The Spirit of the Disciplines: 5 Surprising Takeaways for Life

You want a better world for yourself, your family, heaven on earth. Or as the great theologian Steven Curtis Chapman says, heaven in the real world.

While verses like these instill optimism,

  • “He is like a tree planted by streams of water” and 
  • “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” 

Almost equal amounts of frustration are also given because daily life experience is pretty far from these claims.

How can the earth, your city, your home be a fun and meaningful place full of love, joy, peace, and more of heavens fruits?

How can you live relaxed while having purpose and passion for waking up every day?

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard reveals the vision and plan to experience this and more, the abundant life. This is why I now refer to this book as The Hope Book.

Not only is it one of the best books on spiritual disciplines, but it is also so much more.

Here’s why.

Have Hope in God? The Way of Jesus but not Entirely Sure Why?

I’m not sure if it comes from my personality or if it began from my baptist upbringing but, what specifically should I do, has been a driving question all of my life.

This what should I do thinking also drove me into being frozen and not taking any actions in life, let alone actions for the kingdom.

Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines has helped me not just know what to do, but why.

What is The Spirit of the Disciplines book about?

  • Is the Spirit of the Disciplines about spiritual formation and overcoming temptation? Yes
  • Is the Spirit of the Disciplines about spiritual disciplines? Yes
  • Is the Spirit of the Disciplines about solutions for the world’s problems, poverty, human trafficking, and other worthwhile endeavors? Yes 
  • Is the Spirit of the Disciplines a book about interacting with your neighbors, especially your closest ones under the same roof of your home? Yes
  • Does the Spirit of the Disciplines show the way to instill peace, rest, and abundant hope in your soul? Yes

It is mind-blowing that all of this and more is sufficiently presented and explained in less than 260 pages.

The Books Aim

In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard delivers an understanding of who you are, what spiritual life is, and connects the spiritual disciplines as the means to experience the easy yoke of Christ.

Here is why Dallas Willard wrote Spirit of the Disciplines in his words.

“Our tangible need and hunger for the spiritual disciplines do not by themselves make clear why we need them and how they fit into God’s creative and redemptive action upon and within human life.

And above all, they do not show how the practice of the disciplines is to be integrated with the great truth recovered with Protestantism – that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works or merit. 

What is needed then, is a theology of the disciplines for the spiritual life.

  1. We need a foundation, a practical, workable theology of them. 
  2. We must understand why the disciplines are integral to a meaningful life in Christ. 
  3. We must be clear about the essential part they play in the full and effective presentation of the gospel and the truth about life in God’s Kingdom.

The chapters that follow are an attempt to make such a theology accessible to every Christian.” (List added for clarity)

Want to Learn What the Abundant Life is and How to Discover it for Yourself?

I am unsure if I will ever find a more impactful book, and many others feel the same way.

It is a deeper book than most so you won’t gain its depth with a one time reading. Read it once fast, then go back through it more thoroughly. 

Doing this will help you to pull a few takeaways immediately and many more will be able to be seen as you read it more slowly a second, third, or tenth time.

Get the audio version for free on Hoopla with a US library card but that won’t be enough.

Pick up a physical copy of the Spirit of the Disciplines on Amazon or a place that supports local bookstores and mark the heck up out of it!

Here are a few of the many impactful takeaways I received from this book.

5 Critical Themes for Life

spirit of the disciplines themes

Salvation is a Life

Because of the particular denomination I grew up in, I in no way can count how many salvation “alter call” prayers I have heard.

Additionally, I have no idea how many times I have prayed this prayer because I was scared to death I still wasn’t saved and might get left behind and go to hell.

One of the most impactful takeaways I have received from the Spirit of the Disciplines, which was extremely surprising, is a deeper understanding of salvation and its connection to life now.

The word life is mentioned over 400 times in “The Spirit of the Disciplines” and a large chunk of this books aim is to reveal the importance of understanding, salvation as a life.

The presentation of what is life and its connection with redemption confirms the reason for the title, The Spirit of the Disciplines, not The Spiritual Disciplines or a similar title of that sort.

And the purpose of the disciplines, the spirit of the disciplines is to unlock this saved to an abundant life on earth, not just saved to escape hell after death. 

Possession and Use of Money

Should Christians be rich? A fascinating discovery in this book was the relatively short but profound discussion of the possession and use of money.

I have probably had an “If I am poor that is better theology,” and while “poverty” is a path for some? 

  • Fear of money, or any other fears, is a path for none who claim Christ.

“The idealization of poverty is one of the most dangerous illusions of Christians in the contemporary world.”

“Our possessions increase the range within which we can reign in life by Christ Jesus and see spiritual power defeat the deadly reign of sin. To write them off from redemption is but another aspect of the docetism, earlier noted, that wrote the body itself off.”

