Tag Archives: spiritual disciplines

Introducing the Spiritual Disciplines

“…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)


 Definition of Spiritual Disciplines The word “exercise” in 1 Timothy 4:7 KJV (can also be translated as “discipline”) comes from the Greek word from which we derive gymnasium and gymnastics.  In the ancient world, those who “exercised” in this way removed even their clothing to focus on working out and training without any hindrance.The apostle Paul, in this context, is warning Timothy of false teachers and worthless teachings.  He tells Timothy to “refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7 KJV).

Just as Timothy was to shun what was unhelpful and harmful, we too must say no to that which is unprofitable and actively exercise ourselves for the purpose of growing in godliness.  We need to practice specific disciplines, or exercises, taught in the Word of God if we are to become more holy and Christlike.

Spiritual disciplines, then, are exercises designed to strengthen one’s spirit and grow one in godliness – things we must actively engage in to see progress.

Biblical spiritual disciplines are exercises designed to strengthen one’s spirit and grow one in godliness that are taught by command or example in the Bible.

Spiritual disciplines


Spiritual Disciplines

Bible reading









Journaling                 Yes


Labyrinth walking


Not Biblical

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  that the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)


Spiritual disciplines can be broken down into two further categories:  personal and inter-personalPersonal spiritual disciplines are those we can practice as individuals (individual Bible reading, prayer, fasting, etc.).  Inter-personal spiritual disciplines are those practiced with others (corporate worship, etc.).


I.             They are a means to an end – godliness.

We are to exercise or discipline ourselves “unto” or for the purpose of growing in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).  The disciplines are not ends in themselves, any more than going to the gym, using an exercise machine, or practicing musical scales are ends in themselves – they are a means to a greater goal.

  • “…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
  • [The ultimate destiny for believers is] “to be conformed to the image of His [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:29).
  • “…with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • “Follow [pursue] peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

II.           God expects them to be a part of our lives.

God commands them.  The word “exercise” or “discipline” in 1 Timothy 4:7 is a present active imperative verb, where we are commanded to keep on exercising or disciplining ourselves.

  • “Thou shalt meditate therein” (Joshua 1:8)
  • “Watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

God assumes them.  Some of God’s commands speak to how to practice the disciplines with the assumption that we are practicing them.

  • “When ye pray…” (Mark 11:24); “When ye fast…” (Matt. 6:16)

III.         Spiritual disciplines have been modeled for us.

Scripture provides authoritative examples.

  • Jesus
    • “…He went up…to pray…” (Matthew 14:23)
    • “…when He had fasted…” (Matthew 4:2) 
  • Paul
    • “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do…” (Phil. 4:9)
    • “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you… making request with joy… and this I pray…” (Phil. 1:3-4, 9)

Church history provides encouraging examples.  Through journals and eyewitness testimony, we may learn of many believers blessed by God through their pursuit of Him through the spiritual disciplines.  Examples include:

  • The Puritans
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • George Muller

 IV.         We neglect them to our harm. 

  • spiritual weakness (Mark 14:38)
  • fruitlessness
  • deception?

 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

 V.           We benefit greatly when we practice them rightly. 

  • Godliness – we become more like Christ
  • Joy – as we become more like God, we will enjoy communing with Him and serving Him more and more.
  • Usefulness – as we grow in godliness, we are more useful in ministry
  • Freedom – to quote Scripture; to pray spontaneously, etc.

Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline. (Elisabeth Elliot)

Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end – getting to know God.  Not about performance, but about pursuing a relationship with Christ.

It is easy to get so distracted with things of no profit (1 Timothy 4:7) but we need to pursue God through the spiritual disciplines for the purpose of godliness!

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.  (1 Timothy 4:8)


The right approach to the spiritual disciplines sees them as a means to grow in God’s grace, NOT as a basis for acceptance with God.

I must take care above all that I cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace – mark that – yet it will be the channel of it. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Let us see the spiritual disciplines as training exercises that will help us become stronger spiritually and more Christlike.  Let us head to the spiritual gym and devote ourselves to the workouts taught in the Bible – to exercise ourselves unto godliness.

