Spiritual Disciplines.

As I write this, the Olympic Games have just drawn to a close and we are now waiting for the Paralympic Games.  For the Olympics, there were vast numbers of TV channels here in England devoted to coverage of the Games.  We’ve seen people who have dedicated themselves to a chosen sport and disciplined themselves to get to the very top.  Their training schedules tend to be insane, and many of them have to combine training with ‘normal’ jobs to keep the money coming in.

These people have serious self-discipline.  They’ve got into good habits when it comes to training, and then they’ve stuck with them until they are among the world’s very best.

That’s what discipline tends to be about.  It’s not actually just about being a disciplined person, it’s about being disciplined for a reason.  These sportsmen and women wanted to live out the Olympic motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger‘.


For me, that’s a good illustration of Spiritual Disciplines.  You don’t do spiritual disciplines so that you can be a discipined person, you do them because you love God, want to serve Him, and want to be like Jesus.  You discipline yourself for a purpose.  Spiritual Disciplines are like holy habits.  You develop the habits because you’re longing to be holy.  A disciplined sportsman might get up early so that he can go to the gym.  A disciplined Christian might get up early to pray.  A disciplined sportswoman might restrict herself in what she eats, in order to maintain her physique.  A disciplined Christian might restrict themselves in what they eat, in order to avoid greed, or to associate with those who can’t afford to eat, or to spend time instead focusing on their relationship with God.

It’s all for a purpose.  You don’t invest time talking with your friends just so you become a better talker do you?  You’re doing it because you are constantly growing a relationship.  In the same way, you don’t pray just for the sake of being a good pray-er.  You do it to grow in your relationship with God.

It’s only because of God’s grace that we can relate to Him at all.  But because His grace is so amazing, He’s given us ways in which we can deepen our relationship with Him.  If we’re willing to make the time for these disciplines, if we’re willing to work on them, then we can grow in our relationship with God.  That’s awesome.  Give it a go.

7 Responses to Spiritual Disciplines.

  1. Markus says:

    You ask about my thoughts. Am I allowed to show a different way?
    You write:
    “You don’t do spiritual disciplines so that you can be a discipined person, you do them because you love God, want to serve Him, and want to be like Jesus. You discipline yourself for a purpose. Spiritual Disciplines are like holy habits. You develop the habits because you’re longing to be holy.”
    With this you refer to the “normal way of life”. If man wants to achieve something on this earth he has learned to discipline himself. As more we want something as more we concentrate and focus on it… even being in danger of hyper-focusing and tunnel-vision.
    So, it has to be here on earth… and we learned this from childhood on. It’s about practicing, practicing, exercising and exercising… and our “love” toward something or someone is shown by how much effort we’ll invest in.
    In your post here you show the same basis of action in relation to show our love towards God. Your thoughts are logical… but will lead to no success.
    The Kingdom of God isn’t the kingdom of this earth. What works here… won’t work there! What impresses us… is despised by God!
    Jesus took a child and placed it in the middle of His audience saying:
    I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
    Allow me to emphasize the word “little” here… no it’s not about children attending school already… learning to discipline themselves to achieve good results… it’s about little children.
    They don’t know this “way of life”! They don’t define themselves by what they “do” (action)… but live inin the self-image of “being”.
    There is nothing we can give to God but just this He has given us before. He already has made us perfect before Him (Eph. 5:26+27/Jo. 15:3)… and we can’t ad something to somehow “prove the worth of our salvation by disciplining us to express our love towards Him”
    A little child won’t do this… and unless (this is a condition) we become “little” again, we won’t impress Him.
    He has done everything… and He has done it perfectly! Nothing we can do can be added… we “are” sanctified in Him. No, it’s not a “will be” it’s already perfect.
    Can we do something for Him? Yes, we can! LET YOUR LOVE FLOW!
    Not discipline… but acting from the heart! Smash your Alabaster viol and pour your pure spike-narde of love over His head. Don’t worry what others may think… and how perfect your love looks. Be yourself from the bottom of your heart.
    Open your hands and let go of all you’ve learned to execel in! Don’t focus on what you do… enjoy your being… being Abba’s child.
    Don’t look on your imperfectness… it doesn’t bother Him! He sees you perfected!
    Just look on Him… and behold His beauty! Standing before Him in the Holy of Holies His radiance will transform you into His image! And no, it doesn’t need your discipline here… it’s just about “being”… being in the right place!”
    As the sun tans your skin if “being” in sunlight, so His Holiness will transform you into His likeness if “being” in His presence (2.Cor.3:18)
    Not your action but your place counts. It’s not about the “to do”… just the “to be”!
    As the branch will bear fruit if “being” in the vine, so you will bring your fruit if “being” in Jesus.
    As closer you are to Him as more your life will display His Holiness.
    We’ll become what we behold! This is the way of true holiness He will have delight in!
    I know this contradicts all that is in us… but it is the way God has set for us!
    As more we become emptied… as more we’ll be filled by His life! As more we let go of our control… as more we become controlled by Him.
    He will be glorified in your weakness… and His grace is suffient for you!

