Training, not trying


When it comes to spiritual disciplines, I find a very helpful distinction – the difference between trying to do something and training to do something.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[b] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV

The body’s role in all of this is to serve a greater purpose – it is there to serve my will, my mind and God. The body has no other role and it definitely is not to be served, but rather needs to be a good slave.

I know there is a need to exert undistracted effort. Once-in-a-while will not cut it and I believe for me it did not happen unless I put in daily effort. That means I need to know that I am in a race. It means I know I want to be a disciple and that requires discipline, dedication, proper conditioning and persistence. It means that it will not be easy, but there is a prize.

Here is my thinking – if I am in the race (wanting to be a disciple) I should win. I should have some spiritual ambition. There has to be moments when I look back at my life and see those moments where I have grown.

Maybe I should say right now that the gospel is opposed to earning favour with God through performance, but it does challenge us to serve Jesus. Training in the disciplines will transform us over time. I think of it as a long term conditioning program. It will require patience and perseverance.

Ultimately, my back has to be turned on doing what is not right. I cannot enter this race for holiness should I have love for sin in my heart. I cannot live with two standards – to do so means I will never win the prize.




Teaching and demonstrating


Visiting King David’s dialogue with King Saul, I see him purposefully take the opportunity to disciple the men who are following him by teaching and demonstrating that  it is never acceptable to kill an anointed king. It is a great lesson for him to give for not only is it honouring God but in many ways, it is a practical lesson, because one day David will become king in Saul’s place.

I was also reading about Abigail and looking more closely at her choice of words when addressing David. This one caught my eye.

Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.  – 1 Samuel 25:28  ESV

I am sure that she had no idea what she was proclaiming. If I can call her the unconscious prophetess, she could never dream that from David’s house there would come a holy One who would come in person and make good her words.

How do I proclaim, teach and demonstrate who Jesus is and honour His calling in my life so that I can look like David, Abigail and Jesus? I am challenged by Paul in my reading of  1 Corinthians 9 where he comes on strong as a staunch advocate and practitioner of disciple-making. Five times in the passage below he uses the word – kerdaino – meaning “to gain,” “acquire,” or “win.” I really stay away from the word recruiter because I believe that is the Holy Spirit’s job, so these words imply the action words for teaching and demonstrating.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-22  ESV

Actually, it can almost seem like a transactional term used in business to describe making a profit or trading up for something better.

In the same chapter Paul describes just how much work is involved in making the choice of being a disciple-maker. It is undistracted effort. Once-in-a-while effort probably does not cut it.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[b] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27  ESV

Time is lost when we start to worry about or pay attention to anything else other than the run. It is what I do every day that matters – the self-examination, prayer, obedience and watching against evil and temptation. There just might be something between the word “disciple” and the word “discipline.”

The Psalms have always said the words that have drawn me to Jesus with my whole heart. Psalm 63 is no different and it matches with Paul’s teachings above. David writes of his love for God and all that is His. He writes of thirsting for God in his soul and his longing in his flesh. It should be fair to say that the measure I thirst for God and to walk with Him is one of the identifying marks of a faithful and dedicated disciple. This kind of thirst and hunger causes me to strive to be the best I can be, give the most in what I do and to serve with the greatest amount of capacity.  That desire cannot be ignored, it must be satisfied. This is not a picture of a half-hearted disciple. I am called to seek God and never cease until I find Him.