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The Disciplines
by Major Janet Munn

When you hear the word “discipline” what comes to mind? Punishment? Self-denial? Difficulty? Usually the word conjures up negative feelings of discomfort. One definition of “discipline” is: to instruct, train, correct.

The word disciple occurs some 269 times in the New Testament with almost all the references found in the Gospels and Acts. “Disciple” means “a learner”. It implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he/she is also in practice an adherent (Practical Word Studies in the New Testament).

For physical training/discipline is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8

“The disciple is to discipline him/herself in godliness as much as an Olympic athlete exercises his/her body. How much energy, effort, time, and dedication do Olympic athletes put into their training? Their sport is their life—unequivocally so. So it is with the disciple: godliness is to be our life. All of our energy, effort, time, and dedication are to be given over to godliness” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines).


We could say of Lance Armstrong, five-time winner of the Tour De France, “His life is cycling. His life is disciplined preparation for the Tour De France.” When people think of you, do they conclude that your life is Jesus Christ? Is your life all about the disciplines leading to Christlikeness? Lance Armstrong could not simply hop on his bicycle on the day of a race and expect to win. First he must have consistently and intentionally invested in athletic disciplines. As Christ-followers, we cannot expect to do simply do what Jesus did. First we must consistently and intentionally invest in the spiritual disciplines in which Jesus participated. The spiritual disciplines are a key part to the ability of believers to live like Christ in the world.


As we consider intentional participation in the spiritual disciplines, here are some foundational truths about God, His purposes in our lives and His provision for a victorious Christian life: 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and self-discipline. We have within us, by the Holy Spirit, the power to discipline ourselves. Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3). His power is within us providing us with more than enough for disciplined living. And in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is powerfully at work with and in us to complete the image of Christ in His Church.

We are not alone in the disciplined life! God Himself is working with us by His indwelling Spirit, and He assures us this is true by His Word of promise.


Consider the prodigal son, Luke 15. It took only a few hours to get the prodigal out of the far country, but undoubtedly it took many years to get the far country out of the prodigal. “He was instantly forgiven and justified, declared to be not guilty and given the tokens of acceptance: the ring, the robe and the reception. But almost certainly there were habitual thoughts to conquer, attacks of guilt for wasting the inheritance and the lingering censure of his brother” (The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity).

This is where spiritual disciplines are essential. They may be defined as life patterns that direct us to God and disciple us more fully into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

E. Stanley Jones observes in Conversion, “You cannot achieve salvation by disciplines—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain it without disciplines”.


In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard offers a helpful way to survey these practices by considering spiritual growth as a journey with three movements: first, the journey upward (to know and love God better), including the disciplines of solitude: planned availability, thanksgiving: waging war on discontentment, confession: being honest with God, and Bible meditation: crawling through Scripture.

The second movement in the journey is the journey inward (to know and love ourselves better), to include the disciplines of journal keeping and walking through life with Jesus (healing of memories).

Finally, the third movement is the journey outward (to know and love others better). This movement involves the disciplines of intercession, forgiveness, hospitality, social action and spiritual gifts. The order is significant.

Richard Foster divides the disciplines into two categories: disciplines of abstinence (to counteract tendencies to sins of commission) and the disciplines of engagement (to counteract tendencies to sins of omission).

The disciplines of abstinence include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy and sacrifice. However, these disciplines do not lead to balance in the spiritual life. One struggling disciple held the following conversation with the Lord, “Well Lord, so far so good. I haven’t said anything hurtful or unkind yet today. No conflicts with family members or co-workers. I haven’t lost my temper, had a lustful thought or jealous feeling. But it really is time to get out of bed and start getting ready for work!”

It is not enough to lie in bed and live “holy” lives. We have to get out of bed, and engage the world, interact with people in a holy way, in a way that matters. Thus, the disciplines of engagement are vital. These include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.


What is the Father saying to your heart regarding your life as a disciple? Hebrews reminds us that the Lord disciplines those He loves. He loves you dearly and calls you to a life of discipline . . . and victory. Ask your Father how He would have you grow in the practice of spiritual disciplines. Disciplines are not the means of sanctification—that is God’s work—but rather are ways of making ourselves available to God in spiritual growth. May it be said of you, “Her life is Jesus Christ. His life is all about disciplines toward Christlikeness.”

Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1988);







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