Reward from Engaging in Spiritual Disciplines

Engaging in Spiritual Disciplines
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In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about three practices we call spiritual disciplines — giving, praying, and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18). He not only told us the right way to engage in spiritual disciplines but also how that way yields the right kind of reward.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matt. 6:1)

Think carefully about this: Do you want the short-lived, shallow, and subjective applause of others for what you have done or the eternal, worthwhile reward from God?

Within the sections on giving, praying, and fasting, we read that those who engage in these disciplines to be seen by others “have received their reward in full” (v. 2, 5, 16). That moment of recognition is all there is. That feeling of importance is fleeting.

An eternal aspect to the reward:

As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount the very next challenge Jesus gives following His instructions on giving, praying, and fasting is as follows:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Could it be that when we give, pray, and fast for and because of God, we are storing up treasures in heaven? If so, the conclusion, based on these verses, is that it is so much better than any of the short-lived rewards we get on earth.

A more immediate reward for engaging in spiritual disciplines:

We must be careful to note that Jesus does not specify how God “will reward you” (v. 4, 6, 18). It may be something we receive in heaven but perhaps there is something we will reap now, here on earth, as well. It may be a tangible reward but it may also be intangible, something inward. Since Jesus doesn’t describe the reward, neither should we. But, we can trust that it will be good and worthwhile. Neither does Jesus state that the reward will be the same for each person. Perhaps as a result of giving, praying, and fasting to be seen by Him, not to impress others, the reward might vary from person to person based on what the individual needs.

If nothing else, we will benefit from such an approach to the spiritual disciplines by getting to know our Lord better, deeper, more intimately. As we noted in a previous post on the spiritual disciplines, the Apostle Paul did what he did for the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8-11). Even if we can’t identify any other kind of reward, this should be enough. What better reward could there be?

When You Engage in Spiritual Disciplines

We’ve already listed some of the possible spiritual disciplines among which we find the three mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1-18 — giving, praying, fasting. The question could be raised on whether or not it is necessary for Christians to engage in such activities. Jesus lets us know that such a question is irrelevant.

Assumed a Follower of Jesus Will Engage in Spiritual Disciplines

To Jesus it wasn’t a matter of “if” you should engage in these activities but when. Notice how each section begins:

Giving: “So when you give to the needy …” (Matt. 6:2-4)

Praying: “And when you pray …” (Matt.6:5-15)

Fasting: “When you fast …” (Matt. 6:16-18)

Consequently as a member of His kingdom, you will engage in these practices. If the practices were optional Jesus would have said, “So if you give to the needy” or “And if you pray” or “If you fast.” Rather, we read that when you give, pray, or fast, there is a right way to do it that yields the right kind of reward. In this post we will look at the right way to engage in the disciplines. The next post will consider the reward. Subscribe to receive e-mail notice of new posts.

The Right Way to Engage in Spiritual Disciplines

Engaging in Spiritual Disciplines
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Before getting into these three practices, Jesus first provided an overriding principle that could apply to these and probably any other spiritual discipline:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matt. 6:1)

Then within the sections for each of these activities, He re-emphasized the right way to engage in these disciplines as opposed to the wrong way.

Giving:

Wrong Way: “do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others”

Right Way: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret”

Praying:

Wrong Way: “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others” “do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words”

Right Way: “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen

Fasting:

Wrong Way: “do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting”

Right Way: “put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen”

The reoccurring theme through these verse is that:

The wrong way to approach spiritual disciplines is to be seen by others to impress them or to appear spiritual. When you engage in the spiritual disciplines in this way, you may be more prone to pretend — hypocrisy.

The right way is to be most concerned about how God views what you do, to have an audience of One. When you engage in the spiritual disciplines with this focus, you will tend to be more genuine — integrity.

This does not mean that people will never see you give, pray, or fast but that you are not doing it for that reason.

