Spiritual Disciplines for an Authentic Christian Life
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What are the spiritual disciplines?
Paul instructed Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of Godliness (see, 1 Timothy 4:7). As we approach this topic, let us pray our hearts and minds are open to receiving the truth of what God reveals to each one of us through His Holy Spirit. We will explore the principles revealed in the Book by Donald S. Whitney Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
V. Raymond Edman observes:
Ours is an undisciplined age. The old disciplines are breaking down ... Above all, the discipline of divine grace is derided as legalism or is entirely unknown to a generation that is largely illiterate in the Scriptures. We need the rugged strength of Christian character that can come only from disciplines
Donald S. Whitney also observes:
First, we must understand what we shall become. The Bible says of God's elect, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). God's eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christ-likeness. We will be changed "when he appears" so that "we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). If you are born again (see, John 3:3-8), this is no vision; this is you, Christian, as soon as "he appears".
These two observations share a common understanding. Spiritual disciplines are an integral part of the Christian worldview and lifestyle. These disciplines motivate us toward fulfilling our calling and election in Jesus Christ. As Whitney continues: We aren't merely to wait for holiness; we're to pursue it. What are we pursuing that requires certain attention, certain disciplines? For the college student striving to obtain a specific degree, they are engaged in disciplining self toward studying and acquiring knowledge. This is accomplished through research, applying practical principles and concepts as a means to secure the degree. In certain career fields, there are specific disciplines that help guide the individual toward success. So, too, the Christian life possesses specific and practical disciplines we want to live out daily.
Therefore, the core heart to our implementing of spiritual disciplines in an authentic Christian life means we are striving toward Christ-likeness. This is dependent upon the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ that we have come to embrace. We also come to understand that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we continue to grow in our faith and develop a deeper hunger for the word of God, seeking to fulfill His divine Will, and endure all manner of adversity that may come our way. We become spiritually perfect in Christ and Christ alone.
Whitney outlines the purpose of spiritual disciplines:
- Practices found in scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- These activities, not attitudes, are therefore practices one engages in and maintains
- They are Scriptural sound teachings we find modeled in the pages of Holy Writ
- Each spiritual disciplines are sufficient for an individual to come to know and experience God in their every day life
- These spiritual disciplines are, according to Whitney, derived from the Gospel and not divorced from the teachings of Christ
- The spiritual disciplines are the means by which we achieve Godliness - or Christ-Likeness - attributes
- These spiritual disciplines promote authentic transformation in the lives of each individual
- Living out the spiritual disciplines move us toward spiritual maturation, strong faith, and authentic Christian character
Again, the core heart of spiritual disciplines is to allow each individual a means by which we conform to the image and likeness of Christ and manifest Christ-like and Godly values.
Becoming men of valor and women of virtue
As we move from the core of the spiritual disciplines. We look at two important truths. Living out the Gospel of Christ means we not only become authentic, we become Christian men of valor and Christian women of virtue. Valor and virtue become evident as we align ourselves to being spiritually disciplined. This is accomplished through 8 specific disciplines:
- Bible Intake
- Silence and Solitude
Through these 8 disciplines, we come to understand how God work's through us. We merely choose whether we want to start aligning our hearts and minds in conforming to these principles. How then do we come to understand, implement, and transform our lives to a more rich and authentic Christian life? We will explore each concept here.
How we feast upon the Word of God
While Christ was spending 40 days fasting, the adversary came to him. The request from Satan was for the Savior to change stones into bread in order to satisfy the natural appetite and hunger our Lord experienced. The response of Jesus Christ is simple and yet profound: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (See, Matthew 4:4, KJV) Therefore, the most practical and important discipline for authentic Christian living, based on Whitney's teaching, begins with our approach to Scripture.
There are 6 specific characteristics to this discipline:
- Hearing God's Word
- Reading God's Word
- Studying God's Word
- Memorizing God's Word
- Meditating on God's Word
- Applying God's Word
When we actively listen and hear God's word, we are disciplining ourselves to attend Church services on a regular basis. If we are not able to attend, for any valid reason, then we may benefit from listening to sermons that are published online. Most churches that have a good size membership also have live sermons. And, this is not merely any passive listening (i.e., listening while cleaning, or having one's attention focused on something else). We are actively listening, hearing what God desires for us to hear, and even taking notes. This may require some preparation on our part to "tune in" to be open to the teachings and admonishes of the spirit.
Reading the word of God is another layer to becoming more authentic in our Christian life and character. As we read the scriptures, we may experience blessings as what we read begins to enlighten us to who we are, what our purpose is in this life, and how we are to be of service toward other individuals. Regular and consistent Bible reading helps us develop greater sense of worth, freedom, fun, and belonging.
- Find time - it is typically recommended to start your day with a morning reading. However, one of the greater benefits is to do what is called "bookending" by starting your day with prayer and reading the scriptures; and, then, ending your day with prayer and reading the scriptures.
