After talking about change as not coming through morality or rule keeping, it might seem a bit contradictory to talk about discipline as an important part of the Christian life. Spiritual disciplines are practices that the church has historically seen as useful in personal transformation. They’ve been treated suspiciously by a number of Christians for a long time precisely because they so often have become a set of rules that are kept dutifully, and because at times the church has listed a set number as if these practices themselves had some power to change our hearts.
To understand the usefulness of spiritual disciplines it’s important to understand the place of habits in our lives.
Often when we experience a recurring sin in our life we don’t realise that there’s a reason for it… we’ve made a habit of it! Our hearts, rebelling against God’s rule, lead us to rebel against God so continually that rebellion becomes a habit. We develop habits of what we think and believe and feel, and habits of actions.
The new life of the Spirit involves undoing those habits we’ve learnt and developing new habits through disciplines of living like Jesus until they become natural. We develop habits of thinking and habits of actions, and these feed into each other and strengthen each other. What makes a discipline ‘spiritual’ isn’t anything special about the action itself – any discipline of action is a spiritual discipline if it is both fed by and feeding a belief and delight in Jesus. That only comes from the power of God’s Spirit in us.
Finally, disciplines tend to be misunderstood as individual things we do alone but should rather be understood as habits we develop together in community with each other.