Two Cent Tuesday – Spiritual Disciplines

Fellow GtS writer, Jeff Patterson and I have been talking about Spirituality. It seems today everyone is spiritual. I remember reading an article in which atheists were describing themselves as spiritual. Jeff and I were talking specifically about the Spiritual Life which got me to thinking about Don Whitney’s ministry devoted to the Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. Whitney has written a couple of books dealing with the spiritual disciplines. The first was Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (read a chapter here). The second was Spiritual Disciplines Within the Christian Church (read a chapter here). He followed both of these up with Simplify Your Spiritual Life which I recommend to be read as a devotional (read about 30 of the chapters here). There are a few other books, but you get the idea.

That got me wondering what others think about the Spiritual Disciplines. I have been told that they are nothing less than legalism and I have been told they are like the key that unlocks hidden treasures in one’s walk with God. Dr. Whitney says that the Disciplines must be practiced for the right reasons. If they are not, they will become drudgery. Here is what he says on page 17 of his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life:

Godliness is the goal of the Disciplines, and when we remember this, the Spiritual Disciplines become a delight instead of drudgery.

Personally, I have found most of them to be a delight. The ones I have found to be drudgery, I simply do not do. So, what do you think about the Spiritual Disciplines? We would love to have your two cents.


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Terry Delaney
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  • A post on the spiritual disciplines and no mention of Richard Foster?????

    I can understand why people would consider them to be legalism, but it is a pretty far stretch. To me, the disciplines are the path towards the relationship with God that we see in the scriptures and in Church history.

    chads last blog post..The Cistern Garden

  • The idea of spiritual disciplines seems to exist in some sort of dichotomy. On the one hand, they are beneficial to our growth and development in faith, but on the other hand they seem to imply in some way that there is a method to follow to grow spiritually. But I do agree that we need to do something, and that whatever we do is something we need to discover for ourselves.

    I have an interest in Eastern Orthodoxy and have found that some of the liturgical prayers of that tradition are so rich and meaningful, and so I sometimes use those. I know people who have found resources like the Book of Common Prayer and The Valley of Vision to be extremely beneficial to their spiritual growth.

    Those who label these sorts of things as legalistic have perhaps had bad experiences with them, maybe becoming drudgery or having no meaning. I suppose like most things, you get out of it what you put in to it. That being said, we need to look first what we put in to it–seeking and yearning for God, for righteousness, and for his glory. If our first motive is our own satisfaction, then there is something wrong that needs to be reoriented.

  • Chad, you’re totally right-on to mention Richard Foster. He seems to have a healthy balance and responding to God’s initiative while recognizing that many of the habits we have are ‘disciplines’ in themselves. His insights on prayer have been especially insightful for me. What has spoken to you most from Foster’s writings?

    Jake, I too find it fascinating to look at the core of the disciplines (why? what are our motives?), and for me the issue is one of identity. If my identity is firmly rooted in Christ, established in Him (Colossians 2), then the disciplines serve to help me know, love and enjoy the Triune God more. But if I use them for my own personal satisfaction, then the issue is self-righteousness, a so subtle and deception push towards idolatry. I think we become what we worship. I wonder how much our past bad experience color our current perceptions (a lot I guess). In the context of community, how can we all young and old foster a humble attitude in using the disciplines while compelling one another to continue steadfastly in Christ?

    Terry, thanks for bringing this up. It seems spiritual disciplines are rightly viewed in the context of a healthy life rhythm, which is in many ways unique for all/each of us. I look forward to most posts on this and hopefully us seminarians will continue to care for souls of one another.

    Jeff Pattersons last blog post..A word to the seminary wives from my wonderful seminary wife

  • Yeah Foster’s book was extremely formative for me in thinking about disciplines. He does a wonderful job of going to the heart of the discipline, to the heart of why we do these “things” and how they connect us to God. If anything becomes an act or duty, it is no longer pleasing to God.

    Tylers last blog post..How to Look Like a Worship Leader

  • I think it is also helpful to remember that while the spiritual disciplines are not for our own benefit–that is, as opposed to God’s glory–but they are necessary, as Jeff said above, in helpful us develop our identity as followers of Christ and children of God. In order, then, to properly engage in the disciplines, we must have an understanding of what that identity means.

    A very good place to start is with the Beatitudes, for these set forth what life is to be like in the context of the Kingdom, and more directly, exactly what Christ is like. Our engagement in the disciplines then is somewhat of a means to an end (albeit a never-ending means, so long as this life continues). That end is perfect conformity to the character Christ and the will of God. In this, we become human in the truest sense. As Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

    Jake Belders last blog post..Know Where You’re Coming From

  • Okay, I don’t know what happened with the grammar in that first paragraph. And to think I used to be an editor for research papers! Let me try again. What I meant to say there was,

    I think it is also helpful to remember that while the spiritual disciplines are not for our own benefit–that is, as opposed to God’s glory–they are necessary, as Jeff said above, in helping us develop our identity as followers of Christ and children of God.

    That’s how it should have read.

    Jake Belders last blog post..Know Where You’re Coming From

  • The way I see the Spiritual Disciplines is that they are a lot like going through Basic Training in the military. The first couple weeks are the hardest weeks of your life physically speaking. These hard weeks are necessary if you want to develop into a soldier. The final weeks of Basic Training are fairly easy given all that you have been through the previous weeks.

    The goal in Basic Training is to tear you down and rebuild you. The same is very much so for the Spiritual Disciplines. Once you become a Christian, you have already been tore down, you just need to be rebuilt. The Spiritual Disciplines are the tools in which you can rebuild yourself into a more godly and Christ-like person.

    RE: Richard Foster and others. We need to be careful and discerning with what and whom we read. This is not to say that what Richard Foster says is good (I know he was formative in Dr. Whitney’s life) but he also relies heavily on Catholic mystics as well as other mystics. This can be a problem simply because the root of what he says is not centered on Christ. Please do not take this as a “cheap shot” or anything. I am only saying we need to be careful and discerning with all that we read (including our heroes of the faith).

    I am excited to see how much conversation has been generated regarding this topic. It has become very near and dear to my life and ministry (in whatever form that takes). My prayer is that more people would embrace these Spiritual Disciplines in order that they may become more Christ-like.

    Terry Delaneys last blog post..The Struggle to Remain Joyful

  • Jeff-I think the Foster stuff that I enjoyed the most was his book on Prayer and thoughts regarding a life of discipline. I had lunch with Richard last year when he was at Asbury speaking and I can say that he is a great guy and has a Ted Nugent-ish mane of hair that was really impressive.

    Jake-Inside of Wesleyan theology there is something called the “Order of Salvation” that give one an idea dealing with the process of sanctification. I know that even mentioning it is opening up a can of worms, even Wesleyan’s argue about the placement of entire sanctification. But disciplines do seem to play a major role in this idea.

    chads last blog post..The Cistern Garden

  • Dr. Whitney has done all of us a great service by writing these books and getting us to think about the disciplines. Like Terry said, it is true that some will call them legalism, but there is nothing wrong with order and structure. The disciplines provide that order and structure.

    Personally, I am still trying to lobby our seminary administration to offer a PSD course like the one taught by Dr. Whitney at SBTS.

    Did you know that SBTS has a DMin in Biblical Spirituality?

    tlanges last blog post..The last two weeks

Written by Terry Delaney