Chapter 3

Core Spiritual Disciplines

To safely train and finish a race it’s vital that every runner consume plenty of fluids. There are many different preferences on how to stay hydrated. One runner may choose water, while another might prefer a sports drink or chocolate milk; some like to take small, frequent sips, while others opt for larger quantities of fluids less often.

Spiritual disciplines are similar. A few core practices are frequently mentioned in Scripture and traditionally recognized as valuable, even essential, to foster spiritual growth. We can learn much by reading the many Bible stories or biographies of how faithful men and women modeled these habits. However, calling these core spiritual disciplines essential still allows for great freedom in the specific way we might incorporate them into our spiritual journeys.

The core spiritual disciplines are: engaging with Scripture, prayer, and corporate worship.

Engaging with Scripture

Just as we need water and food for our physical health, engaging with Scripture provides us with living, sustaining refreshment for the many different needs we have on our spiritual journeys. Scripture is a primary means by which God communicates truth and guidance. It helps us understand the character and purposes of God. The Bible shows us how to find peace with God and receive eternal life. Scripture also comforts us when we are suffering and encourages us to celebrate God’s faithfulness and goodness.

The Bible repeatedly calls us to engage with Scripture. God instructed Joshua, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (joshua 1:8). The psalmist, who had a more limited canon of Scripture referred to as the “Law,” declared blessing for the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (psalm 1:2).

In response to temptation by Satan, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (matthew 4:4), a reference to the life-giving nourishment found in Scripture. Among Paul’s final remarks to his young protégé Timothy is the encouragement to continue in the Holy Scriptures because they are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 timothy 3:16–17). Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.”

Specific Practices

Reading plans help guide us through the entire Bible in a set period of time, typically three, six, or twelve months, and assist us in spending time in the entire word of God. Some churches have a lectionary—a collection of pre-selected Scripture passages—that provides an established reading plan each morning and/or evening. Or simply select one book of the Bible, such as Psalms, and read through it one chapter each day.

Finally, consider memorizing meaningful verses or helpful passages. This allows us to internalize Scriptural truth and meditate on it when we don’t have access to our Bibles. It may be helpful to start with a smaller section or memorize only a portion at a time and gradually add verses or phrases.

Prayer

Perhaps no spiritual practice for God’s people is as modeled in Scripture as prayer. Christ Himself consistently incorporated prayer into the rhythm of His life and ministry (consider matthew 14:23; mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32–42; luke 6:12; 9:16, 11:1–4; 22:32; 23:46).

God is present with His people when they pray. Moses told the Israelites, “The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him” (deuteronomy 4:7). “The Lord is near to all who call on him,” affirms Psalm 145:18.

The Bible invites us to “always pray and not give up” (luke 18:1) and to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (ephesians 6:18). Examples abound in Scripture of the myriad reasons people pray. In 1 Samuel, Hannah pled with the Lord to give her a specific request, a son (1 samuel 1:11). Psalm 51 is a prayer written by King David asking for forgiveness. James encouraged Christians to “pray for each other so that you may be healed” (james 5:16). Paul wrote a prayer of praise proclaiming the majesty of God (romans 11:33–36). James reminded his readers to pray for wisdom, saying “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all” (james 1:5).

When we pray, we have the astounding assurance that God hears us regardless of our requests (1 john 5:14). Our heavenly Father is attentive to our prayers (1 peter 3:12), even if we don’t get exactly what we asked for. There is no more dramatic example than in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus asked His Father if He could avoid the torture and pain of the crucifixion (matthew 26:39). Jesus’s ultimate submission to the Father’s will does not negate the fact that Christ asked the Father for another way, which God chose not to provide.

When we accept the invitation to engage with God in prayer, regardless of the answer or outcome of our requests, we have the promise that He will be near to us and “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (philippians 4:7).

Specific Practices

As God’s Spirit encourages growth in the spiritual discipline of prayer, consider these suggestions—but please don’t feel limited or restricted by this short list of specific practices!

Journaling, or writing out, prayers is a meaningful practice many Christians use to help focus their hearts and minds when they pray. Keeping a prayer journal can also serve as a powerful record of answered prayer.

Creating a simple prayer calendar provides structure for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the number of people or situations to bring before the Lord. Dividing our regular prayer concerns into separate days gives us peace to know we are regularly bringing those requests to the Lord.

Prayer can also be an active endeavor. Consider taking a prayer walk. This prayer opportunity can provide variety to our prayer lives as we walk around an area, such as a neighborhood, workplace, or apartment complex, to pray for the people who live or work in the vicinity. Whether praying aloud or silently, this form of prayer allows us to see the places and people of our prayers while we pray.

To engage the creative gifts God has given us, we might consider drawing our prayer concerns. Those with artistic talents could prayerfully sketch out their requests. Others with more limited artistic abilities can explore using words and colors to create a visual prayer. Posting these creations in a meaningful place can serve as a helpful reminder that God hears our prayers for all that is contained on the page.

Corporate Worship

While corporate worship may seem like a newer development, the people of God have always assembled together. In the Old Testament, the Israelites gathered regularly for festivals and sacred assemblies to experience the presence of God as outlined in Leviticus 23. At the beginning of the church recorded in the New Testament book of Acts, the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (acts 2:42), creating an early catalog of communal activities found in the early church. While not an exhaustive list, it provides a picture of the recurring practices found among the first Christians as they gathered together. Knowing the importance of these corporate activities, the writer of Hebrews urged the church to continue to meet together in order to encourage each other and to draw near to God (hebrews 10:22–25).

Specific Practices

Worshiping in a gathered community takes many forms around the world. In addition to dedicated church buildings, Christians worship in homes, schools, movie theaters, or wherever God provides space. We can thank God for the church where we participate in corporate worship. Or, we can pray for His guidance to help us find a faith community where we can worship with fellow believers.

Visiting a different church can expand our understanding of the beauty of many different expressions of worship. You might gain a greater appreciation for diversity in worship through visiting a number of churches within your own city.

As we prepare to gather with others for worship, consider how we might be a blessing or encouragement to others in our community.

Study Question: In Paul’s final charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14–17, Paul outlined some specific ways Scripture could assist Timothy on his spiritual journey. Create a list of ways Scripture helps us and include an example of each one.

Reflection Questions: Consider the various types of prayer found in the Bible (for example, praise, petition, and lament). Which kind of prayer do you typically incorporate into your prayers and which do you tend to include less frequently? Why?

Application: Choose one specific practice from the core spiritual disciplines to focus on implementing for the first time or in a new way. Reflect on the blessing and struggle of attempting this spiritual discipline.

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