The Disciplined Life

Eugene Peterson authored a book on the Psalms of Ascent entitled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” This phrase did not originate with Peterson but came from an unlikely source. It was taken from a quote by Friedrich Nietzche. Although Nietzche is famous for his critique of religion, this quote beautifully describes the Christian life. Being a Christian is “a long obedience in the same direction.”

In the magnificent hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Robert Robinson describes the human dilemma.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Of course, Robinson was not the first to write about this problem. The prophet Isaiah writes,

“All we like sheep have gone astray;

    we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul describes it this way,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

We are prone to wander. We have all gone astray. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Thankfully, we are saved by grace, but the problem of sin does not magically go away. Sometimes sin leaves a deep mark on us, one that may take years to overcome. Becoming a Christian is the beginning of a journey to be shaped into the image of Jesus. It is a journey that demands purpose, obedience, and discipline.

The purpose of disciplines is not to put God in our debt or to hold it over other Christians. We need disciplines in our lives to help us become the people that God desires us to be. The most famous sermon in the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount, and the heart of this sermon is devoted to spiritual disciplines (Matt. 6). In the middle of his sermon, Jesus discusses four disciplines: giving, praying, fasting, and simplicity. These are classic disciplines, but they are not the only disciplines there are, nor are they the only disciplines mentioned in scripture.

This summer I have asked several people to write about disciplines that many of us may not be familiar with. Some of these disciplines we will be exploring over the coming weeks (e.g. silence and hospitality) are things that are commanded and taught in the Bible. Others (e.g. gardening and journey) have their origins in themes found throughout the Bible. Although all of us should be practicing hospitality on some level, not all of us need to become gardeners. Hopefully, this series will introduce you to disciplines you may not have known about, or things that you may have known about but did not consider to be a spiritual discipline. The purpose is to incorporate everyday practices into our lives that draw us closer to God and shape us into the image of his Son.

I hope this series will bless you. I hope it will encourage you to practice things like silence and hospitality, and I hope it will expose you to other practices that you may or may not decide to incorporate into your own life. I invite you to check in each week and join the conversation.

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Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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