Last June, I was placed on a list to receive the prepublication copy of Don Whitney’s second edition to his excellent book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Few books exist that transcend time so well as this book, yet Whitney still found a way to add excellent content and updates to his classic. Only now have I finally found time to write a review of his book, and with great delight I hope to encourage you to purchase this book, read it, make notes, and revisit the pages of this book over the course of your spiritual life.
As a marathon runner, I recall my early days of pounding out the long runs in preparation for my first marathon. I can still remember the lack of preparation that led to the pain of blisters, muscle fatigue, and mental challenges that accompany the marathon. As I look back, I can see how some simple early adjustments related to my choice of shoes, socks, and my overall running plan could have prevented much frustration. Don Whitney’s book is a great resource for your journey in the Christian life. All new Christians should have it, and the aged Christian should revisit it often.
[Tweet “Don Whitney’s book is a great resource for your journey in the Christian life.”]
Whitney’s book is thirteen chapters in length and covers ten spiritual disciplines:
- Bible Intake (2 chapters)
- Silence and Solitude
In the early pages of his book, Whitney writes:
The word rendered “discipline” in the New American Standard translation is the Greek word gumnasia from which our English words gymnasium and gymnastics derive. This word means “to exercise or discipline,” which is why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 4:7 as “exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” the English Standard Version as “train yourself for godliness,” and the New International Version as “train yourself to be godly.” It’s a sweaty word with the smell of the gym to it.
Like marathon running, we all find excuses. Most people I know hate to run and often tell me that they can’t run. They tell me of their knee pain or their surgery that prevents them from running long distances. While I understand what they are telling me to be true, I also know that the reason they choose not to run is likely based on their distaste for the discipline of running as opposed to the perpetual knee pain.
I know a man who after suffering a catastrophic injury in a factory had to have surgery to repair his leg by the insertion of a rod. His doctor told him that he would never run again. He went on to run in the Trans-American Footrace (running across the entire United States of America from coast to coast). He set the record for the fastest time to cover the entire Appalachian Trail (approximately 2,200 miles). He likewise went on to set the record for the fastest time on the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California at Mexico’s border to Canada (2,663 miles). We can always do more than we think if we dedicate ourselves to the task.
Don Whitney covers important spiritual disciplines and provides a biblical foundation, historical examples from men such as the Puritans, and deals with the popular excuses that often fuel a lack of discipline among Christians. For instance, when discussing Bible memorization, he writes, “Most people think they have a bad memory, but it’s not true.” He goes on to say, “most of the time memorizing is mainly a problem of motivation.”
In fact, that type of language is all throughout Whitney’s excellent book. He continuously insists on having a plan and organizing your effort to remain spiritually disciplined. From prayer to journaling, every aspect of the Christian life requires a plan of action. The people who refuse to have a plan typically burnout quickly in their Bible reading, prayer, and other important spiritual disciplines.
It’s not about reading the Bible in 365 days. That may not be possible for your reading speed and time. Nevertheless, you should chart your progress and have a plan to read through the Bible over time (many Bible reading plans exist online and are easy to use). Just like running a marathon requires discipline, so does the Christian life. Each individual discipline requires a plan and commitment to persevere in the faith.
As you set goals, establish plans, and chart your progress on the way to the Celestial City, I urge you to get a copy of Don Whitney’s book to aid you in this process. As much information as he provides, it’s laced full of wisdom and encouragement. A few claps and cheers on the side of the road will help you persevere toward the finish line in the marathon. Like a helpful aid station in a marathon, Don Whitney’s book serves as a major source of encouragement in the Christian life. I think you will agree!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Dr. Don Whitney serves as professor of biblical spirituality (2005); associate dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Whitney came to Southern from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation for ten years. He has authored six books, includingSpiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and is a popular conference speaker, especially on personal and congregational spirituality. He served in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years.