Spiritual Disciplines–Growing up into Christ

Douglas Gregg (with thanks to Larry Warner), Christian Formation and Direction Ministries

August 2005 

Spiritual Disciplines—Growing up into Christ

Growing up into the likeness of Christ is the task of a lifetime. And this is the call for a follower of Jesus—to become mature in Christ (Col 1:28), to have the mind of Christ in us (Phil 2:5), to have Christ formed within us (Gal 4:19). No one drifts casually into a vital spirituality. As Paul says, “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:7b-8)

  1. Spiritual Disciplines and Us
    1. Jesus’ example
    2. 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 (see above)

“A successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being—mind and body…. To undertake the disciplines is to take our activities—our lives—seriously and to suppose that following Christ is at least as big a challenge as playing the violin or jogging.” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines)

  1. 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 

“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

  1. Trying vs. Training
  2. Running to Win
  3. Strike a Blow to Your Body
  4. Having a Plan

Historical perspective: These guys were nuts!

  1. What is a Spiritual Discipline?

“Spiritual Disciplines or ‘Exercises’ are every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments and, after their removal, of seeking, finding and experiencing God in the course of our lives.” (From The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius)

“The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths…. The spiritual disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life…. The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that God can transform us.” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline)

“Spiritual disciplines, ‘exercises unto godliness,’ are only activities undertaken to make us capable of receiving more of [Jesus’] life and power without harm to ourselves or others…. Discipline for the spiritual life is…an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His Kingdom.” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines)

“Spiritual disciplines help us to turn into the wind, to turn toward God and to be shaped and powered by God’s Spirit. Spiritual disciplines can be that turning of the wheel, that help we need to bring to our awareness of God’s presence in all of creation and specifically in the entirety of our lives.” (Rueben Job, quoted in Jeannette A. Bakke, Holy Invitations)

“Any wholesome activity we regularly engage in with the primary intention of listening to and following God could be called a Christian discipline.” (Jeannette A. Bakke, Holy Invitations)

“It is not our control and practice of the disciplines that makes a difference, but our yielding to the power and influence of the Holy Spirit through the practice of the disciplines that gives God space to speak to us and guide us, to fill us and empower us, to turn us around and transform us …[We need to receive] from the Holy Spirit the power to do what we cannot do on our own: love our enemies, live without unnecessary worry, and give generously of our resources.” (Siang-Yang Tan and Douglas Gregg, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit)

  1. Classical Spiritual Disciplines (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines)
    1. Disciplines of Abstinence:

Solitude Chastity

Silence Secrecy

Fasting Sacrifice


  1. Disciplines of Engagement:

Study Worship

Journaling Celebration

Service Prayer

Fellowship Confession


(Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, divides these same Disciplines into three divisions: inward, outward and corporate disciplines.)

Expanded list of disciplines (Jeannette A. Bakke, Holy Invitations):

(1) Bible study; (2) prayer; (3) the Lord’s Supper; (4) fellowship groups/accountability; (5) confession (purgative way); (6) self evaluation (illuminative way); (7) focus on the life of Christ (unitive way); (8) devotional reading/Scripture reading; (9) silence; (10) meditation; (11) fasting/eating disciplines; (12) simplicity—vow of poverty; (13) submission—vow of obedience; (14) purity—vow of chastity; (15) worship; (16) service; (17) confession; (18) guidance; (19) celebration; (20) daily prayer covenant; (21) singing and praises; (22) memorization of Scripture; (23) listening to recordings; (24) daily witness; (25) proportionate financial stewardship; (26) ecological stewardship; (27) social justice; (28) visiting prisoners; (29) sacrificial acts of compassion; (30) family altar; (31) spousal prayers; (32) quiet days with God; (33) spiritual life retreats; (34) spiritual direction; (35) spiritual journaling; (36) affirmation; (37) soliloquy; (38) physical conditioning; (39) foot washing; (40) Examen of consciousness; (41) spiritual pilgrimage; (42) setting a rule; (43) living in the present moment; (44) Sabbath; (45) prayer of the hours; (46) artistic practices—painting, dancing, theater, music group, mime, poetry; (47) spiritual reading—biographies, autobiographies, Christian classics (old and contemporary); (48) secrecy—keeping silent about the things we do with/for God; (49) visiting awesome places—places of natural or humanly created beauty, devastation, or where significant events have taken place; (50) gardening; (51) work/daily routines/employment; (52) paying attention to dreams; (53) what would you add to this list?

