Train yourself

1 Timothy 4:7b-8 Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

A few years ago, I read a book on how to pray–it was about traditional forms and things that could be done to focus your prayer life.  It was helpful to me at the time, but that’s not what I remember most about that book.  No, what I remember most about that book was the blank incomprehension my boyfriend had at why I would be interested in it.  Now, he was a very “spiritual” person, but he believed that prayer should be freeform, spontaneous, “from the heart,” as if any sort of attention to when and how you prayed somehow made it less genuine.  And that got me thinking: why do we do the things we do?  I felt that having patterns and routines and being mindful of my faith life was an enhancement.  More than that, I needed it to keep me on track, to keep me from sliding off apathetically into forgetfulness.  But I couldn’t explain why.

Years later, at seminary, I heard the term “spiritual disciplines” for the first time.  And a lightbulb went on.  Now, spiritual disciplines sound a little scary.  Or maybe like the kinds of self-mortification medieval monks did, the Christian version of extreme sports.  But that’s not what spiritual disciplines are.  “Discipline” and “disciple” come from the same root word–discere, to learn, discipula, student.  A disciple is someone who has discipline.  To learn something, you have to practice it.  That’s what spiritual disciplines are about–practices that help us learn.  Spiritual disciplines are things we do regularly that cultivate our faith life.  Cultivate–a growing word.  A gardener doesn’t make his or her plants grow directly; only God can do that.  But a gardener can create the conditions that support God’s work by tilling the soil, pulling weeds, watering, fertilizing, pruning.  Think of spiritual disciplines as the equivalent of what a gardener does: you are preparing the soil of your mind and body for the faith that God gives and causes to grow in you.  You can’t create faith … but you can let your faith get choked out by weeds and neglect.

Here’s another metaphor: if you were going to run a marathon, you wouldn’t just decide to do it and go out and run 26 miles the next day, would you?  And if you tried, you’d never be able to finish.  If you wanted to run a marathon you’d start training, eating right, run regularly for slowly-increasing distances, probably join a group that was also preparing so you could support one another, or else run with a friend.  Think of the Christian life as a marathon–it can seem very long and hard, but if you train for it, if you prepare, even what seems impossible can be done.  Spiritual disciplines are the exercise and training that helps us run the marathon of life.

Here’s a list of some traditional spiritual disciplines:

  • Prayer
  • Singing
  • Fasting
  • Giving
  • Meditation
  • Hospitality
  • Worship
  • Travel/Pilgrimage
  • Service
  • Journaling (keeping a diary of your faith life)
  • Reading the Bible or other devotional material
  • Studying the Bible with others

What kinds of spiritual disciplines do you use?  Do you do enough (however much that may be for you), or does your faith life fall short?

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