As a spiritual director, the most common question people ask me is: How can I build and grow a relationship with God?
That is what many of us are seeking, right? We want to grow a relationship with God that is deep, meaningful, and transformative. If we want that kind of relationship with God, the good news for us is that there is a very practical and attainable way. The way to grow a relationship with God is through practicing spiritual disciplines.
What are spiritual disciplines?
Spiritual disciplines are activities and practices that we do that lead to spiritual growth. They are habits of devotion, worship, and experiential spirituality that create space for God's Spirit to dwell in us and change us.
In the Bible, and throughout the history of Christianity, people have practiced spiritual disciplines in order to be with God and become like God. Spiritual disciplines make way for the transforming work and presence of God.
As we seek to grow spiritually, disciplines have the potential to build a great foundation for our spiritual growth and development. Regular practices such as prayer, silence and solitude, and regular times with spiritual companions are all spaces where we meet with God.
1 Timothy 4:7 says, "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." In other words, teach yourself to walk in the way of God. Take practical, intentional steps to allow the fruit of God's Spirit to be birthed in and through you.
What are examples of spiritual disciplines?
In we look at the Bible, there are many spiritual disciplines that we can find. The people of God tithe money, fast from food, keep the Sabbath day of rest, worship through music and dance, seek God through solitude and silence. I believe that there is something beautiful and unique about these disciplines, as they are activities that the people of God have practiced for generations.
I also believe that there is no limit to the activities we can do to experience deepening intimacy and relationship with God. God is a mysterious, creative being, and he designed each of us to have a unique relationship with him. So What Counts as a Spiritual Discipline? Pretty much any activity that leads to knowing, experiencing, and loving God.
Here are some spiritual disciplines common in the Christian faith:
- Begin and end each day with a quiet moment with God.
- Practice the presence of God.
- Worship alone and with others.
- See a spiritual director once a month.
- Pray for others.
- Seek community with spiritual companions.
- Have a weekly Sabbath.
- Meditate on Scripture.
Where can you start?
Maybe you already practice spiritual disciplines with some regularity. Or maybe you are new to the concept spiritual disciplines. No matter where you are, below are some questions to help you grow your relationship with God through spiritual disciplines.
ACTION AND PRACTICE
Take some time to reflect and pray with God using the following questions:
- Ask God to guide you and speak to you about growing your relationship with him. What is he saying? What is his invitation to you?
- In what ways are you hoping to grow your relationship with God? What do you want your relationship with God to be like?
- When and where do you feel closest to God? Pay attention to the experiences, practices, and relationships that draw you toward God. Are there practices that seem to draw you away from God?
- What practices and activities help your spiritual growth? What hinders your spiritual growth? What is most life-giving to you?
- Choose several disciplines that arise from your desire for God’s transforming work in your life that suit the limits and realities of your life. Begin doing those things.
A few thoughts as you put your spiritual disciplines into practice...
Try a few disciplines for a month or two. After you've tried something for a while, you might have the desire to move on and try something different. Listen to God and your soul. Allow your practices to be in response to God's invitation to you rather than a list of "shoulds." In times when I feel stuck in a spiritual rut, I will ask God the question, "What are you inviting me to do? How are you compelling me to make space for your presence?"
Be gentle and gracious with yourself. Instead of aiming for perfection and getting frustrated at any missteps, see the practice of spiritual disciplines as a journey of learning. Hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:29, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Jesus is a patient and gentle teacher.
May we each find ourselves travelling further along the spiritual journey.
There are many books that discuss spiritual disciplines in more depth, including these three of my favorites:
- Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
- Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives For Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton
- The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives by Dallas Willard
What spiritual disciplines and activities do you practice? What is a spiritual discipline that particularly helps you encounter God? Please share in the comments.