Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
For starters, it should relieve some anxiety to realize that most of the Disciplines advocated in this book can be practiced in the same devotional episode.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, with rare exceptions, the godly person is a busy person. The godly person is devoted to God and to people, and that leads to a full life.
If Jesus’ life, as well as that of Paul, were measured against the “balanced life” envisioned by many Christians today, the Savior and the apostle would be considered workaholics who sinfully neglected their bodies. Scripture confirms what observation perceives: Laziness never leads to godliness.
The older you grow, the more you tend to accumulate responsibilities like barnacles. The addition and growth of children requires an increase in attention to their lives in church, school, sports, lessons, and transportation. Job advancement brings with it more commitments as well as opportunities. The accumulation of goods and property over the years tends to escalate the time required for their maintenance. Consequently, your life will periodically call for an evaluation of priorities. Perhaps through the Discipline of Bible intake, or prayer, or worship, or silence, or solitude, or journaling, the Holy Spirit might identify which activities are “barnacles” to cut away. Instead of adding additional weight, the Spiritual Disciplines are actually one of the ways God lightens your load and gives you smoother sailing.
THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
We must perpetually remind ourselves 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.
A major temptation in the self-discipline approach to holiness, however, is to rely on a regiment of spiritual disciplines instead of on the Holy Spirit. I believe in spiritual disciplines. I seek to practice them. . . . But those disciplines are not the source of our spiritual strength. The Lord Jesus Christ is, and it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to apply His strength to our lives.[
Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, His holy presence creates a hunger for holiness. His primary task is to magnify Christ (see John 16: 14-15), and it is He who gives the believer a desire to be like Christ. In our natural condition we have no such passion.
The Bible doesn’t explain the mechanics of the mystery of the Spirit’s ministry to us. How prayer (or the practice of any other Spiritual Discipline) is prompted and produced by Him on the one hand, and yet on the other hand is our responsibility, is unfathomable. But these two things are clear: (1) the Holy Spirit will be ever faithful to help each of God’s elect to persevere to the end in those things that will make us like Christ, and (2) we must not harden our hearts, but instead respond to His promptings if we would be godly.
THE ROLE OF FELLOWSHIP
Thinking of the Spiritual Disciplines as a part of the Christian life unrelated to the fellowship of believers is unbiblical thinking.
One reason for our susceptibility to mentally disconnect our practice of the Disciplines from life in the local church is the common Christian failure to distinguish between socializing and fellowship. Although socializing is both a part of and the context of fellowship, it is possible to socialize without having fellowship.
But it’s my observation that we engage in true fellowship far less than we believe we do — even at church. Far too often socializing becomes a substitute for fellowship. When this happens, our practice of the Spiritual Disciplines suffers and our growth in grace is stunted.
Only those indwelled by the Spirit of God can have the rich banquet of koinonia, but too often we settle for little more than the fast-food kind of socializing that even the world can experience.
I’ve known people who studied the Bible and prayed so much on their own that they believed they didn’t need any of the “unspiritual” people in the church. Without the tempering influence of believers with differing gifts, insights, and experiences, these isolationists confidently asserted twisted views of Scripture, delivered “words from God” for everybody, and attempted to justify even gross sin because of their supposed spirituality.
THE ROLE OF STRUGGLE
Although “trust” and “rest” are core values of the Christian life, so are “discipline” and “struggle.” Many forces combat the spiritual progress of those still on this side of heaven.
So avoid those who teach that if you follow certain steps or have a particular experience, you can be freed from all struggle against the sins that hinder your holiness. Such promises are a spiritual carrot-on-a-stick, always leading you on but never giving fulfillment.
Referring to the godliness mentioned in 1 Timothy 4: 7-8, the apostle Paul wrote in verse 10, “For to this end we toil and strive.” The words toil and strive tell us that becoming like Christ involves something different than “let go and let God,” as some claim. The Greek word translated toil means “to work until one is weary.”
Advance in the Christian life comes not by the work of the Holy Spirit alone, nor by our work alone, but by our responding to the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains.
While we live in it, the world will put its unending pressure on us. Jesus reminded us that the world hated Him, and it will hate us if we discipline ourselves to follow Him (see John 15: 18-19).
The stark reality of Galatians 5: 17 is that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Sometimes it’s no problem at all to obey God. There are moments when your greatest joy is to get into the Word of God. Occasionally you have experiences in prayer that you wish would never end. Still, many times it’s a battle to engage in any Spiritual Discipline.
But even though disciplining yourself is often difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want to do.
In addition to the world and the flesh, you also have a personal Enemy committed to your failure in the Disciplines — the Devil. The apostle Peter reminded us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5: 8).
The practice of the Spiritual Disciplines, when seen through eyes stamped with eternity, becomes a priceless priority because of its intimate connection with godliness.
For many — perhaps most — believers the failure to practice the Spiritual Disciplines is not so much due to the desire for spontaneity as it is a struggle with finding time. But if you desire to be godly, you must face the fact that you will always be busy. To do what God wants most, that is, to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself (see Mark 12: 29-31), can’t be done in your spare time. Loving God and others in word and in deed will result in a busy life. This is not to say that God wants us to live hectic lives, but rather to affirm that godly people are never lazy people. So if you’re telling yourself you will practice the Spiritual Disciplines when you have more time, you never will.