Recognizing that only God’s nearness was sufficient for inward contentment and the spiritual power needed to reach the unreached native people, David Brainerd set aside entire days for prayer and fasting, retreating into the woods to be alone with God.
Acknowledging that only God’s resources could fund the impossible work of caring for and discipling the most vulnerable, George Müller set aside several hours a day to meditate on specific texts of Scripture, knowing the impact of this on his prayer life.
Believing that only God’s power was sufficient for the holiness and the faith needed to reach the perishing lost in China, Hudson Taylor set his mind to continually think about Christ, all that he is, and all that he is for us.
And facing the supernatural task of shepherding the Ephesian church and reaching the surrounding areas with the gospel, Paul told Timothy to discipline himself to grow in godliness for benefits in the present life and in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7–8).
The Importance of Spiritual Disciplines for Every Christian
Healthy spiritual rhythms and routines are the application of intentional spiritual disciplines that help us grow in godliness. The aim of spiritual disciplines is to train our mind and body to grasp God more fully and have our hearts progressively constrained by his Spirit. This is the true source of rest, contentment, and power in ministry.
We need spiritual disciplines, not only because we are weak, but because we do not recognize how weak, powerless, and prideful we actually are. Spiritual disciplines help us pursue God and find our hope in him alone––and that is not the natural impulse of our hearts.
We need spiritual disciplines, not only because we are weak, but because we do not recognize how weak, powerless, and prideful we actually are.
Our hearts prefer to get things done, solve problems, and control outcomes in accordance with our expertise and to the praise of our name. We suffer from the same ailment that the readers of James’ letter had: we too easily trust our own wisdom and strength, not realizing that we cannot even tame our own tongues.
This, in part, is why God’s good plan for our sanctification includes the church. We need to come together to engage in routines that help us behold his majesty and the excellencies of his gospel, recognize our weaknesses, and grow in dependence on God alone. This beholding happens as we hear the Word of God preached, rehearse the gospel in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, confess our sins, sing his praise, and lovingly serve one another.
What to Do When You’re Away from a Church
The spiritual routines of a healthy church help us grow in godliness. But what do you do if your current missionary task finds you isolated from a church?
Though your days may be full, arranging an uncompromising pattern of spiritual disciplines will serve your soul significantly, now and in the life to come. If you want to learn more about spiritual disciplines, consider reading Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life or James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.
Engage the Word of God
Set aside time to listen to a sermon series. Increase the amount of time you spend reading and meditating on God’s Word. Take time to sit alone with God, in fasting and prayer. Amidst many afflictions and temptations, your heart desperately needs to grasp the Word of God and be gripped by it.
Amidst many afflictions and temptations, your heart desperately needs to grasp the Word of God and be gripped by it.
Set Aside Time to Confess and Praise
Review your heart’s activity and journal about both the vile nature of your heart and your persistent unbelief. Include in your journal the Spirit’s work in you to trust God and be of any good to others. Make time to sing. Praise God for who he is and what he has done for you in the gospel. Rejoice and sing to him.
Strive to Live in Community
Find ways to engage with other believers. If you have a team, engage with them regularly, reading, praying, and worshiping together. Serve them and risk being vulnerable with them so they can serve, encourage, and help provide accountability. If you do not have a team, then pursue regular relationships with people from your sending church. Set aside specific time for intercessory prayer. Not only will fervent prayers accomplish much but praying for others allows you to remain community-anchored, engaging in the lives of other saints.
Resist the Temptation that Comes with Isolation
In isolation from other believers and from the regular routines of the local church, your heart can grow hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
You might not be tempted by some new perverse sin, but you will be tempted to doubt, grumble, and grow discouraged and disillusioned as hardships press you toward despair and unbelief.
Do not let this happen to you. Apply yourself to developing and maintaining healthy spiritual disciplines, and you will see the fruit in this life and in the life to come.