Our pursuit of whole hearted devotion to God often, but not exclusively, comes through the practice of a spiritual discipline. Unfortunately, because of their historical abuse (and our mis-understanding of them) we have, with a broad stroke, labeled these practices as “legalistic” and, for the most part, largely ignored them in our lives. The problem comes, I believe, when we lean heavily on the disciplines as means of growth rather than means of grace.
The spiritual disciplines are necessary and of great value. In fact, spiritual transformation, “recovering your life,” (Matt. 11:30, TM) often comes from partnering with the Holy Spirit in the context of the disciplines. They are indispensable to a life of faith but only to the degree that they allow us to “keep company” (abide) with God. Often it is through a spiritual discipline we make space for him to work for that is when we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Unless we learn to do this, we could miss is voice altogether.
The disciplines that help us to “walk with and work with” Jesus are not “spiritual principles” or “moral guidelines” we perform as a way to go about improving our condition. They are not a formula we follow so we look godly. To live freely and authentically, we will have to struggle hard against living with formulas. We have to fight hard against having merely a form of godliness.
In his book, Extravagant Mercy, Craig Barnes explains it so well: “The Bible often portrays the grace of God as a thin stream of refreshing water that perseveres in a desert land. The only way our parched souls can survive in a spiritually desolate society is to stay close to the stream. That is why we come to worship, read our Bibles, serve others, and pray without ceasing throughout the day. It’s all a way of drinking in the grace that keeps us spiritually alive. The more time we spend by that stream, the more deeply our lives become rooted in God.”
Authentically pursued, spiritual practices have the capacity to bring us to a place of spiritual health because they open us up to God.