Richard Foster On Cultivating Spiritual Disciplines

In our fast-paced digital world, cultivating a rich spiritual life can feel like an elusive quest. Distracted and overwhelmed, we yearn for deeper connection with the Divine but struggle to create space for God.

For over thirty years, Richard Foster’s celebrated book Celebration of Discipline has guided millions on the path of spiritual growth. With care and wisdom, Foster illuminates the classical spiritual disciplines that can center and transform us. By practicing these time-tested disciplines, we cooperate with God’s grace to become more intimate with the Sacred.

An Overview of Richard Foster’s Spiritual Disciplines

At the heart of Foster’s philosophy is the conviction that we open to God’s work in us through spiritual disciplines. He explains, “The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.” Spiritual disciplines are channels of grace that create space for the Holy Spirit to reshape us into Christlikeness.

Foster notes that God has used these practices for centuries to generate righteousness, inner peace, and redemptive power in his people. By anchoring in spiritual disciplines, we counteract our age’s addictions to hurry, distraction, and passive entertainment.

The disciplines can be grouped into three broad categories:

Inward Disciplines – Meditation, prayer, fasting, and study transform our inner selves in communion with God. These personal disciplines attune us to the Divine Life as we focus on spiritual realities. Silencing our thoughts via meditation, offering heartfelt prayer, fasting from distractions, and dedicated study enrich our connection with the indwelling Spirit.

Outward Disciplines – Simplicity, solitude, submission, and service equip us to express divine love in action. By shedding excess possessions and activities, regularly withdrawing into solitude and silence, submitting to disciplines and authority, and humbly serving others, we incarnate God’s kingdom outwardly.

Corporate Disciplines – Confession, worship, guidance, and celebration connect us meaningfully in community. By sharing in corporate confession and worship, seeking guidance from mentors and directors, and celebrating through ritual and fellowship, we intertwine our lives in the Body of Christ.

Key Spiritual Disciplines Highlighted by Richard Foster

While all disciplines enrich the spiritual life dynamically, here are some of the foundational practices Foster emphasizes:

Meditation – Learning to hear God’s voice through focused contemplation of scriptures, creation, events, and God’s attributes. This reorients us from surface thinking to attuning to divine wisdom. Prayer – Ongoing conversation with God that moves from ritual recitation to intimate dialogue. Includes diverse expressions like adoration, petition, intercession, cries for help, and attentive listening in God’s presence. Fasting – Abstaining from food, media input, and other distractions to intensify focus on God alone. This act of self-denial frees and cleanses us spiritually. It redirects desire from the lesser to the greater. Study – Dedicated, prayerful study of scripture and spiritual writings. This transforms our minds by internalizing God’s Truth instead of cultural values or intellect alone. We also study the lives of saints and mentors to gain wisdom. Simplicity – Pruning excess possessions, activities, rushing, and anxious thoughts to refine focus on the Kingdom of God. This practice cultivates contentment, generosity, and trust in God’s provision. Solitude – Withdrawing regularly into extended silence and aloneness with God apart from people, media, and communication. This grounds us in God as the body, emotions, and mind learn stillness in the Divine Center. Submission – Surrendering of our self-will to Christ’s lordship and others’ counsel. This entails dying to self-centeredness and control while yielding to humility, wisdom, and spiritual discretion in authority. Service – Compassionate action meeting practical, emotional, and spiritual needs out of selfless agape love. This involves humbly giving our time, resources and self to serve and lift others.

Core Principles for Engaging Spiritual Disciplines

To engage the disciplines fruitfully, Foster shares principles like these:

  • Disciplines work best when chosen prayerfully rather than out of duty. Experiment to find those most meaningful.
  • Set realistic goals that stretch without crushing the spirit, like 10 minutes of silence or fasting one meal per week.
  • Focus on inward transformation, not outward ritual. Disciplines are about grace, not legalism.
  • Persevere through dry spells to absorb the deeper work God is doing unseen.
  • Be attentive to the Spirit’s leading throughout the day. Disciplines establish consecrated habits of living.

The rewards of spiritual disciplines are abundant, but they require commitment and patience. As we offer ourselves to the process, inner realignment to the loving presence of God emerges gradually. Regular immersion in disciplines creates space for the Spirit’s transforming work in us.

Foster stresses that the disciplines are much more than dry ritual; they are vessels to receive and refine us. By engaging in disciplines, we open to the Holy Spirit’s powerful sanctifying work inwardly. In Foster’s words, “The disciplines allow us to place ourselves where we may be graced by God.”

The disciplines require experimentation tailored to each person’s temperament and circumstances. For example, a morning person may deeply connect with prayer at dawn, while a night owl might sink into meditation in the evening’s quiet. Foster notes that guidance helps discern seasons of focus for various disciplines.

Starting small is wise at first. For instance, try 10 minutes daily in silent centering prayer or solitude, observing thoughts and releasing them gently. Work up to fasting from food or media one day a week. Keeping a journal supports self-examination in simplicity and confession. Serving others can start by helping one person in need or volunteering once a month.

Integrating a few disciplines into routine creates spaciousness for transforming encounter with the Holy. As Emilie Griffin summarizes, the disciplines “give the Holy Spirit time and opportunity to do business with us.” While challenging at times, the benefits in joy, inner freedom, and oneness with God make the commitment worthwhile.

Regular practice reshapes us to respond like Christ instead of reflexively reacting from old habit patterns. In Foster’s words, the disciplines “enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.” As they expose our neediness, God fills the opened spaces with His fullness until we learn to walk steadily from the Spirit’s nurture.

Our materialistic, individualistic culture often leaves us adrift and famished spiritually. The spiritual disciplines serve as an ancient countercurrent to anchor us into the nurturing Presence of the Living Christ. As Foster writes, “Little by little we are brought into habits of devotion and drawn into the ambience of the Spirit.” Through long apprenticeship in spiritual disciplines, we increasingly live and breathe from the Divine Life at our core.

In our restless, fractured world, Richard Foster’s guidance on cultivating perennial spiritual disciplines rings with prophetic relevance. If we wish to live with wisdom, peace, and compassion from the depths, Foster charts the contemplative path that leads there. By rooting ourselves in Spirit-honoring disciplines like meditation, simplicity, prayer, and service, we open to God’s grace flowing through us in redeeming ways.