Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-8, Hebrews 13:15-16, Ephesians 4:1-16
Personal discipline isn’t one of my stronger giftings. To put it another way, I stink at it.
I’m the one in my family who excitedly asks, “Who wants to go get ice cream?” rather than stick to our sensible meal plan. I’m notorious for drafting a shiny new routine that lasts for three days before I’m ready for spontaneity again. Despite my best efforts to implement structure in my life, I’m all over the place. I’ve come to accept that flexibility is just part of who God made me to be.
But here’s the truth. For me, that acceptance spills over into a lack of spiritual discipline. The world tells us that fulfilling our every desire or whim in the moment is a sign of happiness, success, and freedom. But I can say from experience that ignoring spiritual disciplines only leads to chains, not freedom.
Paul warns us, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and I find myself staring longingly at his words (Romans 12:2). I want that. I want my body—my whole self—to be “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (v. 1).
I tried renewing my mind by attending church, but I didn’t make time to engage with God at home. I’d sit half-dazed in front of my computer, reading about fall fashion trends rather than reading my Bible. I’d watch one more episode of my favorite show and skip my prayer time. I wanted to read my Bible and pray and live out Romans 12:2, but my propensity for distraction and gluttony grew. I couldn’t control them on my own, no matter how guilty I felt or how many times I vowed to change.
I’d forgotten that only God can transform my heart. And that transformation takes place in the context of the body of Christ, His Church—not just out here on my own, accompanied only by my best intentions.
Maybe your struggle is the opposite of mine, and routine and productivity are the desires that take the place of true renewal. Or perhaps your days are bound by a structure that you don’t want God to bend, a rigidity where spending time with Him in Scripture and in prayer are items on a checklist rather than intimate interaction with your heavenly Father. Whatever your personality, spiritual disciplines are tools that lift our eyes from our circumstances and desires and focus our hearts on God’s presence. Prayer, fasting, Bible study—they’re all disciplines that renew our minds and refresh our spirits. But unlike a resolution, a diet, or an exercise regimen, they aren’t sustained by our willpower.
True spiritual growth is rooted in the Spirit’s work in us, not in our effort. God is the Giver. We are the recipient. He empowers. We surrender. We do this individually, as God’s daughters and sons, and we do this corporately, as His children and Church.
May we truly worship the Lord today by offering Him our whole selves, surrendering our desires to His will and our efforts to His strength, “according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6). Amen.
Jill McDaniel is a northern girl who married a southern gentleman and settled in the Midwest. With coffee in her hand, she coordinates her church’s Sunday preschool ministry, homeschools her two older kids, and plays babies with her youngest. You can find more of her writing at jillmcdaniel.com.