  1. Dangers
    1. Manipulating God
    2. The means become the end
    3. Legalism
    4. Self-justification
    5. The “expert”
    6. Compartmentalization
    7. Laziness

Disciple to Teacher:
“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”

“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
(Anthony de Mello)

“In the spiritual life there are no tricks and no short cuts… One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments. Those who think they know from the beginning, never, in fact, come to know anything… We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life.” (Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer)

  1. Benefits
    1. We become settled and focused on God.
    2. We open ourselves to God.
    3. We discover who we really are.
    4. We experience an increasing awareness of God.
    5. We become aware of and able to respond to the movements of our hearts.
    6. We are able to make choices in line with who we are in Christ.
    7. We experience God’s love and faithfulness to us.
    8. We are renewed by God.
    9. We grow and continue to grow into Christlikeness.
    10. We experience increasing satisfaction and an increasing desire for God.
    11. We begin to discover and experience the reality of God in us and around us.
      (Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast)
  1. You and the Disciplines
    1. Uniqueness
    2. Try it, you’ll like it
    3. Rhythm of life
    4. Begins with desire
    5. Baby steps to success
  1. Remember
    1. We cannot achieve spiritual growth through sheer grit and will power. 
    2. Spiritual growth is essentially a work of divine grace with which we are called to cooperate.
    3. Opening ourselves up to the work of the Spirit requires discipline and effort.

  1. Recommended books

Jeannette A. Bakke, Holy Invitations

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Siang-Yang Tan and Douglas Gregg, Disciplines of the Holy Spirit

Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul FeastDallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

An Outline of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

Our “Desires” in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

The “movement” of the weeks: 

Preparation week(s): The Foundation–knowing God…that God loves me.

  • To become more attentive to God’s presence and action in my daily life
  • To be more open to the word which God speaks in my daily life
  • To recognize and claim my longing for God
  • To grow in my awareness of how I have been loved by God
  • To grow in the interior freedom needed to orient my life to God
  • To reorder and redirect all aspects of my life to the praise and service of God 

Week(s) I: The first movement—the reality of sin, grace, and forgiveness.

  • To be aware of sin and injustice in our world, to which God has responded with mercy and love
  • To experience my own blindness, deafness, and insensitivity to sin and evil
  • To understand death as a reality, as a consequence of sin and teacher of values
  • To experience God’s mercy and love for me as one caught up in sin

Week(s) II: The second movement—birth and new life—“Come be with me.”

  • To hear God’s call when it comes and to be willing to respond generously
  • To deepen my faith and trust in God who has become human in Jesus
  • To deepen my commitment to Jesus who in becoming human has embraced weakness
  • To deepen my love for Jesus and his way of living the ordinary days of his life
  • To appreciate more fully the identity of Jesus as God’s beloved Son.
  • To say “Yes, I will be a disciple who loves Jesus intimately and follows him closely”
  • In wonder and awe, to contemplate the human life of Jesus, who reveals the heart of God
  • To acknowledge the work of God which has given shape and form to my life and decisions
  • To recognize the ways in which light and darkness can both attract me and influence my choices
  • To be free enough to make choices in harmony with God’s will as it unfolds in my life
  • To grow in my ability to make good choices when faced with important decisions in my life
  • To appreciate the depth of faith and love which guided Jesus in his decisions

Week(s) III: The third movement—growing in compassion, staying with Jesus in his suffering.

  • To grow in my appreciation of the Passover—our eucharist—as Jesus’ self-gift
  • To experience sorrow and compassion for Jesus in his suffering
  • To deepen my faith in God’s redeeming action through the crucifixion of Jesus 
  • To allow experiences of powerlessness and waiting as preparation for renewed faith 

Week(s) IV: The fourth movement—participating in Christ’s resurrection.

  • To experience a deep joy in the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • To encounter Christ as one who consoles me in my sadness and discouragement
  • To deepen my faith and hope in the promises and power of the risen Christ
  • To draw upon my awareness of Christ’s abiding presence to me as I reach out to others
  • To be so grateful for the gifts I have received that I will want to share them in service to others