In previous posts, we’ve said that the Classical Spiritual Disciplines can be viewed in the same way we view physical exercise routines. Once we know what we are trying to accomplish (e.g., inches off the waist, increased muscle mass in the arms, etc.) then we will know what exercises to perform. There are time-honored physical exercises that consistently achieve results if practiced with discipline and consistency.

Similarly, throughout the history of Christianity certain Classical Spiritual Disciplines have been utilized by people to gain greater depth in their spirituality. Here is one configuration of the most common disciplines practiced throughout the history of Christianity:

  • The Inward Disciplines: Meditation, prayer, fasting, study.
  • The Outward Disciplines: Simplicity, solitude, submission, service.
  • The Corporate Disciplines: Confession, worship, guidance, celebration.

As we practice the spiritual disciplines, we must keep in mind that merely practicing the discipline will NOT transform us spiritually. The discipline is a spiritual exercise that forces two things to happen: (1) our false, flesh-driven desires are brought under control—quieted; and (2) our inner being is brought humbly, quietly, submissively, and obediently into the presence of God. And in the presence of God our now quiet, humble, submissive, and obedient inner being is transformed through the grace of God—as a gift from the God who loves us more than we will ever know.

Put another way, it is not our disciplined religious lifestyle that transforms us spiritually. Such an approach to religion is merely another manifestation of our false, performance-driven, fear-oriented selves. Authentic inner transformation and healing comes on God’s terms or it does not come at all. And God’s terms require that we humble ourselves, patiently wait for Him to act, graciously receive His grace as a free gift, and then gratefully give all credit for any growth whatsoever to Him and to Him alone.

Merely practicing the Classical Spiritual Disciplines won’t transform us; however, they will bring us into God’s presence where He can and will transform us.