- Explore and find the specific Bible reading plan that works for you. One way an individual may do this is to obtain a copy of Charles Stanley's Living Principles Devotional Bible. This helps a person read through the Bible in one year and provides life principle concepts in a short 15-20 minute devotional format.
- Find at least one specific word, phrase, or verse to meditate on. Each session we spend in reading from the scriptures ought to leave us in a place of mindfully meditating on what the passage reflects and how we are capable of applying it in our lives (if in the morning) or how it may help us relax and reflect on the blessings and trials of the day (if in the evening).
As we move from hearing and reading God's word, we also want to give ourselves over to studying God's word. While reading will provide inspiration and breath to our Christian life. Studying the word of God is also a spiritual discipline as we come to know the truth of what the Gospel is, who Christ is, the ministry of those whom God has called, and how we are to sustain and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We desire to have quality intake instead of quantity of what we read.
This moves us to where we begin to memorize scriptural passages. Storing passages in our minds allows us to bring them up when we are in need. We often are not carrying our scriptures around, and in certain situations, may not even have time to call up specific passages through our phones or tablets. Memorizing scriptures helps us keep our "spiritual sword" at the ready as we face spiritual battles. In addition, as we memorize scripture, we are strengthening our own faith in God.
One way to memorize scripture maybe accomplished by the following:
- Selecting specific verses that center around particular topics - especially the areas of life the Spirit of God is working on.
- Memorizing sections of passages at a time.
There are a variety of ways we are able to memorize scripture passages. The ultimate principle here is to not see how many passages we are able to memorize and recall. The practical truth is that through memorization, we are allowing the word of God have it's transforming affect on our hearts, minds, and spirit in moving us toward Godliness.
As mentioned earlier, meditating on God's word has a powerful and practical impact. We are not just merely reading to check of a "to-do list". We are reading in order to reflect on what the passage means for us today. We are to consider the teachings, the context, the inspiration we derive from reading the passage. It means we are emptying our mind of things that may prove distracting, causing worry, or any possible emotional distress. Our focus is on deepening our understanding, ways to apply the revealed truths of scripture, and engage in a more mindful and meaningful prayer. In essence, the outcome of meditating on God's word is the way in which we are willing to apply the principle truths into our own lives.
Finally, we start living out an authentic Christian life because we are applying principle truths into our lives. These principle truths are derived from our hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God's word.
How to meditate upon God's word
Discipline of Prayer
Approaching the scriptures, we find that men and women prayed. They prayed for provisions, for strength, for insight, and even prayed for forgiveness for self and country. However, no other individual exemplified the heart and nature of prayer than Christ himself. Every encounter we read about Christ, he is always in prayer. In fact, the greatest prayer we come to is the time he spent in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is where he will be betrayed, taken into custody, and eventually tried, convicted, scourged, and crucified.
The Apostle Paul teaches we are to devote ourselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2) and to pray on a continual basis (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Through prayer, we are able to cultivate a relationship with the Sovereign God who had created each one of us. There, we are able to petition the Lord regarding our struggles, relate our concerns, pray for others, seek forgiveness, and to seek after guidance and provisions. Through prayer, we begin to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us. We begin to transform our lives through our meditations and studying of God's word, and we begin to seek out God's will in how to apply the truths in our lives. We pray individually, with others, and pray for what is important as we are moved upon by the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is our way to communicate with God
The life of A. W. Tozer is marked by the way he engaged in worshiping God.
He was completely committed to this one solemn activity and pursued it with all the passion he had. Tozer hammered his ideas regarding worship into convictions that governed his life and ministry. "Worship," Tozer explained, "is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven."
In recent times, one of the most significant moves an individual made involved in the manner in which worship became vital to one's relationship with God. Hank Hanegraaff, of the 'Bible Answerman' converted to Eastern Orthodoxy after he spent time in China and observing the deep and rich love the Chinese Christians held toward God.
Christ tells us that there are many people who do well in honoring God, however, when it comes to the heart of man, they are far removed from God (See Matthew 15:8-9). Worship is more than "lip service". When we are worshiping, we are focusing on and responding to God. This begins with worshiping God in our day-to-day ways of expressing the Christian virtues in what we are saying and doing; as well as coming together with others in praise and worship in seeking after God's own heart, wisdom, and revelation.
In today's Christian culture, worship appears to have become more about entertaining members. In most larger member churches, one feels more like a participant in a large concert than actual worshiping God. While there is nothing wrong with utilization of instruments, what appears to be more and more reprehensible in worship is the idolization of entertaining than preparing the hearts and minds of men and women to feast from hearing the word of God.
