One of my favorite books, and a book that has greatly impacted my life is Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. This book opened my eyes to the ways in which God uses the things that we do to make us more Christ like. It encouraged me to practice these things, and through them I have been changed, and continue to be changed.
Don Whitney hits the nail on the head when he informs readers that God has commanded Christians in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”. We are to be constantly growing in our relationship and understanding of God, and that takes discipline. It is an ongoing process through which “we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him”.
Dallas Willard, along with having an amazing name, also wrote on the topic of spiritual disciplines. His central premise of his classic book on the subject is that “we can become like Christ by doing one thing-by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” So it is by doing what Christ did, that we become more like Him.
Both of these books are great on the subject, and I by no means wish to say otherwise. If you have not read them, you should. You should also pick up N.T. Wright’s After you Believe. These three books will change the way you live your life, and you will be forever blessed should you follow their wisdom.
There is one issue that I would like to address shortly today. Something that God has shown me over the years of my disciplines.
If one were to follow the teaching of these books, their disciplines would look something like the chart below.
As the Christian interacts with each discipline he/she is changed, and shaped, and molded by it. The interaction with the discipline works to make the Christian more Christ-like. Each of these works in isolation with each other, and each is of equal value. Don Whitney’s book is laid out in a format that even encourages this type of understanding. Each discipline is assigned a chapter, and is giving equal value. The only exception to this is the idea of Bible intake. According to Don Whitney taking in God’s Word takes priority over everything else. Everything else is on equal footing.
Most Christians live their lives with this understanding, though they may not understand that they do.
Over my life I have learned that there is another way to look at the disciples. In fact, I believe that there is one discipline that is a key to opening the full potential of all others. That is the key of evangelism. My rough chart below gives a picture of this idea.
I believe that evangelism is the key to opening the full potential of all of the other disciplines. I believe that it is through a Great Commission lens that we can open the fullness of what God offers us. As Dallas Willard stated we become Christ like by “following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself”. So why did Christ come? What was his overall style of life? The Son of Man cam to seek and save that which was lost. Or, as Christ Himself said in Luke 4:43, “I must evangelize”.
If we truly want to model our lives’ after Christ our primary focus must be to seek and save that which is lost.
Here is where it gets good.
All of the disciplines mentioned above are worthy of our time (to a certain degree) along with many more. We should each be disciplined and growing. That is what God has commanded us to do. If we do each of these, and leave out evangelism though we are doing them for self-serving reasons. We are focused on ourselves.
If we evangelize our disciplines become tools to shape us so that we can better be used by Christ for His mission on Earth, which is to bring sinners to Himself.
When I evangelize I read my Bible differently, I pray differently, I worship differently, I learn differently, I fast differently. I do this differently because I do them from a position of being inside God’s will. I am taking in Scripture with passion knowing that what I read and learn may be used by God to draw someone to Himself. I pray with passion because I pray for real, lost people and can see their faces and know their names. I worship differently because I have seen God at work in hopeless situations. I learn differently so that I can be used by God.
Everything is changed by the practice of the evangelism.
All of the other disciplines fall into place.
Don Whitney teaches that evangelism is often a skipped practice because we are frightened by “the seriousness of evangelism”. I agree whole heartedly. When we evangelize we are taking part in the most serious thing imaginable. We are offering life to the dead.
That seriousness works as a fuel that burns deep and bright. It forces us to our knees and drives us to the Word of God. I challenge you to practice the discipline of evangelism knowing that it will change everything about you, bringing you more in line with Christ.
J. W. Willard