Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life explores eleven different spiritual disciplines that should be active in the believers’ life. The spiritual disciplines bring about spiritual growth that flow from disciplines that are both private and corporate. The ultimate goal of engaging in and practicing spiritual disciplines is to draw the individual closer to God. The eleven disciplines that Whitney outlines in this book are: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning. In all of this practicing, the main objective is that one begins to practice the disciplines outlined in this book to promote their own spiritual growth. Even though the list that Whitney puts forth in this book is not a comprehensive list, simply incorporating the disciplines listed in this book will put one on the path to growth.
Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, divides each of the thirteen chapters for the purpose of adequately covering each discipline per chapter with the exception of Bible intake, which is discussed in two chapters. Whitney concludes the book with his final chapter explaining why perseverance in the disciplines is necessary. The chapters contain basic definitions of the discipline, ways to practice them and the importance of doing so. Each chapter ends with a personal challenge to commit one to the practice of the discipline discussed. The first chapter gives an overview of why there is a need to do spiritual disciplines. Whitney makes the point that one day those who are followers of Christ will be granted Christ likeness but until then one needs to pursue after it. Whitney describes that the spiritual disciplines can be like channels of God’s grace. In other words that through their practice one will see transformation in their life because they practice them.
Chapters two and three are devoted to the wonderful discipline of Bible intake. Whitney articulates clearly for the reader that this discipline is more than just reading the Bible. This discipline above all others can never be substituted. Bible intake can come from a variety of ways first there is the hearing of the word of God. Second is the reading of God’s word. Third there is the study of God’s word. This is more than simply reading or hearing but requires a more in depth look at the scriptures. The fourth area of Bible intake is memorization of scripture. Memorization of scripture stimulates the fifth area of meditation. The more scriptures one has memorized the easier it is to meditate upon the Word.
Whitney argues clearly and powerfully that the discipline of prayer is a discipline that is equal to or complimentary to Bible intake. Whitney shows that prayer is not important in the lives of the average Christian. God makes it clear here that prayer is not an option in Colossians 4:2. The fact that Jesus often prayed (Luke 5:16) shows that our need to pray is even that much greater. One cannot hope to be like Jesus without praying. One important aspect that is discussed in this chapter is that prayer is learned.
Worship is the gathering together with other believers to show God how worthy he is to receive one’s adoration. Whitney points out that in order to truly worship God one must concentrate on God to do otherwise is not worship at all. The main point that comes out in this chapter is that in order to Worship one must rely upon the Holy Spirit.
Whitney in this chapter focuses the reader on the idea of sharing of one’s faith and engaging in the spiritual discipline of Evangelism. Whitney clearly articulates that this is simply sharing of the Gospel with those that one comes into contact. It is not based upon an event but rather it is sharing the Gospel with those whom one works. Whitney’s main point in the chapter is that evangelism is expected and is empowered from God.
Whitney in this chapter makes the point that serving is not to be taken with idleness. God expects one’s full involvement. Whitney engages the reader extensively that there are some Christians that believe that one has to have the Spiritual gift of serving in order to do it. There are even those that in a list of Spiritual gifts believe that if one does not fall into any other category this one is somehow the safety net that catches everyone else. Serving is often hard work because it requires sacrifice, something that many do not want to do but must be exercises as the spiritual discipline it is.
The main concept that Whitney looks at in this chapter is the use of one’s time. This isn’t simply about one’s money but their time and resources as well. Whitney spends the chapter helping the reader question how one uses their time and how that has a direct impact upon their spirituality and ultimately has eternal consequences. Whitney ends the chapter addressing money and the stewardship of it. The main point is that all money belongs to God. How one spends their money or gives their money directly speaks to how one views God and his provision and blessings.
Fasting/ Silence and Solitude
Fasting as Whitney uses it in his book involves the abstention of food and even liquids. He admits that there are other ways to fast but here he is talking about food. One of the main points that he makes is that fasting is not an option but is expected of the believer. He bases this conclusion on the Sermon on the Mount where Christ is talking about giving and praying. He tells the crowd how they are to do these practices. He turns to fasting in a like manner and tells the people when you fast not if you fast. In the chapter dealing with silence and solitude, Whitney wants to show the reader the importance of seeking God in silence based upon Psalm 46:10. There are times that one must be silent before the Lord in order to hear him.
Journaling and Learning
Whitney ends with the two disciplines that seem to complement each other and can be used in tandem with the disciplines of Bible intake, and prayer. The idea behind journaling is to write down the thoughts that come to mind in one’s Bible time or one’s prayer time. One of the biggest areas that journaling helps is in ones meditation time, it helps to keep focused. The spiritual discipline of learning involves the idea that one must be in a pursuit to know more about God. The idea is that one does not have to be a scholar in order to be a Christian but one must be willing to learn as Jesus did.
EVALUATION / CRITIQUE
Overall Whitney does and excellent job of outlining eleven spiritual disciplines that are essential to one’s spiritual development. One critique that this reviewer had is that Whitney opens the way for Christians to look for that inner voice of God to guide them. He quotes A.W. Tozer on page 199. Whitney seems to be one of “soft mysticism.” He writes often of “hearing the voice of God” and the like (pp. 44, 179, 184, 186, 193, 194, 195, 236, 237). By this the author means the inner voice, the prompting, and the inner “still, small voice of God.” I find no example or instruction in the Word concerning such inner voices. The issue here is what does God’s voice sound like and Satan could masquerade around like God. This again can be solved by carefully screening how to follow after God. With all of that being said, This book is extremely helpful in laying out for the reader eleven spiritual disciplines that when engaged in can help one grow in their affection for God.
This reviewer found the book powerful and above all, convicting. Because it is so Biblical, continually returning to the Word of God, it allowed the Spirit to act and convict this reviewer in areas of life where the reviewer has become lax. Specifically, when it comes to Bible intake the ideas of memorization and meditation need to be practiced more by this reviewer. In the area of worship, this reviewer needs to be more reverent in how he approaches it. This reviewer was specifically challenged in the area of evangelism. This reviewer needs to remember to share his faith right he is at. In the area of serving this is one area that this reviewer has been challenged to not simply view serving God as a right but a privilege.
In the area of stewardship, this reviewer was challenged to gaining a greater perspective and grasping how stewardship of time is incredibly important. Whitney helped this reviewer to realize that there are limits on time and that in order to prepare for eternity, one must stop letting other things in life distract from the mission of God. The practice of Silence and Solitude is probably the most challenging area from this book for this reviewer. This reviewer desires to learn more about this particular area and begin to discipline himself to bring glory to God and grow in the grace and knowledge of Him by being alone with Him.
Whitney’s book is one that any Christian can read and put into action. This book is for everyone to read. One does not need to be a scholar to apply the principles contained in this book. Knowledge and understanding are only one part of the benefits of this book. The application of this book is the most essential part. The ideas raised in this book will draw one into a closer relationship with Jesus if applied. In the pursuit of God one needs to apply the disciplines outlined by Whitney. Whitney’s book is one that this reviewer highly recommends for anyone that wants a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1997.
Courtney from Study Moose
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