Are spiritual disciplines, like daily prayer or scripture reading, harmful? Don’t they lead to a legalistic Christian walk?
Any spiritual discipline can become legalistic when the focus shifts from the purpose of the discipline to a focus on the discipline itself. The purpose of the disciplines is to build relationship with God. If we lose that focus then daily prayer can become just another thing to do in an already busy day.
In some ways, discipline has somewhat of a negative connotation to its meaning. But a helpful way to view these disciplines is to think about a professional athlete. They do not just get up one morning, head to the track and set an Olympic record. They have to spend a lot of time training and working out so that they can be in peak fitness. It takes time, practice and a lot of determination. It’s the time spent training that allows them to be their best on game day.
In a similar way, the time that we spend in daily prayer or reading scripture, builds us up. It’s like a spiritual workout which helps us to be spiritually fit and healthy. As we continue we grow in our relationship with our heavenly Father and our prayer times become richer.
When our focus shifts from focussing upon the Lord and our relationship with God, to making sure we complete the discipline then success is measured by how long we pray or how many chapters of the Bible we read. Our focus is no longer about relationship but about completing a task.
Developing a regular practice of prayer and Bible reading deepens our relationship with God and allows us to journey through the ups and downs of life with more confidence and comfort.
The key is to focus on the relationship not the practice.