Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 11, 2010


The people we admire inspire us to do better


People we admire can make a profound difference in our lives. Over the years there have been many other Christians who motivated me to live a more disciplined  life. Usually they motivated me not so much by what they said but by how they lived.

Coach Bill Washington, for example, was such a motivator. He did not preach the importance of physical exercise; he demonstrated it with his well-conditioned body. I recall going to the gym to work out with Bill many mornings. Bill never worked out when he “could find the time;” he went at 6 o’clock in the morning. His discipline inspired me. I even considered shaving my head like Bill.

Earl Ballard motivated me with his disciplined devotional life. No matter where we might be, early every morning Earl spent time with the Lord, reading his Bible, and studying his devotional guide. Since I retired I seldom see Earl though we stay in touch. But I know what he is doing every morning; he is “in the Word,” thanking God for His mercies, and seeking guidance for the day. In my devotional life I want to be more like Earl.

Elton Trueblood was the first Quaker I ever met. The better I got to know him, the more I admired the Quakers. For me Elton was the epitome of an authentic Christian. He embodied all the qualities of a true disciple of Christ. I wanted to imitate his lifestyle. He was a preacher and a writer. His books have blessed me, but his warm and gracious friendship blessed me even more.

Both the writing and the example of Richard J. Foster have inspired me to take more seriously the holy habits of the spiritual life. Foster, a teacher and preacher like Trueblood,  is the most highly respected Quaker author since the passing of Trueblood.  

I met Foster before his books made him the best known Quaker in the world. When I arrived in Wichita, Kansas, to speak to the student body at Friends University, Foster met me at the airport. Then a professor of theology at the university, he had volunteered to serve as my host for the week. After greeting me warmly, we loaded my luggage into his rundown station wagon and headed to the campus.

His casual dress and his unassuming manner made me feel welcome. His gracious hospitality made me feel at home in a town I had never visited before. I told him how much I had enjoyed his book, Celebration of Discipline. The book had been published about two years before and was becoming quite popular. At the time neither of us had any idea that his book would sell more than two million copies and be named one of the top ten books of the Twentieth Century.

I realized later what a beautiful thing had happened to me. Foster made no effort to impress me. He put aside his own work and took the time be my host. Months later it dawned on me that Richard Foster, the most famous man ever to serve as my chauffeur, was simply practicing the simplicity that he describes in his books as one of the basic spiritual disciplines of devout Christians. His book, Freedom of Simplicity, is one of the best I have read.  And I know from personal experience the man practices what he preaches!

Foster divides the holy habits into three groups: the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a book I read often. It challenges me and it shames me. But I try to refrain from heaping shame upon myself for my lack of discipline. Shame seldom propels us into growth. When we examine our spiritual life honestly, most of us feel guilty. We have to admit that we do not measure up very well to the zeal of a Trueblood or a Foster. But guilt can hinder our spiritual progress if we allow it to whip us down. On the other hand, guilt can help us if it motivate us to forgive ourselves for past failures and make a fresh start in living a seriously disciplined life.  

The best way to approach spiritual disciplines is to set aside some time and get into them one day at a time. We should make sure we have the right motive – not to become more pious than other believers but to become more useful to our Lord.  The greatest reward of spiritual growth is a deeper friendship with God.

I know a man who runs a hundred miles a week. He wants to become strong so he can compete well in his next marathon run. He is disciplined for a purpose. If he can practice discipline in order run well, surely I can practice holy habits in order to  become a more effective servant of the One who died for me.

It makes sense to do the best we can to become the best that grace can make us. Our growth in grace honors our Lord. That makes it worth any price we must pay.

Where do we begin? Each of us must decide. I feel the Spirit nudging me to improve the simplicity of my life. Freedom from the tyranny of things is a reward that will bless me – and make me a blessing.

Begin anywhere the Spirit leads you. Don’t wait for someone to join you. Be a self-starter.  Be disciplined in a way that makes sense to you. Make a list of the people you admire the most. Let their example motivate you to become the best that you can be. And who knows – you may eventually become the kind of Christian that other people will want to emulate. But don’t wait; just do it! + + +