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So, You Want to Be Like Christ?

"In a world bent on enticing us away from growing deeper in love with Christ, how on earth do we become more godly?

The Bible says we must 'discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness .' You really want to be like Christ? Here are eight essential disciplines to get you there. . .

This powerful book can help set your feet on the path to godliness, even in the midst of an increasingly godless world."

-- From the back cover

This book was recommended to me as a helpful review of, and encouragement to, the Christian disciplines. And it is.

-- From the back cover

In typical Swindoll style, the book is very accessible and relatable, although sometimes therefore a bit shallow also. I love Swindoll for his warm, rubber-meets-the-road practicality. And perhaps nowhere was he more piercingly clear and insightful than in his introduction to the entire topic of godliness through spiritual disciplines:

"If you merely want to have control over your lusts, or become more serene, any meditative religion will do.

Christianity and its goal, Christlikeness, have a person in mind: Christ!

What sets Christian spiritual activity apart from all other religions is that they have knowledge fo Christ as their goal; not moral perfection (although you will become more moral, not tranquility (although your live will become remarkably more peaceful). And because of the grace you have in Christ, the disciplines will do nothing to make you more accepted by the Father. You cannot be more accepted than you already are in Christ, since He has already done it all for you!

Christianity and its goal, Christlikeness, have a person in mind: Christ!

So why exercise spiritual disciplines? To know Jesus Christ."

The eight Christian disciplines that Swindoll outlines are as follows, with my favorite excerpts from each:

1) Intimacy: "Distance from God is a frightening thing. God will never adjust His agenda to fit ours. He will not speed His pace to catch up with ours; we need to slow our pace in order to recover our walk with Him. God will not scream and shout over the noisy clamor... God will not work with the framework of our complicated schedules; we must adapt to His style. We need to conform to His way if our lives are to be characterized by the all-encompassing word godliness."

2) Simplicity: "Doing anything, just because you've always done it, is a classic example of clutter. Look at the example Jesus gave us. When He came to the end of His earthly ministry, though only thirty-three years old, He said boldly, 'I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). That's an uncluttered life."

3) Silence and Solitude: "I can scarcely think of a time when I learned something significant in a crowd..."

4) Surrender:"As [Christ] lived, we are to live. As He decided, we are to decide. As He obeyed, we are to obey. As He pleased the Father, we are to please the Father. As He surrendered, we are to surrender. . . . Stop wrapping your ego around your role. . . . Find your security, your identity, and your contentment in Him."

5) Prayer: "Prayer is one's personal conversation with the Almighty that includes both expressing our concerns and listening to His response. Our hope in doing so is to glean His perspective, or as Paul called it, 'the mind of Christ'."

6) Humility: "Godliness has one very important difference when compared to music, art, and athletics. Unlike those pursuits, godliness has no public performance in mind. That's especially true for the discipline of humility, for humility forbids grandstanding. If anyone else notices, it is incidental. We pursue the spiritual disciplines for an audience of One."

7) Self-control: "Let me put it straight. The flesh is a self-serving, nonbelieving, godless mind-set that lives by animal instinct. Its natural stance is facing away from Christ. Its innate priority is self-preservation... To make matters worse, it comes as natural to you as breathing."

8) Sacrifice: "[When Paul calls us to be living sacrifices] Paul isn't asking us to seek our own demise, not literally. He is, however, pleading for us to give up our life as we continue living it. When we get out of bed in the morning, as we arrive at work and put in those hours, as we relate, as we play, as we carry out our personal responsibilities then fall into bed for the night, we are to do everything as a deliberate act of submission out of obedience to God. That path leads to our becoming a living, breathing sacrifice--dead to anything our Master hates, devoted to everything He loves."

While Swindoll does include Bible intake under several of his discipline headings, it is conspicuously and questionably lacking as one of the crucial Christian disciplines. This (presumably accidental) relegating of God's Word to lower importance than "simplicity" or "solitude" is a mistake, in my opinion.

And although Swindoll tries to avoid this misconception with a few disclaimers, the impression he gives several times in the book is one of a mediocre Christianity as almost an expectation. I recognize, as a pastor, that everyone has to start off small and work up; but five-minute prayers and relaxed Christian service should not be our goal.

Swindoll quotes Whitefield's journal, without mentioning it by name, criticizing the zealous statement "I'd rather burn out than rust out!" as over-the-top and unnecessary. He even contends that such men could have done more for the kingdom if they'd lived longer. One can only assume he is speaking of men like George Whitfield, Jim Elliot, David Brainerd, and Charles Spurgeon who all died at a relatively young age.

But who would have every heard of these men if they had put looking after their own health over Christian service? It was their very willingness to sacrifice themselves and buy up every moment for God that gave their ministries such effectiveness and makes them so memorable.

So, to quote Swindoll himself:

"When you pray, pray so that you may know Him. When you seek to simplify, do it as a means of knowing Him more. When you surrender, or behave with humility or sacrifice, do it with the sole purpose in mind to know Him."

Which will necessarily mean much time with God in his Word, much time in prayer communing with Him, and, yes, much sacrifice for Him--including disciplining yourself in the Christian life.

"When you pray, pray so that you may know Him. When you seek to simplify, do it as a means of knowing Him more. When you surrender, or behave with humility or sacrifice, do it with the sole purpose in mind to know Him."