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How Spiritual Disciplines Help You Follow Jesus


Have you ever wondered what it means to be spiritual and follow Jesus? Seems like an obvious question… yet lots of people call themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious” (SBNR). SBNR as a category of “belief” has been around since the early 2000s, but it’s skyrocketed in the past five years.

SBNRs are mostly young Americans who have been trading pews for yoga mats, removing themselves altogether from institutionalized religion. However, for those of us who put our trust in Jesus and desire a life modeled after our king, the bible is clear:

Christians must be spiritual and religious.

Let’s be clear about what this means.

First, to be spiritual simply means filled with the Holy Spirit.

It’s the Holy Spirit that gives followers of Jesus the desire and the power for a biblical spirituality. It’s the Holy Spirit that works to convict us of sin and move us to repentance and sanctification.

Second, some restructuring of life and habits must take place as we seek to follow Jesus.

We can look to New Testament author Paul and his letter to Timothy as an example. Paul tells his apprentice to stay away from “irreverent, silly myths” and to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). The idea of training here is not much different than physical or mental training. The difference is that instead of building on form and function for its own sake, the end goal is Christlikeness. Spiritual growth through religious practices.

We need to train, or exercise, in our lives to become like Jesus. We can’t just coast into Christlikeness, it takes intentionality.

This leads to the third clarifying thought: the aim of spirituality and proper religious practices is connection to God.

The Spirit has many purposes. One significant role God the Spirit plays is facilitating our connection with God the Father and strengthening that connection (Ephesians 3:16). Historically, we have seen Christians apply this through religious practices and more recently through the movement of spiritual disciplines.

Transforming Your Life through Spiritual Disciplines

So, how can you grow in your relationship with Jesus? Here are three truths about growing spiritually through religious practices.

1. Spiritual disciplines should be connected to the Bible.

Our practices ought to be biblical, meaning they are either promoted in the scriptures or modeled for us through the biblical story. Two practices rise to the top immediately: Bible reading and prayer (Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 3). From these, a few other practices emerge and offer us more specialized and distinct experiences with God (such as fasting, worship, and sabbath).

Rooting our practices in what the Bible identifies as valuable is important because it helps us distinguish between growth in our relationship with Jesus and just general enjoyment. I may enjoy yard work, there’s a discipline to the labor, and it may be pleasing to God, but yardwork itself isn’t a spiritual practice. Contemplative prayer and reciting God’s promises found in his word while I do yard work can enhance my relationship with God in a way that pulling weeds alone won’t. See the difference?

2. Spiritual disciplines should have the right goal in mind.

Why are we engaging in these practices? If it is for any reason other than communion or connection with Jesus, then they have been twisted. Again, the goal of spiritual growth is to promote Christlikeness. Motive matters.

If I’m memorizing bible verses because I want to fill the silent void in my small group, then I’ve twisted this practice. Instead, a goal could be to memorize bible verses to dwell with God and rest in the truth of Jesus, allowing these truths to fill my mind in my ordinary days.

3. Spiritual disciplines recognize God at work.

So how do we practice spiritual disciplines the right way? Well, simply put, the “right way” to grow spiritually is to emphasize the work of God through our practices.

Try to gaze upon God the Father as a loving and compassionate father who desires a relationship with his children and works towards that end. Seek to learn from Jesus as God the Son, modeling ways to connect through retreat, prayer, and knowing the scriptures. Partner in the work of God the Spirit who convicts us of sin and promotes spiritual growth and maturation in our lives.

Spiritual practices should reveal the work of God in our lives, not add more work to our lives.

All followers of Jesus should be practicing spiritual disciplines for the sake of growth. It’s biblical. It’s good for our souls. It will produce fruit. And, most importantly, it will continually show us our need for Jesus and the unending supply of grace, mercy, hope and joy found by faith in our king.

Of course, there are landmines to avoid along the way, such as turning a healthy practice into a legalistic way of earning salvation or grace or assuming the practice will make us better just by going through the motions. How can you grow in your relationship with Jesus through spiritual practices? How is God already at work in your life? And how is he calling you to partner in that work by training yourself in righteousness and faith? God is inviting you to engage with him through spiritual disciplines.


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