Cultivate: What Is a Spiritual Discipline?
February 11, 2021
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Our Journey 2025 describes our first milestone this way: “Cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline, transforming our lives and communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As people have started engaging with this milestone, some have asked, “So, what exactly is a spiritual discipline?”
In short, a spiritual discipline is a repeatable practice that
enriches our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit
cultivates the life and character of Jesus Christ in us
and strengthens our love for God and others.
Historically, spiritual disciplines have included practices like reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, silence, solitude, and service. But the range of faith-formative practices actually encompasses a much larger set of activities.
Adele Calhoun, in her accessible Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, introduces 60 different faith practices, including such practices as discernment, unity, and teachability. Lists like these are not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, they serve as an invitation to recognize God’s presence with us in each moment of our lives and, in doing so, to respond here and now to God’s ongoing call to join with the Holy Spirit in God’s reconciling renewal of all things in Jesus Christ.
Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit
Spiritual disciplines train us to give our attention to the Holy Spirit. This attentiveness is a deeply profound act of submission to God, recognizing that the Spirit is the primary actor in our ongoing transformation as disciples of Jesus Christ. We cannot make ourselves more Christ-like by our own initiative and efforts. We need the Spirit to lead us, to shape our character, to transform our relationships. We need the Spirit to give birth to new desires in us, including the desire to live more fully and more faithfully like Jesus Christ. Faith practices help us to recognize and respond to the Spirit moving in us, through us, and around us.
Cultivating the Life and Character of Jesus Christ in Us
The heart of spiritual disciplines is cultivating the life and character of Jesus Christ in us. Writing to some of the first disciples in the ancient region of Galatia, the apostle Paul describes himself as being in the throes of birth pangs “until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). As we put the various spiritual disciplines into practice, the Spirit tends to grow Jesus’ life and character in us. We begin to act, think, and even desire in ways that are similar to how Jesus would engage the world. In this way, faith practices help cultivate the soil of our hearts in which the Holy Spirit grows our capacity to both receive and to imitate “Christ’s self-giving, poured-out, redemptive love” (Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life) as we engage with God, with our neighbors (including our enemies), and with creation itself.
Strengthening Our Love for God and Others
In the end, faith practices align us with the trajectory of God’s love. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. describes spiritual formation as “a process of being formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others” (Invitation to a Journey). As we engage various practices, we develop an affection and love for others that embodies Jesus Christ’s compassion and even tears down dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Spiritual disciplines are not consumeristic. They are not designed to reassure us of our own goodness. Rather, they are missional in that they send us to love our neighbors with the love that God has for us. This occurs not only in tangible disciplines like service, but also as our vision for God’s lavish love in Jesus Christ grows through engaging Scripture, through prayer, and through observing God’s care for creation. Faith practices integrate our capacity to experience and respond to God’s love by moving us to love our neighbors, which in turn deepens and expands our love for God.
Throughout the Our Journey 2025 initiative, a team will continue to curate and create resources related to this milestone of cultivating practices of prayer and spiritual discipline. Some helpful starting points for exploring how you can engage these practices personally or with a broader community include:
The Faith Practices Project is a free online resource collection from Faith Formation Ministries designed to encourage a deeper, more life-giving faith through transformational practices. Includes resources for individuals, groups, and families.
Groundwork, a weekly audio program from ReFrame Ministries, hosted by pastors Dave Bast and Scott Hoezee, offers a two-part series on spiritual disciplines (Part 1; Part 2)
Everyday Family Faith helps families build strong faith habits together and make time for God in everyday life. It provides creative ideas for exploring Bible verses, talking about faith in daily life, praying together, and more.
If you have questions or suggestions related to this first milestone of Our Journey 2025, please contact Chris Schoon, Director of Faith Formation Ministries.
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