It’s very common to discuss working out to improve your health and fitness, but you almost never hear about workouts for the soul. However, the soul can be trained just like the body. Spiritual disciplines are the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift of the soul.
By creating habits around spiritual disciplines, we can strengthen our faith in much the same way that working out can strengthen our bodies.
An Introduction To Spiritual Disciplines
Spiritual disciplines are habits and spiritual practices used to grow and develop your faith. They do not all require self-denial, but many require you to think outside yourself. Each requires you to make a decision for someone else or for Christ. Over the centuries there have been many different examples of spiritual disciplines. Below is a non-exhaustive list:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
Spiritual disciplines can be traced back to the monastic orders and the value they placed on asceticism. Asceticism, which is different from aestheticism, is the practice of denying oneself worldly pleasures in an attempt to grow in faith. , It should be noted that asceticism and spiritual disciplines are practiced by many religions and spiritualities, although this post is dedicated to Christian spiritual disciplines. The Bible makes many allusions to asceticism.
In purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 2:6-10)
Christian asceticism and spiritual disciplines have a history dating back to the church fathers. They would practice mortification of the flesh in an attempt to remove the sin from their lives and grow in godliness. Practicing asceticism can get extreme it was not uncommon for monks to whip themselves. Taking lessons from those concepts incorporating spiritual disciplines are a way to strengthen your faith.
To What End
There are many benefits to practicing spiritual disciplines and growing in faith. They allow us to receive insights about ourselves and the will of God. There is often contemplation and suffering associated with many of the spiritual disciplines. They allow us to practice mastering ourselves. Self-control improves the virtue of patience, can help us remove bad habits(Like Pornography), and can make us better decision-makers because we are not letting our impulses guide us.
Ordering ourselves to make the right decisions is an important part of spiritual formation.
“But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” – St. Augustine
As St. Augustine said, we need “to love things … in the right order.” Spiritual disciplines shape and properly orders the conscience. In much the same way athletes and soldiers train their bodies, as Christians, we can train our souls. Soldiers train so when they get into battle they don’t hesitate and can complete their mission. Christians in much the same way can train so when they’re in a spiritual battle can stay obedient to God’s word.
“For happiness was said to be a certain sort of being-at-work of the soul in accordance with virtue” – Aristotle
The point of spiritual disciplines is not solely to strengthen your faith but to live not by lies. To practice what you preach. As Christians, we are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Carrying a cross is a heavy burden. Through spiritual disciplines, we strengthen our faith and make carrying the cross a little easier.
The Importance of Building Habits
In past articles, we’ve talked about how to build a habit of prayer. Building a habit of spiritual discipline is along the same vein.
First like with all undertakings of this kind, You have to decide if you really want to do it. Most people quit diets and workout routines shortly after they start. If you conscientiously make the decision and decide to make spiritual disciplines a priority, then you’re far more likely to be successful. It’s hard to accidentally have discipline and to accomplish something difficult.
Because you are making it a priority to practice spiritual disciplines, set up specific times in your day. Just like with workouts, carve out a time or make time to do the work. For some of the less time consuming spiritual disciplines use the rachet technique discussed in the prayer warrior post.
And as with all things do it with frequency. You can’t get strong doing push-ups sporadically. You get strong with consistency and progressive overload. Use that mindset when attempting spiritual disciplines. Start slow and build from a base that you’re confident in.
Spiritual Disciplines To Get you Started
While there are a countless number of spiritual disciplines. Below are some of the ones I’ve practiced and from which I have benefited.
It’s basic, but the routine study of philosophy and Scripture has absolutely strengthened my faith. It’s almost asinine to say. But I think everyone from time to time gets caught up in the concerns of daily life and can deprioritize studying their faith.
We of course can learn about our faith through going to church. But there is a world of difference between passively learning about our faith and actively learning about it. Active study allows you to decide what and when you want to learn something. You can prioritize your weaknesses.
For example, when I first decided to take my faith seriously, studying Aquinas’ proofs for God was invaluable. Daily bible reading also reinforced what I believed. I know a lot of people struggle to read the whole bible. If you make it a habit to read just a few Bible verses a day, you’ll eventually get through the whole Bible.
It’s important to personalize our faith. The more we actively study our faith the more personal we can get with it.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
I pray a daily Rosary. If you don’t know about the Rosary, it is a traditional Catholic prayer that involves the repetition of the Hail Mary and meditation on several of the gospel stories. In all, it takes about fifteen minutes to pray a rosary.
The habit started when I wanted to start praying more, but I’m not very good at “just talking to God.” It just doesn’t seem to click with me. So my past attempts at praying more never lasted. The structure of the Rosary helped greatly in this regard and has allowed me to stick with the habit. And I would encourage all Christians who struggle with free form prayer to just repeat and meditate on traditional prayers. It doesn’t have to be the Rosary. Just saying the Lord’s Prayer repeatedly for 10 minutes.
I struggle to tell you how amazing daily prayer has been for my faith. I have more peace of mind and I have never felt closer to Jesus Christ. It was difficult at first to carve out the time, and it was a bit of a pain. However, after a few weeks of doing it, I began to look forward to praying my daily Rosary. It’s hard to explain, but daily prayer has been the single best thing for my faith since I decided to start going to Mass every Sunday ten years ago.
If your faith feels stale, try adding daily prayer. Find a devotional you’re interested in, or meditate on God’s word, or just repeat prayers. Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes.
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor
Writing in a journal has many benefits for your mental health. But it is also crucial as a spiritual discipline. The act of writing forces you to take your unorganized thoughts and to prepare them in an organized fashion.
Writing enables you to make strong arguments and to know what you actually believe. That’s why I recommend everyone have a journal or blog they routinely write in. The study of faith becomes cemented when we write it down.
At no point do you have to share your writing with anyone. Just the act of writing your thoughts and beliefs down will do the job.
As a Catholic reconciliation is a sacrament. The penitent goes into the confessional and confesses their sins to the priest. And the priest provides some advice and absolution. In purely practical ways, it’s cathartic and it helps remove the guilt of sin. As much as we want to build good habits, reducing our bad habits is also a part of growing in faith. Having that outlet is important for spiritual growth.
I’m not sure how helpful this is to my protestant brothers out there, but if you can find a way to make it work I would encourage you to try. Maybe try something with your small group or Bible study.
If you’re looking to learn more about spiritual discipline, may I suggest Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. These are both excellent books on how to use spiritual disciplines to grow closer to Christ.
I would also encourage you to do more research into asceticism and mortification. They’re part of the history of spiritual disciplines and can provide insights.