Spiritual discipline is the chief aim of the Christian life. Learning to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit is essential in one’s walk with Jesus. Superficiality, on the other hand, is our greatest distraction. Lack of depth is the curse of Western culture. We fail to recognize that our desire for instant satisfaction is first and foremost a spiritual issue. This is why the ancient disciplines are so relevant, as they help us navigate the complexity of our age.
The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the results of practicing the spiritual disciplines. Beyond that, they liberate us from the bondage of being preoccupied with self-interest and set us free from societal expectations.
There are many spiritual disciplines worth noting, including, prayer (individual and corporate), studying scripture, fasting, worship, and service. Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and others have written extensively concerning the importance of the disciplines as it pertains to spiritual formation. I want to elaborate on a few that I believe are largely ignored in the church today.
Solitude is a spiritual discipline that doesn’t get mentioned very often. It brings to mind the monastic life, which is something a vast majority of believers have no experience with. While anything unfamiliar tends to make people anxious, solitude helps us connect with God in a more meaningful way. This makes practicing solitude a worthwhile endeavor.
In solitude, God helps us make sense of life’s occurrences. Without it, we tend to linger in frustration when navigating seasons of difficulty. Solitude helps us find rest and escape the busyness of everyday life. When we remove ourselves from the day-to-day hustle, we’re able to discover more profound meaning, even amid life’s most difficult circumstances.
Solitude brings rest. Interestingly, the first thing God did after creating the first human was rest. That means the first thing Adam experienced on earth was resting in God’s Presence. God knew something that most of us still haven’t realized: resting in His Presence is good for us. The most sincere sense of Sabbath we will ever experience is discovered in our alone time with God. The rest our spirit longs for is only found as we learn to rest “in Him.”
When we get alone with ourselves, we realize that we’re not actually alone at all. God is always with us. Solitude teaches us to abide with Jesus more intimately. Through solitude, we remove ourselves from an onslaught of distractions and realize more deeply the person we were created to be in the first place—bearers of the image of Jesus.
The discipline of solitude naturally leads to the discipline of silence. Silence is the spiritual discipline that teaches us to hear the voice of the Lord. It allows God to deposit truth into our hearts without the distraction of noise. Although silence involves the absence of sound, it also includes learning to listen actively.
The discipline of silence entails more than merely refraining from talking. It teaches us to hear through the clamor. It teaches us to live with a heart that intentionally listens for the voice of God, even in the midst of chaos. Silence trains us to distinguish the whisper of the Holy Spirit regardless of the commotion our lives may produce.
The power of silence draws us deeper into the heart of the Father. Although solitude can be practiced without silence, when they are combined, we learn to see and hear more clearly in the spiritual realm. While less noise is always beneficial, control over life’s distractions is the goal of the discipline of silence. It teaches us when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.
The discipline of simplicity frees us from the innate craving to acquire material possessions. Simplicity introduces us to the joy that God intends for our lives. It replaces anxiety with peace and teaches us to be content with where we are and what we have.
With simplicity, the desire for status and privilege diminish. We lose our appetite for extravagance. Simplicity teaches us to make decisions through prayerful discernment, not because of our competitive nature or the need to impress others, which unfortunately drives our society.
It’s been said, “We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.” The talking heads convince people that they need much more than they will ever use. As exploited consumers, we continue to feed the machine of consumerism subconsciously.
Society teaches us “what’s in” and “what’s out.” Culture tells us how to dress, what to eat, where to shop, and what we should like, and dislike. They force-feed us with innuendos until we swallow them as facts. People follow mindlessly, failing to realize that when we live by the standards of a sick society, we too become sick.
Jesus taught us plainly of the dangers of materialism: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21). “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
Practicing simplicity helps us fight off the temptation to be shaped by the world’s fascination with acquiring more stuff. It reveals our addiction to comfort and our tendency to overindulge. It teaches us to abandon the desire to be seen. Simplicity helps us overcome the feeling of defeat when we don’t get our way. It teaches us to stop trying to manage what others think and trust God with our reputation.
A strong spirit sustains a weak body and a drained mind. This is why the spiritual disciplines are imperative in our walk with God. Solitude helps make sense of life’s happenings. Silence nurtures our ability to hear God more clearly. Simplicity teaches us to be content with where we are and what we have.
St. Augustine said, “If you love the world it will absorb you; for the world knows not how to support, but only how to devour its admirers.” For this reason, each of us must find a place of retreat—a sanctuary of spiritual formation. We must learn to withdraw into times set apart for practicing solitude, silence, and simplicity. These often-ignored spiritual disciplines are much needed as we journey with Jesus in the modern age.
Sources: (1) Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster; (2) The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis; (3) The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard