Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Bible Memorization

We have been looking, one by one, at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. As we established some time ago, spiritual discipline is the commitment or resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. We have been limiting ourselves so far to the home: personal devotions, marriage devotions, and family devotions.

As long as we are focusing on the home and family, I call to your attention the discipline of Bible memorization. Bible memorization is meditation on scripture (Josh. 1:8), retaining scripture (Prov. 4:4), and hiding that scripture in our heart (Ps. 119:11). Children must memorize for school and catechism, and parents help them. Adults, too, busy themselves in this discipline.

There can be no doubt that the memorizing of scripture is a discipline. It is difficult. It takes time. Ask children who learn their memory verses for school and catechism—they will testify to the labor of such work. We find among our children, and for ourselves, varying ability to memorize. For some, it is a breeze. But for most, it involves much study and repetition—hard work!

Why, then, do we discipline ourselves in the memorization of scripture? First, we commit the Bible to memory because the Bible tells us to do this. Josh. 1:7, 8, Ps. 1:1, 2, and Col. 3:16 all express the importance of soaking in the Word of God and retaining it. Look up those passages. Second, we memorize the Word of God because it is just that: God’s Word. The scriptures are inspired—God-breathed (II Tim. 3:16); knowing that scripture is the Word of God, will we not want to fix it in our mind and heart? This Word of God is his revelation to us, his covenant friends. As his covenant friends, we desire to hear and remember what he says. Think of it this way: the Bible is Christ’s love letter to his church; we read and soak in this love letter.

Allow me to propose a five-step approach toward memorization of the Bible. This list might prove helpful for children in school and catechism, but also might be useful for any of us who seek to hide God’s Word in our heart.

Step #1: Pray. We begin our memorizing with prayer, because we must always know that it is only in God’s strength that we grasp and remember his Word. We are consciously dependent on the Spirit of Christ, who illuminates our heart so that we can understand what we read.

Step #2: Read. If we are to grasp the text on any level, and certainly if we are to memorize it, we must first read it. This reading should be careful, slow, and deliberate. The best method is to read, not silently, but aloud.

Step #3: Teach. If we or our children do not know what a passage means, we will not be able (at least easily) to retain that passage. In Prov. 4:1-5, closely related to the retaining of doctrine by children is that a father instructs or teaches his children that doctrine. When our children must sit down and work on their memory verse for catechism or school, we parents should instruct them: teaching them what the words in the verse mean, the connections between the words, and the context of the verse. When they (and we) grasp the sense of the passage, not only will memorization be possible, but there will be great profit in it.

Step #4: Repeat. Memorization is all about repetition. The verse must be read, and meditated upon, over and over. The means used for repetition vary, but can include flashcards, verbal quizzing, or writing down a verse over and over. Because repetition takes time, retaining a verse or verses is generally not accomplished in a day—it takes days. Even when the memorization load is daunting, we do well to chip away at it slowly: “Today I will learn Psalm 23:1; tomorrow I will focus on Psalm 23:2, and review verse 1; the next day I will memorize Psalm 23:3, and review verses 1 and 2.” It is possible to cover much ground even in one week’s time! The Word is anchored in the heart over time.

Step #5: Hide. Lest we have the wrong impression, this spiritual discipline is not a mechanical process. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” We study the Bible because we treasure it. We meditate on that Word in such a way that we hide it in our hearts, as a woman “hides” her valuable, precious jewelry in a little chest. Do we promote this discipline in our homes, especially among our children? Do we show them, in our words, deeds, and commitments, that we treasure the Word?

In love for God, in thankfulness for his Son, and in zeal for his Word, press on in this difficult, but rewarding, task of memorizing the holy scriptures!


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Family Devotions

So far in this series of articles, we have looked at three spiritual disciplines: reading the Bible in personal devotions, praying in personal devotions, and devotions in marriage. This time we consider the discipline of family devotions: worship in the home among the husband, wife, and children.

It is on good biblical grounds that fathers, mothers, and children take time each day to worship as family. Family worship includes thorough instruction of children, instruction which Israel was called to give (Deut. 11:18-20). Surely, what stands at the center of the happy, God-fearing home in Psalm 128 is the worship of Jehovah—as a family. Joshua declared that he and his house would serve Jehovah (Josh. 24:15). Besides passages like these, there is the doctrine of the covenant: the relationship of friendship God establishes with His elect people in Jesus Christ. In family worship, we experience fellowship with God, give expression to family fellowship in the truth, and take seriously the command to instruct our covenant seed.  

The importance of family devotions cannot be overstated. This worship in the home is our daily spiritual nourishment. Even though many families eat a big lunch on Sunday, they still need to eat food from Monday to Saturday for their nourishment. Likewise, we enjoy a hearty meal under the preaching on Sunday, but still must feast on the Word as families in the home throughout the week. These meals nourish us, help us grow, and prepare us for the chief means of grace on Sunday.

Because family worship is essential to the spiritual life of the home, it must be the priority. This is why these devotions are a discipline of the Christian life: families see to it, with firm resolution and purpose, that they will, and that they will daily, sit together to worship God. Recreation (including sports) will always take the backseat to devotions. But what about college classes and work schedules that are difficult to work around? Flexibility is required in some cases: perhaps early morning or late night devotions are necessary.

Here are some guidelines for these family devotions.

  • Maintain reverence. It is at home that children learn how to sit still and quietly during a time of worship—valuable lessons to learn for public worship and even school. Children are taught from an early age, that this is, after all, worship of the holy God.
  • Read the Word. Read systematically through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter. Encourage family participation by giving all the members of the family a Bible, and have them take turns reading the verses. Reading a whole chapter is not necessary, especially when the chapter is long. Stop reading, when necessary, and explain words that the children do not understand; reading with comprehension is crucial.
  • Discuss the Word. Too often the Bible is shut immediately after the last word is read. Keep it open! Fathers, explain the doctrines in the passage. Teach the history, and help the children see the “big picture.” Reach for a commentary when discussing difficult verses. Ask good questions of the children. But especially, apply the passage personally to the family: struggles, sins, joys, school life, marriage, parenting, discipline, and more. Use this time to encourage openness, especially among the children. Talk to them and ask them about their love for God, their salvation, their struggles and disappointments, the temptations they face, and their life of sanctification.
  • Sing the Word. We want our children to love the songs of Zion. What better way to instill this love in them than by passing Psalters around the table and singing a number or two? Worship Him with singing!
  • Pray the Word. Allow the scripture passage previously read and discussed to color the after-meal prayer. Filling our prayers with scripture makes them fresh from evening to evening. Fathers, pray for each child by name, and especially for the wife and mother in the home. Pray for the church, local and worldwide, so that the children have a love in their heart for the body of Christ. Also, teach the children how to pray. From their early days, we instruct them to say, “Lord bless….” When we judge the time is right, we teach them to lead the family in prayer, for their own growth in the discipline of prayer.
  • Integrate sermons. Saturday devotions can be used to prepare for the Sunday sermons, if the information on the sermons is available. If not, Mondays are a nice day to reread the passages for the sermons, and to discuss God’s Word that was brought. This serves not only to fortify the connection between home and church, but also further to press upon the heart the messages heard in church.

Family devotions—the pillar of the Christian home! Let us seek God’s grace to be disciplined in this necessary worship. “…[B]ut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Devotions in Marriage

In the last two articles, we have considered individual or private devotions. Now we turn to marriage devotions, or worship in marriage: the spiritual discipline of the husband and wife reading the scriptures together and praying together.

A suffering marriage can be explained by many issues: lack of communication, squabbling over finances, a severe trial that has driven a wedge between the spouses, sharp personality differences, disagreement over childrearing, etc. But I wonder if most marriage problems, if not all, grow from one basic root: prayerlessness. Satan is working feverishly hard to break up marriages—is that not evident today? The devil knows well how quickly a marriage without prayer and scripture spirals downward.

Do you value your marriage? Search the scriptures with your spouse. Do you desire a strong relationship? Pray with your spouse. This is one of the disciplines of the Christian life.

The biblical principles for marriage worship are plain. The husband is the head of his wife (Eph. 5:23). As such, the husband must love his wife, and give himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Headship in the marriage surely includes leading one’s wife in worship—not just family worship, but marriage worship. This is how the husband shows the love of Christ to his wife. In addition, the wife is to be in subjection to her husband (Eph. 5:22). Submission, among other things, means that the wife cheerfully puts herself under her husband’s spiritual guidance, and contributes willingly in worship—not just in family worship, but in marriage worship. Furthermore, there is God’s command that believers marry only in the Lord (I Cor. 7:39). Marrying in the Lord is so important, because only those who are spiritually one can worship together.

