Dr. Willard writes of historical Christianity as well as present church practice and mindset, and then he cuts through the confusion and teaches practical admonitions for how to live the life Jesus calls us to live.
"For at least several decades," Dallas writes, "the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership--either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church... So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional... Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ."
He continues, "The disciple is someone who, intent upon becoming Christlike and so dwelling in his 'faith and practice,' systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end... There is no other way. In contrast, the nondisciple, whether inside or outside the church, has something more important to do or undertake than to become like Jesus Christ."
I didn't realize I wasn't intending to overcome in some areas, but when I started looking honestly with my newly informed eyes, I had to ask:
What do I need to overcome? Is there anything even slightly starting to control me? What excites me most? Is it God? Are reading His word and other spiritually uplifting resources and staying in His presence THE MOST IMPORTANT things to me? Am I CONSISTENTLY staying there? What FILLS most of my daily moments? What do I extend my hand to FIRST THING every morning? Is it my phone for Facebook or is it immediate connection with my Abba? How many times a day do I reach for my phone vs. listen to a helpful book or read my Bible?
I've been convicted and have found new freedom as I continue to put into practice what I'm learning from Spirit of the Disciplines. Chains continue to fall off as I recognize them as chains, because I've been helped to better understand how God helps us rid ourselves of them!
HE IS SO GOOD!
From this book I learned a proper understanding of disciplines like fasting. I have never been a faster for I only understood fasting to be a way of trying to get God to do my will. I didn't realize there was a proper use for this discipline, that it could aid me as I seek to walk after the spirit and not the flesh. I didn't realize the power of purposeful, intentional denial of my body's desires (for a set time and for a specific purpose), things like food, or shopping privileges, or time on social media, or any activity that can control me or be more important to me than God is.
I love this paragraph about "nondiscipleship," for in a round-about way it expresses what the life of discipleship embodies.
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul.Off to read the next book!
Godspeed, my dear reader!