In order to achieve anything worthwhile in life, it requires discipline, and our spiritual life is no different. Donald S. Whitney has written a great volume to be added to the multitudes of works on spiritual disciplines. In his work he has selected what he considers to be the most important characteristics to live a valuable Christian life. Whitney has served in several different capacities from being a pastor for nineteen years to serving as a professor a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this paper, I will attempt to give an understanding of Whitney’s work, which reveals its strengths and weaknesses while finding ways to make application to daily living.
Donald S. Whitney has written a work that is perfect for a casual reader, it is not inaccessible to the casual reader. Inside of these 250 pages, he covers thirteen chapters dealing with eleven different disciplines. These disciplines range all the way from Bible intake to learning and a range of things in between. What exactly does Whitney mean when he speaks of spiritual disciplines? According to him they are “those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth.” The first discipline that he covers in his work is Bible intake; he calls it Bible intake because he does not limit to just reading the Bible but also listening to teaching. He says that one of the greatest reasons for Bible intake is to know God more intimately.  While there are some people who will underestimate the value Scripture reading, they could not be more misinformed because “A 1980 survey by Christianity Today and the Gallup Poll supported this when it concluded that no factor is more influential in shaping a person’s moral and social behavior than regular Bible reading.” 
In the second chapter he continues his views on Bible intake, but changes up some of the approach; he focuses on memorization and meditation. On the topic of memorization he makes a very valuable insight that should encourage us all to hide the word in our hearts. He says, “…until the word is hidden in our heart, they aren’t available to use with our mouth.” In a world of new age mysticism, when we hear the term meditation, we get a view of someone on a mountaintop with their legs crossed and humming. Whitney argues that “we shouldn’t discard or be afraid of scriptural meditation simply because the world has adapted it for its own purposes.” He goes on to say, “While some advocate a kind of meditation in which you do your best to empty your mind, Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and truth.”
Chapter three he ventures in to the waters of prayer and its role in our growth. In this chapter he covers so much ground that it is hard to do it justice in trying to summarize it all. He covers not only the positives of prayer, which is often to be expected, but he goes head first in to some of the negative outlooks people have about prayer. He lays out two different views we can take when it comes to prayer, “We can be prayer pessimists and see the expectation to pray merely as an obligation, or we can be optimists who view the command to pray as an opportunity to receive the mercy and grace of God.”Whitney has a great formula for tying several different things together when he says, “What we take in by the word we digest by meditation and let out by prayer.” There is so much that could be unpacked from this chapter, but we must move on to chapter five.
In this chapter Whitney attempts to define the ‘what’ of worship well, and what it should look like. Ultimately, “To worship God is to ascribe the proper worth to God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better, to approach and address God as He is worthy.”Some would say that this defines the what of worship, but what about the how; the how “is in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) We often like to tell ourselves that we are truly worshiping God when we aren’t we may just be worshiping ourselves. Whitney says, “No matter how spiritual the song you are singing, no matter how poetic the prayer you are praying, if it isn’t sincere then it isn’t worship, it’s hypocrisy.”
This next chapter deals with a topic that many Christians do not engage enough in, this author being one of them: Evangelism. It is the thought of this author that most people avoid evangelism like the plague because they are afraid of what the hearer is going to say, and therefore feel like a failure. However, Whitney says, “Success is measured by the careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient.” Upon hearing those words it can change a person’s entire outlook upon this task. Throughout the chapter, in several different sections, he speaks of how our life is our witness to some people.
Moving on to the next chapter, he deals with service and its different forms. According to Whitney, “Most service, even that which seems the most glamorous, is like an iceberg. Only the eye of God ever sees the larger, hidden part of it.” If you are serving the Lord and it feels like a burden it is not coming from a place of gratitude. Because, “It is no burden to serve God when we consider what great things He has done for us.”There are some who will complain about how hard it is working in the church either the work itself, dealing with people or the lack of recognition. However, they should remember that service that cost nothing is worth nothing to anyone.
