Following healthy spiritual disciplines is the secret to discipleship. This is what prepares us to have fruitful, victorious faith walks.
Just as an athlete, surgeon, or engineer must maintain certain practices to stay fit, sharp, and ready for the next challenge, disciples of Jesus Christ must do the same.
Consequences from sinful, unhealthy or hurtful behaviors are understandable, even expected. We are not surprised when we see a person suffering disastrous effects from a years or even lifelong pattern of self-abuse.
Consequences that come from a lack of discipline, however, are different. When we avoid doing the things that we know we should to maintain our health – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual – it can lead to consequences that are just as damaging.
Who Needs Discipline?
The words disciple and discipline come from the same root. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to exercise discipline in living out a life of surrender and obedience to Him.
Although not always visible on the outside, a disciple can suffer consequences to their spiritual health if they lack discipline. And these consequences affect both ourselves and those around us.
One thing that people with a vice and people who lack discipline have in common: It is up to them to desire to do something about it, and then to actually do something. People have to be responsible for themselves to take necessary action. In some situations, it may take a great deal of heartache to get to that point.
Looking for a Quick Fix
Maybe it is human nature, or maybe living in a world where we can acquire things more quickly all the time, and with less effort. For whatever reason, a common response when we are ready to exercise discipline in our lives is to find a “quick fix” to our problems. A shortcut that allows us to restore our former selves and reverse, perhaps even rid ourselves entirely of the consequences of our lack of discipline.
Talking about quick fixes always reminds me of the cartoon Bloom County. One strip in particular features Opus the Penguin attempting to hire out Milo, one of the other characters as an exercise coach. When Milo suggests eating less and exercise, Opus has none of that, hoping to find a diet plan more suitable to the “typical overweight American”. When Milo suggests a tummy tuck, Opus enthusiastically agrees.
We can relate to this, right? The moment we choose to reverse course, we are struck with the pain and the shame those consequences bring. We are so convinced of the need to change that we want to restore ourselves immediately to good health. Now!
A pendulum swings back with relatively equal force and speed that it swings forward. It stands to reason that the way we arrived at certain consequences will require a similar amount of activity and duration for course correction. This is oh so important when considering spiritual disciplines as followers of Jesus Christ, as the secret to discipleship we undertake will guide us for the rest of our lives.
The Secret to Discipleship
Now, we are using the term secret here as in the basics, or the key. The secret to discipleship is not esoteric knowledge. It is not reserved for the super spiritual. Rather, the secret to discipleship is taken from the examples that Jesus left us and taught us about.
Therefore, you probably will not be surprised by the three key disciplines we encapsulate as the secret to discipleship. They are the “eat less and exercise” of a disciple’s spiritual journey.
What makes these disciplines so effective and powerful are not the activity, but on whom we focus the activity. Just like a body builder improves one muscle group at a time through focus, we improve our spiritual muscles by focusing on God, but in different ways.
These are practical activities towards abiding with Christ. Jesus tells us to stay connected to Him, because unless we stay connected to Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Remembering and acting on the secret to discipleship ensures we stay connected to Him.
Through practicing the secret to discipleship, we will see new, positive, grace-filled consequences. As our faith grows and matures, we will grow closer to Jesus Christ and He will produce amazing fruit in our lives.
Take the time to practice the secret to discipleship sincerely, daily. Make these disciplines a priority, and you will be giving yourself every advantage to having a spiritually healthy walk with Christ.
Abiding with Christ in the Word
One way that we abide with Christ is by reading, studying, contemplating, and memorizing His Word, the Bible. There is great value in meditating on God’s word, for it provides us with God’s instruction for our lives (Psalm 19:7-11). It is to be our guidebook, for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)
By reading the Bible, we learn to hear and understand God’s voice. He can communicate with us in other ways, but the Bible is what He left for our access and reference at all times.
Spending time in and memorizing God’s word is important for several reasons. Here a but a few:
- It is a primary tool in battling temptation
- It equips us to share our faith in Jesus Christ
- We learn to better distinguish truth from lies
The Bible also documents the birth, life, miracles, teaching, death, resurrection, and words of Jesus Christ. With the Bible, we never have to guess about what Jesus was like or how He told us to live.
