Archive for the ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ Category

Billy Graham once said having a daily Quiet Time was his most important spiritual discipline. It’s mine too. I know how helpful it has been to stabilize my walk and focus my attention on God’s ways.

However, in my early Christian years I put more emphasis on having a devotional time than was healthy. I almost lost my relationship with my future wife when I blurted out to her “I don’t see how anyone could walk with God and not have a daily Quiet Time” in response to her confessed struggle over practicing the discipline.

Over the years, this time has grown to be the highlight of my day. I enjoy it as I spend time in his presence.

Why should we have a daily Quiet Time?

Spending time with God in this way is similar to when Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to him (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus commended her for doing this and warned Martha her busyness was distracting her from listening to what he had to say.

Being with Jesus in a devotional time allows us to receive from him guidance, encouragement and insight into the perplexing challenges we face. We also grow in our friendship and confidence in his willingness and ability to help us through the thorny issues we often face.

We are also better able to see life from his perspective and grow wiser.

We not only get to know God better, but also ourselves as he reveals our hearts. He grows us as we make the effort to be available to him in this way.

Practicing this discipline is a way to show God we put him first. We don’t try to change the world in our own fortitude alone, but wait for him to give us the strength.

So, how do we connect to God in a daily Quiet Time?

For me, an early morning time works best. It helps start my day off with God’s perspective. If you’re not a morning person, another time of the day may be better.

Remember to be flexible and open to God’s leading in what to do. Focus on the Word and prayer. It’s not a religious duty. It is a living, breathing time with God. He is a real Person who may guide us through our thoughts, the Word or in some other way to do something different than we had planned.

In recent years, I have often begun the time with asking him to reveal my heart. Often, he uses my feelings to help me identify my heart beliefs. “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:22-23, NASB).

Once revealed, ask God for help in living his truth, for we can’t live the Christian life without his Spirit working (John 15:5).

The Quiet Time is a container in which we can practice a number of other spiritual disciplines such as:

  • Meditate and apply a passage of Scripture (Joshua 1:8)
  • Pray the Scriptures and making personal requests based on the Scriptures
  • Pray for others
  • Pray for ourselves
  • Read and apply a devotional
  • Listen for God’s voice in silence

Stay in your capacity to spend time with God. Start small and as your capacity grows, spend more time with him. There is nothing magical in a devotional time. But it needs to be supernatural. If he doesn’t reveal and work, nothing happens.

May we remember God has created us to have an intimate, love relationship with him. A daily devotional time can help this relationship develop. We are his children. From this reality, we are to serve others that they may experience the peace and joy of walking with our Father.



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Many of us know we need to praise God often and yet we don’t. What is there about God that isn’t worthy of praise?

This week I have observed God’s praiseworthiness working in the lives of three friends. For my first friend, God protected her from becoming a paraplegic when she was pitched off a horse and landed on her head. She broke her back but is expected to fully recover.

For the second friend, God provided the love of his life after waiting for God’s choice for ten years. And for the third friend, God provided wisdom and support to reach out for help in a stressful situation that enabled him to avoid slipping back into alcoholism.

God deserves to be praised from these examples because of his protection, goodness, and support and for the many other demonstrations of his greatness and blessings that we see.

Then why is it so hard for us to praise him? Perhaps we need to review why praising God is the right thing to do and then how to grow in it.

Why Praise Him?

One big reason to praise God often is that he commands it. “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3). He deserves it, and he wants us to acknowledge this reality.

Another reason to praise him is to increase our faith. By praising him for our blessings, we give God credit for them. Otherwise, we tend to give ourselves or someone else the adoration.

By praising him for such things as making everything, reigning over the nations, and his loving nature, our reliance on him grows. For example, by praising him for giving us a new identity, we more easily cease striving after the importance, acceptance and love that he has already given us.

Praising him also can keep us humble. When we praise him for making the heavens, the moon and all the stars and at the same time realize that he deeply respects and loves us, we are humbled because we know we didn’t earn it.

