Spiritual Disciplines in the Life of Jesus
Spiritual disciplines are an important part of the Christian walk. They’re not arbitrary, man-made constructs, they are God-given tools to help us grow in our faith. Jesus exemplified many of the spiritual disciples and showed us how we should use them today.
As we strive, by the grace of God, to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ, we need to look at how Jesus lived out His life each day. If we want to become like Jesus, we need to look at how He lived out the spiritual disciplines and incorporate them into our walks.
Here’s how Jesus lived out spiritual disciplines of prayer, hospitality, fasting, devotion to Scripture, and service in the Gospels:
Prayer was a crucial part of Jesus’s life on earth. In Luke 5 (and several other places), it mentions explicitly how Jesus withdrew to pray. Before His arrest, torture, and crucifixion, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend time in prayer to strengthen Him for what was to come. In both His every day life and His darkest hour, prayer was a priority to Jesus.
But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed – Luke 5:16 RSVCE
When Jesus was ministering, He still prioritized prayer. If He needed to withdraw to pray, how much more so we need to withdraw in prayer to strengthen ourselves and adore our Lord.
One of Jesus’s first miracles, the Miracle at the Wedding in Cana, was an act of hospitality. Jesus helped his hosts in by turning the water into wine and supplying for the celebration at hand. On another occasion, Jesus fed the five thousand when they were in need of a meal instead of sending them away as His disciples encouraged Him to do. Gathering and feeding people was a clear part of Christ’s ministry.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. – Matthew 14:15-20, RSVCE
Jesus did not leave people to fend for themselves, even when it was reasonable. He offered extravagant hospitality by feeding those around Him.
The clearest example of Jesus fasting is found in Matthew 4 where He goes into the wilderness to fast before beginning His public ministry. Fasting is a clear part of His preparation for carrying out His ministry. When asked why His disciples don’t fast like John the Baptist’s disciples, Jesus also makes it clear that once He is gone, His followers will fast as well.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry…Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. – Matthew 4:1-2, 11 RSVCE
During a time of intense temptation, Christ was strengthened by fasting. Again, if even Christ Himself fasted, we would be foolish to neglect utilizing the gift of fasting in our own walks.
Devotion to Scripture:
Jesus was clearly devoted to the Scriptures. He regularly shared passages from memory and often read in the synagogue. Instead of disregarding the Scriptures that pre-dated His earthly ministry, He validated them and re-emphasized the importance of the Old Testament Scriptures:
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:17-19 RSVCE
Jesus knew the Scriptures. He studied them. Even as a child in the Temple, Scripture was central. Likewise, we should hide the Word of God in our hearts.
The servant heart of Jesus is seen all throughout the Gospels but most clearly when he washed the feet of the Disciples. Here, He humbles Himself to carry out the lowly task of washing feet.
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. – John 13:1-5 RSVCE
Earlier, Jesus had also admonished James and John, “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 RSVCE). Giving of self, even to the point of death, was central to the work of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we should serve.
If we want to become more like Jesus, we need to make these aspects of the example He set for us a regular part of our life.
The Spiritual Disciples laid out in Scripture aren’t optional, “if you feel like it” ideas God threw out there because He thought we were bored. Jesus showed us that they are central parts of the Christian life, meant to strengthen us and live out the mission Christ has for us.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 RSVCE
Like St Paul encouraged, we need to train and practice and endure. Prayer, hospitality, fasting, scripture reading and memorization, service to others – these are all tools meant to strengthen us to build a faith that will withstand. They are not burdens meant to weigh us down, but weights meant to build us up and strengthen us.
While these can at times be hard (and like Jesus, we will likely focus on different disciplines in different seasons) we need to work to incorporate these throughout our life. We need to eat out spiritual vegetables and build our muscles.
Jesus gave us the example, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to run the race set before us just as He did.