Along with this, it is how we approach corporate, and even private worship, that may prevent us from experiencing God and becoming transformed to a more richer authentic Christian Life. Joe McKeever published an article at Crosswalk regarding 7 things we regularly get wrong about worship.
Worship helps us transform our lives as we seek the heart, mind, and will of God.
How we worship reflects our relationship
One of the best quotes that is falsely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is this: Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Regardless, the relevance of this statement is simple: It is by far better to allow our actions and behaviors prove we are Christians than by our mere utterances of "I am a Christian". Most oft, when it comes to evangelism, it is to "preach the Gospel". While this may be true, the greater message of Evangelism rests upon "teaching" the Gospel.
A gentleman by the name of Bobby Conway published a book titled: The Fifth Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and...you. The premise of this book is to live out the Gospel, as a means to evangelize rather than to preach the Gospel.
Since we understand that evangelism is communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are empowered through our actions and behaviors to communicate to others the hope that lies within us (See 1 Peter 3:15). Christ reflects that we are the "light of the world" and instead of hiding our light (which is the Light of Christ), we are to shine that light in an ever darkening world (See, Matthew 5:14)
Finally, when we come to scripture, Christ sends us out into the world to call men unto repentance, to teach and make disciples of all nations, and to assist in helping others obey the will and desire of God (see Matthew 28:19-20).
Greg Laurie - Evangelism, Jesus Style
Authentic Christians engage in service
Once we come to know Christ, submit ourselves over to the will of God, and seek God's transforming grace and power in our hearts and minds (see Romans 12:1-2) by becoming a living sacrifice; we begin to reach out and serve others. This is not something we do casually. It is a real commitment to God where our relationship with Him becomes a priority. Whitney identifies six motivating factors as it relates to service:
- Motivated by obedience through the commandments of God (See, Deuteronomy 13:4)
- Motivated by gratitude expressed toward God through praise and worship (see, 1 Samuel 12:24)
- Motivated by joy and gladness (see, Psalm 100:2)
- Motivated through forgiveness without guilt (see, Isaiah 6:6-8)
- Motivated through humility (see, Philippians 2:3)
- Motivated through love (see, Galatians 5:13)
We all have various talents, varies skills, specific ways of being inspirational in others. It is a matter of not only finding our gifts to be of service, it is a manner of being available and ready to serve when called upon. And, the way we provide service is dependent upon the context and relationships we have. Husbands and wives serve one another in marriage. Parents serve their children as their children in turn serve their parents. Opportunities to serve in various capacities of ministry. Even finding opportunities to be of service in the community.
What it means to be of service
Stewardship being a hallmark of authentic Christianity
In the beginning, a Sovereign God gave humanity stewardship over His creation. Since the Fall, man has spent majority of his time to secure, manipulate, oppress, and bring into dominion wealth as a means to bolster his own God-like ego. Throughout this article, we discussed what it means to develop Christian virtues and characteristics through spiritual disciplines that transform our lives into a Godly and Christ-like image and likeness. The opposing view is where humanity vies himself as God and denies the reality and existence of anything higher than himself.
On our journey to a transforming and maturing spiritual and authentic Christian way of living involves in our ability to become good stewards. Stewardship involves how we manage and utilize our time and economic resources. Regarding time, Whitney provides 10 sound biblical resources in which we want to begin to live out. Here, we will only mention 7 as they all correlate with one another:
1. Using time wisely because we are susceptible to the way we may fall into temptation because of our own natural desires of the "flesh" and the influence and power we permit the adversary to have in our own lives. Our very thoughts are to be disciplined toward that of Christ (see, Colossians 3:2). This requires discipline in doing things with purpose and meaning. Not giving way to impulsive and/or compulsive ideas.
2. Preparation for our eternal abode is revealed in the parable of the ten virgins. Christ came and set us free. As we await his return, or our return to him, our life and time here in this mortal existence is to use it in preparing to meet Christ. There is no going back, no retake, no ability to undo the loss time we have had to be ready.
3. As youth, we have a view of life that we are invincible, we have a lot of time, and age is something of a distant future. Yet, as we move through the human life span and experience, when we become older, we realize our time is drawing to an end. In essence, time is relatively short. And, in the scope of eternity, our human existence is merely a moment. How we spend our time living out the Gospel of Christ, seeking after Christ, and living according to the Sovereign will of God will determine how we are becoming stewards over our own life.
4. Passage of Time is sudden and quick (see 1 John 2:17). As stated above, the older a person becomes, the shorter their life span quickens. Even the existence and time of this earth is coming to a close. Many are expecting the return of Christ today. Life is more precarious than any other time on earth.
