To be a Christian is to be part of the “way” (Acts 19:23)* or to walk a certain path of life. But to walk this way does not require physical legs. It requires spiritual vision. It necessitates pursuing holiness without which we will not see the Lord.
Given these high stakes, we need to know how to walk the Way of Faith. So, here are three disciplines that will help you along the way.
Probably the most central discipline of the Christian life is meditation. In Psalm 1, David says, “Blessed is the one … who meditates on his law day and night” (vv. 1–2). Moses instructs Joshua on leading Israel by saying: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
And broadly speaking, the entire Bible is a meditation on God and his ways.
So how do we meditate? Certainly, the discipline of Christian meditation shares little in common with Buddhist meditation—we don’t aim to relieve our mind of thought and to enter into nothingness. Far from it. Christian meditation is filling your head with thoughts about God to transform your heart and so be like God.
In Christian meditation, Scripture plays a central role. We can meditate on God and his teaching (1) by reading the Bible, (2) by thinking about its message (which you have internalized), and (3) by reflecting on the Bible and its connection to life. In other words, if you are not a reader, you may gravitate to #s 2 and 3. And that’s fine. You still need to read the Bible (or hear it read) to internalize its message before meditating on it. So, there is some necessity to knowing the Bible.
Other people are readers. They will gravitate to #1 but hopefully integrate #s 2 and 3 into their reading program. To my mind, #3 is the goal because reflection is doing theology, is knowing God, and this is the primary means by which we grow in the Christian life.
And this is worth remembering: however you meditate, the goal is to grow in godliness—to become like God. So, if this is not happening, then something is amiss.
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17), Paul tells us. And so we ought because prayer is communing with God. Christians are betrothed to Christ, our groom. If it would be odd to not speak to your fiancee daily (especially as the wedding day draws near), then it would be equally odd not to talk to our divine groom daily.
While meditation brings our hearts and minds into contact with the divine, prayer brings our words up to God. Actually, meditation and prayer are nearly the same thing. When you read the Bible, you hear God’s word to you. When you pray to God, God hears your word to him.**
And so prayer is an open communion with God where he speaks to you through your meditation on his word, and you speak to him through your prayerful reflection on God’s word.
And if have any worry that prayer will not grow you, will not give you the spiritual sight required to stay on the way, consider this. God created the universe with words. How much more can his words newly create us day-by-day? As Paul says, “what counts is the new creation” (Gal 6:15).
While meditation (receiving God’s word) and prayer (speaking with God) tend towards our spiritual growth, we also need to engage in another form of discipline: practice. Both meditation and prayer are a form of practicing godliness.
Another way to put it is this: you have to do to follow the way. James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22).
Let’s take one passage to illustrate the discipline of Christian practice, 2 Peter 1:3–9. In verses 3–4, Peter says:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
God gives us what we need “for a godly life” through knowing God (“him who called us”). As we come to know God and his “glory and goodness,” we come to know his promises. And we come to participate “in the divine nature.” In other words, we become godly or like God.
So what does it look like to partake of the divine nature? Peter explains:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
To partake of God’s nature is to be virtuous. This is holiness. And this is godliness.
And all of these qualities we ought to possess “in increasing measure.” We need to “make every effort” to add these qualities to our lives more and more. And this is what I mean by practice. We need to put in the effort to grow in godliness.
And if you start with meditation, prayer, and practice, then you will stride through the narrow gate unto the path. You will be on the way because you are in the Way by faith (John 14:6).
*In Acts, Christianity is called the Way six times (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
**I owe this insight to John Piper.
George Zhou says
Great post! I like the simple categories you gave for what is essential.
All Christians need to hear this. Actually this inspires me to write a series on disciplines of growth for the Christian, could I link to this post when I do?
Grace to you
Please do so!