The Key to Knowing and Serving the God Who Loves You


How do we grow to become more fully devoted followers of Christ? How do we deepen our intimacy with the Lord? Blake teaches on the spiritual disciplines, which he defines simply as "habits that help us grow spiritually." He discusses what spiritual disciplines are and what they are not. Simply trying harder to be like Jesus is a flawed strategy. Rather than trying, we must train for godliness, ultimately to be more like Christ and experience more freedom in Him.

Blake HolmesMar 2, 20141 Timothy 4:7b-8; Proverbs 27:17; James 1:2-4; Mark 1:35; Matthew 6:16-18; 1 Peter 4:10; Colossians 4:2; Hebrews 10:24-25


Braun Brown: I think behind every great church is a great motto, slogan, or tagline, and our church's tagline is DISCIPLINE.

The D stands for Deny sinful desires. We all have them. The I is Inquire about God, the man upstairs. You want to know him. The S is…

Male: Actually, the word discipline comes from the Hebrew word musar, which means to multi-task, which is why I like to do all of mine simultaneously.

Male: Is that like CrossFit for Christians?

Child: What?

Male: Spankings, time-out, go to your room, no TV.

Child: I can't help if you don't know the definition of the word discipline.

Braun: The N is Never give up, which I think says to never throw in the towel. Eye of the tiger. The E is Eternity is waiting. It's waiting for us.

This is what we're going to be talking about for the next 9-12 weeks, and I think it's going to be life-changing. Not changeable for changeworthy's sake, but just changing lives.

[End of video]

As the video suggests, as Braun so clearly stated, we are beginning a new series this week. We're looking at, specifically, the spiritual disciplines in order to ask ourselves and answer the question…How do we grow in our relationship with Christ? How do we deepen in our intimacy with the Lord? Would you pray with me, please?

Father in heaven, I'm excited to be up here just to share what it is that you have so clearly shown me over the years. Lord, I'm thankful that I have learned from so many in this church what it looks like to walk with you, to know you, and to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Thank you for their example, how they have spurred me on toward love and good deeds. Lord, we give you this hour. I pray for your help. I pray for clarity and ask for your blessing. In Christ's name, amen.

I love to watch people who are great at what they do. It's fun. I'm sure each of you… It really doesn't matter to me what it is. When you come across somebody who is great at what they do, it's awe-inspiring. It could be something as simple as my gym teacher when I was in middle school.

I remember every year before basketball season started he would line us all up, stand at the free throw line, and take a basketball. We'd all look at him. He'd say, "Boys, making free throws is really not that complicated. Let me show you how to do it." He would put a blindfold on… Every year, he did this.

He would stand behind the free throw line blindfolded, take the basketball and dribble it once or twice, bend his knees, and shoot. Whoosh! Nothing but net. Somebody would hand him another basketball. Same thing. He did it repeatedly. Whenever that happened we were always sitting there, and the question we were asking ourselves, the question you would ask, was, "How do you do that?How do you do that?"

I remember just this last year I got to go to the training facility in Utah where the US ski team trains. Even during the summer they have a facility set up there where they have these huge, high ramps. They'll go down these ramps and do these amazing acrobatic stunts and then land in a pool of water.

You just watch them and think, "How in the world do they do that?" I mean, how do you start four stories high, get this incredible momentum, do all of these flips, and land perfectly on your feet then just kind of fall into the pool? They would show you that you start with little ramps and trampolines, and over time, all of a sudden the four-story acrobatic stunt just isn't that difficult.

I remember one time I was able to go to a shooting range with a Plano SWAT officer. I remember standing there with some of my friends, and he was trying to teach us how to use a handgun. It was fun. We were out there, just a bunch of guys. I remember he put up a target then sent it downrange. He started to fire at the target. The crazy thing is… This is a Plano SWAT officer. He's shooting at the target, and I'm looking at it. I don't have great eyesight, but I'm pretty sure he's not hitting anything on that target.

