Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spiritual Disciplines

I just finished reading this book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald S. Whitney.

I had to read it for one of my classes here in seminary, and to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to it. I had a paper to write, other books to read for other classes, assignments to complete...I was not looking forward to a dry, boring, book about reading the Bible. I'd rather just read the Bible itself.

The book turned out to be wonderful. It was inspiring, encouraging, motivating, convicting...I found it to be so beneficial that not only am I buying a copy for myself (the book I used was borrowed), but I also want to share it with you. Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series on the disciplines discussed in the book. It won't be exactly a summary of the book (I hope that you'll buy the book for yourself - it is well worth the investment), but my desire is that it may encourage you to exercise some spiritual disciplines in your own life.

You may be asking, "what are these spiritual disciplines to which you refer?"

Well, they are:

Bible intake (which includes reading, memorization, and meditation)
Silence and Solitude

These are the "Biblical" spiritual disciplines - the ones that are explicitly commanded/expected from us in the Bible. Also recommendable is journaling, in order to keep a record of what God has been teaching you through the other disciplines.

Now you may be thinking, "Isn't that legalism?"

Suppose you want to run a marathon. So you get up every Sunday morning and watch the runners at the park. You read books on marathon training and even jog a mile or two. Maybe you run on Wednesday evenings, too. Though you may read about running, watch runners, and even job twice a week for one, two, or three years, you won't be able to run a marathon. You have to get up and run. Train daily. Eat well. Discipline yourself.

Suppose you want to lose 20 pounds. So every Sunday, you go to a weight-loss support group. Wednesdays you eat salads. But the rest of the week, you eat hamburgers, chips, cookies, etc. Are you going to lose 20 pounds? Not likely. You have to change your eating habits. You have to create new, healthy habits. You have to exercise. You have to discipline yourself.

Suppose you want to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, or Eric Clapton. So every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening you watch videos of Jimi or Eric playing. You read books about guitar. You even pick it up and play a scale every now and then. Will you ever reach fame as a talented guitarist? Of course not. You should probably take lessons. You definitely need to practice daily. You have to train your fingers to move quickly, to play the right notes. You have to discipline yourself.

So it is in our walk with Christ.

1 Peter 1:15-16 says, "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"

Romans 12:1 says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."

Christians also have a goal. Holiness. Godliness. Christ-likeness.

Just as marathon runners must discipline their bodies to run and their minds to persevere when they lack motivation; just as dieters must discipline their minds to resist cravings and train their bodies to crave good food and exercise; just as aspiring guitarists musts train their fingers to respond to the notes on the page, so must Christians discipline their minds, bodies, and spirits to submit to godliness.

Now don't go thinking that I'm talking about salvation by works. The Bible is VERY clear that we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

I'm not talking about spiritual disciplines for the sake of salvation. There is no "magic formula" to salvation. Only Jesus Christ can save - the only thing required of us is to respond to him. He has already justified us before the Father through His blood.

Nor am I talking about self-made godliness, aka, legalism. Just as we cannot justify ourselves, nor can we sanctify ourselves. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

But just as a marathon runner may have a trainer, he still has to get up and run. Just as a dieter may have a nutritionist, he still has to eat well. Just as a guitarist may have a teacher, he still has to practice. Our sanctification is an active process. The Holy Spirit works in us and through us, and we must respond. We must not harden our hearts to the Spirit's workings.

Hebrews 3:16 says, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Our response is to draw near. And if we draw near, we will "receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

The spiritual disciplines are really just ways of drawing near to the Lord. And that is what I am encouraging you to do - draw near to Him.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Please Don't...

Right now I'm listening to a lecture on Scripture memorization for my Spiritual Formation class here at seminary. He said something that really struck me:

"When you walk away from God, the first thing you do is walk away from His Word....the next thing you do is walk away from His People."

This is so true.

And so sad.

Please, read the Word.

Please, find a church that teaches the Word. Then go to it.