Spirituality and Play

spirituality and play

I laughed out loud after I began really studying this book and discovered that “Spirituality and Play” is the FIRST point Willard makes when describing “What is a spiritual life”.

“Spiritual people do not play is the usual view. They are too serious to play, it is a test of their spirituality that they never let up from their special spiritual activities.” and  “Play might be pleasurable. While spiritual people can have joy, they probably should stay away from just plain pleasure.”

I was also reading Lewis’s Screwtape Letters about this same time and from the minds of these two giants in faith and philosophy I learned, 

  • the lack of “play” and/or “pleasure” specifically in Christian men is one of the most solid roots of why men are stuck in pornography and other vices

I was in deep need to hear this conversation and sadly, is deeply missed by most talking about Spiritual Disciplines in our time

No Quick Fix

When I first learned of the spiritual disciplines I tried to live out the models of spiritual giants. For example, when I learned of Martin Luther’s 3-hour prayer times in the morning I started but soon failed.

It wasn’t until being basically forced into entrepreneurism that I learned the recipe of how to start the spiritual disciplines, which then showed me the way transformation emerges.

Had I read The Spirit of the Disciplines before these hundreds of “fits and starts” that all ended in failure, there might have been a better understanding of the game.

“The one lesson we learned from all available sources is that there is no quick fix for the human condition.

The approach to wholeness is for humankind a process of great lengths and difficulty that engages all our own powers to their fullest extent over a long course of experience. But we don’t like to hear this.” 

A recipe to begin repairing your human condition as fast as possible would be studying the Spirit of the Disciplines book, and using Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline as a spiritual disciplines field guide for a year.

A quick fix? Faster than waiting for a sign to fall in your lap.

The Incarnation Continues?

Dallas Willard explains,

“Turning from old ways with Faith and Hope in Christ stands forth as the natural first expression of the new life imparted. That life will be poised to become a life of the same quality as Christ, because it indeed is Christ. He really does live on in us.

Why is it that we look upon our salvation as a moment that began our religious life instead of the daily life we receive from God?

More than any place else it originates from failure to recognize the part our body plays in our spiritual life – and this is, of course, where the disciplines enter the discussion..” 

Dallas Willard Spiritual Disciplines

Willard “categorizes” the spiritual disciplines into two buckets. 1. The disciplines of abstinence and 2. The disciplines of engagement,

“Abstinence and engagement are the out breathing and in breathing of our spiritual lives, and we require disciplines for both movements. 

Roughly speaking, the disciplines of abstinence counteract tendencies to sins of commission, and the disciplines of engagement counteract tendencies to sins of omission… Abstinence, then, makes way for engagement.”

In addition to mentioning the keeping of a journal, vigils, and even grocery shopping as a spiritual discipline, here are the main spiritual disciplines for life Dallas Willard discusses in The Spirit of the Disciplines.

dallas willard's spiritual disciplines list

Disciplines of Abstinence 

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement

  • Study
  • Worship
  • Celebration
  • Service
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Confession
  • Submission

“Those disciplines alone can become for average Christians ‘the conditions upon which the spiritual life is made indubitably real’ (the seeming unreality of the spiritual life) and if this point could be made as convincingly as its truth and its importance deserve, the Practical effects will be stunning.

There will be a life-giving revolution in our personal lives and in our world.” a quote from The Spirit of the Disciplines with emphasis added.

The Spirit of the Disciplines Chapter List

spirit of the disciplines chapter summaries

What are the chapters and their summaries in The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard?

  • Chapters 1 & 2 connect the reality of the easy yoke with the practice of spiritual disciplines
  • Chapter 3 explains Salvation as a Life
  • Chapters 4, 5, & 6 reveal Who You Are and What Is Spiritual Life 
  • Chapter 7 dissects Paul’s philosophy of The Body
  • Chapter 8 shows the History and the Meaning of the Disciplines
  • Chapter 9 are Some Main Disciplines for the Spiritual Life
  • Chapter 10 is a profound discussion on Spiritual Poverty and Stewardship
  • Chapter 11 Your power and the Collective power of a church clothed with humility
  • And closes with an Epilogue I read almost every time I feel “down”

Conclusion

I could talk for hours about the points above and more that I didn’t even include,

  • an understanding of the flesh
  • what is the Christian vocation
  • the humanity of Christ
  • why the late introduction of the cross as a symbol
  • and plethoras more!

At this time there may not be another book that should be read until you get to the bottom of every discussed point in your body, why?

Because you know you should, pray, fast, study the Bible, meditate, and more disciplines but few can stick to them because there is a lack of vision to engage the spiritual disciplines

The Spirit of the Disciplines provides that vision.

“The spirit of the disciplines – that which moves us to them and moves through them to prevent them from becoming a new bondage and to deepen constantly our union with the heart and mind of God – is this love of Jesus, with its steadfast longing and resolute will to be like him.”

 


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