The Spiritual Disciplines

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Bill Hull widely is respected as a leader in the field of discipleship. He says, “The common teaching is that a Christian is someone who by faith accepts Jesus as Savior, receives eternal life, and is safe and secure in the family of God; a disciple is a more serious Christian active in the practice of the spiritual disciplines and engaged in evangelizing and training others. But I must be blunt: I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple.” 

Dallas Willard defines transformation as, “The Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” How will believers come to look more like Christ when they are eighteen than when they are twelve?

Part of the answer is this: Believers become more transformed into the image of Christ by following the practices He followed on earth. Willard says, “We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced.”

Teenagers choose to practice the spiritual disciplines, not primarily to be more righteous but to be more like their King.

Richard Foster presents the relationships among the various disciplines:

  • Meditation heightens our spiritual sensitivity, which in turn leads us into prayer.
  • Very soon we discover that prayer involves fasting as an accompanying means.
  • Informed by these three Disciplines we can effectively move into study which gives us discernment about ourselves and the world in which we live. . . .
  • Through simplicity we live with others in integrity.
  • Solitude allows us to be genuinely present to people when we are with them.
  • Through submission we live with others without manipulation, and through service we are a blessing to them. . . .
  • Confession frees us from ourselves and releases us to worship.
  • Worship opens the door to guidance.
  • All the Disciplines freely exercised bring forth the doxology of celebration.”

After completing her Sticky Faith research project, Kara Powell reported: “Only about half of the high school seniors graduating from our youth groups pick up a Bible once a week or toss up a prayer once a day.”

We youth leaders tend to think, “I want my teenagers to go deeper in their faith, so I need to go find an amazing speaker, curriculum, or video.” All those elements have a place, but God already has provided the primary means for the transformation of teenagers.

Pastor and author J. D. Greear says: “Spiritual disciplines are like wires that connect us to the power of the gospel. They have no power in themselves, but they connect us to the place from which the power flows. They are gateways to the gospel, but not the gospel itself.”

Some early research suggests that sustained thought and concentration on a particular subject can lead to the creation of new neural connections in the brain. Meditation and contemplation lead to the renewing of the mind—even on a biological level.

Training in the spiritual disciplines needs to be part of discipling.

If you desire to see your teenagers experiencing the spiritual disciplines the rest of their lives, then:

  • You need to be transparent about those disciplines in your life.
  • You need to join others in leading parents to experience and model the disciplines.
  • You need to lead disciplers and mentors to experience and model the disciplines.
  • And you need to lead core teenagers to experience and model the disciplines.

As with most other parts of the Christian life, teenagers tend to become like those with whom they share heart connections.


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