Today's "thought" speaks of spiritual disciplines. Yes, spiritual disciplines! Those activities we train ourselves to do to grow spiritually. Yet this message is not always popular. In an age of comfort and ease, even people in the church often see spiritual disciplines as "legalistic," often thinking (or suggesting) that somehow growth just happens without any effort or self-discipline on our part. Something they will state even though Paul tells us in Galatians 5:23 that self-discipline is a Fruit of the Spirit. It's one of the traits of character that God's Spirit (if that Spirit dwells within us) works to produce and grow in us over time as an expression of godliness.
So, today, I will let Donald Whitney speak on this topic from his excellent book entitled: "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life." For those whose hearts have been reoriented by God to desire godliness, this book is very helpful. For he shows us that spiritual disciplines are not contrary to grace, but flow out of the grace God gives. They don't earn us merits with God, they evidence that God has changed our affections so that we desire the things He wants for us. They show us that God is within us moving us to engage in those activities that will bring growth in godliness. This selection has to do with the Spiritual Discipline called Service to God and Others. Enjoy.
"Discipline without direction is drudgery... It is said of God's elect in Romans 8:29: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son." God's eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christ-likeness. We will be changed "when he appears" so that "we shall be like him" (I John 3:2). This is no vision. This is you, Christian, in a few years. So why all this talk about discipline? If God has predestined our conformity to Christ-likeness, where does the discipline come in? Although God will grant us Christ-likeness when Jesus returns, until then He intends for us to grow toward that Christ-likeness. We aren't merely to wait for holiness, we're to pursue it. "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy," we're commanded in Hebrews 12:14, "for without holiness no one will see the Lord." Which leads us to ask what every Christian should ask, "How then shall we pursue holiness? How can we be like Jesus Christ, the Son of God?" We find the clear answer in I Timothy 4:7: "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness."
...There is little value in practicing Spiritual Disciplines apart from the single purpose that unites them (Colossians 2:20-23, I Timothy 4:8). That purpose is godliness... The Spiritual Disciplines are the God-given means we are to use in the Spirit-filled pursuit of Godliness. Godly people are disciplined people. It has always been so. Call to mind some heroes of church history -- St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Lady Huntingdon, Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Mueller -- they we all disciplined people. Godliness comes through discipline. We avail ourselves of the Spiritual Disciplines because they help grow us in Christ-likeness.
THE DISCIPLINE OF SERVING
The Pony Express was a private express company that carried mail by an organized relay of horseback riders. The eastern end was in St. Joseph, Missouri, and western terminal was in Sacramento, California. The cost of sending a letter by Pony Express was $2.50 an ounce. If the weather and horses held out, and the Indians held off, that letter would complete the entire two-thousand-mile journey in a speedy ten days, as did the report of Lincoln's Inaugural Address.... Being a rider for the Pony Express was a tough job. You were expected to ride seventy-five to one hundred miles a day, changing horses every fifteen to twenty-five miles. Other than the mail, the only baggage you carried contained a few meager provisions... In case of danger, you also had a medical pack... In order to travel light and to increase speed of speed of mobility during Indian attacks, the men always rode with nothing but shirts, even during the fierce winter weather. How would you recruit volunteers for this hazardous job? An 1860 San Francisco newspaper printed this ad for the Pony Express: "WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk daily. Orphans preferred." Those were the honest facts of the service required, but the Pony Express NEVER had a shortage of riders [even though 20 employees lost their lives in the year and a half it was in existence until the telegraph wires replaced the need for riders].
We also need to be honest with the facts about serving God. Like the Pony Express, serving God is not a job for the casually interested. It's costly service. He asks for your life. He asks for service to Him to become a priority, not a pastime. He doesn't want servants who will give Him the leftovers of their life commitments. Serving God isn't a short-term responsibility either. Unlike the Pony Express, His kingdom will never go under, no matter how technological our world gets. The mental picture we have of the Pony Express is probably much like the one imagined by the young men of 1860 who read that newspaper ad. Scenes of excitement, camaraderie, and the thrill of adventure filled their heads as they swaggered over to the Express office to apply. Yet few of them envisioned how that excitement would only occasionally punctuate the routine of the long, hard hours and the loneliness of the work.
The discipline of serving is like that. Although Christ's summons to service is the most spiritually grand and noble way to live a life, it is typically as pedestrian as washing someone's feet. Richard Foster puts it starkly: "In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus' call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the Gospel, rather than His word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we are also banished to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial." The ministry of serving may be as public as preaching or teaching, but more often it will be as sequestered as nursery duty. It may be as visible as singing a solo, but usually it will be as unnoticed as operating the sound equipment to amplify the solo. Serving may be as appreciated as a good testimony in the worship service, but typically it is as thankless as washing dishes after a church social. Most service, even that which seems the most glamorous, is like an iceberg. Only the eye of God sees the larger hidden part of it.
Beyond the church walls, serving is baby-sitting for neighbors, taking meals to families in flux, running errands for the home-bound, providing transportation for the one whose car breaks down, feeding pets and watering plants for vacationers, and -- hardest of all -- having a servants heart in the home. Serving is as commonplace as the practical needs it meets. That's why serving must become a spiritual discipline. The flesh connives against hiddenness and sameness. Two of the deadliest of our sins -- sloth and pride -- loathe serving. The paint glazes over our eyes and puts chains on our hands and feet so we don't serve as we know we should or even want to. If we don't discipline ourselves to serve for the sake of Christ and His kingdom (and for the purpose of Godliness), we'll serve only occasionally, or when it's convenient or self-serving... However, those who want to train themselves for Christlike spirituality will find it one of the surest and most practical means of growth in grace."
Tom Landry (former coach of the Dallas Cowboys for most of three decades) put it well when he said: "The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don't want to do in order to achieve what they always wanted to be." That's true for us as Christians as well. "Christians are called to do things they would naturally not be prone to do -- pursue spiritual disciplines -- in order that they might become what they've always wanted to be, that is, like Jesus Christ" (Whitney). A mentor once told me (and I now have it taped to the wall in my house): "Character is making yourself do what you don't want to do because you know it will be good for you." This can't happen without the fruit of the Spirit we call self-discipline. In an age that tends toward undisciplined living, his words go against the grain. Yet they are totally in line with the teaching of the New Testament (I Corinthians 9:23-27). Self-discipline is a primary part in the pursuit of godliness.
In the Service of Christ, Pastor Jeff