Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifeby Donald S. Whitney
Length: Approximately 10 hours. To read (304 pages)
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Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney combines practical insight, biblical exposition and pastoral counsel into one dynamic package. Dr. Whitney masterfully identifies the biblically ordained methods of spiritual exercise that discipline us “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7-8). Spiritual Disciplines is a step-by-step guide to practicing personal holiness. Dr. Whitney provides an overview of Scripture’s methods for personal sanctification, explains them and gives a how-to guide for each of them. If you are stuck in a rut spiritually, frustrated by your lack of growth in Christ or wanting a deeper relationship with Him – this is the book for you.
Who should read this?
This book is written for any Christian from any walk of life. I would not hesitate to recommend this to ANY professing believer. These disciplines are relevant to all Christians and are divinely instituted for the development and growth of all Christians. If you’re newly converted and want to know how to progress from here and live a life pleasing to God: read this book and practice it. If you’ve been a Christian for a while but want to grow more in faith and practice: read this book and practice it. If you’re seasoned but feel like you’re drifting from God: read this book and practice it. Dr. Whitney does such an excellent job of laying out the basis for the Christian life I would be comfortable even recommending this to a child. There are so few books that are relevant to all Christians but this is one.
The How: (Who’s it for and what’s the context?)
As previously indicated: this book is for all Christian believers. Regardless of whether or not you’re young or old, new or seasoned, male or female, the basic biblical principles contained within will enrich your walk with God. Dr. Whitney is writing with the intention of addressing the lack of discipleship inside of western Christianity and seeking to equip believers with the tools they need to grow.
One of the major drawbacks to cultural Christianity can be the tendency to assume that everyone knows the basics. This is certainly not true. Many have grown up inside the church having absolutely no idea how to commune with God or how to develop spiritually. Therefore, it can be necessary to explain how to do that, one step at a time. Which is exactly what Dr. Whitney does.
Spiritual Disciplines is divided into 13 chapters:
- The Spiritual Disciplines – 2
- Bible Intake (Part 1) – 21
- Bible Intake (Part 2) – 37
- Prayer – 79
- Worship – 101
- Evangelism – 119
- Serving – 141
- Stewardship – 159
- Fasting – 191
- Silence and Solitude – 221
- Journaling – 249
- Learning – 271
- Perseverance in the Disciplines – 287
Each chapter follows the same format: introduce a spiritual discipline, shows its biblical basis, explain it and apply it. Dr. Whitney has a modern, simple and yet colorful manner of writing throughout. Historical anecdotes, humor and biblical exposition fill the pages and make for an enjoyable and convicting read. His language and tone are accessible and make for easy but spiritually challenging reading.
Spiritual Disciplines is out to make changes – changes in your life style, perception of God and private character. It isn’t a book with a message so much as it is a book with a method. I think Dr. Whitney would agree that if he’s trying to say anything it’s this: put the power of the Bible into action in your life. Spiritual Disciplines wants you to become a radically different person by making small changes and letting the Word of God into your life.
We cannot drift into holiness or godly character; we can only discipline ourselves for it. The Christian life doesn’t end with being born again – it begins! Therefore, we must learn how we are to live and to grow to be like God in this life. Spiritual Disciplines takes a patient and thorough approach to laying out blueprint for spiritual development.
The What: (Arguments and Basis)
The argument from Dr. Whitney is fairly simple: discipline yourself toward godliness or drift away from godliness. There is no middle ground. In each chapter he takes up this same basic argument afresh in answering objections to each discipline and presents the biblical basis for each of the spiritual disciplines.
