In 1988 I wrote in a journal: “Life without prayer — I’m trying to build something with blocks but there’s no foundation. Some of the blocks won’t fit; some teeter wildly, some fall off. Pretty soon they all fall down and I’m left in the rubble, covered.”

I’ve been attracted to prayer and other spiritual disciplines from my early days as a Christian. Maybe it’s one of the few things where I was a trend setter! And yet, after all these years, as attracted as I am to prayer, silence and seeking God through spiritual disciplines, I have to ask: Do I like the IDEA of prayer more than praying? Do I substitute reading a blog about prayer for actually praying? How can I live more grounded in God?


When I attended Amherst College in the 1970’s, most of the influences of my spiritual life were robustly evangelical. There were few students who wanted to be identified as Christians in the midst of a militantly secular humanist school. Those of us who did formed a tight community.

Somehow I came across the writings of Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic priest from the Netherlands. I’m not even sure which of his books I first read but his deep desire to live from the center of God’s love, his emphasis on prayer, silence and seeking God attracted me deeply. Nouwen was about “being” in Jesus; evangelicalism at that time seemed about “doing” for Jesus.

As I see it, one author began to bring these two streams together: Richard Foster. In 1978 he published Celebration of Discipline and brought to many Protestants, especially evangelicals, a deeper understanding of the necessity of spiritual disciplines as we run the marathon of faith (Hebrews 12.1).

The genius of Foster’s book is that he shows how spiritual disciplines are not all about outward DOING or inward BEING. Spiritual disciplines are not just for solitary individuals. Foster divides his list of disciplines in the table of contents into inward, outward and corporate.

My copy of Celebration of Discipline is cracked at the spine, underlined on 2/3 of the pages, and covered with copious notes. I’ve used it for countless classes I’ve taught and with at least two small group studies. To me it still seems fresh and timeless.

So here’s another question for reflection:  Which spiritual disciplines do you feel attracted to?  What obstacles keep you from practicing those disciplines more faithfully?



Learning from the Masters of Spiritual Disciplines

8 thoughts on “Learning from the Masters of Spiritual Disciplines

  1. Hi Pastor Judie! Great blog! My favorite spiritual disciplines include prayer and spending time with other believers. As a pastor of a tiny church, I have the privilege of spending the first part of my mornings in prayer and Bible Study. In those times, I pray for my church, for my elders, for my family, for my husband’s church, and for discernment regarding the future. Then, on Tuesday mornings, I meet with the other clergy in town to discuss what we will preach on for Sunday. Even though they come from slightly different theological backgrounds than me, I find their support and presence in ministry profoundly helpful. I wish we would spend more time praying together as a group, but it seems to me that the group is a little less comfortable with praying out loud together than they are with discussing the Bible. (We have tried group prayer a few times, but it always seems to fade after the second or third week.)

    I think what holds me back from partaking in these disciplines is that I sometimes do not have that structure to rely on. When I am not at work, finding time for prayer is really hard. If I did not have that text study on Tuesday mornings, I am not sure how I could find time or community for a weekly small group. So while my profession allows me to have these spiritual disciplines, I am not sure how I would find time for them if I ever did anything else with my life.


    • Sara, I love that your disciplines include time with other believers! Spiritual disciplines are not just individual. I hope to include in a future post how we can establish a “rule” of life, or a trellis on which to grow a thriving life in Jesus.You imply a really great question: “what is it that truly holds us back from finding time for spiritual disciplines in our lives?”


  2. Thanks, Judie for this blog. I agree with your appreciation of Nouwen and Foster in particular. One of his books “Streams of Living Water” is a favorite of mine, that I have also taught as a class. He writes about the various expressions of Christianity, and sees them as streams of one river. Really excellent. I would say that my favorite discipline is contemplation. I am not sure how good I am at it, but it is the one I am most drawn to.


    • “Streams of Living Water” helps us appreciate the unique gifts individuals, denominations and movements bring to the Kingdom. You say you’re drawn to contemplation — how do each of us find the “stream” we’re drawn to and drink deeply from it?


  3. Dear Judie,
    Your 1988 journal entry reminds me of John Knox’s writing on prayer: “…it is a manifest sign, that such as are always negligent in prayer do understand nothing of perfect faith: for if the fire be without heat, or the burning lamp without light, then true faith may be without fervent prayer.” His 16th Century syntax is a little cumbersome, but he makes the point – faith without prayer is no faith at all; prayer is the foundation of the Christian life.
    I, too, was brought to the appreciation of spiritual disciplines by Henri Nouwen. Out of Solitude introduced me to the concept of contemplation that leads to community that leads to action. After 43 years it’s still fresh.
    A couple of additional thoughts from Knox: “…prayer is an earnest and familiar talking with God…” “…without the Spirit of God supporting our infirmities (mightily making intercession for us with unceasing groans which cannot be uttered) there is no hope that we can desire anything according to God’s will. He (the Spirit) stirs up our minds giving us the desire and boldness to pray, and causing us to mourn when we are drawn away from it…”
    Although I’m retired from my ‘day job,’ I continue to seek God’s presence and purpose for the present and the times to come. The way does not always unfold neatly, but it does unfold. Thanks be to God!


  4. I am drawn to prayer – specifically journaling prayer. Spending time with Jesus, listening to the Spirit speak to my heart – writing it out and believing it. I too have been deeply impacted by Henri Nouwen’ – especially – Out of Solitude. When I carve out solid chunks of uninterrupted time with God is when I encounter Him most intimately. Looking forward to hearing more.


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