Start talking about spiritual disciplines — habits like reading God’s Word, praying regularly, attending church, evangelizing the lost — and I guarantee someone will roll their eyes and respond that the word discipline is just too legalistic, not grace-oriented enough or allowing for Christian liberty. Others will sigh at the amount of effort required to maintain those disciplines.
I think some people don’t really understand the point of spiritual disciplines.
It’s not just a list of things we HAVE to do, in order to be considered spiritual. It’s not what defines a good Christian.
Spiritual disciplines have a higher purpose than simply acting as a spiritual to-do list. tweet this
They are not legalistic, grace-defying habits. In fact, habitually practicing these things actually ministers grace both to the doer and those around him or her.
In his newest book, David Mathis suggests referring to these practices as habits of grace. That doesn’t eliminate the need for discipline or turn the spotlight away from what is commanded in Scripture. It does, however, emphasize the purpose of the spiritual disciplines as a means of abiding more fully in God’s divine grace. In a recent interview, he explained it this way:
“Habits of grace” is my term for the countless practical rhythms of life we can develop in our lives for accessing the timeless “means of grace” God has given for our ongoing life, health, and joy in the Christian life. God’s means of grace… are unchanging, while our particular habits for accessing his means will vary based on personality bent and season of life and simply tweaking our practices to keep them fresh.
I am always cautious of “new approaches” to the fundamental commands of Scripture. After all, God clearly tells us to store His word in our hearts, to faithfully meet with other believers, to pray without ceasing (among other things). We cannot neglect those commands, or shrug them off when we don’t feel like obeying them! But we can certainly change how we see those things — how we practice those things — and that’s where the book Habits of Grace really shines. It shifts the focus from drudgery (“I have to do this”) to delight (“I get to do this”), and finds a much-needed balance between legalism and antinomianism, neither forcing copycat adherence nor offering justification for avoiding God’s commands.
The book takes a fresh approach to practicing the disciplines in its organization. While some lists can become quite lengthy, here they are all grouped under three main principles: hearing His voice, having His ear, belonging to His body. These three categories are then broken down into specific habits that can help us accomplish those means — what we typically think of as spiritual disciplines:
- God’s Voice: reading, studying, meditating, memorizing, learning more about Scripture
- God’s Ear: praying individually and corporately, fasting, journaling, practicing silence and solitude
- God’s Body: fellowshipping, worshiping, listening to doctrinally-sound preaching, taking communion, accepting church discipline
Thankfully, the book distinguishes between those practices which are commanded in Scripture and those which are simply “timely, creative habits for accessing God’s timeless means of grace.”
For instance, prayer is commanded by God, but journaling is simply a creative habit. They are by no means equal. Yet when we use our journals to record promises from Scripture that are especially meaningful, write prayers of confession or thanksgiving, or direct questions toward God, it reminds us that we have His ear and can aid our habit of consistent prayer. It is not something we are required to do, and for some people or some seasons of life, it may not be feasible; but for others, it could be an excellent aid to pursuing a deeper and more consistent prayer life.
The point is not so much the particular routine or even the specific habits you follow, but the purpose and outcome of following those habits.
As I read Habits of Grace, I felt the burden to conform being lifted; and yet, I did not feel like it gave me an excuse to neglect any of these practices. Rather, it shifted my perspective of the reasons behind the actions. It is a profitable read for any Christian who desires to know God more intimately, obey Him more fully, and experience His grace more deeply.
Each of the three major sections contains 5-6 fairly short, readable chapters — so you could conceivably work through one section a week, reading about a different habit each day but focusing on the same principle for the entire time, and get through the whole book in about a month. It must not replace your regular time in God’s Word, but it could certainly be a helpful addition to your time alone with Him — especially if you take the time to meditate on the Scriptures that are included, journal what you are learning, and spend focused time praying about implementing various practices for the purpose of spiritual growth.
I’d consider it one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of spiritual disciplines, though for a more complete understanding of the topic, it would pair well with Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
What’s the best book you’ve read about spiritual disciplines (or habits of grace)?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Also, I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for providing an honest review. All opinions expressed herein are completely my own.