The spiritual disciplines are tools for spiritual growth. Transformation occurs as heartfelt desire to grow in Christ-likeness joins with intentional practice of the disciplines.
In her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoun provides materials involving use of the spiritual disciplines as tools in spiritual formation. Calhoun reflects on the first disciples that had been called by Jesus; the early disciples spent time “keeping company with Jesus.” As they learned from hearing his teachings, being in his company, and following Jesus’ practices, the early disciples’ own spiritual practices were formed; their lives were transformed. The disciples, then, were able to pass along what they had observed in Jesus’ life and practices. The early church incorporated the same practices of the early disciples. Calhoun shares insights concerning use of the disciplines in the early church. She writes:
From its beginning the church linked the desire for more of God to intentional practices, relationships and experiences that gave people space in their lives to “keep company” with Jesus. These intentional practices, relationships and experiences we know as spiritual disciplines. The basic rhythm of disciplines (or rule) for the first believers is found in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching [a practice] and to the breaking of bread [an experience] and to prayer [another practice].”1
Using the biblical model and historical practices based on the biblical model, the Christian believer has a rich heritage for use of the spiritual disciplines. Calhoun continues on as she shares practices of the early church:
As the gospel spread throughout the Roman world, the church continued to respond to people’s desires to keep company with Jesus. The Didache, an early Christian text, gave instruction to believers on how to grow in love of God and neighbor. It addressed disciplines like stewardship, chastity, fasting, prayer, humility and the Lord’s supper. In the fourth and fifth centuries, as the church was relieved of its persecution, the desert fathers found that the politicized and nominal nature of Christianity sabotaged their first love … Their longing to be conformed to the image of Christ gave rise to the spiritual disciplines of silence, solitude, contemplation, spiritual direction and detachment.2
Each generation and age has been drawn to finding ways to incorporate the spiritual disciplines as tools to draw the participant into deeper relationship to God. It is through the practice of the discipline and God’s action in one’s life through the Holy Spirit that transformation occurs. Transformation continues today as we seek methods for growing in Christ-likeness – the spiritual disciplines assist us in that journey.
1Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 16.