Spiritual Disciplines: Perseverence

We complete our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Perseverance. If you’d like to know more about what we’ve been doing, you can read about it here

Last week, we discussed Learning. In that post, we discovered that spiritual maturity doesn't increase by age and experience alone. It requires a teachable heart. 

Each week I have worked to draw your attention to a reminder like this. Going through the motions won’t help you grow in godliness. The Holy Spirit will. Engage in the Spiritual Disciplines because they get you more of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will use them to make you more like Christ. Keep this in mind as we move on from our study of the Spiritual Disciplines.

Summary

Our schedules overflow with activity. Most of us go, go, go seven days a week. There is little rest for the weary it seems. The Spiritual Disciplines aren't for a special class of Christians. We don't need more time or a better handle on things.

“The godly person,” Whitney said, “is a busy person. The godly person is devoted to God and to people, and that leads to a full life.” The people we admire are busy people as well. They have responsibilities, families, and jobs like us. In truth, they are busier than we would ever know. 

“Laziness,” Whitney said, “never leads to godliness.” He is onto something with that point. Seldom have I met a maturing believer in Christ, whose schedule wasn’t full. As we grow in godliness our level of activity and service increases. 

“God makes Christlike people,” Whitney said, “out of busy people, and He does so through the biblical Spiritual Disciplines.” The Disciplines aren’t for a special class of believers, but you and I amidst a crazy schedule. In fact, the Spiritual Disciplines refuel our hearts and give us the power we need to maintain our busy pace. “Instead of adding additional weight,” Whitney said, “the Spiritual Disciplines are actually one of the ways God lightens your load and gives you smoother sailing.” 

Our busyness can become an excuse to neglect the Disciplines, but we do so to our detriment. “Without practicing the Spiritual Disciplines,” Whitney said, “we will not be godly; but neither will we be godly without perseverance in practicing the Disciplines.” We can’t do them every once in awhile—when schedules and energy allow—and expect to become more Christlike. 

The Holy Spirit isn’t going to impose Christlikeness upon us in this life. We have to discipline ourselves towards that purpose. While salvation is a work of God from beginning to end, sanctification is a work of both God and man. We play a definite and vital role in our sanctification and will experience as much of it as our efforts permit.

Lest we fall into the trap of believing that we bring about the change we seek of our own efforts. “We must perpetually remind ourselves,” Whitney said, “that despite the most fervent diligence to our responsibility to discipline ourselves ‘for the purpose of godliness,’ we cannot make ourselves more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit does that, working through the Disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him.” 

So while there is a role we play in our growth in godliness, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting. The Spiritual Disciplines help position us so that when the Holy Spirit sparks, a fire is lit. We don’t have control over when the Holy Spirit does His part, but that shouldn’t cause us to neglect ours. 

We aren’t able to grow in Christlikeness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and we won’t grow in isolation either. It is quite fashionable to rail against the church these days as if one can love God and not love His people. The church is a gift to the believer and we need each other far more than we realize. “Without true fellowship,” Whitney said, “even the Christian who is ardently practicing the personal Spiritual Disciplines will not develop in a biblically proportioned way.” 

John Bunyan’s Christian didn’t make the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City alone. And we won’t either. “Associate with sanctified persons,” Thomas Watson said, “They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy.” 

Christian fellowship is more than socializing with other believers in Christ. “Christian fellowship,” Whitney said, “involves talking about God, the things of God, and life from a uniquely Christian perspective.” The Lord uses socializing to connect us with both believers and unbelievers alike. There is a higher aim for Christian fellowship. It is to push and stretch us to be about the Lord’s work and ever growing in godliness.     

“Practicing the Spiritual Disciplines and progressing in godliness,” Whitney said, “will be accompanied by struggle.” The Christian life is not any easy one. Every believer must do battle with the world, the flesh and the Devil. Christ won the ultimate victory over these three foes at Calvary. We must persevere in the Disciplines to experience that victory day to day.

“So we need to remember,” J.I. Packer said, “that any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in our pursuit of holiness in this world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us as waking experience daily disproves it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, just as our Lord’s was.” 

Reflection

I’m amazed at the degrees to which we will go to find a loophole or shortcut. I find more and more that there are zero true shortcuts in life. Good old fashioned hard work is required to do anything of real and lasting value. There are those who will attempt to convince you otherwise, but they're wrong. The disciplined application of effort is the only path to that will get you where you want to go. 

