Ten Tips for Spiritual Discipline

Picture of Daphne Seefeldt

Daphne Seefeldt

Editor, River City Church.

We are now halfway through January, so perhaps your New Year’s resolutions are still on your mind. I hope you are sticking to them, and more importantly, I hope you can recognize areas of needed change and growth in your life and address them any time of the year. When it comes to resolutions, we think about eating better, exercising, and watching less TV or TikTok, but this year, I want to challenge you to also consider making some spiritual disciplines a part of your routine. There is a wide range of spiritual disciplines, from solitude and fasting to Bible reading and prayer. This article, based on The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, has a great list if you’re interested in learning about some helpful disciplines to get you started. Spiritual disciplines are those things in our regular—most often, daily—life that train us to become more like Christ. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 tells us, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Just as exercise and eating well are the building blocks that lead to good health, spiritual disciplines lead to good spiritual health. My hope today is to give you tools to persevere in the disciplines you have chosen to draw closer to God even as he draws closer to you.

Before I hand you these tools, I encourage you to prayerfully consider what spiritual disciplines you can add to your life that would help you grow in faith and godliness. Maybe you want to journal more this year to record what God has done for you in big and small things. Maybe you want to spend more time in dedicated prayer. Maybe you want to read a whole book of the Bible—or even the whole Bible! Don’t just pick the easiest thing—pick the thing (or things) God is showing you would be most valuable for your soul and spirit. If you’re at a loss, talk to an older Christian friend or mentor who might know what disciplines would be best for your growth.

Before I begin, I would like you to know that I am not coming from a place of superiority on this. I struggle with spiritual disciplines just as much as anyone else. I am young, and I still have a lot to learn, but these are some tips that have helped me as I’ve struggled to stay consistent in the last few years. Perhaps that is why I am putting this into writing, so that the things God has been teaching me become solidified and tangible for myself and others. If you have any more wisdom or tips to suggest, please comment them below to help me and other women who might be reading. Now, to the tools!

1. Something is better than nothing

Hear me say this first of all: something is better than nothing. Often we may feel tempted to go from nothing to everything overnight. It can be easy for us to look at our friends, pastors, and Christian influencers that fill their lives with a thousand flawlessly-executed spiritual practices, and we feel ashamed that we cannot seem to be as “spiritual” as them. But the point is not to be as outwardly “spiritual” as possible. As Scripture shows us, the point is to seek God in whatever ways we can, following the Lord with all our hearts. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” 1 Chronicles 16:11 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” We are called to obey and worship God, and we should be doing that continually. If your goals of spiritual discipline keep you from seeking the Lord, drop the. If they are unattainable and unstainable, drop them. Whatever you do, do somethinganything to seek the Lord each day. It does not need to be everything, but it should be something. Something is better than nothing. Are you reading one verse a day and meditating on it throughout the day? Great! Are you praying while you shower—even if you get distracted you have to retrace your thoughts every thirty seconds? Great! Spiritual discipline is not about volume. It is about seeking God in your day-to-day life. Whatever that looks like, big or small, two minutes in the morning or two hours in the afternoon, let that be your goal. Just do something.

2. Be realistic

This builds on my last point. You may have some lofty goals of reading three chapters of the Bible every day, spending twenty minutes in prayer at 10 o’clock sharp, journaling your feelings across five pages each day, or spending the first hour of your day in solitude. But when the kids wake up and demand breakfast, when your work starts piling up, when chores can be put off no longer, your lofty goals will shrink into the realm of fantasy, often to be forgotten in a matter of weeks. Take stock of where you are in your life right now, and then build a plan of spiritual disciplines accordingly, ones that you will actually continue to practice over time. If you’ve never read through a single book of the Bible, perhaps taking on the challenge to read the entire Bible in a year is too much right now; start with a gospel or a letter of Paul. As I said, you should be doing something, but do not feel as if you need to do everything. Be honest with yourself about when, what, where, and how you can fit spiritual disciplines into your schedule.

3. Fit it into your actual life

Let’s take Bible reading as an example. If you’re a young mom, it may be wisest to start reading your Bible before your kids get up in the morning or after they go to bed so that you’re not distracted. If you work a job that requires you to wake up early, it may be best not to have a thirty-minute Bible study that cramps your time in the morning. I have heard a lot of advice about when to read the Bible; some people say to start in the morning to put God on your mind first thing, and some say to end your day with him so you can fall asleep with thoughts of the Lord. Here is when you should really study your Bible: whenever you can. Maybe that means reading on your lunch break, or when you get home in the afternoon, or after dinner with your family. Find a time that works and then stick to it. I’m not saying that you should find a way to “fit God into your life,” but I am asking you to be realistic about when you are most likely to spend time with him consistently. The same goes for non-daily spiritual disciplines. Are you planning a food or technology fast? Do it over a day when you know there won’t be social obligations that would cause distraction from God. Want to spend a day in silence or solitude? Check with the people around you, such as your family, to make sure you aren’t causing them issues on your desired day. Spiritual disciplines often involve sacrifice (see tip #9), but it doesn’t matter how much you would sacrifice if you never actually do anything.

4. Use resources wisely

There are many useful resources that exist to help you in spiritual disciplines: guided journals, Bible plans, study Bibles, articles (hey!), and more. I struggle with prayer sometimes, so I have a prayer journal that helps me stay focused. My husband and I use the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan to work through the Bible individually and as a couple. And I often use the audio feature in the Bible app to listen to my Bible reading while I do the dishes or work out. All these things are a great way to help us focus our attention on what matters. There are thousands of resources, and I encourage you to find anything that would help you seek the Lord daily. That said, I would caution you to be wise about the resources you use. Of course, there is always the danger of bad theology. I have come across more than one prayer journal that had quotes or suggestions that are not, shall we say, biblical, so it’s best to flip through one before you buy it. The other danger to avoid is using resources in place of connecting with God: for example, spending more time reading devotionals than God’s Word. There is nothing wrong with devotionals, of course, but as Charles Spurgeon said, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” Be wise and prayerful about the books, articles, and physical resources you use in your spiritual life, but take whatever God gives you to glorify and seek him first.

