Monday, March 03, 2008

Training Versus Trying Harder

Between Su Doku puzzles I'm working my way through John Ortbergs The Life You've Always Wanted, which in some ways is a digested and easier to read version of Dallas Willards The Spirit of the Disciplines.

A really helpful insight on training versus trying harder. Ortberg (and Willard) argue that most Christians see discipleship in terms of trying harder - if we just put in extra effort, we'll be a bit more like Jesus. But this is wrong. Try to run a marathon by trying harder, and you'll fail. The way to run a marathon is to train for it.

This is what Jesus did: he didn't suddenly turn up able to heal, say wise things, resist the devil and have a prayer life second to none. He's someone who takes the spiritual disciplines seriously - prayer, silence, solitude, fasting, etc. These are the forms of spiritual training which God has given us to help us to be more like Jesus. Instead of trying harder, we need to train.

Ortberg makes a really insightful comparison between sin and spiritual disciplines. There are sins of comission (doing bad stuff) and omission (not doing good stuff), and there are disciplines of engagement (e.g. celebration, study, prayer) and of disengagement (e.g. silence, solitude). If we struggle with a sin of comission (e.g. boasting) then we need a discipline of disengagement (e.g. silence) will train us to overcome it. Likewise a discipline of engagement will train us to overcome a sin of omission.

This seems like a really fruitful approach, and has an impact on all sorts of things: e.g. discipling people moves from exhorting them to be better Christians to coaching them in the skills and disciplines of the Christian life, and becoming a training partner.


  1. I found this quoted via maggi dawn's blog and I just wanted to let you know that I found it incredibly helpful. Thank you.

  2. That's great, I was hoping it would bless somebody, so thankyou for letting me know. It's a cracking book, if you can get hold of it.

  3. Excellent! I wanted you to know I'd been blessed! :-) We forget to say these sorts of things some times.

    I have another one of his books that I confess I never finished (no reason other than distraction).

    I'll have a look.

  4. also in via Maggi's blog

    thanks for the review of this book

    looks like it's one worth adding to the bookshelf