The Heart of Spiritual Disciplines

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Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary

Many of us struggle to read our Bibles and pray on a daily basis. Therefore, when we do, we rarely question our motivation. It’s easy to assume that Bible reading and prayer are magic bullets — if we read and pray, we will grow. It’s not that simple. As Charles Spurgeon puts it, “It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a 
pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, 
and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of carnal reasons. Unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

In three minutes, Steve Childers exposes the danger in learning the “how” of spiritual disciplines without the “why.” He presses us to examine our hearts as we read the Bible and pray to God.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of the video.


An inherent danger in spiritual disciplines is a propensity of the human heart to look to self-effort or practices or methodologies for growth. It is important to understand what is going on underneath the disciplines. What is the motivation for the discipline?

Picture two people running. What motivates each runner? On the outside, you can’t tell the difference. One of them may have an illegitimate, displeasing-to-God motivation, such as vanity. The other may have a good and virtuous motivation for running that honors God. The problem is you can’t tell on the outside.

This illustrates one of the greatest dangers of spiritual disciplines: learning how to run but not understanding why you run, or learning how to do things versus why we do them. So one of the most significant things in spiritual disciplines is understanding the affections of your heart. Is the motive Christ? Is the means Christ?

“One of the most significant things in the spiritual disciplines is understanding the affections of your heart.”

Take for instance, the proverbial quiet time. If you ask someone anonymously, or maybe on a survey, What do you really think? What do you really think is happening when you have your quiet time or when you don’t have your quiet time? I think most evangelicals actually believe they phase in and out of God’s love based on their performance.

Consequently, the quiet time often becomes simply a means by which they follow the discipline of reading Scripture versus a time where they use the Scripture to adore and worship God in Christ for who he is and for all he has done for them. But what is fascinating is: You can’t tell when you are just looking on the outside.


is the founder and president of Pathway Learning (formerly Global Church Advancement). He seeks to provide education pathways for under-served church leaders to multiply gospel-centered churches among all nations.