Spiritual Disciplines: A Reading List for Beginners

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What are spiritual disciplines?  Why would I want to implement some?  Where do I get information on all this?  Read on, and I’ll explain in this journey I’m starting out on!

Word of the Year

Instead of doing New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve enjoyed picking a “Word of the Year” to focus my energies, gently reminding myself of the positive path I want to remain on for the upcoming year.

It turns out, this is a fairly old practice.  Daniel Wolpert, in Creating a Life With God briefly discussed St. Benedict’s life, around the year 500:

“In Benedict’s time, the great masters felt that when a disciple came to them with a problem, the solution was not a lengthy piece of advice but rather a “word”.  God had something particular to say to the disciple, and it was up to the master to listen with enough clarity to know and then speak the word needed for that person to be healed.”

I had no plans for a Word of the Year myself this year.  However, though books I have received, my word has become abundantly clear.

Spiritual Disciplines

OK, honestly the word is “discipline” but it’s taking the form of spiritual disciplines.

This isn’t something I would have stumbled upon myself.

I do discipline about as well as cats come when you call them.  Not well at all.

But it seems that God has other plans for me!

Contemplative Practices


At the end of last year, I was reading Thomas Merton’s The New Seeds of Contemplation.  It rocked my socks off, and I was recommending it to everyone I know.  For anyone interested in hearing the still, small voice of God (or gaining some awareness of it), this is the book for you.  Interested in seeing God in the people around you?  Yep, this is a good book.  Do you want to see signs of the presence of God in your everyday circumstances?  You got it–this is your book!

However, this isn’t a how-to manual.  This is just Merton explaining his experiences to the best of his ability.  As Merton noted time and again, many of these contemplative experiences aren’t something that is easily communicated with words.

But he did his best.

And his best was very good.

The Sacred Year


For Christmas, my brother gave me The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski.  He had recently read it, and while he was reading it, he knew it’s the kind of book that’s right up my alley.

He was right.

Yankoski had fallen into a spiritual slump, and was at the point of wondering if Christianity was a farce.  He was challenged to begin a series of spiritual disciplines.  These forced him to get away from just “talking the talk” and going through the motions, but created space in his life to slow down, look inside himself, around his surroundings, and get closer to God.

He breaks his year-long journey up into 3 sections: simplicity, relationship with God, and community.  In those categories, he narrates his journey through a number of spiritual disclipines and how they changed his habits and ways of looking at, and relating to, the world.

After reading The New Seeds of Contemplation, I guessed it would be a long time before I would find another book that spoke profoundly to my life.  It turned out, I was wrong!  The Sacred Year is excellent, and a bit more relatable than The New Seeds of Contemplation.

Creating a Life With God


Now that I’m passing The Sacred Year around my social circle, I was loaned Creating a Life With God by Daniel Wolpert.  I hadn’t even gotten through the introduction, when I became convinced that Michael Yankoski referenced this book in The Sacred Year.

These books touch on the same themes of spiritual disciplines in order to facilitate a contemplative prayer life.  However, while The Sacred Year is a narrative of one man’s experiences, Creating a Life With God is more of a how-do guide.

In it, he explains twelve different ways to pray.  Without knowing it, this is a book that I’ve been looking for for a long time!  After all, when St. Paul tells us to “pray continually”, I’m at a bit of a loss.  When I pray, I think of all the people and concerns that have been brought to my attention.  I address them to God, and then . . . well, that’s where I’m at a bit of a loss.

Contemplative Prayer

This is why I’ve been attracted to the idea of contemplative prayer.  Sure, I can dump all my concerns at God’s feet.  That’s great.

But then I can also sit back and listen to God, too.

Much like the Mary and Martha story, I want to be like Mary and sit at Jesus’s feet.

Given his reaction to Martha’s complaints, that may be what he wants from us, too.

Without seeking them out, these books have been thrown on my lap in the last few weeks.  Given the similar themes, I think God’s trying to tell me something.

So I’ll do my best to listen.

What are books that you’ve read that have helped you deepen your prayer life?  What are regular spiritual disciplines that you practice that help you anchor your heart toward God and his will?  Comment below!

