John 10:10 (NIV) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
1 Jn 2:29, 3:2-3 (Phi) You all know that God is really good. You may be just as sure that the man who leads a really good life is a true child of God... Here and now, my dear friends, we ARE God's children. We don't know what we shall become in the future. We only know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is! Everyone who has at heart a hope like that keeps himself pure, as Christ is pure.
The Easy Yoke
Mat 11:29-30 (NIV) "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Luke 6:40 (Jer) "The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will be like his teacher."
Dallas Willard: "We can become like Christ--by following the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe He knew how to live. What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as fasting, solitude, watching, praying, intense study and meditation upon God's Word and God's ways... Some of these will certainly be even more necessary to us than they were to him, because of our greater need. The secret of the easy yoke, then... is to live and prepare ourselves for life as he did, so that we can be the kind of people who behave 'on the spot' like Christ."
Mat 28:20 (Phi) "Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you..."
A.W. Tozer: "To escape the error of salvation by works we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience."Rom 6:16-19 (Phi) You "belong" to the power you choose to obey. Thank God, that you, who were at one time the servants of sin, honestly responded to the impact of Christ's teaching when you came under it's influence. Then, released from the service of sin, you entered the service of righteousness. (I use an everyday illustration because human nature grasps truth more readily that way.) In the past you voluntarily gave your bodies to the service of vice and wickedness--for the purposes of evil. So, now, give yourselves to the service of becoming truly good.
No Pain, No Gain...
For those who are out of shape physically, to begin training requires enduring significant pain. But after the initial "start up" pain, training becomes a sort of pleasure. This is because disciplined training leads to physical agility, strength, and health. Those in shape physically are more likely to take part in, excel at, and truly enjoy physical activities; but by comparison, spiritual fitness is even more important.1 Tim 4:7-8 (Phi) ...Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit. Bodily fitness has limited value, but spiritual fitness is of unlimited value, for it holds promise both for this present life and for the life to come.
1 Cor 9:24 (Jer) All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win.
Spectator Or Participant?
1 Cor 9:25-27 (Phi) Every competitor in athletic events goes into serious training. Athletes will take tremendous pains--for a fading crown of leaves. But our contest is for a crown that will never fade. I run the race with determination. I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight! I am my body's sternest master...
Luke 14:27-30 (Phi) "The man who will not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps cannot be my disciple. If any of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn't he first sit down and work out the cost of it, to see if he can afford to finish it? Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and found himself unable to complete the building, everyone who sees it will begin to jeer at him, saying, 'This is the man who started to build a tower but couldn't finish it!'"
Seizing The Prize Without Running The Race? (2 Tim 2:5)
Heb 12:1 (NIV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
M. Scott Peck: "There are many people who... want, and believe it is possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to discipline. Often they attempt to attain it by simply imitating the superficialities of saints... Some even believe that by such imitation they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle."Heb 5:12-14 (Phi) At a time when you should be teaching others, you need teachers yourselves to repeat to you the "ABC" of God's revelation to men. You have become people who need a milk diet and cannot face solid food! For anyone who continues to live on "milk" is unable to digest what is right--he simply has not grown up. "Solid food" is only for the adult, that is, for the man who has developed by experience his power to discriminate between what is good and what is evil.
The Disciplines Must Be Led By The Spirit
Oswald Chambers: "The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us."2 Tim 1:7 (NIV) For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Gal 5:22-23,25 (NIV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
1 Thes 4:4-8 (Phi) Every one of you should learn to control his body, keeping it pure and treating it with respect, and never allowing it to fall victim to lust, as do pagans with no knowledge of God. You cannot break this rule without cheating and exploiting your fellow-man. God will punish all who do offend in this matter, as we have plainly told you and warned you. The calling of God is not to impurity but to the most thorough purity, and anyone who makes light of the matter is not making light of a man's ruling but of God's command. It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the 'Holy' Spirit.
Practice What You Are Not Good At...
Dallas Willard: "People who think that they are spiritually superior because they make a practice of a discipline such as fasting... are entirely missing the point. The need for extensive practice of a given discipline is an indication of our weakness, not our strength. As a rule of thumb: if it is easy for us to engage in a certain discipline, we probably don't need to practice it. The disciplines we need to practice are precisely the ones we are not 'good at' and hence do not enjoy."
Disciplines of Abstinence
The spiritual disciplines of abstinence reveal the nature of the battle between the flesh and the spirit. By abstaining from food, social interaction, or sleep, we are "exercising" our spiritual muscles against the lower nature. It is like lifting weights; silly in itself, but useful to prepare us for real physical tests in the future. The things we abstain from in the spiritual disciplines are not evil; it is for the sake of the exercise that we deny ourselves; to prepare us for real temptation--tomorrow, or the next day.1 Cor 6:12 (KJV) All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
The disciplines of abstinence give us much needed experience and insight into the spiritual battle going on within us, and the lessons learned cannot be taught any other way. What is it like to say "No" to the lower nature? What tricks will it play? The way in which desire, habit, distraction, and other factors effect you will not be like anyone else. You must learn by doing how to live in holiness before God in your body. The disciplines of abstinence are an opportunity to train in safety.1 Pet 2:11 (Phi) I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers, and "temporary residents", to keep clear of the desires of your lower natures, for they are always at war with your souls.
