A Disciplined Spiritual Life

12 Months of Spiritual Practices

At Thred, we honor the teaching of James 4:8“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Spiritual Disciplines foster an enriching, transformative life through God and in community with others.

Join Ken Chitwood as he explores 12 different spiritual practices over the next calendar year. 

I’ve done this before. 

The first time I set out to practice twelve spiritual disciplines over an entire year — taking up a different exercise each month—I was a fresh-faced, 21-year-old intern in New Zealand, kicking off the experience in the sunshine and sands of Riversdale Beach, on the North Island’s east coast. I ended the year in the cloudless South African central Highveld, taking in the sunset as it eclipsed the horizon and cast its final, red-hued rays across a sea of grass stretched out before me.

Today, as I begin the journey again, there is freezing rain outside. The sky is varying shades of dull. The temperature is hovering around 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

An auspicious sign for the restart, to say the least. 

The Central Invitation

In all seriousness, I kind of like the moody vibes as I endeavor, once again, to live out twelve classical spiritual disciplines in my day-to-day life. 

You could say it’s easy to contemplate and practice service, simplicity, or study when you’re enjoying free time on the beach or in a place of retreat and solitude. 

It’s maybe a bit more demanding to intentionally pursue a disciplined life in the banal context of workaday routine — with personal commitments, errands, and soul-draining weather dragging you down. It’d be much easier, and perhaps more immediately gratifying, to scroll through TikTok or start bingeing the latest season of Archer on Netflix instead; and not worry about things like fasting, fellowship, or sacrifice…or at the very least, leave them for another day. 

But that’s the year of spiritual discipline’s central invitation—and challenge. And I’d like you to join me. 

A Transformative Life

The idea is pretty simple: Each month, I’ll practice one of the twelve “classic disciplines” and share what I experience here on Thred. 

Through practices like meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; or confession, worship, guidance, and celebration, I will see whether everyday spiritual disciplines help me live more intentionally, bring me nearer to God and others, and possibly make the world a better place. 

Along the way, I’ll share readings from spiritual classics, scriptures to meditate on, and exercises you can try as well. 

The idea is this: to lean into a spirituality that doesn’t burden or destroy the soul, but fosters an enriching, transformative life through God and with others. 

Formative Spirituality

At the heart of this journey are two questions:

  • What if the spiritual life isn’t just reserved for monks, nuns, and those willing to live in isolation staring at a kettle pond for months on end (Walden Pond fans out there, hello!)?
  • Or could the spiritual life instead be something we could all pursue in the midst of the familiar, the routine, the dullness and difficulty and distraction of the day-to-day? 

If you are anything like me, the devotional life you were raised on was too stiff, unrealistic, or temperamental to be of any practical good. My early spiritual life was suffused with a bunch of hyped-up, ethereal youth group culture, pep rallies, and emotionally charged experiences. I had a ton of fun, but I don’t know if it took me deeper into my knowledge of God and my love of people…other than myself. 

At the same time, I recall taking cues from my dad about what it means to be disciplined. Every morning for as long as I can remember, he would get on his knees to pray and read a chapter of the book of Proverbs — a collection of axioms for life from the Hebrew Scriptures. There are 31 chapters in the book. Dad would read through the whole thing every month, month after month, year after year. Like a wise beast. It shaped him into the person he is today. And, I guess, in some way it shaped me.

Searching for Substance

But maybe “discipline” is a dirty word for you, associated with guilt-trips about skipping pre-meal prayers or tied to the rote practice of pretty superficial efforts at spiritual self-control. 

It could even be a traumatic one, recalling condemnation for your failed efforts at thinking, saying, and doing the right thing according to some moral code that seemed to have little to do with Jesus — of purity culture and accountability groups that were supposed to bring life, but just piled on a bunch of guilt and shame. 

With those kinds of experiences in your past, maybe, as you’ve grown older and if you tried to hold on to faith at all, you’ve latched on to practices you’ve seen others enjoy, are sold to you by cyber gurus, or that are readily available from the smorgasbord of spiritualities on offer in our digital day and age. 

Perhaps these have helped you. But maybe they’ve turned out to be all fad and no substance. Or they were too isolating, and you’ve floundered without any real community to encourage and sustain you. Or you burned out because a steady diet of self-improvement ended up having little bearing on your life with others or threatened to conjure up the old guilt and shame instead of bringing freedom and fulfillment. 

I feel you. 

A Gift of Grace

As we begin this journey through the disciplines together, I can’t promise you that they are going to be some kind of spiritual silver bullet. They aren’t meant to be the means to a better life or a shortcut to enlightenment. 

It won’t be all sunshine and spiritual breakthroughs. This journey will pass through many a gray day and dark night, dull moments and stupid distractions. Who wants to do anything when freezing rain is falling from the sky?

But these disciplines are a gift. These historic practices are a way to help channel devotion and shape the daily practice of our faith. They’ve withstood the test of time for a reason.

As philosopher James K.A. Smith wrote, regular spiritual practice can serve as an experiential guide to help us rely less on our internal piety or willpower and instead live more intentionally (while still making room for mistakes) and better receive the gift of grace (and pass that same gift on to others). 

So yeah, maybe we’ve all been here before, trying again to live a disciplined life. But let’s at least bracket the junk and the failure and the hot mess that has been our devotional life in the past — and look forward to the months to come, to the invitation and challenge, that is a year of spiritual discipline.

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