Recommended book:  Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Bible Reading Plans in 2011

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

To walk with God in 2011, we need to be in His Word daily.  Here are some resources for Bible reading plans:

There are certainly many other Bible reading resources and many ways to read the Bible… going through the books in order, reading selections for each testament, reading one book at a time in any order, using a One Year Bible (with selections portioned out for each day), combining reading it with listening to a recording of it being read, etc.  But the most important thing is to actually READ God’s Word.  However we do it, let us resolve with the help of God to pay even more attention to His Word this year than last and feast upon it in 2011.

Memorizing Scripture – Some Reasons & Tools to Help

Pastor John Piper lists six reasons we should memorize Scripture (click here to read the entire article):

1. Conformity to Christ
2. Daily Triumph over Sin
3. Daily Triumph over Satan
4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love
5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers
6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and His Ways

Here are some resources on how to memorize Scripture:

  • Piper on his method
    Go to the 1:00 minute mark to hear see/hear him recite the entire book of Philippians from memory, until 18:35.
    [vimeo http://vimeo.com/50687239]
  • Pastor Andy Davis on “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” (pdf file)
  • I would also suggest forming a group or at least getting one other individual to memorize a particular passage or set of verses and hold each other accountable and encourage each other in this discipline.

Here are some electronic tools that are handy aids for memorizing:

  • e-Sword (free Bible software that includes an excellent Bible memory feature with multiple quizzing methods to really help memorize quickly and in an interesting way)

  • Bible Minded (ABS)   Android  iOS
  • Topical Memory System Android   iOS
  • Fighter Verses   Android ($2.99)   iOS ($.2.99)  (ESV & NIV)
  • CueCard (free windows-based computer program, creates flashcards which may include image, text, sound)
  • Flash (free mac-based computer flashcard program)
  • StudyDroid (free Android mobile phone and computer flashcard application)
  • Learn! (free Android mobile phone flashcard application, creates with still or video image, text, sound)

If you just set aside time to memorize one verse a day (and review them in the days ahead), you could memorize the whole book of Philippians in four months or less. Chapter 1 – 30 verses; Chapter 2 – 30 verses; Chapter 3 – 21 verses; Chapter 4 – 23 verses I am hoping to do this, or the book of James, in the near future. Screenshot:  Access Scripture Memory via the Tools menu in e-Sword  The original version of this post appeared on capsministry.com.

Character Counts, Especially in the Ministry

Last night in our Bristol CAPS class, Pastor Bryan Hall spoke on the need for the preacher to be a man of character and integrity.

I wanted to mention three additional resources to encourage you to pursue godliness in your personal life:

1. Dr. Don Whitney has written a great article entitled “The Sinkhole Syndrome” -great material for the kind of regular spiritual check-ups we should engage in.

A couple of quotes:

I’m sure you’re already familiar with many factors that undermine intimacy with Christ. Realize that it’s almost certain that the ‘time-thieves’ trying to steal from your time with God will only increase as the years pass. My hope is that this article will alert you to this subtle, creeping tendency so that it won’t overtake you.

Resolve never to let your daily life keep you from Jesus daily.

2. Messages from the 2010 Bancroft Leadership Conference on Integrity in the Ministry (free downloads, messages by Dr. Peter Youmans)

3. Warren Wiersbe’s book, The Integrity Crisis (required reading for the CAPS diploma program)

* Note: if you are presently in the CAPS class and are a member of my local church and do not have a copy, please let me know.

“God the All”

There is no comfort in anything
apart from enjoying thee
and being engaged in thy service;
Thou art All in all, and all enjoyments are what to me
thou makest them, and no more.
I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is,
or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair
I would choose to refer all to thee.
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there.
Then prayer turns wholly into praise,
and all I can do is to adore and bless thee.
What shall I give thee for all thy benefits?
I am in a strait betwixt two, knowing not what to do;
I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
and can only rejoice that thou doest all,
that none in heaven or on earth shares thy honour;
I can of myself do nothing to glorify thy blessed name,
but I can through grace cheerfully surrender soul adn body to thee,
I know that thou art the author and finisher of faith,
that the whole work of redemption is thine alone,
that every good work or thought found in me
is the effect of thy power and grace,
that thy sole motive in working in me to will and to do
is for thy good pleasure.
O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much
about man’s creaturely power and goodness,
when, if thou dist not hold us back every moment,
we should be devils incarnate.
This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.

from The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett, pg. 4 (published by Banner of Truth Trust)

How Can I Meditate on Scripture? The Joseph Hall Questions

Have you ever read something and found that you could not recall what you had just read?  Have you ever walked away from a portion of the Bible only to discover that you retained little if any of what you just read?

