This teaching is based in part on Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster. It also contains my own experiences with the spiritual disciplines. Understand that, although I am using Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth as the basis for these teachings on spiritual practices, that does not mean that I endorse everything that Richard Foster teaches.
Rabbi Paul wanted his disciple Timothy, who was entrusted with important spiritual responsibilities, to be spiritually prepared to meet those responsibilities, and so he wrote to him: Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. For physical training is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). The Greek word translated “discipline” means to exercise or to train and from it we get the words “gymnastics” or “gymnasium”.
Even though godliness – being like God – being good and righteous – is more beneficial than any kind of physical training regimen, most people spend more time exercising their bodies than they do training their souls! People in the US spend billions of hours on physical disciplines. They work out at health clubs on machines – running, jumping, lifting, sweating. They can be found swimming, walking, jogging, biking. They are in training to get into shape and stay in shape, so their bodies will look and feel good and function at peak performance.
We need to do the same thing spiritually. We need to get into shape and stay in shape so that we will be godly – so that we will be pleasing to the Lord, and useful to the Lord and have genuinely successful lives. These Spiritual Disciplines strengthen and sustain our spiritual life.
One of the most important of the spiritual disciplines is The Discipline Of Taking In God’s Word. We take in God’s Word in a variety of ways.
The first way we take in the Word of God is by Reading God’s Word On Our Own. Regular reading of the Bible is one of the most influential factors in shaping a person’s moral and social and religious behavior.
In addition, we must hear the Word of God taught by a qualified, God-ordained teacher. Rabbi Paul instructed Timothy: Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). We must develop the practice of regularly attending a congregation where the Word of God is faithfully taught. We make it a practice to meet with our community consistently, on a weekly basis, whether we feel like it or not. Listening to radio or TV preachers and teachers are no substitute.
Hearing the Word of God is not passive listening that goes in one ear and out the other. It is active listening. It means paying attention to the teaching and preaching. When we gather with our community to hear the Word of God being taught, we pay careful attention. We think about the message afterward.
We take in the Word of God is by meditating On God’s Word. To meditate on God’s Word means to think about it, to ponder it, to contemplate it, examining it from different perspectives.
Psalm 1 tells us that if we meditate in His Word day and night, constantly thinking about it, contemplating it, turning it over and over in our minds, we will be like a beautiful tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season; we will be spiritually alive and fresh and vibrant and healthy and whatever we do will be successful.
The Discipline Of Seeing God In Creation
God teaches us through the Written Word – the Word of God. He also teaches us about Himself and His ways in another book – the Book of Creation. As we are going through our daily activities, we should make an effort to thoughtfully observe and learn about God’s amazing creation. Messiah told us to consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. King David wrote: When I consider Your Heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? The book of Job contains this: Ask the animals, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the Earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you.
We live in an unprecedented time of knowledge about the universe. We know more than ever about so much in it – from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the farthest galaxies, to the amazing miniature machines within our cells and the elegant DNA information system within us. Let’s take advantage of this new knowledge.
We discipline ourselves to see God in creation. We look for the order, wisdom, symmetry and beauty He designed into nature. We become aware of the mathematical relationships and the chemical, physical and biological laws found in nature. We try to observe lessons from nature. We take time to admire the thousands of amazing varieties of plants, trees, flowers, animals, insects, birds, fish and other creatures. We take time to admire the beauty of water in its various forms: a droplet on a leaf, the dew on a spider’s web, the rivers and streams and lakes and oceans, the clouds and rain. We discipline ourselves to notice the sun, moon, planets, comets, meteors and stars. We make sure we admire the beautiful landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. And because of all these, we praise the One who made them all and we stay close to Him.
The Discipline Of Prayer
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Rabbi Paul challenges us to pray without ceasing. Prayer is talking to God. Discipline yourself to turn your mind and your thoughts throughout the day to talk to God, having a running conversation with Him. Talk to the Lord about everything. Talk to Him about things that are interesting to you. Too often we only pray when something big happens that we can’t quite handle on our own. Discipline yourself to pray for the little things as well as the big things. Praise Him for who He is and what He has done, is doing and will do. Thank Him for His many gifts and blessings. Ask Him to meet your needs and the needs of others.
