A spiritually disciplined life is something that the Scriptures emphatically set forth for the believer to live. With just a cursory reading of Scripture, one can discover that this is true. It is seen in texts such as, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but his delight is in the law of the Lord….” (English Standard Version Ps. 1:1-2). Then in another Psalm, one reads, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments” (119:9-10).
The only way one will not walk in the counsel of the wicked or will seek God with their whole heart is through living a spiritually disciplined life. When one does this, then one will be “like a tree planted by streams of water” yielding fruit and not withering away (Ps. 1:3). To be like this, one must have a spiritually disciplined life, and the Scriptures are replete with directives and imperatives of how one can attain a spiritually disciplined life.
This can be seen in texts such as John 15:5. In this text, one sees that the one abiding in Christ will bear fruit but if not, they can do nothing. John Coe says that this kind of branch will “dry up, they’re broken, and they’re thrown away and they’re burned up” (Virtue and the Spiritual Discipline. http://www.verbalink.io, p. 4). This is not standing tall and bearing fruit but withering away to nothing.
This fits well into what James stated about dead faith (c.f. Jas. 2:14-26). Those who do nothing are useless and might as well not have said anything because they did not do anything but speak to those in need (Jas. 2:15-16). James stated earlier in the epistle that the one who looks into the mirror and forgets what he looks like is nothing more than a deceiver and has been deceived himself (Jas. 1:22-24). This is what it is like to not be disciplined. It is the picture of a person who says one thing but is incapable of doing it because they do not know what to do. They have withered and been broken off.
When one seeks to live a spiritually disciplined life they will see this and strive to not have a life like that but one that is abiding in Christ. This simply means that one is living “in light of [their] justification” and realizing that “Apart from him I can do nothing” (Coe 4). This raises the question of how is this accomplished? Also, how does one come to delight in the law of God, walk in his ways, and become that tree planted by waters that produce fruit and never withers? The answer to these questions is legion. So, just a few will be discussed below due to length constraints.
Donald Whitney has written that “When God calls His elect to Himself, He calls no one to idleness” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life p.144). This means all believers are called to serve and be dedicated to the Lord’s work. A perfect example of this type of serving is found in the gospel of John. It is in the narrative of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (John 13:12-17). But even before this happened the Lord commanded the nation of Israel to “walk after the Lord your God…and obey his voice, and you shall serve him….” (Deut. 13:4).
Obedient service is accomplished by those who want to serve the Lord. If one is obedient to another it is either from fear or love. This is why Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is attached with this verse from Deuteronomy. Jesus served the disciples who were men while He is God. Jesus served them out of love and that is what God desires from all who are His. If one serves the Lord it should be from love and reverence since he is our Father in heaven whose name is to be hallowed (Matt. 6:9).
When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet He demonstrated perfect service in love. This is a directive and not exactly something one is to copy exactly. Jesus did this to teach the disciples, and all who read it after, “to pass on the same teaching that he…has done…to manifest the love of God…through serving one another with no vestige of pride or position” (Rodney Whitacre, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, p. 332). To abide in Christ and become a tree planted by the water one is to serve and love others because they love God and want to obey God through love and by love.
Following closely on the heels of serving is evangelism. A faithful and dedicated servant of the Lord will seek to reach many people. Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” and he did not “shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God” to all (Rom. 1:16; Acts 20:27). This is one of the greatest things a believer can do and one that the Lord highly desires all to do (c.f. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). It takes deep discipline to do this.
Whitney has stated that “the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective…is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it” (119). Even so, all are called to be ready to give a defense and reason for our hope (1 Pet. 3:15). This is commanded and it is something all believers should strive to accomplish. Thomas Schreiner said that all “believers are to be ready constantly to respond” (The New American Commentary: 1,2 Peter Jude, p. 174). The only way to do this is to be disciplined and have put in the time of abiding with the Lord.
To abide in the Lord is also to worship and glorify the Lord in all one does. This is easier than many think. Worship is not just on Sunday morning. It is more than music. It is a whole life activity. One sees this in Revelation chapter four. In this chapter the living creatures before the Lord and the twenty-four elders never cease to say “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (4:8). The twenty-four elders cast their crowns before Him and proclaim “Worthy are you, our Lord and God” (4:11). When one finds themselves in constant praise and worship of the Lord, they will not allow the things of the world to infiltrate them and pull them away from abiding in Him.
To worship Him is to love Him and the more one does this, “the more we understand and appreciate His infinite worth” (Whitney 103). When this is done one will ascribe to Him His “proper worth” and “magnify His worthiness of praise” (Whitney 103). John Walvoord alludes to the act of worship as performed by the twenty-four as them “ascribing all glory to Him as the Sovereign” (Revelation.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 944). This is so true of what it is. When one develops the discipline of worship they will ascribe this to God. They will know He and only He is worthy of this and they will then abide fully in Him. When one seeks to worship God always and therefore always be found abiding in Him, they will be as the tree planted by waters producing fruit and not withering (Ps. 1:3).
To do all this one will also need to steward their time and everything else well. To do this is to use one’s time wisely (c.f. Eph. 5:15-17). Whitney says that “at the heart of a disciplined life is the disciplined use of time” (159). When one uses their time wisely and makes the best of it, they are doing several things. They are stewarding their time but they are also worshiping God because they are not wasting the time He has given them. It seems to follow that service is probably being used by the one who uses their time wisely as well as evangelism. The one who is doing this is following the Lord’s command to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). This is also not having “divided loyalties…God has come first” (Michael Green The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 102).
The person who stewards their time and resources well is the one who has heeded the command of the Lord to not give “priority to items…which will wear out and are so readily perishable” (Green 102). When one stewards their time as Scripture commands, they will also steward their resources and be better able to faithfully serve the Lord. They will be so because they will be focused on the imperishable more than the perishable and that will cause them to be like the tree planted by the waters.
Yet, being this disciplined and dedicated servant of the Lord is not all about service and work. It is also about times of refreshing and rest. Times of silence and solitude. The dedicated servant needs time to have Bible intake and time to rest and recharge. If one is to delight in the law of the Lord, they need to have some silence and solitude. The Scriptures are good for the man of God to be taught, to be reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). If the person is not in silence and solitude at regular intervals, they will not learn this and grow.
One sees throughout the gospels that Christ regularly went off to be alone and pray (e.g., Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42; 5:16). But even before this, one sees in Isaiah that silence before the Lord is very important. One reads in Isaiah, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength” (30:15). When one is silent before the Lord they express trust in Him because it exhibits one’s “trust in His sovereign control” (Whitney 230). It is this and it is also an act of submission before the Lord. It is one willing to let all other things go and spend time with and before the Lord only. Dallas Willard powerfully expresses what silence and solitude are for when he wrote, it is not done “as an activity. Done for its own sake, but one done to give power for good” (The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, p. 102). When one is alone with the Lord they will receive power and strength to continue. They will become planted by the waters and able to produce fruit.
The Scriptures set forth what a spiritually disciplined life is. It makes the person acting out the disciplines like the “tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:3). This is exactly what the spiritually disciplined life is able to do. It is a way for the faithful follower to live a life that is the Lord’s and that is faithful. In doing so the believer will be better equipped to move through life because his life is powered by the Lord and not the world. They will be blessed and not walk in the counsel of the wicked and they will delight in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:1-2).