Posted February 27, 2017
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.
We are excited to announce another writer that is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rev. Ryan Barnhill is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. This is Rev. Barnhill’s first blog post.
I intend to write a series of articles on the topic of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.
Discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose. Discipline is the firm resolution or purpose to do something. This is not foreign to our society. The business world is full of “go-getters.” Many there are who work hard to succeed, who are driven and scheduled, and who are determined to accomplish the tasks before them. What is the motivation behind such discipline? Their goal is to get ahead in the world, to further their reputation, and to receive the praise of men.
But with that kind of discipline we want no part.
As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. We will explore these spiritual disciplines in future posts.
These spiritual disciplines are an aspect of our life of sanctification: our life of separation from sin and consecration to God. These disciplines belong to the category of good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 33, defines good works as “Only those [works] which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”
This pursuit of godliness has a source: true faith. Faith is the bond that unites us to Christ. Only those who are united to Christ (the elect), and have his life coursing through their spiritual veins, will exercise themselves unto godliness. This purpose to serve God in his kingdom is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fertile soil of the regenerated heart. By the work of the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus we are strengthened and enabled to live this life.
This purpose to serve God in his kingdom has a standard: the law of God. The law of God is the Ten Commandments, summarized by Jesus this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). We seek, in these spiritual activities, to live in conformity to the will of God.
This disciplined life has a goal: the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiating forth of all his attributes. When we make ourselves busy in the things of God’s kingdom, our goal, our aim, is always the magnifying and extolling of God’s attributes, especially the attribute of his holiness. Whatever we do, we do it to please him.
Of course, as is true of all our good works, we live our lives in this disciplined way, not to earn anything with God, but rather to show our thankfulness to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace is what will drive us, day after day, morning and evening, to be consistent and disciplined in these activities of the sanctified life.
The Bible addresses this matter of spiritual discipline, perhaps more than you might think. The scripture does so under a number of different figures, all of which, in some way, carry the idea of spiritual discipline. Paul commands young pastor Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7, 8). In Hebrews 12:1, 2, we are exhorted to run the race: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” II Timothy 2:3, 4 calls to mind the training and rigorous discipline of a soldier: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” This is only a very short list; can you think of more figures?
Are you disciplined? Do you exercise? Are you a runner? Are you a soldier? God requires of us discipline in the Christian life. How crucial a subject this is!
Next time we will look at the need for discipline. After that, we will consider these spiritual disciplines, one by one.