SPIRITUAL GROWTH: Don’t Try Harder, Train wiser!

I have a daydream, I am in a seat at Murrayfield Stadium, the Scottish National Rugby Stadium. Scotland are playing and losing. All of a sudden, Gregor Townsend, the Scottish coach, appears beside me and says get changed I am putting you on.

Let me tell you if I ever took the field for Scotland no one would try harder than me. However, we all know I would be terrible, because apart from being 56 and arthritic, I wouldn’t have trained as a professional rugby player.

You see trying is not enough, you need to train.

On Sunday we introduced Westlake CORE COMMITMENTS, the essential spiritual disciplines that build the foundation of a life of discipleship marked by spiritual growth. We can’t cover everything in Sunday sermons, and so I am a bit worried that I could have given the impression that spiritual growth is just about our effort, trying hard to grow.

John Ortberg, building on the teaching of Dallas Willard makes the really helpful distinction when it comes to spiritual growth between “trying” and “training.”

Here is what he says

“Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely…The need for preparation or training, does not stop when it comes to learning the art of forgiveness, or joy or courage. In other words, it applies to healthy and vibrant spiritual life just as it does to physical and intellectual activity. Learning to think, feel, and act like Jesus is at least as demanding as learning to run a marathon or play the piano.”

Did you catch that?

“Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely.”

That is what our CORE COMMITMENTS are about, how to train wisely, so you can experience, spiritual growth that expresses itself as nothing less than transformation into the likeness of Christ.

What we are calling CORE COMMITMENTS are often called “spiritual disciplines” or “spiritual habits.”

Richard Foster in his classic book on this, The Celebration of Discipline, described spiritual disciplines, spiritual habits, the core commitments of growing disciples like this

“God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us…By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace…God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we are placed where He can bless us.”

Here is a way to think about, think about the boats on Lake Geneva and the difference between a motorboat and sail boat.

A motorboat has its own internal power that allows it to make progress. The crew of a sail boat in contrast has to learn to set its sails to harness an external power, the power of the wind.

The Christian life is like a sail boat not a motorboat, the power to make progress comes from outside ourselves.


We don’t have the internal power to grow to be like Jesus.

We have to learn to do the spiritual equivalent of setting sails and tacking, of learning how to harness a power outside of ourselves to make progress, the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s what our CORE COMMITMENTS are designed to do, to train us how to harness the power of the Holy Spirit so we can make progress in becoming more like Jesus.

So when it comes to spiritual growth, remember, don’t try hard, train wiser, get committed to our CORE COMMITMENTS.

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