Last year, John Ortberg (my favorite preacher), preached a sermon, "Feasting as Fasting" that wrecked me wonderfully.
In it he said:
How many of you could go out right now today and run (not walk, run) every step of a marathon? I'll put it a second way. How many of you could go out right now and run (not walk) every step of a marathon today if you tried really, really hard? Not many more.
Now my guess is a lot of us, maybe most of us, could eventually run a marathon if we did one thing, and that is to train. What does it mean to train? To train means I arrange my life around those activities that enable me to do what I cannot now do by direct effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do by trying really hard and underestimate what we can do by training. As a general rule (this is just wisdom about the human condition), transformation involves training, not just trying.
This is true in athletics. It's true of music or intellectual life. It is no less true of character formation or spiritual life. This is why Paul says, "...train yourself to godliness." This is why Jesus says, "The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher." So now the spiritual disciplines are practices or activities that train us or give us power to live in the goodness of the kingdom.
I know. Words like discipline or training are awful words. They just sound really unattractive. Who wants to do that? This is really key. Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant. What discipline you need to practice depends on for what you're training. If you're training for a race, you will need to practice running. If you were training for a pie-eating contest, what would you need to do? You would need to practice eating a lot of pie. If you eat a lot of pie every day, a year from now, you'll be able to eat much more pie than you could today by trying really hard.
As I ruminated on that insight, God showed me an incredible correlation between the Fruit of the Spirit and the Spiritual Disciplines.
According to Galatians 5:22, the Fruit of the Spirit are:
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Are you experiencing the spiritual fruit in your life?
Which ones are not coming?
Why are these fruit not coming?
- Are you a Christian? Do you have the Spirit?
- Are you cultivating the fruit of the flesh?
- Are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit?
Are you trying harder or training smarter to partner with Jesus to grow these fruit?
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. 25 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. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 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."
The Apostle Paul wants us to train ourselves and order every area of our lives to cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit. I am not saying that we can produce the fruit any more than a farmer can make plants grow - ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT. But every good farmer still tills, fertilizes, waters, and tends while depending on God to provide the increase. We do the same spiritually. The tools, rhythms, or training exercises the Bible lays out for us are often called Spiritual Disciplines.
Here is a non-exhaustive list.
Worship, Prayer, Study, Service – are basic assumed practices that inform all the fruit. But just as in atheletic training there are exercises that target certain muscle groups, so too in the spiritual realm there are certain exercises to target certain spiritual muscles (fruit). Let's briefly work through each Fruit of the Spirit and identify training exercises I can imploy to allow God to conform me to Jesus.
- Service – act lovingly until you love
- Community – learn to love real people in all their messiness and be loved. Be in real enough community that you know annoying habits and love anyways
- Evangelism – Supreme gift of love to share the gospel.
- Worship – let God love you, so you can love others.
- Hospitality -
- Celebration – Music, food, people, parties, celebrate every little thing
- Gratitude – make a gratitude list
- Worship – Enjoy God
- Feasting – the world is more delicious than it has to be
- Solitude – be alone with God.
- Silence – Don’t speak, just let God speak.
- Confession – guilty consciences know no peace
- Prayer – carry all anxiety to God in a fear inventory
- Accountability – intimate community of carrying one another’s faults and pushing one another alone. Covenant fellowship.
- Confession – Admit your own faults to another human being to humble yourself when you want to judge others
- Silence - hold your tongue regularly so you can hold it when angry
- Community – carry other’s burdens.
- Prayer – resentment inventories
- Fasting – wait on food, you can wait longer than you thought
- Service - intentionally put others ahead of you in checkout lines and parking spaces. Delay yourself to convenience others.
- Silence – hold your tongue, save your words, quick to listen, slow to speak
- Mediation – Stay open, listen without presenting requests to God.
- Service – Do something gracious and unseen
- Stewardship – set aside money, so you don’t have an excuse not to bless someone
- Affirmation – Speak life over others. Call out their God given gifts. Bless them.