How to Engage in Spiritual Disciplines

We’ve defined what spiritual disciplines are. We’ve determined the purpose for them. We’ve given examples. That’s helpful but how do we get to the point where we consistently engage in the spiritual disciplines?

First, we need to understand the spiritual battle behind a struggle to engage in the spiritual disciplines.

The practice of what we call spiritual disciplines has the potential for making us spiritually fit, people who know and love God and want to follow Him with all of their heart, soul, and strength. Satan does not want that to happen seen in the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Cor. 11:3)

We must recognize that while Satan may not always directly throw hindrances in our way, he does sometimes piggyback on our busyness, poor choices, anxieties, and the like. It is therefore important we pay attention to the whole of our lives, constantly yielding our decisions, attitudes, and actions to God. Pray something like “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). We must keep a clean slate with the Lord remembering that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:12). We don’t want to give Satan openings into our lives.

When we do sense Satan coming against us, we must remember to rely on God’s strength and power, not our own, to stand against his schemes. We must replace the lies of the enemy trying to convince us that it doesn’t matter or make much difference if we study God’s Word or pray. The truth is that we are commanded to be devoted to such practices and they do make a difference.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:10-12)

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

Second, we need to understand how natural tendencies, like our personalities, can affect our practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Some will find the spiritual disciplines easier because by nature they have a more disciplined personality. Because of this, it’s possible to practice the disciplines purely out of habit and just be going through the motions.

Others will find consistency much harder because they are naturally more easily distracted or procrastinators. Because of this, it’s possible that the frustration they feel either makes them give up altogether or else try to muster up even more willpower.

We must know our tendencies and yield control of who we are to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:15-18) so He is the one guiding, convicting, and teaching us as well as producing the qualities we need within us to not only practice the spiritual disciplines but do them for the right reasons.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.(Gal. 5:22-25)

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

Third, we need to grab hold of God’s resources that will enable us to engage in spiritual disciplines.

If it seems too burdensome, perhaps we are trying to live the Christian life by our own efforts and self-determination.

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 Jn. 5:3-5)

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:29-30)

To be sure, we do have a part in the process. Philippians 2:12 does say, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Engaging in the spiritual disciplines certainly must be a means of doing that. But, let’s not stop at verse 12. The next verse continues with, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” You see, “His divine power has given us everything we need” (2 Pet. 1:3).

We must always remember that God’s Spirit is both with us and in us (Jn. 14:16-17). We can rely on our ever-present Helper to empower us. Don’t take the spiritual out of the spiritual disciplines because then all you are left with are disciplines.

What are Examples of the Spiritual Disciplines?

Since the Bible does not use the term “spiritual disciplines” we can’t point to an activity or practice and say “God says this is a spiritual discipline.” Rather, we can only look at that which He says will help us get to know and love Him better, to grow in our relationship with Him.

Examples of Spiritual Disciplines Could be That to Which Scripture Exhorts Us to Be Devoted:

The Greek word for devoted – proskartereo – comes from the words “pros” meaning towards and “karteros” meaning strong, suggesting an intensity and persistence in what we are doing. These are practices which God wants us to give our full attention to because they are important in our walk with Him.

A good starting place could be Acts 2:42-47 where we read of the early church not only engaging in certain practices but being devoted to them. Acts 2:42 begins, “They devoted themselves to” and then lists the following activities: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayer, worship, service (benevolence)

1) God’s Word: read (1 Tim. 4:13), study (2 Tim. 2:15), meditate on (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-2), memorize (Ps. 119:11)

The New Testament was not completed at the time of the church in Acts 2. Consequently, we can broaden the reference to their devotion to “the apostles’ teaching” as devotion to God’s Word. Elsewhere Paul exhorted Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).

