Introducing Spiritual Disciplines for the 21 Day ChallengeThis section of the post will help you:
- Identify the spiritual discipline in which you have the most experience.
- Identify a discipline in which you most want to grow.
Spiritual formation happens at the convergence of our pursuit of him and his pursuit of us.
God’s grace comes before anything we ever do. Plus, his grace carries us to completion. That’s why it’s helpful to talk about the disciplines in terms of the means of God’s grace. The catch, though, is we do not take the back seat but actively “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our participation with God comes through these means of grace—these channels, these disciplines, these means through which God pours out his blessings. They require discipline and effort on our part, even though our efforts are energized by God. Dallas Willard brings all this together in one sentence:
“Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.”
We exert effort through the disciplines, but God does the actual work of transformation in us. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I believe the opposite is true too, though: if we can’t do anything apart from Jesus, then with Jesus we can do much! Paul describes this interactive relationship in terms of our labor and God’s energy: “I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29). We expel God’s energy in us through the disciplines, which are God’s chosen means through which he’s appointed us to do much in our lives—and through our lives.
An Analogy: Oases in the DesertThink of the disciplines as oases in the desert. If someone is wandering in the desert looking for water, an oasis provides the water they need. As a result, the wanderer can come to that oasis, and other oases they might find, in order to satiate their thirst. These oases in the desert become reliable sources of life for them. God calls himself “the spring of living water,” and we find his grace pouring out in specific places (Jer. 2:13; see also John 4:14). These places— these oases in the desert—give us unique access to his grace, and if we go to them for life, we can reliably expect to be filled up by his grace. This doesn’t mean we always feel God’s presence, but we know God has and always will meet us in the disciplines.
The disciplines are oases in the desert.
Even if the rewards Jesus promised us are not immediate, we can rely on the truth of his Word to sustain us through difficult or seemingly dry seasons. We don’t lose heart when the disciplines become difficult; instead, we keep faith, trusting that the author and perfecter of our faith will see us through as he reigns from the “right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
A List of Key Spiritual Growth Disciplines for the ChallengeI’ve adapted the list of disciplines below from Dallas Willard’s list of key disciplines from his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. My goal by listing them here is to help you get an overview of spiritual disciplines before stepping into specific ones. They’re divided into disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement because the formation journey includes both abstaining from and engaging in certain activities in order to grow in the likeness of Christ. Additional disciplines certainly exist, but these disciplines are key ones to get you started thinking about the disciplines as a whole. CALLOUT Note: Disciplines covered in Your Spiritual Formation Plan have an asterisk).
|Key Disciplines of Abstinence||Biblical Citations|
|Solitude*||Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:35; John 6:15|
|Silence*||Proverbs 10:19; Mark 14:60–61; James 1:19–20|
|Rest*||Exodus 16:23–30; Deuteronomy 5:12; Matthew 12:1–8|
|Fasting*||Isaiah 58:3, 6–9; Matthew 4:1–11; Acts 13:2–3|
|Frugality||Romans 13:8; 1 Timothy 6:17–18; James 5:1–5|
|Chastity||Matthew 19:11–12; 1 Corinthians 6:18|
|Secrecy||Matthew 6:1–18; Mark 7:24|
|Sacrifice||1 Chronicles 21:20–26; Luke 12:2–4; Romans 12:1–2|
|Key Disciplines of Engagement||Biblical Citations|
|Reading Scripture*||Psalm 1:1–6; Matthew 4:4; Ephesians 5:25–26|
|Prayer*||Matthew 6:5–13; Mark 1:35; Acts 10:1–9|
|Service*||Matthew 20:25–28; John 13:14; Colossians 3:22–24|
|Submission*||Luke 2:51; Hebrews 13:7; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5|
|Confession*||Leviticus 16:21; Matthew 3:6; James 5:16|
|Listening*||Proverbs 15:22; Mark 4:9; James 1:19|
|Worship||Isaiah 6:1–3; Acts 13:1–3; Revelation 5:12–13|
|Celebration||Ecclesiastes 5:18–20; John 2:1–11; Luke 15:23|
|Fellowship||Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 12:7–11; 1 John 1:3|
Journal Questions (Part 1 of 2)To start making your plan, take a few minutes and jot down your answer to these questions:
- With which discipline do you have the most experience?
- In which discipline are you the most interested to grow?
The 21 Day Challenge for Spiritual GrowthThis section of the post will help you:
- Pick your micro-discipline for the challenge.
- Ask a friend to join you.
- Choose an end date.
- Get started!
The 21 Day Challenge for spiritual growth is to pick a single discipline and practice that discipline every day for twenty-one days straight.
As disciples of Jesus, we’re in this race for the long haul, not just a sprint.
So my goal is to help you cultivate lifelong habits, starting with simple ones. If you’re already experienced in the disciplines, the 21 Day Challenge is your opportunity to restart a habit, explore a discipline less familiar to you, or expand your current habits in a fresh way. Using the two lists of key disciplines above, select just one discipline and focus on it for the next three weeks. Practice that one discipline, and here’s a piece of advice: choose a “micro-form” of that discipline. I call this a “microdiscipline.” For example, if you choose the discipline of reading Scripture and you’re rusty, then read the Bible for only a small amount of time each day or meditate on a small portion of the Word—whatever is doable for you. If you choose prayer, you might decide to pray the Our Father Prayer (also known as the Lord’s Prayer) every day. Perhaps you’d like to fast for one meal a day for twenty-one days or silence your phone for a window of time each day. Whatever you choose, follow through with your commitment for the next twenty-one days in a row. Here’s the kicker: start today! There’s no need to wait another day to take your next step.
I hope you also know yourself better by the end of the next three weeks.
Self-knowledge, surprisingly enough, is very important in our spiritual journey. When we’re aware of both our abilities and our weaknesses, our awareness helps us form workable plans for ourselves that lead to real growth rather than mere wishful thinking. Then, as we grow, what was once difficult becomes easier. Proper self-knowledge helps us reasonably and successfully submit to God’s work in our lives. Another important outcome I hope you gain from this exercise is growth in integrity. Integrity in the context of spiritual formation means we follow through with our commitments. If we say we’re going to do something, let’s do it! Living with integrity means we’re true to ourselves before God. Jesus described integrity like this: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). The 21 Day Challenge creates space for cultivating integrity as it offers a practical way to say yes—or no—to yourself before God. So make a small commitment and stick to it as best you can. Saying no and sticking to that is just as important as saying yes and sticking to it. We can easily overextend ourselves and overcommit, especially at the outset of a new challenge. But as we learn to let our yes be yes and our no be no, we allow space for God to build integrity in us. In this way, we work with God as he forms and substantiates our character.
God works in our hearts and through our actions to make us more whole and holy before him.
Two final pieces of advice!
Two Tips for Success in the 21 Day Challenge
- First, while you’re obviously free to do more than one discipline, commit to only one discipline for the 21 Day Challenge. That way you can make sure to follow through with that one, even if all else fails.
- Second, and this can make it more fun, ask a friend or a mentor to join you.
Journal Questions (Part 2 of 2)Get out a journal or a piece of paper (or a note on your phone), and plan out your 21 Day Challenge using these questions:
- Which discipline would you like to commit to for the next twenty-one days, starting today?
- What will it look like for you to follow through with this discipline?
- How will you measure success at the end of this challenge? Describe at least one minimum measurable parameter of success here.
- Whom will you ask to join you? This can be a family member, a friend, or a mentor.
- What is the end date for your challenge? Put that date in your calendar or post it somewhere as a reminder.