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Spiritual Disciplines

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23 Comments Add yours

  1. I love this list! Thanks for posting. I have not read any of these and will put them on my list! Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

    1. Jill says:

      Patsy–thanks for the InstaEncouragment linkup! It’s a great collection, and I’m looking forward to participating from here on out! (And just reading along, the weeks I don’t have a post.) 😉

  2. Dylan Miller says:

    These are some great references for tackling spiritual discipline. Great job and good luck! Obviously, a suggestion would be Celebration of Discipline by Richard J Foster. Added these books to my list. Thanks!

    1. Jill says:

      Dylan–I hadn´t heard of Foster’s Celebration of Discipline–I’ll look into it! Thanks!

  3. Great list of books on spiritual disciplines! I love that as your word for the year. This is my first year picking a word, and mine is ABIDE, as in Abide in Christ. These books fit well into that arena as well. thank you!

    1. Jill says:

      Ooo–Abide is such a nice word! (And it sure sounds more relaxing than “discipline”–although that may be a deceiving distinction for a casual observer! Enjoy abiding this year . . . I’ll try to remember to abide more, too!

  4. Jessica Brodie says:

    These are GREAT suggestions. I love the practical suggestions. Thank you so much for this!! Discipline is key for me this season.

    1. Jill says:

      You’re welcome, Jessica! I drag my heels with discipline (in all areas), but once it’s ingrained, it sure pays off!

  5. AnnMarie says:

    What a great list!! I love contemplative prayer, but need to get better at it. Love Thomas Merton, so I’ll probably start there. Thank you!

    1. Jill says:

      You’re welcome, AnnMarie! There are some lesser-known Merton books I’m itching to get my hands on. Let me know if you’ve got any favorites!

  6. Christina says:

    These books sound good!

    In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard says, “A discipline for the spiritual life is, when the dust of history is blown away, nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his Kingdom.”

    When I first heard of spiritual disciplines I thought of monks flagellating themselves, but as I have learned & read more about them I see them as appealing.

    2 that stand out to me are Celebration & Simplicity. They are definitely joyful & encouraging.

    I actually wrote a little Bible study guide called Parenting in Christ: Training in the Disciplines of Jesus – if you are looking for another one to read. 😉

    1. Jill says:

      That is such a lovely definition! (And I’m right there with you for thinking of hair shirts when thinking of spiritual disciplines.) 😉 I’ll check out your book this summer when I’m on my yearly book-ordering-spree.

  7. Sarah says:

    I love picking a word of the year. I find that it keeps me on track with my long-term goals and motivated to keep going. These are fantastic resources and I can’t wait to check them out!

    1. Jill says:

      I’m glad I stumbled upon the Word of the Year, too. I wonder how long it’s been a “thing”?

  8. Amber Lock says:

    Thank you for sharing this list! I’m always looking for books to add to my reading list and I’m excited about these!

    1. Jill says:

      You’re welcome! Pass on any other titles that you’ve enjoyed–I’m always looking for more!

  9. Going to have to check these books out!

    1. Jill says:

      They’re good! Pass on any titles of others that you’ve enjoyed!

  10. What a great list of books that helped you find your spiritual disciplines word of the year. Sometimes I choose a work of the year, and other times I do not. May God bless you in your journey as you uncover what He really wants you to know about your chosen word this year.

    1. Jill says:

      Thank you! Three months in, he’s still teaching me that I’m not very disciplined! 😉

  11. Thank you so much for this reading list on spiritual disciplines. Recommendations on which one to start with?

    1. Jill says:

      There are no bad answers to this one! Reading your Bible daily (even if it’s just part of a Psalm) . . . an alarm set to pray at a certain time . . . (I’ve started praying while I walk my dog . . . I notice the difference on the days I forget or think I don’t need to!). This book has given me some good food for thought on fasting and St. Benedict’s daily examen. (The examen is something I’d like to do on a more regular basis.)

  12. Aimee Imbeau says:

    I enjoyed your post, Jill. It is good to be able to talk to God…even better when we quiet ourselves and listen to what He wants to say to us.

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