Meshed with grace, the spiritual disciplines for the Christian life work to rid your body of these automatic flesh tendencies.
“Once we understand how the disciplines mesh with grace, on the one hand, and embodied human personality, on the other. This way of life comes to wholehearted disciples of Christ to live in the disciplines of the spiritual life and allow grace to bring their bodies into alignment with their redeemed spirits.”
From The Spirit of the Disciplines, one of the best books that discuss the Spiritual Disciplines.
Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life hint at these critical themes, but in huge ways, miss the mark.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Summary
With an emphasis on perseverance and practical discussions on spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life rightly elevates the conversation from morning routine, praise music, and Christian devotions with quotes like these:
“The scriptural path to godliness has been made plain. Would you be Godly? Then, said the Lord in 1st Timothy 4:7, ‘Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness’ that is the way and there is no other.”
“Why we cannot be godly without the practice of the disciplines, we can practice the discipline without being godly if we see them as ends and not means.”
One of the best sections of this book is a few sentences from the chapter titled Bible Intake Part II,
“The easiest way to decide what to meditate on is to choose the verse, phrase, or word that impresses you most from the passage of scripture you read. So, after your reading, return to that which attracted your attention and meditate on that.”
This reading scripture method and meditating on a word, sentence, or verse was one of the most impactful ways to read the Bible that brought inward change into my life fast.
What are the 12 Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life?
Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life chapters include these 12 Spiritual Disciplines.
- Bible Intake Part 1
- Bible Intake Part 2 (meditation)
- Silence and Solitude
Here’s a productive way to use this book:
Create a Practical Study Guide for Free
In two-steps you can create an effective way to study Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life;
- Read the Chapter title to know what spiritual discipline Whitney is discussing
- Contemplate the headers in that chapter
This “outline” will give you the spiritual discipline, a handful of main benefits, and many ideas on how to begin practicing the spiritual discipline.
Chapter 9 in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is “Fasting… For the Purpose of Godliness”
Here are the headings,
- Fasting Explained
- Fasting is Expected
- Fasting is to be Done for a Purpose
- To Strengthen Prayer
- To Seek God’s Guidance
- To Express Grief
- To Seek Deliverance or Protection
- To Express Repentance and the Return to God
- To Humble Oneself Before God
- To Express Concern for the Work of God
- To Minister to the Needs of Others
- To Overcome Temptation and Dedicate Yourself to God
- To Express Love and Worship to God
- More Application
- Will you confess and repent of any fear of fasting?
- Will you fast as the Holy Spirit directs?
- Will you plan a fast of dedication now as an expression of your willingness to fast from now on?
Doing this with a free outlining tool like Workflowy creates a study guide for personal use or group discussions.
Need more than that? Maybe a sentence or two from the “fasting explained” section or reading the many beneficial “quotes” Whitney chose to include will be plenty for most to begin a fasting discipline.
The Bad – Or better said, Misses the Mark
This fasting chapter alone has over 10,500 words, way too many to sort through for help when practicing a spiritual discipline.
Contrast this with the book that put the spiritual disciplines’ conversation on the radar for evangelicalism, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster elaborates on fasting with around 5,000 words.
I have quit going back to Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life when beginning a new or going deeper into a spiritual discipline primarily because of this excessive word count that feels forced from a publisher or something.
Yes, you will need multiple experiments in each of these disciplines for years to begin to experience the depth of transformation from each discipline.
Here’s another miss that is sadly also permeated in modern evangelicalism.
Scare Tactics and Condescending Language
There is immense condescending language, tactics of shame used throughout this book.
Statements like, “I can think of four women I’ve pastored who had at least four small children each and who were readers.” he then goes on to elaborate on how consistent they were with reading, finally adding,
“When you consider that each woman made the time-consuming commitment to homeschool her children, you realize that with the necessary discipline almost anyone can make spiritual progress through reading.”
Who are you, man that can’t commit to reading? You don’t even homeschool more than four kids!
“But what if I offered you one thousand dollars for every verse you could memorize in the next seven days? Do you think your attitude towards scripture memory and your ability to memorize would improve?”
These messages are beneficial for a half time pep talk in a football game but not inspiring lifelong disciples.
Why do you struggle with things like porn or overeating chocolate?
It’s a disputed question throughout the ages of history and will continue to be so,
But two indisputable reasons are:
- To react because of stress or retaliate against a blocked goal.
- To go towards a feeling that your body desires to satisfy
Moreland and Craig observe this in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.
“…while evangelicals have for the most part correct Christian beliefs, for far too many these beliefs lie largely at the periphery of their existence rather than at the center of their identity… their minds are not converted. At the core they are hollow men, empty selves”
The necessary shift?
