What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? As a mom of three, I think of child-tears, frustration, time-outs (or worse), and me feeling frazzled and worn out. Discipline, if we’re honest, is not fun. Rewarding in the long run? Sure. But not exactly a word with a positive connotation.
So when I talk about spiritual disciplines? Well, the danger for you and for me is that we can bring this somewhat negative connotation into the conversation. But Scripture uses several words that are translated at “discipline.” One means to chastise, correct, or instruct (see Hebrews 12:6-7). But here’s some good news: God’s Word uses entirely different words to talk about discipline in terms of our spiritual formation. Consider this excerpt from my book, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival:
As we look at the spiritual disciplines, we’re instead aiming for the concepts of gumnazo and askeo. Gumnazo—from which we derive the English word gymnasium—means discipline in the sense of athletic exercise and training. We’re talking about a spiritual sweat here: regular “workouts” that keep our faith in shape. This is the word Paul uses when he urges Timothy, “[T]rain yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, emphasis added). This is the same connotation the writer of Hebrews intends when he prods his readers by saying, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14, emphasis added).
Askeo means the discipline of a master craftsman who employs skill, persistent determination, and great effort to turn raw material into a piece of art. Imagine here a blacksmith laboring into the late hours of the night over a blazing fire and hot coals to turn a chunk of metal into a perfectly shaped sword—this is exercise, training, and discipline done at great effort and personal cost. Askeo is translated this way in Acts 24:16: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
Just like exercising to loose those too-familiar pregnancy pounds, we train, sweat, and strive spiritually with a goal in mind.
• We practice spiritual disciplines in order to draw close to God; to experience deep connection and intimate companionship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4, esv). Through integrating spiritual disciplines into our lives, we’re able to abide in Christ—to be connected to the nourishment of the Vine.
• We practice the disciplines as acts of discipleship. We train ourselves by doing what Jesus taught when he said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10, esv). The spiritual disciplines are drawn from Jesus’ commands and teachings as well as his personal example. As his disciples, we learn from the very practices central to Jesus’ life and we imitate them. We train ourselves to become like our teacher, Jesus; “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
• We practice the disciplines as a means through which we are changed by the Holy Spirit. As we grow from spiritual babes toward spiritual maturity, our lives are renovated and transformed; and the disciplines are one means God uses to “grow us up” in faith, holiness, and Christ-likeness.
So, this year, as you live as a disciple of Jesus, how can you embrace spiritual disciplines in a fresh and new way? Is there a spiritual need in your life that a discipline can help you fill? Do you have a weak spiritual muscle that needs strengthening? Is there a spiritual discipline you just love — that speaks your soul’s love-language to God? Check out the category cloud at left to learn more about spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, Scriptural learning, prayer, meditation, life-change, evangelism, hospitality, service, simplicity, stewardship, fasting, fellowship, worship, and celebration. (If you want to dig deeper into these disciplines, check out The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival or a book like The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Check out more book recommendations here.)
How will you “train” this year?