‘I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.’Donald S Whitney

One of the greatest factors that will influence the health of any church, is the health of the Christians who make up that church. If the people who form part of the church are growing and fruitful disciples of Jesus, then the Church will reap the benefits. However, if the people who make up the church are indifferent about spiritual growth and remain immature in their faith then the church will suffer the consequences.

Donald S Whitney in his book ‘Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life’suggests that God uses three primary catalysts for changing us and conforming us to Christlikeness. These catalysts are; Other People, Circumstances and Spiritual Disciplines.

The catalyst of Spiritual Disciplines differs from the other two in that God gives us a greater measure of choice regarding involvement with them. Whitney says, ’We often have little choice regarding the people and circumstances that God brings into our lives, but we can decide, for example, whether we will read the Bible or fast today.’p18

Spiritual disciplines are simply a means through which we allow our lives to be informed, influenced and inspired by Jesus.

John Ortberg defines them this way; ‘a spiritual discipline is any activity that can help me gain power to live as Jesus taught and modelled it.’  (‘The life you’ve always wanted’, p53).

The focus with the spiritual disciplines is on our decision to place ourselves in the position where we can receive the gracious work of the Spirit of God to make us more like Christ.  Spiritual disciplines are not about achieving, but all about receiving.  God has revealed that certain things put us in the position to receive more from Him.

So if we take Bible reading as an example, we are to take the initiative, and make the effort, to create a daily context for God to speak to us through His Word.  In so doing, we place ourselves in a position to receive more of the gracious work of His Spirit, who works through the Word, to make us more like Christ.  If we don’t take the initiative or make the effort, but rather, day after day, keep the pages of our Bibles shut, then we lose the opportunity and potential to gain the power to live and grow in Jesus.

Paul said to Timothy, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4 v 7). In other words, exercise your spiritual muscles so that your strength, fruitfulness and influence will increase as you grow in godliness and become more and more like Jesus.

John Ortberg says ‘spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.’

How wisely are you training?

Think of someone who wants to run a marathon and be energised by the whole experience. They don’t just try harder and exert as much effort as they can on the day, their body wouldn’t be cut out for such an approach, no matter how hard they might try. They need to train wisely, they need a long term disciplined plan to prepare their body and mind for the rigours of running a marathon. This discipline over time will mean they can ultimately be energised by the whole experience even though it will be incredibly challenging and tough at various points on the journey. The person who just turns up and tries to run will have a terribly miserable day, will miss out on all the benefits that the preparation and commitment brings, and will find no joy whatsoever in the whole experience.

This highlights one of the dangers with spiritual transformation, we know we need to get in shape and grow, so we put in a burst of energy during a time when we are feeling particularly challenged or guilty – and then before too long our activity has reduced back down to nothing because we can’t sustain the trying harder approach. It’s not about trying harder, it’s about training wisely. We need a long-term, gradual, disciplined plan to build spiritual strength and health, step by step, day by day.

We won’t drift into godliness, we need to avail ourselves of all the wonderful gifts and tools of grace that God has given to us.

Over the coming weeks/months I want to share very briefly and simply about some of the spiritual disciplines available to us and hopefully inspire you and equip you to keep going with your long-term, disciplined training plan for a healthy Christian life replete with ongoing fruitfulness and fulfilment.

Post by: Martin Coleman