Spiritual Disciplines as a Means of Grace

What our life amounts to, at least for those who reach full age, is largely, if not entirely, a matter of what we become within. This ‘within’ is the arena of spiritual formation and, later, transformation…Within are our thoughts, feelings, intentions – and their deeper sources, whatever these may be. The life we live out in our moments, hours, days, and years wells up from a hidden depth. What is in our ‘heart’ matters more than anything else for who we become and what becomes of us.
— Dallas Willard | Renovation of the Heart

Discipline. When you see the word by itself, what does it mean to you? We use the word, "discipline" to talk about how we train our kids as a parent or how we handle employees when poor decisions/actions are made. Discipline often means a punishment to correct disobedience.

Discipline can also be positive, though. I remember in high school, my desire to play for the basketball team. I was a sophomore who had been cut from the team during tryouts during freshman year. I was determined to be on that team. I disciplined myself to get up early and exercise, working on my shot, doing passing and dribbling drills, and speeding up my footwork. I wanted to impress the coach. I wanted him to see that I wanted it, and that I was disciplined in my workouts. I wanted to be on that team. 

Spiritual Discipline. When you put the word Spiritual in front of discipline, I’ll be honest, I think it can be misleading. I wonder if you are like many people that I talk with, that have treated spiritual disciplines like I just described my experience the discipline it takes to make a basketball team. You read the Bible and you pray, but the reason you are doing so is because you are hoping to gain or maybe earn something from God. That may be His approval, maybe its even an attempt to earn salvation by being a good person and trying to check all the correct boxes. 

Scripture is crystal clear when it comes to salvation. You can’t be a good enough person to earn it. There is absolutely nothing you can do. You and I are helpless and hopeless. Here is the most incredible truth, a truth that should bring you to your knees. The apostle Paul writes, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT) 

This leads to this thought: I know that Spiritual Disciplines are important, so now how do I make sense of the WHY? Why spend time in God’s Word? Why invest part of my day in prayer, meditation, or silence? 

I want to introduce to you a new term that from this point on will redefine spiritual disciplines for the purpose of this blog, and that is the term, Means of Grace. When I begin to view spiritual disciplines as Means of Grace, my perspective and motivation changes. I begin to view time spent studying and meditating on Scripture, not as something I have to do to keep my “religion card” or to stay on God’s “good side”. No far from it. I begin to see these practices as avenues by which God extends His grace into my life and continues to lead me down the path, day by day, towards the man He had in mind when He created me. No longer trying to earn something, I am simply responding to God’s love and grace. What can a man or woman do to add to the cross of Jesus? Oh, but to respond…that is what the Christian life is all about. 

Please understand that the spiritual life is not simply a personal experience. We are called to do life together in relationship with others. For the purpose of this month's blogs though, we will look at two personal categories of Means of Grace: Inward and outward disciplines.