When you pray, start off by confessing your sins. Sins interfere with a relationship to God. Admit your sins, thank God for His grace and mercy to forgive your sins. Thank Him that His mercies are new every day. Ask Him to help you with a fresh start. Ask Him to help you resist sin the next time you are tempted.
After confession comes praise. Thank God for all the good things He is constantly doing. Praise Him for the Supreme Being that He is, and for the wonderful things that He has done, is doing now, and will do forever! Finally, after confession and praise comes requests – asking God to meet your needs and the needs of others.
Sometimes we run out of things to spontaneously pray about. Here are some ideas that will help us pray without ceasing.
Make a list of things to pray for. Pray for yourself and others, your congregation, the Jewish community, the Messianic Jewish movement, the church, leaders and pastors and rabbis and missionaries and evangelists. Pray for suffering believers around the world. Pray for your state, nation, government, your world.
Pray using the Psalms. Read part of a Psalm, and then use it to pray for your situation.
Pray using the Lord’s Prayer, pausing after each phrase, making each phrase your own personal prayer.
Pray using some of the great prayers of the Bible.
Try to cultivate special periods of time alone with the Lord. Get alone for five or ten minutes and pray. Yeshua had the clearest channel of communication with God the Father, and yet He often withdrew to secluded places for special times of prayer. How much more do we need to do that?
The Discipline Of Worship
It is good to praise the Lord, and sing to Him and thank Him and acknowledge His worthiness (worship comes from “worth-ship”, worthiness). We do this individually and as a community. To worship the Lord as we should we must gather with our community for congregational worship. When we gather with our community worship we want to be alert and fresh. We don’t want to stay out too late the night before. We want to arrive on time so we won’t be late, stressed and upset. We want to try and sing to Him with inner intensity and enthusiasm.
The Discipline Of Fasting
Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food or water.
Fasting can help accomplish various good things:
Fasting can help humble us. It reminds us that we are weak creatures, totally dependent on the great Creator.
Fasting can help with repentance. In Joel 2:12, the Lord says to Israel: Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Fasting, along with confessing our sins, can help us make sincere changes in our behavior.
Fasting can help us overcome temptation. Yeshua fasted 40 days before He was tested by the Adversary. In the spiritual strength of that long fast He prepared Himself to overcome a direct onslaught from Satan himself. There might be times when we know a trial or a period of temptation is coming. It’s good to fast beforehand.
Fasting can strengthen our prayers. There is something about fasting that gives extra fervor to our prayers. If you feel a special burden for a person, group, place or situation, you might want to fast and pray for it.
We fast for God’s guidance. Before Paul and Barnabas were sent off on their first missionary journey, they and the congregation fasted and prayed (Acts 13:3).
Fasting is done to seek God’s help or protection. Ezra called a fast when he led a group of exiles back to Jerusalem. He fasted for protection.
Fasting can be done simply to express love for God – that He is more important to us than our daily bread. Channa the prophetess never left the Temple, but worshiped day and night with fasting and praying. Fasting can be a way to tell the Lord you love Him more than food, that seeking Him is more important to you than eating, that your greatest pleasure is in God Himself.
The Disciplines Of Silence And Solitude
Just as there are times when we abstain from food, we also may benefit by abstaining from conversation and interaction with other human beings. The Lord calls us to family, to friendship, to community with our brothers and sisters, and yet there are times when we benefit by times of silence and solitude. It is good for us to get alone with God. He want us to get alone with Him.
Messiah often went to a solitary place, communing with God.
Yeshua said to His disciples: Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31). The Son of God wanted to be alone with His disciples in a quiet place.
Western culture has conditioned us to be comfortable with noise and crowds, not silence and solitude. Most people do not enjoy solitude. When they are quiet, they feel alone, insignificant, mortal, temporary, far from God, guilty, scared, small, vulnerable and confused. And so they avoid silence.
