Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
I have been rereading Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Candidly, I have been struggling with it. As Willard has laid out the significance and the importance of the spiritual disciplines, I have found myself resisting. All the residue of a “works righteousness” faith has come to the surface. I fully understand the principles, but I am struggling with the proper application. What does it really mean to practice spiritual disciplines in the “real world”?
Ephesians 6 gives us the answer in a nut shell. We practice the spiritual disciplines in order to perform well when the battle is on. Let’s look at this from the perspective of a professional football player, a concert pianist, and a soldier. Although each of these individuals are engaged in very different activities, they all fallow a similar pattern. Each of them spends hours and hours practicing certain drills. These drills may seem tiresome and repetitive, but they are essential to the individual being able to perform. These drills develop what is called muscle memory. The body is trained to respond in a certain way without having to really think about it. This is essential for the athlete, the concert pianist, and the soldier. In the heat of battle, there is no time to stop and think about what to do. In those moments when everything is on the line, a person needs to be able to respond quickly. This can happen only if the person has been trained well.
I read about a concert pianist who was asked why he still practiced 8 hours a day. His response was telling. “If I do not practice for a day or two, I notice the difference. If I do not practice for a week, you will notice the difference.” Football players do some amazing things during the game, only because they have practiced those skills for hours and hours. Soldiers are able to overcome amazing obstacles, only because they have been thoroughly trained. A concert pianist can make a grand piano sing, only because he or she has spent hours and hours practicing.
So what does this have to do with spiritual disciplines? Everything! Paul tells us that we are engaged in a spiritual battle with the dark forces of our world. If we are going to be able to stand in the face of those forces, we need to be trained in godliness. When Paul tells us to put on the armor of God, he is talking about practicing spiritual disciplines. This is not a passive endeavor, but an active pursuit. Like the athlete, the soldier, and the concert pianist, we need to be practicing our spiritual skills regularly so that, in the heat of battle, we can respond in God-honoring ways. Great athletes, great pianists, great soldiers don’t just show up for the big moment. They have trained tirelessly to be ready to perform at their highest level. Spiritually we cannot just show up. We need to train faithfully to be ready to be used by God in the heat of battle.
Practicing the spiritual disciplines is not easy, but it is rewarding. If we want to make a difference in our world for Christ, then we need to train for battle.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.