Our social media feeds are flooded with tips, tricks and advice about how to set goals, lose weight, and make more money. A Google search such as “goal setting for the new year” offers 714,000,000 (yes, you read that right!) results. But how likely are we to keep the goals we set for ourselves, not just during the New Year, but any time of year? Life gets busy, work piles up, stress overwhelms us, and, next thing we know, we haven’t touched our Bible for a week or more, much less gone to the gym or cooked a healthy meal. Good bye, resolutions. Hello, frustration.
According to research, only 20% of people actually set goals for themselves, and of those 20%, only around 30% are successful in reaching their goals.1 Even if we do keep our resolutions, how do we combat the inevitable feelings of frustration, stagnation, and overwhelm, especially in our walk with Christ? We overcome these feelings through a renewed commitment to spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines are, “practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”2 Another author describes spiritual disciplines as “relational practices that connect us in loving and deep ways to God.”3
Four spiritual disciplines presented in Scripture are Sabbath, fasting, worship, and silence and solitude. Let’s walk through each discipline, examining its biblical foundation and how to implement it in our walk with Christ.
Discipline #1: Sabbath
The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means “to rest.” John Mark Comer explains, “Sabbath is more than just a day; it’s a way of being in the world. It’s a spirit of restfulness that comes from abiding, from living in the Father’s loving presence all week long.”4
This concept of Sabbath wasn’t invented by the church—it was instituted by God! In Genesis 2:1-3, we read of God resting on the seventh day after six days of creation. In the Ten Commandments, God instructs Israel to rest from their earthly labors for one day as a reflection of his rest after creation (Exodus 20:8-11). In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was observed on Saturday, as it was the “seventh day” of the week. During his ministry, Jesus Christ declared that the “Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), given as a gift to all who are “weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28-29). After the resurrection, Sabbath observance was changed to Sunday, because Christ rose on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1). Sunday Sabbath observance has been practiced since the early church (John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) and remains today. The author of Hebrews insists that believers must “strive” to enter God’s rest, as we are prone to ignore it in our pursuit of a busy, full life (Hebrews 3:7-4:11).
Friend, as you consider the Sabbath, remember that it is a gift from God. Think about the best gift you’ve ever received: Would you want to ruin or lose it? Hopefully not! The Sabbath should be treated in the same way—a gift that should be treasured, not ruined. With this in mind, there are two practical ways you can practice the Sabbath:
- First, make it a point to go to church and worship every week! In worship, you have the blessed opportunity to meet with God and fellowship with His people. What a gift that is!
- Second, make the Sabbath a true rest, whether you observe it on Sunday or another day of the week that is better suited for your schedule. If you’re in school, take a break from homework and fill the day with fellowship, rest, and Scripture reading. Parents, encourage your kids to play quietly or have their own rest time, and then use that time to rest, too! Unless it’s absolutely necessary, make it your goal to not do the things you do on the other six days of the week (e.g. grocery shopping, eating out, etc.) Instead, use the Sabbath to read Scripture, rest, pray, fellowship with other believers, or serve someone in need. God provides six days of the week to do everything else we need to do! Take the Sabbath seriously by regularly participating in public worship and resting from all other endeavors and pursuits. God has given you this day to rest, just as he rested. Take it seriously—you will be blessed and refreshed.
Discipline #2: Fasting
When we fast, it is usually from food and drink. Some people fast for medical reasons, while others fast for personal or spiritual reasons. However, fasting does not just need to be from food and drink; there are other methods of fasting that can be employed to achieve a similar result, causing deeper reliance on God by seeking him in Scripture and prayer.
Scripture offers several examples where fasting caused spiritual growth and reliance on God. In Ezra and Nehemiah, fasting was employed by the exiles as a means of repentance and grief over their sin (Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1). In Esther 4, the Jews fasted in preparation for Esther’s intercessory meeting with King Ahasuerus, where she would plead with him to spare the Jews’ lives. In the Psalms, we witness David and others employing fasting as a means of mourning, repentance, and grief over sin (Psalm 35:13; 69:10; 109:24). In Jeremiah 36, we read of God’s people fasting as they heard God’s Word and realized their failure to obey it. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he and his followers fasted (Matthew 4:2; Luke 2:37), although he cautioned against fasting as a means of appearing holy and religious before others, which was a fault of the Pharisees (Matthew 6:16-18). The early church fasted as a means of worship and seeking God’s will (Acts 13:2-3).
There are several methods of fasting that promote deeper reliance on God and opportunities to seek him in Scripture and prayer:
- First, you could fast from food and drink. Before doing a food and drink fast, be sure to consult with a medical professional and assess which type of fast would be most sustainable for and mindful of your health.
- Second, you could fast from entertainment, specifically movies and TV. Delete any movie or TV apps from your phone (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.) and log out of them on your TV, laptop, or other devices. Use this time away from entertainment to spend more time in Scripture and prayer, as well as developing relationships or volunteering.
- Third, you could fast from social media. The same concept applies here as with entertainment. Delete the apps from your phone, and redirect that time you would’ve spent on Instagram or TikTok to reading Scripture. About a year ago, I completed a 6 week social media fast. Not only did this offer me more time in Scripture and prayer each day, but it helped curb feelings of jealousy, envy, discontentment and greed, replacing them with gratitude and joy.
