A Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Disciplines
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A Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines: what they are, how to practice them, and why they matter.

A Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Disciplines
Akash Malhotra, Flickr.com

When I was a new Christian, I wanted to be spiritual like, yesterday. It wasn’t until many years later, when I first met with my spiritual mentor, that I was first introduced to the idea of spirituality as a discipline. I had been complaining to my mentor that I couldn’t “hear God.” She patiently explained the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, study, and silence, but I insisted I was already doing these things. Her response was simple: “It’s a discipline,” she said.

As the word discipline implies, the effort will be ongoing; spiritual disciplines are not a quick fix. You will have to revisit these practices day after day after day in order to see any evidence of it “working.” This was true for me and it is true for every Christian. Our instant-gratification culture makes it difficult to embrace long-term practices like spiritual disciplines, but that only makes them more important.

What are the spiritual disciplines?

Scripture mentions many spiritual disciplines, but it does not provide a full and final list. The seven practices listed below are some of the most commonly accepted disciplines.

Solitude, Prayer, and Silence

It's easy to overlook the fact that Jesus was fully human, but remembering Jesus’ humanity is the key to recognizing the wisdom in his way of life. Jesus was in high demand and I image that demand came with immense pressure--not unlike the pressure we feel to be “on” all the time. Scripture offers us several examples of Jesus balancing this pressure with solitude, silence, and prayer (Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; John 6:15) . These disciplines offer us what they offered Jesus: time away from the pressure of life, to rest and rejuvenate, to commune with God, to partner in prayer with the Holy Spirit.


When I first learned about the spiritual disciplines, I was surprised to see journaling on the list. I assumed there was no biblical evidence for journaling, but I was wrong. The Bible doesn't say anyone kept a journal, per say, but it does give us a record of God's instruction to write down certain things--see Jeremiah 30:2 and Revelation 1:11 for examples.


Study of God’s Word is an essential component to the discovery of God’s character, the Christian life, and why it’s worth all the effort. The funny thing about spirituality is you can’t absorb it through someone else’s discipline; you have to do the work yourself. Courtesy of Western culture, we Millennials have inherited the consumer model of church: sit, listen, leave--repeat weekly. On its own, this is insufficient for spiritual growth. We may learn some things, but the transformational work of the Holy Spirit is done in concert with our direct pursuit of Christ--more on that shortly.


The most extreme example of fasting is Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness at the onset of his ministry (Matt. 4:2), but this is not the only example. Throughout the Bible, the people of God fast for a variety of reasons: grief, repentance, clarity, tradition, and more. The practice of fasting has all but faded from our modern culture, yet the reasons for fasting remain. The spiritual discipline of fasting offers us a chance to reconnect with this ancient wisdom and with the God who inspired it.

Other examples of spiritual disciplines include meditation, chastity, secrecy, confession, fellowship, submission, simplicity/voluntary poverty, service, witness, and more.

What's the point?

The spiritual disciplines are vital to the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us into Christ’s image (2 Cor. 3:18). We cannot achieve this transformation by our own efforts; and yet, the Holy Spirit will not act without our effort. This is the balance--the joint effort--that the spiritual disciplines offer. Jesus echoed this concept of joint effort throughout his ministry. For example, in John 15:5, Jesus explicitly says that we can only ‘bear fruit’ if we abide in him. Our part is to abide, and the Holy Spirit's part is to produce fruit.

Since abiding in Jesus doesn’t happen without our deliberate action and effort, an incomplete understanding of the spiritual disciplines can inadvertently suggest a works-based model of salvation. The key to an appropriate understanding of the spiritual disciplines is to remember Jesus' insistence that we can produce no fruit apart from him. It’s our effort in abiding that gives the Holy Spirit room to produce fruit in our lives--not our effort in producing. Spiritual disciplines offer us a way to spend time abiding in Christ so that the Holy Spirit can get to work producing fruit.

How can I get started?

To incorporate the spiritual disciplines into your life, first identify which of the disciplines you’ll pursue at this time. (Hint: Not all of them!) If you’re a complete beginner, I’d recommend starting with study and journaling. Study a section of scripture each day and reflect on it in your journal. Yes, it’s really that simple! As time goes on, you can add periods of silence and meditation to your morning practice.

Next, set aside time specifically for these disciplines. Like any of kind of discipline, if regular time is not devoted to its practice, progress will slow to a halt. Make spiritual development a priority and carve out regular room in your schedule. There’s a lot of fuss about doing "spiritual things" first thing in the morning, but there’s no rule about this. Any time of day is better than no time of day.

Finally, don’t forget that the spiritual life is enabled by the Holy Spirit (John 15:4-5). God has his part, and we have ours. Our part is to practice these disciplines, but this is not another item on our daily to-do list. Approach any spiritual discipline with an attitude of respect--reverence, even. This is the most important thing we do (Matt. 6:33).

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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