Cultivate (Lent, 2022)
          photo: Jael Rodriguez, UnSplash

What Is a Spiritual Discipline?

A spiritual discipline (faith practice) is a regularly repeated faith practice that can, both personally and communally:

  • enrich our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit
  • cultivate the life and character of Jesus Christ in us, and
  • strengthen our love for God and others.

These transformations equip us to better serve God and our neighbour. Historically, spiritual disciplines have included practices like reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, silence, solitude, and service. But the range of faith-formative practices actually encompasses a much larger set of activities.

Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit Spiritual disciplines train us to give our attention to the Holy Spirit. This attentiveness is a deeply profound act of submission to God, recognizing that the Spirit is the primary actor in our ongoing transformation as disciples of Jesus Christ. We cannot make ourselves more Christ-like by our own initiative and efforts. We need the Spirit to lead us, to shape our character, to transform our relationships. We need the Spirit to give birth to new desires in us, including the desire to live more fully and more faithfully like Jesus Christ. Faith practices help us to recognize and respond to the Spirit moving in us, through us, and around us.  

Cultivating the Life and Character of Jesus Christ in Us The heart of spiritual disciplines is cultivating the life and character of Jesus Christ in us. Writing to some of the first disciples in the ancient region of Galatia, the apostle Paul describes himself as being in the throes of birth pangs “until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). As we put the various spiritual disciplines into practice, the Spirit tends to grow Jesus’ life and character in us. We begin to act, think, and even desire in ways that are similar to how Jesus would engage the world. In this way, faith practices help cultivate the soil of our hearts in which the Holy Spirit grows our capacity to both receive and to imitate Christ’s as we engage with God, with our neighbours (including our enemies), and with creation itself. 

Strengthening Our Love for God and Others In the end, faith practices align us with the trajectory of God’s love. As we engage various practices, we develop an affection and love for others that embodies Jesus Christ’s compassion and even tears down dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:11-22).  Spiritual disciplines are not consumeristic or transactional. They are not designed to reassure us of our own goodness; nor are they a means of getting something from God. Rather, they are missional in that they send us to love our neighbours with the love that God has for us. This occurs not only in tangible disciplines like service, but also as our vision for God’s lavish love in Jesus Christ grows through engaging Scripture, through prayer, and through observing God’s care for creation. Faith practices integrate our capacity to deepen, experience and respond to God’s love, moving us to love our neighbours, which in turn further deepens and expands our love for God.