Donald Whitney is professor and associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; he has also served extensively in pastoral ministry. (back cover) Whitney has also written several books, all of which concern the Christian life. Unlike many others Whitney did not identify a purpose or goal in writing this book. I will take the liberty to identify what I believe to be his purpose. I believe that he is interested in helping other Christians to become more mature in their faith by practicing the disciplines that he suggests in the book.
The book is divided into ten topics, The Spiritual Disciplines, Bible Intake, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and Learning. Each topic (discipline) precedes “for the purpose of godliness” (contents page) This is a reality not only in the literary sense (such as a title) but also a reality for the Christian. Whitney implies that all of the mentioned disciplines are, in fact, for the purpose of godliness. Which also implies that without spiritual discipline there is no purpose for spiritual growth in the Christian life, and a lack of discipline results in a very weak and immature believer. A sad reality for sure, Christ did not save us to live a life without purpose.
Regarding the topic of Bible Intake, Whitney writes, “regardless of how busy we become with all things Christian, we must remember that the most transforming practice available to us is the disciplined intake of Scripture.” (P. 23) As a student I am reminded of the importance of God’s Word. It can become very easy to neglect God’s Word due to all the required reading and assignments. There is also a temptation to read other books; books written by other men who exposit or explain the Scriptures. As a Christian I am reminded that I must take the time, make the time to read Gods Word. The busyness of church and serving in ministries can also consume time. It is very easy to participate in good things with the right heart and motives, yet neglect God’s Word. Whitney also suggests that it would be helpful to “find at least one word, phrase, or verse to meditate on each time you read.” (P 31) This method helps the reader to think about the Word, at depth. And as a result helps to deepen one’s thinking and understanding of theScriptures.
I was challenged and convicted when Whitney wrote that few Christians “spend time in what he calls sustained prayer.” (P. 80) It is a shame that we who consider ourselves lovers of God and His Word lack discipline in communicating with the One whom we adore. Whitney comments on worship, “though we come to an event where He is the Guest of Honor, it is possible to give Him a routine gift, sing a few customary songs to Him, and then totally neglect Him while we focus on others and enjoy the performance of those in front of us.” (P. 192) The amount of time that we spend serving self and others pales in comparison to the amount of time that we spend truly worshipping Him.
I am familiar with most of the disciplines mentioned, however, silence and solitude, and journaling are new concepts for me. I have thought about the possibility or importance of them, but I would have never considered them a discipline. I appreciate Whitney for including these topics and I intend to exercise them as soon as possible to help me grow and and become more sanctified.
Whitney writes, “I maintain that the more Christlike we grow, the more we will pursue both a full head and a full heart, and the more we will radiate both spiritual light and heat. If absolutely forced to to allow one to predominate over the other, we must choose the burning heart. If people have the truth in their heads but not in their hearts (that is, they know the truth but do not believe it and experience its power) then they are not right with God.” It is important for us to be balanced in our hearts and mind. I am reminded that we are to love God with our heart, soul, and mind. As a student it can be very easy to get distracted with knowledge, after all knowledge puffeth up. Experiencing God’s power is essential for the Christian and it confirms the reality of salvation. On the other hand when we do not experience God’s power it would be helpful for us to evaluate ourselves in light of the disciplines.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: NAVPRESS, 2014