Christian living comes down to making a handful of disciplines into habits. The disciplines are not Christian living; they are only the scaffolding that support Christian living. Christian living is not about doing certain religious things. Christian living is about walking in grace. It is about walking on purpose. It is about basking in acceptance. It is not about trying really hard to be good. It is not about trying hard to be good enough that God will accept me. It is quite the opposite of that. It is reveling in the fact that He has already accepted me. Christianity is about accepting the fact that God has accepted me. Nothing I could do could change that, but my heart is prone to forget.
This is why I need the disciplines. However, I don’t think discipline is quite the right word. That word—discipline—at least to me, suggests duty, or obligation. It suggests that I don’t really want to pray but I pray anyway. It hints that I don’t really want to spend time in the Word, but, because I am disciplined, I do it anyway. Discipline hints that I don’t really want to do something, but I do it anyway. This is not Christian living—not Christian living at its best.
Imagine a couple you know has an excellent marriage. They agree to coach you as your marriage is struggling. They tell you that the key to a great marriage is to maintain certain disciplines:
- The discipline of a date night each week, whether or not you want to go out.
- The discipline of kissing each other every day, even if you don’t want to kiss.
- The discipline of an annual retreat where you get away for a couple of nights. Again, you must do this even if you do not want to—even if you don’t get along and don’t like being together.
- You must make love consistently, at least twice a week. If neither of you feels like it, do it anyway.
- The discipline of reading a book on marriage once a year. If it is not interesting to you, so be it; read it anyway.
Does this sound like a great marriage to you? Actually, if you have a bad marriage, these things may make things improve. But, it will be a lot better when you do them because you want to, not because you have to.
In great marriages, couples don’t go out because it is their duty; they go out because there is nothing they would rather do than spend an evening alone together.
So it is with spiritual disciplines. We must maintain spiritual disciplines to grow as disciples. But, we will really grow when we do them out of joy rather than obligation.