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After You’ve Failed at Spiritual Disciplines

You are going to fail at practicing spiritual disciplines. There’s really no way around it.

I know we tell ourselves that we’re going to read our Bibles, pray, journal, open our homes or adopt some new and vital spiritual practice “for real” this time, but eventually all of us stall out. We get sick, go on a trip, have a few bad days and what we began with the most noble intentions, falls far short of what we envisioned.

What do we do then?

It’s tempting to chalk it all up to another failed attempt, to assume that others are simple “more spiritual,” to tell ourselves we “weren’t really getting a lot out of it anyway,” and drop the whole thing. Resolutions fail, after all, don’t they?

I’ve got a better idea.

Just start again.

This year, I’m reading The One Year Bible Compact Edition NIVjournaling a few times per week, and practicing some other disciplines in secret. I’ve already fallen off the wagon…a few times. Do you know what I do when I fail my ambition? Start over.

With the One-Year Bible, if I’ve missed two days, I simply start with the day I’m on and keep going. My goal isn’t to just cover the material, as if they were miles on a long road trip. My goal is to spend time with God through God’s Word.

Perhaps one of the characteristics we learn during spiritual formation is the ability to forgive completely. We learn how to truly forgive, by first forgiving ourselves for our failure – our failure to spend time with God and grow deeper into Christlikeness. As we forgive ourselves, we learn that failure isn’t final and that the forgiven are stimulated to increase their practice of forgiving others.

Or perhaps we fail in our discipline as a sign of our fallenness. Every time we don’t do what we thought we would do serves as a reminder that failing to do what our convictions suggest is part of the reason we need Jesus to save us. When I go weeks without prayer, I know how wretched and ungrateful I am, which always brings me back to my need for Jesus’ continuing renewal in my life.

You’re going to fall short. You’re not going to become a spiritual giant overnight. And that’s okay as long as you’re willing to reassess, double-down, and start over.

Help us. Leave a comment. What do you do when you need to get back on track with spiritual disciplines?

  • Rhesa Higgins

    I want to suggest that there is no failure. Any practice, that lasts for any amount of time, moves one closer to God. That is not failure. The question is always, “What will I do TODAY to move closer to God?” Our own imposed regiments aren’t always the best way to move us. Often times our ‘failure’ to keep those regiments are the catalyst to draw us closer to God’s heart, our desire in the first place.

  • There was a time before I’d heard the term spiritual disciplines, and there was a later time, before I knew what they actually were. Then reading more and more about them, and then there was practicing them.

    And then there was becoming destructively arrogant about them — even as I failed at them regularly, somewhat like what’s described here.

    I’m mostly through that time, and now many of my prayers are just, “God, You do it.” I say, “Father, protect me. Jesus, I trust you. Spirit, change my heart.”

  • I understand exactly that falling off the wagon does not define us. I appreciate the encouragement: get back on the (spiritual discipline) horse and try, try again.

    I, too am reading through the Bible in a year with the congregation I lead and to both help me keep going and help the congregation get more from the readings I am blogging my journal entries (grahambates.blogspot.com) everyday. More than anything doing it in community has helped me stay on the bandwagon. So I’d encourage you to head over and follow along. It has helped our 20+ readers going. And most of all it has helped me break out of my writing shell.


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