A brief interview with Don Whitney about spiritual discipline
1. What is a spiritual discipline, and can you list some of the foundational spiritual disciplines?
First Timothy 4:7 says, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness” (NASB). The kind of discipline that promotes Godliness isn’t physical (see v. 8), but spiritual. Thus the practical, biblical ways by which followers of Christ pursue Christlikeness have historically been called spiritual disciplines.
So the spiritual disciplines are those personal and interpersonal activities given by God in the Bible as the sufficient means believers in Jesus Christ are to use in the Spirit-filled, gospel-centered pursuit of Godliness, that is, closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ.
Specifically, the foundational spiritual practices involve the personal and interpersonal disciplines involving the intake of God’s Word, prayer, and worship. The other disciplines—including fellowship, serving, taking the Lord’s Supper, etc.—flow from or are interwoven with these.
2. What are some of the most common obstacles to practicing the spiritual disciplines on a day-to-day basis?
The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the relentlessness of our schedules and the avalanche of our responsibilities. And certainly this is part of the battle. When we feel overloaded with life—which is most of the time—an exhortation to practice the spiritual disciplines can make us feel like an exhausted juggler, struggling to keep half-a-dozen family heirloom plates in the air while someone is trying to toss us a few more.
But the reality often is that we simply have not made priorities of the spiritual disciplines. It’s not that we fail to practice the disciplines only because we have no time—our devotion to TV, Facebook, and Netflix prove that we regularly do have some discretionary time. Rather it’s more often that we do not practice the spiritual disciplines because we do not plan to, whether time is available or not. Snow days, vacation days, and holidays result in no more time in the disciplines than any other days.
I should also mention that boredom with or a lack of a sense of blessing experienced through the disciplines is also an obstacle. Many—and I am speaking of truly converted people here, those indwelled by the Holy Spirit—find themselves bored in prayer, for example. I believe the root problem here is usually one of method, as when a person prays and regularly says the same old things about the same old things. As a result they struggle to pray except out of a sense of mere duty or obligation. The simple, biblical solution to that is a change in method to one of praying through a passage of Scripture
3. How does our practice of spiritual disciplines relate to the gospel?
Most importantly we need to realize that practicing the spiritual disciplines—no matter how faithfully, consistently, or sacrificially—does nothing to endear us to God. The gospel is not a message of what we must do for God in order to overcome the offense of our sins and become acceptable to Him, rather it is a message of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ in order to bring us to Himself.
Once we accept the message of the gospel and receive credit for the righteousness of Christ and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, the spiritual disciplines become the means by which we enjoy God and are transformed more into conformity to Christ.
It is by means of the biblical spiritual disciplines believers in the gospel of Jesus focus on the person and work of Jesus. Through them we learn from, gaze upon, and enjoy who Jesus is and what He has done. By means of the disciplines we find the truths of the gospel restoring our souls. As we engage in the spiritual disciplines given by God in Scripture, we should continually sense our need for Christ and find the infinite supply of grace and mercy to be found by faith in Jesus Christ.
This interview was conducted by David Burnette and first appeared on the Radical.net blog on March 17, 2014.