I look at my friend and go, "That's kind of embarrassing," and he says, "Look a little closer." I'm like, "What?" I look down there, and he goes, "Look at the top left." Well, there is the big target in the middle, but then in the top left-hand corner there is a small target. I think he was 10 for 10. He hit it every time. Then he was just showing off. I remember he would just start walking like this and firing at the same time, hitting the target every time.

Whenever you see somebody make a ski jump, make free throws blindfolded, hit the target 10 out of 10 times while walking, we ask ourselves, "How do you do that?" How do you become a great marksman? How do you become a great basketball player?

The same question applies for us today when we ask the question… How do we grow to become a more fully devoted follower of Christ? How do we do that? I mean, there are some people who we just look at their lives, and we see the way they respond to conflict, we hear the way in which they're persuasive in explaining their faith, we see how they're able to recall Scripture, and they endure suffering with godliness and patience. The mark of the Spirit is all over them. If you're like me… I watch, I listen, and I go, "How in the world do you do that?"

The Bible is clear that there are several ways in which the Lord helps develop our character and maturity in Christ. One way is he uses other people. Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." God uses other people to develop us. We all know that. That's why we call you to community so often here.

From James 1:2-4 we know God uses trials and circumstances to challenge us and grow us. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…" Why? "…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." God uses other people and God uses trials to help us become more mature followers of Christ, but there's also another way in which God develops us and matures our faith, and that is through the spiritual disciplines.

In 1 Timothy 4:7 Paul states, "…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and ** also **** for the **** life **** to come."** This morning we're going to ask and answer three questions.

First…What are the spiritual disciplines? You may have heard people refer to the spiritual disciplines and kind of scratch your head going, "What are the spiritual disciplines?" Secondly…Why should we practice them? Why should we practice these disciplines? Don't we normally want to avoid discipline? Lastly…How should we practice them? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines? Let's take a look.

1._ What are the spiritual disciplines?_ If you're anything like me, sometimes in order to better understand something I need to know what it's not. I need to know what the opposite is. I think there is so much confusion about the spiritual disciplines, so I want to first tell you what the spiritual disciplines are not. This is really critical.

A. They are not external religious practices that measure our love for God. This is the trap the Pharisees fell into. They believed their external behavior was such that if they could, on the outside, demonstrate their devotion to God by their religious practices then other people would look at them and go, "That must be a man of God. When that guy prays out loud… Whew! You want to write it down."

That's what the Pharisees were guilty of. They adorned themselves, if you will, with religious practices on the outside. But what did Christ condemn them for? Their hearts were far from him. Christ described the Pharisees as whitewashed tombs: those who are clean on the outside but rotten on the inside.

B. They are not a spiritual to-do list of activities that will make God love us more. So often, what happens is when we talk about the spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and confession it just feels like a to-do list, and we fall into this performance trap of believing, "If I do these things, somehow I will become more acceptable in the eyes of God. I just need to do more." But that's opposed to grace.

You need to know there's nothing you can do to make God love you any more, and there's nothing you can do to make God love you any less. No matter if you spend 12 hours in Bible study a day or if you have the book of Romans memorized in Greek, it's not impressive to him. He doesn't look at you and go, "Wow! I love you so much more." God doesn't operate on a performance scale. Aren't we thankful for that?

C. They are not difficult practices that are reserved for the spiritually mature or well educated. When we talk about the spiritual disciplines, we're not talking about practices that are reserved for those who have a master's degree in theology. We're not talking about practices which only Todd does every week because he's on staff at Watermark. We're not talking about practices for those who have known the Lord for 10-plus years. The spiritual disciplines are for all of us, whether you've known the Lord for 2 hours or 20 years. The spiritual disciplines are not reserved for the spiritually mature and the well educated.

D. The spiritual disciplines are not legalistic exercises designed to make us feel guilty about what we're not doing. Isn't that important? When we talk about the spiritual disciplines (like prayer: you have to pray more; you have to read your Bible more), what happens to most of us? We kind of shrink back a little bit, if we're honest, and we start to feel guilty about what we're not doing.