Silence can help us come to grips with the reality of God: be still and know that I am God. Silence reminds us that there is God.
One of the best ways to get close to the Lord is to be silent. To come before Him in adoring silence is a wonderful way of expressing worship. The prophet Habakkuk said: The Lord is in His holy Temple. Let all the Earth be silent before Him. In Psalm 62 King David expresses this idea when he prayed: My soul waits in silence for God only. David did not have to speak or say anything, only wait silently with trust and confidence in a spirit of worship.
Silence can help us learn control of the tongue which is critical to godliness. Ya’akov (James), the brother of Yeshua, tells us that the religion of the person who can’t control his tongue is worthless. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (James 1:26). Learning how to be silent, and not to speak unless necessary can have a life-wide impact.
Locate special places for having periods of silence and solitude. Find a place without T.V. or radio or internet. Turn off your cellphone. Taking a walk and praying, admiring the Lord’s beautiful handiwork, can provide this kind of solitude. Engaging in a hobby that does not require too much use of the mind, like gardening, can provide this kind of silence. Going to a place with a special view, like mountains or forests, deserts or oceans, or the stars at night, has a way of helping us make contact with the Creator in a special way.
The Discipline Of Serving
Serving the Lord is a spiritual discipline. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Yeshua said to His followers: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Develop the discipline of serving the Lord within our community. Most spiritual leaders will tell you that 20 percent of the congregation do 80 percent of the work. It’s the same people time after time who serve, and it is the same people who don’t. If you are not serving in some way, especially in your Christian community, doing something, helping in some way, you will never grow much spiritually.
Too many think serving the Lord means an exciting adventure, or a large, glamorous public ministry, when it usually means helping out in small ways within the Community of Faith – providing transportation, visiting the sick, teaching Shabbat school; helping the leaders; serving on a committee; being an usher or greeter.
The Discipline Of Giving
Giving to our faith community is a duty. Giving is part of worship. Giving should be disciplined. It should be planned and systematic, not just a spur of the moment thing based on an appeal by some ministry or charity.
Not only should we be giving generously to our congregation, but also to other good ministries that advancing the Kingdom of Messiah. And, we should be charitable to individuals whom the Lord brings across our path, as well.
Do your due diligence before you give. Know who you are giving to; make sure they are reputable. Make sure they are doing what is good.
I recommend that you try to give ten percent of your income. Plan in into your budget, and honor the Lord with the first of your wealth.
The Discipline Of Evangelism
Sharing the Good News is a spiritual discipline. Some of the last words of the Lord to His followers was a command to be engaged in world evangelism: Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. Messiah commanded each one of us to be part of this great commission – this great mission with Messiah.
We must set our minds to consistently engage in evangelism. Make a decision that you will share the truth in all kinds of situations and circumstances, whether you feel like it or not. Be ready “in season and out of season” to share your faith.
Don’t wait for witnessing opportunities to occur, for someone else to open up the conversation in a spiritual direction – take the initiative and make witnessing opportunities happen!
Prepare yourself to be able to give a decent answer for the hope that you have. Know why you believe and how to explain your faith intelligently to those who ask. Talk to those who are knowledgeable about evangelism. Learn from them. Know why Yeshua is the Messiah (Messianic Prophecies, Evidences for His Resurrection, His Impact on the World). Learn how to direct people to read the Bible for themselves so that they can start interacting with the Word of God. Bring them to a good community of Believers.
And when we fail in our Spiritual Disciplines, when we become aware that we have drifted away from God and are not as close to Him as we should be, when we discover we have lost our first love for Him, when we realize we have sinned (and sin creates distance between us and God), we admit it as soon as possible. We confess our sins. We agree with God that our sins are sins and are offensive to Him and have created distance between us and Him. We thank God for the forgiveness that is available to us because of Messiah, whose atonement is sufficient to atone for all of our sins; and we ask for God’s grace to do better the next time we face that same area of temptation. And the God who forgives seventy times seven helps us get close to Him once again. He renews us and fills us and empowers us for holy living.