How’s your prayer life? Are you spending time in God’s Word regularly? When is the last time you fasted? Are you finding time for silence and solitude during the busyness of your day?
If you’re like me, the answer to these questions can be a little embarrassing. You know you don’t pray as much as you’re supposed to. You find yourself skipping the time you set aside to study the Bible, and you can’t remember the last time you fasted. Let me say this: I’m with you. I get it.
Lately, I’ve been trying to understand my lack of discipline. Why is it so tough to be disciplined when it comes to spiritual disciplines like Bible intake, prayer, fasting, etc.? I know I need to be better at these disciplines, but why does my discipline last for a little while and then taper off? I turned to Don Whitney to answer this question, and I believe he gives a pretty good answer to help me understand my lack of discipline.
In his wonderful book, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, Don says this, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” What does this mean? What does it mean that, “Discipline without direction is drudgery”? Picture this story (which Don shares in his book and I’ve paraphrased).
Imagine there is a ten-year-old boy. His name is Kevin, and his parents have enrolled him in guitar lessons. So every afternoon after school he walks into his living room where his teacher is waiting on him. He strums songs on the guitar because he has to, but the whole time he’s looking out the window at his friends playing pick-up football across the street. He wants to be good at the guitar, he really does, but often he doesn’t see the point of all his practicing. Plus, he’d rather be hanging out with his friends.
This is discipline without direction, and discipline without direction is drudgery. The work is dull or menial.
Let’s imagine, though, that an angel visits Kevin one afternoon, kind of like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. This angel, who we will call Clarence, transports Kevin to the first row of a rock concert. At this concert, Kevin watches this guitarist play beautifully. The crowd is going wild. Kevin is astonished. The angel looks at Kevin and asks, “What do you think?” Kevin can’t even muster the words to reply because he’s so in awe of this guitarist’s talent.
All of a sudden Kevin and the angel are back in his living room. The angel looks at Kevin and says, “That guitarist is you in 20 years, but there’s a catch… You have to practice.” Suddenly the angel disappears and Kevin is alone with his guitar.
Do you think his attitude will be different now? Absolutely. You see, if Kevin remembers what he’s going to become, his discipline will always have direction. He will have to give a lot of effort, but the work won’t be drudgery. It won’t be dull. The end goal will bring life to the work.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines, many Christians feel like Kevin did towards guitar practice. These disciplines are just things they have to do, but there’s no direction and this makes it drudgery. So when we talk about prayer, meditating on scripture, fasting, and so on, the real purpose of the discipline is a mystery. We know we should do them, but we don’t really understand the end goal.
So, what’s the purpose? What do we have to look forward to as Kevin looked forward to killing it on the guitar in front of adoring crowds? We find a clear answer in 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB): “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”
So what’s the purpose of these disciplines? Godliness. The purpose is to be like Jesus. But not only to be like Him but also to know Him better. Kevin looked at himself in 20 years and said, “I want to be that.” We look at Jesus and say I want to live like that and I want to know Him better. We discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.
Christian, never forget the goal of your discipline. The goal is to look like Jesus and to know Him better. The goal is godliness. That’s why you set aside time each day to study the Bible. That’s why you pray, fast, journal, and so on. The goal is godliness, and there’s no greater goal than that.
Do you have any practical tips when it comes to spiritual disciplines? We’d love to hear from you!