Then, there is the explicit teaching on worship within marriage in a passage like I Peter 3:7: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” The husband and wife are heirs: they have been adopted by God for Christ’s sake, and are granted the rights and privileges of the children of God. The husband and wife are heirs together of the grace of life: they stand together as heirs of God’s grace, the grace which is the source of true life (the life of Christ) in the marriage. Marriage partners who are co-heirs of the grace of life pray together, and see to it that these prayers are not hindered.

Below are some practical guidelines for approaching this worship within marriage.

First: marriage devotions include study of the Bible and prayer. Pick a book of the Bible to study in a systematic way. Each day, read a passage together, meditate on it, and discuss it. Then, filled with the Word of God, pray aloud.

Second: marriage devotions may borrow from personal devotions. In previous articles, we treated the topic of personal or individual devotions. Assuming both husband and wife have their own devotions, it is certainly legitimate for them to discuss these personal devotions. Husband: “Today, I read this passage, and I was thinking about….” Wife: “Those are lovely thoughts. Let me talk to you about the verses I read this morning….”

Third: marriage devotions are focused on...marriage. Discussion of the scripture passage, and especially prayer, ought to be specific to the marriage; this is what makes the worship of husband and wife different from both personal and family worship. What should we pray about? Pray that there might be a seeking of Christ in the marriage. Pray that the scriptures might be the foundation of the relationship. Pray about communication, intimacy, and a deepening love for one another. Pray for faithfulness in a world that abounds with temptations. Pray for the grace to reconcile after a fight. Pray for the children—for their needs, and for wisdom to raise them, teach them, and discipline them. Let the wife hear that her husband prays for her—as a wife and mother. Let the husband hear that his wife prays for him—as a husband and father.

Fourth: marriage devotions are not the same as family devotions. This follows from the point above. Worship between husband and wife is exactly as it sounds—worship between husband and wife. There are matters that spouses discuss and pray about, that are unique to the marriage. For this reason, children should not be a part of these devotions. Understanding that the health and maintenance of the marriage comes first, the husband and wife will find a quiet time each day to grow together, encourage each other, and pray for each other.

Fifth: marriage devotions require the participation of husband and wife. Although the husband leads in these devotions, he ought to encourage the participation of his wife. The husband, but also the wife, should discuss the scripture passage. The husband, but also the wife, should pray. Headship does not preclude the participation of the wife!

Sixth: marriage devotions must begin early. Make these devotions a practice early in the relationship. It is generally true that the longer a couple (dating or married) waits to worship together, the harder it will become to start. Begin this life in the Word and in prayer early—during dating, or, at the latest, on the first day of marriage. By God’s grace, this devotional life will become a daily and expected highlight of the marriage.

Press on, husband! Persevere, wife! Be diligent, by the mighty grace of God in Christ Jesus, in this calling to worship one with another. This is God’s will for Christian marriage.


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Praying in Personal Devotions

Face-to-face communication is breaking down. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe the married (or dating) couples sitting in the booths around you. It is a common sight to see a man and a woman, close enough for feet to touch, so involved with their phones that they utter not a word to each other the whole hour they eat. Such is a strange sight—if they are in a relationship, then why do they not talk?

However strange that may be, what about a Christian who does not pray, or prays only infrequently? God has established his covenant with us. He has taken us to be his friends. He, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, has quickened us together with Christ. By grace are we saved (Ephesians 2). The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, all of his grace, and we enjoy rich fellowship with him (II Corinthians 6:18).

So, do we pray?

To ask the question is to answer it: of course we pray (and must)! As adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, will we not, every day, praise him, thank him, make our requests known to him, and confess our sins to him?

Prayer is communication with God who is on his throne in heaven—covenant communion with our Father. It is to this spiritual discipline that we now turn. Prayer is a rather general topic, so we again limit ourselves: we will consider private or personal prayer. Private or personal prayer is prayer that an individual makes all by himself, alone, without others.

Examples of private prayer fill scripture. David (Psalm 51), Hezekiah (II Kings 19:14ff), Daniel (Daniel 6:10), Paul (II Timothy 1:3), and Jesus himself (Mark 1:35) prayed privately. The list goes on. Even though it is true that we are Christ’s body, and often our prayers are with others, it is also true that personal prayer is still necessary, for each saint stands in a personal relationship with his Father in heaven.

Like last time with Bible reading, I provide below some guidelines, this time for individual prayer. The list is not exhaustive. I encourage the reader to add more guidelines.

First: find a good place. As with reading the Bible in personal devotions, so private prayer requires that we retire to an isolated place where we can give undivided attention to our communication with Almighty God. Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).

