Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spiritual Disciplines lead us to the enjoyment of God

I'm still reading through a book about spiritual disciplines by Dallas Willard (see right sidebar for more info). One of the reasons I wanted to read the book in the first place was my perceived inability to rightly engage in them. In college, I was blessed by a ministry that showed me how to meet with God and how to get to know Him. Through disciplines such as bible study, scripture memory, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism, I grew in my understanding of who God was.

Over time however, I slowly began, without even me knowing it at the time, to equate my position in Christ to the doing of these spiritual disciplines. Ultimately it was a self-righteousness that was creeping in and distorting my view of who God was. After leaving college, and thus the constant accountability of a fellowship to continue in practicing these disciplines constantly, I began to become a little more lazy. And then I began to recognize that I had practiced many of the disciplines in college for the wrong reasons. I began developing a bad taste in my mouth for anything that I would count as a discipline for fear of doing it legalistically.

I believe I'm slowly starting to build up these disciplines again in my life in a healthy way, though it hasn't been easy. And in reading this book a few moments ago, I was struck and encouraged by what Willard has to say about all this. He says:
"Jesus was a master of life in the spirit. He showed us that spiritual strength is not manifested by great and extensive practice of the spiritual disciplines, but by little need to practice them and still maintain full spiritual life. To have misunderstood this point was the fundamental and devastating error of Christian asceticism in the Western church from the desert fathers up to the time of the Reformation. Yet when we look closely and continually as Jesus, we do not lose sight of this one fundamental, crucial point-the activities constituting the disciplines have no value in themselves. The aim and substance of spiritual life is not fasting, prayer, hymn singing, frugal living, and so forth. Rather, it is the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed. The spiritually advanced person is not the one who engages in lots and lots of disciplines, any more than the good child is the one who receives lots and lots of instruction or punishment."
That is a glorious truth for you and I to hear. How often I have focused on the disciplines themselves without understanding the end result enjoying God. He goes on to say this:
"The need for extensive practice of a given discipline is an indication of our weakness, not our strength. We can even lay it down as a rule of thumb that if it is easy for us to engage in a certain disciplines, we probably don't need to practice it. The disciplines we need to practice are precisely the ones we are not 'good at' and hence we do not enjoy."
May God give us strength to practice disciplines as we seek to enjoy Him.


  1. Hi David -

    I love Willard, as you know, but I'm struggling with the context of these quotes. I don't think he's saying, "If it's easy to spend time in the Word, then you don't need to spend time in the Word; go ahead and neglect it," is he? I suspect he's saying something else, but I'm not getting what that is.

  2. Arnold
    I can see your difficulty with the second quote, but I'm not sure I see it with the first. I don't think he's saying don't spend time in the Word if it's easy. My main encouragement is that often times (at least for me) it is difficult, thus a discipline to be worked on.

  3. Anonymous12:13 PM

    ...then I attended a great couple days with Ken Boa and all the disciplines fell right into place...