From time immemorial, spiritual growth has strengthened the faith of believers and has helped them become closer and made them believe more in their religious dogma. This is also evident in Christianity. From the time of Jerusalem’s height, discipline has always found a part in Christian beliefs and in strengthening the faith of the congregation. Over the years, people have learned that particular kinds of disciplines when practiced help them keep the connection between God and themselves open and help keep alive their passion towards God.
It is worth noting early on that these spiritual disciplines are not the surest way to heaven and that there is no concrete account that they can even make you a holy person. On the other hand, being able to practice spiritual discipline can heighten your desire, awareness, and love of God by stripping down the barriers that you put up within yourself and other barriers that others have created for you that hinder you from being closer to God (Benner, 2002). A practice or activity can be considered a spiritual discipline when it takes a specific part of your way of life and turns it toward God.
A spiritual discipline is, when practiced faithfully and regularly, a habit or regular pattern in your life that repeatedly provides you the opportunity to become closer to God, opens the practitioner’s heart to God and makes one malleable and open to spiritual guidance and opinion. Christian devotional practice is centered primarily on the holy trinity – Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit (Foster, 1998). In this study, we put special attention on a comprehensive analysis of spiritual growth through the practice of six kinds of discipline and how these are able to contribute to spiritual growth.
In the succeeding parts of the paper, we will focus our study on spiritual disciplines such as meditation, prayer, fasting, study, service and simplicity. We will also provide a discussion of these particular disciplines and how they are able to make people grow closer to a perfection of relationship with Christ. The first part of the study is dedicated to a discussion of spiritual growth thru meditation. Essentially, meditation is subdivided into three parts: Concentration, Meditation and Contemplation. The first part of meditation is concentration.
Concentration is being able to take special attention on a certain point, topic or area. It entails 100% of taking special attention on a single thought, in our case 100% focus to God. Meditation can be achieved by being able to clear one’s mind of unnecessary opinions and distractions as this can make it easier for people to be more connected to God. Concentration brings people to another level of consciousness that promotes for clearer thought and a heightened sense of feelings. This precursor must be achieved in order for people to become in a meditative state. The second stage of meditation is actually meditation itself.
The uninterrupted flow of one’s Attention, then, is Meditation. By being fixated in a single object, a person’s thought is totally focused on that object. This is the clearest and most important aspect of meditation. With this, the purest opinions and feelings are released between the person and God. Through meditation, God has a true and clear connection with the person that helps provide a clear and uninterrupted line of communication. Spiritual meditation creates for a very clear communication between God and the person, which promotes for better understanding of God and a first hand experience of God’s presence.
This is also evident in order religious orders such as Buddhism that takes special attention on intense meditation to cleanse the mind and body of evil and wrongdoing. Through continuous Meditation, one becomes one with the object of one’s Concentration. The third level is contemplation. By means of meditation one is able to acquire a lot of pure experiences that has to reflect on and analyzed. Contemplation is a method that helps people clearly explain and analyze the events that had transpired during meditation.
Contemplation often takes more time than the meditation itself, as it is important to clearly understand what the Lord has communicated to the person (Keating n. d. ). This can be in form of a group with a facilitator or contemplating alone. At any case, what is important is the resulting decision made that is important, regardless of contemplative medium. One can meditate by means of study. In studying, one is in a meditative state that is focused on the holy scriptures of God. With study, we are encapsulated within the scriptures of God’s word.
In studying the word of God, we are led to deeper meditative state and we can gain more knowledge and be closer to God through his word (Beers, 2006). It has been said that pure existence can only be experienced when the mind becomes purely at ease with the environment he/she is in. In order for us to be truly one with God, we have to imbibe into our daily routine a portion of meditation in order to experience, even a little at the very least, pure existence and a unbroken line of communication with God in order to further develop our spirituality and relationship with God.
With pure meditation, it is really hard to understand the words of God. Our opinions and speculations are like a veil covering our true Nature. In addition to this, a most serious problem is when we identify with a certain mind-structure, the personality or ego, and the body. But even with so much of this demystifying our meditative state, meditation is used to unveil our true Nature and relationship with the Lord, we might still continue to cling to this false personality and fear its dissolution (Foster, 1978).
