disciplines put believers to the test
The parameters of Todays Pentecostal Evangels
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
Our goal in issuing the
challenge had a twofold purpose: First, we wanted to see what impact
the practice of spiritual disciplines had on ones life. Second,
we wanted to learn what, if anything, keeps believers from being
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.
the Evangel challenge
Make a commitment
to follow one of these spiritual disciplines for 30 days straight:
Pray for 15 minutes a day.
the Bible for 15 minutes a day.
your tongue. Abstain from gossip, crude jokes, lies, curse
words, grumbling and complaining.
Cut out this box
and display it prominently so you wont 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 email@example.com or send it to
the following address:
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
"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 Teds group, felt that she was being watched after accepting
the challenge, but admits she quickly became aware that she was
a complainer. "I dont 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
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 friends
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 dont 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 wasnt guilty since I
wasnt complaining to others," she says. "But I realized God
was listening. Its sad that I chose to spend my time with
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
"Reading my Bible depends
on how my schedule is going," admits Rick, who accepted the Bible
reading challenge. "If I dont 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
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
"I keep seeing things
in verses that I havent 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
lifes situations this is good," says Shauna. "I learn
every day and am reminded how I should love and act. If I am away
from Gods 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. "Ive 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 ones 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
"Reading the Bible, praying
and meditating on Gods 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."
Noonan is associate editor of Todays Pentecostal Evangel.
E-mail the author at