Regardless of the type of fast you choose, fast from something that distracts you from a relationship with God and replace it with opportunities to rely on God more deeply through the Word and prayer.
Discipline #3: Worship
Pastor Louie Giglio described worship as “our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who he is, and what he has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.”5
Scripture is filled with examples of worship and why we should worship. The Psalms call us to personal and corporate worship (Psalm 22:27, 29; 29:2; 86:9; 95:6; 96:9; 97:7; 99:5; 99:9; 102:22; 132:7), emphasizing the importance of individually worshiping God, as well as with the broader church (Exodus 15:1-21). Scripture declares that worship is exclusively to God alone (Exodus 20:3-6, Matthew 4, John 4:24), and to nobody and nothing else.
Worship is to be given to God both personally and corporately! In a personal worship environment, read your Bible, pray, and find ways to worship with music. Create a playlist of worship music on Spotify or Apple Music, or use one that’s already been created. During your morning commute or while on a walk, listen to these playlists and worship along with them!
Corporate worship takes place in the church. Consider attending church not once, but twice each Sunday. If your home church doesn’t have an evening service, find a Bible-believing church that has one. I recently started attending corporate worship on Sunday morning and evening, and it has been extremely enriching in my faith, knowledge of Scripture, and relationships with other believers. Beginning and ending each Sunday with worship spiritually refreshes and prepares me for the week ahead.
In personally and corporately worshiping God, we are praising him for who he is, what he has done, and recognizing his sovereignty over all things.
Discipline #4: Silence and Solitude
John Mark Comer explains silence and solitude as “cutting out the noise that surrounds us and sitting in solitude…refining our attention spans and avoiding the trap of societal chaos”.6 In this discipline, we quiet internal and external noises around us, with the goal of communing with God in solitude. This practice encourages us to remove distractions, replacing them with time dedicated to God, paying close, careful attention to what he is teaching us.
The Gospels extensively describe the practice of silence and solitude. In Matthew 3, we read of Jesus going to a quiet place to commune with God. However, Jesus doesn’t go to the quiet place once! Instead, he makes it a regular part of his life rhythm. Throughout Matthew, Mark and Luke, we witness Jesus going to a “desolate place” to pray, talk with God, and rest (Matthew 14:13, 15,; 15:33; Mark 1:35,; 6:31-32, 35; 8:4; Luke 4:42; 9:12). If our Savior needed this time in a “desolate place,” how much more do we need time in silence and solitude, communing with our Savior?
Practicing silence and solitude demands preparation and discipline, especially with technology. When you practice silence and solitude, ensure your phone and other devices are completely away from you and silenced. If you have a smart watch, silence notifications on it. Find a reliably quiet place—your room, a favorite chair, a park—and sit with God, yourself, and your mind. Just bring yourself and a heart that is ready to hear from God. Use this time of silence to pray and reflect on what God is teaching you.
Scripture provides numerous disciplines through which we can grow “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). When we feel frustrated, stagnant, or overwhelmed in our walk with Christ, or disappointed that our goals have failed, implementing these disciplines helps encourage and renew us in our pursuit of Christ. Friend, as you consider these four disciplines, remember that they have been given to you as a gift from God, and he will provide you with everything you need to implement them for his glory and your benefit. God promises to meet us as we rest in him, focus on him through fasting, worship him personally and corporately, and meet him in silence and solitude.
Action Plan: Choosing and Implementing a Spiritual Discipline
As you reflect on these spiritual disciplines, the following questions can be used to help you prayerfully identify which discipline(s) would be most helpful in your current season of life.
- Of the four disciplines discussed, which would you like to implement? Why?
- How does this discipline address frustration or stagnation in your walk with Christ?
- How often will you practice this discipline? (Daily? Weekly? For how long each time?)
- How will you practice this discipline?
- Who in your life can hold you accountable?
- Write a prayer of commitment, asking God to encourage and grow you as you prayerfully implement this spiritual discipline.
1Douglas Vermeeren, “Why People Fail to Achieve Their Goals,” Reliable Plant: https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/31227/improve-asset-management (Accessed March 22, 2023).
2Don Whitney, “What Are Spiritual Disciplines?” Published on December 31, 2015. Desiring God: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines (Accessed December 31, 2022).
3Christina Zimmerman, “What Are Spiritual Disciplines?” Published on July 21, 2021. Lifeway Voices: https://voices.lifeway.com/discipleship-evangelism/what-are-spiritual-disciplines/ (Accessed December 31, 2022).
4John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Colorado Springs: Water Brook, 2019), 149.
5“What is Worship?” Published on October 11, 2013. The Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-is-worship/ (Accessed December 31, 2022).
6John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Colorado Springs: Water Brook, 2019), 122.
Photo Credit: _emilee_carpenter_
Leah Jolly is a graduate of Wheaton College where she studied international relations and Spanish. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband, Logan, and is pursuing her MDiv at Calvin Theological Seminary. She attends Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan. You can connect with Leah on Instagram and Substack.