2 April, 2023

Moving Beyond Spiritual Disciplines

by | 6 February, 2023 | 1 comment

By Michael McCann 

The closer we draw to God, the more we will seek him. But how does that happen? How can we experience God’s work igniting us and drawing us into “the fellowship of the blazing heart,” as A.W. Tozer described it? 

In this article I want to address why we must move beyond the spiritual disciplines we have been encouraged to develop. I don’t suggest that these disciplines are unimportant. Indeed, some are vital. But I would invite each of us to grasp that spiritual disciplines, by themselves, do not bring about the spiritual transformation God seeks in our hearts.  

Spiritual Activity Does Not Equal Spiritual Dynamics 

On a recent morning I sat down and opened my Bible to read and pray as I normally do, planning for a time of solitude with God. But I found my thoughts disconnected and distracted. I struggled the entire time, unable to focus. When I was through, I realized I had participated in a spiritual activity, but my heart was not significantly engaged in spiritual processes. 

Still, I believe it is important to follow through with such spiritual activities even when we don’t feel like it or when we have trouble concentrating. I think there is a sense in which it can still honor God. But at such times we must realize we did not enter into the level of fellowship with Christ that Jesus seeks. 

My point is to illustrate this: Spiritual activity is not synonymous with spiritual dynamics. (By the way, spiritual dynamics is a term coined by Richard Lovelace in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life.)   

Spiritual dynamics are not activities or events or programs or disciplines. Spiritual dynamics can be experienced and appropriated through such activities, but participation in the event does not guarantee a spiritual encounter with Christ. That spiritual encounter is a gift of God entered into by faith. 

Spiritual dynamics are the processes that lead us to Christ and keep us in close fellowship with him. This sphere is the core of what it means to belong to Jesus and belong to the body of Christ. Spiritual dynamics lead us to an ongoing, ever-deepening intimacy with God in which Christ lives through us and transforms us into his image.  

This is true on the individual level and corporate level. When individuals walk in intimate fellowship with Jesus, and when they as a body of believers share that life together in rich fellowship, then Christ will fill that church with his presence and his power.  

If you were to ask most Christians what the spiritual dynamics include, they might say Bible study, prayer, worship, witnessing, the Lord’s Supper, and perhaps fasting. Of course, some Christians also identify other similar activities. These are indeed high-priority activities. And they can be catalysts for the spiritual dynamics . . . but they do not constitute the essence of spiritual dynamics. 

Do you realize that a church can be committed to all these spiritual activities and still be spiritually dead? Note, I said “activities”—these are events that can lead to vital spiritual processes, but they are not spiritual dynamics. The Pharisees specialized in these and similar activities, yet Jesus pronounced the Pharisees both dead and deadly. (See Matthew 23.) The Ephesian church excelled in spiritual activity but was rebuked by Jesus because they had forsaken their first love. (See Revelation 2:1-7.) 

So, what exactly are spiritual dynamics, if they aren’t synonymous with Bible study, prayer, worship, etc.?  

Jesus Indwells Us Through His Spirit 

Spiritual dynamics revolve around a spirit-to-Spirit fellowship with Christ. Note this careful distinction: spiritual events, activities, and habits can assist us in drawing closer to Christ only if our heart is prepared and moving toward him. When in our hearts we respond to Jesus appropriately—in faith and humility—then our involvement in the spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, worship, the Lord’s Supper, etc.) engages us into deeper fellowship with Christ. 

I must emphasize, we cannot move closer to Jesus apart from the Word of God, prayer, and worship. They are vital, but they do not guarantee any spiritual movement in our hearts. In fact, they can lead us to become proud, legalistic, and judgmental if our hearts are not softened before God and by God. 

The essence or core substance of the spiritual life—and what lies at the heart of the spiritual dynamics—is this: Jesus indwells us through his Spirit. He fills us with himself, and he lives his life through us. (See Ephesians 3:14-21; Galatians 2:20.) This is based upon his sinless life, the finished work of Jesus on the cross, his resurrection, his exaltation on high, and the pouring out of his Spirit. This spiritual life draws power because the One who lives in us is also seated at the right hand of God reigning over every power in the physical and heavenly realms. And through faith in him, we draw upon all the riches, resources, and resurrection power that Jesus promises us in the spiritual realm. (Consider Ephesians 1:1-22, especially vv. 15-22.) 

It seems to me the key process/dynamic for Christ to do his work in us is what is called “abiding in Christ.” In John 15:1-8, this “abiding in Christ”—that is, staying closely connected in intimate fellowship—is the key to allowing Christ to live his life in us, produce fruit through us, and bring glory to God through us. 

This “abiding” process is activated through two other processes: faith in Christ and humbling ourselves before God.  

Through faith we receive God’s grace and appropriate all the divine resources. (See Romans 1:17; Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 2:20.) And faith is linked closely with the spirit of humility, which is a condition for drawing close to God. (See James 4:6; Isaiah 57:15.) 

So, I suggest that three of the key core dynamics/processes are these: 

• abiding in Christ  

• faith  

• humility 

These are not the only dynamics, but they are foundational responses to God. I suggest that all other dynamics flow from these three. Again, some of the disciplines (activities) such as prayer, Bible reading, and worship activity are essential aids, even divine resources. But apart from the spiritual dynamics, you have activity without life. 

The New Testament emphasizes several other processes that feed our life in Christ and maintain our fellowship. They are catalysts to Christ’s transformational work in our lives. (I’ve included a sampling of some of these at the conclusion of this article. As we read Scripture, I suggest we note these processes and see them as ongoing dynamics to walk in. Many of them overlap.) 

These spiritual processes are intended to lead to a glorious product in our lives as we deepen our fellowship with Jesus. I encourage you to carve out some time to prayerfully dig into the passages noted in this essay, asking God to open the eyes of your heart to see the resources he has made available for us. 

_ _ _

Additional Key Spiritual Dynamics

(not an exhaustive list) 

• Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)  

• Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Romans 8:13) 

• Offer your bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) 

• Be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2) 

• Put off the old self and put on the new self in Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24) 

• Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) 

• Set your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2) 

• Let the Word of Christ richly dwell in you (Colossians 3:16) 

• Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17) 

• Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11) 

• Do not go on presenting the parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness (Romans 6:13) 

• Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead (Romans 6:13) 

• Present the parts of your body as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:13) 

• Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Ephesians 6:10) 

• Put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) 

Michael McCann serves as senior minister with First Christian Church of Leesburg in Florida. This article originally appeared as a post on his Facebook page and is posted here with his permission.

1 Comment


    Great article!

    The usual list of “spiritual disciplines” –gleaned partly from medieval mystics–has seemed legalistic to me. These inspiring dynamics are just the opposite: full of life and truth.

    This starter list is a keeper!

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