[Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on the Spiritual Disciplines.]
In a previous post, we listed the spiritual disciplines as they have been presented by others. But where did these various practices come from? Are they just good ideas from modern pastors and authors? Or are their origins more significant than that?
The short answer is that the spiritual disciplines come from what we see in scripture. However, we can be a bit more specific than that…
We can, at least partially, anchor the origin of the disciplines, and the wisdom of employing disciplines, in Proverbs. John Mark Comer (podcast) makes this connection, mentioning Proverbs 21:29, “A wicked man puts on a bold face, but the upright gives thought to his ways.” We might also mention Proverbs 23:26, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” As Comer points out, we are not only to think about the what and why of wisdom, but also the how. We are to consider the “ways” of the wise. How do they live their lives? How do they go about life? What habits or practices do we see them keep?
So it’s not just that we consider beliefs, doctrine, theology, something we commonly equate with being a faithful Christian, but we also consider the paths of the righteous, how others have walked.
Ways can be just as instructive as words. This is why a youtube video is more helpful than just the instructions; you can see the way they executed it. This is why a wife can win her husband without a word (“…they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives…” 1 Peter 3:1b). This is why a parent can say all the right things, but their ways belie their true theology and misguide their children. And this is why one parent may be quiet and lack the gift of teaching, and yet in their peaceful ways their children learn godliness. This is why we say “Actions speak louder than words.” Because they often do.
The main source of the specific disciplines themselves is the life of Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, perfect in every way. And if we are to consider the ways of the wise, who better to consider?
Many of the disciplines listed previously have been culled from the ways of Jesus. So we look not only to his words, but we watch what Jesus did and the way he did it. For example, Jesus says to pray. We know that. But we also consider how he went about prayer. How: He often got up early to pray. How: He often went to remote places in nature by himself. So, if I want to be like Jesus, I should listen to what he says about prayer, and, per Proverbs 21:29, I should also consider how he prayed. Because if Jesus needed to do that, how much more do I?
We may finally expand our list of disciplines to include any practices commended in scripture. Whitney (2014) says, “The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times” (p. 4). So, for example, Peter says to be subject to leadership (1 Peter 5:5), and Hebrews says not to forsake the fellowship (Hebrews 10:25). We thus put those practices on the list, too.
We might also note from the Whitney quote above that these practices “have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.” The origins are in scripture, but the final list has also been partially shaped by church history and may look slightly different in different church contexts.
More Than Fads
What is important to see here is that as we look into the spiritual disciplines we are not just trying out fads.
These practices are not just good ideas or interesting diversions. They are not just the latest workout in some spiritual health magazine. These are ancient, biblical, wise, tried-and-true paths. To step into these paths is to step onto solid ground.
These practices are reliable and will bless you, and that is my hope for you as you consider implementing them in your own life, that you will be blessed.