Clearly, setting aside time daily to read the Bible is a means to accomplish this. But it doesn’t have to be the only way. Audio recordings through physical or streaming media are helpful when you are on the move. Keeping small flash cards with you of verses you are memorizing give you a chance to practice when you have unexpected time on your hands. Devotionals, Bible studies, commentaries, and faith-based books are helpful when you aren’t sure what to read next, or you want to study a particular topic.
Abiding with Christ in Prayer
A continual habit of personal prayer helps to remind us of who we are and who we are to be in Christ.
We see multiple passages in the Bible where Christ went off by Himself and prayed to God the Father. Clearly this is an important activity.
When we come humbly before God’s throne every day, it is a continual reminder of our dependence, submission, and humility before Him. It is a daily affirmation that we are not in charge.
It is also a means of developing intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to bring everything to Him – our praise, hurts, needs, excitement, concerns for others – everything.
Commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus modeled how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13).
Some people find it helpful to break out the parts of prayer with an acronym, as a reminder of the things we can bring to God in prayer. There is no “must” order or way to do it. Most reminders will include these basic components:
Praise & Adoration
This can be worshipping God for His attributes, such as his omnipotence (all-powerful) or His mercy. Also thanking Him for His blessings, and praising Him for answers to prayer.
Spending time admitting to God where we have failed Him, asking forgiveness and committing to living in holiness is our acts of confession. Disciples are promised that when we confess our sins we will be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9).
Intercession is when we spend time praying for others’ needs and lives. One of the great privileges disciples of Jesus Christ have is to share the burdens of others and taking them to our heavenly Father.
Asking God to supply our needs comes directly from Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:11). We can come confidently to the throne of grace knowing that God desires to bless His children.
These are straightforward, but always feel free to approach prayer creatively. Pray a song. Pray passages of scripture. Go through the alphabet and call out praises to God for each letter.
Do you remember the first time a child showed you a work of their art? If you are praying to Jesus Christ with the heart of a disciple, He will hear and take delight your prayer.
Finally, remember prayer is not just us speaking to Him. God will also use times in prayer as an opportunity to speak to us through His Spirit. Take the time to rest in His presence to hear His voice.
Abiding with Christ through the Body of Christ
God wants us to be in fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). For some, this will mean a church home. Or it could mean a small fellowship that comes together regularly. It may even mean one other person. Or any combination of these.
Being with like-minded disciples of Jesus Christ who can teach, encourage, worship with us and hold each of us accountable is a means of abiding with Christ. When we are around other disciples, we can see Christ through them. He will use them to speak to us.
The Bible both infers and directs us to do our walks of discipleship in the company of other believers. A few examples:
- Jesus tells us it will make our prayer more effective, and He will bring His presence near when we come together (Matthew 18:19-20)
- Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs to spread the gospel (Luke 10:1-23)
- We are called to perform the two outward symbols of our faith in Christ – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – in the presence of others
Christ’s intent is for disciples to go and make other disciples and teach them “to obey all the commands I have given you” (Mathew 28:20). When we try to go it alone in our walk with Jesus Christ, we are saying to Him that we do not need to be discipled by other believers. This also suggests that if we do help bring people into the faith, we intend to leave them to their own devices.
It may sound spiritual to say, “Jesus is who disciples me”, but it can be used as a tactic to avoid fellowship. Christ clearly expects us to walk together with other disciples.
If for some reason a church home is not something you can feel comfortable with, there are other ways to find other believers. Find some organizations that help the needy and find out what volunteer opportunities they have. Find Christian gatherings online. Local Christian media can also be a good resource for finding alternate gatherings of believers.
Whether or not you find the blessing of a good church home, realize that fellowship does not start and end on Sunday morning. Develop relationships that build you up throughout the week. Make fellowshipping with other disciples a frequent activity.
Benefits of Abiding With Christ
The secret to discipleship is not just a good practice, but a beneficial one. Maintaining these 3 activities with a sincere heart as a regularly scheduled discipline will lead to many positive results, such as:
This is the first fruit of the spirit listed above, but is worth calling out specifically. The more we abide with Christ, the more He will soften our heart for others. He already tells us to love our neighbors and even our enemies. Abiding with Christ equips us for this. With His help, we will love those that at one time we would have considered unlovable.
Our hearts will start to become giving-oriented, both for the Body of Christ and for the needy. We will seek to give to other people and organizations in Christ’s name with our time, abilities, and wealth. As God writes His word on our hearts and we obey him, we will love our neighbor (Galatians 5:13-14, Hebrews 13:16, Philippians 2:4) in many ways.
God calls us to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:13-16). The more we abide with Christ, the more equipped we will be to live holy lives. We cannot hope to live in holiness without Him. The good news is, God knows this and does not abandon us in our need. We can pray to God for help. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling and helping us (Romans 8:26).
Living out these disciplines regularly and sincerely will cause our light to shine in the world (Matthew 5:15-16). The intent is that the Father will be glorified as people learn about Christ through our lives.
Traps to Avoid
Be careful of people who try to add their own rules to your discipline in abiding with Christ. It can be a list of “also do these” or “never do these”. This is what the Pharisees did; they added their own rules on top of God’s commandments. It is one of the reasons Christ had such trouble with them.
So how do we discern between good counsel and legalism? One helpful activity is to take what a person shares with us and confirm it against these three disciplines. Pray about it. Research God’s word. If needed, test it by discreetly asking other disciples (in sincere inquiry, not to gossip or expose another person).
This works in other areas too. We can test anything that comes by way of one of the disciplines with all three disciplines. We just have to adapt the approach to the discipline. You can test prayer by asking others to pray. You can test what you read in the Bible by researching what wise Bible teachers say about it.
But then, how do we avoid becoming legalists ourselves? We become good Bereans.
The Bereans were a people mentioned in the Book of Acts. When the Apostle Paul came preaching in Berea, the local church did not take what even he said at face value, but rather went back and examined the scriptures to verify Paul was speaking truth (Acts 17:11). Another example that as we follow through with these disciplines, they will serve to mature and protect us.
Remain grateful whenever you engage in the secret to discipleship. Avoid making these activities mundane “have-to’s”. If these disciplines become just another thing to do, it is a concern. We need to examine why. There could be many reasons.
It is possible that we are tired, or feeling overwhelmed. But if our spirits are not into doing the disciplines, there could be concerns we need to resolve immediately.
Perhaps we have some unconfessed sin or sinful attitude. It could be something that we may only realize we have done if we think it over. Another issue could be if we are withholding forgiveness from someone.
Either of these conditions will hinder fellowship with our Father, and we are likely to feel it when we attempt to draw close to Him. If you discover either of these to be the case, confess the sin, resolve conflicts if necessary, and ask forgiveness. We may have to do this a thousand times in our lives, but God will forgive us and restore us each and every time (1 John 1:9).
There are also times when we are just feeling dry spiritually. We are sure we have done nothing to displease the Father but something feels empty.
It is good to be diligent and check our hearts. After doing so, if we sincerely believe we have done nothing to quench His Spirit, we are best off to endure and continue doing as we should. It may be difficult, but it will not last forever and is likely fulfilling some purpose we are not seeing.
A Final Encouragement
When we delve into the secret to discipleship sincerely and regularly, God will grow us and bless us. Set a simple goal to start doing these disciplines on a regular basis. Start small. The attitude of your heart is far more important. Building pace and practice now will help you endure and remain consistent down the road.
As you progress, you will become more mature and more spiritually hungry. Where praying for five minutes once seemed impossible, you may find yourself praying several times that amount throughout the day. You will become more and more drawn to God’s Word. And you will grow more excited about being in the company of sincere believers.
If any of this feels intimidating, be encouraged. God will empower you. Jesus promises that we will find rest with Him, not burden (Matthew 11:28-30). Stay committed to following these disciplines. Then you will grow and mature in your faith in Jesus Christ, bearing fruit in keeping with a true disciple.