Posted by: thebylog | May 11, 2010

Why Don’t Christians Practice the Spiritual Disciplines More?

When presented with a choice, there’s a theory of behavior which suggests that a rational agent chooses the action with the most perceived benefit.

Say you’re on a diet. If the perceived benefit of losing weight outweighs the dissatisfaction incurred by the diet, the theory says a rational person will stick with it. But when the diet becomes too demanding for you–the forbidden food too alluring or the required food too distasteful–the misery overtakes perceived benefit and you compromise your weight loss goals in favor of two more pieces of pizza.

So for dieting, the key is to find a strategy that is effective and sustainable, while incurring as little dissatisfaction as possible. Personally, I think such a strategy is The WHEN DIET, but this post isn’t about weight loss.

It’s about the spiritual disciplines; for instance, prayer, fasting, and meditative Scripture reading.

Can we explain Christians’ lack in these disciplines (including mine) simply as a failure of will? Are we just not trying hard enough?


Or maybe the benefit of daily meditation doesn’t outweigh the misery (effort) required to perform it.

But for a Christian, this is absurd. I know it. If you’re a Christian, you know it. You know that meditating on God and His Word, for instance, is a great way to fan the flame of your relationship with Christ, and you know that the benefits of such a relationship are eternal and life-changing.

But even though you and I know it, we don’t usually act like we know it. The theory, then, says that despite what we say that we know, we actually think that the effort it takes to meditate outweighs the benefits.

What we have here, I propose, is a problem of calibration.

Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

I’m not going to rule out a lack of personal discipline entirely, but I think the larger issue for me is that my mind is not renewed to the point that I can discern in my spirit what God’s will is for me. In other words, my mind needs to be recalibrated so that my heart and God’s are in closer alignment.

That’s my theory.

If my mind is uncalibrated, the only way I can do what I should do is to overcome my apathy, try harder, and JUST DO IT–all on my own or with token prayers.

But renewing my mind means drawing closer to Christ and allowing him to recalibrate my “benefit” and “effort” so that the former outweighs the latter. The theory is that the doing becomes much more natural. That’s a much less discouraging, far more inviting prospect.

It is not a magic bullet, but it does put my focus in the right place.



  1. One reason Christians may be hesitant to practice disciplines is out of a fear that the meaningfulness of the activity will get lost. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with fasting, if we feel we MUST do it, then it could become a good work rather than reflection of worship. As I understand the history, some early Anabaptists (before they became Anabaptists) ate sausage during Lent which was against the law in Zurich. While refusing to eat pork might be a good practice to observe, a feeling that we MUST do it could be contrary to a joyful surrender to Christ.

  2. Yes, like when we are told to give, but not grudgingly or of necessity.

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