The core fundamental disciplines and practices of every Christian
The other day I (Dan Gallagher) was thinking about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and was reminded of my martial arts experience. For a number of years I studied several martial arts styles, and no matter how much I knew, or how long I had studied, or how proficient I became, we always started each training session with a warm up where we practiced the basics of blocking, kicking, punching, and other fundamental moves. Similarly, no matter how long we have stood for Christ, no matter how much we know, or how proficient we become in our calling, we should stay grounded in the basics of discipleship.
So what are some of the basic disciplines of discipleship? Well, it just so happened that a few days after thinking about the basics, I was having a conversation with my friend, when he rattled off a rapid salvo of five things every Christian should do: pray, study, give, witness, and fellowship. “Now really,” I thought, “how simple and fundamental is that?” Yet I asked myself, “How many believers really do those?” My real personal conviction came when I reflected on how I am too often neglectful of these simple practices, and I doubt that I am the only one who allows the pressures or pleasures of life to distract me from these spiritual disciplines.
Although, for instance, I may be strong in prayer or study, I find that I am not consistently strong in all five areas. Every athlete, musician, craftsman, or artist knows you can never get far from the basics if you are to maintain or increase your level of expertise. The more proficient one is in the fundamentals, the more skillful he becomes in the advanced techniques. My self-conviction came when I realized I needed to continue rehearsing the basics with greater zeal, that is, with the same zeal and consistency that I once practiced martial arts. I do not believe that discipleship is only a matter of practicing these five things, but I do believe God desires we excel in these five areas, so let’s briefly look at each one.
Our best example of a vibrant prayer life is, of course, Jesus, who counted prayer as an indispensable priority. He rose early to pray, sought out solitude to pray, and prayed before every major life decision, like praying all night before he chose his Apostles. He also prayed in times of great need, like in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was taken captive. He also told us to pray until we get our answer.  There are even four places in the Church Epistles where we are directed to pray constantly.  And when we are tired and don’t feel like praying with our understanding, we can always speak in tongues and know we are communing with God perfectly. Undoubtedly, prayer is a fundamental discipline that is vital to our relationship with God and the Lord Jesus.
Sometimes I am mentally tired and just don’t feel like reading my Bible, but when I exercise discipline and force myself to do so, I find myself greatly encouraged and strengthened. I often feel deeply satisfied, like Ezekiel, who said the Word of God “…tasted as sweet as honey….”  God tells us that His Word is the sword of the spirit, so if I am neglecting it, I have to wonder how sharp my sword is. If neglected, my sword won’t cut well and could do more harm than good. How so? Neglecting the Word could lead to using verses out of context or wrongly applying what God says, and if we do that, we really do not have God’s Word. I believe one of the principal reasons we should study is stated in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Christianity is all about a relationship with God and the Lord Jesus, and allowing them to speak to us through the Written Word is integral to that. No one can be much of a disciple if he doesn’t know his master’s will.
The other day a close friend confessed that he has a tendency to hold back in his giving, and sometimes gives so others won’t think he is not a giver. Sad to say, I can relate to him. How often does that little voice in our head say, “But what about me, what about me, what about me?” One of the greatest paradoxes of Christianity is found in self-sacrifice, because it is only when we lose ourselves that we find ourselves. We cannot be genuine followers of Christ without being givers, for the two are inseparable. Although our giving should include money if we have it to give, it is more about having a lifestyle of preferring others before ourselves. Discipleship demands that we develop a giving heart.
At one time or another I have participated in many different types of sharing my faith with others. For one year I even went door-to-door in an attempt to reach every person within a set distance from my home. While there is nothing wrong with going out to share the Word like that, I have come to believe that my whole life, who I really am, is the best way to witness. At one time I had to fill in for my wife, Lori, who usually did all the banking for our business. When I began to take care of the deposit with the teller she connected my name with Lori’s and realized I was her husband. Every teller then came over and introduced themselves to me while lavishing praise about what a wonderful and godly woman my wife was. Lori would be the first to tell you that she is not good at “witnessing,” but her life tells another story. I left the bank that day with a new lesson on what it means to be a witness for Christ. We are all supposed to be prepared to speak of Christ at every opportunity, and should do so, but a good disciple goes beyond words by having his actions also proclaim Christ.
The Church Epistles use the metaphor of a body to describe the relationship Christians are to have to each other. When a body is healthy, each part is in communication with the other parts. It is when parts of the body miscommunicate or become out of sync with the rest of the body that illness and disease take over. Christianity is “a team sport,” and we are to develop intimate relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. How can we fulfill all the commands to love one another, submit to each other, or serve one another if we are not in relationship with one another? Isolation often leads to deception, so we must fight to stay connected. Sometimes I hear people who do not fellowship with others use the excuse that there is no one near them with similar beliefs. I too love to fellowship with people who are like-minded on doctrine and practice, but when that is not available we should still seek out others who at least love Christ. Discipleship demands that we seek out relationship with other saints.
Those who practice the basics of Christian discipleship will often find areas in which they excel. Anyone gifted as a teacher has discovered that because he has practiced teaching. How will you know if your gifting is in encouragement if you are not fellowshipping with others where you can provide encouragement? In the same way that my karate skills improved when I faithfully practiced the basics, your quality of discipleship will improve when you concentrate on these five fundamental areas. Consider focusing on one of the basic disciplines each week for the next five weeks and see how it changes your life.
 Luke 18:1-5
 Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:11
 Ezekiel 3:3