5. Our remaining time we have is still uncertain. We may not know the day and time of our death. While it may be fun and entertaining to do the quiz that comes up on the news feed of Facebook on how and when a person may die, the reality is we do not know the hour nor appointed time of our death. Again, life passes quickly (see, Proverbs 27:1). In addition, time is in the hands of the Sovereign God who gave us life (see, Psalm 31:15)
6. Once we have lost time, we are not able to regain it. Jesus expressed this in John 9:4 where we says, "as long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." What we procrastinate to do today will most likely not have time to accomplish the next day - even if there is a next day. In fact, we will be held accountable when we return to God and report on how we managed our time and life while here on this earth.
7. We are accountable to God and God alone for how we manage our time and our life on this earth. Johnathan Edwards even reflected this when he suggested that each one of us live each day as if it is the end and we are called to give an account to God.
In addition to how we manage our time, Whitney provides 10 sound biblical principles regarding money. The first being that God owns everything. We are to give out of the blessings and rewards that God has provisioned us with; by which we receive joy. In addition, as we give, we are expressing our own faith and trust in God's divine provision and grace. Our giving is dependent upon our sacrifice and generosity. Through our giving, we express spiritual trustworthiness. In approaching giving, we do so out of love rather than out of legalistic devotion to obey. Our giving is done out of our own desire, our own gratitude, and we are grateful in our ability to give. We give as a means to the appropriate response to real needs. How we give comes when we are careful in how we plan and systematically in the way we give. Finally, generous giving results bountiful blessings.
Principles of Biblical Stewardship
Fasting and the spiritually disciplined Christian life
Whitney's seventh spiritual discipline of the Christian Life centers on the nature of fasting. The simple truth of fasting rests on the voluntary abstinence from food in order to attain greater spiritual insight and purpose. Christ himself established an expectation of fasting in Matthew 6:16-17) by relating to the disciples how they are to fast. This was in comparison to how the religious leaders engaged in fasting. Along with this, we approach our fasting with purpose and meaning. Without purpose and meaning, our fasting will have no true spiritual impact on our lives.
Whitney relates how fasting helps us sharpen our prayer life. It also helps us seek God's guidance, wisdom, and will in particular situations. Fasting also is done during periods where we experience significant grief and loss. One may also fast to seek deliverance from something that has them oppressed, or to seek protection from something that may bring a person under oppression. Fasting is also beneficial if we have strayed from the path of righteousness and we desire to seek after God's grace and mercy. Through our fasting, we humble ourselves before God. Express our concern for the work of the Lord as we continue to serve in his kingdom. Helps us be of service and minister to the needs of others. Gives us strength to overcome temptation and to dedicate ourselves to God as we struggle with particular sins and temptations. Finally, fasting is beneficial as we enter into love and worship toward God as an expression of Gratitude for what he has, continues to, and will do in the lives of others and self.
Spiritual disciplines of fasting
Silence and Solitude in the Christian life
The final spiritual discipline we discover is the importance of having silence and solitude. Again, turning to the example of Christ, we read that he often removed himself from the disciples and the crowd. Christ appreciated the silence and solitude. This is where Christ prayed to the Father. This is where personal revelation is received as we spend time with God. It is the basis in which conjoins all other spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. We are silent in our intake and feasting on the word of God. We are separating ourselves into private prayer, worship, and fasting as we seek after God and listen to hear God's voice. We engage in service that is also silent and in solitude - even if it is done in a corporate setting.
Another factor of silence and solitude is to ground ourselves and take rest from the cares of the world. In our society today, we are driven to provide, to keep up with our finances, and to ensure the safety and well being of our families and communities. Getting away and reconnecting with God through silent and solitude times helps us become grounded in gives us greater insight. Here, we come to spend time in hearing God's voice, and have no competing factors.
As we experience our own time in silence and solitude, we may want to record our own thoughts, our own experiences, revelations, prayers, and how we are moving toward Godly character and Christ-like nature. This is done through journal keeping. It is a means that we are able to record and document observations, how we are growing, where we are falling short, and how we are relating to others and God. It is a private place to share what we have been blessed with, how we are enduring through adversity, and ways we are finding an increase in our faith.
Finally, as we experience silence, solitude, recording of our spiritual journey and transformation, we are also given over to ever learning and increasing in knowledge. This includes obtaining wisdom in how to apply principle truths into our own lives. Our spiritual journey is the only experience we have to learn of God, learn of who we are in Christ, and learn of how to fully come unto Christ and daily put to death our natural man.
Having come to gain greater insight into the nature of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, we now possess the knowledge and understanding in how to begin applying these in our lives. Each discipline recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit; The role of fellowship with other people; And, the role of our own struggle as we grow and transform into a spiritually mature Christian who is living with meaning and purpose. In the end, these spiritual disciplines prepare us for eternity. Because, as we pass from this life into the next, we will have an opportunity to stand before God and give an account of our own life.
Will it be the type of life that we are proud to present and give an account of? or is it a life we have come to be ashamed of because of missed opportunities to live for God and learn of God, and become spiritually mindful and authentic in all ways and all things?