When somebody asks, "Hey, what are you speaking on tomorrow?" and I say, "I'm speaking on the spiritual disciplines," it's kind of like, "Oh, great. I'm going to go spend an hour feeling bad about what I'm not doing." "No, no, no. Come. You might be encouraged." Right? The spiritual disciplines are not a legalistic exercise designed to make you feel guilty about what you're not doing.

So what are the spiritual disciplines? I turned to several respected authors and folks I like to read. One man named Donald Whitney said the spiritual disciplines are the God-given means we use in the Spirit-filled pursuit of godliness. That'll work. John Ortberg, a popular author, said the spiritual disciplines are simply a means of appropriating or growing toward the life that God graciously offers and are the activities that can help you gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. I like that one more.

Let's take another shot at defining what the spiritual disciplines are. Dallas Willard wrote, "A discipline for the spiritual life is nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his kingdom." I'm really a simple guy, so I came up with a definition that, hopefully, will help you. What are the spiritual disciplines? Really simply: habits that help us grow spiritually.

You can't write a book around that definition. Right? So maybe I'll complicate it and publish a book one day. But the spiritual disciplines are really nothing more than just habits that help us grow spiritually. Understand this: they are the means; the Lord is the end. They are the means; they are not the destination. The spiritual disciplines are habits that help us grow spiritually.

Historically, I'll give you some examples. When we speak of the spiritual disciplines you could categorize them kind of into two buckets. There are the disciplines of abstinence. These disciplines are the ones we practice in order to eliminate anything that is between us and our relationship with the Lord. We practice the disciplines of abstinence in order to remind ourselves of our dependence upon the Lord and to gain perspective.

For instance, the discipline of solitude and the discipline of silence. You see Jesus practiced these often. In Mark, chapter 1, verse 35, it talks about how Jesus removed himself; he got away to a lonely place. Why? To pray. He practiced solitude and silence. The same thing is true for us. How often do we feel like we need to retreat? Have you even gone away, gotten out of town, turned off your cell phone, turned the noise down, turned the TV off, turned the radio off, and just stood in silence?

It really is a discipline, isn't it? I have to physically turn off the phone, put it in the drawer, and lock it away so I don't sit there and look at emails, check it every two minutes, respond to texts, and go through my to-do list for the day. It's just the disciplines of solitude and silence so I can reorient myself with what the Lord may be trying to teach me. It's amazing what happens, how I can come back refreshed. Not even if it's a weekend retreat but even if it's just time early in the morning.

The discipline of fasting. Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 6. When we abstain from a legitimate activity, like food, in order to remind us of our daily dependence upon the Lord. I choose to go without a meal or two, and that physical craving reminds me of the spiritual reality that I am desperate for the Lord, and just as I can't go without food for days on end, I need the Lord.

The discipline of secrecy. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 6 as well. Sometimes we just crave attention. Our flesh starves for attention, applause, and fame, and the Lord makes a point. He says sometimes we need to discipline ourselves and practice the discipline of secrecy. Don't bring attention to yourself. Starve out that sinful craving of the flesh.

The discipline of frugality and sacrifice, abstaining from the goods of this world in order to overcome my greed and my materialism. How do you overcome materialism? Give your money away. It's the sure antidote. Sacrifice.

Then there are disciplines of engagement in a whole other bucket, those proactive habits like Bible study, Scripture memory, meditating on God's Word, studying it, hearing it. There is the proactive discipline of engagement like worship, when we think about and respond to God throughout our day. Not just worship (little w), but Worship (capital w), which is why we say every week, "Have a great week of Worship." It's that every day I live in light of the reality of Romans 12:1-2, that I'm to offer my body as a living sacrifice.

There's the discipline of service. First Peter 4:10. How I use all the gifts…the time, talent, and treasure…everything God has given me to serve his kingdom and his purposes. The discipline of prayer. Colossians 4:2. We're supposed to devote ourselves to it, where we communicate with God. That is what prayer is, simply communicating with God. The discipline of fellowship. Spending time with each other for the purpose of mutual encouragement. There are more, but these are just some examples of what the spiritual disciplines are.