- Accountability – Push one another towards godliness, set standards of life and hold one another up
- Submission/Guidance – invite a wiser Christian to help you examine your shortcomings and grow you in Godliness.
- Confession – name failures
- Study – study God’s goodness, know his holiness, hide his word in your heart that you might not sin against him.
- Community – 90% of life is just showing up
- Stewardship – Keep your commitments
- Accountability – keep your word
- Truth Telling – Yes/No
- Submission/Guidance – Submit yourself to someone who is gentle and learn from how they respond to your mistakes and when you make them angry
- Journaling – process your emotions before you speak and try on the words you will say
- Silence – train yourself to hold your tongue
- Fasting – say no and depend on God. You will not die if you do not sin.
- Simplicity – live below your means
- Stewardship – Give it away so you don’t have it.
Since Spiritual Disciplines are not regularly taught or trained, it maybe helpful to now define in brief outline what these disciplines are. For a further treatment PLEASE READ CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE BY RICHARD FOSTER or RUNNING ON EMPTY BY FIL ANDERSON.
Brief Explanation of Each Spiritual Discipline
- Corporate worship– This is time in regular worship with others. IT involves singing, preaching, prayers, and fellowship. I never follow Jesus alone, and being with others trains me to defer to others’ needs and preferences, while forgiving and confessing faults.
- Bible Study– We must schedule time to study God’s word. A simple method involves reading and writing a verse of Scripture and then answering the questions – What does this teach me about God? About humans? What command should obey? What example should I imitate? A more thorough Bible Study is called Inductive Bible Study and resources are available on our website and others to train one to study the Bible closely.
- Prayer– Prayer should happen all the time, but I learn to pray spontaneously by praying regularly. I schedule time to pray often beginning and ending the day and at mealtimes. A simple recipe to structure our prayers is P.R.A.Y. – P.raise God; R.epent for Sin; A.sk for Others; and Ask for Y.ourself.
- Service– In service, I intentionally serve other people, putting their needs above my own. I force myself to do things that are “below me” or menialto humble my pride and bless other people. I might take out the trash, clean the bathroom, or do the dishes.
- Evangelism– Evangelism is the discipline of sharing God’s message with others. I train myself to do so by practicing telling my story and telling God’s story. I train myself to see opportunities to bring up Jesus in everyday conversations around my home, office, and play. Often these will come as I am honest about the ways Jesus has changed me.
- Stewardship– In stewardship I budget my money as God’s money. I intentionally set aside God’s tithe and my offerings first. Then I set my savings and finally I delibertately prioritize my money to reflect God’s and my values and needs.
- Fasting– Fasting is simply abstaining from food for a set period of time, during which I use my natural hunger pangs as an alarm clock for prayer. Everytime I get hungry, I remember I need Jesus more than I need food. I also replace my meals with times of Bible Study during which I feast on God’s word. I calculate the money I saved by skipping meals and give this away to the poor.
- Silence– Silence is scheduled time without speaking or excess noise. These can be a few hours on a hike or a few days on a retreat. During periods of silence, I do not talk unless necessary, and I don’t turn on music or podcasts or use my electronics. This gives me room and time to hear God speak to me. I train myself to listen to others and to God. It trains me to value and measure every word I say.
- Secrecy– Secrecy is the doing nice things without seeking others approval. I do so by doing acts of service or devotion that no one will ever know I’ve done. I can give in secret, study in secret, pray in secret or serve in secret because I am doing it for God and not for the approval of humans.
- Sabbath– Sabbath is regular scheduled time of rest during which I refrain from my professional endeavors in order to be refreshed spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. I am refreshed spiritually by extra time in Bible Study, prayer, and worship. I’m refreshed physically through sleep and relaxed schedule. I refresh emotionally by joy-giving recreation. I refresh relationally by either scheduling time away from people or with people depending on whether I am an extrovert or introvert.
