Last time we saw that spiritual disciplines are activities that arise out of a commitment or purpose to serve God in his kingdom. These activities are a part of our life of sanctification, and belong to the category of good works: activities that have their source in true faith, the law of God as their standard, and the glory of God as their goal. These activities, which we will explore in future posts, include, but are not limited to, public worship, family devotions, and private devotions.
This time we want to notice the internal and external challenges to this pursuit of godliness, and thus the need to persevere in these spiritual disciplines. I present here three such challenges; I am sure you can add to the list.
Challenge #1: Laziness. The greatest foe of spiritual devotion is the enemy found within: the sloth or laziness of our sinful flesh. To be in the scriptures and in prayer usually requires waking up from bed early or retiring to bed late. Such spiritual exercise demands our concentration, our energy, and the engagement of body and soul. But the old man rebels against that rigorous study, because it requires too much time and energy. Why study God’s Word, when the eyes are heavy late at night? Why rise to pray, when the bed is so warm and inviting early in the morning?
Challenge #2: Busyness. Another threat to the Christian life of discipline is a schedule that does not allow for such discipline. Maybe laziness is not the primary problem—it is not climbing out of bed on time that presents the issue, but finding the time for devotions is the problem. Consider a mother’s schedule: between showering, eating breakfast, dressing and feeding the children, seeing them off to the bus, cleaning the kitchen, searching through cookbooks for supper ideas, making lunch for the little ones still at home, organizing the house for company that weekend, making supper, and helping with homework, where does this time for spiritual exercise fit in? The packed schedules of fathers, young people, and children are not any less hectic. Exercising ourselves unto godliness demands not only total concentration upon the things of God and his glory, but also a block of time set aside every day. But, the rush of life so quickly crowds out these activities.
Challenge #3: The entertainment and technology craze. If each of us drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, identifying one side of the paper as “devotions” and the other side of the paper as “entertainment/technology,” and then wrote down during the course of the day how much time was spent on each, I wonder what we would find? The phone, blaring its notifications, is always within reach. A whole world of information and gaming is only a swipe away. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube beg for our attention. Notifications, screens, and endless information pose a real threat to what is so vital for personal and family devotions: undistracted, concentrated, deep meditation upon the Word of God.
When we cave to the laziness of the flesh, surrender to the busyness of the schedule, and distract ourselves with entertainment and technology, the result is spiritual weakness. The Bible describes the disciplined life of the Christian, among other figures, as a soldier (II Timothy 2:3, 4), and as a runner (Hebrews 12:1, 2). If a recruit training for service in the United States Army refuses to complete his running, pushups, and crunches, he will be in no position to face the rigors of the battlefield. If a runner does not push himself in practice day after day, he will grow weak and flabby, unable to sprint even the first mile of the upcoming race. Likewise, one who is not disciplined in the private and public worship of God will grow weak and vulnerable, leading to a host of other temptations and sins.
Therefore, the calling of the Word of God is clear: as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as one running the race of this life, persevere. Be disciplined, committed, and consistent in the study of the scriptures and in prayer. This is necessary in the life of the child of God—this concerns our spiritual health and strength! We must be strong to serve our God, strong to fight against sin, and strong to live faithfully in the calling that God has given to each of us.
For this disciplined life, Jesus is both our example and our strength. Jesus himself, taxed though he was, rose up early before dawn to pray: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is not only our example in this regard, but it is in him that we have the desire and strength to live this disciplined, thankful life to the glory of God. In his power, we will fight against laziness, and be committed to the worship of God in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life. Pray for that strength.
Next time, we will begin considering these spiritual disciplines, one by one.
This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.