Will You Read “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” With Me?

“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. 

I found the best price on Amazon. You can order it here if you’re so inclined. 

Let’s get started

All you need to do is get a copy and read chapters 2 & 3 before August 20th. 

Note: The links in this post are affiliate links. I earn a small commission should you choose to use them while making your purchase. 

At what cost?

You’re given a choice each time you’re hurt. 

You could return fire and respond in kind. Or you could let it go and move on. 

Be wary of the path you choose. 

In selecting your response, you decide the person you’ll become. 

There are few, if any, neutral decisions. Each one helps form the picture of who you are today, and who you’ll be down the road. 

It may feel good to dish sarcasm, wit and venom upon your foes, but at what cost? 

A victory pursued, or even attained, in the wrong way is a hollow one. In fact, it’s not a victory at all. It’s a loss. In becoming like your enemy to beat your enemy, you become the thing you hated in the first place. Becoming evil to beat evil allows evil to win. 

You’re not called to take the path that feels good. You’re called to take the path of righteousness. The path that leads to kindness, gentleness, and character. 

Choose the right path regardless how difficult or hard it is. Stay out of the mud. 

Do it enough and you’ll become the man or woman you hoped to be. And that will make all the mud slung your way worth it, even if no one else can tell. 

5 Things To Remember When Feelings Are In The Driver's Seat

It was a beautiful summer night. The wind blew softly through the trees and leaves danced playfully across the street, as if to music only they could hear. Couples giggled as they strolled with comfortable ease, enjoying the feel of the setting sun upon their cheeks. It was truly a wondrous mid-summer's evening. 

A joyous hum reverberated off the walls as they opened the double doors leading inside. Two star crossed lovers sat enthralled with one another in a near by corner booth, truly lost in their own little world. Several families sat holding hands and bowing their heads as they praying over their meals, thanking God for His good and gracious provision. A group of long lost friends were gathered around a long narrow table. They were telling stories, cracking jokes and toasting recent victories. Excitement, love, joy, and thankfulness could be seen inscribed upon their faces. The aroma of garlic bread and pizza dough filled their lungs and caused mouths to water. The room bubbled over with energy, and not one unhappy soul could be found. 

As the host led the way, everyone looked around soaking up the atmosphere. Not only were mouths watering and stomaches growling with hunger, but hearts longed to connect. Flashes of smiles and the sounds of happiness flooded the senses. They sat down, ordered a round and conversation ensued. Topics bounced around faster than a pinball. One minute discussing the sights, sounds and flavors of the night, another diving into the wonder and splendor of recent adventures. Maybe someone recently returned from a trip to Spain, where they ran with the bulls and inhaled a culture different from their own. Perhaps someone recently met their childhood idle or got to jam with a musical legend. Whatever the topic, conversation flows with the smoothness of your favorite cabernet. Smiling faces and laughs all around. Everyone is filled with excitement, joy and energy.

Things couldn't be more fun. That is until they all of a sudden aren't. Out of the blue the conversation takes a turn. What was once an evening filled with laughter and smiles has all of a sudden taken on a more serious tone. What's this? Controversy at the dinner table? Not everyone is so happy and go with the flow anymore. Passions run high, opinions and beliefs hit the table with the comparative thud of a stack of biology textbooks in a quiet library. Fingers get pointed and voices raised. No one jumps across the table or resorts to physical violence, but boy does the tone and voracity of the discussion change. 

What happened to turn such a glorious evening into one filled with disagreement and contention?  

Emotions and feelings got in the way of love, compassion and reason. 

Ever since the forbidden fruit touched man's lips, we've gone our own way and run from what we know is right. Things have escalated of late and feelings have taken over. By listening to feelings and emotion we have become a culture enslaved by them. Not only do we increasingly respond emotionally, but we have begun to reason emotionally as well. Feelings have officially dethroned reason and thought from their rightful place. 

That's a huge problem. 

Maybe you've noticed that your heart, like mine, has a million different feelings swirling around inside at any given moment. It may even feel like it's about to burst and come crashing through your chest like the Kool Aid Man. What are we to do when the deck feels so stacked against us? As I've processed what to say in response to a culture and a heart held captive by feelings, I keep coming back to the concept of reminders. Reminders can serve a pretty powerful role in our lives. They can help keep us focused on thoughts, ideas and truth when we need it most.

If you've ever been bowling, you've no doubt seen the bumper rails that help young kids avoid a constant barrage of gutter balls. Reminders can serve a very similar role for us. They help keep us on the straight and narrow instead of constantly finding ourselves in the gutter. 

That's exactly what I want to do with the remainder of this post. Remind us both of a few important things that just might help us keep it together.   

1. Feelings aren't reliable. They change with far too great a frequency. Trying to keep up with the whims of your emotions is an exercise in chasing the wind. You're not entirely sure where it came from or where its going. You just know its past you by. Not to say your feelings and mine aren't real and valid. They just shouldn't carry near the weight and credence we give them.  

2. Truth really does matter. Nietzsche may have been wrong about quite a few things but it can't be said that he didn't understood the implications of his ideas. In his "Parable of the Madman" his madman asks a  series of insightful questions in response to the death of God. Among the most potent and pressing is, "Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the horizon?" It points us directly to the implications of unhinging ourselves from truth. The truth about God, how he designed the universe to operate and our right response to it all. When we walk away from truth, there's no longer any up or down, left or right, right or wrong. In effect, we loose all sight of the horizon. Like a boat lost at sea, we drift farther and farther off course until we've lost all sight of where we began and where we are headed. Without firm and constant reminders of truth each of us will drift and wake up to find ourselves somewhere we never wanted to go.      

3. Slowing down won't hurt you. Not everything has to be done, or said in the moment. There is a place for calm, reasoned reflection. Take a deep breath, drink some water and hit pause on a conversation when you need to. 

4. No response required. Not every opinion, statement or argument presented requires our response. This is a hard one! Just like a referee, we each can have the tendency to quickly and passionatly point out where others are wrong or where we disagree. When has this approach ever gone well? Usually it leads down a new rabbit trail and derails the entire conversation. Rarely does it accomplish what we desire. Be selective about what points you will and won't respond to, even if that means holding your tongue all together.  

5. Method and tone eat message for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We've all heard it a thousand times, because its so very true. It's not what you say, but how you say it. We can say good, right and true things in the wrong way and no one will hear it. All anyone will focus on is our delivery.