Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 16, 2014


The examples of others motivate us to change


          Students of the Bible are inspired by the example of Daniel. He was an Old Testament prophet with steel in his backbone. Despite King Darius’ threat of death to the disobedient, Daniel ignored the king’s law to stop praying to his God. He continued to pray openly and on his knees, three times a day. The penalty for breaking this law was death (thrown to the lions).

Officials of the king, jealous of Daniel’s popularity with the king, had deceived the king into passing an ordinance forbidding anyone to pray to any god other than King Darius. The naïve king did not realize that the law was designed to eliminate Daniel. Caught praying, Daniel was hauled before the king and thrown to the lions.

The next morning the king found that Daniel was alive. God had closed the mouths of the lions. Darius was “exceedingly glad” and decreed that all the people of Persia “should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever.” Daniel’s trust in God was so strong that he did not panic in the face of death.

Centuries later the Apostle Paul demonstrated the same confidence in God. He kept the faith despite persecution and threats of death. Both Daniel and Paul were disciplined in prayer. Their confidence sprang from daily communion with God. Their examples inspire us to pray.  

There are special people whose examples motivate each of us to seek a more disciplined spiritual life. God used both the writing and the example of Richard J. Foster to inspire me to take more seriously the holy habits of the spiritual life.

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. We loaded my luggage into his rundown station wagon and headed to the campus.

His casual dress, and his warm and unassuming manner, made me feel welcome and comfortable. His gracious hospitality made me feel at home in a strange town.  I shared how much I had enjoyed his book, Celebration of Discipline. Neither of us had any idea then that his book would sell more than a million copies and be named one of the top ten books of the 2oth Century.

I realized later that a beautiful thing had happened to me. Foster made no effort to impress me. He put aside his own work and took 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 an excellent read.  And I know from personal experience the man practices what he preaches!

When I read Foster’s Celebration of Discipline from time to time, I guard against heaping shame upon myself for lack of discipline. Shame seldom motivates us to grow.  Guilt hinders our spiritual progress if we allow it to hang around. But guilt can help us if we allow it to motivate us to forgive ourselves for past failures and make a fresh start in living a more 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 but more useful. 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 stronger so he can compete well in his next marathon.  If he can be disciplined in order to run well, surely I can practice holy habits in order to become a more effective servant of Christ.   

Where shall we begin? Each of us must decide. As for me, I feel the Spirit nudging me to become more disciplined in prayer and to live a more simple life. Simplicity is the doorway to true joy.  Freedom from the tyranny of things 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 regardless of what others may think. Be a Daniel. The time to get started is now. + + +