Did you ever wonder how Jesus became the spiritual man we read about in the Bible? How did this carpenter from Nazareth in the Middle East grow to become the spiritual leader who changed the whole world? Did it just happen, like Superman launching out of the phone booth dressed and ready for action? Or did it happen more gradually, like an oak tree growing slowly from an acorn?
Certainly, as the Son of God, he already had the Divine Spirit living in him; he was God in flesh (John 1:1-14). But the Bible indicates that Jesus had to grow into his destiny as the iconic spiritual man walking in the flesh of Adam – “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52 NIV).
So, how did this growth process take place? What did Jesus himself do to grow into his full spiritual stature?
Professor Dallas Willard wrote a thought-provoking book on that idea several years ago called, “The Spirit of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives”. In that book, he mentioned that Jesus practiced several spiritual disciplines.
His list is too long to duplicate right now, but here are some basic disciplines that Jesus practiced to grow as a spiritual man:
1. Study. Jesus lived in a rich Jewish tradition of respect for the word. It’s clear as you read his life story in the Gospels that he knew the Bible – the Law, Prophets and Psalms – better than anyone else. He once said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17 NIV) And when tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, Jesus used the Scriptures as the “Sword of the Spirit”, demolishing all of the evil one’s arguments by saying, “it is written”. (Luke 4:1-13)
2. Service. Jesus’ example stood miles above his religious detractors because he put into practice the things he learned from Scripture. Once when his disciples entered the room to observe the Passover, Jesus noticed that no one volunteered to wash everyone’s feet (a normal, customary thing to do when entering a meal). So he “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet..” (John 13:4-5 NIV)
This horrified Peter who, at first, refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. How could the Messiah stoop so low as to wash the feet of his own disciples? Jesus did it to serve, to leave an example for his disciples, and to show that he was submissive to his Father’s word (See Isaiah 42:1-4 where the Messiah is predicted to be a gentle servant.)
3. Prayer. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NIV). This kind of commitment to prayer weaves itself in and out of the Gospel accounts. Jesus prayed often and he prayed for hours at a time, even sometimes praying all night.
In my book, Why God Waits For You To Pray, you’ll find an appendix that chronicles 17 major prayer events in Jesus’ life, and another one listing the 15 major “seminars’ Jesus taught on prayer. Jesus believed in prayer. And he practiced it with an intensity and commitment that awes us and pulls us forward to follow his example.
Can you think of any other spiritual disciplines that Jesus practiced? Share your insights with us…