Spiritual disciplines refer to activities that foster healthy spirituality. These practices are similar to physical training in that they require consistency and effort, but when practiced, result in growth. Christians have engaged in spiritual disciplines from the faith's beginning. Examples of spiritual disciplines include:
- Scripture Reading
- Acts of Charity and Compassion
Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter
Our lives are busier than ever. Why would I want to add anything to my busy schedule? Our lives are busier, but are they meaningful? Do you experience happiness and peace? Do you find that you are focused on yourself and lack intimacy with others and with God?
Spiritual disciplines allow us to remove our focus from ourselves and are a pathway towards experiencing more. If you are a Christian, you probably have knowledge of Scriptures such as Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5-7, or Romans Chapter 12. Such teachings help us realize that focusing on ourselves will not lead to fulfillment or intimacy with God. Spiritual disciplines help translate what we read in the Bible and what we aspire to as Christians into our experience in everyday life.
Implications for Mental Health
Healthy spirituality has practical implications for mental health. Our bodies and minds are connected with the spiritual aspect of our being. All adults have painful periods of life. The only ones who escape life's disappointments are those who die young.
Mental health treatment often focuses on changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors. When individuals focus on negative aspects of themselves repeatedly, this generally leads to negative mood states. Recalling poor past choices may lead to feelings of guilt. Spiritual disciplines can help replace unhealthy thoughts with healthier alternatives.
Healthcare research suggests that when we have greater connection with other people, we are generally healthier, mentally and physically. Spiritual disciplines promote connections with others. Many Christians value their faith, but lack a vibrant spirituality that impacts their daily lives. If you want to grow spiritually, practice spiritual disciplines.
How Can I Learn More about Spiritual Disciplines?
Many good books have been written about understanding and practicing spiritual disciplines. I would recommend that you start by reading Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard is also a very well written book on understanding and practicing Spiritual Disciplines.
For most Christians, while reading is an important method of learning more about spiritual growth, there is no substitute for finding a mentor. Human beings generally learn best in the context of relationships, and this is particularly true with spiritual disciplines. A mentor should be someone who is mature and can clearly describe his or her spiritual journey and what has led to his or her personal growth.
Christian Counseling is not a substitute for a pastor or other Christian mentors. If you are seeking counseling and would like to incorporate your faith into the counseling process, don't assume your counselor will have this skill. Ask your counselor if Christian Counseling is an option.
Where Should I Start?
If you would like to start practicing spiritual disciplines, begin today. There will never be a good time and there will always be distractions. Don't try to be perfect, but start by scheduling a few minutes per day to engage in prayer. If you don't know how to pray, begin by praying the Lord's prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. As you pray, ask God to give you wisdom and determination to form a lifelong habit of seeking spiritual growth.
You will find that as you grow spiritually, you will experience growth in other areas of your life.