How I Accidentally Started a Spiritual Disciplines Habit
How a Simple adjustment this week can empower you to become, Spiritually Disciplined
Growing up baptist, the importance of Bible reading, quiet times, inviting the lost to church outreach programs, prayers for cancer relief for estranged family or friends, prayers for the infamous “unspoken,” Awana verse memorization and more were ingrained since as long as I can remember.
Spiritual disciplines, not what they were called, but these “to-do” lists to be a pleasant baptist continually provided a “are you in or out of ‘the Way'” club, causing shame if I missed and pride when I hit them for longer than a couple of days.
I remember finally feeling like a real Christian when my NIV Study Bible for teens required duct taping to hold the seam in place.
I have arrived, pornography addictions, listening to secular music, watching rated R movies will soon become a non-issue, wrong!
Not even getting married ended my struggle with pornography.
20-years later, I finally realized and was unable to argue with the fact that my life was a mess.
I did not know it at the time, but I was addicted to consumerism and trying to find my place in the world, in ministry, that would finally make me feel like I was accomplishing something for God.
That never happened, and depression hit, which caused a loss of my great corporate job and large fights in my marriage.
Where was the abundant life? The blossoming tree planted by a river? The strong wings like an eagle?
Nowhere in my reality.
But through this job loss, the beginnings of a side hustle, and depression counseling sessions, slowly, I began to learn the missing link that eventually led me to two and a half years later googling “How to Celebrate.” (I did not find a good answer to this query by the way)
Because that was the natural expression of what I wanted to do.
I did not know it at the time but learned a year or so after that, going through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline that…
“All the disciplines freely exercise, bring forth the doxology of celebration”
In sharing my story, what I hope is that you will see that it is possible to experiment, stumble into, and over a duration of time, be living a life where celebration is the natural outcome.
That glorifying God from your life is organic and automatic.
The Thing I pressed into that Started it All
In 2016 I began attending counseling and was put on stress disability. During those eight or more months of counseling sessions, I was exploring myself, my problems in my marriage, relationships, work, and life.
Through all of this sorting, and after being told I could not come back to my job, I decided to launch a woodworking business with a buddy.
This new business endeavor revealed to me a need to plan my year, my quarterlies, my months, my weeks, and eventually my days.
Each day, a to-do list emerged for what I need to do today, but this to-do list was rarely accomplished.
Weeks and months of this list growing longer and longer and this working for the future list not getting done showed me that I severely lacked discipline,
I had been experiencing this my whole life when it comes to any discipline, especially in the spiritual, wanting to read my Bible, pray, meditate (whatever that meant), worship, and more.
The want-to-do lists kept growing, but starting and sticking to self-discipline with any success always eluded me.
How I FEEL is directing what I do, not what I want to do directing what I do.
3-Things Happened at About the Same Time
- An entrepreneur friend revealed to me how he directs his time
- I made a first best guess and started
- I got to be a fly on a wall
An entrepreneur friend revealed to me how he directs his time
Here is most of the email that helped me a ton!
Something to consider: Something I did a while back that helped me tremendously that I think will help you as well.
Time management, self imposed structure, and the ‘kill it’ instinct are not natural for most people. Some people that have sales ability often only have the ‘kill it’ part down but lack the other two. I certainly fell into that category… People have drive, ambition, big ideas etc…but spend all of their time on these only to find themselves lacking when it comes to structure…
I am a natural time waster. I find comfort in pondering my big ideas. I enjoy it and to some extent it is healthy. I wasted a lot of time the first 7 years of my career. About 5 years ago that stopped… the first thing I needed to do was break my day into 15 minute increments. Track it like someone would track calories on a diet. Create a ‘time budget’ which allowed me daily down time to dream and distract myself with anything I wanted to do. The rest of the time was only spent on executing my plan… I hated it at first but now cling to it. My days are now broken up into 15 minute increments. It is a rule I live by. It is surprisingly easy to do once you get the hang of it and becomes like second nature. It is also tremendously effective!
Take Care Bud,
What does this have to do with spiritual disciplines?
A spiritual discipline is simply an “exercise unto godliness” you do for a set duration of time.
Whether that is studying the Word, praying, fasting, worshipping, solituding, etc.
If you don’t have the time blocked out (like every other appointment you schedule!), it will never happen.
I made a First Best Guess and Started
At about the same time, I was introduced to a dream/goal planning exercise that I later learned is under the umbrella of the spiritual discipline of solitude from Richard Foster’s spiritual disciplines book, Celebration of Discipline.
“Four times a year withdraw for three to four hours for the purpose of reorienting your life goals.”
