Chapter OneTraining to Live Like Jesus
Reading adapted from a message by John Ortberg
I vividly recall my first time on the Camp Paradise
ropes course. (If you've never been on a ropes course,
it's basically a high-wire experience for dummies,
designed to stretch your abilities and help you overcome
fear.) Allegedly, the ropes were thirty feet high, but I'm
sure someone made a mistake. Clearly, I was thousands
of feet in the air. Butterflies in attack formation assaulted
my stomach. My sweat glands kicked into high gear. I
was filled with anxiety. "This is not Camp Paradise," I
thought. "This is Camp Purgatory. This is where they
make you go to pay for your sins!"
The instructors moved across the ropes effortlessly and
without fear. They had taught me that, because of the
equipment and rope thickness, I was perfectly safe. Did I
believe them? Part of me did. But not my stomach and
sweat glands. I tried hard to stop my anxiety. I made every
effort to feel and act as relaxed as my instructors did. But
neither their teaching nor my willpower was enough to
transform my inner being. There was only one way: I had
to go through training. I had to experience the ropes course.
As I did, a change took place. Slowly, I came to trust
that I really was safe. After a while, my whole being-even
my stomach and sweat glands-began to believe it.
I was being progressively transformed from a state of anxiety
to a state of relaxed enjoyment. Training-practicing
the ropes course day after day like the instructors did-allowed
me to act with their same relaxed effortlessness.
Training vs. Trying
What does it mean to enter training? It means to
arrange your life around certain exercises and experiences
that will enable you to do eventually what you are not yet
able to do even by trying hard. Training is essential for
almost any significant endeavor in life-running a
marathon, becoming a surgeon, learning how to play the
piano. The need for preparation or training does not stop
when it comes to learning the art of forgiveness, joy, or
courage. It applies to a vibrant spiritual life just as it does
to other activities. Learning to think, feel, and act like
Jesus is at least as demanding as learning to run a
marathon or play the piano.
To follow Jesus means learning to arrange my life
around those practices that will enable me to stay connected
to him and live more and more like him. In short,
this is just another way of defining a spiritual discipline.A spiritual discipline is any activity that can help me gain
power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it.
What the Spiritual Disciplines Are Not
Unfortunately, for many people, the very concept of
spiritual disciplines has become grossly distorted. So let's
be clear about a few things.
Spiritual disciplines are not a barometer of spirituality.
The ultimate indicator of your spiritual health is your
capacity to fully love God and love people. If you can
increase your capacity without the practice of any particular
disciplines, then by all means skip them. Disciplines
are never ends in themselves-only means to a
Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn "brownie
points" with God. They are not about meriting his forgiveness
and goodwill. They are not "extra credit." They
have value only insofar as they keep us vitally connected
with Christ and empowered to live as he lived.
Similarly, a disciplined person is not necessarily someone
who does a lot of disciplines. It is not a highly systematic,
rigidly scheduled, chart-making, gold-star-loving
early riser. A disciplined person is one who can do the right
thing at the right time in the right way with the right spirit.
A disciplined person is one who discerns when laughter,
or gentleness, or silence, or healing words, or truth-telling
is called for and offers it promptly, effectively, and in love.
Every Moment Counts
A group of us were discussing how to pursue spiritual
life when one person, a mother with two young children,
commented that it was easier for her to work on her
spiritual life before she became a mom.
She had never been taught to consider the possibility
that caring for two young children-carried out daily
with expressions of gratitude, with prayers for help, and
with patient acceptance of trials-might be a kind of
"school of transformation" the likes of which she had
never known before. To her, having a quiet time counted
toward spiritual devotion, but caring for two children
It all counts. Life counts. Every moment of life-at
least potentially-is an opportunity to be guided by God
into his way of living. Certainly, there are some foundational
practices, like prayer, solitude, and Scripture meditation
that are critically important. But all of life's
activities can become spiritual training exercises if you
allow them to.
Sitting in traffic congestion can become a training
exercise in patience. Mundane activities like cleaning the
house or taking a shower can train our hearts in gratitude,
if we use those opportunities to thank God for his
daily provisions. Delighting in nature or in wholesome
pleasures can train our hearts in joy. Even sleep can be a
spiritual discipline. Yes, you read that right! Disciplining
ourselves to get a good night's sleep can train us away
from anxiety and toward trust if we remind ourselves that
the world is in God's hands and it will get along very well
even though we're not awake to control everything.
There is no need to divide life into times to "be spiritual"
and times to "just do life." Every moment is a chance
to learn from Jesus how to live in the kingdom of God.
