Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines
Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
Paul wrote the following words to young Timothy, who had answered the spiritual call to ministry and was preparing himself to serve the Lord, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) The pathway to following Christ Jesus in humble obedience is the pathway of discipline. The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ came to set us free from sin and death so that we could (and would) follow Him and experience a deep, intimate, and eternal relationship of faith. Our Lord desires that we love Him, follow Him, and serve Him and in order to do that, the Christian must follow the pathway of spiritual discipline. I invite you to take a journey with me over the next months as we dig into what I prefer to call the “Habits of the Heart.” These are the spiritual disciplines learned through daily devotion, study, and practice that allow us to most powerfully serve the Lord with all that we are.
You certainly know what a habit is, right? The dictionary defines a habit as: “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” The truth is that we have all developed learned behavioral patterns over the course of our lives that have turned into habits. These are routines, customs, manners, or even quirks that have become a part of our daily lifestyle and/or choices (e.g., I bite my nails when I am anxious or hungry). Many of our habits are unconsciously applied. Some of them, however, we consciously choose when a threatening situation occurs (e.g., we attack, defend, retaliate, run, hide, etc.). Each of these habits, both consciously and unconsciously applied, seeks to help us navigate through life. They are all learned and, more specifically, I believe that they function to help us survive. But God doesn’t want us to merely survive—He wants His children to spiritually thrive and serve Him with joy, gladness, and passion. When you were saved by faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary, He set you free from the bondage to the flesh and this old world.
Unfortunately, it seems that in our time and age, spiritual disciplines (Habits of the Heart) are all too often considered a bothersome, “dirty word” for most Christians. They smack of burden, failure, or legalism. But God calls His people to “discipline [themselves] for the purpose of godliness.” These Habits of the Heart are intended for ordinary people who have jobs, families, children, as well as being involved in lay-ministry through their church. Although these disciplines are all too often thought of as some dull drudgery aimed at squeezing out all life and energy from our lives, that is not what these spiritual habits are meant for. I love what Richard Foster describes as their true, godly purpose. He says, “The purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.” Let me add that they are designed by God as a part of our training, preparation, and spiritual health. That is what Paul had in mind when he counseled Timothy to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”
What is a consistent spiritual journey about? What are the major elements of discipline in the believer’s life? What are the main “habits of the heart?” The Bible doesn’t provide a complete list, but we find showered upon every page of scripture the essential elements of a spiritual walk and journey with God in Christ. There appear to be seven generally accepted core disciplines or habits: Solitude; Simplicity; Fasting; Study; Worship; Service; and Prayer. Foster identifies twelve (12) unique and separate spiritual disciplines, which he places into three separate categories: INWARD disciplines; OUTWARD disciplines; and CORPORATE disciplines. Stay tuned as I share with you each month one of these “habits of the heart.”
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor and an International Mission Board missionary.