Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee. (“Jesus, I Come” by William T. Sleeper)
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 NLT)
Proper discipleship means following Jesus in every moment, especially those that are trying and difficult. There is no better way to prepare ourselves for those hard moments – and they will come – than to train ourselves for the work of Christ. This is exactly what spiritual disciplines are designed to do. To live out the fruits of the Spirit as our second nature, we must put in the work to cultivate their growth in our lives. This work can be difficult, yet it is ultimately much easier and lighter than the alternative. Consider nearly every aspect of life, and there is something about it that requires at least a modicum of training. A teacher prepares for leading his classroom through multiple years of schooling. A soldier prepares for battle through months of boot camp, in addition to the additional training to prepare for her specialization. An athlete must constantly train for the next game, match, or meet. If any of them had attempted to step into their jobs before undertaking the years of necessary training, they would have miserably and immediately failed.
Along these same lines, Paul writes that he disciplines his body “like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The way of Jesus is difficult, but it is certainly easier than the alternative. We are called to a disciplined way of life, but it is in that discipline that we can truly grow. Matt Styles, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, describes these sort of spiritual disciplines as tomato cages for our souls. He says, “A tomato cage may look like a structure that restricts the plant, but a gardener would tell you that the cage is a tool that assists in the growth of the plant. It is true that a tomato plant can grow without a cage, but the surrounding cage provides a structure for the plant that supports its growth and encourages its fruitfulness.” Though we are to come to Jesus as we are, it is in His presence that we are to be transformed into His image.
Choose a spiritual discipline – something like prayer, fasting, service, solitude, or study– and put a special emphasis on putting it into practice this week. Set aside time each morning to help you focus on what that discipline will look like for you that day.