If discipline was easy everyone would be doing it. Somewhere I think Elisabeth Elliot said that the happiest people she knew were athletes and musicians, because of their deep habits of discipline.
But discipline is hard, and I’m neither a musician or an athlete, and so I’ve looked for a shortcut. For the easy way. I’ve wanted something of the flavor of my friend Jim Lucas’ walk with God, for that kind of depth and joy. And I wanted it easy.
I searched in books. Charles Colson’s Loving God promised a deeper and more meaningful walk with God. But there was nothing easy about it. I scoured Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World looking for the easy path. The book was deeply meaningful to me, but it had nothing to do with ease.
Later I had the opportunity to attend seminars by ministers highly respected for their contribution to a modern understanding of church leadership. Their insight was profound, their suggestions practical, their impact upon my ministry lasting. But each, in their presentations, let slip that they were students and practitioners of the spiritual disciplines, and what they spoke about them did not sound easy.
I was beginning to discern a pattern.
It took years to learn that godliness and joy and depth of relationship with God are all gifts of the Spirit. They are not things we earn or achieve or accomplish, even through hard work and radical discipline. The spiritual disciplines, whether worship or scripture or prayer or any other, play an important role, however, by putting us in the way of the Spirit’s impact. They take us to the place where the Spirit does his work. The work is His, not ours, but we can chose to be where he works or not. (I’ve commented on the importance of this before.)
I remember hearing John Piper once say, years before he became THE John Piper, that any spiritual insight he had, had come to him as a result of his many hours of writing his thoughts in his journals. I might say for me that if there is any genuine spiritual quality to my life, it is due in large measure to the disciplines, weak as they are, that God has built into my practice.
And yet, the benefits are not due to the disciplines, but to the work of his Spirit who works in and around and through the practice of the disciplines.
I’ll never say that the Christian life is easy. Far from it. But there is fruit that makes discipline, in its time, worthwhile. Even for Ollie McLellan.