How are your spiritual disciplines?
Take a moment to answer.
In the hundreds of times I’ve asked that question, 99 percent of the time I get a variation of the same answer: I should be doing more.
The reasons vary: I’m not disciplined enough. I don’t know how. I don’t have enough time. I get bored. They didn’t work.
We seem to think our discipline issues are due to some sort of discipline defect—and yet we execute spiritual disciplines every day. Even if you rarely touch your Bible, you’re always disciplining yourself toward certain activities you believe will open the door to spiritual vitality and joy.
Sports stats, Netflix binges, how-to blogs, social media addiction, and a hundred other daily habits can become attempts to find the good life your soul craves.
Craving the Extraordinary
I suspect one reason we struggle with public and private spiritual disciplines around the Word and prayer is because we expect them to be extraordinary. Yet the duty required for discipline seems to contradict our longing for delight, and the ordinariness of spiritual disciplines seem at odds with our desire for the extraordinary. Perhaps we’ve concluded that our relationship with Jesus should be always profound and never average.
My wife is an amazing cook. She follows recipes like a freestyle rapper and creates delicious dishes almost every time. But every now and then, a meal flops. What if I said, “You know, that just wasn’t as good as I wanted. I think I’ll give up food for a month.”
We all know that response would be ridiculous. Average meals don’t drive us away from food. Average meals increase our appreciation for above-average meals.
But don’t we do this with spiritual disciplines? They’re feasts the Lord prepares for us. We drink in relationships at small group or chew on Scripture as we read. The meal isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s solid. Yet we walk away thinking it wasn’t spectacular enough, and then foolishly decide to abstain from eating altogether.
No wonder so many Christians are spiritually starving. We refuse to eat.
Humble Means of Grace
The Old Testament story of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1–14) illustrates this point well. As commander of the Syrian king’s army, Naaman was a big shot. He was also a leper.
One of Naaman’s Hebrew slaves bragged about the prophet Elisha’s healing abilities. So Naaman made the long journey to Elisha’s house and stood outside. But Elisha didn’t go out to greet him; he simply sent a servant to tell Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan River.
Insulted and furious, Naaman replied:
Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean? (2 Kings 5:11–12)
Naaman’s rage was twofold. First, he expected an extraordinary encounter. Second, he looked down on the humble activity of washing in a river.
We can be like Naaman when it comes to spiritual disciplines, can’t we? We think we’re big stuff, even though we are lepers in need. We expect Jesus to show up, wave his hand, and do something miraculous. We want healing, but on our own terms.
But Jesus says he will heal us if we will only come to him (Matt. 11:28–30). He tells us to go wash in the river of sanctifying grace. Like Naaman, we might tend to look down on the means of grace as too ordinary—at least I can think this way if I’m not careful.
Naaman’s story ended well—he put off pride, put on faith, and washed seven times in the Jordan. And the ordinary activity sparked extraordinary healing.
Reading your Bible, praying for your world, sharing your faith, and prioritizing your local church all seem ordinary, but maybe that’s the point. These spiritual activities remind us that we need daily bread from Jesus, and that it takes faith to keep coming back to the source of grace.
Isn’t faith how we are called to live the Christian life?
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
So next time you’re tempted to get bored with the people in your church or with reading your Bible, ask: What if this feels mundane for a reason? Does it reveal how quickly I run to cheap thrills instead of the Lover of my soul? Am I disengaging with the best news in the world? Do I believe it creates in me a trust in God and his Word? Do I believe it will produce an Eden in my wilderness heart (Isa. 55:10–13)?
It’s not the occasional, breathtaking moments of connecting with Jesus that lead to sustained kingdom joy—although we thank God for them. It’s decades of obedience through ordinary spiritual disciplines that lead us into the extraordinary life Jesus promised (John 10:10; 15:11).
Will you trust him enough to reorient your disciplines around him? Will you trust that ordinary, stable, consistent time with him is the best thing for your soul?