I think the trouble with our common perception of spiritual discipline is that we see it more as Law than growth, our engagement in them more as a point of pride than humility.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “one mustn’t make the Christian life into a punctilious system of law, like the Jewish for two reasons, (1) it raises scruples when we don’t keep the routine (2) it raises presumption when we do. “ Precisely the point, so often we rate our spirituality by our discipline frequency rather than our discipleship fervency.
I am currently training for both a half Iron Man and a Marathon. What is true in running transfers over as a principle in spiritual discipline: it is not necessarily how much one runs that makes them a better runner nor the speed at which they can run one mile, it is the quality of the training and the consistency over distance. I could brag about how I run ten times a week or a 5:30 mile however if I am training for a long distance race, the previous claims mean nothing in regards to my growth. I will show up on race day disappointed and tired. Likewise, routinely, mundanely engaging in scripture, prayer, worship, fasting, etc… will do little more than more mark off a box on your daily to do list. Challenging yourself to engage in scripture in new ways, committing to pray in different postures or recitation ancient prayer, etc push you from your comfort zone, and also push you out of monotony.
Notice the semantic relationship between discipline and discipleship or disciple. Disciple is the instruction and action of one who is a disciple, therefore, it is not a practice we incorporate in our lives but rather the practices we live our lives by.
The way I keep my calendar is by scheduling the most important things with the highest priority. If I have a previous engagement, I am willing to move it for a more important one. What is the priority you place on your spiritual life? I think the importance we place on our devotional discipline time does not nearly equal the result we seek and expect from it.
We forget the purpose of spiritual discipline, not to practice but to remember. We are worshiping beings. By our very nature we seek to offer worship. The problem is that we often offer that worship to other tasks, other things, money, performance, sex, leisure, laziness, even things like family, over offering it to God. Our calendar is so filled with tasks that call us to remember other things and yet it is sparse with times set aside to remember God. How are we to worship our creator when we don’t remember to.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says,
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
When I used to read this I read, legalism, ritualistic etc. God is egocentric. However what If God is calling us to always remember who he is not to stifle us with religious routine, but to free us to remember him in all things we do. God is saying, “but me first, and last, and in the middle.” “Make me a priority.”
We can’t ever expect to continue to grow in spiritual fervency, to grow in our devotional life, if put in small effort wherever we can find time, we will get small returns whenever God has time. If we seek to be disciples we should act and live defined by our discipl(in)e