Second: choose the right time.  We should locate the part of our day in which we are most alert and our mind most uncluttered—it is no use praying when we are groggy, or when we are distracted with other business. Whether that time is early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in the middle, find a couple of times in the day that work for you. Here, especially, is where discipline comes in: make a plan for prayer. Even if it must be in writing, plan when you will pray each day, and rigorously adhere to that plan. Consider prayer to be more important than any other part of the day. Do not allow anything to alter that schedule. And, just as Jesus rose up a great while before day to pray (Mark 1:35), make sure to set aside sufficient time for prayer.

Third: color your prayers with God’s Word. It is best, in personal devotions, to read and meditate upon the Bible first (see the last blog post), and then, after that, to pray; when we proceed in this order, God’s Word will color our prayers. For example, you are up to Psalm 23:1 in your devotions. You read, reread, and meditate upon the truth that Jehovah is your shepherd, making the confession that he is your shepherd. You drink deeply. Then, you pray it. You pray that Jehovah the Shepherd would lead you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. What a rich prayer this is! How will your prayers be fresh, living, and specific? Bible reading and meditation! Besides, when you pray the holy scriptures, you know your prayers are pleasing to God.

Fourth: address personal needs. This is what sets private prayer apart from all other prayers that we make with other people: in private prayer, we come before God’s throne with our personal praise, needs, struggles, and sins (read Psalm 51), while that is usually not possible when we pray with others. You know your sins better than anyone else. You understand your trials better than anyone else. Private prayer is an opportunity to open your heart to God, in a way that you cannot in public prayer. Certainly, pray for others—spouse, children, friends…but do not forget to pray for yourself. It may even be helpful to keep a journal, writing down throughout the day matters for personal prayer, and having those written thoughts available at the time of personal devotions.

Fifth: pray from the heart. Prayer is covenant communion with our Father in heaven. If we truly know who God is and what our needs are, then our prayers will be diligent, sincere, urgent, and heartfelt. Every morning we wake up to another battle with the flesh, Satan and the world, and we face another day filled with work and burdens—so we pray from the heart for grace to face the new day! Every evening we fall into bed exhausted from sin, but knowing the faithfulness of our Father—so from the heart we confess our sins and thank him for his faithfulness! It is no wonder that the Bible uses the word “cry” to describe the prayers of God’s people!

Such a prayer life requires discipline! Such worship of God requires commitment and resolve. Consistent, heartfelt prayer is hard work, and not without its challenges, as any child of God will testify. But God will give grace. Pray for that grace—the grace to pray! Pray, for prayer is “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45, A. 116).  


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading the Bible in Personal Devotions

We are now ready to look at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, one by one. We will begin by considering the discipline of reading and studying the Bible. The Bible is, of course, basic to all the spiritual disciplines. The topic of Bible reading is rather broad, so we will be limited in scope, looking this time only at reading scripture in personal devotions: not in church, not around the dinner table, not with a spouse, but reading and studying the Bible alone in private worship.

Let it be understood at the outset that we are qualified to interpret and apply the scriptures in our private devotions. Christians often question their ability to mine the scriptures for the gold. The reasoning goes something like this: “Why not let theologians and authors interpret and apply the Bible for us? After all, theologians are equipped for such a task, but we in the pew are not.” When someone believes himself to be unqualified for this personal study of God’s Word, he will have no desire to continue with it. But the Bible itself gives us a different message: we have been anointed with the Spirit, and we know all things (I John 2:20, 27). As believers who have the Spirit of truth in us, we ought to have every confidence that we can interpret (prayerfully!) and apply (prayerfully!) the Word.

I suspect that we all know the need for these private devotions, and the need to read the Bible by ourselves. But perhaps we do not always know how to go about this reading of scripture. And if we do not know how, we become discouraged before we even start. The following is some practical advice on how to read and study the Bible in our private worship.

One: study solitarily. Find a proper setting for your devotional reading of God’s Word. Look for a quiet place, free from distraction. Where there is noise, meditation will be impossible. Jesus himself went into a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35); likewise, we should find this seclusion, not only in prayer, but also in reading the scripture. Furthermore, because this is the private or personal worship of God, study alone. You have your own struggles, your own sins, and your own unique needs. This is the time to apply the Word of God to your own soul.

