If you’ve taken Personal Spiritual Disciplines with me, you can probably guess much of what you are about to read here—or at least I hope you can. But even if you have taken the class, I hope you’ll find these brief reminders helpful.
I need them—as does every Christian from time to time—for even though they are timeless, we are prone to forget them in the busyness of the semester.


The personal spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture God has given us to experience Him individually and to grow in Christlikeness. The disciplines are the habits of holiness (as author David Mathis calls them), by which we obey the command in 1 Timothy 4:7, “train yourself for godliness.”

It is not as though the people in your church will become more Christlike by practicing the spiritual disciplines, but you will become more godly just by being in seminary or in the ministry. The demands of seminary and the pressures of the ministry will actually become the means of making you more ungodly if you do not practice the spiritual disciplines.

Satan is not stupid. He knows that if he can cause you to fall it will be far more damaging to the church than if he can cause the guy who comes once a month and sits on the back row to sin in the same way. It is almost certain that you will experience more temptations as a seminary student and minister of the Gospel than other people. The means God has given us to grow spiritually and to stay strong against the world, the flesh, and the Devil are the biblical spiritual disciplines.

Remember that the command, “train yourself for godliness,” was first given to a minister—Timothy—and then by extension to all Christians. That’s why seminarians especially—men and women preparing to serve in various forms of ministry to God’s people—need to daily remember and practice the spiritual disciplines.

The two most important personal spiritual disciplines are first, those that relate to the intake of the Word of God, and then second, prayer. So now I want to emphasize those two.


Notice that I did not say, “Read the Bible.” I assume that if you are in seminary, you are already committed to trying to read the Word of God every day. But if you are like most people (including myself), you may often find that immediately after closing your Bible you are unable to remember anything you’ve read.

Most people assume that the problem is their weak memory, low IQ, or poor education. I know these things are not major problems for you, or you would not have made it this far in your education. But even for people for whom they are true, the problem in failing to remember is almost certainly due to their method, not their memory. Reading was never intended to be the primary means of remembering. The problem is a lack of meditation on something you’ve read. Reading without meditating is, as one of the Puritans put it, like putting a thing into a bag with holes.

Meditation on Scripture is the greatest single devotional need of most Christians. If I had the power to change the devotional lives of every Christian in the world I would start with meditation.

I deal with this at great length in chapter three of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, a book that most of those reading this will have or can easily borrow from a student who has taken Personal Spiritual Disciplines. So for further instruction and practical examples, including seventeen ways to meditate on a passage of Scripture, let me refer you to the section on meditation in that book.

In brief, here’s the general rule I suggest for the daily intake of Scripture: read big, meditate small. Read a big section of Scripture (one or more chapters), then return to one verse or phrase and meditate on that small part of your reading.

Don’t have time to add something else (meditation) to your day? Then don’t read for the entire time you have available for Scripture intake. For example, on a day where you have just ten minutes, don’t read for the entire ten minutes. Read for five and meditate for five. It’s far better to read less (if necessary) and remember something than to read more and remember nothing.


If your prayers are dominated by saying “the same old things about the same old things,” the easiest way out of that rut is to turn the words of Scripture into the words of your prayers.

One way is to go back through your reading for the day and pray through some of the verses, praying them for yourself, your family and friends, the lost, your church, your circumstances, and so on.

But perhaps the easiest place to pray the Bible is in the Psalms. In Psalm 23, for example, after reading “The Lord is my shepherd,” thank Him for being your shepherd. Ask him to shepherd you in decisions before you, to shepherd your family, and to cause particular lost people to come to love Him as their shepherd, too. Ask Him to shepherd the undershepherds at your church.

When you finish, go to the next line: “I shall not want.” Ask Him to provide for your bills. Pray for Him to provide for those you know who are in want. And when nothing else comes to mind, go on to the next line. If you don’t understand it or nothing comes to mind to pray, go on to the next one.

By praying this way, you will never run out of anything to pray, and you’ll never again say “the same old things about the same old things.” You’ll pray about many of the same things you normally pray for (because they are significant parts of your life), but you won’t say the same things about them. Every prayer will be unique and fresh.

And by the way, this is how George Müller (1805-1898), one of the greatest men of prayer and faith in Christian history, prayed each day. The early church was praying through part of Psalm 2 in Acts 4:23-26, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they had gathered together was shaken” (v. 31). And twice on the cross, Jesus prayed briefly the words of two Psalms (Matt. 27:46 and Luke 23:46). Why not you?


The interpersonal spiritual disciplines are those biblical habits we engage in with others, most commonly with our brothers and sisters in our local church. So while the Bible says we are to pray alone (a personal spiritual discipline), we are also to pray with others. The same is true with worship, serving, learning, and other disciplines. Some biblical disciplines though, such as the enjoyment of biblical fellowship, are impossible to practice without engagement with other believers.

Spiritual strength and health require participation in a local church. There is no godliness in the New Testament apart from a local body of likeminded Christians. There are experiences with God and blessings from God you will receive only in the context of gathering with the church.

The seminary is not your church nor a substitute for church. To start the semester spiritually strong, find a nearby church where the Bible is preached, and Christ is exalted in biblical worship. Join (do not merely attend) such a church and find a place to serve in it, no matter how “insignificant” that service may seem. Learn what all ministers need to learn as early as possible: “Humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33; 16:12).