Life goals? The only one I had at the time was, “how do I survive until the weekend?”
I now call the exercise, the perfect day exercise.
In this 3-4 hour session, you simply write out what you want your morning to look like, what you want your workday to look like, your evenings, etc.
My morning routine was pretty lacking at the time, but I made a “best guess” of what I would like to do in the am of a “perfect day.”
I made a first best guess of what I want to do in my morning routine and started.
I wrote out what I wanted to read for 15-minutes and pray about for 15-minutes in my morning routine.
[After threeish years from launching this first best guess, many adaptations have occurred, I have from this experience learned that this is the secret to falling in love with waking up early]
Many times before, I had begun good ideas, but those came from other people, they were good ideas from good models, but not from my personality.
Models are helpful, but as I have continued to delve into this one-on-one God relationship, I am more and more convinced, the best model is the one you receive directly from God.
I got to be a fly on the Wall
A “Christian” mentor invited me to participate with him in his morning routine at 5:30 am, an unholy time for me at the time. Still struggling with dialing in a “Christian” morning routine all of my life, I jumped at the opportunity.
I saw a 15+ year morning routine in action, raw, real, not flashy, just showing up at the same time every day to pray for his family, pray for his business, partners, and employees, pray for current prospects lives he was engaging with, reading the Bible, books, and more.
The curtain was pulled away from this unattainable magical morning routine.
This fly on the wall experience revealed that the glimmer emerges from many experiments, adaptations, and years of consistently showing up.
Consistently Showing Up in these 3-ways
Instead of shaming myself for not reading my Bible, or not praying for my family, or not getting done what I wanted to do in my day: I began to ask why?
Why did my routine fail yesterday? What can I do differently tomorrow to be able to get that thing done?
Should I try reading first in the morning, at lunchtime, or before bed?
Where does prayer work best in the “flow” of my Saturday, Tuesday, or Friday?
I learned that the difference in a life directed by feelings and a life led by discipline is simply; telling your time where to go instead of living in reaction mode.
Stumbling into a Perfect Morning Routine
When this mentor invited me to participate and watch him in his morning routine, I didn’t know what I was going to do for TWO hours.
Completely ignorant, the day before we met, I googled best am prayers or something like that and copied a few onto a notepad and was ready to pray these prayers with my friend.
While they weren’t bad, they weren’t mine, and what I saw that day was a long and in-depth prayer list for my mentor’s life, his wife, kids, family stuff going on, and more.
I began to press into this daily routine, starting from these copied prayers from the internet.
After trying quite a few different alarms, I found an alarm app that wouldn’t allow me to turn it off unless I took a picture.
I chose my coffee pot in the kitchen and was then able to at least force my butt out of bed at 6:45 every morning.
A few months of this 6:45 everyday thing and something magical began to happen.
Over time, I began adding to and growing my own prayers list.
I also began reading the Bible where I wanted to read, starting in the New Testament epistles and not engaging in any reading the Bible in a year program, zero competitions with myself, Bible apps, or others going on at all.
I would read roughly a chapter a day until I hit a big takeaway I needed in my life at that moment, contemplate the passage, pray about it, journal about it, and be done.
Often, adding these impactful verses to my Evernote where I kept my now growing longer and longer prayer list.
The elusive objective of how to meditate on scripture organically began to be realized.
I later learned this is the secret to falling in love with the discipline of study from a surprisingly impactful book called How to Read a Book that I learned about from reading Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines,
In How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Alder writes.
“The books that you will want to practice your reading on, particularly your analytical reading, must also make demands on you. They must seem to you to be beyond your capacity. You need not fear that they really are, because there is no book that is completely out of your grasp…”
“…if the book belongs to the highest class–the very small number of inexhaustible books–you discover on returning that the book seems to have grown with you. You see new things in it–whole sets of new things–that you did not see before. “
Often I would go back and reread the same text each day until I felt I pulled all I could get at that present moment of my life and current level of understanding before moving on.
I chose to read from the Message translation by the way; it helped me to see the Bible new instead of glancing over passages like Romans 12:1-2, John 3:16 and other memorized passages that I already “knew.”
Things Became Fun
I began to love my morning routines instead of dreading them or feeling like I have to do them.
A decade’s long pornography addiction fell off and became uninteresting, it did not deliver the “high” that this new life delivered.
A daily intake of needing alcohol also left, along with other checking out needing episodes of video games, deck time, tv times, and more.
In addition to the ingrained habits of sin falling off, I began to have a bursting desire from within to celebrate with God.
Not a once a year birthday party or new years party, but consistent weekly celebrations of gratitude and worship with my family and God.