2._ Why should we practice the spiritual disciplines?_ So why should we practice these? Do we practice them because we feel guilty? Do we practice them because we want God to love us more? Do we practice them because maybe if we don't then God will love us less? No. Why do we practice the spiritual disciplines?I want to give you three reasons.

A. We should practice the spiritual disciplines in order to grow in Christlikeness. It seems simple enough, right? Really simply, Jesus practiced the spiritual disciplines. I like what one man said. He said, in writing the intro to his book around spiritual disciplines, "My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing: by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself."

If we have faith in Christ we must believe he knew how to live. We can, through faith in grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in by arranging our whole lives around the activities he, himself, practiced in order to remain constantly at home in fellowship with his Father. We practice the spiritual disciplines because if we want to be Christlike, we have to recognize that we want to live our lives as he lived his.

B. Simply trying to be more like Jesus is a flawed strategy. I want to let that sink in for a second. Out of all I'm going to share with you today I think this one will be the most helpful for you and, hopefully, the most encouraging. Simply trying to be more like Jesus is a flawed strategy. There is a tremendous difference between training and trying. There is a tremendous difference between trying to be like Jesus and training to grow in Christlikeness.

I know too many people who have grown discouraged spirituality because they think life change will come if they simply try harder. Have you ever been there before? You want to respond in a godly way. You're trying as hard as you can to be a good husband, a good father, a faithful follower of Christ. You try, you try, and you try, and you are weary of trying. I get it. I have tried to be like Jesus for far too long, and it leads to discouragement, fatigue, and frustration.

You see, there was a popular phrase that's gone around for a long time, simply asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" What would Jesus do? A helpful question. I understand the heart behind it, but it's a flawed strategy if you simply ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" without disciplining yourself for godliness.

Dallas Willard wrote, "We cannot behave 'on the spot' as [Jesus] did and taught if in the rest of our time we live as everyone else does. The 'on-the-spot' episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect un-Christlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness. Our efforts to take control at that moment will fail so uniformly and so ingloriously that the whole project of following Christ will appear ridiculous to the watching world." Did you catch that?

You see, those who have trained themselves for the purpose of godliness are the ones who are able to resist temptation. Those are the ones who are able to offer biblical counsel according to the need of the moment. Those are the ones who are able to communicate the Word of God powerfully and clearly in a way that changes lives. Those are the people who have trained themselves and are able to articulate the faith in such a way that other people go, "Man, that's a great answer."

The ones who train themselves are the ones who are able to endure hardship and suffering in such a way that the world looks at them and goes, "What is it that is so different about you?" The ones who have trained themselves for godliness are the ones who are able to lead their families in such a way as we go, "Man, I aspire to be a husband and a father like that." It doesn't just come through trying. Trying to be like Jesus is a flawed strategy and simply won't work.

To illustrate this point I want to call two friends up here. Nancy and Beau, come on up. This will be fun. Beau learned of this little illustration this morning. Beau, we've met you before. You're an elder in our church, yes?

Beau Fournet: Yes.

Blake: This is Beau Fournet. He just recently became and elder in our church. He's a pretty smart guy. I'm not saying this because he's up here and he's an elder. Beau may be…well, he is… I'll give you this. He's in the top three of the most talented people I know. Beau is very gifted, and he is very bright. Beau, let me ask you something. How long have you played the piano?

Beau: Never.

Blake: Never.

Beau: Approximately.

Blake: Approximately. Could you play any scales for us?

Beau: No.

Blake: Do you even know what the scales are?

Beau: No.

Blake: Beau, didn't you graduate from Harvard?

Beau: Yes.

Blake: Okay. So you're a pretty bright guy.

Beau: Okay.

Blake: You also graduated from LSU, which also shows…

Beau: God's grace.

Blake: Yeah, God's grace.

Blake: Nancy, how long have you been playing the piano?

Nancy: Fifty-three years.

Blake: Fifty-three years. Which horse are you going to bet on, ladies and gentlemen? All right. Nancy, tell us a little bit about your experience. Where have you been trained?

