The Reformation of the Church led many to believe that faith ONLY saves us and, therefore, external works became irrelevant to our salvation. The Enlightenment (the Age of Reason) laid such a heavy emphasis on reason that spiritual practices designed to assist us in experiencing God’s power and feeling His presence were downplayed significantly.

For these reasons, and perhaps others, we don’t practice the disciplines much. We don’t hear much about them either. But, we need to adequately define them.

Think of a spiritual discipline as being like a physical exercise. If, for example, one wants to take inches off his or her waistline there are physical exercises designed specifically to accomplish that goal. Sit ups, trunk twists, leg lifts (not to mention the discipline of eating fewer calories than are burned in a given day) are physical exercises designed to achieve results in the desired area.

So it is with spiritual disciplines. Throughout history there have been spiritual exercises practiced by spiritual people to achieve spiritual results in their lives. These disciplines are so well tested that they have come to be referred to as the Classical Spiritual Disciplines—classical because they are ancient and because they are central to experiential Christianity.

For example, if one wants to feel closer to God (it is impossible to be closer to God; the goal is to perceive His presence more acutely) then that person would want to begin with the disciplines designed to achieve results in this area: meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. If the goal is to have a stronger personal witness then the disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service should be incorporated.

We know that God changes lives; we simply wonder how He does it. As one contemporary author aptly puts it, practicing the Spiritual Disciplines allows us to gain a deeper insight into how God changes lives—He changes us when we place ourselves before Him for an overhaul. The Spiritual Disciplines are designed to break us free from our stifling slavery to self-interest and fear and to bring us humbly and contritely before Him for a complete renovation. And they work—always have and always will.