Every follower of Jesus Christ has a Spirit-led desire to become more like Him. That desire needs to be matched with action. Not just a one-time action but consistent action. In other words, discipline.
Your desire should lead to discipline, and your discipline will increase your desire.
As you grow in Christ, your disciplines will evolve. Some disciplines will stick with you for a lifetime. But you will utilize some disciplines for a season until the Holy Spirit changes your heart.Desire will lead to discipline. Discipline will increase your desire. Click To Tweet
It’s easy to grow discouraged when you’re developing a new spiritual discipline because it takes so much effort. But you must go through 4 distinct stages in order to develop any new habit or discipline. You went through these stages when you learned to drive a car. You go through them if you learn to play the guitar. And you go through them in your journey to become like Christ through new spiritual disciplines.
Here are the four stages of developing a new spiritual discipline. With each stage, I’ll illustrate it with driving and then tell you what it looks like with a spiritual discipline.
Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
Driving: Driving a car looked easy when you observed others doing it. You didn’t know how complex it was. You were unaware of the learning curve and the need to simultaneously pay attention to your mirrors and your speed and the road ahead.
You also denied the need for someone else — especially your parents — to teach you the necessary skills.
Spiritual Discipline: With a new spiritual discipline, you are unaware of the sanctification and transformation that needs to take place. You may be blind to it or simply unwilling to admit, even to yourself, that anything is wrong.
You move to Stage 2 when you become aware of the need for growth.
Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
Driving: You became aware of the challenge of driving. You realized the assortment of skills that you needed to develop. You started practicing, and your instructor set up challenges along the way.
First, you learned to drive in a parking lot. Then, you parked your car and back out. Then you drove on roads with low speed limits. Next you learned to parallel park. Finally, you got to drive on the interstate at high speeds.
Each of these helped you practice and gave you ways of measuring progress.
The entire time, you needed to concentrate on driving without many other distractions.
Spiritual Discipline: In this stage, you realize that you need Jesus to transform your life and that you need to change the way that you are living. You make a commitment to learn and practice this new way of life. Preferably, you even determine a way to measure your growth in this new way of life.
You could have a mentor who walks beside you through the change. Or you may observe someone from a distance.
This stage involves a lot of mistakes. You have to concentrate in order to do the discipline, but you don’t do it well. The new way of living feels very unnatural. You have to work hard to develop the skills of the discipline.
You enter the third stage when you develop the skills and consistently practice them.
Stage 3: Conscious Competence
Driving: You know how to perform the skills of driving. You can accelerate, brake, change lanes, use your blinkers.
But you still need to concentrate while you’re driving. You exert tremendous mental energy to drive.
Spiritual Discipline: You can now perform the skills of the spiritual discipline. You don’t need a mentor to show you how (though you may need one to encourage you).
The new discipline still feels bulky and strange. You have to keep practicing. And praying!Becoming like Jesus takes prayer and practice. Don’t neglect either. Click To Tweet
You will still expend effort and energy to do the discipline. At this point it truly feels like discipline. You have to be disciplined in your action and your reliance on the Holy Spirit.
You enter the final stage when the Spirit has transformed your heart and life so that you can perform the discipline without thinking about it.
Stage 4: Unconscious Competence
Driving: After months of practice (or years in my case), you don’t need to think about driving. You know how to drive. You can do it naturally, automatically, and, in many ways, without thinking.
And you can perform other skills (like change the radio station) while driving. You could even teach driving to someone else based on the knowledge you have and the transformation it has produced in you.
A spiritual discipline hasn’t worked until your habits and heart are transformed. Click To Tweet
Spiritual Discipline: At this point, you automatically and unconsciously perform the discipline without needing to think about it. You don’t need a reminder. You are no longer practicing. But you do it naturally. It truly is second nature.
It’s often at this stage in which you look back and see the sanctification that has taken place. You see the work that you have done. But you are amazed more at the work that God has done in you. Remember it is “God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Developing any new habit is hard. It takes desire and discipline.
Developing a new spiritual discipline is especially hard because the Enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. It takes hard work to partner with God in the work He wants to do in you.
But, by grace through faith in Christ, you will become more like Jesus and more like the person He created you to be.
If you want help discovering where God is at work, how He wants to sanctify you, and a discipline that can help, I recommend Adele Calhoun’s The Handbook of Spiritual Disciplines.
Take the assessment at the beginning of the book. You’ll identify where you need to grow and the right discipline for you at this stage.
Questions: What area of growth do you see needs to take place in your life? What spiritual disciplines can you employ?
Photo by Mark Jefferson Paraan on Unsplash