Disciplines for Spiritual Growth
By Cheri Strahm
"I’m beginning to think it’s impossible to live a successful Christian life!” Jennifer exclaimed after a long, stressful day. “I get so discouraged. When I worship with other believers, I feel joyful and right with God. Then a new week begins with work, kids, problems, and ‘poof!’ – I’m back to the old Jennifer. Why can’t I stay spiritually strong?”
Most Christians experience spiritual weakness at times. It creeps up on us. Our zest to obey and serve God fades, and suddenly we realize we are spiritually “flabby.” Although we long for daily victory, we lack the strength to maintain a faithful walk with God.
God’s Word says in Eph. 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord” and encourages us not to lose heart. Spiritual muscles can be retrained. We can live a transformed, victorious Holy Spirit filled life day after day.
Like Jennifer, I, too, fell prey to the fitness problem. In the midst of hectic ministry, I lost enthusiasm for a daily, intimate walk with God. I was out of shape and gradually growing weaker. Then one morning I awoke with a hopeless feeling of despair. It wasn’t my body, but my soul that needed restoring.
I began to search the Bible for answers. Weren’t there other people like me, once close to God, who became spiritually unfit? I looked at Elijah, strong prophet of God, who under pressure began to doubt and complain. I found that David often felt spiritually bankrupt and cried out to God in distress. There was also Isaiah, Jonah, Joshua, Jeremiah, and Moses. Many of God’s most powerful servants suffered times of spiritual weakness. God told Joshua, “Do not be terrified; don’t be discouraged…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). God hadn’t left me alone and helpless. I had drifted away from Him into spiritual lethargy.
At the time of my spiritual weakness I was on a weight loss program, so I decided to apply the same principles to my spiritual life. Just as I kept a diet journal to trace my eating habits, I began to trace my “life habits.” I noted times of spiritual victory and times of defeat. I was able to track Satan’s successful techniques to weaken me. How humiliating to discover that when our children got rambunctious, my temper flared! When too many people phoned on a busy day, I lost patience and felt critical. On the other hand, when I began my day with prayer, listened to Christian music, and took quiet time with God’s Word, I experienced more fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, and patience.
I realized my biggest need: self-discipline. Over a period of years I collected spiritual “exercises” to help myself keep fit and strong. I discovered it is possible to develop discipline gradually, just as body muscle can be built by lifting weights until strength is acquired. Our spirit can be continually renewed as years pass: it experiences no “aging” if faith and self-discipline are allowed to develop.
Remember my friend Jennifer, who felt despair in her lack of success as a Christian? She realized how powerless her spiritual life had become, and took steps to become more disciplined.
You may be thinking, “This seems like a lot of work.” The Apostle Paul used that exact word in Philippians 2:12: “...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” As in any discipline – dieting, exercise, study – success requires our best effort. As your spiritual muscle develops, the effort will gradually seem more “natural” to you and not so difficult. Why? Verse 13 in Philippians 2 says: “...it is God who works in you...” God will energize you to do what pleases Him.
Set spiritual goals for the next month or year, and track those goals carefully. You will clearly see the Holy Spirit’s transforming power in your life as you become strong in Him.
The following are some spiritual exercises, with specific steps to help make them successful.
Determine To Know God More Intimately
- Begin a bible study on the character of God. Cristy Austen, a women’s ministries leader in West Linn, Oregon, recommends My Father’s Names by Elmer L. Towns. It comes with a study guide featuring 12 names of God from the Old Testament.
- Develop an awareness of God throughout the day, even in mundane activity. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk, called it “practicing the presence of God.” (See his book by the same name.) I remember my mother talking to God aloud while washing dishes or searching for a parking spot, and I started this habit, too.
Collect Books, Quotes, And Music That Encourages You
- When you hear an inspiring song or a book recommendation, jot it down to buy or borrow later. Put a basket of these CDs and books in a handy spot. Quotes can go all over the house – stitch them, draw them, frame them! My husband put one near our front door that says, “Pray first!”
- Review your collection often, especially when discouraged. God will use it to uplift you, over and over again.
Mentor Someone Younger In The Faith
- Consider mentoring a high school or college student. I am blessed to have several of these young women in my life, and they enrich my faith greatly as they grow in Christ.
- Let the word out – in your church or a Christian school – that you are interested in mentoring. You’ll be amazed at the response.
Develop A Deeper Prayer Life
- Joseph Stowell, former Moody Bible Institute President, told the story of a student from China. He asked her if believers back home would be pleased with her education. “They will assess my spiritual growth,” she replied, “by listening to me pray.” Don’t you long to pray with greater depth and faith?
- Read a good book on prayer, such as How to Pray, by R. A. Torrey; or 31 Days of Praise – Enjoying God Anew by Ruth and Warren Meyers.
- Make an updated list of people and ministries to pray for, with specific needs included. Faithfully “pray your list” and record God’s answers as they occur. You will be continually inspired and encouraged by your prayer notebook. Listen to mature Christians pray. You can learn much by their example.
Make Sharing Christ With Others Part Of Your Lifestyle
- Nothing will empower you more than watching the Holy Spirit work through you to bring someone to a personal relationship with Him. Sharing the story of how you met Christ can become a life-changing habit.
- Try the “Praying for You” technique. Tell a neighbor that you’d like to include her needs in your daily prayer list. You will be surprised at how eager people are to have you pray for them, and it opens many doors for conversations about God and His power.
- Angela Goncharov told me about her “Just This Once” technique for sharing her testimony. She visits an old school friend and says, “Just this once, will you let me tell you about the one, most important thing in my life? I care about you. If you listen for 15 minutes, I won’t bring it up again.” She has never had a friend turn her down, and several have become part of God’s family through her salvation story!