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Disciplines that Bring Joy

The Disciplines of the Soul

Most of us wish that God would work on us while we are asleep so that we could wake to face the day with unwavering confidence and faith! We’d like to be renewed by osmosis, hoping that just being in the vicinity of Christians would make us more Christ-like and that opening a Bible would make us biblical in our thinking. If only such good intentions could make us godly! But although salvation is a free gift, the Christian walk is one that takes some basic disciplines.

Paul liked to use athletic contests as an analogy for the disciplines of the Christian life. “Run in such a way that you may win” Paul wrote. Speaking of the athletes in his day he wrote, “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25, 26). Let’s not miss his point: Whatever makes a winning athlete will make a winning Christian. If we are as committed in our walk with God as we are to golf or bowling, we will do well in the Christian life. We can take what we learn in our tennis lessons and apply it to Christian living.

Every Christian is involved in this race, and unlike sporting contests, each of us is able to receive the incorruptible crown. If we would take a page from the discipline of our athletes and apply their determination to the race that really counts, we would all be winners. I’ve learned that we have to buck the world and our natural penchant toward laziness if we really want to make a difference.

In this article I give practical advice on the “Disciplines of the Soul.” Let me make a promise: If you practice the four disciplines we will be discussing, you will see radical changes in your life within a matter of three to four weeks.

Jesus warned about the danger of having an empty soul or mind. If we want to think and behave differently, we will have to fill our minds with the right thoughts, and make those sacrifices that make our relationship with God a priority.

Please don’t think that I am giving you an impossible assignment. Practicing the ‘disciplines of the soul’ has different meanings for each of us. God understands our schedules, the state of our health and our struggles. But we must practice basic disciplines if we are to be ‘overcomers’ and receive the prize the Lord delights to give to all who belong to Him. 

The Four Disciplines

Q: What are the four ‘disciplines of the soul’ that should be practiced by every Christian?

A: Of course there are more than four, but I regard these as the basics. Let’s take them one at a time. The first one is meditation in the Word. We must hide God’s Word in our hearts if we are to be transformed.

Q: How is this done?

A: Every Christian should read the Bible in two ways: First, read a number of chapters a day, perhaps one book of the Bible per month. Second, take a few verses from what you read and ask these questions: What does this passage teach about God? What does it ask me to do? Is there a promise to be believed? A warning to be observed?

Do not close your Bible until you have food for your soul that you can carry with you for the whole day. God’s Word will cleanse and focus your mind. God’s Word is His means of communication and transformation.

Q: The second discipline?

A: As you might guess, it is prayer. Unfortunately, most Christians think they should not pray until they have a ‘heart hot for God.’ And so, because they do not feel like praying, they don’t. But it is when our hearts are cold and distant, when there is sin on our conscience, that we need prayer more than ever.

To keep your soul refreshed, pray Scripture! Take the Psalms and pray them back to God. Then move into the New Testament and turn Paul’s letters into prayers! I promise you, God will bring to your mind people, events and circumstances that relate directly to these passages. You will never pray the same thing in the same old way!

Q: How much time are you talking about for meditation and prayer?

A: Fifteen minutes early in the day is a good beginning. What I find is that when people begin, they get so excited about these disciplines, that they soon spend more time. My own experience tells me that if I ever miss my time with God, I sure notice it, and can’t wait to make it up.

Q: And what might the third be?

A: Now we are ready for worship. In its most basic definition, worship is ascribing worth to God; it is God-appreciation time.

In the Old Testament, priests did not come into God’s presence until they had first stopped at the altar to offer sacrifices; then came the laver where they washed themselves. Paul says that we should offer our bodies to God as an act of worship. Before we come to Church we should ask: Have I stopped at the altar, and have I been washed at the laver?

Worship is costly—just ask Abraham, for whom it meant a willingness to offer up Isaac. Or ask David, who paid out money rather than receive a parcel of ground for free. Job lost ten children and worshiped. Worship is giving all that I have to God, and saying that He has the right to glorify Himself in my life at my expense.

Worship is a daily practice that prepares us for corporate worship on Sunday.

Q: And the last discipline?

A: I am going to choose silence as the fourth necessary discipline. I have learned that my inner life can only grow in solitude. Spending a few moments each day in God’s presence without talking, but meditating and yielding, has become very important to me. God brings to mind sins I need to confess and areas of my life that have to be reassigned to His Sovereignty.

For Jesus, as for us, it is the lonely place that gives us time to connect with God. In those silent moments, we come to enjoy God and be renewed in His presence.