The importance of interaction with God’s Word as a spiritual discipline cannot be minimized when we read verses like the following:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt. 4:4)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

2) Fellowship:

The early church regularly spent time together. Think of all the one another commands in the New Testament. Life together, the sharing of our common bond in Christ Jesus, is a means God uses to bring us closer to Himself. We can get drawn away by the busyness of life so we need to see it as a discipline which is communicated in these verses:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Rom. 12:10)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

3) Prayer

Prayer is a critical part of our relationship with the Lord as through it we commune with Him. Prayer is an expression of trust, submission, confession, thanksgiving, and praise. It can include fasting in which we give up something, like food, in order to spend more time in prayer. Yet without discipline, we can get distracted and fail to persist. Colossians 4:2 therefore says,

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Col. 4:2)

4) Worship

If we are going to worship the Lord “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23- 24), we have to stay focused. Worship is about more than singing a few songs or shouting “Praise the Lord!” Worship involves the whole of our being lived to His glory and honor. And so we read,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Rom. 12:1)

5) Service – Benevolence

If ministering to the needs of others was going to be easy, we wouldn’t be told to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). We all have a contribution to make in the Body of Christ that needs to be on-going yet we can be pulled away by everything else we have to do. We would do well to heed Paul’s instruction to Titus:

And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:8

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives. (Titus 3:14)

Are there other spiritual disciplines?

I have listed above only possibilities based on those activities of which we find clear indications in Scripture that we should be devoted to doing them. Consequently, I would personally suggest making those of primary importance. Some of the other possibilities of spiritual disciplines others have suggested can fall under the above, lead to, be a part of, or a result of them. For example:

  • Celebration (part of worship)
  • Confession (can be part of worship, prayer, and fellowship)
  • Evangelism (could be part of service but could also be the result of doing all of the above as seen in Acts 2:47)
  • Fasting (usually in combination with prayer)
  • Giving, Stewardship (a part of worship and serving but could also be the result of all of the above)
  • Guidance – Spiritual Direction (a result of spending time in God’s Word and prayer)
  • Journaling (a part of time in God’s Word or prayer)
  • Meditation (on God’s Word)
  • Observing the Lord’s Day (means of corporate expression of all of the above)
  • Silence & Solitude (ought to frequently be a part of prayer and time in God’s Word)
  • Simplicity (leads to more time to do all of the above)
  • Studying or Learning (of God’s Word)
  • Submission (needed in all of the above)

Some of the books listed on this resource page suggest the above possibilities in addition to other 5 listed: Spiritual Growth Resources

Since God’s Word does not actually use the term “Spiritual Disciplines” what one lists as a discipline is up to one’s own discretion. The key is that we find biblical basis for it. Anything that heads in a New Age direction or mysticism should be held suspect. If your objective in practicing Spiritual Disciplines is to foster and deepen your love relationship with the Lord, you must approach it through means He endorses in accordance with His Word. Those are that which will lead you to Him in the truth of who He is.

Why Engage in Spiritual Disciplines?

To engage in that which could cause us some inconvenience or discomfort, we need a pretty good reason to do so. We humans don’t like to give up our personal agendas and interests for something we don’t perceive as worth the time and effort.

Soldiers undergo vigorous discipline so they are fit to win the battle. Athletes train themselves to win a prize. Farmers endure hardship for a crop. See 2 Timothy 2:3-6.

For us to be motivated to regularly and persistently spend time in the Word and prayer, for example, we need to sense the value.

We will find little motivation to engage in Spiritual Disciplines for these reasons:

  1. The pastor or my Sunday School teacher says I should.
  2. Others will view me as spiritually mature if I do.
  3. I think its what I’m supposed to do as a believer.

We will find much greater motivation to engage in Spiritual Disciplines for these reasons:

  1. I will get to know God better — not just about Him, but to know Him intimately.
  2. It will foster and deepen my relationship with the Lord, drawing me closer to Him.
  3. I will become more spiritually fit and healthy to love Him and follow Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
(Click to enlarge image in Pinterest & repin.)
(Click to enlarge image in Pinterest & repin.)

This was the Apostle Paul’s motivation who said, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ …” (Phil. 3:8-11).

Paul knew a half-hearted attempt to get to know the Lord would yield little so he was willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get to know Him. Notice how his perspective on other matters in life changed when his priority was to know Christ Jesus his Lord.