The spiritual discipline of meditation will help us with this problem.  Joshua (1:8) and the Psalmist (1:2) furnish examples of Biblical meditation, which fills the heart and mind with the Word of God.  James 1:22-24 warns against those who forget what they see in the Word.  Meditation helps us absorb, analyze, and apply the Scripture.  So, how can we do it?

There are a number of helps to meditation, but here I would like to highlight “the Joseph Hall questions” from Hall’s 17th century work, The Art of Divine Meditation.  As we ponder a theme in a passage, these are helpful questions to ask.  (You can read the whole text of his book — pages 46 to 79 in this free online Google Books edition of his works, which can be downloaded as a free pdf file.)

1. What is it (define and/or describe what it is)?
2. What are its divisions or parts?
3. What causes it?
4. What does it cause, i.e., its fruits and effects?
5. What is its place, location, or use?
6. What are its qualities and attachments?
7. What is contrary, contradictory, or different to it?
8. What compares to it?
9. What are its titles or names?
10. What are the testimonies or examples of Scripture about it?

Joseph Hall, The Divine Art of Meditation (free pdf @ Google Books)

Bookmark/Overheads/Handouts from BiblicalSpirituality.org (Dr. Donald S. Whitney)

If you would like to share these questions with a class, these files might come in handy:

Book Review – Family Worship: in the Bible, in History, and in Your Home

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NKJV)

“For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Genesis 18:19 NKJV)

Several years ago, my pastor suggested that I read Donald S. Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1991).  This is a book that I regularly return to, with God using it to challenge and enrich my devotional life, particularly in regard to Bible intake and prayer. Not long afterward, I also had the opportunity to take the author’s seminary class on that very subject and have found it to be the best class I have had so far.

Dr. Whitney, who teaches Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky has also written a very helpful 32-page booklet (including study/discussion guide) entitled Family Worship: in the Bible, in History, & in Your Home. As the title suggests, the author presents the Scriptures relevant to family worship and shows us its importance in church history. Then he tells us how we can implement family worship in our own homes, answering objections (such as single parent homes, variety of ages of children, homes where dad is not a believer, etc.), and pressing upon us the urgency of the delightful duty of family worship.

So, what is family worship? According to Whitney, all you need to do is 3 things: read, pray, and sing. You could read a chapter of the Bible, spend time in prayer, and praise God with song. The time need not be long, but it should be regular. It need not be burdensome, and can often be incorporated into a family meal time. If time permits, you could also use a catechism (question & answers to help children learn the teaching of the Bible), memorize Scripture, and read other good Christian books. Family worship is a great way to emphasize the priority of God in your home.

Now, let me be very open with you and admit my own struggles for consistency in this area. I have four young children and a very busy life with the different responsibilities I juggle. But that does not excuse me. I am accountable to God for the training of my children and for the spiritual aroma of my home. I have implemented (and slacked from…and returned to, etc.) these principles of family worship, and, with the help of God, desire to establish this as a distinctive part of my family life for all my days.

I know I am not alone in this struggle. I recall hearing of a visiting preacher who asked a church how many had family worship regularly at their home. No one said they did. Is this not a sad commentary? Should this not be a joyful, daily part of the lives of the people of God? I strongly urge you to consider yourself in this matter. Do you have family worship? If not, why not? Will you start now?

Whitney’s book should be a help to you as you begin or reexamine your family worship. It would also be a helpful resource to teach a Sunday School class (or series of classes) on this subject.

You may order the book and/or accompanying CD lecture from The Center for Biblical Spirituality.  (Click here to view the order form.)

If you are a pastor or other church leader, you may be interested to know that the Center for Biblical Spirituality offers discounts for multiple copies, including a Father’s Day special.

Another helpful article by the same author is “Simplifying Family Worship,” available at www.biblicalspirituality.org/fworship.html.  (If you want to get a little more taste of his material, you might also check out the following free .mp3 downloads:  “Family Worship” at SermonAudio.com, requires registration; “Family Worship” Part 1 and “Family Worship” Part 2 at Countryside Bible Church, direct links.)

For the glory of God and the sake of your family, take Whitney’s advice: begin or renew family worship today!

Doug Smith, CAPS Graduate and Tri-Cities Area CAPS Representative

(HT: Paul Schafer for all the audio links!)