How to Grow in Praising God

 We can grow in praising God as we grow in understanding what he has given to us. These blessings include:

  • A guarantee we will be one day be in heaven with him forever
  • We will one day have a pain-free, pleasurable, and joyous daily experience
  • We will one day be in the physical presence of the most loving Person imaginable
  • God’s promise to work all our problems for our good.
  • His guarantee never to reject us and to always love us no matter how bad we are

This understanding of what God has given us comes from prayer as he reveals our blessings to us. Paul didn’t leave it to his teaching that people would understand. He prayed earnestly that “they would understand how wide, how long, and how deep God’s love is. That they would experience this love that is beyond their ability to understand it intellectually” (Ephesians 3:18, paraphrased).

One final thought about how to praise God in a deeper way is to focus on him more and less on the multitude of distractions in this life. God says to us in Philippians 4 that we need to meditate on all the positive things of life. Things that are true, honorable, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. God is these things and infinitely more. Let’s praise him for it by focusing on his greatness.


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Why Give Thanks?

I know I have a lot of things to be thankful for like my health, family, and comfortable lifestyle. But this week it’s been hard to give thanks. My wife has been nearly immobilized by back pain, I’ve had a constant toothache, and our Thanksgiving plans were put on hold. So, I found it hard this week to give thanks.

Thanksgiving is really a special time to give thanks to God who has given us so much. But in the midst of pain and difficulties we can forget to give him thanks.

So, why is it important to remember to give God thanks?

One reason is that all that he causes to happen to us is intended for our good and his purposes. “What possible good could come from my wife’s back pain and my toothache” you may ask? The truth is I don’t know, but I can still trust that he will keep his promise to work all things together for my good and his purposes (Romans 8:28-29).

Another reason we give thanks is that God likes it. In fact, he commands it. “In all things give thanks for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We also give thanks because of how God will use the situation to transform us to be more like him. His goal is not so much to make us feel good as it’s to make us godly. Sometimes, this means he doesn’t meet our desires. He also disrupts our plans.

In addition, we give thanks for “bad things” that often lead to good things. In my life these are some of the painful circumstances that led to blessings:

  • Getting fired from my first job out of college led to a successful military career
  • Being rejected by a cute coed freed me to later find the girl of my dreams
  • Being rejected by a Christian organization enabled me to work where God wanted me
  • Being broken by an abusive home led me to receive salvation and 45 years of steady spiritual growth

We also give thanks to God because he is good. He loves us all the time, even when we are bad. He deals with us graciously. He makes sure that what happens to us is good, acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Psychologists tell us that giving thanks is good for our health and emotional well-being. Thankful people are often

  • Happier
  • Less stressed
  • Better rested
  • Healthier

Maybe this is why one of my favorite disciplines is to thank God for the blessings in my life. It helps me see the good in my circumstances.

So, may we grow ever more thankful to our good God. Though we may be in pain, or things don’t turn out the way we had hoped, we can still thank him for the good he promises is being done. And when we experience the many blessings that make us feel good, may we remember to give thanks because every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:17).




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A Rule of Life

We all have a Rule of Life whether we realize it or not. This Rule is simply what we do to cooperate with God in developing an intimate love relationship with him. Every church and every Christian has one, even if it is unconscious.

We can view a Rule as a flower trellis. As the trellis lifts the flowers and helps them to grow properly, so a Rule helps lift us up to receive from God all that he has for us in our relationship with him.

Our Rule may be as simple as going to church once a week. Or it may involve a variety of activities such as meditation on the Bible, prayer, and belonging to a small group.

We are all different and our Rule needs to reflect the activities that help us to get to know the Lord the best, considering our maturity, personality, and issues. This will require a lot of trial and error.

Why We Need a Rule

We need a Rule because God requires us to participate in our own spiritual growth and transformation. Becoming more like Jesus in our hearts doesn’t just happen as we study the Bible and do ministry. We need to be led by him into what we need to do. Also, one set of activities that worked in one season of our lives, may not work as well in another.

For example, my morning Quiet Time used to be heavy on Bible reading and meditation and had little prayer in it. In recent years, it has included much more prayer as I have grown in intimacy and dependence.

As we get to know ourselves better, some of us are shocked by how little we have changed since childhood. I found that despite working very hard to grow spiritually for thirty years, I was still trying to achieve my way into worth, impress my way into being loved, and control my way into feeling secure. This happened despite studying, but not grasping that “you are precious, you are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4, paraphrased). So, we need a Rule that helps us break through the lies and bad habits that control us and allows God to transform our thinking, feelings, and habits of the heart.

We need to be intentional and proactive in living the life we were meant to live. “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26, NLT).

