I’m Excited About Spiritual Disciplines

By Lynne M. Baab
Published in Spanz: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, June, 2008. Pages 2.

In this postmodern, post-Christendom world, we’re seeing a flowering of interest in Christian spiritual disciplines, particularly among younger followers of Christ.

What is a spiritual discipline? Any practice that helps us draw near to God. Bible study, prayer, service, fasting, sabbath keeping. tithing and other disciplines have been practiced throughout the history of the Church. Today they can take many new—and sometimes ancient—forms, such as lectio divina as a way to meditate on the Bible, contemplative and centering prayer, Taizé singing as a way to rest in God’s peace, and mission trips to help with disaster relief.

I’m buzzed about Christian spiritual disciplines because they address several trends that are emerging in our time:

The desire to be connected to our history. Modernism looked to the future rather than to the past, and the Church in the modern era placed little emphasis on historic Christian traditions. With the rise of postmodernism, younger Christians are rediscovering ancient Christian practices.

In the first few centuries after Christ, Christians fasted frequently to free up money and food to give to the poor. The 40-Hour Famine, popularized by World Vision and practiced all over New Zealand, is one example of reclaiming an ancient spiritual discipline, linking fasting to prayer and care for the poor.

The desire for authenticity. In a post-Christendom world, people feel no pressure to attend church. Churches today must help their members engage in expressions of faith that feel honest and address real-life issues. Many kinds of spiritual disciplines help Christians bring their faith into their everyday lives in an authentic way.

One example is breath prayer, when we breathe in God’s love and peace, and breathe out our worries and concerns into God’s hands. Breath prayer can be practiced in the car at stop lights, in front of a computer when a website is downloading, or in the queue at the supermarket. Many other “small” spiritual disciplines can be practiced as we move through our days, and can help us understand at a deep level that God truly cares about our whole lives.

The desire to participate. The days are past when people came to church only to hear the choir sing, the minister preach, and the worship leader pray. Churchgoers today want to participate in worship and service. Spiritual disciplines are one way Christians can engage in the life of faith at church, at home and even at work. Spiritual disciplines require active participation, and most of them can be exercised alone or with others in community.

The desire to experience God rather than talk about God. In my young adult life it appeared that many Christians liked affirming truths about God more than experiencing God. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Spiritual disciplines can help nurture an experience of God’s presence.

I have been an enthusiastic sabbath keeper for many years, and on that day of rest I experience the comforting—and challenging—truth that God runs the universe and I don’t. As I have learned to relax on the sabbath and allow myself to be God’s trusting child, I experience God’s enfolding love and care in a deep and healing way.

All of these are reasons why spiritual disciplines are flowering in our time.

  • What are the practices in your life that help you draw near to God?
  • How can you nurture them in yourself and others?

Resources on spiritual practices:

My book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation

Blog posts on spiritual practices

Articles:               

Seven-day experiment with wholeness       
Seven days toward simplicity       
Character and practices that nurture creation care        
Small habits, big benefits        
Learning not to walk         
Spiritual disciplines for people in ministry         
Nurturing communal spiritual practices online
Unusual sabbaticals: reflection, relationships and listening to God