The Goal of a Disciplined Life (6)
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.1 Timothy 4.8
We have been urging the point in this series that discipleship is a physical thing; it necessarily involves the members of our bodies in carrying out the good works to which we are called as followers of Jesus Christ. There are exceptions, of course; but even those who do not have free use of their bodies – whether because of injury or illness or other infirmity – still need to discipline their minds and hearts to contemplate the Lord with joy and pray, as Milton reminds us (“On His Blindness”).
But living this way doesn’t come naturally to us, and the mere passage of time in the faith will not bring it to fruition, either. Rather, we have to attack this calling like an athlete, agonizing against the natural, sinful tendencies of our bodily members as we make them obey the determinations of our soul – mind, heart, and conscience. When our mind is made up to follow Jesus, our heart is devoted to Him in love, and our conscience has established seeking His Kingdom and righteousness as our first priority, then disciplining our bodies will be an exciting, enjoyable, and fruitful – albeit agonizing – undertaking.
But this is precisely the challenge. First, we have to make up our minds that this is the disciplined life we intend to pursue. I’m reminded of an old Steve Martin routine concerning how to be a millionaire. First, Martin advises, get a million dollars. Everything is easier after that. Disciplining our bodies for discipleship will follow once we have resolved in our souls that following Christ and serving Him are going to be the order of the day in all the activities and time of our lives.
But that resolve must be firmly lodged in our soul, flowing through and charging all the cylinders of this spiritual engine of life. Then, once in place, that resolve must be daily revisited and reinforced.
It starts in the soul
Put another way, we might say that the physical power by which our bodies become employed in serving Jesus Christ is generated by the spiritual fuel that we faithfully stoke into the engine of our soul.
In fact, this is not unlike the way God Himself, a most pure Spirit, rules the physical cosmos (Heb. 1.3). He speaks with spiritual authority and comprehensive power, and all creation obeys. We will not be able to fulfill our calling for true words and good works with our bodies if our approach to the care and feeding of our souls is merely casual or cavalier. We need the spiritual power of God fueling our soul in all its parts if we are to realize the benefits and goals of a disciplined life.
In the repertoire of Kingdom disciplines, therefore, spiritual disciplines, are foundational to all other disciplines. Without a good regimen of spiritual disciplines, daily and faithfully pursued, we’re likely to fall short of what we need to make our bodies serve Jesus in all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, and amid the hard knocks, tight squeezes, and disappointments of life.
I don’t want us to take this for granted. You will not think about serving Christ with your body unless your mind is exercised and trained to focus on spiritual matters above all else. You won’t be inclined to serve others in love with your tongue or strength unless your heart is daily steeped in the love of Jesus Christ. And you will doubtless fritter away many opportunities to make the most of your time unless, in your conscience, you have resolved and determined that the first priority in all the moments of your life is to serve Christ and glorify God.
From these powerful spiritual cylinders of the soul, well-tuned and richly fueled, the engine of our inner person generates the good works our bodies carry out in every area of life.
Keeping the soul fine-tuned
So we must keep this engine fine-tuned and running on the high-octane fuel of regular spiritual disciplines. Your Christian life will be disappointing, unreal, and unfruitful unless you daily attend to the care and feeding of your soul.
This means daily time in God’s Word, reading, meditating, journaling, and seeking out applications for your daily life.
It will also require prayer – more prayer, earnest prayer, prayer without ceasing, that goes with you throughout the day and keeps you focused on your high calling in the Lord.
Regular worship of God will also help to keep that perspective in focus. And other disciplines, such as fasting, singing, and solitude, can also help in making sure that the good works to which you are called will have the spiritual power necessary to drive them forward when push comes to shove in the opportunities of your everyday life.
Spiritual disciplines are the starting-point for disciplining our bodies to follow Jesus. The consistency with which you do those good works that glorify God and benefit others will be determined by your faithfulness, intensity, and persistence in this most foundational area of the disciplined life.
1. Christianity is lived from the inside-out. Explain.
2. How would you describe the state of your spiritual disciplines at this time? Can you see any areas where you need to improve?
3. Do you have a prayer partner or an accountability partner? How might having such a person in your life help you tmake better use of spiritual disciplines?
Next Steps – Preparation: Talk with some Christian friends about their practice of spiritual disciplines. What can you learn from them to improve your own practice?
T. M. Moore
This study, The Goal of a Disciplined Life, is part 1 of a 7-part series that supports the course, Introduction to Spiritual Theology at The Ailbe Seminary. To learn more about this free course,watch this brief video. Then enroll at the website and register for the course.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.