How to Develop a Rule of Life

In developing our Rule, may we remember that our ultimate goal is to love well (1 Timothy 1:5). It’s not to increase our Bible knowledge or to save souls. These are secondary goals.

We need to get to know ourselves to determine if the fruit of the Spirit is increasing in our lives. If not, we need to make some adjustments in our Rule that better connects us to God’s presence and power.

A good way I have learned to get to know myself better is through my feelings. Through my sadness, fears, and joys I have gotten better acquainted with I believe and depend upon to live life. I have been shocked at how much I have been and still am controlled by lies- and yet I have seen much progress in trusting and living in the truth. Growing in self-knowledge like this has only become part of my Rule in recent years as I have grown in appreciating its importance.

Our Rule needs to help us partner with God in living a balanced life. Therefore, some broad categories of activities could include

  • Connection to God Through the Word and Prayer
  • Rest
  • Work/Activity
  • Relationships

May we seek God for guidance in developing a Rule. Let’s make conscious what our Rule is now and determine if God may be leading to make a change or two. Let’s win the race of life by “seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) by following our Rule.



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Billy Graham was once asked what practice had helped him the most in his spiritual life. He replied that a daily quiet time was the most important for him. I agree with him. The spiritual discipline of a morning quiet time has been vital to my growth and stability as a Christian.

What A Quiet Time Is

Chair on Dock at Alice Lake in Late Afternoon

A quiet time is an appointment with God to talk with him and to listen to him. It’s a time to build a relationship with him. It’s a time to ask and receive insight, guidance, understanding, and power from him to face the challenges of the day. It is also a time we give him praise and thanks for who he is and what he has done for us.

A quiet time is organic and flexible, subject to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I leave it to God to impress upon me who to pray for and what to pray for them. I depend on God to illuminate the Scriptures and make them living and active in speaking to me his thoughts.

Something I started doing a few years ago was to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what was going on in my heart. I have discovered a lot of beliefs and feelings I never knew I had because of my capacity to repress and ignore my thoughts and attitudes to the events of life. This awareness is helping me to deal with my false ways deep within.

I also look to the quiet time for God to encourage and inspire me. A devotional I am using called Jesus Calling often is used by God to speak to a deep need I have.

Why A Quiet Time Is Important

First, a quiet time is important because Jesus considered it important. Often he would rise before anyone else and go out to a lonely place and pray (Mark 1:35). If the God/Man Jesus needed to pray, certainly we do too.

Another reason to have a quiet time is to gain God’s perspective on life. If we are not careful, we can become conformed to the world as we do our jobs, listen to the news and engage in the conversations around us.

Recently, I learned that the church didn’t need me to lead a particular group because they already had enough leaders. At first, I felt rejected and depressed. But then I asked God to give me his perspective on the situation and he impressed upon me that he was pleased that I had volunteered. This perspective lifted my spirit.

Another reason to spend time with God is to help us grow in trusting him to run the world. Spending time with God helps me realize that I’m not God. I don’t have to earn importance, love and being okay. He has already completely given me these things, which I’m better able to grasp through a quiet time.

Another reason to have a daily quiet time is to escape the burden of problems and worries. He wants to take them off our hands. As we cast them on him and grow in trusting him to take care of them, we experience peace of mind. Wow! What a benefit.

A final reason to spend time with God in daily quiet times is to show God that he comes first. He wants to be first and when we give the best part of our day to our relationship with him, we are demonstrating that we are seeking “first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

I hope you will develop the habit of a daily quiet time with God. He is pleased when we do, not to earn favor with him, but to receive his gifts for spiritual growth and the challenges of life (2 Peter 1:3).

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I wrote an article a few months ago about spiritual disciplines. It has been one of the most read articles on this blog in recent months. This has encouraged me to write some more about them.

First of all, what are spiritual disciplines?

What Spiritual Disciplines Are

Spiritual disciplines are practices like doing Bible study, listening to sermons, and memorizing Scripture. Doing them does not grow us spiritually. Yet, God often uses them to grow us spiritually. He does the growing as we cooperate with him by practicing the spiritual disciplines that he leads us to do.

What Spiritual Disciplines Are Not

When I was a young Christian, I thought that having daily quiet times, going on retreats and doing Bible studies was why I was growing as a Christian. I couldn’t imagine that God would grow me unless I did the heavy lifting by practicing spiritual disciplines.

