Disciples and Disciplines

I never was a fan of the word “discipline.” It sounds too much like “punishment” to me. Not that my parents disciplined me very much. But the term used to leave a bad taste in my mouth, nevertheless.

But not any longer. Actually, “discipline” comes from the word for “disciple.” Ah, that makes a huge difference. A disciple is someone who Toddler reading a well-used Biblelearns from another person, trying to imitate the wise one’s life and teaching – as in the words, “a disciple of Jesus.” That may sound like a pretty fancy phrase for folks like you and me, but for any would-be Jesus follower, it fits.

For example, there’s the phrase, “spiritual disciplines.” Our faith says God is present all around us and in our lives. In my book, Growing Generous Souls,1 I say that spiritual disciplines are things we do to help us be intentionally present to this fact of God’s presence with us. These practices we develop – such as mindfulness, discernment, journaling, or prayer – give us a framework for our days, encouraging us to radiate God’s love while being involved in the world.

Adele Calhoun adds an important connection to this understanding in her amazing book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.2 She says that spiritual disciplines, such as truth telling, meditation, silence, and engagement in community, are “intentional ways we open space in our lives for the worship of God.” They simply put us “in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to [God’s] word in us.” By letting these actions become daily habits, we “give the Holy Spirit space to brood over our souls.” We don’t make God do anything; it is the Holy Spirit who chooses to transform us, bit by bit, inside and out.

One thing I love about this is its emphasis on making space. Even in solitude these days, our lives can get so crowded with to-do lists or outward preoccupations that it’s easy to fill up every corner of space in our minds and hearts. Have I checked in with God lately, the way I do with my best friend? Have I sat still and listened for a few moments, or asked the Spirit for guidance? Have I let go of “doing one more thing” in order to see God’s presence in a bird, a Scripture, or a conversation?

Another amazing thing is how each spiritual discipline comes out of a natural human desire. Our deep, human longing prompts us to engage with God through a common outward act. For example, underneath the practice of simplicity is the desire for an uncomplicated and untangled life so I can focus on what is truly important. Likewise, the desire beneath contemplative prayer is “to develop an open, restful receptivity to the Trinity that enables me to always be with God just as I am.” These natural desires subtly but persistently invite us to imagine sitting next to Jesus in person and learning directly from him.

Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves, but a process of drawing deeper into our life with God, prompted by our natural longings. In the process, we can allow crucial space in each day for the Holy Spirit to transform us. By God’s grace, the practice prompts us to grow more and more toward what God had in mind for us all along.

Try a new or an old practice. Let it give you some space to engage with God.

Your partner in faith,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Betsy Schwarzentraub, Growing Generous Souls: Becoming Grace-Filled Stewards (Garden Valley, CA: Generous Stewards Communications, 2019).
2 – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Revised and Expanded (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015).