In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter lists seven things that we are told to add to our faith. Each one of the seven builds on the previous ones. They are virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Many years ago, I started asking myself the question, “How do I add these things to my faith?” I knew how to add knowledge, and that was by studying. But what about virtue, self-control, perseverance, and the others?
I came up with the idea of trying to find a spiritual discipline that could be used to build each of these seven qualities (which I call the seven habits of a growing disciple). However, it was hard to think of a discipline for each one. I wasn’t even sure if I could come up with seven spiritual disciplines (how many are there, anyways?), but I thought I would give it a shot. I have a series of blog posts about that.
Later I thought of two disciplines for some of the seven habits. I didn’t like that at first, because it threatened to throw off the symmetry of the whole scheme. However, I gradually started to see that there were actually multiple spiritual disciplines for each of these seven habits. Now I think of it as exercising a particular muscle group in your body. Want to exercise your pecs? There are many different exercises for that. Deltoids? Ditto. I now have about 25-30 spiritual disciplines that I connect to one or more of the seven habits, including things like meditation, self-examination, Bible memorization, fasting, and many others. For the last few months I have been working on developing these ideas into a personal spiritual growth curriculum. At the same time, I have also been putting them into practice in my own life. The difference it has made for me has been remarkable.
The apostle Paul talks about spiritual discipline in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In verses 26-27, he writes, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim . . . but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” If someone were to undertake to become a competitive athlete (which is the analogy Paul actually uses), they would enter into some kind of training regimen with an experienced coach or trainer. They would come up with a training plan, and then follow the plan. Paul talks about it as not running without aim.
How many Christians live their spiritual lives exactly like someone running aimlessly? Maybe they’ll pray if they feel like it, but they usually don’t feel like it. Maybe they’ll read their Bible if they feel like it, but how often does that happen? For most believers, not very often. Furthermore, these are only two of the spiritual disciplines, which is not nearly enough. If someone is a serious athlete, they do more than just two exercises! I believe this is also one reason why many Christians find the idea of spiritual disciplines to be boring. Just doing one or two things gets boring in a hurry. I also believe in the importance of meeting with other like-minded believers to coach one another along the way. Because of this, I am part of a small group of guys that does just that.
I don’t practice all 25-30 disciplines every day. There are some things I do every day, and some that I do once a week, or maybe three or four times a week. The key for me is having a plan for spiritual growth, and keeping the plan flexible and interesting. I should also add that I am not by nature a very disciplined person and never have been. So if I can do this, anyone can.
Paul instructed Timothy to “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). If we want to make progress in the spiritual life, that’s what we should do as well.