5. Reevaluate as needed

You do not need to stick to the same spiritual discipline routine for the rest of your life. Let me repeat that. You do not need to stick to the same spiritual discipline routine for the rest of your life. For the rest of the year. For the rest of the month. It can change. It can change day-to-day, week-to-week, whenever you need. Maybe this is more obvious to you if you are less of a scheduler (I am, in case you haven’t noticed; I currently have three different daily to-do lists sitting on my desk in front of me), but if you are a planner, this is something you need to hear. Remember, “something is better than nothing,” and we want to seek God continually, whatever it takes. If something isn’t working for you, change it. If your schedule changes, or you have a big life change, reevaluate your spiritual disciplines as soon as possible so that you don’t lose out on time connecting with God. But never beat yourself up about making a change, so long as you continue to seek God first. Our God is a God of grace, and he is not sitting up in heaven ticking off how many days in a row you’ve read your Bible. He desires your heart. Hosea 6:6 reminds us, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Though we may not have literal sacrifices anymore, we can often try to replicate that with the things we do “for God.” But God wants you. So take your time, working throughout your life to draw closer to him, no matter how often it needs to change.

6. Accountability

Tell your community group about your spiritual disciplines. Share with a mentor and a few close friends about your plan to seek God each day. Text them when you’re struggling. Ask if they can text you at the end of each week to see how your progress has been. The point of accountability is never to shame you, but it is to encourage you that pursuing a rich spiritual life is possible when you make it a priority. See if you can find someone who wants to do a similar plan as you (say, you both want to read your Bible for half an hour at 6:30 in the morning) and hold each other accountable. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says it better than I could: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

7. Rely on God’s grace

I wish someone had told me this at the beginning of my time trying to create a plan for spiritual disciplines. Hear me: you will fail. I’ve already failed more days than not this week! There will be days when you are too tired, too angry, too distracted. You will forget to seek God some days. You won’t want to seek God some days. You are a sinner saved by grace living in a fallen world, but God has grace for you. When you fail, whether because of laziness, busyness, forgetfulness, or malice, pick yourself back up. Ask God for forgiveness, and then rest in that forgiveness. You didn’t read your Bible yesterday? Read it today. You didn’t feel like praying for that person yesterday? Pray for them today. You forgot to journal yesterday? Journal for today. Don’t spend all your time playing catch-up. When I would fall behind, I’d use to feel like I’d have to “make up” for every day that I had missed. That mindset will discourage you because it all piles up and becomes a spiral of living in past regret and self-condemnation apart from God’s grace. When you fail, start right back up again. When you fail again, start again. Ask God for forgiveness and then for strength to keep going, and believe that he will give it to you. Don’t let your past inabilities dictate your desire to obey and worship God.

8. Avoid social media

You can ignore this one if you want, but I strongly recommend it. Scrolling through Instagram and seeing influencers and your friends post pictures of their perfectly posed Bibles, pens, and coffee mugs is not likely to encourage you. If it does, great, ignore me and keep right on scrolling! But if it produces jealousy and inferiority in your heart, maybe it’s time to log off. Social media is likely to breed sin, or at the very least, spiritually degrading distraction. Pinterest has a lot of great suggestions, but are you spending more time looking up ideas than actually practicing any of them? If you’re the creator of content, do you read your Bible for your time with God, or for the validation you will get from others? As we’ve seen from all the verses so far, God wants your heart. So remember, as always, who and what you are seeking. If it’s not God, shut it off.

9. Sacrifice

This will not be easy. Spending time with God means losing time with other things. The half-hour you added for Bible study in the morning means less time for sleeping or scrolling on your phone. Dedicating time in the evening to prayer means seeking God alone and spending a few minutes away from your kids, spouse, or friends. You will have to give things up to pursue God, but he is the Greatest Good, above anyone and everything else. A common resistance is spiritual disciplines is the idea that “I don’t have the time”—I know I am guilty of thinking this. Do you watch TV? You have the time. Do you read the news? You have the time. Do you scroll on social media? You definitely have the time. Believe me, this is convicting me as much as it is convicting you. I am guilty of avoiding spending time with God in the name of “relaxing”—as if time with the Creator of the universe isn’t the best way to be at peace. I say all this as a gentle but nudging reminder. Paul says to us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). We are not called to a comfortable life, but rather, we are called to be children of God and behave as such. You will have to give some things up, but the reward is rich. Time with God is never wasted.

10. Above all else: it takes God’s strength, not yours

Finally, remember, you can’t do this. Seriously. You cannot do this. No matter how much planning you put in, no matter how many times you pick yourself up after you fail, no matter how beautiful a space you create for your quiet time, no matter how much you sacrifice, you cannot do this. You cannot pursue spiritual discipline—on your own—because it is the Holy Spirit himself who allows you to pursue it. God will give us the ability to pursue him: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, emphasis mine). Paul encourages us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). God is the one who gives us strength and self-control and might. Your sinful nature does not want to seek after God, but the Holy Spirit in you, who is far stronger than your flesh, will want nothing else. Pray each and every day that you will recognize and be receptive to the Spirit’s promptings in your life as he fulfills his promises to produce fruit in your life. It is only by his grace that we can seek him at all. So through the power of God in you, may you overcome the flesh and glorify the Spirit and “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

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