Don’t Make This Mistake and Stunt Your Spiritual Growth

Don’t Make This Mistake and Stunt Your Spiritual Growth

As a Christian, you want to grow spiritually.  Jesus saved us not just for the life to come in eternity, but for the here and now.  Jesus said to “Follow me”.  He showed us the way to live our lives and to live in obedience to the Father.  The practices of Jesus have been recognized by the church as the core activities of the spiritual life.  We call these the disciplines of the faith.  Disciplines do not earn us favor with God nor are they a measure of our spiritual success.  These are tools or exercises which equip us to live more fully and freely in obedience to God.  God’s grace enables us to grow and mature as we practice these disciplines.  Avoiding the disciplines that are difficult for us is a mistake and may stunt your spiritual growth.

Practices such as reading Scripture and praying are important — not because they prove how spiritual we are — but because God can use them to lead us into life.
—John Ortberg

The Apostle Paul likened the Christian life to running a marathon.  No one just goes out and successfully runs 26 miles without preparing through disciplines of physical activity and diet.  It is the same with our spiritual lives.  Growing in the knowledge of Christ and living in obedience requires spiritual disciplines.  Ignoring these disciplines will lead to our own peril.  But what disciplines should we give ourselves to so we will mature?

There are numerous lists of disciplines that are recorded in Scripture.  Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) focuses his list on 18 key practices.  However, a more expansive list can be found through the reading of Scripture or other authors on the topic.  Here is a brief list that will help you think about spiritual disciplines and how your own motivational value system and personality may inform the way you engage in them.

Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Simplicity, Service, Fellowship, Journaling (reflection), Chastity, Stewardship, Submission/Obedience, Study, Evangelism, Contemplation, Confession, Solitude, Gratitude, Self-Examination, Silence, Celebration, Abstinence (self-denial), Generosity, Worship.

When you review the list of disciplines you may notice that some of them are very easy for you and others are extremely difficult.  This is because some disciplines are natural to your motivational value system and others are not.  In fact, they may be inherently difficult for you.  This isn’t because you don’t want to grow in Christ, but because your personality finds those practices opposite of your natural strengths.  If you simply avoid disciplines that are difficult for you, you may find yourself avoiding the very practices you need the most in your spiritual life.

Let’s take the discipline of Study and Journaling for example.  These two disciplines are often easy for a person who is Process oriented (GREEN).  If you have a fair amount of GREEN in you, these disciplines may be a regular part of your practice already.  You enjoy learning facts and exploring different perspectives.  You may also enjoy writing down what you are learning and even reviewing your thoughts from time to time.  But there may be other disciplines that are not natural to you like Fellowship or Submission.  Process people like being alone and find spending too much time with other people strenuous and depleting.  Submitting to others can also be challenge when you know you are right.

A person who is focused on People will probably gravitate to the disciplines of Fellowship and Service.  They love being around people and are energized when they do.  They find fulfillment in serving especially when they know they are helping other people.  No one needs push you to put these practices into your life because they are natural to you.  However, the disciplines of Silence and Meditation may be much harder for you.  Being quiet and reflecting requires pulling away from others.  You might even say you don’t enjoy those practices, though they might be what you need most in your life.

I am a Performance oriented person (RED) and like to see things get done.  My mind is always racing with the next ideas and building plans for the future.  The discipline of Stewardship is easy for me because I believe I am a steward of God with what he has given me.  I enjoy giving and seeing the fruit of those gifts build the Kingdom of God.  I also like to serve and make a difference.  Giving of my time to advance the Kingdom is a natural response of my personality.  But there are disciplines that come very hard for me:  Silence and Solitude are the most difficult for me.  How can I get things done when I’m not directing or managing?  Being alone is so challenging especially for long periods of time.  Yet these disciplines are needed in my life because God wants to speak to me and when I am too busy, I miss what he wants to say.

We all have disciplines that are natural to us and others that are ridiculously hard.  Avoiding the disciplines that are hard will hamper our growth.  Some would argue that the hard disciplines are the very ones we need the most to conform us to His image.

I would suggest to you that you read through the list of disciplines and identify the disciplines that are most difficult for you and reflect on why this is so.  Are they related to your motivational value system?  Why are those specific practices so hard for you?  Once you identified the practices that you find so difficult, take one at a time and begin to put it into practice and discover how God may work in your life.

If you are discipling another person, you might want to think about how God has created that person uniquely and what disciplines you might help them put into their lives.  There is a time and season for everything under heaven.  I am not suggesting that you give all your energy and focus on the disciplines that you find most challenging and ignore those that are natural to you.  But I am suggesting that avoiding practices that are designed by God to conform you to His image is not a good idea.  Lean into these disciplines in a strategic way.

For instance, because I am a Performance kind of person and silence and solitude is difficult for me, I am not going to take a vow of silence for 30 days.  I wouldn’t make it anyway!  However, it is important for me to put this discipline in my life in a way that enables my growth in Christ.  One day a month of silence and solitude is doable and profitable for me.  Getting away without other people is necessary so I can disconnect from my plans and “doing” and be with God alone.  When I do this, I come away refreshed and renewed.  Often times it sends me in a new and different direction.

What discipline do you find most difficult for you?  How might you implement that discipline in your life?  How might God want to work in your life as a result of that discipline?  I hope you will take this as a challenge and opportunity to grow in your faith in ways that you may have been avoiding in the past.  Your self-awareness about your personality and what motivates you may give you insight into why you struggle to engage with your whole heart in all the disciplines.

One way to overcome that reluctance is to connect your motivation to the discipline you may not find that attractive.  For instance for me, silence and solitude are not natural to me.  However, I can see that I will be more useful to the King and His Kingdom and get the right things done if I take time to be quiet and alone periodically.  Connecting the dots about how God may want to work in you may help you to engage with your whole heart and experience the transformation God intends for you.

If you desire to learn more about spiritual disciplines I highly recommend that you read Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline). 

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.