A Condensed Cyclopedia of the Spiritual Disciplines

The Spiritual Disciplines. There’s so much that can be said about what they are and why they are important.

As I sat pondering and planning this post, I wondered how I might best convey these important concepts without weighing the post down in an excessive number of words. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to shy away from a multitude of words or working my way through deep texts. But this is a blog post. And to be perfectly honest, I know that when I open a blog post to find several lengthy paragraphs, one right after the other, I often close the tab and venture elsewhere.

With these things in mind, the Condensed Cyclopedia of Spiritual Disciplines was born. The post is an informational resource containing alphabetized entries on many aspects of the Spiritual Disciplines. In the cyclopedia below discover what the Spiritual Disciplines are and why they are important.

Condensed Cyclopedia of The Spiritual Disciplines


Spiritual Disciplines are activities that we consciously undertake. These activities enable us to do what we cannot do by our own direct effort. They also place us in the right position for being changed.

Specifically, Spiritual Disciplines are the collection of activities that comprise our method. They are the tried-and-true tools we employ as we seek to make progress in our sanctification.

Spiritual Disciplines are not attitudes, character qualities, or fruit of the Spirit. They are activities, things you do.


The Spiritual Disciplines are not something to be taken lightly. A commitment is required. For them to perform the work they are intended to, we must move from an attitude of “I must” or “I have to” to one of “I want to!”

“The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment.

The manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime.”

Alan Redpath, The Making of a Man of God


The Spiritual Disciplines are not separate, or divorced, from the gospel. They are derived from the gospel. When they are practiced rightly, they take us deeper and deeper into the glories of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They never move us away from it.


Spiritual Disciplines are not chosen willy-nilly. They are practices taught and/or modeled in the Bible. For example, in the New Testament, we clearly see Jesus in prayer or drawing away to a quiet place.

It is important that we look to the Bible when making the determination as to whether something is a spiritual discipline. For if we do not, we leave ourselves open to identifying anything we want as a Spiritual Discipline. When we do this, we run into a couple of problems.

First, when we don’t look to the Bible for our clarification on what a Spiritual Discipline is, we can get to the place where we accept anything and everything as one. We can call photography or any other hobby or pleasurable activity a Spiritual Discipline.

The other problem with not looking to the pages of the Bible is that it puts something in our hands that isn’t ours to hold. Rather than accepting God’s wisdom as to the best means of experiencing Him and growing in Christlikeness, we are left to determine what is best for our spiritual health and maturity.


Practice of the Spiritual Disciplines enables us to receive power from God to live the life He wants us to live. It is freedom to live life abundantly (John 10:10).


The Spiritual Disciplines are God’s invitation to us to be still (Psalm 46:10), to draw near (James 4:8), and to know Him (John 17:3).

Moreover, these Disciplines are an invitation to God to enter the entirety of our lives. An antidote to compartmentalization, they invite all of God into all of our life!


When talking about the Spiritual Disciplines it is crucial for us to remember that the goal is not mastery of the discipline. The Spiritual Disciplines are means. They are not ends. The end, that is the goal, is godliness. The biblical means to that end is to discipline ourselves, by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Timothy 4:7).

The great caution here is to remember that we are not godly simply because we practice the Spiritual Disciplines. That was the grievous error of the Pharisees. They felt that by doing these activities they were godly.

No, the Spiritual Disciplines are not proof to God of our commitment. They are the means to godliness. It might help us here to define godliness.

Godliness is a conformity that is both inward and outward.

It is a growing conformity to both the heart and life of Christ.


The Bible prescribes both personal and interpersonal Spiritual Disciplines. In other words, there are some Spiritual Disciplines that we practice alone such as solitude, preaching truth to self, and journaling. There are others that we practice with other Christians including fellowship and serving.

We are to practice both personal and interpersonal Spiritual Disciplines because Jesus practiced both and because the Bible teaches both. Both are means of blessing for believers in Jesus Christ, and both are a part of our growth in godliness.


One characteristic of Spiritual Disciplines is that those found in Scripture (and remember that is where we must find them) are sufficient for knowing and experiencing God. And they are sufficient for growing in Christlikeness.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we are told that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This includes the good work of pursuing godliness and the good work of growing in Christlikeness.


Historically, the Spiritual Disciplines were extremely important. In the Gospel of Luke, practicing the Spiritual Disciplines is correlated with being fully trained (Luke 6:40). And in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul goes even further by describing the practice as a matter of strict training.

When talking about the Spiritual Disciplines as training, it is important for us to keep in mind that there is a huge difference between training and trying. Training requires effort and intention. When we train for something, we arrange our life around certain practices that enable or empower us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. Think running a marathon or mastering the piano. Trying, on the other hand, involves no plan and our very own weak efforts. In this mode, we often overestimate or underestimate what we can do. When we approach the Spiritual Disciplines in trying mode, our typical responses are that it’s hard work, no fun, and we just don’t want to do it. The Disciplines feel rigid rather than life-giving, and we feel guilt.

Much can be said about the Spiritual Disciplines, their work, and their importance. Among the many things we learned in this Condensed Cyclopedia of the Spiritual Disciplines, however, one thing is certain. The Spiritual Disciplines are a major factor in our spiritual formation.

They are a major part of what we can do to contribute to our own spiritual formation. They need to be an integral and substantial part of our private lives and of our relationship and interaction with others in the body of Christ.


What are Spiritual Disciplines?, Ask Pastor John: Desiring God, An Interview with Donald Whitney, 12-31-15.

In-Depth Answers to Ten Big Ques­tions About Spir­i­tu­al Formation, Renovare, Dallas Willard, 4-21.

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