Since we cannot simply order the mind to be still, we give it something to hang on to. This is to facilitate effective meditation that would help us greatly in opening a pure line of communication with the Lord. Words designed for that purpose are called mantras. In Christianity’s case, a mantra can be of the form of a prayer or Christian ritual. The application of mantras during meditation is called transcendental meditation. Mantras are repeated mentally for the sole purpose to calm the mind, remove inhibitions and clear out any unnecessary opinions (Beers, 2006).
By continually driving out unnecessary thought can the mind be completely “silent” and only when the mind comes to a complete standstill are we enabled to identify with the silent observer. Spiritual meditation is essentially a mental exercise that drives the mind to take special attention on the Lord in order to remove all opinions not relevant to the Lord and create a connection between him for effective communication and to further our relationship with the Lord. The next kind of spiritual discipline that is closely linked to meditation is prayer. The second discipline is prayer.
Spiritual discipline is not spiritual discipline if there is no prayer, of course, is much more than a spiritual discipline; it is a way of life. However it should be noted that prayer, as with all spiritual disciplines, should never be taken only as a discipline and nothing more. It would be a rather low-voltage spiritual life in which prayer was chiefly undertaken as a discipline. On one hand, prayer is a very potent practice for opening our lives to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. d. ). In present times, it is very important to practice prayer as a discipline.
In our culture today, a considerable margin of Christians’ attention p is severely impaired. In prayer we attend our minds to God, and all too often that attention lasts for a few seconds. We may be starting off with professing our faith by means of saying the Lord’s Prayer but it is not long before our minds tend to wander off and we start to forget who we had addressed in the first place (Thompson 2005). It is for this reason that we must undertake prayer as a spiritual discipline in order to enable ourselves to attain the single-mindedness necessary to attend to the God-who-is-present.
It is also vital for us to understand that prayer, just as every other discipline, is a learning process. We will find ourselves distracted. We will notice our minds wandering among the countless concerns of the day. However, as we continue in the paths of prayer, our meanders will be shorter and less frequent. Prayer is conversation or communication with God. It involves both speaking and listening. So often we pray as if it were a monologue. But prayer is so much more than a one-way communication towards God.
As a matter of fact, the most diligent person that practices the discipline of prayer knows that prayer is more about just listening towards God rather than talking to him. In addition, prayer is also about being open to God for change. Prayer is recognition that God is God and we are not, and so in prayer we yield our desires to God’s. As much as people might say it is, prayer is not at all complicated. Prayer is not just about saying the right combination of words and thought but it is the right orientation of our outlook towards God.
In addition, prayers do not need to be flowery. Those kinds of prayers are either said in order to impress others or just to manipulate God. A prayer is not something that is done during mealtime, in times of church service or in times of distress. It is not just about bowing our heads, clasping our hands together, and closing our eyes. If we really consider the definition of prayer as something that is really paying attention to God, we really can conduct the discipline of prayer without actually stopping.
What is important is that in whatever thing we do, we do it with the awareness that God is always there beside us (Thompson 2005). With that in mind, we can take special attention all of what we do and offer it to him. To pray without ceasing means that wherever we go and in whatever we are doing, we go and do with the awareness that God is always watching whatever we do. We listen through prayer and meditation for his opinion on everything that we do in our lives. We look at others and ourselves through His eyes.
We ask God to show us the right path and the right decision for whatever we do. In prayer God invites us to join him in his community and wants us to lead our lives in his ways. The third part of the spiritual discipline is fasting. Biblically, fasting is abstaining from food, drink, sleep or sex to take special attention on a period of spiritual growth. Specifically, we humbly deny something of the flesh to glorify God, enhance our spirit, and go deeper in our prayer life. Christian fasting isn’t some kind of a “work” that’s commanded by Christ or required by Scripture.
