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Why You Need Spiritual Discipline (Especially When You Don't Want It)

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  • Updated Mar 02, 2017

Consistency has never been my strong suit. I’m great at starting new things, awesome at coming up with new challenges for my personal growth… but really bad at the daily follow through. When things get even the slightest bit hard, I want to bail. When I find myself out having to step out of my comfort zone or challenge myself, I want to just throw in the towel and go back to what feels safe and easy.

Self discipline isn’t a strength of mine, and I acknowledge that, but I’ve also learned I can’t let that be an excuse either.

Brad Archer recently wrote an article for Unlocking the Bible called “The Most Important Motivation for Spiritual Discipline” where he shares his own story of learning to be self-disciplined as a new runner.

As I, too, have recently begun training for a 10K after many years of not even so much as a jog around the block, I’m struck by the many parallels between physical exercise and spiritual disciplines. When I think about spiritual disciplines (like prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, worship, service, etc), I know I have different feelings about and toward different ones.

“There will be parts we don’t mind,” Archer writes, “some we even like; disciplines in which we have natural talent; but there will also be areas of struggle, hardship, and failure. If we are honest, there are even parts we hate.”

The first few times I attempted my 10K training, there was a steady stream of thoughts on loop in my mind: this is awful, I am so bad at this, I probably look ridiculous, what am I even doing, why is this so hard, when will this be over, can I just quit now…

I confess that there are times I feel like this when I’m attempting to spend time with Jesus, too. There are times where prayer feels impossible. There are times that Scripture seems to make no sense to me at all, or I find myself bored by another list of Old Testament laws or genealogies. There are many times I find myself frustrated by the church, annoyed with other believers or leaders, or just tired of all the activities, and there are times I just want to quit.

But, regardless of my feelings or frustrations, Christ calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

“It’s easy to focus on aspects of the godly life we enjoy (or are at least not a constant struggle), but any neglected area of spiritual development leaves us vulnerable, weak, and selfish,” says Archer.

There are many areas in my life and faith that feel challenging, and those are always the areas I’m tempted to ignore entirely. Reading the Bible? Not a problem, I love reading. But fasting? Yeah, I’d rather not. That feels intimidating and I really don’t like skipping meals.

We often are drawn to the areas of spiritual discipline that feel natural and easy to us, but like Archer says, we can’t neglect the areas that require more diligence, intentionality, and even hard work.

“Our motivation toward spiritual disciplines should be love,” says Archer. “So the pursuit of a godly life is not from selfishness, duty, or guilt. And we do not practice righteousness to earn our salvation—Jesus did it all, there is nothing left to earn. We live for Jesus every day because we love him, and we love him because he first loved us. We fight sin; we stand against evil; we resist temptation because we adore him. He gave the gift of himself to us, so we also give ourselves, and chasing after a holy life helps present the best possible gift of ourselves.”

If we are to be followers of Christ, we must commit to practicing spiritual disciplines daily, not out of obligation or fear of punishment, but out of an overflow of our love for our Savior who desires a relationship with us.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

I would encourage you to take a few moments today to consider the different spiritual disciplines and to take note of your own feelings and reactions towards them. Which ones feel natural to you? Which ones are more challenging? What areas of your faith require more intentionality? How can you start to create daily rhythms that will help you engage in these spiritual disciplines? Who can you call on for support and accountability, especially in the areas that don’t come easily to you?

It’s easy to feel like we’re alone in these things. When I’m running on the treadmill, I’m often caught up in my own running and I forget that all the people around me are pursuing their own fitness goals too, no matter what level I’m on or they’re on. I can often feel like I’m alone in my faith journey too, as I sit in my room to pray or read my Bible by myself, and I’m grateful for verses like Hebrews 12:1 that remind me I’m “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” and Matthew 28:20 where Jesus says “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I challenge you to commit to a spiritual discipline that isn’t easy or natural to you. Maybe it’s just carving out ten minutes every evening to spend in prayer, or it’s fasting on the Sabbath once a week, or picking a new reading plan to keep you on track as you study God’s Word.

May we commit to consistency in these disciplines, even when it’s challenging. May we know that all of this is training for our minds, bodies, and souls, just like physical exercise is for our muscles. Day by day, we will grow stronger as we grow closer to the Lord. What a gift it is to stretch ourselves in new ways so we can encounter him in new ways, too.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Publication date: March 2, 2017

Rachel Dawson is the editor of