In his chapter on stewardship, he covers the two major components of time and giving (money). Whitney claims, “The clock and the dollar are such substantial factors in so many parts of life that their role must be considered in any serious discussion of Godly living.”These are both things that are in plentiful amounts, but one can be lost and regained, while the other cannot. “Time appears to be so plentiful that losing much of it seems inconsequential. But money is easily wasted as well. And if people threw away their money as thoughtlessly as they throw away their time, we would think them insane.”Fasting is the next topic he covers, in some detail. However, there is not much here that hasn’t been covered by other authors.
Following fasting is a chapter dedicated to the twin topics of silence and solitude. He gets the readers attention from the beginning of the chapter by summarizing a short story called “The Bet.” Silence and solitude are things that are often taken for granted, but when combined with other disciplines they are great strength builders. Whitney suggests, “Without silence and solitude we’re shallow. Without fellowship we’re stagnant. Balance requires them all.” While there is growth in some areas, there are new skills developed when people take silence and solitude seriously. He believes, “The skills of observation and listening are also sharpened in those who practice silence and solitude so that when they do speak there’s more of a freshness and depth to their words.”
Journaling is the author’s next topic. A journal is pretty much a diary where you keep track of daily events, relationships, and insights into Scripture.One of the best things about a journal is that when “used appropriately, instead of drawing us more into ourselves, a journal can actually become a means of propelling us into action for others.”There is no right or wrong ways to journal, do what feels right to you. In the following chapter he discusses learning and its styles and forms. He believes that learning takes place through discipline and not by accident. And the final chapter is mostly an encouragement to persevere in the disciplines mentioned.
This work was a powerful tool in helping this author realize weaknesses in his own life. One section of his book that I really struggled with was looking for application from every section of Scripture that you read. However, I did appreciate when he said, “ Praying over a text is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to hold his divine light over the words of Scripture to show you what you cannot see without Him.” Something I was convicted of was my lack of prayer, while telling people they should pray about something. I was a person who gave “…lip service to the priority of prayer, but it always seemed to get crowded out by my urgent things.”At a later junction in the chapter he was talking about prayers being answered and made this bold statement, “Sometimes a failure to persist in prayer proves that we were not serious about our request in the first place.”
In his section on worship he gives us a clear picture of how to see God in the best light possible, “The more we focus on God, the more we understand and appreciate How worthy He is.”But when there is a problem with worship and it becomes empty, the problem is with us and not God. When you serve the Lord, are you doing it with a joyful heart or out of some obligation? Hopefully it is the first because, “something is wrong if you can’t serve the Lord with gladness.” That is a great thought about how our hearts should be full of gladness when doing things for the Lord. Something this author found interesting was, “in the courts of ancient kings, servants were often executed for nothing more than looking sad in the service of the king.”Then how much more joyous should we be in the service of the Lord.
This author is learning from the powerful words that “The worship of God does not always require words, sounds or actions. Sometimes worship consists of a God-focused stillness and hush.” When it comes to practicing solitude and silence, that practice is not easy to develop because we lead hectic lives and the Devil knows what’s at stake.
This work is rich with so much material it is hard to know where to begin. I guess I’ll start where the author does with Bible intake; I have upped my daily reading to two chapters a day and I am meditating on more Scripture throughout the day. I have also gotten my prayer life in more order and I am praying for twenty minutes a day. Some things that I was intrigued by were journaling, and silence and solitude. I have kept a journal of sorts of merely random thoughts, but I hope to start one that includes a more spiritual side to it. There were times I used to write out my entire prayer in a journal. I am not sure as to what format I may start using just yet; it is still a work in progress. Silence and solitude seem to be of great value and something I need in my hectic life. I need to start practicing minute retreats.
This work is a great work that I would highly recommend to anyone no matter their stage of Christianity. There are many different disciplines to the Christian life, and this book grazes the surface. I would also recommend Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines and Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. By the end of the book you should be encouraged and reinvigorated in your Christian walk.
Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1991.
 Donald S.Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1991)17.