    Sorry, for this long reply… but I had to write this! My love was forcing me to do so!


    • nickparish says:

      Hi Markus,
      Thanks for your reply.
      While I agree with much of the sentiment of your response, I am uncomfortable with the apparent suggestion that love is effortless. I certainly don’t feel this is the case, and I don’t think that it would be possible to argue that God put no effort into the sacrifice which He made for us, in love.
      I apologise if you felt that I was trying to suggest we can ‘prove the worth of our salvation’ through our efforts. This is not the case at all. And yet I think it is right to respond to our salvation in a deliberate way. You say, ‘not discipline, but acting from the heart’. Well, for me, acting from the heart leads me to be more disciplined. It is precisely because I love God that I desire to live more fully with Him and for Him. I think this is an active not a passive thing.
      You also talk about ‘being in the right place’. I think that it is often discipline that leads us there, and indiscipline that allows us to drift away. The Bible not only calls us to ‘enter in’, but gives us plenty of help in actually doing so. I think the spiritual disciplines that have helped countless people down the ages are not a means of earning our place with God, but a means of putting us in that place.
      I suspect that we are saying similar things from different points of view, but feel free to respond further if that’s not the case!

      • Markus says:

        Thanks for trying to straighten it out a little bit, Nick.
        I would be very uncomfortable with the suggestion love being effortless, too! But this I haven’t said :-)!
        See you’re making a connection between discipline on one side and “effortless love” I haven’t made.
        Spiritual discipline is just needed when the “motor” love is missing! True love is pure motivation… just coming from another source.
        Have you ever been fallen in love? What is moving you from morning till night? If you haven’t been with her what moves you to seek her presence whenever you have a chance? What gives you joyfull sensations planning how to surprise her best?
        It’s love!
        And in Revelation we read about Jesus knowing about the works but having against them they left their first love. All our actions without love what is their worth?
        Love never will sit around being idle… flying in some romantic dreamland turning around I, my and myself.
        See, love doesn’t need discipline! Love is the motor keeping us active… other it isn’t love at all!
        I know quite some people replacing love by discipline… just they don’t have this motor love moving them.
        To say it short:
        Discipline comes from the head… love from the heart!
        Discipline comes out from a place of lack… love overflowing from abundance!
        Discipline creates a bondage… love runs all fences down!
        Discipline costs your strength and effort – powers you out… love gives you strength and motivation – empowers you!

        I wouldn’t say we’re saying similar things! We’re both active, this for sure… just I don’t need discipline to motivate me. I love Him and adore Him… and it flows from my heart as I am. I don’t mind about pleasing Him more… am I right this sentence gives you goose-bumps?… my Beloved is mine and I am His and His banner over me is love.
        I gave my self completly without holding a snippet back… and found my delight in sitting at His feet listening to His voice, doing what He tells me to do.
        Nick, I understand where you’re coming from – had been there myself some time ago – but there is a better way: being ravished by His sight!

        I love we’re able to speak about this so important topic and want to encourage you to write all your “buts” you surely have.

        Bless you

      • Markus says:

