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The Spirit of the Disciplines

The Spirit of the Disciplines
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How to Live as Jesus Lived

Dallas Willard, one of today's most brilliant Christian thinkers and author of The Divine Conspiracy (Christianity Today's 1999 Book of the Year), presents a way of living that enables ordinary men and women to enjoy the fruit of the Christian life. He reveals how the key to self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest. The Spirit of the Disciplines is for everyone who strives to be a disciple of Jesus in thought and action as well as intention.

HarperCollins; October 2009
288 pages; ISBN 9780061974908
Download in EPUB or secure PDF format
Excerpt

Chapter One

The Secret of the Easy Yoke

Take My yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.-- Matthew 11:29-30His commands are not burdensome.-- I John 5:3, NIVA more reasonable estimate of human costs and values will lead us to think that no labour is better expended than that which explores the way to the treasure-houses of the spirit, and shows mankind where to find those goods which are increased by being shared, and which none can take from us. -- William Ralph Inge

"Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried." So said that insightful and clever Christian, G. K. Chesterton. Whether or not he was totally serious, there is almost universal belief in the immense difficulty of being a real Christian. The vast, grim "cost of discipleship" is something we hear constantly emphasized. Chesterton's observation can at least be taken as reflecting the attitude of many serious people toward The Way of Christ.

But it must not be left to stand as the whole truth. We would do far better to lay a clear, constant emphasis upon the cost of nondiscipleship as well. As Søren Kierkegaard reminds us, "It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!"

Proverbs 13:15 tells us that it is the way of the transgressor that is hard. We can also learn this by candid observation of life. Actually, a large part of the Old Testament book of Proverbs merely records the results of such observation. The whole book is a song of praise for the path of the righteous over that of the wicked, leaving no doubt in which life, joy and strength are to be found.

To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved. Here is the source of that unending soap opera, that sometimes horror show known as normal human life. The "cost of discipleship," though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don't accept Christ's invitation to be a part of his company in The Way of life.

The words of Jesus quoted above from Matthew 11:29-30 present an alternative to the desolation of life lived apart from God. Yet, in all honesty, most Christians probably find both Jesus' statement and its reiteration by the author of 1 John (5:3) to be more an expression of a hope or even a mere wish than a statement about the substance of their lives. To many, Jesus' words are frankly bewildering. We hear them often quoted, because the idea they express is obviously one that attracts and delights, but there seems to be something about the way we approach them, something about what we think it means to walk with Christ and obey him, that prevents most of us from entering into the reality which they express. The ease, lightness, and power of his Way we rarely enjoy, much less see, as the pervasive and enduring quality of our streetlevel human existence.

So we do not have the strength we should have, and Jesus' commandments become overwhelmingly burdensome to us. In fact, many Christians cannot even believe he actually intended for us to carry them out. So what is the result? His teachings are treated as a mere ideal, one that we may better ourselves by aiming for but know we are bound to fall glaringly short of.

It's a familiar story. "We're only human," we say, and "to err is human." Such pronouncements may be for another age or "dispensation", we may think -- or possibly they're for when we are in heaven. But they cannot be for us now. Not really. Jesus could not have imposed anything that hard upon us. And beside, we're in a period of grace -- we are saved by grace, not by anything we do -- so obedience to Christ is actually not necessary. And it is so hard, anyway; it cannot be expected of us, much less enjoyed by us.

And so we reason. All of our reasonings cannot, however, remove the thought that Jesus calls us to follow him -- to follow him now, not after death.

No one denies that we would be far better off and our world an immeasurably better place, if we were to conform in deed and spirit to who he is and what he taught. And all of our lack of understanding doesn't cancel his offer of an easy yoke and a light burden, in which our souls can find rest. That offer, like his call to follow him, is clearly made to us here and now, in the midst of this life where we labor and bear impossible burdens and cry out for rest. It's true. It's real. We have only to grasp the secret of entering into that easy yoke.

What then is the secret? There is a simple answer to this' all important question. It is one that can be introduced and even made completely clear, by comparing some facts with which we are all familiar

Think of certain young people who idolize an outstanding baseball player. They want nothing so much as to pitch or run or hit as well as their idol. So what do they do? When they are playing in a baseball game, they all try to behave exactly as their favorite baseball star does. The star is well known for sliding head first into bases, so the teenagers do too. The star holds his bat above his head, so the teenagers do too. These young people try anything and everything their idol does, hoping to be like him -- they buy the type shoes the star wears, the same glove he uses, the same bat...