This time of year we start hearing a lot about New Year’s resolutions. Exercise regimens, diet fads and book-reading plans all boast that they will make your life exponentially better in the next year. After a few weeks most people have given up on their resolutions and settled back into their normal routine.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these goals, but I can’t help but think about some other disciplines that will make a difference to eternity, as well as the here and now. While spiritual discipline is often overlooked, it is an extremely important part of Jesus’s character. Jesus modeled a consistent pattern of spiritual discipline during his earthly ministry—and if Jesus, who is God, had to be disciplined, then how much more should we mere mortals do the same?
As we embrace 2016, here are five spiritual disciplines that will truly change your life:
Discipline 1: Prayer
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning (Luke 9:28–29, NIV).
According to Luke 9:29, prayer changes our outlook. It also changes what we look like to others. What an amazing moment in Scripture this passage portrays! As Jesus is praying, he transfigures in front of his disciples. He didn’t change clothes or wave a magic wand, but their perception of his appearance changed the moment he prayed. In the same way, when you pray, change is inevitable. The conditions may not change. The circumstances will probably remain the same. But prayer changes how you respond to crisis. It changes how people see you in crisis. Without prayer, nothing transfigures.
Discipline 2: Fasting
Prior to his public ministry Jesus spent forty days fasting. And of the five disciplines, I perceive fasting may be the most challenging of them all. If you grew up like me, you love food! Food is indeed a gift from God. He provided it for our replenishment, but not our diminishment. And whenever food messes up our faith, we have a problem. Whenever the obsession to satisfy our stomachs becomes greater than our need to satisfy our Savior, then God leaves it to us to fast.
Tony Evans describes fasting as “the deliberate abstinence from some form of physical gratification…to achieve a greater spiritual goal.” I love this definition because it clarifies the purpose of the fast: to obtain a spiritual goal. This slight nuance is what distinguishes the discipline of fasting from mere abstinence. There are a number of ways to fast and various types of fasts. For example, it is possible to fast from pleasures such as social media, the Internet, sex, or any activity that brings gratification and satisfaction. However, I have chosen to focus on fasting from food because it is generally the most common type of fast and the type of fast that Jesus practiced.
Discipline 3: Scripture Reading
When we buy electronic gadgets from the store, they often come with a manual that informs us how to get the most out of our purchase. The manual tells us how to use it, how to protect it, and how to care for it. These manuals are written by manufacturers because they are aware of the gadget’s original purpose. The Bible works the same way. The Scriptures are like an operation manual for human life, and God’s words help us learn from the lives of others on how to live as he, our Creator, intended. Like the gadget manual, the Bible teaches us how to use, protect, and care for our lives. When we don’t read it, we are building a life without having read through the manual. We have a great tool but lack the know-how to enjoy its fullest purpose. It’s hard to live out what we don’t know. So we turn to Scripture as food for the soul.
Discipline 4: Worship
Worship is a Christian imperative if we are aiming to be like Christ. It’s what Christ says the Father is seeking in John 4. When we worship the Lord, we engage him with intention and reverence. When we worship the Lord, we concentrate our lives on the Supreme Being. In an age ripe with idolatry and a compulsive need to place people on the altar of our hearts, where only Christ belongs, worship must be a daily part of our lives. In prayer you can be you. In worship you can forget about you.
When Jesus resists Satan’s offer to bow down and worship him, what he shows us is the heart of a true worshipper. Worship is more than affection; it is the acknowledgment of God’s invaluable worth and a commitment to express that worth by placing him above all else. Worship reveals where our allegiances lie.
Discipline 5: Service
Service is another activity not often seen as a spiritual discipline. But if we are to live like Christ, then service cannot be seen as an optional exercise. Service is a regular practice. It is not only something Christians do to give back to society; it is also the heartbeat and pulse of our call to discipleship.
There is no way we can accurately represent Jesus without emulating his commitment to serve others. Our willingness to serve is an indication that we are maturing in spiritual virtues. It’s easy to read a book on humility; it is much more difficult to actually live with humility. Service is a tool that God uses to teach us virtues that can’t be learned from textbooks but only in the school of experience.
The beginning of a new year offers a great opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to our walk with Christ. Like physical exercise or diets, these disciplines will take effort and intentionality, but they will greatly enhance your spiritual life and make a difference for the kingdom!
Material provided with permission from Charisma House.
Dharius Daniels is the author of RePresent Jesus and the senior pastor and co-founder of Kingdom Church in New Jersey. Since its founding in 2005, the church has grown to multiple locations and several thousand members. In addition to pursuing his doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary, he sits on the board of directors for the National Association of Evangelicals. He resides with his wife, Shameka, and two sons in New Jersey.
Publication date: January 9, 2015