When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he meant it.
Discipleship in Jesus’ day was about imitation – about doing the things that Jesus did.
And for centuries, Christians have been following his example, trying to do the things he did, and embed those core practices at the heart of their spiritual life.
It’s important to remember that these disciplines are not means of earning God’s favour. And they are not competitive – not a way to measure who is more spiritual than anyone else. They are the means through which we learn to live fully and freely in the reality of God, and through which God works with us, giving us grace as we learn and grow.
So what are they? Well, here is a very brief introduction. (And this is by no means a definitive list!)
The Core Disciplines
Silence: Christias need to create the space to hear God’s voice and obey his word. Through contemplative silence we meet with God in familiarity and intimacy because we come willing to be still, be quiet and just listen.
Prayer: And talking of listening… Prayer is listening to God; seeking to grasp what his will is in any given circumstance. But we also bring our needs, desires and inmost feelings to him. It’s an interactive conversation with God, a process of lifelong learning as we seek to approach our Heavenly Father with openness, honesty, and trust.
Fasting: Fasting is not dieting! It is denying ourselves an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Biblical fasting is always focused on spiritual purposes. When we fast from something it reveals what controls us. It reminds us of our reliance on God and restores balance in our lives regarding priorities and nonessentials.
Study: We study, not just to amass more information, but to experience it, learn from it and be changed by it. The discipline of study is not just about reading books, but also learning from things around us such as nature, relationships, events, and cultural values. It’s a process of looking, understanding and reflecting.
Simplicity: Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life style. Living in simplicity frees us from anxiety by viewing possessions as gifts from God. It reorients our lives, perspectives, and attitudes away from accumulation and towards generosity and sacrifice.
Solitude: This discipline of solitude (which is intimately linked with silence) is absolutely vital. Sometimes it means taking advantage of those little, precious, solitary moments of our days; at other times it means deliberately withdrawing from our daily patterns in order to enter into the silence of God. But nothing is more vital for allowing us time to think and pray and engage with God. (Did we say it was vital?)
Submission: This is a biggie. This is the discipline which frees us of the terrible need to always get our own way. Thinking about the discipline of submission means thinking about how we view and respect other people. It begins, of course, with our submission to God, but through it we learn to change our relationships with family, neighbours, our church, those in need… It changes our view of leadership and power, because we are all servants.
Service: And servants live to serve! The discipline of service leads us into a life lived for others, a life of hospitality, listening, helping, bearing one another’s burdens. We learn both to serve, and to be served. And as we develop a rich, contented humility, we find the immense freedom of not always needing to be in charge!
Confession: The discipline of confession allows us to experience the grace and mercy of God as it heals the sins and sorrows of the past. Through Jesus Christ, we can confess our sins and be directly forgiven by God, but we can also ‘confess our sins to one another’ (James 5:16). We really learn what it is to give, and receive, understanding and forgiveness.
Worship: Worship goes far beyond singing a few songs or hymns on a Sunday morning! Through worship, we experience the reality of the resurrected Jesus. We offer our whole being in worship: our voices in song, our bodies in posture, our spirits in prayer; all for the purpose of first loving the Lord our God.
Guidance: We all need guidance! The discipline enables us to seek the will of God, obey the teachings of Christ and listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For some this may mean spending time with a spiritual director. For all of us it means living under the immediate rule of the Holy Spirit.
Celebration: God loves to celebrate and loves even more when we, as his people, join him in celebrating all the wonderful things he has done for us. Celebration reminds us of all that God has done, and encourages us for what he is going to do in the future. As we celebrate we sing, we dance, we laughing, we share in the festivals of the church and the milestones of our lives. What a great discipline!
Two ways to explore the disciplines:
In the Renovaré Lifestreams course, elements of these disciplines are arranged according to the historic traditions of the church. The Lifestreams course contains hundreds of ideas, challenges and exercises to help you start to explore these classic disciplines.
And of course, there is Celebration of Discipline, the classic book on the subject.