The Spiritual Disciplines

(Randy) #1

I’m intrigued by Dallas Willard’s Spritual Disciplines that he attributes to the life of Christ. Does anyone know of a study on them that they enjoyed?


(Laura) #2

We read “A Celebration of Discipline” (by Richard Foster, mentioned in the article) once, in an adult Sunday school class – I really liked it. I think that’s one of the “classics” but I’d be interested to see if there are newer studies on the topic.

(Christy Hemphill) #3

I did this one back in college.``Celebration-Discipline/dp/0060698675 It went with Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Richard Foster was mentored by Dallas Willard.

(Randy) #4

I found the Spiritual Disciplines fairly interesting, because it seems that as Protestants, we sometimes deemphasize them too much. Perhaps we fear making them into idols, or works that would make God look on us with favor. However, I’m copying a truncated list from the link in the OP. I wonder if anyone on this discourse regularly attempts to follow them, in imitation of Christ or for meditation, for example (it sounds like @Christy and @elle have studied them; it looks like this is a good book that they have suggested. Or are there other disciplines you like to follow? I remember reading, for example, that C S Lewis prayed at his bedside on his knees to encourage worship.

Disciplines of Abstinence

Solitude—Spending time alone to be with God.
Silence—Removing noisy distractions to hear from God.
Fasting—Skipping a meal(s) to find greater nourishment from God.
Frugality—Learning to live with less money and still meet your basic needs.
Chastity—Voluntarily choosing to abstain from sexual pleasures for a time (those pleasures that are deemed morally right in the bond of marriage) to find higher fulfillment in God.
Secrecy—Avoiding self-promotion, practice serving God without others knowing.
Sacrifice—Giving of our resources beyond what seems reasonable to remind us of our dependence on Christ.

Disciplines of Activity

Study—Spending time reading the Scriptures and meditating on its meaning and importance to our lives.
Worship—Offering praise and adoration to God.
Prayer—Talking to and listening to God about your relationship with Him and about the concerns of others.
Fellowship—Mutual caring and ministry in the body of Christ.
Confession—Regularly confess your sins to the Lord and other trusted individuals.
Submission—Humbling yourself before God and others while seeking accountability in relationships.

(Laura) #5

When I first read the article, the one that seemed oddest to me was Chastity. Maybe Foster included some iteration of that under the general category of “fasting,” but I don’t remember much. Maybe that’s just my perspective as a woman where so many conservative Christian authors emphasized how important it is to “meet your husband’s needs,” (though as they say here, it should be a mutual decision – hopefully this isn’t TMI :-D).

I guess I’ve had a difficult time understanding fasting in general – it’s a hard one to follow in our culture, and with eating disorders and other food issues in our culture, I have to wonder if it just has a different meaning in general than it would have had in ancient days. Some suggest a “tech fast” or removing oneself from digital communication for a while, which is probably more effective in our world.

My favorites are silence and solitude, and probably not just because I have 3 young children. :wink: I tend to be selfish though… I want the silence for my own thoughts, and so the discipline for me is to share that solitude with God.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #6

I wonder if there isn’t also silence in the sense of choosing not to speak unless it’s really necessary to do so. This would help one with avoiding self-promotion (“secrecy”) but also

  • with listening,
  • with not filling space with frivolous chatter, so as to allow us to really contemplate God and others, and
  • with choosing not to get defensive when we are sorely tempted to do so.

I feel like I have read about this as a spiritual discipline but I can’t remember where.

(Randy) #7

@Elle like 1 Cor 7: 5 New International Version
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

@AMWolfe Good with listening James 1: 19 (we have this on our wall at home) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

I’m trying to place these with Jesus’ example though as he wasn’t married (in regard to #1)

(Mitchell W McKain) #8

Maybe the thing to consider with both chastity and fasting is that their applicability depends on your usual habits. But then the same thing applies to a lot of the things on this list. It seems that practically any of them could already be your everyday way of life, in which case I would suggest looking for something a little more challenging as a spiritual exercise.

A water only fast might be more of a challenge if you are cooking everyday, though hardly impossible. But there are many different kinds of fasting. For example, a lot of people have a habit of eating snacks all day long and restricting yourself to 3 meals only could be worthy challenge for some people. There are many other kinds of dietary restriction fasts you can try such as a juice fast or going vegetarian.

But if you do go for a water only fast more than one days, then you should do research first so you know what to expect and how to do it with a minimum of impact on your health. For example, somewhere between 2 and 3 days after starting a fast you will become nauseous and you may purge a little as you body begins to convert to a system of metabolizing itself. Then you should be aware that your energy reserves will be quite small and you will not be able to exert yourself too much for a long time – you will need frequent short rests. Then there is a matter of what to eat afterwards for the following week so that you ease your body back into the digestion of food.

But again, whether any of these things will be a spiritual experience is going to depend a lot on the person.


Humans can’t go much longer than 3 days without water, so be careful. And consider the ramifications of an extreme fast if you drive, etc.

Muslims fast during their holy month of Ramadan–they abstain from drinking and eating from sunrise until sunset. Ramadan doesn’t have fixed dates, so It becomes much more difficult if Ramadan occurs during the summer. Some Muslims remain civil while they are fasting, but others get as cranky as hell!