Two: think biblically. Let’s be aware of the temptation to replace the reading of the Bible with the reading of books and meditations. Maybe you have heard the story (hopefully apocryphal) of the seminarian who had hundreds of books surrounding him, but his Bible, dusty and unused, was buried somewhere beneath the mountain. It is a temptation to read books and meditations instead of the Bible, either because we find these books and meditations to be more contemporary and edifying, or because they are easier to read than the Bible itself. To throw out these materials would be an overreaction. Rather, let’s first read the Bible with understanding and meditation, and then, only after that careful reading of the Word, proceed to read the literature to enrich our understanding. May your Bible be more worn than any other book in your library.  

Three: approach worshipfully. Our approach in these personal devotions must be that of worship. This perspective protects us against the thinking that the study of the Bible is like a vending machine that will give us what we want for the day—that this daily exercise in the Word is exclusively for our benefit. It is true that we make requests of God, and that we derive our daily strength from his Word. However, these devotions are fundamentally the worship of the great God of heaven and earth. Come to the study of the Bible ready to extol his great glory, and to bow down before his holiness.   

Four: read meditatively. Remember that reading the Bible in personal devotions is not just a pursuit of head knowledge. It is a real temptation (for ministers, too!) to read the Bible only to seek information and stimulate the intellect. We are not interested in a mere mental comprehension of the holy scriptures. Meditate on the Word (Joshua 1:8)! Ponder it. Speak it to yourself. Let it seep into your soul. Feed on it. Drink deeply from it.

Five: advance systematically. Try, as much as possible, to stay in one book, and to advance systematically through that one book, from verse to verse, and from chapter to chapter. You might be surprised at the gems you discover when you study this way—gems you might not have unearthed had you chosen to study isolated passages (similar to a minister who preaches a series of sermons through a book, and is “forced” to preach on passages he would have never otherwise chosen to make sermons on; but when he preaches them, he finds them to be exceedingly rich).  

Six: move slowly. Do not be afraid to move through a book of the Bible at a slow pace. Reading large sections of scripture is not always conducive to meditation and application. Taking in only a few verses each day will lend itself to thought-provoking study. I might add here that these personal devotions need not take a long time. Proper study of the Bible does not necessarily equal a lengthy study of the Bible in one sitting. Whether we take ten minutes or an hour is not so important; what is crucial is that we worship God and feed on his Word, and that we do this daily.    

Seven: remember frequently. Take God’s Word with you during the day: memorize it, then recite it at noon, evening, and before you go to bed. Or, meditate on it in such a way that you retain it and carry it with you throughout the day. Our waking hours are filled with battles, enemies, and temptations. So, carry that Word with you! Write it on a post-it note; take a picture of it and make it your phone’s background; jot it down on the refrigerator whiteboard. The psalmist hid God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11).

Be disciplined, soldier! You are equipped with the Spirit of truth. Worship God in the study of his Word. Feed yourself with that delightful food of the soul.


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Challenges

Last time we saw that spiritual disciplines are activities that arise out of a commitment or purpose to serve God in his kingdom. These activities are a part of our life of sanctification, and belong to the category of good works: activities that have their source in true faith, the law of God as their standard, and the glory of God as their goal. These activities, which we will explore in future posts, include, but are not limited to, public worship, family devotions, and private devotions.

This time we want to notice the internal and external challenges to this pursuit of godliness, and thus the need to persevere in these spiritual disciplines. I present here three such challenges; I am sure you can add to the list.

Challenge #1: Laziness. The greatest foe of spiritual devotion is the enemy found within: the sloth or laziness of our sinful flesh. To be in the scriptures and in prayer usually requires waking up from bed early or retiring to bed late. Such spiritual exercise demands our concentration, our energy, and the engagement of body and soul. But the old man rebels against that rigorous study, because it requires too much time and energy. Why study God’s Word, when the eyes are heavy late at night? Why rise to pray, when the bed is so warm and inviting early in the morning?

Challenge #2: Busyness. Another threat to the Christian life of discipline is a schedule that does not allow for such discipline. Maybe laziness is not the primary problem—it is not climbing out of bed on time that presents the issue, but finding the time for devotions is the problem. Consider a mother’s schedule: between showering, eating breakfast, dressing and feeding the children, seeing them off to the bus, cleaning the kitchen, searching through cookbooks for supper ideas, making lunch for the little ones still at home, organizing the house for company that weekend, making supper, and helping with homework, where does this time for spiritual exercise fit in? The packed schedules of fathers, young people, and children are not any less hectic. Exercising ourselves unto godliness demands not only total concentration upon the things of God and his glory, but also a block of time set aside every day. But, the rush of life so quickly crowds out these activities.

