Christian Living

What Are Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual disciplines are things we do to draw us closer to God or to honor him. But if we do it out of obligation or in response to guilt, we miss the point.

To be of real value a spiritual discipline is something we enter into willingly, with joy and anticipation.

Unlike spiritual gifts, which the Bible lists, scripture doesn’t delineate spiritual disciplines. But it does hint at the practices of certain spiritual disciplines throughout its pages. However, making a list is more a matter of opinion than fact.

Therefore there is little agreement about what constitutes a spiritual discipline.

A quick online search of a half dozen sources revealed the following composite list of seventeen spiritual disciplines. Some people use different labels, so similar items are combined:

Bible Reading

We regularly read the Bible. This is tops on many people’s list of spiritual disciplines.

Bible Study

Reading the Bible is good, but studying its words is even better.


Chastity or celibacy is living a life of moral purity.


Hanging out with other Christians (and spiritual seekers) to form spiritual connection. Some people call this fellowship or a soul friendship.


Confessing our acts of disobedience. This can be to God or to others.


Telling others about Jesus.


Going without something, usually food, in order to give more attention to God.


Talking with God. Prayer is so much more than sharing our wish list with him.


(take a Sabbath): Follow the Old Testament tradition of a Sabbath rest, be it on Saturday, Sunday, or another day.


Giving up something to help others or something that keeps us from God.


Do things in secret to benefit others, such as giving gifts or doing things for others without letting anyone know. (Our reward for this comes from God.)


Serving others.


Committing to a life of simple existence. (Some might use the label of poverty, but that seems extreme.)


Being still to connect with God or seek him. this can go by various labels: meditation, personal reflection, silence, listening, and seeking guidance.


Using our blessings to bless others. This includes giving and tithing.


Yielding to others for God’s glory.


Approaching God with joy and awe. Celebration.

Other Possible Spiritual Disciplines

What about going to church, tithing, silence, and suffering? Can these be spiritual disciplines too?

In looking at this list I can smugly check off some of these items, while having others confront me. The key thing to remember about spiritual disciplines is that we must pursue them willingly and not out of obligation or guilt.

[Check out this book about spiritual disciplines.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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