When I first started learning in earnest about the Bible as a young college student, one of the questions I pondered and discussed was how to have a relationship with God.
My study group at the time compared it to what we knew best: human relationships. For human relationships to be healthy, they require some basic practices, like spending time together and communication.
Thus, I began a daily ritual that I’ve tried my best to be faithful to ever since: the quiet time.
In my mind, it involved reading my Bible and praying in some capacity.
After nearly two decades of this daily practice, I’ve come to expand my understanding of what a “quiet time” can be, as I’ve sought to deepen my relationship with this mysterious Creator figure and his Son in human likeness, Jesus.
One term I came across more recently is “spiritual disciplines.” More or less, these are habits that are meant to help you grow and deepen the Christian spiritual life. In the same way that certain physical disciplines can help you train your body, spiritual disciplines can help you train your soul.
And just to be clear, spiritual disciplines are NOT about self-help or self-improvement. Their purpose is to help you focus your life around God, not the other way around.
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Why Do We Need Spiritual Disciplines?
Personally, I love the concept of spiritual disciplines. I know the power of daily habits, and how they can radically alter your lifestyle when it comes to your health or relationships. It just makes sense that they can help you spiritually too.
Spiritual disciplines go beyond the vague practice of a “daily quiet time.” I know I’m not alone when I confess that there have been many days when I’ve opened my Bible and stared at it blankly, or tried to pray and then proceeded to think about the errands I needed to run.
Spiritual disciplines are powerful because they give you focus in your relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, the apostle Paul writes:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Without spiritual disciplines, we risk running aimlessly.
Now before you start feeling guilty or overwhelmed at this idea (why do we do that, anyway?), consider that you may practice some form of spiritual disciplines already without even thinking about it. Chances are, if you’re reading this far, you’ve at least tried to pray or read the Bible and participate in Christian worship on some level. That’s exciting!
By being more intentional about spiritual disciplines, we can take our walk with God that much deeper.
My friend and podcaster Marty Solomon talks about God’s call to “create space” for worshiping Him in the biblical text, starting in Genesis 1. Setting aside time and effort for spiritual disciplines is a way to do that. And what’s super exciting is that when we create that space, God is the one who fills it.
As a busy, tired, distracted mama of four (almost five!), that thought is refreshing. I don’t have to follow my chosen disciplines flawlessly. God shows time and again that if I make some effort to just show up, He in turn shows up in a bigger way than I could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20–21).
Spiritual Disciplines: 10 Practical Examples
So where do we start with spiritual disciplines? It’s not like God gave us a must-do list in the Scriptures.
However, there is a ton of precedent when it comes to spiritual disciplines. (I’m seriously not just making this up.) If you don’t believe me, start in the biblical text itself and observe how God’s people worshiped. They prayed. They wrote poetry. They observed temple rituals. They practiced a weekly Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples memorized and recited Scripture. Just to name a few.
What’s more, people have continued practicing spiritual disciplines in the centuries following Christ. They’ve fasted and lived in solitude. They’ve memorized the canonical texts and transcribed them. They’ve created music and art.
Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a modern classic that summarizes the many ways we can walk a path of spiritual growth, so if you want to dig deep into more practicals, I suggest you pick it up.
And if you want a basic list of practical examples, I’ve got that for you right here. Be sure to also check out the printable list and habit tracker I’ve made, which you can find in my resource collection for subscribers.
- Scripture writing: You’ve probably read the Bible, but have you ever transcribed it? I recently wrote out the entire Gospel of Matthew, and I love how it helped me slow down and savor the text. I noticed a lot of details I wouldn’t have otherwise, and it prompted me to dig deeper into passages I wanted to learn more about.
- Scripture memorization: There are many ways to do this, like writing out short passages on notecards or reciting longer passages. Don’t worry too much about remembering the verses forever; just store them in your mind and heart somewhere, and you may be surprised when they turn up.
- Bible study: This one seems obvious, but there are so many ways to approach it. You can do straight reading (like reading through the Bible in a year), or studying to historical context, biblical words and themes, and commentary from trusted sources. Right now I’m doing a deep dive on the prophets.
- Christian meditation: Spend quiet time not in active prayer, but rather in silent reflection. I find it helpful if I think about a particular passage so my mind doesn’t wander. Breathe deeply but naturally.
- Fasting: The traditional way to fast is to deny yourself of food or drink for a time, but if you’re unable to do that, you can take a break from just about anything you can think of. I like to think of fasting as an extension of my prayer life.
- Praying the Scriptures: If you ever have difficulty focusing in prayer, try praying through different Scriptures like the Psalms or Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). You can also through a biblical theme like the promises of God.
- Practicing gratitude: This is one of my favorite disciplines because it is so easy to do yet so powerful. Write down or verbalize at least one small thing you’re thankful for each day and watch it transform the way you look at your life. I do this personally and with my kids.
- Sabbath rest: I’ve spent much effort digging into the importance of Sabbath and choosing rest, especially in a never-stop culture. It is both a practice and a posture.
- Solitude and/or silence: While I don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to do this, I always marvel at how refreshed my soul is whenever I can get away and just be with Jesus.
- Creative expression: Use your gifts in music, visual art or other artistic expression as an act of worship.
Hopefully it’s clear that these ideas are just a starting point! I focused on individual disciplines, but there are plenty more that you can do in community, including:
You can also practice any of the individual disciplines in partnership with others.
If you’re looking for a list of spiritual disciplines and other tools to help you grow in your faith, be sure to sign up for my collection of free Christian resources below:
Do you have any favorite spiritual disciplines or resources? Leave a comment and let us know!