Running the Race

Even if the thought of lacing up running shoes holds no appeal or hiking trails are not readily accessible, physical activity remains vital to us. Our bodies were designed to move. We experience greater health when we’re active. Similarly, our souls are the immaterial, eternal aspect of our humanity made in the image of God. We experience greater spiritual wellness—wholeness—as we engage with the One who created us.

Challenges of the Spiritual Journey

Hikes that promise a stunning expanse at the top of the trail entice us. We may set out in eager anticipation of standing beneath a remote waterfall, forgetting that the journey will involve navigating a strenuous path or scrambling up a steep incline.

We see the same extremes in our spiritual trek. There are beautiful parts of our journeys where “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (philippians 4:7) sustains us. Like David, we enjoy seasons of rest in which we delight in Go’s guidance leading us to lush, green pastures and refreshment along the banks of quiet waters (psalm 23).

But our spiritual journeys hold periods of struggle similar to that of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who ran in fear after his life was threatened following a great victory over the prophets of Baal. Exhausted, the prophet who’d seen fire come down from heaven and consume a drenched altar (1 kings 18:16–39) collapsed and cried out, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 kings 19:4). The apostle Paul wrote of being “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 corinthians 4:8–9). Paul also wrote, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death” (1:8–9).

These seeming contradictions are found in church history as well. John of the Cross (1542–1591) wrote the Dark Night of the Soul, giving Christians a way to describe the times where one feels “this growing suspicion that she has lost her way.” Pioneer missionary to China, Lottie Moon (1840–1912), despite seeing thousands embrace Christianity, wrote, “I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.” Evangelist Billy Graham (1918–2018) reflected on his journey remarking, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement.”

Spiritual journeys include a variety of experiences that span these same feelings. We gain immense encouragement knowing that others have traveled these same paths. We find sustenance through the rich legacy of men and women who have left us a treasure trove of spiritual practices rooted in Scripture to encourage us along the way.

Gift of Spiritual Disciplines

We refer to these practices as “spiritual disciplines” because we don’t have to wait until the end of our journey to experience the benefits of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. The disciplines are spiritual because they are activities and practices designed to aid in the growth of the characteristics produced by God’s Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (galatians 5:22–23). As God’s Spirit grows these traits in us, we continue on our journey toward becoming mature in our faith (see ephesians 4:13).

And they are called disciplines because they require intentional activity. Paul urges us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (philippians 2:12) while still affirming that it is God’s Spirit who produces these qualities in us (v. 13). Together, the term spiritual disciplines refers to intentional habits and practices that orient us toward God so His grace can work in us, cultivating more and more of the Spirit’s qualities to help us on our spiritual journeys.

Although spiritual disciplines must be practiced intentionally, they are not laws or rules, which would turn them into legalistic requirements. Seeing spiritual disciplines as a set of rules would also make them feel burdensome and draining—the opposite of God’s purpose for them in our lives. Instead, the disciplines are purposeful exercises designed to help us engage with God so His Spirit can work in us.

Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, may this booklet encourage you to grow in your awareness of the biblical foundation for the spiritual disciplines. As you explore these disciplines, allow God’s Spirit’s to help you creatively customize any suggestions to allow for your unique season of life and circumstances.

But first, let’s consider a common objection to engaging with the spiritual disciplines.

Study Question: In Hebrews 12:1–3, the author wants to help us avoid the real danger of growing weary and losing heart on our spiritual journeys. Identify several encouragements listed in these verses that can help us as we journey toward heaven.

Reflection Question: Describe a time when you have experienced rest on your spiritual journey, and a season when your spiritual journey seemed to take you down a difficult path.

Application: Can you remember a source of spiritual assistance or blessing to you in both of these experiences? How did they help you?

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