I have struggled with continued spiritual transformation at many points in my life. I believe one of the greatest discoveries is that I am “in training” to be like Christ, rather than just “trying” to be like Christ. For many years I thought that if I tried harder I would succeed. But the truth is, there is an immense difference between the two.
Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely. Paul stated it well in I Corinthians 9 when he said, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” This athletic scenario is very familiar to me, as I have trained for sports by shooting thousands of free throws, dribbling a basketball down miles of sidewalk to and from school, ran thousands of miles in preparation for marathons, or triathlons. All of this was strict training — and not an actual “event.” But, all of it was absolutely necessary and took concentrated effort so I could be successful and compete in the event!
In the Christian life, we normally call this “spiritual disciplines.” What are spiritual disciplines? Maybe we should state what they are not:
1. Spiritual disciplines are not a barometer of spirituality. God doesn’t judge us by how often we succeeded in the reading of and meditation on His Word, or our prayers, but rather on the results of those disciplines in our lives.
2. Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant. We have the impression that they must be painful. Just as when I was training for a marathon I learned that running in the early morning can be invigorating and exciting.
3. Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favor with God. We can never make God love us more by “doing our list” of disciplines. The spiritual disciplines do not oppose or exist in tension with grace. People who live under the bondage of legalism and then hear the message of grace are sometimes leery that talk about spiritual disciplines might lead to another form of religious oppression. But the spiritual disciplines are simply a means of growing and reminding ourselves of how God desires us to live.
Spiritual discipline is training to be all that God wants me to be and is not the end result. Spiritual disciplines enable us to do the work of God that we live out each day.
Have you (as I) wrongly equated spiritual discipline with the result of spiritual discipline? Determine to allow God to work His way in you!