With this prayers list and these insights into my soul becoming more in-depth as the consistency of participation moments increased, I was unable to accomplish everything that I wanted to do in my morning routine. I bumped my wake up time to 6:15, then 5:45, 5:15….
A little while later, I have now incrementally increased my wake up time to 4:06 am.
Reset each week
One of my favorite verses about discipline is in Ephesians 4,
“I want you to get out there and walk-better yet, run!-on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.
And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.” The Message translation.
Not in fits and starts.
We’ve all done them, begin a New Years Resolution, a diet plan to look better in summer, a program to read and pray every morning from here on out, and when you miss, throwing the entire “goal” out the window and quitting.
Shift to a commitment of “I don’t sit on my hands” with no comparison of others’ journey, no competition other than your today vs. your yesterday, this week vs. last week, improving solely for the Audience of One, the dance between you and your creator.
With this tiny mindset shift, at even a 60% success rate, you will be floored at how far you have come from the place you are today.
“If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect” Thomas A Kempis.
Not in fits and starts,
- every day is new
- and every week is new.
The Most Fundamental Disciplines that Weren’t on My Radar!
What do you need to improve?
There’s everything from as mundane as improving a laundry system to as spiritually profound as diving into the works of the historical, spiritual giants.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter to God which one it is and it can be as self-healing and self-preserving as it needs to be, He is not afraid of your mistakes when beginning a disciplined life. His view is a little further reaching than ours.
I love what Andrew Peterson says in his incredible habits/discipline book, “Adorning the Dark”
“A good place to start is with self preservation. God over time will redeem these self preserving motives until love and selfless service are what consume the mind.”
When I began this journey my “why” was much the same. I wanted to be seen, to matter, to leave some sort of positive legacy. I wanted to figure out how to keep my head above the drowning pool of muck water I was stuck and swimming in.
I wanted people to say WOW when I told them about the art I made in my woodworking business or that I was making more than I needed to pay all of my bills, and I wanted to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
Not for any good reason other than others hearing those admonitions over the life I lived.
That’s where I started.
But over time, the Lord will redeem you and me from our impulse for self-preservation and ease us into a life embodied by love (which is a fruit by the way, something that blooms from effort and work on corresponding disciplines).
So as selfish and self-preserving as they need to be, what is something that you have wanted to do?
Don’t overcomplicate this, your goal, step #1 is to begin to direct and become disciplined in more time this week than you were last week, William Law writes this in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life,
“The disciple will become a disciple when he determines to direct his time, regardless of how un-spiritual that thing he does in the time directed, this discipline will over time permeate all areas of his life.”
Salsa dancing in your morning routine?
Blogging or a woodworking business side hustle?
Want to set up a hammock in your yard and stare at the stars?
- What book of the Bible do you want to read?
- What book do you want to read?
- How do you want to pray for yourself? Your family?
- What meditation do you want to listen to?
Wake 15-27 minutes earlier than you did this same day last week and do it.
If you miss a day or three of them, reset and forget and start new the next week, the opposite of new year’s failolutions and fits and starts!
Two spiritual disciplines that I was virtually unaware of, and have since learned almost all of these ideas fall under are the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude.
Why are silence and solitude so powerful?
In times of solitude, you are engaging with your soul and then have the ability to hear and converse with God in silence.
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and why you are here and sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
Galatians 6:4-5 The Message
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and why you are here” other translations translate this as, “Each one should test their own actions” NIV, “Pay careful attention to your own work” NLT, “But let each one test his own work” ESV “But let each one examine his own work” NKJV.
Silence and solitude are only successful when no other man or woman enters your mind, and it is the hardest but most critical spiritual discipline to start.
Thomas A Kempis writes in his 600-year old classic devotional, The Imitation of Christ, “do not forget that lost time never returns. Without care and diligence, you will never acquire virtue. When you begin to grow lukewarm, you are falling into the beginning of evil, but if you give yourself to fervor, you will find peace and will experience less hardship because of God’s grace and the love of virtue”
And later in the same devotion number 25, “True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a digilent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he has more passions, than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.”
A Life You and God Both Love
A message to end from the heart of your Father:
Hello, son of God, beautiful daughter of God, I formed you on purpose, crafted your DNA before the foundations of time to be born at this specific time in world history for what I am doing on the earth right now.
You have a special dance I have made for you to dance, a unique fingerprint I have created for you to leave on a few.
I love it when you are the complete you.
I am waiting for you to bloom so I can give you the secret name I have prepared for you.
The You that I envisioned before I created the stars, earth, and all of its wonders.
You make me smile; you touch my heart.
A Proud Father