- Solitude– Solitude is not avoiding people, it is time spent with God. It is time scheduled to be alone with God, to give God my full attention. I can do this in a deerstand for a few hours or in a cabin for a few days. It is time, where I disconnect from others to plug into God. It is often helpful to disconnect from technology as well, though listening to worship music, sermons, or books can be powerful.
- Journaling– There are a thousand ways to journal, but the two most common for Christians are to journal God’s Word in prayer or to write a letter to God. When journaling scripture, I write a verse and then start to write my associations with the words, imagines, and meaning of the verse. I journal questions about the verse to God and try to answer them witht the help of the Holy Spirit. I can journal “What does this verse teach me about God? About humans? What commands should I follow? What examples should I imitate? When writing a letter to God, I will parse my day, feelings, and thoughts before God. It can be helpful to follow the P.R.A.Y. recipe – P.raise; R.epent; A.sk for others; and ask for Y.ourself.
- Learning– Learning allows me to make a plan to gather more information or training related to a particular area of my life. I might read a book or attend a conference or enroll in a class, but I set up a specific way I will learn more about Jesus, theology, history, or spiritual living.
- Confession– Confession is telling God and another human being the exact nature of my faults. If I have wronged another person, I coness that to them and another in order to make amends.
- Accountability– Accountability is a covenanted relationship among a small group of people to regularly confess sin and report on progress towards spiritual goals. This takes immense trust, because I cannot hide anything from these people.
- Celebration– Celebratoin and feasting are times when I deliberately party to enjoy the Joy of the Lord. During times of Celebration, I eat good food, listen to good music, and do fun things to remind myself of the lavish generosity of God. I practice wonder and awe by attending to the beauty, flavor, and music of the world.
- Affirmation– Affirmation is telling myself God’s promises and my God-given identity regularly to fight the lies I’m tempted to believe that I am worthless, stuck, and alone. I can write these messages on my bathroom mirror or Post-it notes, or I can memorize them and recite them daily.
- Pondering/Chewing – In Western Spirituality (Judeo-Christian) mediation is pondering the Bible or a devotional slowly, savoring it like a meal. I roll it around in my mind like a gem in a rock tumbler. This is often less structured than Bible Study.
- Mindfulness – In Eastern Spirituality (Buddhist and Hindu) meditation is a self-emptying exercise or a mindfulness exercise used to train me to be aware of my emotions and thoughts in a nonjudgmental space. For Christians, I am never alone, and so mindfulness meditation is about cataloguing my emotions and thoughts before God, who does not judge me but empathizes with me. prayer, fasting, study,
- Simplicity– Simplicity is intentionally living without things I can live without. It may mean eating less decadent meals, wearing less conspicuous clothing, driving a used car, or simply not buying the newest, baddest whatchamacallit. Historically Christians might cap their income at a comfortable living wage and give all money above that figure to the poor. Though an international spiritual superstar, John Wesley gave away all income above $30,000.
- Submission– Submission is yielding to the leadership, direction, and judgment of another. The closest modern equivalent might be 12-Step Sponsors, who give advice and set schedules and even make decisions for someone in spiritual recovery. I yield to my mentor in all matters as a way of dying to my will and surrendering to God’s will.
- Singing– Singing is a discipline. I train myself to worship God with my whole body whether I like it or am skillful. Singing trains me to do uncomfortable things for God’s glory and not the approval of others.
- Guidance– Proverbs says that the “fool listens to his own counsel and thinks himself wise, but the wise submits to counsel and becomes wiser still.” Before big decisions, I consult more mature people who love God and love me.
- Hospitality– Hospitality trains me to welcome others as if they were Jesus himself. I put their needs and comfort above my own. I can do this by hosting meals, housing travelers, or fostering children. I welcome them because they are loved by God and that is a big deal.
- Gratitude– A gratitude list is a common means of inculcating a thankful heart. Everyday I write down 3 things for which I am thankful.