        Dear Nick,

        allow me to make it a little bit more clear by using a parabel… one I hope you can relate to very well :-)!
        Let me write to you about a guy being head over heals in love with a girl. Does he need to set his phone reminding him to think of her? No, he doesn’t! Awaking in the morning he absolutely needs no one and nothing to remind him on her, we can bet on this one, can’t we? Does he need discipline… oh, yes, he does… but not to think of her!!! He is studying his favorite subject mathematics… and he is good in it… nobody holds him a candle in maths so easily. But now his lectures become a quite difficult thing… always his thoughts are straying around… guess where we’ll find them ;-)! Oh, yes he needs quite some effort, quite some discipline to make it through his lectures.
        Well, I said he is good and others know he is good but though he so forcefully tries to keep his thoughts focused he can’t hinder to be caught in inattention, quite some times ;-)… guess why?
        One day his prof is approaching him, asking him if he has some private difficulties. He’s a good prof, you know, someone caring for his outstanding student.
        What did our dear guy answer? “Oh, no, no!”, he said “everything’s fine! I never felt better… don’t worry at all!”
        And looking at him… seeing his eyes… the prof knows immediately.
        Nick, am I describing effortless love here? Yes, our dear guy… needs no discipline at all to CRAVE for his beloved… he needs discipline… this really costs him quite some strength to make it through the day without her!
        And just one guess is allowed what he will do in the evenings… does it need discipline for him to seek for being together with her?
        Nick, do you see what love does with a person… and how ridiculous it looks imagining he would need discipline to connect with her enjoying her presence… all his existence spinns just around one thing: I can’t be without her! All he is deeply craves to be held in her arms!
        He isn’t caring about having eaten enough… doesn’t mind he looses weight… he just has one big fire burning inside of him: LOVE!
        Love doesn’t need discipline! Only if love is absent we need discipline to uphold the outer facade to prove to ourselves by what we do, we would love… but this isn’t genuine love. Genuine love is an unstopable force… as you can read in Song of Songs 8:6-7.
        Therefore God promises in the prophets to give us a new heart! Our old heart needs discipline to uphold the very shaky outer array of something never to be compared with love at all.
        See, therefore Jesus sums it up we will be OK if just all we are would really love God! (Matt. 2:37/Mark 12:30/Lu 10:27).
        Genuine love is all that is needed… all God expects from us! He won’t look on your outer actions… the only thing He will look after is LOVE!
        Do you need discipline for doing your daily work? Do you need discipline to make through your daily duties and have-tos? Well, then it seems you’re mad in love with Jesus :-D… this is a very good sign! And I pray your love will even grow… grow into an all-consuming fire!
        If you compare, what I’ve written here with all you’ve written about discipline above, do you see the difference?
        Discipline and love contradict each other! Love is the strongest power of the universe!
        … and as Song of Songs says: Giving all you have… could never match up with love!
        Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
        Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
        Love is the highest a man can give… and nothing can be added to it! All you do out of love is perfect… love itself and pure is the ultimate!
        Loving Him you will laugh about disciplines this for sure… absolute anachronism!
        Love can’t be proved! Love is standing alone! Every addition is defiling love… because love itself is sufficient! Love can’t be judged… can’t be measured… love must be born out of your very depth. You can’t compare… can’t write books about how to love better! God laid love in man… and as we’re all different single individuals… so love has to be! Every man has the ability to love… and this is what God desires to have from us! He made us for love… to be His partners in love! Therefore he suffers jealousy if our affection isn’t on Him alone! He constantly dreams about having our hearts burning for Him alone… but we just offer Him our rites, rituals, self-imposed religious duties and the disciplines we think would be helpful to develop our relationship with Him.
        We’re consumed with “serving” Him… but neglect what He desires (Martha&Mary): Our pure love!
        Love itself is perfect… and He delights in your love!
        Trust your love completely… and follow her directives… immerse yourself into her… and you’ll find your God as never before.

        Bless you in Jesus’ name

  2. Mia says:

    Dear Nick
    I cannot do otherwise than agreeing wholeheartedly with Markus. I don’t think a bride disciplines herself to be beautiful for her bridegroom. Her intimate love for Him transforms her as she experiences his love. I know it screams against everything that is of fallen humanity, but our Lord has called us to rest, not striving. The people of Galatia had this problem of trying to perfect themselves through their own efforts. We are called to live in Jesus, everyday in sweet communion, receiving His grace and love from the one moment to the next. In my last post where I linked up with Amber Heins on the topic, A Sweater, I talk more about how our Pappa freed me from self-effort into His sweet presence and love. You can check it out if you want to understand better of what I am trying to convey with my response to your post. Blessings and peace be to you!
    Your sister in Christ

  3. nickparish says:

    I suppose my response would be similar to what I have written in response to Markus 🙂
    I agree that we are called to rest, but I don’t think that this means that our faith requires no effort… I think that the rest that He offers and the intimate relationship that He allows have an overflow. What He pours in can pour out from us. I suppose I’d refer to passages such as, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ to say that He gives me what I need, but there’s more than simply inactivity on my part.
    Does that make any sense? I think my love for Him drives me to serve Him and others. This, in my mind, requires effort and discipline. But all the while I can be assured that I need do nothing to earn this love. It is, as you allude to in your blog post, no-strings-attached. I seek to live a disciplined life, not so that He will love me (because He already does and nothing will ‘increase’ His perfect love), but because I love Him. As I said to Markus, feel free to come back at me on this one – I might not be writing my thoughts very clearly!
    Thanks again for your comment 🙂

  4. Mia says:

    Dear Nick
    Thanks for your speedy reply. Nick, yes, I agree with His overflow to others, but when you look at Martha and Mary, you see that she sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words. Since He lives in us through His Spirit, He talks to those who just rest in His presence and hear His voice. I am not implying passivity, but a still quiet spirit in Him. Being a father I think you would love your boys just comming to sit on your lap and talk to you about everything. That to me is true prayer and I don’t think they have to practise to be your sons. You just love them. My dear Brother, if you do not agree we can agree to disagree, but I would like to ask you to read Galathians again. May I send you a study of a Bible teacher , James Fowler? Another example is Enoch who walked with God.
    No effort more than sharing his life with his Pappa! Remember the little wild flowers your sons pick for their beautiful mom. It comes from the heart and not even nearly represents a bouquet. Heart like those full of love that brings gifts to our Pappa is holy!!!
    Lots of warm hugs and blessings
    Mia (http:// hisnlovingembrace.wordpress.com)

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