Some argue against disciplining ourselves on the notion that it’s legalism – which he refutes early on by presenting the Doctrine of Justification by faith alone (Romans 3:21-26). This careful balance prevents legalism (earning our salvation), and licentiousness (believing that because we are saved by grace we can live in sin) from ensnaring us. Dr. Whitney argues for a continuous, life-long and grace-fueled spiritual exertion that draws us closer to God.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life changed my life. Other than the Bible itself no other book has influenced me as much as this one has. I grew up in the church but spent many years in a spiritual doldrum. After a period of back sliding and drifting from God He found me and brought me back home. A few years passed and I was beginning to grow deeper in my relationship with God and then I was given this to read by my pastor and my life was never the same. Finally, I knew how to grow in the way my heart yearned for. I had been reading the Bible and praying and even sometimes journaling, but this gave me a variety of approaches to try and drew my attention to other neglected disciplines such as: silence, solitude, fasting and meditation.
I had been told to meditate on God’s Word but had no idea how to do it! If you’ve ever been given unclear spiritual advice on prayer, meditation, fasting or evangelism then this book will help you. I’m a very literal man and having a careful study guide to Christian living was a Godsend. My gifts were fanned into flame and I was able to apply the theology I had been studying so carefully. It is impossible to recommend Spiritual Disciplines enough. Spiritual Disciplines is an oasis in our modern wilderness.
The greatest strength of Spiritual Disciplines is its mission: to get people reading, studying and living out God’s Word in every aspect of life. The foundational level of the material makes it accessible, relevant and comprehensive all at once. Second to that is its faithful exposition and explanation of biblical texts undergirding each spiritual discipline. You’re not just reading Dr. Whitney’s personal opinion on growth in godliness. He presents his work straight from the Bible. If you differ with him on any subject you can go straight to the text and see where he derives the idea from. He also does a faithful job of dealing with objections or obstacles that might hinder us from practicing the disciplines he outlines.
Another tremendous strength of this work is the thorough nature of it. Though Dr. Whitney only devotes a chapter (at the most two) to the principles outlined, those chapters are dense and informative. Dr. Whitney does more than just explain what the disciplines are. He details a variety of practical methods for practicing them. For instance in Chapter 3 – Bible Intake (Part 2) he describes 17 methods for meditation on Scripture! You will not be able to say “I don’t know how to meditate” after reading that I promise! I didn’t find every single method helpful, but I found 3-4 that were and they dramatically improved my retention of Bible reading.
There are a few weaknesses of this work that should be mentioned however. Spiritual Disciplines’ exhaustive nature can be overwhelming sometimes. The tremendous number of options can be intimidating. Presenting 17 methods for meditation can be helpful to some and can be a little daunting or confusing for others. Similarly, because the book addresses so many different spiritual disciplines it can be difficult to put into practice as well. I know when I first started reading the book I began to make large-scale changes to my daily rhythm and found myself stretched too thin. However, I quickly realized that one must make these changes at whatever pace they can handle.
Another danger is that sometimes we profess with our mouths that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, but we live like it depends on us. We have to be mindful that we will not practice the spiritual disciplines perfectly otherwise our failures will demoralize us. Dr. Whitney is acutely aware of this and the gospel shines all throughout the work. He also prefaced the book with a warning against these dangerous extremes as well. All in all, I would consider these criticisms to be insignificant in comparison to the gain that comes from understanding the spiritual disciplines and employing them in daily life.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life may very well be one of the very best books ever written. It’s concise, simple and ever-applicable regardless of your age, background, ethnicity or station in life. I cannot help but notice that others agree as I’ve lost count of books, sermons and blog articles that source Dr. Whitney’s masterclass treatment of Christian discipline.
As I said before no other book except the Bible has so dramatically affected me and my perception of reality. My personal times of communion with God have been radically and gloriously altered by this spiritual workout routine. If you want to grow in godliness go and get this book.
- “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.” – page 22.
- “Fifth, the Spiritual Disciplines are practices derived from the gospel, not divorced from the gospel.” – page 8.
- “There are times to speak to God, and there are times simply to behold and adore in Him in silence.” – page 229.
- “No one grows into Christlikeness without learning about it. . .” – page 278.
- “Learning that’s mostly by accident does not lead to godliness. We must become disciplined, intentional learners if we’re going to become like Jesus.” – page 279.