Introduction to christian practices

In this space, I will offer some introduction to Christian practices, as well as some resources that might be helpful to you. Before doing that, maybe it would be helpful for me to frame out my own understanding of the process of change in the Christian life. I’m doing this so that, when we talk about spiritual disciplines or practices, we might have a common understanding of where those things sit in terms of what it means to be followers of Jesus. 

In other words, if the point of being a Christian is to grow to resemble Jesus, then how does it all work?!

saying 'yes' to jesus

When I was growing up, the sense that I took on board about being a Christian was: we all need saving so we say yes to Jesus - and boom! - we’re saved. I expected everything in me that seemed unkind, selfish or downright destructive to be immediately transformed. So when I found myself behaving again in ways that weren’t kind, or generous-hearted, or life-giving - in other words, like that pre-saved version of me - I figured that meant I needed saving all over again! 

Following this kind of logic, I will need to respond to an altar call over and over and still I may find myself, after years of going to church and small group or prayer meetings, unable to get a handle on those patterns of thought and behaviour that persist in scuppering my plans to become more like Jesus. The understanding that when I said yes to Jesus I was going to automatically be different, took me into a repeated cycle. I would fall into old behaviour, then I would experience a sense of conviction, I would feel the need to repent, and then start all over again. And I would feel increasingly ashamed, as though I were the only person who was failing at being a Christian. I wonder if any of you identify with this?

working it out

As I have gotten older, I have realised that the biblical understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower is very different to my childhood view. The bible teaches that while I am saved by the work of Jesus being applied to my life, I am also being saved. The apostle Paul told the believers gathered in Philippi to continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” So God is working in me to form Christ in me, and I am working out my salvation in my everyday life. Each of us does that with the help of the empowering presence of God’s Spirit, who is with us in the mud and mess of it all, and with the support of the people around us. So in relationship with God and people, we continue to work out what it means to become more like Jesus.

There’s this combined work of our determined effort to straighten out our lives, together with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. This is what putting off the old life and putting on the new life looks like in practice, to use Paul’s language. Yet, in spite of the logic and structure suggested by the way Paul taught the early believers, these days few of us know how to be so intentional in maturing as Christ-followers. Ruth Haley Barton, a well-known Christian author, has commented that “We may well notice that our approach to spiritual transformation is much more random and haphazard than our approach to finances, home improvements and weight loss.” How true that is!

formation through practice

Over the centuries, as Christians have tried to figure out this stuff, they came up with a bunch of ways they noticed were effective at making room for God to crack us open and get to work in us. Some writers have called spiritual practices ‘channels of grace,’ that is, conduits for us to receive help to do what we’re unable to do on our own. As well as opening up a space for us to receive from God, these practices are also ways for us to take a long hard look in the mirror and get honest about our own lives. That place of honesty and humility really is the only place for true change to get started in us.

There are many great Christian writers and theologians over the years who have explained far better than I can the how and the why of spiritual practices (I list some of those authors below). I offer an explanation in my own words simply because I grew up thinking of spiritual disciplines as something that you do so that you can get a check mark against your name when it comes to being a ‘good Christian,’ Maybe there are others out there like me. 

I have come to appreciate spiritual practices in a different way and I invite you to join me on that journey. I see now that, if I am to live the abundant life of freedom Jesus promised and become a blessing to the world, there are certain ways in which I need to be changed. These practices are to help me learn to stop living in that old way and to help me learn to live in a new way, until that new way becomes a habit. Indeed, at certain times in my life I might become aware of particular ways in which God is inviting me to change - times when I become especially aware of patterns of impatience, or a lack of self-control, say. There are practices which might help me in that particular season of my life to strengthen myself in the place where I am weak. The goal of these spiritual practices is not to become experts in them, it’s to use them to become mature. By repeatedly doing something we allow it to re-form us until we come to look a lot more like Jesus.

And that's the goal of it all: for us to become more fully ourselves (our true selves) as we grow to resemble Jesus more and more. This is the way of freedom and Life. 

To read more about Christian practices as channels of grace in our formation as the people of God, go to the article here.

related posts

Click on the photos above to go to related posts about Christian practices and how to arrange your life for transformation.

references & further reading

Richard Foster (1989) Celebration of Discipline

John Ortberg (2002) The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People

Dallas Willard (1988) The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God Changes Lives

Ruth Haley Barton (2006) Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

David Benner (2011) Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human