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5 Forgotten Spiritual Disciplines

5 Forgotten Spiritual Disciplines

By David Jeremiah

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In our Christian experience, we sometimes feel like we’re stuck in a rut. That is, our lives just seem to cycle through the same routine day in and day out, with no noticeable change. The deeper the rut gets, the more familiar and comfortable it becomes, making it even more difficult to get out. Indeed, it is difficult to form new habits, but not impossible. We can break the cycle so that, instead of spinning round and round, we’re going forward and growing. The strategy involves regular Bible study, prayer, and church attendance as well as five less-practiced spiritual disciplines that are essential for growth and contain the secrets to deeper Christian living.

It is difficult to form new habits, but not impossible.

1. Solitude

The French leader Charles de Gaulle observed, “Great men of action have always been of the meditative type. They have without exception possessed to a very high degree the power of withdrawing themselves.” The same is true for mature Christians.

Early in his career, Richard Nixon sought out Tom Dewey, one of America’s great politicians. Dewey said something that Nixon later called the best advice he ever received. “People can get tired of hearing a politician talk,” said Dewey, “and he is well advised to withdraw from time to time from the public arena. When he returns, what he says will have far greater impact.”

Nixon later ran into serious problems, of course, but Dewey’s advice is worth heeding on a personal level. Jesus Himself frequently withdrew for seclusion, prayer, and renewal. In stillness and solitude, we can think clearly, pray earnestly, and know that He is God. Do you have regular moments of intentional solitude? Do you know how to find a place to be alone—a closet, a quiet corner of the park, a serene lakeside, a little spot on the patio? Consider devoting an entire day to prayer, rest, and meditation. Plan a personal spiritual retreat, even if it’s nothing more than pitching a tent by still waters.

2. Prayer Partners

Our spiritual growth is also enhanced by having a prayer partner. It may be a family member or a close friend at church. Some prayer partners get together every day or every week, others only once a month. Some, separated by distance, are unable to pray together physically, but they meet virtually to share their requests with each other across the miles.

In James 5:16, we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). There is strength in knowing that someone we love and trust is praying for our growth right alongside us.

There is strength in knowing that someone we love and trust is praying for our growth right alongside us.

3. Reading

Years ago, at a service during Founder’s Week at the Moody Bible Institute, Warren Wiersbe preached a sermon on the subject of the reading habits of Christians, saying: “If it were announced that tonight Hudson Taylor was speaking at the Moody Church, Christians from all over the world would show up—or Charles Spurgeon, or Campbell Morgan—people would come. I can go home and go to my library, and reach over, and I can open the book. When I open my book, Hudson Taylor opens his mouth. We have a great time together.”

Some of the greatest missionaries, preachers, and Christian thinkers of the ages are available on our bookshelf, just waiting to enrich our heart and stimulate our mind. Many of them are now available on our computers and mobile devices. They can travel with us wherever we go. Yet most Christians spend far more time watching television than enriching their soul by reading.

When imprisoned on death row, Paul asked Timothy to bring his “books … [and] the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).Even as a prolific New Testament writer, Paul valued the writings of others. Let’s follow his example and rediscover the spiritual discipline of the “books” and the “parchments.”

4. Fasting

In her wonderful little book, Edges of His Ways, Amy Carmichael wrote that fasting “means a determined effort to put first things first, even at the cost of some inconvenience to oneself. It means a setting of the will toward God. It means shutting out as much as possible all interrupting things. For the thing that matters is that one cares enough to have time with God and to say no to that in oneself which clamors for a good meal.”

While the Bible doesn’t command fasting, it does commend fasting. We’re told this was the practice of the mother-church of missions, the church of Antioch: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3).

We don’t need to be overwhelmed at the thought of fasting. It can be as simple as skipping lunch once a month to devote that hour to a prayer concern.

5. Confession

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). And John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

We sometimes fool ourselves into believing we have an “innocent little sin” under our control, so we neglect to confess that sin to God. But the Bible warns about little foxes that destroy the vines (Song of Solomon 2:15). It might be a grudge we’re holding against someone who has wronged us or a prideful heart or ungodly thoughts. It might be the entertainment we’re listening to or viewing. It might be neglect of worship or a failure to obey God with our finances.

Spiritual growth involves daily confession and repentance. As the psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24) 

At one point during their forty years of desert wandering, the Israelites circled the same mountain for several days, making no progress. Eventually, the Lord said to Moses, “You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward” (Deuteronomy 2:3). Maybe the Lord is saying the same thing to you. Maybe it’s time to really start growing, not just in the common disciplines of Bible study and prayer, but in every area of life, including the neglected habits of solitude, prayer partnering, reading, fasting, and honest and open confession of sin.

Maybe the Lord is saying the same thing to you. Maybe it’s time to really start growing, not just in the common disciplines of Bible study and prayer, but in every area of life.

These practices are not ends in themselves, but means of grace designed to deepen your personal relationship with the Lord. In the process, they may help you break out of that rut and fulfill your God-given purpose.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of Turning Points devotional magazine. Request your complimentary subscription today!

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