My practice of spiritual disciplines in my past have bordered on a check-list mentality. Read my Bible, check. Prayed, check. Meditated on and memorized a verse or passage, check. I can be disciplined in these tasks daily. But does my discipline to accomplish these tasks change me? Maybe a little. Maybe not as much as they could or should. And now I know the secret of success.
The secret of success in the spiritual disciplines is the same as it is for any type of discipline. It’s remembering the purpose. Physical discipline of exercise – weight loss or fitness. Academic discipline of study – to pass an exam or become an expert. It’s merely looking toward the goal.
The goal of the spiritual disciplines is to become more like Jesus - holiness, Godliness, spiritual growth. The discipline is merely the means to the goal. We must keep our eyes fixed on the goal as we practice the disciplines.
The spiritual disciplines will not automatically result in holiness. It is a gift that comes from God, and only He brings about the transformation. The disciplines are the means through which we open ourselves up to God to receive His grace and all He has to give that changes us. They are the channels of His transforming grace. The effort does not produce change; it merely puts us in the position to receive it.
The disciplines position our hearts and minds to receive what God wants to give. Our part is to offer ourselves lovingly and obediently to God, and then God does His work in us. We can’t demand Him to do His work, but we can open ourselves up to Him through the spiritual disciplines in ways without which we might miss Him completely.
Ultimately, as we remember the goal of the disciplines, practicing them becomes a delight, not a drudgery. They increase our awareness to God and our response to His Word in us.
One danger of the spiritual disciplines is the check-list or performance mentality that sets our foot on the slippery slope to self-righteousness. The protection we must take is to focus on God and the goal rather than on ourselves and our success (or lack of) at the actual practice of the discipline.