So, I was somewhat sympathetic towards some people who criticized me last year for teaching “works righteousness” when I advocated practicing spiritual disciplines. Even though my first response was, “How could they think that? Of course growing spiritually is totally a work of God.” But I soon recalled my experience trying to earn spiritual growth by working hard through spiritual disciplines.

I was reminded that we could misuse Bible studies and quiet times to earn favor with God, instead of using them to receive God’s grace of spiritual growth.

God Requires Our Participation To Grow Us

However, I have come to realize that without God working no matter how many Bible studies I do, verses I memorize, or how long I pray, I will not grow. But I won’t grow to maturity if I don’t do these things either. God requires my participation.

It is like a farmer sitting on his hands and refusing to plant seeds and cultivate the land. Can he expect to harvest a crop in the fall? Of course not!

Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7, NIV).

So, like the farmer, practicing spiritual disciplines is like planting and watering seeds. They are activities we do through which God performs his miracle of transformation.

Our Participation Includes Spiritual Disciplines

God says, “Pray and I will take away all your fears” (Psalm 34:4, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is intense prayer.

“Meditate on My word and obey it and I will make you successful” (Joshua 1:8, paraphrased). The spiritual disciplines are meditation and Scripture memory.

“Invite Me to search your heart and change it with your cooperation and I will” (Psalm 139:23-24, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is contemplative prayer.

“Be silent and I will reveal Myself to you in deeper ways” (Psalm 46:10, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is silence.

“Follow My example while I was on earth and often spend time with the Father in undistracted devotion” (Mark 1:35, paraphrased). The spiritual discipline is a quiet time.

I know of over 60 spiritual disciplines. We can’t even begin to do them all every day. Or would we want to. Instead, may we ask him to lead us to practice the few that he will use today to make us godlier and to do his works through us (Philippians 2:13).

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There seems to be confusion among some Christians regarding the purpose of spiritual disciplines. Should the disciplines of Bible studies, going on retreats, having quiet times and doing ministry be the focus of our Christian lives?

The answer is NO!

Disciplines are not to be the focus of our relationship with God. They are things we do to cooperate with God in living in an intimate love relationship with him.

However, they can become the center of our spiritual lives if we resist relying on the Spirit in practicing them.

As a young Christian, I believe that I did that to a large extent. I thought I was growing myself by memorizing Scripture, doing Bible studies and listening to good teaching.

But I learned over time that our practice of the disciplines only opens the door for God to work in our lives. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Doing disciplines do not grow us; God does.

Yet, the disciplines are important for us to practice. The Holy Spirit is the one who grows us as we practice the disciplines that he leads us to do.

God is not going to do all the work. He wants us to take on his light yoke, which includes being obedient in practicing the disciplines that are tailored to our needs and capabilities (Matthew 11:28-30).

Spiritual disciplines train or retrain us. Any influence that forms habits into our spirits can be considered a spiritual discipline. So, disciplines go beyond doing Bible studies, listening to sermons, and praying.

They also include such activities as “putting off the old and putting on the new” (Ephesians 4:22-24), learning to rely on God’s love throughout the day, and learning to experience the presence of God more. “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7).

Practicing spiritual disciplines is not something we do without God. They are not a way to earn points with him. God has to act or we won’t understand the Bible, or have the power to live it.

Some Christians seem to think that all that we need to do is to know truth and then we will do truth.

But this is not the way to escape the inner corruption and bad habits that we all have. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Spiritual disciplines help us to be retrained in doing the truth that we know.

For example, I may know the truth that I need to love my wife as Christ loves the church. But I have come to realize that I do not have the power to always do it.

I need to practice the daily discipline of asking God to enable me throughout the day to see and do what it takes to truly love her. I can’t just stop at knowing what I am supposed to do. I need to practice the daily discipline of asking for help in order to love.

Disciplines are not ends in themselves, but are means to allow God free rein in our hearts- if that does not happen then practicing the disciplines is a man-centered effort and we will fail to grow.

I admit that practicing spiritual disciplines can be a tricky business. We can go to two extremes. We can put too much confidence in ourselves, or we can error by depending on knowing truth as the only thing necessary for living truth.

May God help us to find that healthy balance between relying on his gracious work in our lives and depending on practicing the disciplines to cooperate with him.

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