“Discipline without direction,” Donald Whitney said, “is drudgery.”
All the times I set out to instill greater discipline in my life, ‘just because’, I failed. It didn’t take and many times served to not only to frustrate but to hinder the growth I needed. Doing things ‘just because you should’ or ‘because everyone else does’ or even ‘because it’s what your hero does’, isn’t necessarily a good enough reason. You must have a deep driving purpose that carries you through. Being disciplined is a wonderful thing, but for it to serve its intended purpose in our lives we must give something to push us towards. It must have direction.
I have found this to be especially true in the Christian life. Engaging in the Spiritual Disciplines without giving thought to their purpose robs them of their life giving power. For years I’d read my bible, pray occasionally, and attend church on weekends, thinking that engaging in those activities alone was enough. One day that all changed. I became obsessed with growing in Christlikeness. I saw in Romans 8 the Lord’s promise to work in all circumstances and events to shape and mold my character into that of Christ. “God’s eternal plan,” Whitney says, “ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness.” With that promise as the goal of my Christian life Bible reading, prayer and Sunday worship took on a whole new life. They became the tools The Spirit would use to conform me into the image of Christ. The end breathed life into the means.
I ran with the what seemed the wind at my back for years. I’d dove into Scripture, memorized verses, and prayed with a fresh energy and desire to know my Lord more deeply. What I didn’t realize was that I was neglecting many of the other tools God has given me, namely the other Spiritual Disciplines. I was nailing Bible intake, but dropping the ball on evangelism, meditation, solitude, and fasting. While Scripture reading is the discipline on which all others hang, I needed to tap into these other means the Lord had given me for my good.
Whitney says,“God uses three things to change us: 1.) people, 2.) circumstances, and 3.) the Spiritual Disciplines. People and circumstances work from the outside in, while the disciplines work from the inside out.” We only have control over one of those three, namely the Spiritual Disciplines. The other two just happen to us without warning and without permission.
Spiritual Disciplines are things we do, however. They don’t happen on their own, they require great effort on our part. Which is why so few even try. Barna Research Group reported a survey that showed only 18 percent of “born again Christians” read the Bible every day. That’s a heartbreaking and sad statistic. It stopped me dead in my tracks when I first encountered it.
“Holiness is not an option for those who claim to be children of the Holy One,” Whitney said, “so neither are the means of holiness. (see 1 Peter 1:15-16)” I’ve already mentioned a few of the means, but in short we call them the Spiritual Disciplines. “Spiritual disciplines,” Whitney said, “are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers.” They are how we place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him.
In short, Spiritual Disciplines are things you do to cultivate Christlike joy and character. There is an important distinction that needs to be made before wading too much farther into the waters of the disciplines. You must keep it firmly fixed in your mind that the Spiritual Disciplines concern your sanctification, or growth in godliness, not your salvation. The disciplines we discuss are meant to carry you deeper into the truths of the gospel, not to serve as a path to self-salvation. “Focus on the person and work of Jesus in each of the Disciplines.” Whitney said, “Through them, learn from, gaze upon, and enjoy who Jesus is and what He has done. By means of the Spiritual Disciplines, let the truths of the gospel restore your soul.”
I took part in an eight-week discipleship program earlier this year, in which we read through Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It was such a great help in my understanding and enjoyment of the Spiritual Disciplines found in Scripture that I’m going to spend the next several weeks discussing them here on the blog.
Here’s how this will work:
This series will kick off Sunday, August 20th. That Sunday, I’ll publish a post offering some reflections on what Whitney said in chapters 2 & 3. You’ll be able to join in on the discussion—if you’d like—in the comment section below.
Then, in the week that follows, we will read the next chapter before once again sharing our reflections together. We’ll repeat this pattern until we’ve finished the book.
If you’d like to read along, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is readily available. You can find it almost anywhere books are sold.
Let’s get started
All you need to do is get a copy and read chapters 2 & 3 before August 20th.
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