Book Review – Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life

I almost always carry a journal or notebook with me so I can scribble down thoughts as they come to me during the day. Some of these turn into articles and others turn into devotional material. More often than not I look at them weeks or months later and have absolutely no idea what they mean or what I was thinking when I scribbled them down. Recently I saw a comment in a notebook that did make sense to me. I had written about the difference between my friend Jason and myself when we sit down with a guitar on our laps and a sheet of music in front of us. I can read the music and strum those strings and make nothing but awful, painful sounds that bear little resemblance to music. Jason, on the other hand, can sit down and make music at will, even with no sheet music in front of him. The difference between Jason and myself is not necessarily inate musical ability or the quality of our guitars. The difference is in disciplined practice. Jason has dedicated thousands of hours to honing his skills so that it seems to require little effort to play the music. The freedom to play with this skill has come only at the expense of dedicated, disciplined effort.

Don Whitney uses this same metaphor to show the importance of being disciplined in the pursuit of godliness, for there is freedom in discipline. The freedom to grow in godliness – “to naturally express Christ’s character through your own personality – is in large part dependent on a deliberate cultivation of the spiritual disciplines.” (From the back cover)

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And so this book is an examination of spiritual disciplines – disciplines provided by God which are designed to help us grow in godliness, allowing us to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. The disciplines Whitney writes about are:

  • Bible intake
  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Evangelism
  • Serving
  • Stewardship
  • Fasting
  • Silence and solitude
  • Journalling
  • Learning

The book is prefaced with an examination of the reason for disciplining ourselves in the spiritual disciplines and Whitney teaches here that we are to do all things for God’s glory. Because God requires each of these disciplines of us, there is danger in neglecting any of them. Each of the disciplines is then examined in the light of bringing glory to God through them. The book closes with encouragment in persevering in the disciplines, even in the inevitable times of spiritual dryness.

Each of the disciplines is drawn from and examined in the light of Scripture. The author shows how the Biblical basis for each discipline, explains how it will help the Christian grow in godliness and provides practical suggestions for beginning the practice. Each chapter closes with a section entitled “More Application” where the reader is challenged to put these practices info effect in his life.

One of my favorite aspects about Whitney’s writings, in this book and his others, is that he draws heavily from the Puritans and from other great Christians of the past. This is especially important in a discussion of spiritual disciplines as these are practices that were regarded more highly in the past than they are today. When we examine such practices, there is much to learn from these great believers.

While the vast majority of sources cited in this book are from Puritan and other Reformed authors, there were several references to Richard Foster. I questioned Whitney about this and he replied as follows: “…since it was not an academic book, I didn’t want the emphasis to be critical (in the academic sense), but rather simply to set forth in practical ways what I thought the Biblical teaching on the subjects to be, and to find good supportive quotations. Occasionally it served my purposes to quote Foster. But I never tried to sound as approvingly of him when I quoted him as I did with most other writers. For instance, I never said something like, ‘As the GREAT Richard Foster said,’…it was before Foster had started Renovare and before he had tipped his hand on some other matters.” He also referred me to a couple of article he has written which show his thoughts on Christian mysticism (link and link 2). Lest I make a mountain of a molehill, I was completely satisfied with Whitney’s answer and in no way do I feel that his references to Foster’s work detracts from the powerful message in Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life. I merely did not wish to have people see the references to Foster in the bibliography and be scared away from a wonderful book.

I found this book powerful and above all, convicting. Because it is so Biblical, continually returning to the Word of God, it allowed the Spirit to act and convict me in areas of my life where I have become lax. While I rejoice that God has allowed me to become disciplined in some areas of life, I know now that there are many others where I must make changes, lest I stunt my spiritual growth. I highly recommend this book for private or group study (Please note that there is an associated study guide which can be purchased seperately).

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