Train for Godliness | March 22nd, 2023
She was there every morning sitting in her comfy living room chair with a cup of piping hot coffee and her well-worn Bible open in her lap. Oh, how my mother loved her quiet time with the Lord!
I was always so busy rushing around that I didn’t ever think I had time to slow down that much. Nor did I have a desire to do so until I finally began to realize how much I needed my own personal time with the Lord.
Much Needed Quiet Time
As a follower of Jesus, a quiet time is vital to be able to draw close to Him without any distractions. A comfortable place away from all the noise for a time of privacy with you and God is so necessary in our fast-paced world. There is nothing like a peaceful environment for studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer.
Jesus knew the importance of a quiet time in His own life:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16
If Jesus knew He needed that time alone with His Father, how much more do we? Once I made my quiet time a regular part of my day, it has become something I look so forward to. How rewarding it is to have that intimate time with Jesus, sharing my burdens and gratitude in prayer while being encouraged in my faith as I grow in the knowledge of God and who He is through reading His Word.
If our schedules are so packed that there is no time to meet with Him each day, we are way too busy! Often, it is just a matter of cutting out a few time wasters (scrolling through social media, playing solitaire games, online shopping, or watching television) to make space in our schedule. We waste much more time than we think we do!
Reading God’s Word and prayer are also called spiritual disciplines. They enable us to grow in our spiritual maturity and godliness which begins the moment we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are immediately made into a new creation in Christ. While we are here in this earthly body, however, we will still struggle with sin that is rooted in our old nature. The more we grow in our knowledge and love of God, the more we will desire to choose actions that please Him with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to do it on our own!
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:9-10
Ignatius of Loyola
There are many popular books that have been written on spiritual disciplines. One of the oldest is The Spiritual Exercises written by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) who was a 16th century Spanish Catholic priest, theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). It is a set of four weeks of meditations, contemplations, and prayers that emphasizes purifying oneself through asceticism and using the imagination in prayer, neither of which are biblical.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23
Ignatius’ asceticism was very extreme. He lived for a year in a cave wearing rags, never bathing, scourging himself, and begging for food, all in an effort to do “penance” for his sins. He taught that penance for sin requires “chastising the body by inflicting sensible pain on it.”
There are no works we can do that are good enough to pay for our own sin. We are told in God’s Word they are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It is only by grace through faith in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross that He washes us clean from our sin and makes us righteous.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
Ignatius offers a variety of prayer tools including the triple colloquy (intimate conversation), introduced in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. It is an invitation for deep sharing in an intimate conversation with Mary, Jesus, and God the Father.
Again, this is completely unbiblical as there is only one God and one Mediator, Jesus Christ. We have direct access to the throne. We even have the Holy Spirit interceding for us when we don’t have the words!
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. I Timothy 2:5-6a
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
When Jesus modeled how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, He began with “Our Father which art in heaven.” Nowhere in Scripture is it suggested that we pray to his mother, Mary, who was a sinner in need of a Savior just like us.
Fast forward from Ignatius to 1978 and we begin to have a revival of the use of spiritual disciplines through a movement called Spiritual Formation. Under this movement, it is perfectly acceptable for these disciplines to be practiced by people of any faith to make them more “Christlike.” Some of these disciplines include meditation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, confession, and worship.
So, what happened in 1978 to help ignite this revival? A Quaker mystic and seminary professor named Richard Foster published his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth which sold over 2.5 million copies. He promoted the ideas of Spiritual Formation in the Church, opening the evangelical mind to mystical spiritual exercises, meditation, and contemplative prayer.
False Teacher Richard Foster
Foster’s spirituality is based on monastic mysticism, not on the clear teaching of Scripture. He commends the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola as “a school of prayer for all of us.” He also believes anyone, whether saved or unsaved, can and should practice spiritual disciplines.
“We need not be well advanced in matters of theology to practice the Disciplines. Recent converts – for that matter people who have yet to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ – can and should practice them.” (Celebration of Discipline, 1978, p.2)
According to Scripture, true spiritual disciplines (prayer, fellowship with other Bible-believing Christians, and the reading, study, memorization, and meditation of Scripture) come from the Holy Spirit’s influence in the life of a genuine Christian.
To fully understand Foster’s spirituality, you can look at his two books, Spiritual Classics (2000) and Devotional Classics (1990). In each book, he features writings from 52 “great devotional writers” which he also calls “Devotional Masters.” Included are several mystics who all hold to panentheistic views (God is in all) with many different paths to God. They include Thomas Merton (Roman Catholic monk), Henri Nouwen (Catholic priest), St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Meister Eckhart (Catholic priest).
Let me share a few quotes from these “Devotional Masters” that Richard Foster praises…
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster writes that Thomas Merton shared “priceless wisdom for all Christians who long to go deeper in the spiritual life.”
