One of the core activities of Christian spirituality is the daily pursuit of God through personal spiritual disciplines. For centuries, Christians have done this to become more aware of themselves and more in tune with God.
But few Christians today practice these habits—which may account for the generally low level of personal spirituality in the church.
We have lively worship, lots of great activities, and strong opinions on public morals. Yet we often behave selfishly and with a sense of entitlement, as if we don't know Jesus all that well.
Spiritual disciplines correct that. They expose sin, bring us to repentance, and open a clear channel for communication with God.
Here are seven disciplines you can try during Lent—or anytime. This sampler approach may irk some purists, but I'll take that risk. There is great value in trying these disciplines even one time.
Here are seven disciplines you can try during Lent—or anytime.
Silence is refraining from speaking.
To practice silence, speak as little as possible even when you are around others. You might do this for part of a day, a whole day, or longer. You may need to speak when spoken to, especially at work or school, but keep your responses brief and to the point.
When you do this, the Holy Spirit will show you how often your envy of others causes you to inject yourself into conversations and situations, often beginning with the word "I." You will see how hard it is to avoid bragging about yourself and being critical of others.
Confess this to the Lord and turn away from it. You will then begin to experience love for others, which is a willingness to put them first and serve their needs ahead of your own.
Solitude is withdrawing from human company in order to be alone with God.
To practice solitude, find a place and time to be alone for an extended period of time. This includes being unplugged from electronic media so that the only presence you have is the presence of God.
You might do this for a couple of hours at home or in library, or you might take an entire day to retreat to your home or a park. Take your Bible or spiritual reading material and a journal for your thoughts, but turn off all electronic entertainment.
When you do, the Holy Spirit will make aware of the ways in which you have looked to other people (or things) as a tool to serve your own needs. Confess this to God and find forgiveness. Let him fill you with a desire to fill your heart with goodness so that you treat others with pure intentions
Secrecy is abstaining from taking credit for good things you do.
To practice secrecy, you might anonymously give money to a needy person, or suggest good ideas to others so they can succeed ahead of you, or refrain from speaking up when something you did receives attention.
As you do this, the Holy Spirit will make you aware of how often you seek to place yourself ahead of others or feed your ego by seeking attention. You will come to see how much you think of yourself and how little you think of others. Repent of this. As you do, you will begin to see yourself in a closer relationship to all other people, which is the essence of humility.
Simplicity is consuming less in order to depend more on God.
You might do this by restricting your food intake to 2,000 calories per day, walking instead of driving, going on a spending freeze for new possessions, or giving away things you own but can live without.
As you do this, the Holy Spirit will reveal the ways in which you use things, including food, as a source of comfort, control, or security rather than relying on God. Repent of this. As you do, you will be filled with a sense of peace knowing that God provides for your needs.
Submission is willing placing yourself under the legitimate authority of others.
You might do this by driving exactly the speed limit, paying your taxes honestly and without complaint, abstaining from grumbling about your boss or teachers, or patiently accepting a decision by a teacher, employer, parent, or spouse.
As you do this, the Holy Spirit will reveal the ways in which you are tempted to use anger, manipulation, coercion, aggressive behavior, or even violence in order to get your way. Repent of this. As you do, you will begin to practice the virtue of patience and experience greater peace.
Spiritual disciplines expose sin and open a clear channel for communication with God.
Service is doing things for others, particularly those who have a real need but to whom you have no obligation.
Service might be volunteering your time to clean house for an elderly person, providing babysitting for a single parent to go shopping, or doing extra chores when your parents or spouse are particularly busy.
As you do this, the Holy Spirit will make you aware of how often you want to do only what feels good or benefits you, and how little effort you are willing to put forth for others. Repent of this. As you do, you will gain strength of character and will, and you will begin to gain greater control over your own mind and body.
Sacrifice is giving something you have and need, not just something you have too much of, for the benefit of another person.
There are many ways to do this. You could give a substantial amount of money to a person in need or to benefit a cause. You could show hospitality by sharing your home or food with others. You could sacrifice time that you had planned to use for yourself in order to serve someone else.
As you do this, the Holy Spirit will make you aware of how much of your time, energy, and money is devoted only to yourself and how much satisfaction and security you derive from things rather than from God. Repent of this. As you do, you will experience the great joy that comes from giving to others.
There are a number of other spiritual disciplines. The best place to read more about them is Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline or Keith Drury's With Unveiled Faces. Both are good primers on these core spiritual practices.
Peter wrote that we should make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love (2 Peter 1:5–7).
Spiritual growth requires both divine and human effort. What are you doing to better your spiritual life?
Rev. Lawrence W. Wilson is senior pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Ind. He blogs regularly at www.lawrencewilson.com.