1 Pet 1:13 (NIV) Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled...
Disciplines of Engagement
Dallas Willard defines the spiritual disciplines of engagement as the routine Christian activities of prayer, study, and meditation that are especially powerful in combination with the disciplines of abstinence. Disciplines of abstinence counteract tendencies to sins of commission, disciplines of engagement counteract tendencies to sins of omission [James 4:17]. They are often mentioned in combination in Scripture. "This is the outbreathing and inbreathing of spiritual training."Gal 5:16-17 (Phi) Here is my advice: Live your whole life in the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of your lower nature. For the whole energy of the lower nature is set against the Spirit, while the whole power of the Spirit is contrary to the lower nature. Here is the conflict, and that is why you are not able to do what you want to do...
Rom 8:12-13 (Phi) So then, my brothers, you can see that we owe no duty to our sensual nature, or to live life on the level of instincts. Indeed that way of living leads to certain spiritual death. But if on the other hand you cut the nerve of your instinctive actions by obeying the Spirit, you will live.
2 Tim 2:21 (NIV) If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Following is a biblical sampler of three of the main disciplines of abstinence: fasting, solitude, and watching.
FASTING: Abstinence from Food
Ester 4:16 (NIV) ...Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king...
Luke 5:35 (NIV) "But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, in those days they will fast."
Mat 6:16-17 (RSV) "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."
Acts 13:3 (NIV) So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
SOLITUDE: Abstinence from Social Interaction
Mark 1:35 (NIV) Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 6:46 (RSV) And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
Isa 30:15 (NIV) ...in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...
Mat 12:19 (Phi) He shall not strive or cry aloud; Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets.
Mark 6:31 (NIV) "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."
WATCHING: Abstinence from Sleep
Luke 6:12 (NIV) One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
Mat 26:38,40 (Phi) ...he told them, "stay here and keep watch with me."... He spoke to Peter, "Couldn't you three stay awake with me for a single hour? Watch and pray, all of you, that you may not have to face temptation. Your spirit is willing, but human nature is weak."
Luke 22:45-46 (NIV) When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Col 4:2 (Jer) Be persevering in your prayers and be thankful as you stay awake to pray.
Luke 12:37 (NIV) "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes..." [watching here, and in the next verse, is used figuratively.]
Mark 13:36-37 (NIV) "If he comes suddenly, don't let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
Other disciplines of abstinence include: silence, frugality, chastity, and sacrifice. Next we will look at three disciplines of engagement: prayer, study, and meditation.
PRAYER: Conversing with God
1 Pet 4:7 (NIV) The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
Eph 6:18 (Jer) Pray all the time, asking for what you need, praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all the saints.
Acts 1:14 (Phi) By common consent these... devoted themselves to prayer.
Deut 4:7 (NIV) ...The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him...
1 Thes 5:17,19 (Phi) Never stop praying... Never damp the fire of the Spirit.
STUDY: Seeking/Searching for God
Acts 17:11 (LB) ...They searched the Scriptures day by day to check up on Paul and Silas' statements to see if they were really so.
1 Thes 5:21 (LB) But test everything that is said to be sure it is true, and if it is, then accept it.
2 Tim 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Mat 7:7 (NIV) "Ask and it will be given unto you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened."
Heb 11:6 (Phi) ...The man who approaches God must have faith in two things, first that God exists and secondly that God rewards those who search for him.
2 Tim 3:16-17 (Phi) All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for resetting the direction of a man's life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work.
MEDITATION: Waiting and Reflecting on God
Ps 119:97 (NIV) Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Ps 48:9 (NIV) Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
Ps 145:5 (NIV) ...I will meditate on your wonderful works.
Ps 130:6 (NIV) My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning...
Ps 27:14 (NIV) Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Ps 46:10 (NIV) Be still and know that I am God...
Other disciplines of engagement include: worship, fellowship, service, and confession.
Missing The Holy Spirit...
The purpose of this study is to bring our minds "in line with" God's word. The danger in studying the spiritual disciplines is that we might ever practice them without the leading of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of impressing men, with the "spirit of religion". On the other hand, I suspect we often thwart the Holy Spirit's leading, because we are ignorant of what is likely to be asked of us...
How many times has God disturbed our sleep with someone in mind? And we "count sheep" or take a sleeping-pill instead of watching and praying. How many sermons have we heard that don't sit well with us? And yet we ignore the Spirit's prompting to study God's word and thus end up with a faulty knowledge of God. How many earnest prayers go unanswered because we refuse to practice the discipline of fasting? How many ugly things do we say to those we love because we are not being obedient to the Spirit's call to spend some time alone?
The yoke of Jesus may indeed be easy, but we keep throwing it off! Our lower natures are in control and running rampant! This is not following Christ's way of living. Small wonder that our growth is stunted, and real holiness an illusive dream.
If the Spirit led Jesus and every "saint of note" to consistently practice the Spiritual Disciplines so that they could live life to the full, shouldn't we expect the same leading if we are truly His disciples?
It is my prayer that this study will help prepare our minds so that we will not miss the Spirit's call. Lord, burden our hearts to repent and truly follow you. Give us another chance to hear your voice!
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