Show men that Jesus is the ultimate philosopher that also had the most massive muscles of any philosopher, ever.
Who else can say this?
“I have come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10.
What do men want, challenges barely fit for second graders?
No, they want freedom from depression, avoid or get out of the uber common mid-life crisis, not miss their kids’ lives while they are in the home, have a rocking marriage, follow through with their dreams, not die with regret.
Where can this life be realized?
Only in understanding what it means in real experience, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25.
More Troubling than This?
In addition to bringing the gavel of judgment down, statements like these reveal a more troubling conversation.
“If your growth in godliness were measured by the quality of your Bible intake, what would be the result?”
We didn’t invent the printing press until the 1400s. What did legit Christians do before that? Were they doomed and gloomed, unable to pursue this Christian life because they did not have a Bible available to them?
This thinking, you can not know the ways of God and follow Him if you do not read the Bible through every year is a fear-based mentality.
(Yes, you’re right; he does not say you have to read the Bible in a year…
He says you can read the Bible in as little as 72 hours, proof from audio recordings if you doubted him. And adding, “That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month.” And later says, “even if you don’t read the Bible through in a year write down the passages you have read.”
So which is it? Am I a pansy if I can’t read for 72 hours in a month, 3-months, or am I good enough to get into heaven even if I don’t read the entire Bible every year?)
Donald Whitney has logical ground to be afraid to tell the church they can find their own way as Paul does to the Colossians he never met who didn’t have a Bible in Colossians 1:9,
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
The chapter that should have no fear, the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude, also confirms this fear.
Whitney’s Silence and Solitude Statements Speak Volumes
“The discipline of silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. Sometimes silence is observed in order to read the Bible, meditate on scripture, pray, journal, and so on. Solitude is the spiritual discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.”
Then Donald Whitney writes these “valuable reasons for silence and solitude.”
- To follow Jesus’ example
- To minimize distractions in prayer
- To express worship to God
- To express faith in God
- To seek the salvation of the Lord
- To be physically and spiritually restored
- To regain a spiritual perspective
- To seek the will of God
- To learn control of the tongue
What is wrong with this?
Silence and solitude are the key disciplines to “fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” from Colossians 1.
To hear the spirit, the thoughts in your mind must be silent enough, and the lack of interaction from other humans must be removed entirely, a “skill” that is extremely hard to cultivate.
Silence and solitude are primarily a letting go, a doing nothing, to fight to hear God’s custom words for you a little more each week.
“Don’t you long for something more? Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence? It is the discipline of solitude that will open the door. You are welcome to come in and listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence” Richard Foster.
“Letting go and letting God” steward his flock for our time is too scary for most ministers to will, and it appears Whitney has fallen prey to this fear.
Here Lies the Strength of Temptation
What is the track record of Baptist men being freed from pornography?
They are stuck because of this,
- An obsession with “right” controllable theology
- Manipulating challenges that don’t last
- The best books
“Discipline to learn by reading, and choose your books well. You will be able to read relatively few books in your lifetime, so read the best books”
What are the best books? Whitney does say it is okay to start reading from things you enjoy to develop the habit but, “help them get as soon as possible to well-written books more closely connected with the Word of God and the Christian life.”
Got it, it’s okay to be elementary for a while, but if I want to be the biggest and baddest I need to jump to the well-written books closely connected to the Word of God and the Christian life.
C.S. Lewis causes Screwtape to give this advice in securing his demon nephew Wormwood’s patients soul for hell:
“The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without carrying two pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack.
You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books… The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let him do anything but act.”
So what should you read or do instead of pick up Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life?
Anything you freaking want or need to:
“A good place to start is with self-preservation. God over time will redeem these self-preserving motives until love and selfless service are what consume the mind.” Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark.
Need a theologian/philosopher to confirm this instead of just a “Christian artist”:
“Such failure to attain a deeply satisfying life always has the effect of making sinful actions seem good. Normally, our success in overcoming temptation will be easier if we are basically happy in our lives.
To cut off the joys and pleasures associated with their bodily and social existence as unspiritual, then, can actually have the effect of weakening us in our efforts to do what is right. It makes it impossible for us to see and draw strength from the goodness of rightness.
Christians who fail in the area of sex and love are among the more colorful sinners commonly encountered.
The minister failed to take into account his ‘Shadow side’ which for a while ‘wanted to forget all about God and play golf’
This side two is Holy in God’s sight and was given to humankind ‘to make and keep him whole, lest he lose his balance while walking on the tightrope of his divine human life.’” from another Southern Baptist. Dallas Willard in Spirit of the Disciplines, the “hope book” that revealed to me how the Spiritual Disciplines combat sin to live like Jesus.