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Understanding Spiritual Formation 7: A Parable About Disciplines

Steve, Barry, and Ann had been friends since grade school. Their relationship was uniquely close even though they were all intensely competitive. So, when Ann suggested they all enter an upcoming 5K race together, it wasn’t long until the competitive juices kicked in and they began talking regularly about which of the three would be fastest or even win the race.

Ann and Steve immediately began intensive training. They signed up with a personal trainer who helped them set up a daily regiment of exercise and running to prepare them for the race. Ann followed the trainer’s directions every day. As a result she could sense her preparedness growing as the race day approached. Steve worked even harder than Ann. He also followed the trainer’s directions, but inspired by how his workout made him feel, he went above and beyond the suggested exercise. His hard work evidenced itself as he lost weight, became more fit, and greatly increased the time he could run on the treadmill.

Barry took different approach. He had been an all-state wide receiver in high school, so he knew he was fast. He remembered the difficult training camps he had endured in high school football, and didn’t really want to return to that level of physical exertion. Instead, Barry spent hours on the internet, researching strategies for running a 5K race. Over time, he assembled an impressive collection of helpful hints for running such a race. The night before the race, he reviewed his notes thoroughly and went to bed early, feeling well-prepared to defeat his two friends.

As she approached the second kilometer mark, Ann overtook Barry. He had built a commanding lead in the first kilometer because most of the “experts” he consulted said it was important to get out in front early. Barry had successfully avoided getting hung up in the crowd at the start. When Ann blew by him less than half way through the race, though, he wondered if he had made a tactical error. By the third kilometer mark, Barry knew he wasn’t going to finish the race. One hundred yards later, he pulled off the road and began looking for bushes into which he needed to
deposit his breakfast. He was done.

After Ann finished the race, winning her age division, she cooled down and began looking for her friends. She found a white-faced Barry sitting in his car, but Steve was nowhere to be found. “I assumed he was with you”, she told Barry.

“Nope. I haven’t seen him all morning” he gasped.

Ann grabbed her cell-phone and called Steve. “Hey, we can’t find you anywhere? How did you finish?”

“Well, actually, I decided to just go to the gym this morning. I’ve been enjoying my workouts so much I thought I’d just come and work up a great sweat, instead of running the race.”

Ridiculous? Maybe. Three different people took threedifferent approaches, but only one finished the race.

Consider for a moment the methods you employ to open your life to the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you intentionally engage in activities to help you be more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? What is your plan for allowing the Holy Spirit to make you look more like Jesus? Most people take one of three different approaches concerning their spiritual development.

Some people, like Barry, spend a lot of time thinking about spiritual things or maybe relying on the things they learned when they were children. They don’t really do anything specifically, though, to develop themselves. When life’s problems or distractions come along, like Barry, they wipe out.
Some people, like Steve, engage in a massive amount of activity for spiritual growth. They spend amazing amounts of time reading the Bible, listening to sermons, and attending Bible studies. However, all their work never really leads to anything. They simply develop massive spiritual
muscles, but never use thee muscles to impact the world around them.

The third approach is Anne’s approach. The best way to allow the Holy Spirit to mold you to the image of Christ is to regularly spend time disciplining yourself so that when you have the opportunity to represent Jesus in the world, you’ll be ready.

Spiritual disciplines are regular activities which help us refocus our eyes on Christ and help enable the formative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Bible reading and study, Scripture memorization, prayer, giving, serving, meditation, and many other activities can be effective spiritual disciplines. Like any exercise program, they are only effective if they are regularly repeated and if they become habitual over time. However, as Steve discovered, sometimes these types of activities can become an end to themselves. We must always remember that we engage in disciplines so that we will be more like Jesus, so that we can present Jesus to the world!

Whatever disciplines you determine to develop in your life, the most important step is to start. If you never take the first step, you’ll never develop the habit.

Ann won the race because she committed herself to training, and because she never lost sight of the purpose for her training. You can open yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life if you are willing to commit to disciplining yourself, and if you’ll regularly remind yourself of the
purpose for your disciplines.


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