Does the idea of growing closer to God ever seem easier said than done? Maybe you’re used to hearing other people talk about their ever-deepening relationship with Jesus, but you feel stuck in the same place you’ve been for years. Or maybe you’ve felt the pull to learn about God and love Him better, but you’re not sure where to start. No matter where you are in your faith, there’s room to grow and ways to take steps forward—and that’s where spiritual disciplines, or spiritual practices, come into play.
What Is a Spiritual Discipline?
A spiritual discipline is any activity that helps us bring our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and actions into alignment with Jesus’ way of living. As our hearts and our minds become more like Jesus’, we grow closer to Him in the process.
Now, though, we’re back in easier-said-than-done territory. Sure, we’ve established that spiritual practices help us grow closer to God, but maybe now you’re thinking about questions like …
- What spiritual practices exist?
- How do I know what disciplines are right for me?
- How do I start a practice?
- How can I tell if a practice is helping me get closer to God?
If questions like those are running through your mind, or if you’re just looking for advice and resources to help you take a next step, here’s some good news: Season 8 of the You’ve Heard It Said podcast is all about spiritual practices. Over the six-episode season, we’ll hear stories from people who have practiced different spiritual disciplines—and learn from their experience.
You can find information below about the spiritual disciplines covered during Season 8. And if you keep reading, you’ll find a list of even more spiritual practices that can help you explore how you’d like to grow closer to God next.
Learn More About Spiritual Practices
- Bible Reading
- Caring for the Earth
- Active vs. Passive Spirituality
- More Spiritual Practices
For many people, the Bible is one of the first ways to acquaint yourself with who God is. Through the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments, we can see God at work—bringing mankind and the rest of creation to life, caring for them before and after the fall, and sending His Son, Jesus, to earth to save us. In this text, we witness God’s attributes: His love, His power, His justice, His compassion, and so many more.
If you’re new to reading the Bible, starting small and starting slow is a great way to go. Pick one of the Gospels, like the book of Mark, and go through each chapter little by little, considering what you read—and what you learn about God—as you progress.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
When we read the Bible, we learn about God. But prayer turns our knowledge of who God is into a conversational relationship with Him. When we pray, we have the opportunity to connect with God in so many ways—we can worship Him for who He is and the good things He’s done, we can invite Him into our lives by telling Him about our successes and our struggles, we can align our hearts with His, and we can ask Him for guidance and other things we need in the days ahead.
If you’re new to prayer, again, starting small and starting slow is a good idea. Set aside five minutes, find a quiet space, and use the time to worship God, thank Him, and ask Him for help.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13 ESV
Many of us are so busy, it can be difficult to find the time or space to make room for our relationship with God. And that’s where the spiritual practice of slowing comes into play. When we choose to slow down and rest, we push back against the speed of everything going on around us in order to focus on God and His presence.
There are many different ways you can choose to slow down. You can schedule fewer activities, or turn off all electronic screens for an afternoon, or drive the speed limit. The change might feel strange or difficult at first, but as you lean into your relationship with God during the time you’ve set aside for yourself, you’ll find freedom as you go.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
Fasting means choosing to go without food for a period of time in order to connect with God. In many ways, it works similarly to slowing—by removing something from your schedule (eating), you free up time for God. But fasting comes with an added wrinkle—a growling stomach. The discomfort of fasting provides us with an added reminder that this time has a purpose.
If you’ve never fasted, it’s good to keep some things in mind. First, if you have health concerns, you should always talk to your doctor before restricting your diet. Second, don’t bite off more than you can chew (pun intended). Instead of going without food for days, try eliminating a single kind of food (like sweets) or only going without food for a part of the day (like from sunup to sundown).
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 ESV
Caring for the Earth
Before God created mankind, He created everything else in all of creation. And after God created humanity, He tasked them with working the earth and caring for all of His creation. When we care for the earth, we step into the original role that God gave us, and we show respect for the many, many good things God made.
Just keep in mind, caring for the earth doesn’t mean the weight of saving the earth is on your shoulders. Like so many other spiritual practices, it’s best to start small. Recycling or gardening are both ways to get started. Buying organic produce or sustainably-made clothing and products are also options. Just look for a way that will fit well in your life and try taking that step.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15 ESV
Not everyone thinks of hospitality as one of the spiritual disciplines, but it takes practice and it makes us more like Jesus, like every other practice on this list. Hospitality means loving others the way Jesus has loved us. It requires sacrifice from us—whether in the form of time, money, or space—but it more than makes up for what it takes.
If you’re new to the practice of hospitality, know that you don’t have to open your home and cook food for dozens of strangers (although, if that sounds fun to you, more power to you). Hospitality can look like striking up a conversation with a neighbor you’ve never met, or making your church a welcoming place, or inviting someone you don’t know well to lunch. It can take whatever form you like, as long as it gives you the opportunity to show someone else the love of Jesus.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … 1 Peter 4:8-10 ESV
Active vs. Passive Spirituality
We’ve talked a lot about active spiritual practices so far—ways we can take charge of our spiritual growth. But active spirituality isn’t the only way we grow in our faith.
Sooner or later in our lives, we’ll face trials and struggles. And it can be easy in those times to resist the pain of our present circumstances and doubt God’s goodness and plan for our lives. But when we choose a different response—when we choose to lean into God during those times and trust Him—our faith grows. As author John Mark Comer says, this isn’t active spirituality, but passive spirituality at work.
So the next time you encounter pain or disappointments, try leaning into God, and see where your faith grows from there.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV
More Spiritual Practices
The following disciplines and definitions were selected from the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. More disciplines can be found in Calhoun’s book.
- Gratitude: Gratitude is a loving and thankful response toward God for His presence with us and within this world.
- Sabbath: Sabbath is God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest. It is given for our delight and communion with God.
- Worship: Worship happens whenever we intentionally cherish God and value Him above all else in life.
- Examen: The examen is a practice for discerning the voice and activity of God within the flow of the day.
- Journaling: Journaling is a tool for reflecting on God’s presence, guidance, and nurture in daily comings and goings.
- Simplicity: Simplicity cultivates the great art of letting go. Simplicity aims at loosening inordinate attachment to owning and having.
- Silence: Silence is a regenerative practice of attending to and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise.
- Community: Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic and loving ways that encourage growth in Christ.
- Discipling: Discipling is the process of equipping, training and encouraging another in his or her apprenticeship to Jesus.
- Lectio Divina: Lectio divina or hearing of Scripture requires an open, reflective, listening posture alert to the voice of God.
- Memorization: Memorization is the process of continually remembering the words, truths and images God uses to shape us.
- Forgiveness: To forgive is to condemn a wrong and spare the wrongdoer hatred, revenge, and self-righteous indignation by joining them to Jesus’ own forgiving heart.
- Justice: Justice seeks to help others through correcting and redressing wrongs. It treats others fairly and shows no favoritism.