Thrive in 5 – Spiritual


Do you cringe when you think of the term spiritual disciplines? Does it evoke a sense of guilt or failure when you consider that you are a pastor? The good news is that defeat is not what God intended for us. Gaining a new vision of what the disciplines are all about can open your heart to the grace and joy of God’s work of transformations. Spiritual formation is the process by which we grow in our intimacy with God and are increasingly transformed into the image of Christ. God uses various means of grace in your life as a pastor, including the disciplines, to facilitate this journey of transformation. An understanding of what the disciplines are and how they work will help us more effectively cooperate with God in our journey of transformation. It will also help us as spiritual leaders to help others grow in God’s grace and transformation. Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and others offer us many helpful insights as we approach the practice of spiritual disciplines. Here are five concepts that can help us understand better the historic spiritual disciplines:

  1. What is the historical context for the disciplines? From the time of Abraham and the children of Israel, God’s people have practiced disciplines such as prayer, worship and fasting. Jesus, as our prime example, practiced solitude, fasting, prayer, self-sacrifice, service and other disciplines as an integral part of his life. The early Christians, as well as Christian leaders and devotional masters throughout the ages, incorporated disciplines of spiritual formation into their style of life. What historic spiritual disciplines can you engage in that would be new for you? Did you know that when you engage in the spiritual disciplines you carry on traditions that have marked the church for centuries?                                                                                                      
  2. What are spiritual disciplines? The disciplines are God-given, grace-filled means of transformation. They provide ways to “hang out” with God or “create space for God to act” (Nouwen,1995). They are NOT a way to earn points with God or others. The disciplines are NOT an end in themselves. The point is what happens in our inner being when and because we are practicing the disciplines. What difference would it make for you to approach your current spiritual practices as a joy-filled invitation from God to be with him and to create some space for him to do his work of transformation?
  3. How should we approach the disciplines? The disciplines are best practiced as a loving response to a loving God. We want to approach the disciplines out of this truth: I am accepted. I am loved. I am free to achieve and to fail. I don’t have to prove I am worthy of love or forgiveness. Spiritual disciplines are best practiced in loving, authentic community. What is your motive in engaging spiritual disciplines? Do you know someone with whom you can be honest about your spiritual journey?
  4. How do the disciplines work? Just as we are saved by grace, transformation is also a work of grace (Phil. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:28-31; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 3:18). Grace is opposed to works, not effort. The disciplines are a way of “working out” our salvation. It is not an issue of works, in the sense of earning or merit. Grace and effort work together. As we do our part, the disciplines place us before God so that He can do the work of transformation in us (Phil. 2:12-13). Here are three principles for how the disciplines work:
  • Indirection: In general, a “discipline” is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. We intentionally engage in activities and reflection that we can do to give God the opportunity to work in us the changes we cannot do ourselves.
  • Trying vs. training: In practicing the disciplines, we engage in hidden preparation over time that helps us respond ‘on the spot’ as Jesus would. We want to train ourselves in godliness, not just try to be godly (1Cor. 9:24-27; 1Tim. 4:7-10).
  • The power of the Holy Spirit: Ultimately, the work of transformation is a work of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8). How intentional are you in making efforts to place yourself before God so that you encounter the Spirit’s transforming power?

5. What do the disciplines produce? Over time, the disciplines increase our intimacy with God and make us more like Jesus.         The disciplines offer us freedom from bondage and fear. They grow in us the inner fruit of love and righteousness which leads         to godly decisions, choices and reactions in the moment of crisis (Gal. 5:22-25). Which fruit of the Spirit do you long to see              more of in your life?            

To explore more about Christian spiritual formation, see the following:

Calhoun, Adele. (2005). Spiritual disciplines handbook. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

Foster, Richard J. (1998). Celebration of discipline: The path to spiritual growth. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Foster, Nathan. (2014). The making of an ordinary saint. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Nouwen, Henri. (1995). “Moving from solitude to community to ministry.Christianity Today,

Willard, Dallas (1998). The spirit of the disciplines: understanding how God changes lives. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Spiritual contributor and curator: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email
Linda’s website:  Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle