Stop Trying, Start Training

I found this really helpful. Part 1

"Training, Not Trying  
In relation to spiritual disciplines, the most helpful distinction is the difference between trying to do
something and training to do something. 

Paul says,  
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict
training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave. (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27) 

Now, there’s a role for the body to play, but the body is to serve greater purposes— my will and my
mind and God— and not to be served. The body is a good slave. It’s a very bad master. Paul writes, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9: 27). 

Years ago my wife rented a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone that was set in the mountains. Everybody
was wearing jackets through the whole thing, except for Stallone, who couldn’t keep his shirt on. In all those shots, he’s naked from the waist up, and he’s rippling and bulging off the screen, with his massive pecs and deltoids. My wife looked over at me and then looked at the screen and then looked back me
and looked back at the screen and looked back at me, and then finally said, “You know, I’ve just never
been attracted to well-built men.” I searched for the compliment that I knew was lurking beneath the
surface, but it lurked too deeply. 

Let’s say that our challenge is to run, not walk, every step of a marathon. If we decide we want to run a marathon, what do we have to do first? We have to train. 

What does it mean to train? To train means arranging our life around those practices that enable us to do what we cannot now do by direct effort. The point of training is to receive power, so we arrange our life around practices through which we get power. 

Even on what we call the natural level, transformation in any significant way involves training and not just trying. That’s true for learning how to play the piano. That’s true for mastering a sport. That’s true for being able to speak a new language. And it is no less true when it comes to the spiritual life. Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4: 7). And Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher” (Luke 6: 40 NRSV). 

Of course, there is a close connection between a disciple and a discipline. 

A discipline is an activity that I engage in to receive power. We tend to exaggerate what we can do
through trying, and we tend to underappreciate what we can do through training. In many of our
churches, we talk about Jesus and we talk about his love or his joy. People leave thinking they’ve got to
try harder to be like Jesus. But trying harder does not work any better when trying to be like Jesus than
it works when trying to run a marathon or trying to play the piano. Significant transformation involves
training to do something— not just trying. Spiritual disciplines are training exercises to give us power to live in the kingdom. 

Spiritual disciplines is a terrible term. The word discipline conjures up human effort and self-righteousness and a kind of military regimen. At our church, sometimes we talk about practices
instead. As Dallas Willard says, the devil always gets a hold of words and tarnishes them. And if we don’t get
that, we don’t know what to do to enter into a Jesus-centered life. 

People often mistaken disciplines for things they are not. Disciplines are not ways that we get spiritual
brownie points for God. God is not sitting up in heaven with a little behavior modification chart, giving
gold stars every time we read the Bible or pray or fast or confess. Also, spiritual disciplines are not
necessarily unpleasant. We hear the word discipline and we think, "Man, that just sounds bad."

Discipline depends on what you are training for. If you want to train to run a race, what discipline will you have to engage in a lot? You will have to run. If you are training to win a pie-eating contest, what discipline will you have to engage in? Pie eating. If every day you eat as much pie as you possibly can, 
a year from now you’ll be able to eat much more pie than you could eat today. So, what counts as a
discipline depends on what I am training for. If what I am training for is a life of love and joy in the kingdom, the way that I train will not always be awful, terrible, militaristic stuff. 

Spiritual disciplines are not a gauge of my spiritual maturity. The disciplined person is not someone
who does a lot of disciplines. The disciplined person, the disciple, is someone who is able to do what
needs to be done when it needs to be done. The whole purpose of disciplines is to enable you to do
the right thing at the right time in the right spirit, so if something doesn’t help you to do that, then
don’t do it."

Adapted from John Ortberg, Living in Christ's Presence with Dallas Willard