Nancy: I grew up with very good piano teachers starting at age 5 and progressed to a college professor while in high school, and I stuck with him through college. After that it's been more building on experiences.

Blake: Where have you played?

Nancy: I toured with Up with People for a year playing piano, and I have done some symphony, playing with a couple of orchestras. I've done some solo stuff occasionally.

Blake: Perfect. Now watch this, friends. Nancy, if you'll come over here. I have played zero piano. My daughters are taking piano, so I have learned a little bit. It is my understanding that music is built on the scales. You have to learn the scales… No one sets out to play the piano and is like, "Hey, let's learn how to play the scales. It'll be so exciting!" Right? Would you play a couple of scales for us?

[Piano scales]

Blake: Perfect. Nancy, would you now play a melody for us?

Nancy: A what?

Blake: A melody or… You know.

[Piano music]

Blake: Perfect. Perfect! All right. What I understand about music is you have to learn the scales in order to play a melody like that, but then when you graduate from the scales to the melody, you get to play something a little more advanced. Would you play us something that is a little more advanced?

[Beautiful piano music]

Blake: Well done! Nancy has clearly trained herself to play that piano, such that on the spot… "Hey, Nancy. Would you come up in front of a couple hundred of your closest friends and play?" Now we're going to give my friend Beau an opportunity. Beau, if you would, please try as hard as you can and play what Nancy played. We left the music for you right here.

[Not-so-beautiful piano music]

Blake: Yes! All right. Beau, if I told you I would pay you to try harder, do you think you could play what Nancy played?

Beau: No.

Blake: No?

Thanks, guys. Hey, gang. Let me tell you something. You see, intuitively we know this to be the case, don't we? We know this to be true. We know, whether or not it's a pianist or a surgeon or a basketball player or a marksman, it takes discipline, and it's crazy to think that Beau, as smart, well-educated, and gifted as he is (and he is one very gifted friend of mine), it's crazy to think that without any training… "Hey, try to do this. Try harder. What if I pay you?"

I could yell at him, "Come on, Beau! Try harder!" It's futile. But Nancy learned the scales, and Nancy learned the melodies, and based on a lot of discipline, based on a lot of time quietly at home learning those scales, upon that she built the ability and the training to be able to play beautiful music. We know that to be true.

So why do we think we can just be like Jesus if we try harder apart from training ourselves? That is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines. That's the purpose of the spiritual disciplines, because trying harder doesn't work, but training ourselves, disciplining ourselves for godliness does work.

C. There's freedom in embracing the spiritual disciplines. We mistakenly associate discipline with a lack of freedom, but there's nothing further from the truth. Freedom is the reward of discipline. Beau doesn't have any freedom because he hasn't disciplined himself. Nancy can play up and down the keyboard and play freely because she has disciplined herself.

The same thing is true in our spiritual lives. We wonder why it doesn't work when, "I'm trying harder." Yes, but you haven't disciplined yourself. You haven't studied God's Word. You haven't availed yourself to community. You don't devote yourself to prayer, not for the sake of just checking a box but for the sake of cultivating intimacy with the Lord and growing in Christlikeness. That's why we practice the spiritual disciplines.

3._ How do we practice the spiritual disciplines?_

A. We practice them patiently. It's worth reminding yourself of this. Practice the spiritual disciplines patiently because godliness is a lifelong pursuit, and on this side of heaven, you're never going to get there, but you can progress. Don't grow weary. Don't grow discouraged. Stop comparing yourself to other people; patiently practice the spiritual disciplines. Your growth is not all up to you; it's a healthy dependence upon the Lord.

It's really no different than when we get in a motorboat and we power our way to the other side of the lake versus when we get in a sailboat. When we get in a sailboat, we capture the wind and learn how to sail, but we have to cooperate with the direction of the wind. The spiritual life isn't just getting in a motorboat and powering your way to the other side; it's cooperating with what God's doing in your life. It's capturing the wind. It's trimming your sails.

