The Spirit of the Disciplines (Dallas Willard)


Individual practice is an important aspect of one’s relationship with their Father in Heaven.  Since we are human we must rely heavily upon what we do physically for our spiritual maturity and advancement.  We must physically, mentally, and emotionally work on becoming the best Christian we can, gaining the deepest relationship with God that we can, and trying to live our lives like Jesus Christ Himself.

In the book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard states: “My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”  (Preface ix)

Living our lives trying to follow the teachings and overall actions of Jesus will help us to become strong, mature Christians.  Willard goes on to state: “If we are to participate in the reign of God, it can only be by our actions.  And our actions are physical – we live only in the processes of our bodies.  To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives.” (31)

Simply put, we cannot practice Christianity in our minds alone, for what we set our minds to should also be reflected in our daily actions.

The individual practices that we work on in our daily Christian walk are considered our spiritual disciplines, for they help us become stronger in the Lord, growing in spirituality and relationship.  “What then is the specific role of spiritual disciplines?  Their role rests upon the nature of the embodied human self – they are to mold and shape it.” (Willard, 92)  These spiritual disciplines are the physical things that we can practice to try to become more like Jesus in our thoughts, emotions, and overall actions.

In the Christian life there are many different disciplines that we have the opportunity to practice.  There are some more popular and more expected than others, but depending on the needs of the individual Christian there can be many various spiritual areas to work on and improve in discipline.  “Disciplines of Abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice.  Disciplines of Engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission.” (Willard, 158)

The most practiced and common discipline of Christians in prayer.  Prayer can be explained simply as loving communication with God.  It is an act of love for a number of reasons: it is natural and not forced, it is honest and not deceptive, it is simple and not complicated, it is continual and not sporadic, and it is personal and not mechanical.  It is communication for two reasons which are we are talking to God and God is talking to us.  Just as it is important for people to continually keep some communication open between those who they want to have relationships with, one must also keep open the communication with God.

James 5:13-16 (ESV) says:

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Along with prayer comes the discipline of fasting.  Fasting has not been seen as very important in modern day society as much as it was in Biblical times.  Prayer and fasting were almost always intertwined together, as a way to focus on the Lord and show one’s reliance upon Him alone.

Fasting does not have to be days without food or water, but can be expressed in many different ways, such as skipping a meal to focus on prayer and meditation with God.  Adding aspects of fasting to one’s spiritual life with promote growth, for one’s thanksgiving towards the Lord as well as overall trust and reliance will surely improve and strengthen.

Solitude and meditation are two incredible disciplines which promote being alone with the Lord in an individual, quiet, personal, intimate setting.  There were many times throughout Jesus’ life, as seen in the Gospel, where He would go off alone and spend time with our Father in Heaven.  This was Jesus’ time to spend in quiet mediation with the Lord in order to receive wisdom, gain insight, intimately pray, and many other spiritually richening practices.

Intimate time spend with God creates an intimate relationship with the Lord, therefore strengthening one’s spiritual life.  Not only will a believe be able to listen to God, this time of quiet can be used to reflect on one’s Christian life, and possibly think of things that they might need to improve or work on further.  Setting aside time meant specifically for the Lord is a very important spiritual practice, especially in the fast paced, on-the-go, modern society.

The spiritual discipline and practice of simply reading the Word of God is one of the most important and beneficial ways to grow spiritually.  Diving into the Word can be one of the easiest ways to gain simple knowledge of the Lord and His teachings.  When one is familiar with the Word of God, then they will naturally begin to apply some of the teachings and concepts they learn into their daily lives.  The Word of God can be used as a guide in life situations, as well as a weapon against evil and temptation.

Being able to read, comprehend, and apply the Word of God to one’s life in a purposeful and disciplined manner will help a Christian grow spiritually, and gain a deeper more intimate relationship and understanding of the Lord.

In the large pool of spiritual practices and discipline, one can find solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission, and many more.  All of these physical practices can be used to directly improve and strengthen the spiritual lives and overall relationship one has with Jesus Christ.

As a Christian one is expected to transform their lives and begin living as Jesus Himself as taught.  Doing so is not always easy in the world we live in, however, practicing spiritual disciplines can help us hone in on our spiritual qualities and attributes and develop them to maturity.  Just as a child must progress through the various levels of schooling in order to mature in their knowledge, a Christian must continually practice and progress in their walk with Christ and knowledge of the will of God.


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