“I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity … I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” – Thomas Merton
“The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being.” – Henri Nouwen
“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.” – Henri Nouwen
“Some simple people think that they will see God as if He were standing there and they here. It is not so. God and I, we are one. I am converted into Him in such a way that He makes me one Being with Himself – not a similar being. By the living God, it is true that there is no distinction!” – Meister Eckhart
This is all very dangerous, false teaching that can lead people straight to hell. We are not God and never will be. He does not share His glory with anyone. Neither does He dwell in every person – only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. There is so much in Scripture that confirms this!
I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. Isaiah 45:5
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17
It is not the traditions of men that transform us. It is through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. He has given us His Word so we can know Him deeply. Our walk with God should never be reduced to a methodology.
Train Yourself for Godliness
Biblical spiritual disciplines will contribute to our ongoing sanctification and growth in godliness with the help of the Holy Spirit so we can be more like Christ. The best way to avoid error in the understanding of spiritual disciplines is to stick with the authority of Scripture given to all believers to immerse ourselves in the Word of God (God speaking to us) and in prayer (how we speak to Him).
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8
Every believer should train themselves for godliness. It is of value in every way! When we have a genuine love for God, we will do those things that bring Him glory and honor. We will run from practices that go against God’s Word because we want to please Him. The greater our knowledge of God through His Word, the more we will be able to discern between false teaching and that which leads to godliness.
Foundational Biblical Spiritual Disciplines
Discipline #1: Read, Study, Meditate, and Memorize God’s Word
The Scriptures are completely sufficient to shape and equip us for godliness. The more we stray from the biblical standard, the less Christlike we will be. We will only continue in sanctification by growing in the full counsel of God’s Word.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Memorization enables us to have Scripture at the forefront of our mind anytime we need it to help us through whatever trouble and distress we are going through or when someone else needs a word of encouragement. There is nothing better than being able to share the Word of God with them in that moment!
One of the most powerful verses found in Scripture regarding the necessity of memorization is Joshua 1:8:
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
God’s Word is foundational to spiritual growth and training for godliness.
Discipline #2: Communicate with God in Prayer
Our prayers are the way we communicate with God. We express adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. It is an act of worship as we focus on Him. It does not have to be anything formal. He meets us where we are and we can share anything with Him. He is always listening! And what a boost for our faith when we watch the ways He answers our specific prayers. I am often amazed!
Biblical prayer is not about making demands of God or only asking Him for things we want or need. It is not about bargaining with Him or altering our state of conscience through silence and emptying our mind. It does not involve focusing inward on ourselves to find God, breathing a certain way, maintaining a particular posture, or repeating a word or phrase over and over. God is all about having a loving relationship with us and prayer is all about communicating with Him for greater intimacy.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12
Prayer is foundational to spiritual growth and training for godliness.
Discipline #3: Fellowship with Other Believers
Christian fellowship is vital in the life of a believer. We are part of the family of God as brothers and sisters in Christ. The bonds between believers are capable of a spiritual closeness that far surpasses the limitations of other kinds of friendships.
Christian fellowship is derived from the Greek word koinonia which can be found 20 times in the New Testament. True believers are connected by a love for one another, united in shared beliefs, convictions, behaviors, and purpose. They encourage and serve alongside each other with a mutual desire to work together to glorify God. This fellowship is also necessary for admonishing and accountability. Who else but other believers will do that for you? The connection is based on our common koinonia that we have with Jesus Christ.
Being in fellowship with other believers is an important spiritual discipline that we should not neglect. We need each other!
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
The Lonely Ember
An old story is told of a preacher who visited a man from his flock who had not attended any church activities or services for a number of weeks. The preacher gently knocked on the man’s door and was invited into the home.
The stray parishioner gestured to the preacher to take a seat next to the fire. As they were sitting down, neither man had uttered a single word. After a few brief moments of silence watching the fire crackle, the preacher moved to the edge of his seat, grabbed the fireplace poker, and began to move a few coals around.
He found one coal in particular and moved it out onto the fireplace hearth where it initially continued to glow a bright orange. However, after a moment or two, the coal began to dim fainter and fainter. Eventually, the coal ceased to glow at all. It remained on the hearth as the two men still had not spoken. After a moment or two more, the preacher took the poker and returned the isolated coal back to the company of the brightly glowing embers.
The secluded coal now surrounded by the others quickly returned to a bright glowing ember providing heat and light to these two men. The preacher rose from his chair, put on his coat and hat and prepared to exit the man’s home. Just as the preacher reached for the doorknob to let himself out, the wayward man spoke the first words of the evening’s encounter. “Nice sermon, Preacher. I’ll see you Sunday.”
The message was clear to this man. He would soon be just like the dark coal on the hearth without the other coals near to keep his fire going. They needed each other.
Fellowship is foundational to spiritual growth and training for godliness.
Once we become a new creation in Christ, practicing the foundational biblical spiritual disciplines of reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing God’s Word, spending time with God in prayer, and pursuing fellowship with other believers will become a natural desire within us.
It is through these disciplines that we will not forget our continuous need for Christ. And we will be filled with overwhelming gratitude for His infinite provision of unconditional love and grace that is found in Him alone.
Kimberly Moore is a blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed and Kingdom Sparkle. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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