Incidentally, this also means you can't take credit for that growth in your life because it's God who provides that wind, that power to get you to the other side, but you have to discipline yourself, you have to make yourself sensitive to the leading of the spirit so you can capture the wind and God can freely use you and move you.

B. We practice them wisely. One size does not fit all. This is a mistake I see so many people make. Determining what discipline to practice, when to practice it, and how to practice it is completely dependent upon the condition of your spiritual life.

I don't walk into the gym of friends of mine who have been working out for years and go, "Tell me your routine," and then just try to follow their weight program. What's good for them may not be what's right for me. There's more weight on the bar for them. There's greater strength and greater endurance. It's not helpful for me to compare my workout to their workout.

Sometimes I hear people say, "What do you do? What does your quiet time look like?" It's okay to question, but don't feel like you have to fit yourself into that mold or think any less of yourself if the way you study or spend time with the Lord looks a little different than somebody else.

You may need to spend the afternoon away just quietly in solitude and silence and listen to God. Others of you may say, "I need to be around people. I need fellowship today. I need somebody to encourage my heart." One size doesn't fit all.

C. We practice them continually. The disciplines are not to be separated from our daily lives. We mistakenly reduce the spiritual life to what we do in this artificial timeframe. It's kind of like, "Well, the spiritual disciplines are what I do for maybe 30 minutes early in the morning before I get my kids to school."

No, no. The spiritual disciplines inform your whole day. You practice them continually. Not just for a moment to check the box, to feel good about ourselves, or so we don't feel guilty. We practice the spiritual disciplines continually. Every moment of the day is an opportunity to learn from God and grow in Christlikeness.

I read the Journey every day, and I hope many of you are on the Journey. It's a great way just to remind yourself of the truths of Scripture. If you don't know what the Journey is, go to It's our effort as a body to read through Scripture systematically with each other.

I love to go there and just remind myself of what is true, but I don't just remind myself of what's true in the morning and then forget about it the rest of the day. I try to take a note, to walk away with a principle, to pray through what it is I studied when I read so I can apply it to the rest of my day. We practice the spiritual disciplines continually.

Many of you know some of my story, but when my son got sick with leukemia at a very young age, at 4 years old, I got to meet a lot of families in the hospital. There were some families we met… It's a devastating experience for everybody. There's no question about it.

But there was one family in particular who I grew very close to, and when I watched them I walked away with the same sense of awe and amazement as I do so often when I see people who are great at what they do. I walked away and I asked the question, "How do they do that?"How do they live with such joy? How do they give so sacrificially in the midst of this nightmare they're living through?

Tragically, their little girl lost her battle with cancer. It was heartbreaking. Once again, I found myself asking myself, "How do they do that?" How do they continue to walk by faith? How do they continue to be an encouragement to those around them? How do they give sacrificially like that in the midst of a living nightmare?

Gang, the answer is: They didn't just try hard. They trained themselves. They disciplined themselves for godliness. When the greatest trial of their lives came along, they could play music. They could play in such a way that other people, to this day, sing with them and are inspired to learn how to play the piano, inspired by their faith, inspired to know the Lord they love.

It didn't happen by accident. It didn't happen overnight. They didn't know it was coming, but they trained themselves, and God is using them today in ways in which I just go, "Man, I need to learn from your example." Let's pray.

Father in heaven, I thank you for the opportunity to kick off what's going to be a great series. I pray, Lord, as we think about the disciplines that we wouldn't feel shame and guilt and associate unpleasant things. I pray, Lord, we wouldn't distort and twist what the spiritual disciplines are but we would see them for the blessing you intend for them to be in our lives.

I pray we wouldn't overcomplicate them, and I pray we wouldn't compare ourselves to other people but, Lord, you would help us to take the next step in our walk with you as it is appropriate for where you have us today.

Lord, I pray that our time with you would be purposeful and meaningful. I pray, Lord, that you would help us discipline ourselves in such a way that we no longer try harder but we train ourselves so that when people look at our lives they love the sound of the music coming from our witness and our example and they would want to know the Lord we worship and we serve. We ask this in Christ's name, amen.