Challenge #3: The entertainment and technology craze. If each of us drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, identifying one side of the paper as “devotions” and the other side of the paper as “entertainment/technology,” and then wrote down during the course of the day how much time was spent on each, I wonder what we would find? The phone, blaring its notifications, is always within reach. A whole world of information and gaming is only a swipe away. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube beg for our attention. Notifications, screens, and endless information pose a real threat to what is so vital for personal and family devotions: undistracted, concentrated, deep meditation upon the Word of God.

When we cave to the laziness of the flesh, surrender to the busyness of the schedule, and distract ourselves with entertainment and technology, the result is spiritual weakness. The Bible describes the disciplined life of the Christian, among other figures, as a soldier (II Timothy 2:3, 4), and as a runner (Hebrews 12:1, 2). If a recruit training for service in the United States Army refuses to complete his running, pushups, and crunches, he will be in no position to face the rigors of the battlefield. If a runner does not push himself in practice day after day, he will grow weak and flabby, unable to sprint even the first mile of the upcoming race. Likewise, one who is not disciplined in the private and public worship of God will grow weak and vulnerable, leading to a host of other temptations and sins.

Therefore, the calling of the Word of God is clear: as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as one running the race of this life, persevere. Be disciplined, committed, and consistent in the study of the scriptures and in prayer. This is necessary in the life of the child of God—this concerns our spiritual health and strength! We must be strong to serve our God, strong to fight against sin, and strong to live faithfully in the calling that God has given to each of us.

For this disciplined life, Jesus is both our example and our strength. Jesus himself, taxed though he was, rose up early before dawn to pray: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is not only our example in this regard, but it is in him that we have the desire and strength to live this disciplined, thankful life to the glory of God. In his power, we will fight against laziness, and be committed to the worship of God in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life. Pray for that strength.

Next time, we will begin considering these spiritual disciplines, one by one.


This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.


Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Introduction


We are excited to announce another writer that is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rev. Ryan Barnhill is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. This is Rev. Barnhill’s first blog post.




I intend to write a series of articles on the topic of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.

Discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose. Discipline is the firm resolution or purpose to do something. This is not foreign to our society. The business world is full of “go-getters.” Many there are who work hard to succeed, who are driven and scheduled, and who are determined to accomplish the tasks before them. What is the motivation behind such discipline? Their goal is to get ahead in the world, to further their reputation, and to receive the praise of men.

But with that kind of discipline we want no part.

As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. We will explore these spiritual disciplines in future posts.

These spiritual disciplines are an aspect of our life of sanctification: our life of separation from sin and consecration to God. These disciplines belong to the category of good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 33, defines good works as “Only those [works] which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”

This pursuit of godliness has a source: true faith. Faith is the bond that unites us to Christ. Only those who are united to Christ (the elect), and have his life coursing through their spiritual veins, will exercise themselves unto godliness. This purpose to serve God in his kingdom is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fertile soil of the regenerated heart. By the work of the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus we are strengthened and enabled to live this life.

This purpose to serve God in his kingdom has a standard: the law of God. The law of God is the Ten Commandments, summarized by Jesus this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). We seek, in these spiritual activities, to live in conformity to the will of God.

This disciplined life has a goal: the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiating forth of all his attributes. When we make ourselves busy in the things of God’s kingdom, our goal, our aim, is always the magnifying and extolling of God’s attributes, especially the attribute of his holiness. Whatever we do, we do it to please him.

Of course, as is true of all our good works, we live our lives in this disciplined way, not to earn anything with God, but rather to show our thankfulness to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace is what will drive us, day after day, morning and evening, to be consistent and disciplined in these activities of the sanctified life.

The Bible addresses this matter of spiritual discipline, perhaps more than you might think. The scripture does so under a number of different figures, all of which, in some way, carry the idea of spiritual discipline. Paul commands young pastor Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7, 8). In Hebrews 12:1, 2, we are exhorted to run the race: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” II Timothy 2:3, 4 calls to mind the training and rigorous discipline of a soldier: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” This is only a very short list; can you think of more figures?

Are you disciplined? Do you exercise? Are you a runner? Are you a soldier? God requires of us discipline in the Christian life. How crucial a subject this is!

Next time we will look at the need for discipline. After that, we will consider these spiritual disciplines, one by one.


Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub