Good Example Of Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life By Donald S. Whitney Book Review
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(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014)
A Book Review
The book is designed to help Christians focus on their spiritual calling to follow Christ and shows different aspects of how one can get closer to Him by applying certain spiritual practices mentioned in the Bible. The author cites other Christians with a successful spiritual journey that over the years have proved to be a good example of believers applying the same practices. The writer is concerned with the way Christianity is affected by the world today and aims to eliminate distractions and personal misconception on how to act when it comes to practical faith. His main purpose is to explain what the Bible says about personal discipline in regard to the basic steps necessary for one’s active years of practicing Christianity.
(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014)
A Book Review
Whitney differentiates between personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines (p. 4). The “lack of personal devotional life” cannot be compensated by the “participation in meaningful church activities;” rather it “will get us out of balance and deform our pursuit of holiness” (p. 6). We are part of the body of Christ and we “experience communion with God through personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines” (p. 6). Something one does on purpose is a way to form one’s spiritual discipline, like for example, in fasting. Spiritual disciplines are contrary to emotions, which are something “we experience,” like joy, for example (p. 6).
We have to take illustrations for spiritual disciplines from the Bible, which sets the correct boundaries as to what practices are healthy and appropriate for the believers to protect us from deviations that could harm us (p. 6). “ the following personal Spiritual Disciplines are commented in Scripture: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning” (p. 7). The author admits that there are many more practices that can be added to this list (p. 7). All true examples of godly Christians, through the history of Christianity, sought godliness and holiness, and exercised spiritual discipline, in order to get closer to God and to fulfill His will (p. 10). People around us are good catalysts that catapult us to a life path closer to God –such are either friends or enemies, but God uses them just as effectively adjusts our perceptions to His will (p. 10).
Whitney claims that Christianity is a tested teaching that has worked for many spiritual leaders and its core values are proved to be true. However, in terms of prayer, which is the second important spiritual discipline, there is a lack of consistency in practicing it, for the majority of Christians living today (p. 80). It is necessary to live in prayer, in order to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, which is the main objective of the Christian faith. This is exactly what He practiced, which the Scripture underlines in many verses of the New Testament. This is something every believer should make a “priority” in his lifetime, because it is a form of “sacrifice” to God (p. 81).Whitney also reminds us to pray without ceasing (Thessalonians 5:17). This is something that connects us to the Father God and secures a good “relationship” with him (p. 81). It is like constantly being involved in a conversation with God in a form of us “talking” to Him (p. 82). Even though sometimes work and family duties distract us from praying, those “interruptions” should not last long, since God requires us to talk to Him (p. 82). Whitey quotes Martin Luther, who says that prayer is essential for our occupation and role as Christians, just as some professions define the life of those exercising them (p. 82).
Prayer is not only something we are expected to do, but it is there for our benefit, because in this way we get closer to the throne of God and receive “the mercy and grace of God” (Hebr. 4:16). First, when I became a Christian, I only knew a few verses of the New Testament regarding prayer – for example – about the urgent prayer and how effective it is, so that in difficult times I would turn to God and expect an answer after I have prayed over a specific issue that needed to be resolved urgently. But Whitney shows many aspects of Christian prayer life and describes it more as a lifestyle and a way of breathing, than anything else. He says that God desires to hear from us in a sort of a spiritual “phone call” to heaven, because He loves us and want us to share our emotions and experiences with Him.
Further, in one of the following chapters, Whitney reminds of the importance of sharing the Gospel with unbelievers, and he testifies from his personal experience that while being on mission trips spending his whole day talking to strangers and telling them about the redemptive work of Christ – this he feels with hindsight has been the most prolific time of his personal life, where light really has shone upon people who have never heard of Jesus before (p. 119). The author says that God expects from us to go and evangelize the world. He explains that evangelism as a spiritual discipline and a means to “present  Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people” (p. 120).
Essentially, in makes no difference, if the words of Jesus Christ are in written or a spoken form, whether the message is delivered face-to-face to one person or in a recorded message played to an audience – the results are of an equal importance (p. 120). In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus has urged His disciples to go and make more disciples all over the world. His consolation is that He will be with us, when we evangelize, to strengthen us. Evangelization is given to all Christians and is an important obligation, for which one has to develop a personal discipline to practice it. It is not a special spiritual gift that is bestowed on some Christians. None is excluded from this obligation concerning others (p. 212). There are some excellent qualities about Jesus Christ that no other person on earth or in heaven possesses, and people who sit in darkness need to hear about Him. Many Christians, however, are not aware of their responsibility as evangelists or ignore their calling in order to stay away from potential problems, that might result from being involved in evangelization and in that way they live in “disobedience toward God in regard to this command” (p. 122).
Another aspect of spiritual discipline is living in solitude. Solitude and silence go hand in hand. Solitude replaces all forms of communication: small talks about the weather, sports, news, and sharing information about important events. Christian solitude includes a different kind of communication – it is the state of being away from people to be close to God (p. 225). If Christians are too withdrawn, however, this might “stagnate their spiritual life” (p. 225). Fellowship with other Christians about question of faith and sharing personal experiences and revelations can be just as important as solitude. Nevertheless, solitude deepness our spiritual life and gives us more insights. It is a lifestyle contrary to the main stream of culture. Somehow, it does not seem appropriate in the 21st century to live in solitude – this kind of life is more typical for the “Victorian age” than for a world dominated by busy shopping centers, TV and other entertainment.
However, Whitney says that “The worship of God does not always require words, sounds, or actions. Sometimes worship consists in God-focused stillness and hush” (p. 229). There are a few passages in the Bible, that focus on the need to “be still in the presence of God:” Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7, Zechariah 2:13. There is a “worshipful,” meaningful silence showing reverence and anticipation in the presence of God. Whitney describes it as a kind of adoration to God. This kind of communication makes one aware of God’s fullness without any personal exchange of words involved (p. 229).
Whitney, D. S. (2014). Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs:
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