Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian LifeI just completed Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  I certainly recommend it to you as a helpful guide in developing the spiritual disciplines in your own life.  One thought I want to pass along comes toward the latter half of the last chapter where Whitney answers a common objection to disciplining oneself spiritually:

There are no shortcuts to Godliness.  But the flesh broods for an easier way than through the Spiritual Disciplines [Bible Intake, Prayer, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, Learning and Perseverance].  It protests, “Why can’t the Christian life be more extemporaneous and unstudied?  All this talk of disciplining myself sounds legalistic and regimented and harder than I thought being like Christ should be.  I just want to be spontaneous!”…

Certainly we want spontaneity, but spontaneity without discipline is superficial.  I have several friends who can improvise beautiful melodies on the keyboard or the guitar.  But the only reason they can play so “spontaneously” is because they have spent years in the disciplines of playing musical scales and other fundamental exercises.  Jesus could live so spiritually “spontaneous” because He was in reality the most spiritually disciplined man who ever lived.  Do nothing and you will live spontaneously.  But if you desire effective spontaneity in the Christian life, it must be the fruit of a spiritually disciplined faith (246-247).

I am starting to realize that the Holy Spirit is primarily about empowering discipline rather than causing constant spiritual “spontaneity.”  In fact, I wonder if my desire for spontaneity is merely a guise for laziness, cloaked in spiritual terms, so that I might convince myself and others of my spirituality, while going through life bouncing from thing to thing according to my own whims and desires.  I think I now agree with John Guest, who is quoted on page 247 in the book, “The fact of the matter is that discipline is the only way to freedom; it is the necessary context for spontaneity.”  May this year be a year of growth in the Spiritual Disciplines.

2 thoughts on “"I Just Want to Be Spontaneous!"

  1. Derek,
    I think the gist here is right on. Self-discipline is the framework on which spontaneity is built. Children love to and instictively play and create all kinds of games, but even they come up with rules and frameworks.

    However, one must never emphasize the framework over the substance. The framework serves it’s purpose but is not actually THE purpose. That path leads to a dull, lifeless legalism where nothing outside of the framework is attempted, or even considered worthy of attention. I see both the error of spontaneity without disciple and discpline without passion in myself, and I see both errors in the Church.

    Sounds like a good book. He didn’t try and say that his particular framework for discipline is the only possible framework, did he?

  2. John,

    I agree with your comments-that we must never emphasize the framework over the substance-and I think D. Whitney would agree with you as well (judging from what I have learned from his books). We don’t want to begin to rely on the disciplines and make them an end in and of themselves.

    In his writing, Whitney regularly takes the reader back to the purpose of the disciplines, namely, godliness (I Timothy 4:7), and grounds our pursuit of the disciplines in the work of Christ. He also promotes freedom within the disciplines themselves. For example, with regards to journaling, he warns the reader to not get into the trap of only writing one kind of entry (theological, meditative, personal, etc.), but instead, to make several different kinds of entries. This kind of freedom is promoted in the other disciplines as well: Bible reading, prayer, etc.

    He does not believe that his particular framework is the only possible framework for the spiritual disciplines. In fact, at the very beginning of the book, he mentions several other disciplines that have been emphasized in other books (Celebration of Discipline-Foster; Spirit of the Disciplines-Willard) that he believes are both legitimate and helpful, but that he is not going to emphasize in his book.

    Does this help?

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