(Christy Hemphill) #10

I have gained a better understanding now that I live in a culture where food shopping is done daily, and food prep is often done completely from scratch and might even involve butchering animals. The main meal of the day is a central time of rest, relaxation, and socializing that may last an hour an a half. The entire household can dedicate hours of each day to food prep, meal-time, and clean-up. Cutting out a meal or two would free up tons of time. I think in Bible times fasting was as much about making more time and space for God and prayer by cutting out a major work/social daily routine as it was about going without food. I think that is where the modern idea of “tech fast” comes in.

This is definitely how silence as a discipline is described in the spiritual discipline books. And if you think of many monastic communities, there is definitely that emphasis on making space for others and God by taking your own voice out of the equation. As an extrovert, I have mixed feelings about this. :wink:

I think I have mentioned before that my mother is studying spiritual direction and I recently stayed for a while with her for medical reasons. She encouraged me to read up again on incorporating some spiritual disciplines and contemplative practices, so I have been recently (over the last month or so) giving silence and contemplative prayer an honest try. The idea is that instead of prayer as saying a bunch of words to God, you are silent, and use prayer to hear from God about the state of your own soul. It is not my natural bent because I tend to avoid introspection when at all possible. (About my worst nightmare would be an Evangelical women’s retreat where we all spend lots of time writing journals and talking about our feelings in small groups.)

It has been good for me, but difficult. Basically the discipline I have tried involves two things. I go somewhere quiet and alone, usually toward the end of the day, and I set a timer for fifteen minutes. (LOL, you have to start somewhere.) For the first part of the time I concentrate on one mental image and try to listen to God. The image I try to picture is of a watering can being filled at a running faucet until the water starts overflowing out of the spout. I try to hear from God all of the things he is filling me with and all of the things I need to just let run away. I have control issues and there are usually a number of things that God brings to mind that I need to let go. And it is good to mindfully meditate on all the things God promises to fill me up with in the power of his Spirit.

Then I think of one “desolation” of the day. This can be anything that made me feel hurt, or sad, or angry. I think about if there is any personal sin I need to confess around this and I try to lament and grieve any loss or pain it caused and receive God’s comfort for it. I think this has been the hardest but also the most beneficial part of the discipline, because it is so unnatural for me. I do not ever really want to feel my negative feelings and would much rather bury them un-felt somewhere for later until they inevitably all come flooding out somewhere down the road and I’m a total basket case. I know mentally this is much healthier, but it is still hard.

Then I think of one “consolation” from the day. This can be anything beautiful or encouraging or affirming or God-revealing, and I try to let the meaning and weight of it sink in and I concentrate on the truth of it with thanksgiving for a few minutes.

So that is basically my very limited experience. In the past, I did a lot better learning about spiritual disciplines than actually practicing them.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #11

Fifteen, eh? I started with ten recently! Don’t feel too wimpy!

Even that that, some days I fly through 10 and on to 15 and feel like I could keep going for a long time. Other days I keep checking my phone. Only three minutes? How is that possible??

I feel this. But I know that my penchant (as an Enneagram 1! haha don’t tell jammycakes) is definitely heavily in the direction of defensiveness. And as such, I could stand to take regular, time-limited vows of silence… definitely helpful for me.

(Randy) #12

When I visited Niger again (90% or more Muslim, in contrast to much of sub Saharan Africa further south) 2 years ago, it was during Ramadan (“azumi” there). It was hot as blazes–in the 100s, and some of the patients suffered severe dehydration (Islam doesn’t recommend doing this if you are ill, though)… I admired those who fasted, but they weren’t aware of the Christian fasting history (of doing it in secret). My dad used to fast in secret, and after researching more about this, I realized some Christians have an even more extensive history-- like the Copts and Catholic ascetics. I have fasted a few times (I should do more lately–not in years!) In med school, I did fast a bit at the same time as my Muslim classmates to open a way to talk with them for a day or so…

Frugality is a good reminder in our culture–especially at Christmas, maybe.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

I think in some frameworks this is called simplicity. I sort of like that term better. To me frugality can often become it’s own source of pride in thriftiness (which is often just being cheap and stingy) and can inhibit generosity. And it still seems focused on things; getting things without spending a lot of money.

But when I have heard people describe simplicity (and I think it is what is intended by frugality in the list) it is that you really search your soul to come to terms with the difference between needs and wants. And you intentionally try to reduce the clutter in your life caused by thoughtlessly and impulsively chasing your wants all the time. This gives God space to be your desire and your satisfaction. Then the focus is not on not spending money, rather it’s on not being held captive by fleeting desires and the stuff and experiences those fleeting desires demand, things which aren’t ultimately satisfying anyway.

(Mitchell W McKain) #14

I have never heard of a fast where you don’t drink water. Sounds quite dangerous to me. How long depends a great deal on where you are and dehydration symptoms vary too much. Thus I think it is too unpredictable and thus a bad idea all around.

Oh… looking it up, I find this (called dry fasting) is a new health kick.

(Randy) #15

Wow, that does sound dangerous.@Christy, I also learn better about the disciplines than doing them!

(system) #16

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