Rhythms in the Christian Life

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:7, "…but train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." There is a rigorous training in the Christian life, but it's not the kind of training that focuses primarily on your will to accomplish something. For instance, one should not look at the fruit of the Spirit, or any command in the Bible to be virtuous and approach it as if they could make themselves be "that".

John Ortberg takes his cue from Dallas Willard when he writes in The Life You've Always Wanted, "The Christian gospel insists that transformation of the human personality really is possible. Never easy. Rarely quick. But possible.” There is a re-training that all of us who follow Christ are invited to enter into. It's not forced. Nor does transformation happen magically. Rather, it's something that we choose to enter into because we sense it's actually the way to become the kind of person who looks more like Christ. Yet, as Ortberg points out, this training is neither easy nor quick.

The tools of this training are the spiritual disciplines, those practices that we undertake in our life to bring us closer to God so that he can transform us. As we are discipled in God’s Word, we are encouraged to undertake things like daily reading of that Word, prayer, fellowship/togetherness, Sunday worship/Sabbath-keeping, and talking to others about Christ (evangelism). There are practices that are more often neglected but which are equally familiar, things like giving, hospitality, and service. Another group of spiritual disciplines, which are more rigorous and not meant to be undertaken frequently are the regimens. You can read more on those here.

A Christian cannot have any expectation of becoming more spiritually mature if spiritual practices are not part of their life. As D. A. Carson wrote, "People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord." However, the spiritual disciplines, the training tools, do not themselves change us. Rather they open us up to God's grace and power and reveal more of Jesus' beauty so the Holy Spirit can enlarge our hearts and bring about character transformation. This training is more about using our will to offer or present ourselves to God: Here I am. Change me. The goal is not to try to fix or change ourselves; that is the role of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:7). The goal is putting ourselves in the stream of God's grace as we open our hearts to him.

In this way, spiritual disciplines are about getting us to the end of ourselves in order that we might be filled through and through with God's Spirit. In bringing these practices into our lives, we intentionally bring ourselves to the end of ourselves - to the end of our resources, our need for control, or desire to manipulate. Having placed ourselves in the stream of God's grace, the Holy Spirit can confront our poor beliefs, our sometimes misleading emotions, and our sin, and then he can empower us to live out our lives the way God intends. This is how character changes over time. Dallas Willard was fond of saying, "God's address is at the end of your rope" meaning God often does his best work in you when you are at the end of yourself. Every single spiritual discipline is intended to put you in that place.

Below are some informative and helpful resources to get you started. I won’t go into great detail here about the spiritual disciplines that are meant to be regular rhythms in our life since they are widely written about and that information is easily accessible. But here is one example of what it means to use one of these practices to get to the end of ourselves: When we read the Bible, it's not really for more information. In John 6, Jesus issued some very divisive words about who He was and many turned away and ceased to follow Him. When Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to leave, Peter said, "Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life." This is the heart of a disciple, one who approaches the Bible every day with the heart attitude of Lord, where else will I go? You alone have words that drip with a quality of life that I desperately want.

 

DEVOTIONS

 

Basic

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy & Kathy Keller

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Timothy & Kathy Keller

My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers

For the Love of God by D.A. Carson

 

Intermediate

A M’Cheyne Devotional by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, edited by Jeffrey Perkins

 

 

BIBLE STUDY

 

How To Read the Bible For All It’s Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart

Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson

Reading the Bible With Heart and Mind by Tremper Longman III

Life With God. Reading the Bible For Spiritual Formation by Richard Foster

Making Sense of the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III

 

 

PRAYER

 

Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith by Scotty Smith

A Dairy of Private Prayer by John Baille

The Prayers of Kierkegaard by Soren Kiekegaard

St. Augustine’s Prayer Book by St. Augustine

 

Basic

Too Busy To Not Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God by Bill Hybels

A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray

Encouraged to Pray: Classic Sermons on Prayer by Charles Spurgeon

 

Intermediate

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy and Kathy Keller

Beloved Dust by Kyle Strobel and Jamin Goggin

 

 

CHURCH & WORSHIP

 

Basic

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible by Mark Dever

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer

Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts by Harold Best

 

Intermediate

The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher J. H. Wright 

A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being the Church for the World by Marva Dawn

Worship: Adoration and Action by D.A. Carson

For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church by N.T. Wright

 

 

GIVING & TITHING

 

“7 Reasons Why Christians Are Not Required to Tithe” by Thom Rainier

“Should Christians Tithe” by Geoff Ashley

 

 

FELLOWSHIP

 

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community by Joseph Hellerman

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia by Jerry Bridges

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

EVANGELISM

 

Basic

Finding Common Ground by Tim Downs

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by Mack Stiles

“Evangelism Made Simple” by Glen Schrivener

“The Key to Evangelism in the 21st Century” by David Mathis

 

Intermediate

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig

Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard

 

 

SPIRITUAL FORMATION

 

Basic

Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis

Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life by Kyle Strobel

Devotional Classics by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith

The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines For Ordinary People by John Ortberg

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg

Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation by Ken Boa

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson

 

Intermediate

Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard

Charity and its Fruits: Living in the Light of God's Love by Jonathan Edwards edited by Kyle Strobel

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