God's Role and Mine
You may be wondering, "What about God's role in
spiritual growth?" To speak of spiritual growth only as the
product of training could make it sound like something
that can be engineered.
Think of the difference between piloting a motorboat
and a sailboat. I can run a motorboat all by myself. All I
have to do is start the engine. I am in control. But a sailboat
is a different story. I can hoist the sails. I can steer
with the rudder. But I am utterly dependent on the wind.
My job is simply to do those things that will enable me to
catch the wind when it comes.
Spiritual transformation is like piloting a sailboat. I
can open myself to it through certain practices, but I cannot
engineer the wind. When it comes, it is a kind of gift.
Seeing this saves me from pride and from the wrong kind
of effort. Wise sailors know their main task is to be able
to read the wind, to learn to raise and lower particular
sails to catch the wind most effectively. They know when
to stay on the existing course and when to set a new one.
So it is with the spiritual disciplines. Our job is to creatively
and wisely engage in those activities that will give
God a chance to work in our life. This can look different in
different seasons of our lives. We can put up the sails and
adjust them as needed. But what happens is up to God.
Jesus came with the gracious announcement that it is
possible to be changed. It is possible to live in such a way
that people see you and say, "Wow! I didn't know that a
life could look like that."
Do you believe this is really true, or might be true, or
at least that you want it to be true? Then hear Jesus' invitation
to you: "Follow me."
Your challenge this week is to see that all of life counts. If
you let them, the ordinary moments of your day can become
powerful training exercises in spiritual transformation.
For one week, punctuate your days with the simple question,
"How can this moment train me?" For example:
You're in the "under ten items" checkout line behind someone
who is either rude or mathematically challenged, and you're
getting really frustrated. Stop and ask, "How can I use this
moment to train me in patience and graciousness?"
Someone offends you with a hurtful comment. You are just on
the edge of hurting them back with a cutting remark. Stop and
ask, "How can this moment train me in self-control and loving
You're on the verge of procrastinating (again) with a project you
dislike. Stop and ask, "How can I respond in this moment in a
way that will help train me in perseverance and faithfulness?"
You're grumbling through daily chores-laundry, shopping,housecleaning, tasks at work. Stop in the midst and ask yourself,"How can I use this moment to train myself in gratitude
for all that God's given me?"
In the middle of a pressured day you encounter someone in
need. Stop and ask yourself, "Might God want to use this
moment to train me in kindness . and to trust that I can be
helpful and still accomplish what I need to?"
Again, these are just examples. The key is to bring this question
to mind throughout the unique events of your day. On some days,
you may know that you will be facing a difficult, tempting, or
stretching situation. Consider praying a "how can this moment train
me" prayer in advance.
Throughout the week, keep track of how this experience goes.
How easy was it for you to stop yourself midstream? When did
you feel like you got it right? How about times when your attempts
failed? Do you notice any patterns to those experiences?
Imagine that you knew you only had hours left to live. You
would more than likely try to have one final conversation with
the people closest to you. What would you say? What would
your final words be? You would probably move quickly beyond
small talk to those things of greatest importance to you; things you
wanted your loved ones to hear and really get; things you wanted
them to hold in their hearts forever. This is the context of Jesus'
words in John chapters 14 and 15 as he prepares his disciples for
1. Jesus set high expectations for his followers. In John 14:12, he
challenges them to live like him, doing the works that he did.
What startling thing does Jesus go on to say in the last half of
2. You would think that living this kind of life would require
many things. But Jesus distills it to one thing required above
all else. What is that one thing? (John 15:1-10)
3. Considering Jesus' illustration of a vine and a branch, put in
your own words what it means to abide or remain in him.
4. How easily does abiding come for you? To what extent does
your life naturally lend itself to abiding (remaining) in Christ?
Reflecting specifically on this past week, at what moment did you
feel strongly connected to God-when abiding was a reality?
What factors contributed to that?
If you did not feel very connected to Christ, what were the
5. Think back to this statement from the reading: "Training .
means to arrange your life around those exercises and experiences
that will enable you to do eventually what you are not yet
able to do even by trying hard." What is the connection
between training and abiding (or remaining) in Christ?
How do the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 underscore
the reality that learning to abide is not something into
which we passively fall?
6. Return to Jesus' words in John 15:1-10. If we are living connected
to Christ, something will be inevitable; if we are not, that same thing will be impossible. What is that thing? (See
also verse 16.)
What sobering words does Jesus speak concerning those who
consistently fail to bear good fruit?