Spiritual Disciplines and Human Desire

In Chapter Three of Growing Generous Souls, I say that “spiritual disciplines” are things we do to help us be intentionally present to God’s presence in our lives. They provide a framework for our days and encourage us to center on God while being involved in the world. In Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 1 author Adele Calhoun adds an important connection to that understanding.

Such behaviors (prayer, meditation, and a whole lot more) are “intentional ways we open space in our lives for the worship of God,” says Calhoun. “They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to [God’s] word in us.” By letting them become habits in our daily living, we “give the Holy Spirit space to brood over our souls.” We don’t make God do anything; it is the Holy Spirit who chooses to transform us, inside and out.

What is distinctive about Calhoun’s approach is how she identifies a natural human desire that prompts us to engage in each spiritual discipline. She lists an amazing array of seventy-five such practices, each springing out of our human drives. For example, underneath simplicity is the desire “to uncomplicate and untangle my life so I can focus on what really matters,” she states. Likewise, the desire beneath contemplative prayer is “to develop an open, restful receptivity to the Trinity that enables me to always be with God just as I am.” Just seeing the grid that she lays out for each discipline invites the reader to imagine “sitting with Jesus,” as she puts it, in myriad ways.

Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves, but a process of drawing us deeper into our life with God, prompted by our desires. In the process, we partner with the Holy Spirit for our own transformation, growing toward what God had in mind for us all along.

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Revised and Expanded (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015).