Engaging in Spiritual Practices

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

How to live in a consistent way with our core beliefs



I get a fair amount of people asking me what my thoughts are on how to grow spiritually. It’s an important question. There are other angles to approach this from as well. An old proverb admonishes us to “guard our heart” for, the proverb states, from IT flow the issues of life. What is this place referred to by a 4th century BCE poet? The heart. Is this a real place like the mind or more of a metaphysical expression to summarize our deep feelings—things like our drive, our passion, our reason for living, our mission, purpose, our summation of life? Is this analogy of the heart simply archaic or was this ancient writer grappling with a question that we are still asking today? Do we have a spiritual center? This post will seek to explore the answers to these questions and provide a few insights into the spiritual reality of our lives.

I get a fair amount of people asking me what my thoughts are on how to grow spiritually. It’s an important question. There are other angles to approach this from as well. An old proverb admonishes us to “guard our heart” for, the proverb states, from IT flow the issues of life. What is this place referred to by a 4th century BCE poet? The heart. Is this a real place like the mind or more of a metaphysical expression to summarize our deep feelings—things like our drive, our passion, our reason for living, our mission, purpose, our summation of life? Is this analogy of the heart simply archaic or was this ancient writer grappling with a question that we are still asking today. Do we have a spiritual center? This post will seek to explore the answers to these questions and provide a few insights into the spiritual reality of our lives.

Dr. Bill Hettler describes spiritual wellbeing as a journey that “seeks to live each day in a way that is consistent with our values and beliefs.” This consistent lifestyle is most clearly seen through regular spiritual practices. In truth, many of us are living in such a way that there are deep inconsistencies between what we say we believe and the real spiritual practices associated with living out those beliefs. We are living a life that is, practically, disembodied from the reality that we are spiritual beings. Hettler says that kind of life leaves us feeling untrue to ourselves and creates a powerful disconnect in our everyday experience.

Plantinga suggests, however, that we can hold beliefs with a large degree of certainty by submitting them to a relevant evaluation. First, Plantinga affirms that spiritual beliefs supersede skepticism and evidence-based critique. Spiritual truth, he would argue, is truth that is foundational to who we are. It is properly basic to all of life. Therefore, so fails its own criteria for truth. Herein lies the difficulty of charting out on any spiritual discovery. You have to leave safe harbors in order to explore the human spirit—there is no utter certainty, there are no foregone conclusions, there is no ultimate defeater, and there are no experts. It’s the wild west out here. You will have to find your own intersection point between faith and reason. I have some thoughts on how to do this which I will share.

If you come from a naturalistic perspective then you believe that scientific truths, that is truths that can be discovered using only the scientific method, are the only truths that exist. Furthermore that all beings only exists in a physical sense. The problem with this perspective is that it is a truth that cannot be proven by the scientific method and so fails its own criteria for truth. Herein lies the difficulty of charting out on any spiritual discovery. You have to leave safe harbors in order to explore the human spirit—there is no utter certainty, there are no forgone conclusions, there is no ultimate defeater, and there are no experts. It’s the wild west out here. You will have to find your own intersection point between faith and reason. I have some thoughts on how to do this which I will share.

A philosopher named Alvin Plantinga has a brilliant notion on how to build your ideological (or metaphysical) beliefs. I will skip the boring stuff and get right to the heart of the argument. Plantinga affirms what we stated above—there is no sure-proof foundation of thought and belief. Skepticism has taught us that any belief system, once shot into, will inevitably leave holes behind. In other words, there are no sure bets when it comes to our beliefs about ultimate reality. Shocker.

So, in light of all that, let’s get into some spiritual practices. By way of disclaimer, I want everyone to understand that I come from the perspective of a Christ-follower. My worldview has its source in the person of Christ. Specifically, I believe that Jesus is the Son-of-God, the third member of the trinity in the God-head. Fully God and fully man. I n spiritual practices. Also, it’s important when walking out this journey that we connect the practices to the corresponding belief system that supports it. We can’t go halfway in. The practice is supported by a belief structure that gives it power. For example, prayer is a powerful spiritual practice but it’s important who you are praying to and what you are praying for. These specifics have a dramatic impact on the type of prayer we engage in and are utterly dependent on the belief system they are supported by.

The long and short of his premise—start practicing spiritual disciplines and see how you are affected by them. Practicing prayer, meditation, worship, fasting, community, study and more will be the proof of the pudding. It’s like anything in life. We can’t get certainty before we engage so if you are curious about spiritual growth, then start engaging in spiritual practices. Also, it’s important when walking out this journey that we connect the practices to the corresponding belief system that supports it. We can’t go half way in. The practice is supported by a belief structure that gives it power. For example, prayer is a powerful spiritual practice but it’s important who you are praying to and what you are praying for. These specifics have a dramatic impact on the type of prayer we engage in and are utterly dependent on the belief system they are supported by.

