beliefs with what the word of God says is true. Hence Bible reading works on our beliefs, thinking and cognition as we think God’s thoughts after Him in our daily lives.
Memorization works on our heart in the same way that Bible reading does, but it works at a deeper level. Requiring constant review and revision, memorization takes place during daily life so that a passage of scripture is recalled to mind in a variety of circumstances and across many contexts in life (different emotions, thought processes, decisions, etc.). This constant review allows us to consider the text of scripture more richly than we would in Bible reading and the text is then able to be applied more broadly or precisely depending on the situation.
Meditation is important because it is the bridge between the Scripture and the application of our heart. It works hand in hand with both Bible reading and memorization, requiring that we think and recite passages over to ourselves. Memorization is the recitation to ourselves of Scripture in the various situations in which we find ourselves. This recitation causes us to think more carefully about what the text says.
Meditation also needs to take into account our own heart, including our beliefs, desires, and commitments. We need to test these against the text of scripture so that we can confront any weakness and sin. When we find our heart deficient, we need to recognize our thoughts, desires, and actions for what they are, using biblical terms, and respond appropriately. Often this means repentance.
A failure to meditate on the text is often behind quiet times that are shallow or boring. But meditation requires the right heart, which is why meditation is so hard. It is easy to run away from thinking deeply about the word of God because we don’t want to give Christ total lordship over our lives.
Journaling provides us with the opportunity to question our heart programmatically. Having pre-determined questions that we ask ourselves each day allows us to check our hearts, test our desires and commitments and weigh them against the truth of the word of God and our belief system. In other words, journaling can be a powerful tool to tie our Bible reading and meditation together. As we do, we create a written record of our heart and confront it with the word of God. We can also use journaling to focus on what is important each day and to force us to grow in thankfulness and keep a record of our prayer list.
Prayer is where we take all the elements we’ve discussed above and then bring them before the Lord. We should pray through what we read in Scripture, affirming the characteristics of God that we read, confessing the sin that we discover, giving thanks for the things we write in our journal, and bringing our concerns and the concerns of others to Him in humble dependence.
When we connect our beliefs, desires, and commitments to the word of God, we will find both things that align and things that don’t. Prayer is the way to reconcile all these things before the Lord and respond appropriately.
The primary reason we have a quiet time is so that we can grow in holiness. As we examine our beliefs, desires, and commitments against the word of God, think carefully about them and then bring them before the Lord with the appropriate response, we embark on the journey of transformation. If you have other disciplines in your quiet time, continue to do those. But also, consider making each of these five spiritual disciplines a regular part of your quiet time. These five spiritual disciplines will encourage a wholehearted response to the Lord that is both self-aware and aware of His will, desires, and character.
Question: What disciplines do you practice consistently? You can leave a comment by clicking here.