Spiritual Training: Why, What, and How
About four years ago, I started running. I was a bit out of shape, and I decided it was time to start. I signed up for a 5K. I got an app on iPhone to go from couch to 5K. Completing the 5K was euphoric, so I went on to finish a half marathon. Finally, I completed one of my life goals when I finished the Chicago marathon about two years ago. I feel happier, healthier, and more energetic when I run consistently. But it takes time, commitment, and effort. Many times I had to run through my pain, my laziness, and I had to give up other activities.
This is what the Bible says about spiritual training.
Tim 4:7-8 (Phi) …Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit. Bodily fitness has limited value, but spiritual fitness is of unlimited value, for it holds promise both for this present life and for the life to come. 1 Cor 9:24 (Jer) All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win.
Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, said:
I have the impression that many people see their lives as evolving, just spinning out in time. Things happen, and then other things happen. There is no intensity of reflection, no self-confrontation over failures and stupidities. I see it all differently. I see the point in life to become more mature. That means to have more substance and bite, more character and understanding for having faced certain outcomes of ignorance. You make a big blunder, and you sentence yourself to months and years of sorting it out, until you are a person who won’t make that blunder again. You’ve gone somewhere. You’ve become something. Molding the Raw Material of the Soul, Huffington Post article
Why Spiritual Training?
Here are some spiritual training benefits I thought of:
- It builds character.
- Just as weight lifting breaks down muscle so that it grows back stronger, spiritual training tests and strengthens our character.
- It [character] lasts for eternity.
- As a Christian, I believe this life is just the beginning. Spiritual training improves my relationship with God, prepares me for eternity, and and helps me grow more and more to be the person He has designed me to be.
- It provides access to spiritual nutrition that will truly feed my being. There are so many substitutes and so much junk food. Noise abounds: the radio, pop music, television. None of these things are wrong by themselves, but if they’re our only diet, it’s like eating at McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our body breaks down with that diet. In the same way, we are spiritual beings created for our Creator. When we disregard spiritual training, we are living as anemic people. And we’re starving ourselves of true soul food.
Addictions and busyness often mask a deep loneliness and soul starvation that only God can meet.
Spiritual Training: What are the Disciplines?
Leo Babauta writes about life changing habits at his blog, Zen Habits. Spiritual training is the art of developing Christian habits based on the spiritual disciplines. [You can look up all the Scripture verses below at Bible Gateway].
Disciplines of Abstinence
We develop spiritual self-control when we’re willing to abstain from food, interaction, or sleep. Fasting is abstinence from food. Here are some Scripture references supporting this habit: Esther 4.16, Luke 5.35, Matthew 6.16-17, Acts 13.3 Solitude is abstinence from social interaction. Mark 1.35, Mark 6.46, Isaiah 30.15, Mark 6.31 Watching is abstinence from sleep. Luke 6.12, Matthew 6.38-40, Luke 22.45-46, Matthew 13.36-37
Disciplines of Engagement
Disciplines of engagement help us apply ourselves to live out the Christian life. We can think of the disciplines of abstinence as breathing in, and the disciplines of engagement as breathing out. Prayer is the habit of conversing with God. I Peter 4.7, Ephesians 6.18, Acts 1.14, Deuteronomy 4.7, I Thessalonians 5.17, 19 Study is Seeking and Searching for God in Scripture Acts 17.11, I Thessalonians 5.21, 2 Timothy 2.15, Matthew 7.7, Hebrews 11.6, 2 Timothy 3.16-17 Christian Meditation is Waiting and Reflecting on God Psalm 119.97, Psalm 48.9, Psalm 145.5, Psalm 130.6, Psalm 27.14, Psalm 46.10
Spiritual Training: How Do I Start?
Start small. Pick one area you feel most comfortable in. Practice your new discipline habit for 30 days. Then add a new discipline. Or, give yourself 60 or 90 days before you add a new discipline.
Develop morning and evening routines that give you time to practice your habits. Practice with a friend or friends. Find a like-minded friend who’d like to grow along side you. Just as dieting, running, and other disciplines become more ingrained when we’re practicing with someone else, companionship paves the way to discipline.
Use these resources for more ideas:
Here’s a Bible Study about the disciplines for spiritual training.
The soul shepherding blog shares lots of tips and inspiration.
Dr. Willard’s site provides articles and resources about spiritual training and formation.
Classic Books for Spiritual Training The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard
The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster
Image credit: lincolnroger / 123RF Stock Photo
If you want to grow into your full potential as a follower of Jesus Christ, start your spiritual workouts today!