Whitney has done us a great service by calling to the Christian mind the enduring need of discipline. No amount of will or self-control can get anyone to Heaven. Only Jesus life, death, burial, and resurrection can secure that for us. 

“One of the surest signs that someone does cling to Christ,” Whitney said, “is his or her ever-deepening desire to know Him better and to become as much like Him as possible. That is what godliness is, and genuine disciples of Jesus passionately pursue it. And just as the only way to God is through Christ, so the only way to godliness is through the Christ-centered practice of the Spiritual Disciplines.” 

I am thankful for Whitney’s reminder of discipline’s place in the Christian life. He has given us a clear a path to pursuing Christlikeness. There will never be a ‘right time’ for me to put in place what I’ve learned these many weeks. However I integrate these Disciplines into my everyday life, I will have to do so with life still up in the air.  

Next Week

Congratulations! You reached the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. Thank you for coming along for the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. If you didn't jump in with us this time, I'd encourage you to buy the book and walk through the series on your own.

Your Turn

This is the end of our reading Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. I’d love to hear what stood out to you this week and every week throughout our study. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.
 

Monthly Mash Up (August 2017)

Every day is a chance for you to grow, get better and improve. All it takes is a willing attitude and the willingness to work hard and stretch yourself. 

I surveyed some great resources in August in my attempts to do just that. I’d like to share a few of them with you here. Below is a quote I’m thinking on, four books I’ve read or am reading, and five articles or services I found helpful.

Each taught me some incredibly valuable lessons. Lessons that made me think, re-evaluate points of view, and better that I would be otherwise. Hopefully they do the same for you.

Quote I'm Chewing On

People tend to focus disproportionately on results, while neglecting the day-to-day things that will get them there.
— Ben Bergeron, Chasing Excellence

Big lofty goals are nice, but more is required to make them a reality. To do that takes daily work. Work that isn’t pretty and that’s not always fun. But work that must get done if you’re going to get there. 

What I'm Reading

  1. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa - This is an epic tale of Japan’s most famous warrior. Jocko will be reviewing it on episode 100, and I’m rushing to finish this near thousand page tale in the next few weeks.  

  2. Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron - Perhaps one of the most encouraging and inspiring books I’ve read in awhile. Every page is littered with highlighted sentence after highlighted sentence that I read and reread day after day.

  3. Romans 8-16 For You by Tim Keller - I read the first of Keller’s books on Romans earlier this summer and this one was just as good. Few resources on Romans have balanced deep theological truth with easy going style as well as Keller’s. If you want to have a deeper understanding of the theology of the New Testament, get this resource.

  4. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount And His Confrontation with the World by D.A Carson - Our community group is reading through the Gospel of Matthew the next several months. Which means I’m on the hunt for awesome resources to help me wring all the Biblical truth and wisdom from it. My mentor mentioned D.A. Carson’s work on the Sermon on the Mount and I can’t wait to dig in.

From the Internet

  1. Marketing about power and with power via Seth Godin - It’s no secret that Seth’s is one of my favorite blogs. I read his stuff every day, and is a large part of why this blog has gone daily in recent months. In this post, Seth discusses the wide ranging difference between two marketing approaches. Which one do you use? Which one best fits your business?

  2. Why I love my paper dictionary via Austin Kleon - I appreciate Austin’s approach to art and its creation. He offers us a glimpse of the blend between digital and analog. The two really can coexist. This post is a perfect example of how.

  3. Both Lincoln and the Confederacy Were Awful via FEE - It seems we’re in the middle of rehashing the Civil War anew of late. While reasoned discussion is never a bad thing, that’s not we’ve been in the middle of these last several weeks. This article is a quick look at what few are willing say: both sides were in the wrong.  

  4. MoviePass - Monthly movie subscription service that allows you to see unlimited movies for $10 per month. Hannah and I will definitely be checking this out!

  5. Texas Price Gouger Are Heros via FEE - This might be one of the most important articles I’ve read in the last week. It offers an excellent explanation of exactly why price gouging isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Intake

We kick off our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Bible Intake. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of Spiritual Disciplines and shared some of my history with them briefly. In that post, we discovered that Spiritual Disciplines are practices found in God’s word that help cultivate Christlike joy and character within us. We also saw that God uses people, events, and discipline to change us; the latter being the only one we have control over.

There is a danger in this stuff. We must remember that we are to engage in the Spiritual Disciplines out of delight, not duty. Otherwise, they can become a burden that weighs us down or shackles that bind our limbs. At every turn, we must keep the goal of Christlikeness fixed before us! In short, we must beware of drudgery.

