Exploring Spiritual Disciplines

Rev. Deb Koster

February 1, 2023

In our busy world, many things compete with our attention to God. God invites us to a life of divine connection, growing in him as the true vine. In Jesus, our lives are supposed to be transformed and produce good fruit cultivated by the Holy Spirit. Apart from our connection with God, life’s challenges can feel overwhelming. Jesus encourages us to stay in fellowship with him, finding our strength and vitality through his nourishing, faithful presence.

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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

Richard Foster, in his landmark book on spiritual practices entitled Celebration of Discipline, introduces readers to a variety of faith-cultivating activities that redirect our anxious hearts back to God. Foster divides the spiritual disciplines into three distinct categories of looking inward, working outward, and participating in community (or corporate) disciplines. The inward disciplines are practices like meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, which guide us into individual moments alone with God. The outward disciplines are active practices that seek simplicity, solitude, submission and service, behaviors which help connect our hearts to God. The corporate disciplines are practiced with others in a fellowship of faith, including confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. All of these practices are avenues to connect with God and grow deeper in faith, each with particular strengths for unique personalities and in various seasons of life. We get to choose which disciplines will best allow us to dwell with God more deeply, depending on the path we are walking just now.

Gazing inward

The inward disciplines are practices that help you quiet your mind and focus, such as meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. These disciplines invite us to be still for a time and experience God’s presence. In reading and learning from God’s word or fasting and praying, we can remove the world’s distractions and focus on how God might be speaking to us.

  • Meditation is time spent resting in God’s presence and letting his word permeate our hearts so that we are hearing God's instruction and acting it out in obedience.
  • In prayer, we pour out our hearts to God and listen for God’s leading to reconnect with God’s kingdom vision for our lives and for this world.
  • Fasting (from food or any of life's distractions) is a valuable way to focus our attention on listening for God. An empty stomach is one of the most effective prayer practices in scripture.
  • Studying God’s word uses the intellect to seek God. Searching for a better understanding of what scripture meant to its first audience and what it still communicates to us helps to reorient our hearts to God’s purposes.

Engaging outward

The outward disciplines mentioned in Foster’s book are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. These practices involve behaviors that turn us outward, taking a posture of engaging God’s world and serving one another. Taking time to delight in God’s creation and steward well the gifts that God has provided are all avenues of connecting to Jesus as the true vine. As God’s grace flows through our lives we become a channel in which grace can flow into the lives of others.

  • Simplicity is choosing to set aside the excesses of accumulation and opting to live in ways that prioritize the things of Jesus.
  • Solitude invites us to step aside from the chaos and noise of our lives to tune in to what God is saying to us in the moment.
  • Submission means to act with a posture of humility, choosing to behave with a selflessness that seeks to put the needs of one another before ourselves.
  • Service is using our time and treasures to look to the needs of others and invest in caring for them. Serving others as we would serve Jesus is a recognition of Jesus' words of what our posture should be towards the least of these (Matthew 25:40-45).

Connecting meaningfully

As siblings together in Christ, God invites us to support, encourage, and challenge one another. We are better when we are spurring one another on to live as faithful disciples of Jesus.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).

The corporate (communal) disciplines according to Foster include confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Some of us as extroverts thrive in the company of others, being nourished by connection with others. For introverts, social experiences are enjoyable but deplete our energy reserves. Yet, we were not made for isolation, so the disciplines offer both time alone and time together.

  • Practicing confession allows us to have the accountability of acknowledging our sins to another, receiving and accepting God’s forgiveness in a more public way.
  • Worship is a core activity of God's people. Together we recognize and delight in who God is and all that God has done and is doing in our lives.
  • Receiving guidance allows us to seek God’s leading in the fellowship of another, helping us discern in community how God is calling us to live.
  • Celebrating God's gifts affords us opportunities to delight in God’s graciousness, even apart from how we might be experiencing the circumstances around us. Even in hard times, a posture of thankfulness keeps our hearts aligned with God.

These are a few ways to draw nearer to God as a community, putting our faith into practice together. May we experience God’s faithful loving presence as we engage with God’s people.

Get intentional

These activities are all beneficial, but require some intention. Being a disciple means practicing some discipline. What might it look like for you, day by day, to abide in the true vine? Which practices will you choose to make a part of your life? We have opportunities each day to stay connected with God as our source of nourishment. What disciplines we practice may look different in each season of our lives. With a busy newborn you may connect with God as you play worship music while doing chores around the house. Maybe with young kids, you can connect with God as you share stories from the Bible or prayers before bed. Perhaps with your teens, you connect with God through service projects or texting a verse for the day. Ask yourself what spiritual rhythms you can incorporate into your own life and the life of your family to help to know God better.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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