I was talking with a friend about the spiritual disciplines yesterday. I know not all are in agreement about them or at least how to go about them or even what they are. I think the ones Richard Foster covers are the classical ones and the most widely agreed upon ones.
Basically, what I we talked about was the main idea that they are “disciplines.” It takes work and effort to do them and be consistent about it. It takes discipline to read the Bible regularly; to pray consistently; to fast, to study; and so on. If it is easy for some, then perhaps it is not a discipline anymore or perhaps it just means that because of discipline, it doesn’t take as much effort as maybe it used to or did in the beginning.
Prayer can take work. Praying five minutes, perhaps for some takes work but not usually. Just the notion of praying for an hour a day overwhelms most people. But even so, one can decide they will pray an hour a day. They get started and WOW – they realize its a LOT harder than they thought it would be – now its a discipline.
(and I do want to note here I think there is a difference in praying for one specific hour and doing nothing else, and “praying all day.” Its not the same. And I think at the end of the day, the first is more “effective” than the second).
Additionally however, the idea of discipline is to build strength and endurance. Over time, with consistency, one can go for longer periods of time in any given activity if they persist and “discipline” themselves.
This is key because with discipline comes growth, maturity, and for many, real and true breakthrough in their lives.
What might I mean by breakthrough? Well, Well, usually it has to do with overcoming some thing that could be going on in ones life or personal relationships, even in one’s community of faith. Things like dealing with depression or feeling frustrated about a situation or circumstance. Even making it to an hour in prayer or getting to that 5th chapter of daily Bible reading and here is the big one – making it to the 5th day of fasting.
The reason many never really experience the breakthrough they desire is they do not pass the threshold.
The threshold is the place of breakthough.
Breakthrough in praying an hour a day usually does not come in the first 5 minutes but really that last 5 min, but you have to press on til you get there. The same is with fasting. Most people give up the day or two when the breakthrough won’t come til after the 5th day. Seriously. I know some are not going to believe me when they read this but it is true.
Its like staying awake all night – it gets rough but if you press on, after the hump of about 3-4 am (usually) breakthrough comes and you can pull off the rest of the night.
But here is the deal – you have to build up to it. It takes time and discipline. “Stick-to-it-ofness.” One has to stick to it, keep at it – press in and press on – then the breakthrough will come.
So, in what sense is a spiritual discipline “discipline”? When it takes some effort to do it – be it fasting, prayer, Bible reading, etc.
One last thing – I do think the “formula” (i know thats not good, lol) for true spiritual growth and transformation lies in that triad – Prayer (1hr a day); Fasting (1 day weekly; 5-7 days periodically); and Bible reading (min 5 chapts daily).
And forget not too, we have the Holy Spirit, the “paraclete.” The one who can be and is our help and strength in practicing the spiritual disciplines.
Try it! You’ll like it!