Summary

Bible intake is about more than reading it. It is a wheel with many spokes, which include hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating. Each of these sub disciplines works in tandem with the others to move the believer into closer intimacy with God. Let me explain.

Hearing - This is the easiest of the disciplines related to the intake of God’s Word. It requires the least effort of us, but delivers something far greater—God’s word faithfully preached. “Disciplining ourselves to hear God’s word,” Whitney said, “means primarily developing the practice of steadfastly attending a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is faithfully preached.” There are additional methods to hearing God’s word, which can include everything from reading it aloud to listening to the radio or a podcast. The important principle to walk away with is a commitment to hearing God’s Word.

Reading - Jesus expected those claiming to be the people of God would have read the Word of God. We see it over and over again throughout the gospels. Sadly, studies have shown only 18% of Christians read the Bible daily. “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ,” Whitney said, “discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Schedule ten minutes at the start of your day to read through a passage or even a single verse of Scripture. Start filling your mind with it daily. “God promises that those who read and heed His Word will be blessed.” Whitney said, “But only those who discipline themselves to do so will receive those blessings” Remember that our goal is Christlikeness however, many a man—myself included— has turned this life giving practice into one of toil and strife. Be on guard, and fix your end in mind each time you open your Bible.

Studying - The discipline of studying God’s Word, “takes you beneath the surface of Scripture,” Whitney said, “for an unhurried look of clarity and detail that’s normally missed by those who simply read the text.” This is my favorite discipline, I must confess. While I enjoy reading through God’s Word each day, I love slowing down to chew on it even more. To study Scripture is to immerse yourself in a single passage, idea or book for a period of time, that you might glean a deeper understanding of it. Don’t be intimidated to start. A pen and paper are all you need. Write down what stands out to you as your read, and questions you have. There are a million resources to help you study God’s Word in-depth. “Don’t settle only for spiritual food,” Whitney said, “that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”

Memorizing - Hearing, reading and studying God’s Word is great, but they aren’t usually sufficient for remembering what you’ve learned. For that, you’ll need to apply yourself to memorizing God’s Word. This is where all the spokes on the Bible Intake wheel, start coming together. Memorizing Scripture, helps you not only remember what you’ve read but have access to it at just the right moment. “When Scripture is stored in your mind,” Whitney said, “ it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” The Spirit can’t call it to mind in your time of need if you haven’t memorized it. This is your best tool in the fight against temptation. Memorizing God’s Word also strengthens our faith, by reminding us of truth and gives us words of encouragement to share with others. “Until the verses are hidden in the heart,” Whitney said, “they aren’t available to use with the mouth.”

Meditating - “Let’s define meditation,” Whitney said, “as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a spiritual perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application and prayer.” I hadn’t given much thought to the discipline of meditation prior to reading this chapter for the first time. I engaged in many of the meditation practices Whitney mentions without realizing it. This chapter challenged me to start intentionally letting God’s Word brew in my brain. The practice of meditation found in Scripture isn’t an emptying of the mind, but a filling of the mind with truth. “Hearing and reading the Bible is the exposure to Scripture—that’s needful, but it’s only the starting place.” Whitney said, “After the exposure to Scripture we need to absorb it. Meditation is the absorption of Scripture. And it’s the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience of God and the transformation of life we long for when we come to the Bible.”

The overriding principle of these two chapters is this: “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ, discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Are we disciplined in the ways we seek God’s Word? Do we use these five spokes to fill our hearts and minds with the very words of God? Becoming a doer of the Word comes through meditation upon it. The general rule, then, in your personal, daily intake of Scripture is to both read and meditate.

Reflection

I’ve read and listened to many talks on the topic Bible intake. Few have reached my heart in as convicting and convincing a fashion as these two chapters from Whitney. Being shaped and changed by God’s Word is a far more active endeavor on our part than is usually encouraged. It seems most Christians barely drink at the well of reading the Bible, let alone investing the energy and time it takes to actively engage with it. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times—no one escapes failure in this regard.

Whitney says that growth in Godliness starts with the disciplined intake of Scripture. It is the lifeblood that runs through all other Spiritual Disciplines. If we would grow in Godliness, we need to apply ourselves to this task. Let me then leave you with the words of John Blanchard:

“Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation, and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day! As the American evangelist D.L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter four) of the book next Sunday. We have only begun, so there is plenty of time to get the book and join in.

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you in these two chapters. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.