When life gets too complex, one of the first parts of a healthy spiritual life to decline is reading. I talk to well-intentioned Christians almost every week who confess to growing piles of books by their “reading” chair, desk, nightstand, and other places, but who never have time to read. Reading for sheer enjoyment was long ago forsaken. Reading for Christian growth rarely happens. Most days, a few minutes in the Bible is all that’s left of their reading.
Those who love to learn and those who want to grow grieve the loss of reading like the loss of a close friend. “But what can I do,” they sigh, “there are only so many hours in a day.”
To these overwhelmed believers I usually ask, “Do you think you could find the time to read one page of a book each day?” No one has ever told me they couldn’t, no matter how busy they are or how many children they have. It might mean sneaking a page during a visit to the bathroom, sitting in the car an extra two minutes at the end of the morning or evening commute, or standing by the bed to read a moment before crashing into the pillow at night.
By reading one page per day you can read 365 pages in a year, or the equivalent of two full-length books. That may not sound like much, but it’s far better than not reading at all. Moreover, this would place you well beyond 27% of the U.S. population in the number of books read each year.
Furthermore, if you read just two books a year for the rest of your life, think of how many books you’d read if you lived to be seventy or seventy-five. Add to these all the books you might read in your retirement years if you develop the habit reading just a little each day now.
By this means of just a page per day, I’ve seen mothers of multiple preschoolers, homeschooling moms, and overwhelmed executives alike plow through a book every month or two. It wasn’t because they had any less to do. Rather, the secret lay in the simple discipline of making the commitment to read just one page.
Invariably, of course, when they read one page they decided to read more. The main problem was just getting to that first page. Once that was done, the rest was not only easy, but enjoyable as well.
Get back to the simple pleasure of good reading, one page at a time.
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Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 111-112.
As I sit writing these words with my old Swan fountain pen on an oak roll-top desk, my left forearm rests on a book about Writer’s Houses. On end in a cubbyhole to my right is another book of photographs called The Writer’s Desk. As a writer, I enjoy looking at pictures of the private places where famous authors practiced their craft.
We expect a writer to dedicate a room in his home for writing, or a musician to set aside space in her residence just for music, or an artist to use one of the rooms where he lives as a studio. Many people do all or part of their daily work from offices at home. Why, then, shouldn’t a Christian have a place in the house devoted exclusively to the work of prayer?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of how hypocrites love to pray so that people can see or hear them and be impressed. “But when you pray,” He instructed His followers, “go into your room and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
In the King James Version of the Bible, the word translated here as room is rendered closet, giving rise to a now old-fashioned term, “prayer closet.” While the Lord’s primary emphasis in this verse is on the importance of sincere, humble, private prayer, why not have a place—a prayer closet—in your home set aside just for meeting with God?
The idea of a well-used prayer closet is central to the 2015 movie, War Room. In it each of the two leading characters dedicates a bedroom closet as a “war room,” a place where they engage in spiritual warfare.
While it’s true that many will not have the space to set aside an area exclusively for prayer, what does it say about the priorities of Christians who have a whole room for physical exercise, but no place only for spiritual exercises? What does it say when we allocate a large space just for children to play, but none for Christians to pray? What does it say when we design the most spacious area in the home for our entertainment, filling it with a large television, music system, and computer whereby we hear from the world, but make no plans for a place where we meet with God?
It’s not that we can’t use the same desk both for work and prayer, or that we can’t read the Bible in the same chair where we watch TV. But why shouldn’t the home of a Christian demonstrate by design—whether a small room, nook, or repurposed closet—that prayer to God is important?
An earlier version of this post appeared in my Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 87-88.
Why pray when it appears that your prayers go unanswered? Why keep on reading the Bible when it seems like you’re getting little from it? Why continue worshiping God privately when you feel no spiritual refreshment? Why persist in keeping a journal when writing your entries bores you? Why engage in fasting, silence and solitude, serving, and other spiritual disciplines when you sense meager benefits from doing so?
It’s easy to forget the real purpose of anything that’s as habitual as the activities of the spiritual life. And purposeless spiritual practices soon become dry routines that shrivel our souls.
The apostle Paul wrote of his concern that something like this would happen to the Christians at Corinth: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, nasb). Notice that the direction of devotion is to be “to Christ.” Spirituality is not an end in itself; it’s about Jesus.
When we realize just who this God-Man—this Jesus who is called the Christ—is, we understand why the spiritual life is about Him: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). So, “in everything,” including our spirituality, Jesus should “be preeminent.”
That’s why God inspired Paul to tell us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” [that is, Christlikeness] (1 Timothy 4:7, nasb). All our spiritual disciplines should be practiced in pursuit of Christlikeness.
We pursue outward conformity to Christlikeness as we practice the same disciplines Christ practiced. More importantly, we pursue intimacy with Jesus and the inner transformation to Christlikeness when we look to Him through the spiritual disciplines.
So when we engage in the disciplines of Bible intake, we should look primarily for what it tells us about Jesus, for what Jesus says to us in it, for how we are to respond to Jesus, for what we are to do for Jesus, and so forth.
And when we discipline ourselves to pray, we want to pray in Jesus’ name (see John 14:13-14); that is, we should come in the righteousness of Jesus (and not our own), and to pray what we believe Jesus would pray in our circumstances.
Our perennial purpose for practicing any and all of the spiritual disciplines should be a Christ-centered purpose. Authentic Christ-ian spirituality is about Jesus Christ.
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Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 27-28.
When it comes to spirituality, you do what you do because you believe what you believe.
Regardless of the importance you consciously place upon it, theology drives and determines your spirituality. For example, you pray the way you do because of your theology. And there are certain ways you do not pray, more because of theology than tradition.
Recognize, therefore, the connection between good theology and good spirituality. Don’t turn to people as models and teachers of spirituality if you could not also turn to them as mentors of theology and doctrine. For their spirituality is also connected to their theology.
It’s very easy to be impressed by someone’s piety and think, “Surely anyone who is so pious, so devoted, and so committed to prayer, couldn’t be very wrong in his theology.” But I have seen more than one person come to reject biblical theology—even regarding the doctrine of salvation—after they became impressed with the spirituality of a particular writer or speaker who eventually led them astray. As Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24).
• If anyone makes experience authoritative over the revelation of God in Scripture—turn away from him.
• If anyone adds another book or experience to the Bible, making it equal in authority to God’s Word—refuse to believe him.
• If anyone teaches that God can be experienced directly, that is, without the mediation of Jesus Christ and the Bible—don’t listen to him.
• If anyone says that there are many paths to God and that Jesus isn’t the only way to Heaven—avoid him.
Each of us needs both sound theology and passionate spirituality, because theology is the fuel for spirituality’s fire. Theology provides the discernment to protect us from unbiblical or unhealthy spiritual practices (such as regularly seeking to experience God without the guidance or influence of Scripture). Theology can protect us from fads in spirituality.
How do you pursue theology? Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen to biblical preaching and avail yourself of the opportunities for Christian education at your church. Read Christian books that teach, not just those that entertain. These include not only books about doctrine, but also biographies of those who were, like Apollos, “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
Theology is God’s truth. Don’t try to grow your soul or simplify your spiritual life without it.
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 59-60.
Also related to this theme: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).
Some of the most important changes in my life occurred when I thought to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”
The way I spend the Lord’s Day, for example, and my thinking about what activities please God in worship were dramatically changed when I purposed to study what God’s Word said about those matters.
Far more often than we do, Christians should ask such questions. In our relationships, finances, use of time, priorities, parenting, simplifying, and everything else, we should more quickly ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”
The wisdom of frequently asking this question is obvious if we believe truths like these:
• “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b)
• “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)
• Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)
• “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17
Nothing will simplify our lives more than finding the will of God on a matter and doing it. And the best way to discover the will of God is to search the Word of God.
What’s the most significant issue in your life right now? What major decision is before you? Be sure to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Then, as you turn to the Bible, pray the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
From Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 50-51.
The unifying principle for all of life, including our spirituality, is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the sun around which every spiritual practice, every decision, every prayer, and everything else—including our efforts at simplifying—should revolve.
Concern for the glory of God in all things was the heartbeat of God’s Son, Jesus. When only one of ten lepers (and he a Samaritan) whom Jesus had cleansed returned to thank Him, Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return to give praise [i.e., glory] to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Jesus wasn’t indignant because He received so little thanks for healing these men. He wasn’t thinking of Himself; rather He was jealous over the lack of glory God received for this wonderful miracle.
According to John 12:27-28, Jesus had realized that the time for His arrest and crucifixion is at hand. Knowing He will soon die under the wrath of God, listen to His primary concern: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (emphasis added, here and below).
A short time later, just hours before He was taken into custody, Jesus taught us to ask in His name when we pray. Notice the reason why He promises such prayers will be answered: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”(John 14:13). The passion that propelled the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ was His zeal for the glory of God.
From matters as crucial as the death of Jesus, to those as mundane as eating and drinking, the Bible presents the glory of God as the ultimate priority and the definitive criterion by which we should evaluate everything.
So when faced with choices about your spiritual life, ask first, “Which choice(s) will bring the most glory to God?” Choose and live in such a way “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 45-46.
Bill often wonders whether he is a second-class Christian because of the less-than-Christian atmosphere where he works. His occupation is good and necessary for society, but it’s also one in which liars, cheats, and thieves seem to flourish. Vulgar and blasphemous language typically fills the air of Bill’s workplace.
For other believers, the problem at work is not a godless environment; it’s the gnawing lack of meaning to their labor. They trudge through tedious days on a job that often feels intolerably unimportant.
Can followers of Jesus work in these conditions and still maintain a close relationship with Him? Or is the Lord somewhat disappointed in them because of where they work or what they do?
God ordained work. Before sin entered the world, “the Lord God took the man [Adam] and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). People must grow food, care for children, make clothes, tend the sick, construct buildings and roads, transport goods, govern the cities, and so forth.
Obviously, therefore, God intends for most people to devote themselves to what’s often called “secular” employment. Only a small percentage should be vocational pastors, church-planting missionaries, and the like (even though more are needed). Otherwise, who’d work the fields, deliver the mail, build ships and cars, develop water systems, and make medicines?
Because God has ordained it, all work has a spiritual dimension. The Bible repeatedly commends useful, honest labor (see Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10), which shows God’s intense interest in it. When we actively recognize His presence in our workplace, we acknowledge His sovereignty over all of life. And that’s basic to true spirituality.
Even if your daily responsibilities seem dull and unimportant, or cause you to associate with and support worldly, God-hating people, remember that “the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). And He takes pleasure in us not just at church, but at work, too. He’s as attentive to us in our work routines as He as to Joseph in his service as Potiphar’s slave, to Jesus in the carpentry shop, and to the apostle Paul when he was making tents.
Work is not a hindrance to spirituality; it is a part of it. Even slaves were instructed by Paul not to fear that their awful condition in any way diminished their spiritual standing with God (see 1 Corinthians 7:22). Our spirituality depends upon who who are in Christ, not the circumstances of our workplace. God’s presence and favor are not limited by coworkers or job descriptions.
Enlarge your vision of your spiritual life to include your daily work. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance; for your serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). Present your work to God. You are working for Him.
Taken from Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 155-156.
This post is available as a free bulletin insert in PDF format here.
Your thoughts on the spirituality of work?