Here are four questions you can use to assess the state of your spiritual disciplines. Using these questions frequently and honestly helps keep me in that special arena of grace so that my spiritual disciplines are better able to accomplish what they are intended for and so that they do not lapse into mere routines instead. When they do, I can become aware of it quickly and take steps to recover a right use of the disciplines of grace.
What are my motives as I enter the disciplines of grace? Why are you undertaking this activity? Are you motivated by love for God and a desire to meet him face to face? Do you long to grow in grace? Are you coming in faith, in promise that God will meet with you, show you his glory and transform you in the very image of Christ? Are you eager to know more of the love of Christ for the people around you?
Or are you spending your time in Bible reading, prayer or any of the other spiritual disciplines just because you feel like you should? Do you have one eye on the clock as you begin? Do you (if only subconsciously) begrudge this time you have set apart to be with the Lord, and are you thinking of a dozen other things you'd rather or should be doing? Are these spiritual exercises simply ways of assuring you that you're "a good Christian"? Do they keep you feeling somehow superior to those around you who do not pray or spend time in God's Word? Do you embark upon these practices looking for something to teach someone else, seeking to justify some behavior or sentiment of your own, concerned only about your own personal interests or needs, or determined to discover how someone else is wrong about this, that or the other? What is your motivation in entering into the disciplines of grace?
Do not assume that you can answer this question of motivation without some careful and critical thought, and a great deal of soul-searching before the Lord. The starting point of Christian growth is knowing where we need to grow, seeing areas of our lives where change is due, and accepting the fact that we are not where we ought or would like to be. Be honest in your self-examination. Commit to a season of prayer using these questions as your guide. Wait upon the Lord to show you the motives of your heart as you assess the state of your spiritual disciplines. If any of the answers to the questions I've asked are disturbing, take them to the Lord in prayer, calling upon him to renew your motives for submitting to the disciplines of grace and to make them what they ought to be.
How well do I understand the disciplines of grace? Do you know what you're doing here? Do you really understand how to read and study the Bible? To pray? To fast before the Lord, enter into a season of solitude or make offerings acceptable to him? Is your involvement in the fellowship of God's saints what it ought to be? Do you really understand what worship is all about? Or are you content merely to go through the same familiar and comfortable routines without being stretched in new ways?
There is room for us to grow -- and plenty of help as well -- when it comes to getting a better handle on the disciplines of grace. None of us has or ever will master any of the spiritual disciplines. The best we can hope for is to keep improving in our understanding and use of them, and this requires an unswerving commitment to learn more about them, and to put to use what we are learning as best we can. Do you have this kind of attitude toward the disciplines? If not, you may already be stuck in mere routines.
What is my experience in the disciplines of grace? Is your experience in spiritual disciplines the kind described above -- intellectually active, emotionally charged, spiritually profound and enlivening, reflective and introspective, determined on change, but resting in the grace and presence of the Lord at all times? Or is your involvement in spiritual disciplines dry, tedious, unexciting, lacking in affection-a mere going through the motions rather than an encounter with the living God? Do you sense the presence of God's glory in the midst of spiritual disciplines? Or are you merely reading or mouthing words in an unemotional, unconvicted and unconvincing manner? Are you communing with the living God or just going through a prayer list? Is your mind fixed and alert, or does it wander to other more interesting or pressing subjects? Are you beholding the glory of God or just preparing for some Bible study? Are you being stabbed to the heart in the depths of your being, lifted to heights of joy and confidence, imbued with new power and fixed on new resolves-or just knocking off another activity on your things-to-do list?
Every indication in Scripture -- from the experiences of people like Moses and Hannah to the testimonies of the psalmists and the recollections of the apostles -- is that being in the presence of God can affect us powerfully. We all know seasons of spiritual depression when we can't work up much enthusiasm about being with the Lord or when life is just too great a weight to bear. Because of this, our practice of the disciplines of grace goes up and down; yet we may expect the practice of spiritual disciplines to be more consistently satisfying and powerful.
Communing with him. Hearing him. Embracing his truth. Seeing his glory. Expanding your vision of his reign. Desiring him more. Advancing his kingdom. We have every reason and right to expect that our experience of him in the disciplines of grace will be as pronounced and profound as this. If it is not, then it may be time for adjusting our disciplines in order to get back on the rails of spiritual growth once again.
What is happening in my life as a result of the disciplines of grace? Can you point to specific times when God has spoken so plainly that your life was truly changed? Have you known the searching power of his Spirit as he exposes some besetting sin, and have you begun to find the grace to overcome it? Can you say that you have grown in love for the Lord over the past several years, and in what ways? Has your involvement in spiritual disciplines been a source of power for witness or more actively loving others?
Disciplines that do not produce growth are not disciplines at all. Rather, they have become mere routines, done to satisfy some sense of "oughtness" or duty but with little sanctifying effect. God has given us the disciplines of grace so that, as we are exposed to his glory from one encounter to the next, we will be progressively transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ, and, being transformed, nothing and no one we encounter will remain the same. Wherever Jesus went, at least one thing can be said of him: we have no record of anyone responding to him with indifference. His life and teachings demanded response, bringing people to the point of change or stiffening their resolve to live in sin. When we are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, our lives will be similarly charged.
Excerpted from Disciplines of Grace: From Spiritual Routines to Spiritual Renewal, copyright 2001 by T.M. Moore. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com, 1-800-843-4587.
T.M. Moore currently serves as Pastor of Teaching Ministries at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn. He is former president of Chesapeake Theological Seminary in Baltimore and former professor of biblical languages. Moore is also a writer working with Prison Fellowship, Reformed Theological Seminary and Scripture Union.