Spiritual disciplines can often feel like a chore. Like exercise, we know they’re important, but it’s hard to get motivated to actually do them. Spiritual disciplines are regular practices that help a Christian interact with the Triune God in daily life. These disciplines include (but are not limited to) activities like: Bible reading, prayer, morning devotionals, musical worship, meditation, and so on. These are “disciplines.” However, spiritual disciplines don’t have to be a duty or worse, a drudgery. In fact, they really can become delights!
Here are three keys to turn spiritual disciplines to spiritual delights.
1) Have the purpose in mind.
Actions that are to become routine need the “why” at the center of the brain’s motivational loop. Meaning, if we don’t know why we are doing something, we are likely to stop doing it at any given moment. Think about some of your other customs. Why do you exercise? To lose weight, maybe. Or it could be to get stronger. Perhaps, even, to maintain health as you age. Some people even exercise for the sheer joy of it. The “why” may differ, but those who are consistent in their exercise routine could all tell you why they do it. And that common denominator is worth noting!
Every routine in our lives is the result of a desire hatching into a patterned action. We either perform a habit consciously (thus, it being a discipline). Or, we perform a habit unconsciously (thus, it is more of a habit). A habit you do, whether intentionally or not (like biting your fingernails). Disciplines, on the other hand, are deliberate actions that have become routine practices in one’s life.
So, what is your “why” behind spiritual disciplines? If you want your spiritual practices to move from discipline to delight then your purpose has to be something to the effect of enjoying God. “Wait!” You might say. “Shouldn’t the purpose be something more profound like becoming more Christ-like?” Sort of. Think of it like a ladder.
Spiritual routines are like a ladder with three ascending rings: they start as a duty; becomes a discipline; and crowns as a delight.
The first ring on the ladder for us is duty; the realization that we ought to engage in spiritual disciplines for the purpose of having God’s grace enacted in our lives through the means of prayer, Bible reading, etc. It starts there, but it doesn’t end there. The second ring on the ladder is discipline; the trained commitment to engage in spiritual activities because we know it is the means to growing into greater conformity to Jesus, our Lord and example. From my experience, most people stop on this ladder ring, but there is one more. The third ring on the ladder is delight; the recognition that doing life with God is a privilege we get to do.
Duty, Discipline, Delight; these are the three rings on the ladder of spiritual routines. It starts as an “ought to” and morphs into a “get to.” And that motivational journey from duty to delight; “ought to” to “get to” makes all the difference in creating sustainable and enjoying spiritual routines. After all, the goal of following Jesus is to enjoy Jesus.
2) Acquire the appetite for spiritual delights.
Many things (such as fine wine or dark chocolate) are acquired tastes. Why should spiritual disciplines be any different? Talk to anyone with an admirable prayer life and they will still tell you “prayer is hard.” What keeps them at it? They have built up the appetite (and desire) for prayer! Our spiritual appetite grows us we grow closer to God. The more the appetite, the more we delightfully taste of the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 34:8) through spiritual disciplines—I mean, delights!
The best way to acquire the appetite for spiritual delights is to simply submerge into them. There are some spiritual delights that need to be part of your daily life and rhythm like food and water are! And there need to be spiritual delights that are incorporated into your monthly and/or annual calendar. Those who engage in routine time with God (practicing the various spiritual delights) are likely those who have it in their calendar.
Wouldn’t it be inspiring to be someone who increases their spiritual appetite with age? Like a fine wine, walking with Jesus only gets better with time. So, age doesn’t have to be a barrier; it can be an aim to grow spiritually every year in spiritual delights even as you grow older!
3) Don’t get discouraged from the days or weeks where you are inconsistent.
We have all been there… a New Year’s goal that is completely abandoned and forgotten by end of February! So, no judgment here. And no judgment when it comes to practicing spiritual delights. Like anything else in life, our frailty begets inconsistency.
Fair disclaimer: a spiritual delight may at times revert to feeling like a duty. That is normal! When it feels like a duty, stay disciplined and as consistent as possible and it will eventually become a delight again. Remember what we are talking about here: a routine practice of meeting with—and enjoying—the Lord. Therefore, like any other relationship, the feelings come and go. Not every morning devotional is the most inspiring, tear-jerking encounter with God (though, those do happen!).
Inspiration can end up being a cheap motivator with how flippant it is. And so we do need to hold on to discipline even when we don’t feel the delight of it. Nevertheless, the delight will return. And the delight we experience on this side of existence is an appetizer of the infinitely greater delight that awaits us in eternal life with God.
Engaging in spiritual delights is a way of declaring: “God is here. And in this moment, I am here with Him.”
While many parts of our day can feel frantic and overbearing, having dedicated times to meet and be and enjoy God’s company is what makes spiritual disciplines “delights.” Jesus not only is calling you to follow Him; He is calling you to be with Him.
What will you begin doing to delight in Jesus this week?