Paul knew a legalistic attempt was not the answer. Notice how he made it clear in the above verses that it wasn’t because of following the law but rather because of what Christ did in him, leaving no room for bragging about his pursuit.

Paul also knew getting to know Christ in this way had to be an on-going, regular effort. Notice how he continued in verse 12 — “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Think about it: There are certain practices we can do that will help us more intimately know and love the One of whom there is none greater, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Creator of all things, the Eternal One who is the beginning and end, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is the same God who loves us unconditionally, thinks about us constantly, is for us and with us always, works on our behalf, and wants to be in a personal relationship with us. This is the One who was willing to die for us. — Is your heart’s desire to more fully know and love this God?

What are Spiritual Disciplines?

The term “spiritual disciplines” is not in the Bible. Most of the times we read the word “discipline” in the Bible it is in conjunction with reproof or correction using the Hebrew word “muwcar” (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-15) or the Greek word “paideia” which basically means instructing in the way one should go. It is used of training or disciplining children (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:9-10) and of God’s discipline of us, His children (Heb. 12:5-11). This is not the type of discipline people generally refer to with the term “spiritual disciplines.”

Biblically Defining “Spiritual Disciplines”

The closest use of the word “discipline” in the Bible to how “spiritual disciplines” is generally used in Christian circles can be found in 1 Timothy 4:7 where the Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy, “train yourself to be godly.” The New American Standard Bible words it, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” It uses the Greek word “gymnazo” from which we get the English word “gymnastic.” Hence, this kind of discipline is more training, practicing, or exercising to become fit.

Paul goes on to say that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Physical training for athletes involves making choices to exercise, intentionally, with a sense of devotion to make it an on-going and regular part of their lives. They often have to sacrifice other activities to spend sufficient time working out to become and stay fit. If we can be so devoted to that which produces physical fitness, why wouldn’t we have that same kind of devotion, yet even more, to that which leads to godliness, making us spiritually fit?

In accordance with this usage of the word “discipline”, we could then say that spiritual disciplines are those practices that we impose on ourselves to make us spiritually fit or healthy. We are putting structure into our lives so as to be intentional in our quest to grow spiritually, to get to know God better through the various means described in Scripture that can lead to such growth.

Spiritual Disciplines Help Us Grow in Grace

Such devotion puts us in a place that is conducive to God’s working in our lives. At some point in church history, someone lumped all these types of activities together and called them “spiritual disciplines.”

More Scripture Supporting the Concept of “Spiritual Disciplines”

The term itself might not be found in the Bible but the idea of denying ourselves in order to follow Christ is biblical. Jesus said,

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Lk. 9:23)

To deny ourselves we need to rid ourselves of self-entitlement, not doing life in Christ on our own terms. If we want to be fully devoted followers of Jesus, then we need to be willing to do that which it takes even if it isn’t convenient or comfortable. We will sometimes have to put our own interests aside to pursue His.

To take up our cross signifies that we must be ready for some sacrifice in our lives in order to follow Him. Just as Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8) so we too must make the choice to pursue Him even if it means suffering in some way.

To “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7) does indeed require such denial and sacrifice as seen in the Greek word “gymnazo” used for discipline in this verse. It comes from the root word “gumnos” which means naked. To exercise naked suggests we rid ourselves of that which could hold us back or slow us down. — “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Heb. 12:1-2a)

Be sure to take note of the word “daily” in Luke 9:23. We must take up our cross daily. This suggests a pursuit of Him that is regular and on-going, not haphazard or short-lived. That takes discipline.

  • If it means you have to get up early to spend time in God’s Word and prayer, will you?
  • If it means you have to shut the TV off in order to be still with God, will you?
  • If it means turning off your cellphone in order to meditate on God’s Word without interruptions, will you?

Fill in the blank with that which will tune out what most distracts you from giving God undivided attention:

If it means I have to __________________________ to devote myself to God, will I?