Not long after my wife and I were married, we moved to Cornwall and the house we rented had a great open fire. I soon realised there was an art to building a fire that lasts with the right materials. It is important to put the coal, kindling, scrunched paper, and logs in good order so that it will burn well beyond the initial blaze. It is very satisfying to enjoy the sustained heat of the burning logs and glowing coals underneath.
At times in our Christian lives we ask ourselves, am I still growing spiritually? Am I still burning brightly for the Saviour? If we are believers, we can remember the time when our souls were first sparked to life in Christ by sovereign grace. There was that initial blaze when all was new, compelling, and we were so eager for the things of God. But as time passes, the initial flames begin to drop and we can feel as though the flames of devotion are not reaching the heights they once did. As William Cowper asked, ‘Where is the blessedness I knew when first I sought the Lord?’
However, the dramatic, initial flames were just the beginning. A strong, lasting fire is effective when it burns consistently well. For that to happen, the fire needs to be tended. It needs feeding with fuel and enough draft to give a steady flow of oxygen to keep it burning. It is the same in our spiritual lives. We cannot expect to burn well for the Saviour if we do not tend to our hearts. We live in an age of immediacy. We want everything now and with minimal effort.
However, that is not the way in our walk with God. As R.C. Sproul explains, ‘There are no quick and easy paths to spiritual maturity. The soul that seeks a deeper level of maturity must be prepared for a long, arduous task. If we are to seek the kingdom of God, we must abandon any formulae that promise instant spiritual gratification.’
It seems that the practice of spiritual disciplines and pursuit of piety have fallen out of favour among some. Maybe such things are regarded as too demanding, too formal, or too heavy. But they are vital for the true believer who longs to know more of their Saviour, longs to be more like Jesus, to be pleasing to him, and to live in genuine loving communion with their Lord. It is then the spiritual disciplines are used by the Lord to stir up the hearts of his people.
The spiritual disciplines are specific God-ordained means where we are brought to encounter him — biblical means that awaken, strengthen, or deepen a person’s relationship with the triune God. They are found clearly in his Word and are both individual and corporate in their nature. They include private reading and meditating on Scripture, private prayer, and writing down God’s dealings with us regularly.
They also include means that are to be exercised in a local church, such as corporate worship, corporate prayer, the Lord’s table, and other elements of fellowship with brothers and sisters. God has given us these things and others in the Scriptures which are vital to spiritual growth. To neglect these is to see our souls shrivel and spiritual heat drop.
Sadly, too often we are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, rebuked by the Lord Jesus in Luke 24:25: ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe…’ It was only as the Word of God was opened to them that their hearts began to be warmed again as they saw more of the glory and sweetness of Christ. How is your spiritual temperature? Is your heart warm toward God? Or does the Holy Spirit need to break through those cold, hard, stony barriers to bring warmth to your heart? On which spiritual discipline could you focus to stoke the spiritual fire in your heart?
Jonathan Stobbs is pastor at Penzance Baptist Church, Cornwall, and director of Evangelical Times.