Abide: Grace-Fueled Practices of Spiritual Discipline
Words by Théa Rosenburg // Images by Kristen Kilpatrick
Not long after my conversion, I bought two things I thought necessary to the Christian life: a cross necklace, which I nestled among my studded chokers, and a Bible cover wrapped in pink fur.
The Bible slated for recovering was a teen devotional Bible that my mom had given me years before and that I had, in defiance, promptly buried in a bottom desk drawer. But the Spirit now smoldering in me ignited a curiosity about that strange book at the center of my new faith. I unearthed my Bible, tucked it into the new cover, and then treated it the way I treated every other book: I opened it to the first page and began to read.
I know now that people typically suggest starting the Bible somewhere in the middle, with the book of John, or maybe an epistle. But I’m glad I didn’t know that then. As I read my way through the Bible from fluffy front cover to back, I found that daily trek along the grand arc of God’s story bewildering (that I made it through Leviticus at all is surprising). But those few pages read before bed each night became my first introduction to one of the disciplines of Christian life.
The Vine, The Branches
These disciplines can be hard to list definitively and tricky to define. But at the top of most lists sit three key categories: prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship within the church. These are the means that Christians use to kneel at the Lord’s feet and pursue, like Mary, the one thing that is necessary (Luke 10:38-42).
They go by many names: “spiritual disciplines” is perhaps most common. “Means of grace” is an old and beautiful phrase; “habits of grace,” a new and lovely one. All of these labels spur us toward action (discipline, means, habit), yet each one carries within itself a reminder that our action is fueled by God’s grace (spiritual, grace). None of them imply that by pursuing these things we are somehow securing the favor of God.
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “ I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The relationship between a vine and its branches is a sustained, evolving thing. I know because I spend a great deal of time in my garden, pruning and deadheading flowers, trellising peas, and staking tomatoes. A healthy vine feeds its branches so that they can produce fruit (sometimes an overwhelming abundance of fruit); if a branch falls from it, the vine goes on growing. But the branch, once severed from the vine, is done: its source of nourishment gone, the branch has no path left but to wither and die.
This, of course, is where the metaphor breaks down. A branch cannot rebel against the vine, but we can rebel against Jesus—either openly, by wrenching ourselves free of him, or passively, as we allow our phones, pursuits, and comforts to choke out our connection to him. The spiritual disciplines, then, are a means of holding fast to Christ, of abiding in him even as the weeds gather around us. They are a way of ordering our days so that we have room to listen, time to acquaint ourselves with his Word, and continual, inbuilt reminders that Christ is of more value than anything the world may offer. But they are not a means by which we graft ourselves onto the vine and secure our salvation—no. That was done for us in Christ already and can be neither undone nor improved upon.
In his foreword to David Mathis’s book Habits of Grace, John Piper writes, “These [disciplines] are the means God has given for drinking at the fountain of life. They don’t earn the enjoyment. They receive it. They are not payments for pleasure; they are pipelines . . . But all of us leak. We all need inspiration and instruction for how to drink—again and again. Habitually.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, Hunter Beless, Sarah Scott Pape, Katelyn Sullins, and I will explore the spiritual disciplines in a series of posts here on the Deeply Rooted blog. Our hope is not that you will feel burdened by our words but challenged by them, and that you will feel your thirst for Christ acutely as you read.
May these posts encourage you to kneel at the fountain of grace and drink deeply.
If you would like to study along with us, I highly recommend these resources:
Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
“How Your Habits Show and Shape Your Heart” by David Mathis (The Gospel Coalition)