On the other hand, it doesn’t imply that fasting isn’t suggested to be part of our spiritual growth. Fasting is often linked to prayer and meditation as well. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. On the other hand, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead take special attention on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast.
It can actually be as easy as giving up something temporarily so that you can better focus on God can actually be considered fasting. It is recommended that fasting be limited to a given period of time, more so when food is part of the fasting. It is important to note that fasting is never intended to punish the flesh but to let we take special attention on God (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. d. ). In addition, fasting according to scripture is not a prerequisite. However it is highly recommended. The only reason indicated within Holy Scripture to fast is to develop a deeper relationship with God.
Christian fasting is more than just not letting ourselves eat or deny ourselves of some kind of passion or thing that we crave for but it is a sacrifice of something that we hold dear in order to offer it to the Lord. Fasting imbibes humility and loosens us from the chains of worldly materials and needs. This concept of fasting is not a one-day thing – it is a lifestyle of servant living for God and others. The next kind of spiritual discipline that is the focus of our study is simplicity. Simplicity, as many people would have it, is not merely having less stress in life and having more fun and recreation.
But, simplicity is a spiritual discipline that when practiced moves us closer to God and removes us from the chains of worldly possessions. Some people turn to God in order to simplify their lives. In some cases, this can happen but this would entirely depend on what God’s plans for you (Boa, 2001). But all too often, God makes our lives more complicated. God continually tests us in order to determine our faith and love in him. As we are continually tested, God’s love then calls us to act. Part of what makes a Christian spirituality ‘simple’ is that is has a single attention: Christ.
All else radiates from there or is to be set aside. Spiritual discipline trains us to stay on course when our lives are rocked out of normality. But if we do not stay steady and stay the course, we lose our connection and ourselves to God. Christian spirituality helps make life simpler and happy to live. When we chase a wealthy life style, we thread a very difficult and often unholy affair: the standards keep on changing day in and day out, and our anxiety never ceases. That is why Christian contemplatives and mystics speak so often of detachment.
By taking away the direction on acquiring and amassing wealth, we have more of ourselves made free in order to direct ourselves to take special attention on learning to love correctly, to meditate towards God, to provide the necessary aid to those that need it, to learn more about our Lord through scripture or learning how to depend on the Spirit. Simplicity guides to so many other spiritual disciplines such as giving time to others – service. By means of simplicity, you are actually attuned more to the needs of others and can actually help them, as you are not preoccupied with other material things in life.
Service can also be a form of simplicity as you provide help to others. With service, you are closer to God as you fulfill one of the very tenets of Christianity, and that is not to just be closer to God but more importantly be closer and be in a communal relationship with the people around you (Ortberg 2004). In life, you cannot have everything. You always have to choose between something. You can’t follow Christ and chase wealth. Most of the time these two paths go in extremely opposite directions. The simple life, the contented life, means that we have learned to trust God rather than worldly possessions.
People currently worry so much about money that they forget the essential things in life. We think that money will take away all our worries but in reality money will only produce more and more worries. Take for instance the people that win the lottery and just go bankrupt. Riches and abundance are like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They come in reeling in the bait, they are clad as sheep’s clothing pretending to be security against anxieties and they then become the object of anxiety that in the first place they try to remove.
Worldly possessions not only take away our concentration towards God but also make us closer to evil (Mcknight 2004). In conclusion, prayer, meditation, study of the holy scripture, service to one’s fellow men, simplicity and fasting all guide people who do these spiritual disciplines closer to God. Each on its own can contribute to making this person closer to God. It is also evident that each spiritual discipline leads to the other; moreover, everything is intertwined and every part of each spiritual discipline is founded on another kind of discipline.
This is strongly apparent in existing studies and prescriptions that it is important to practice not just only one but many of these spiritual disciplines if one were to aspire to become closer to God. As a concluding remark, these disciplines are not made in order to be just followed and it will logically guide to being saved from eternal damnation. Instead, these are carried out in order to be a guide for us to be ever closer to God. We use these disciplines as tools to make us closer to God but inevitably, it will all redound to the choice we make whether or not we would want to authentically accept God in our lives.