So, in light of all that, let’s get into some spiritual practices. By way of disclaimer, I want everyone to understand that I come from the perspective of a Christ-follower. My worldview has its source in the person of Christ. Specifically I believe that Jesus is the Son-of-God, the third member of the trinity in the God-head. Fully God and fully man. I do not believe that you must take these concepts to be true to receive any benefit from the practices I will be discussing but I do think it’s important that you know where I believe the power of these practices comes from. I will give my reasoning behind the belief system from time to time so that I can fully illustrate the benefits of the spiritual practice to anyone interested in engaging in some active “field studies” of their own.

I doubt there is an exhaustive list that encompasses all the spiritual practices, so I have leaned on the work of Dr. Dallas Willard, from his book The Spirit of the Disciplines to outline some of the classical spiritual practices that have benefited spiritual seekers through the ages (for the purpose of this article I have chosen to use the words disciplines and practices interchangeably). Willard breaks his list of practices down into two subcategories. The practices of Abstinence and the practices of Engagement. I will list them below:

Practices of Abstinence

solitude

silence

fasting

frugality

chastity

secrecy

sacrifice

Practices of Engagement

study

worship

celebration

service

prayer

fellowship

confession

submission

Again, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. In fact, I will include several not mentioned above in future writings like journaling, mediation and walking but to get started I will focus on a classical discipline that many have turned to in times of need.

The Spiritual Practice of Prayer

Prayer, at its most basic level, is simply communication with the divine. In his letters to the Philippians, Paul encouraged his readers to abandon anxiety in exchange for a life of prayer and thanksgiving by presenting their requests to God. The promised result was that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV, Phil. 4:6-7) It is this peace beyond understanding that many have found to be true after sessions of heartfelt prayer. In prayer, we are acknowledging that there is a God that is not us. That we can trust God to handle the affairs of our lives and, more importantly, that it is engaging God within our daily lived experience that affords us the resources to deal with the challenges of life.

So where do we start? Often it is helpful to begin by reading the written prayers of others. Many of the saints in scripture and throughout history have written beautiful prayers. However beautiful and helpful these prayers may be, none are more well known and more useful than the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. It reads:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’"

This prayer starts with an affirmation of God’s transcendence while at the same time affirming His closeness. The phrase “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is the foundational desire of all prayer. The kingdom of heaven entering into the kingdom of earth. Immeasurably more than wishful desire, this is an expectant declaration that justice will be done over all the earth. That every wrong will be put right, every slave set free, every broken heart mended, every exploitation of another human brought to light and undone. It is the cry and the work we must all engage in that can only be accomplished by a power beyond imagination. A force of good so beautiful and profound that it swallows up the darkest realties that mar this world. If you are starting our in prayer this one is a great place to begin but it is also designed to empower the one who prays it to be the very answer she is seeking. Daily bread giving, retiring of debts, forgiveness for the wicked. This prayer depicts a society that operates under the values of heaven and it is a beautiful picture of human flourishing.

Another ancient prayer traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi reads thus:

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,

that where there is hatred, I may bring love;

that where there is wrong,

I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;

that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;

that where there is error, I may bring truth;

that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;

that where there is despair, I may bring hope;

that where there are shadows, I may bring light;

that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to

comfort than to be comforted;

to understand, than to be understood;

to love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

This prayer is the heartfelt desire of a spiritual person to embody the qualities of true spirituality. What a beautiful expression of selflessness, would that we could live lives such as portrayed in this prayer for even one day with our full hearts. This is a wonderful prayer to repeat and so work these qualities in an ever-increasing way, into our lived experience.

The father of monastic life, St. Benedict, penned this famous prayer that has survived the many years since his time on earth. It reads:

Gracious and holy Father,

grant us the intellect to understand you,

reason to discern you, diligence to seek you,

wisdom to find you, a spirit to know you,

a heart to meditate upon you.

May our ears hear you, may our eyes behold you,

and may our tongues proclaim you.

Give us grace that our way of life may be pleasing to you,

that we may have the patience to wait for you

and the perseverance to look for you.

Grant us a perfect end--your holy presence,

a blessed resurrection and life everlasting.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Famous for his monastic guidebook called “the rule of St. Benedict” he is also credited with advancing the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading), another profound spiritual practice that has empowered spiritual seekers for generations.

Finally, I will add my personal favorite, St. Patrick’s breastplate. This is a wonderful prayer to utter when the day begins:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

There are many variations of these ‘saintly’ prayers and we cannot say with certainty what their origins are but we can attest to the gift they have been to countless spiritual seekers looking to develop their prayer life. I encourage my readers to do their own research and build out a prayer of your own that you can say daily that inspires you toward love and power to live a spirit-filled life.

There is much more to say on prayer and the rest of the disciplines but these must address in further articles. If you are interested in learning more about prayer then feel free to reach out to me for more resources and encouragement. My email is jake@dreamhunters.vision and I would be honored to hear from you.

With gratitude,

Jake Dukes

44 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All