By Randy Sawyer
One of the great ironies of pastoral ministry is that often in developing a work for God, we fail to cultivate our walk with God. Consequently, we end up laboring in the energy of the flesh rather than the power of the Spirit, and soon find ourselves vulnerable to spiritual attack.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Professor Dallas Willard cites a well-known Christian leader who said, “In these last four decades my faith has truly taken a beating.” He tells how at an early age he was taught, “if I was a Christian, then people would see a marked difference in my life! And . . . that the closer I was to God—the more spiritual I was—the greater and more visible that difference would be.”
Now, he concludes, “I have seen so many of my mentors stumble and fall, never again to recover their faith; so many ‘truths’ about the Gospel that turned out to be false; so many casualties, so many losses, so many assumptions that turned out to be just that—assumptions, not truth, that I don’t believe that anymore.”
He quickly added that he still believes Jesus changes you, but notes, “Whatever the change is, it is not as much outward as it is inward . . . . The change is often visible only to God.”
While I would be quick to refute the conclusion that sanctification is only internal, I am sympathetic with the sentiment that observation and even personal experience sometimes substantiate that notion. Most Christian leaders and laymen struggle daily to bring some sort of balance to their lives and wrestle to achieve a sense of spiritual victory. Just when it seems one battle has been won, another attack assures us that we are perpetually engaged in a ruthless, never-ending battle for spiritual survival.
The antagonists in this contest are easy to spot. They are:
- The Devil—the evil prince.
- The World—the evil system.
- The Flesh— the evil traitor.
As believers, we know this axis-of-evil to be our constant adversary, ever seeking our demise. These are things of which we are certain. The not-so-easy part is how to defeat them.
The scripture instructs us, however, that for each member of this evil trio there is an appropriate spiritual weapon. Against . . .
- The Devil—Determination, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” (Jas. 4:7).
- The World—Discernment, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom. 12:1-2).
- The Flesh— Discipline, “Exercise yourself unto godliness,” (I Tim. 4:7-8).
But once more we wonder, how? Where do we get the courage to resist? How do we develop a discerning mind?How can we discipline the flesh against wrong desires?
If you think back to the life of Christ, you will find the secret. Jesus, though God-in-flesh, exercised Himself unto godliness by regularly practicing certain spiritual disciplines. Among these were solitude, prayer, study, fasting, celebration and acts of service. These disciplines were part of His daily life and serve as a fine example for us.
In order to live the Christ-life, we must live life as He lived it. To bring our work for God into balance with our walk with God, we must exercise unto godliness.
The most common New Testament word for exercise is gumnazo, which not only occurs in I Timothy but also in II Peter 2:14 and Hebrews 5:14 and 12:11. It is associated with our English word gymnasium and conjures images of physical exercise and discipline. With this picture in mind, Paul encouraged Timothy, his young friend in ministry, to strenuously practice to bring his physical life into balance with his spiritual life. It implies regular, specific, disciplined living.
In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg argued that to live what he chose to call a well-ordered life, the believer must develop a “rule of life.” He noted that the Latin word for rule is regula, implying something that is done with regularity. He writes, “a rule of life involves rhythm for living in which we can grow more intimately connected to God.”
Even a casual study of Christ’s life reveals that He engaged regularly in specific activities or disciplines from which He drew immeasurable strength for life and ministry. The same such disciplines will help bring our lives balance as well. They include:
- Solitude—A life in communion with itself.
- Prayer—A life in connection with its Creator.
- Bible Reading—A life in contact with God’s will and work.
- Fasting—A life in balance with its needs.
- Celebration—A life in accord with its purpose.
- Service—A life in fellowship with others.
In doing these things we follow Christ’s example and gain spiritual power for our own work and walk.
. . . Slow Down
Three key principles guide in the development of our own rule of life. First, we must slow down. Scripture frequently admonishes us to be still, wait, to listen. But our calendars are so over-crowded that we scarcely make time to wait upon the Lord. God speaks, but we can’t hear His voice. God manifests Himself, but we don’t recognize His presence.
Our mentors encouraged us to cultivate a quiet time, but we’re too busy for quiet time these days. We even pride ourselves that we’re in such demand. A hurried life, however, is not necessarily a holy life and a frantic pace doesn’t provide for intimacy. A.W. Tozer believed that “God waits to be wanted.” Do we want Him enough to wait?
. . . Give-Up
Second, we must give up, that is, exchange the good things for the best things. In short, prioritize! Vance Havner observed that it’s impossible to be a “Hail fellow well met,” and the life of every party and live in close communion with God. The pastor who attends every meeting, enjoys every luncheon and participates in every sporting event, is likely spread too thin to be very deep. He may be a great preacher, an able administrator or an outstanding dinner guest, but performance is a poor substitute for purity.
. . . Look Within
Third, we must look within. The heart of the matter must become the heart of the matter. David was once identified as “a man after God’s own heart.” During that season of his life, his heart burned to know his God and would not be satisfied with less. That is what the disciplines are all about. They allow us to concentrate on finding God and enjoying intimacy with Him. It takes exercise, work, discipline. Time spent in the spiritual gymnasium is rewarded with strength for our work and joy in our walk. Let a final word from Tozer encourage you.
“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart. The man who has God for his treasure has all things in one. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary for his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after another, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight.”