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Surviving the challenge:

Spiritual disciplines put believers to the test

By Kirk Noonan

Editor’s note: The parameters of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel’s spiritual discipline challenge were simple: practice at least one of three spiritual disciplines for 30 consecutive days. More than 50 people from three cell groups at an Assemblies of God church took us up on our challenge. Some committed to pray or read the Bible for 15 minutes a day and others committed to tame their tongues by abstaining from gossip, crude jokes, lies, curse words, grumbling and complaining.

Our goal in issuing the challenge had a twofold purpose: First, we wanted to see what impact the practice of spiritual disciplines had on one’s life. Second, we wanted to learn what, if anything, keeps believers from being spiritually disciplined.

Our findings are not scientific, but they do show some of the benefits gained from being spiritually disciplined and they reveal some of the obstacles that keep many Christians from staying spiritually fit.

Some participants completed the challenge with ease while others struggled. Each participant was a volunteer and names have been changed to protect identities. Following are their stories of struggle and triumph.

Take the Evangel challenge

Make a commitment to follow one of these spiritual disciplines for 30 days straight:
• Pray for 15 minutes a day.
• Read the Bible for 15 minutes a day.
• Tame your tongue. Abstain from gossip, crude jokes, lies, curse words, grumbling and complaining.

Cut out this box and display it prominently so you won’t forget your commitment. You might even want to wear a rubber band to serve as a constant reminder. Keep a journal of your progress.

Write to us and let us know what you learned. We may include your letter in a follow-up on this feature. E-mail your response by August 5 to pe@ag.org or send it to the following address:

Today’s Pentecostal Evangel
Spiritual Disciplines Challenge
1445 N. Boonville Ave.
Springfield, MO 65802

Ted thought he had arrived — at least spiritually. He went to church twice a week, read his Bible on occasion and whispered prayers almost every day of the year. At times, he even shared his faith in Christ with co-workers and neighbors. His relationship with the Lord could not be finer, so he thought. But after accepting the challenge to tame his tongue for 30 days, Ted realized that the very muscle he used to praise the Lord on Sundays was the same one he used to spread gossip about others during the week.

"In trying to tame my tongue I quickly recognized that I like to pass along information about other people," admits Ted. "When people gossip they get attention and I love being the center of attention."

During the challenge participants wore a colored rubber band, which the Evangel issued to serve as a reminder of the commitment participants had made. Ted wore his for a while, but became frustrated and gave up on it.

"Even with the rubber band wrapped around my finger I always forgot about my commitment not to gossip," he says. "I wanted to check myself before I gossiped, but never did. Two weeks into the challenge I took the rubber band off in disgust."

Taming the tongue, it seems, is one of the hardest disciplines to master. Michelle, who is in Ted’s group, felt that she was being watched after accepting the challenge, but admits she quickly became aware that she was a complainer. "I don’t necessarily gripe or complain out loud, but I grumble to myself," she said during the first week of the challenge. "God is showing me that this inner complaining affects my attitude."

As the weeks passed, Michelle, like Ted, had to deal with the issue of gossiping. Two of her friends, she recounts, were arguing and each confided in her. Feeling she was walking a thin line between friends, she was tempted to join in the banter to validate each of her friend’s points about the other. But Michelle held true to her commitment to tame her tongue, which was something, she says, she might not have done if not for the challenge.

"People become somewhat indignant when you say you don’t wish to gossip about others," she says. "It pretty much ends the conversation."

Others in the group said the challenge exposed areas in their lives they had never really considered troubled. One business leader said he struggled with towing the company line by having to tell subordinates half-truths. Another participant said she felt uneasy when she talked negatively about her co-workers. All said taming their tongues was a challenge, but a cause worth pursuing.

"I am not doing as good spiritually as I thought," says Ted. "I am going to keep trying to tame my tongue. If I can control it, that will show me that I am gaining the heart that God wants me to have."

Michelle also learned lessons she is hoping will leave a lasting impression.

"The biggest breakthrough has been that I mistakenly thought I wasn’t guilty since I wasn’t complaining to others," she says. "But I realized God was listening. It’s sad that I chose to spend my time with Him griping."

Two of the most effective, but often neglected, ways to spend time with Christ are to read the Bible and pray. We asked some of the participants in the challenge to spend at least 15 minutes at one time, per day, praying or reading their Bible. One of the greatest obstacles to practicing either discipline, say many we interviewed, is the perceived busyness of life.

"Reading my Bible depends on how my schedule is going," admits Rick, who accepted the Bible reading challenge. "If I don’t make definite plans, including a time and a place to read my Bible, I can always find something else to do."

Others say even when they did make praying or reading their Bible a priority their attempt to be spiritually disciplined was always at risk because of interruptions.

"First the phone rang, then my husband began talking to me," says Gloria, who accepted the Bible reading challenge. "Then our dog wanted out and the dryer buzzed. Finally I settled back down to read."

Cindy, who was also in the Bible challenge, says the best time for her to spend time with God is early in the morning. If not then, she says, probably not ever because her days are too busy and at night she is too tired.

"Sometimes I have to push myself to get out of bed. But anything worth doing always has struggles," she says. "I know how important intimate time with God is for me."

Joan says she was on track with meeting the requirements for the Bible reading challenge until relatives from out of town arrived. Another participant struggled with the challenge because she was caring for an elderly relative.

"This has been a very difficult time in my life," says Rebekah. "Being disciplined to read Scriptures on a daily basis has been a real challenge, but also a blessing. My days and nights are literally filled with chores of caring for my relative. However, I was able to sandwich in a few moments of Bible reading each day because I knew I was being held accountable."

Those who met the challenge say the key in keeping spiritual disciplines is to make the disciplines a priority, not an option. But, as the challenge has shown, that was easier said than done for many participants.

"Today just got away from me," explains Patty, who accepted the prayer challenge. "I only prayed to and from work as I drove."

According to two Barna Research polls, among Bible readers the average amount of time spent reading the Bible during an entire week is 52 minutes and the average prayer lasts only five minutes. Despite these less-than-stellar statistics, those in our challenge — even the ones who only read the Bible a few times a week or prayed only when it was convenient — say every minute practicing a spiritual discipline was time well spent.

"I keep seeing things in verses that I haven’t seen before," says Jake, noting that he read his Bible four to five times a week for the full 15 minutes. "It continually amazes me when I see things and understand them for the first time even though I may have read the portion of Scripture several times before."

Others saw breakthroughs in issues and situations that had them feeling concerned or burdened. "I find I am considering my readings daily and applying them to life’s situations — this is good," says Shauna. "I learn every day and am reminded how I should love and act. If I am away from God’s Word then I am putting distance between us."

Rick says though he did not completely fulfill the challenge of reading the Bible every day for 30 days he has been inspired to read the Bible more and plans to do so. "I’ve learned through the challenge that if I can discipline myself to read the Bible on a daily basis the effects will be more far-reaching," he says.

How important is it to maintain spiritual disciplines such as taming one’s tongue, reading the Bible and praying?

Michelle, who spent the month trying to tame her tongue, says she is more aware of the things she says now. Jake says reading the Bible has emboldened him to share his faith with others and Patty says some of her prayers were answered.

"Reading the Bible, praying and meditating on God’s Word have changed my life," says Cindy, noting that daily devotions have been a priority with her for many years. "Plus, I know God likes spending time with me."


Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

E-mail the author at pe@ag.org.

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