Ever wondered why the words disciple and discipline sound similar? This is because while “discipline” comes from the latin disciplina, which means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” the word “disciple” comes from discipulus, which means “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline.” Thus, a disciple refers to someone who is disciplined.
If Michael Phelps, as an Olympic swimmer, swam an average of 6 hours per day, 6 days per week despite having been diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) as a child, we ought to consider what discipline should look like for us. As disciples of Christ, we must also have a dedicated approach to growing our spirituality.
Discipline is an extremely important element in every Christian’s spiritual growth. For one, it provides direction, as it allows you to focus on Christ and be like him. Stephen Eyre writes in his book Spiritual Disciplines, “More lies behind the beauty and swiftness of a sailboat than the wind that fills its sails. Discipline is required to keep it on course. The same is true of your spiritual life.”
Secondly, the different activities are mediums that can nurture you. They are essential, just like your three daily meals. You may not remember exactly what you ate a week ago and that food may be long gone by now, but what matters is that it has been digested. It is that food and the food you have kept eating until now that has nourished you, strengthened you, and pushed you forward.
In today’s post we will talk about one of the spiritual disciplines that goes by the name of Quiet Time (QT). QT is a time shared between a disciple and Jesus, and it traditionally involves two other spiritual disciplines: Scripture reading and praying.
As Christians we believe that every word in the Bible had been inspired by God, and we take it as our standard of truth. If we had to compare it to any other book it would be to a textbook, a holy textbook of sorts that has everything important you need to know in order to lead a righteous life filled of servitude.
Following the idea of the Bible as a textbook, the Bible should be read in alertness and be studied, not simply skimmed through. The Psalmist writes that our delight should be in the law of the Lord and we should meditate on it day and night like a tree which yields fruit in season (Psalm 1:2-3). In other words, we must love the word, for delight is found in love. When studying, we must ponder on the message it is trying to convey and its meaning while opening our hearts and mind to the Holy Spirit. And we must apply it to our lives, that is, produce fruits. Ask ourselves how does the message relates to us? What is similar? What is different? How should we act from now on?
There are different methods of reading and studying the Bible, amongst them the inductive method. However, for now we will leave it to examine it in more detail another time.
Brother Lawrence once said in The Practice Of The Presence Of God, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” It is true, because prayer is but an honest conversation with God, a two-way street in which God meets us halfway through Jesus. Us praying is a way of showing our faith.
You may have heard the four types of prayer that match the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. However, there are also different forms of praying. Sometimes prayer consists of speaking in tongues or of fragmented and incomplete sentences. Sometimes it is wordless and is a humble laying down of emotions, like Hannah’s (Samuel 1). Other times, it is a song or a poem, a psalm, a holy sonnet.
Being disciplined is not easy. To build a good habit takes time, a committed mind and heart, and, well, help. So here we have some practical tips that may aid you in making out of QT or any other spiritual discipline into a daily habit.
Put it into your schedule: Treat your QTs as an appointment you have with a friend, the kind you would write down in your agenda or to-do list. Set time aside in advance instead of making out of it a when-I-feel-like-it kind of thing. If a friend gets happy when you are intentional about meeting him, think of how it would please the Lord if you pull away from the busyness of your life to rendezvous with him.
Start Small: Psychologists say that if you get a person to agree to a modest request first, there is a higher chance of getting them to agree to a larger request later. They call this the Foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, and if it works on others, it can applied to yourself as well. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of daily QT. The time will increase naturally and gradually, maybe even without you noticing it, as you mature in your faith and your love grows fonder. The important thing is to start and put that foot in the door. One day, that door will open wide. (For more psychological jinxes on how to create or break habits watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CojSlsMwDOg)
Pray: It might be strange to say to pray so you may pray in your QTs, but as we said previously, prayer is but an honest conversation with God. If you do not feel the desire to do your QT a certain morning, you may pray about it— tell God all about it. King David’s psalms were not only songs of praise and joy, but some of them were also full of calling, questioning, grief, and sometimes even anger.
Be Persistent: There will be days you will miss doing your QT. Things happen. However, not letting that one day snowball on you and discourage you from re-picking the activity up is important. Do not succumb to guilt or embarrassment and simply quit. God knows about the frailty of human will and sent Jesus Christ in love. You must have courage and faith to accept grace. So if you missed QT once, twice, or even more, simply move on and do your QT that day.
Make It Your Own: Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that our QTs must be like the QTs of the people we look up to (Saint Augustine! My pastor! Jesus!) or our peers. However, just as we do not walk the same way or pace, just as some hop, others swag, some run, and others drag their feet, we must individualize our QTs in a way we will find them, not bothersome or chore-like, but enjoyable. QTs are after all a personal time with God, someone who loves you and understands the way you are.
Spiritual disciplines are definitely a core part of discipleship, QT being only one of them. Even Jesus had QTs with God as specified in Mark 1:35. And if Jesus found it necessary, how much more necessary must it be for us?
But even when they are necessary, no one can force you into them. It is up to you. Writer Annie Dillard puts it like this in Teaching a Stone to Talk: “You do not have to do these things—unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on Him. You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.”
Spiritual disciplines. Let us then practice them not only out of necessity but out of our love for the stars.