Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the OverwhelmedSimplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed
Donald S. Whitney
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Let's face it - we live in a complex world. Technology improves daily, and with it, the pace increases. Surrounded by driving forces, it is no small wonder that our spiritual lives take a hit. But if the weight of the world is hindering your walk with the Lord, maybe now it's the time to step back and evaluate. Life on earth was less hectic in Jesus' time. He faced incredible challenges and suffered agonizing trials, but there was simplicity in His relationship with His Father that we can emulate. And in that simplicity, we can realize our greatest fulfillment as believers. If your Bible study seems as tedious as filing your tax return and your prayer life as wearisome as trying to understand your phone bill, stop. Take a deep breath. Let author Donald Whitney show you how rewarding the simple Christian life can be.

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Donald S. Whitney is the associate professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, and How Can I Be Sure I'm a Christian?. Don holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He lives in Kansas City with his wife, Caffy, and his daughter, Laurelen Christiana. Don's website is What is the purpose of spiritual disciplines?

Donald Whitney: Godliness. We’re commanded in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” The spiritual disciplines are the practical, biblical outworkings whereby we discipline ourselves. But the purpose of these disciplines—according to this text—is godliness, that is, holiness, sanctification, Christlikeness. Or, to put it another way, the purpose of the disciplines is to promote intimacy with and (both inward and outward) conformity to Jesus Christ. Why is it that sometimes the spiritual disciplines drain us instead of refreshing us?

Donald Whitney: We forget why we’re practicing them. We forget that their purpose is intimacy with and conformity to Christ. Whenever our spiritual practices become just another thing to do on an already overloaded to-do list, we’ve fallen prey to what the Apostle Paul warns of in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” How can one engage in discipline without being legalistic?

Donald Whitney: By practicing the spiritual disciplines with the right motives. The greater danger in our time, however, is not legalism as much as it is license. For every one that I meet who relies too heavily on his practice of the disciplines, I meet ten who discounts the importance of them in following Christ. Your book is titled Simplify Your Spiritual Life. What do you mean by “simplify”? Are you advocating that people spend less time doing spiritual things?

Donald Whitney: I suppose it’s possible that some need to spend less time devoted to things of the soul and of the next world, and devote more time to temporal matters, but I’ve never met them. The question to address is not how to spend less time devoted exclusively to spiritual pursuits, but how to spend that time better. What is spirituality?

Donald Whitney: This is a very important question, because everyone is “spiritual” today. USA Today published a survey where a majority of atheists consider themselves “spiritual” people. I’m writing from the belief that spirituality is the pursuit of God and the things of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with God’s self-revelation (that is, the Bible). What is the motive behind simplification?

Donald Whitney: Simplifying one’s spiritual life is not so much about doing fewer things as it is about doing the right things with the right motives. We simplify, not just to be less busy, even though we may be right to pursue that. Rather, we simplify to remove distractions from our pursuit of Christ. We simplify, not merely to save time, but to eliminate hindrances to the time we devote to knowing Christ and doing the will of God. Even with a simpler spiritual life we will still—in this world— lead a busy life. To pursue the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) does not lead to a life of leisure. But we will lead a more focused, God-glorifying life. What are common misconceptions about simplicity that can arise?

Donald Whitney: One is to believe that simplifying the spiritual life eliminates the need for spiritual discipline. Another is that simplifying the spiritual life will automatically simplify the rest of life. A third is that simplifying the spiritual life is a one-time event rather than an ongoing process. A fourth is that simplifying the spiritual life is to minimize the spiritual life, that is, to do fewer “spiritual things.” What are the most common problem areas people have regarding spiritual disciplines?

Donald Whitney: The two most important spiritual disciplines are the intake of the Word of God and prayer. With each there is an almost universal problem. With the intake of God’s Word, people will read the Bible, close it, and if pressed would have to admit, “I don’t remember a thing I read.” The issue there is a lack of meditation on Scripture. Reading is the exposure to Scripture; meditation is the absorption of Scripture. With prayer, the common problem is this: we pray the same old things about the same old things. You don’t have to do that too long before it freezes the heart of prayer. Even though a person believes in prayer and wants to pray, this kind of prayer is boring. The simple solution is to pray through a passage of Scripture—especially a Psalm—when you pray. So if you were praying through the twenty-third Psalm, you would read, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and then thank Him for being your shepherd. Ask Him to shepherd you through the decision that’s before you. Ask Him to shepherd your children, etc. Continue in this way through the Psalm. Your book is filled with practical suggestions. Can you name a couple for us?

Donald Whitney: In addition to praying through a Psalm, try spontaneously singing it. Take a prayer walk, that is, praying—perhaps bringing a small Bible so you can pray through a Psalm—while you take a leisurely walk. If you find no time for reading, try reading just one page per day. In this way you’ll finish at least two full-size books in a year’s time. Collect great questions and use them to stimulate true fellowship with other Christians. Learn to see everything as an illustration of biblical truth. Take a nap—sometimes it’s the most spiritual thing you can do. Does one need to follow all of them? How can that lead to simplicity?

Donald Whitney: I do not want to give the impression that I think everyone should do everything suggested in Simplify Your Spiritual Life. To do that would almost certainly result in further complicating your life. Rather, here is a field of ideas in which you can mentally meander, stopping to pick only those that will simplify your spiritual life.

All readers are invited to my website,