People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.1
It takes training (1 Timothy 4:7-8) on our part and a person should understand that growth is necessarily connected to a kind of training. The opposite would be true – one cannot have any expectation of become more spiritually mature if spiritual practices are not part of their life as one doesn’t automatically “drift” toward maturity.
But this training is going to look different than, say, training to be an Olympic athlete or training to stop smoking. This training (or better yet, re-training) is actually to not to directly appeal to our will to change ourselves – “Stop it and start loving people more!” To put it another way, the disciplines themselves do not change us. Rather they open us up to God’s grace and power, making Jesus more beautiful so the Holy Spirit can enlarge our heart in character transformation. This training is more about using our will to offer/present ourselves to God – “Here I am. Change me.” The goal is not to try and fix or change ourselves – that is the role of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:7). The goal is putting ourselves in the stream of God’s grace as we open our hearts to Him through spiritual disciplines or practices.
In this way the training has to do with getting us to the end of ourselves in order that we might be filled through and through with Him. Another way to put this would be the spiritual training practices are intentional ways that we get to the end of our resources to fill ourselves, to control, to manipulate, in order that God’s Spirit might then work in our hearts to confront our poor beliefs and emotions, making us aware of our sin, then empowering us to live out the virtues. Over time this is how our character is changed. Dallas Willard was fond of saying, “God’s address is at the end of your rope” meaning God often does his best work when you are at the end of yourself. Every single spiritual discipline is intended to put you in that place.
What are these spiritual disciplines or practices? For the sake of simplicity, the spiritual disciplines/practices can be broken into two categories: rhythms and regimens. Rhythms are those practices that are regular occurrences – daily reading of God’s Word, prayer, fellowship/togetherness, Sunday worship/sabbath, talking to others about Christ (evangelism) as well as more neglected practices such as giving, hospitality, and service.
Again, these rhythms are intended to get us to the end of ourselves. For instance, when we read the Bible it’s not really for more information. In John 6, Jesus just issued some very divisive words about who He was. In short, if people were not going to share in His death and resurrection they would have no part of Him. When people heard Him say that they were to eat His body and drink His flesh, they not only didn’t understand it but they were shocked and on that day many ceased to follow Him. When Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to leave, Peter said, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is the heart of a disciple – one who approaches the Bible every day with the heart attitude of, “Lord, where else will I go? You alone have words that drip with a quality of life that I desperately want.”
The same could be said of prayer, worship, giving, etc. They all are regular ways of confronting our own self-sufficiency and leaning on His power, strength, and grace in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10). The point is not in what manner you should start the rhythms. The point is to start, get going! There are resources for how to read the Bible devotionally each day, but the point is to start even if it represents a small step.
1 D.A. Carson, For the Love of God