More than likely if you have asked for help in the area of spiritual disciplines you have been directed to the ministry of Don Whitney. Don has been used greatly by God to model and demonstrate faithful, simple, and biblical devotion for the church. He has written several books on this topic; Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, and Simplify Your Spiritual Life. In addition to writing helpful books, Don is involved in the training of pastors as the Senior Associate Dean at the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Don will be teaching multiple sessions at the upcoming Omaha Bible Church Conference on October 20th. The focus of the conference will be upon the practice of spiritual disciplines (more info here). If you are in the area (and really, who is not close to Omaha?!) we’d love to have you join us for a day of encouragement. In view of the conference I caught up with Don and asked him some questions to help us get to know him a little better.
Erik: Don, thank you for your time in answering some questions. It has been so encouraging to get to know your heart and passion by reading your books and listening to your sermons. In effort to help folks get to know you better I want to ask you a few personal and practical questions.
Don: Sounds good.
Erik: I hear a distinct Southern accent in many of your MP3s, where did you grow up?
Don: A little county seat town called Osceola, AR. It’s on the Mississippi River about an hour north of Memphis and thirty minutes south of the Missouri bootheel. It’s also the home of Lance Quinn and Dale Evans (as in Roy Rogers and). My mother still lives there.
Erik: I know that you previously had sports journalism ambitions; are you a Razorbacks fan?
Don: Actually I wanted to be a sportscaster, in part because of virtually growing up in the radio station my dad managed. As to the Hogs, despite the loyalties one might express verbally, you can always tell a true Razorback fan by this: cut him and his blood is Razorback red. I remember a time when every radio station in the state except three carried Razorback football. There were places in the state where you could go all the way across the dial and get nothing but Razorback football. It was great.
Erik: Do you think Darren McFadden should win the Heismann Trophy?
Erik: We see you as a man who has modeled faithfulness to the Lord for many years. Knowing that it is God who is working in and through you, I am always curious how this began. So, how did God bring the gospel to you?
Don: I was raised in a Christian home. I’d been in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night since nine months before I was born. So even though I’d heard the Gospel countless times, there was a Thursday night during a series of meetings at our church when I was nine years old that I sensed the Lord calling me through the Gospel to Himself.
Erik: As someone who has been involved with the Southern Baptist Convention for many years, how encouraging is it to be personally a part of the regeneration that is currently occurring at Southern?
Don: It is an incredible privilege and honor to teach at Southern. The opportunity to shape so many ministers and missionaries is very rewarding.
Erik: Who is your favorite theologian?
Don: Favorite? Hmmm. I don’t really think of a favorite. I imagine I would share a love for most of the same theological heroes as your readers.
Erik: What are 5 of your favorite books?
Don: My favorites tend to be biographies. Among them would be Iain Murray’s Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Murray’s Edwards, Dallimore’s Spurgeon, Dallimore’s Whitefield, and Roger’s Steer’s biography of George Mueller.
Erik: Don, in your upcoming conference at Omaha Bible Church you are going to focus your attention in multiple sessions on the need for believers to sharpen their spiritual focus in the area of spiritual disciplines. Could you share some specifics with respect to your own devotional routine?
Don: In simple summary, it’s just read, pray, sing, and sometimes journal. More broadly, I begin with Bible reading. I read through the Bible during the first months of the year, and then again through the NT at least once in the balance of the year. Additionally, I seek to read a chapter of Proverbs each day and a chapter of the Pastoral Epistles. I also try to read through Psalm 119; Ecclesiastes, and James each month. Sometimes I will meditate on a text from my reading, using one of the methods I’ll teach in the upcoming conference. Often I will meditate on a text while praying through a Psalm. For after my time of Bible intake, I pray, almost always by praying through a Psalm, though sometimes another passage. Usually I pray while slowly walking. At some point during my time in prayer I will sing, either spontaneously from the Psalm, or a song I know by heart, or a hymn that’s in a One Year Book of Hymns that I have on my Treo. I write in my journal before or after praying, or even at the end of the day, but do not do so at the same level of consistency as with the other elements of my devotional practices.
Erik: I have heard you speak about the Puritans and in particular their almost fanatical pursuit of knowing God through prayer and Bible study; in your estimation, what are some of the chief reasons for why they so excelled in the disciplines and perhaps many today fall short?
Don: J.I. Packer answers this more thoroughly in A Quest for Godliness. I believe that they just had more of a general sense of discipline related to the pursuit of God whereas a greater sense of “go with the flow” prevails in matters related to Christian spirituality today. We also have more distractions today. Would Mueller have prayed as much if he’d had to answer phone calls and emails in the administration of the orphanages? Would Edwards have meditated and written so much if he’d had the Internet?
Erik: In your ministry have you seen “daily quiet times” become an unhealthy form of ‘self-merit’? Identify some helpful ways in which to prevent leaning on your own ‘faithfulness’ as a means of commendation to God?
Don: There’s always some of that, because there’s always a streak of relying on self-merit in all of us. Far more common, in my opinion, is the minimization or abandonment of the devotional life. For every one who is legalistic about a quiet time, there are fifty who rarely or never have one. As to ways to prevent commending oneself to God by faithfulness to devotional practices, we must not think of man-centered ways to solve the dilemma. I submit that meditation on Scripture and praying through Scripture will be the best ways to keep us focused on Christ’s righteousness and not our own.
Erik: As a seminary instructor you spend a lot of time with guys who have a lot of books on their plate. What practical advice would you give on the balance between reading good theological books while also giving proper attention to Bible reading?
Don: I’d give them the same advice I’d give to those who have graduated and are full-time pastors. Give daily priority to the Word of God, and let the other reading find its own level after that.
Erik: In addition to the 3 general sessions that you will be leading at OBC on October 20th, you will also be leading a workshop for pastors. The soberly engaging session is entitled, “Don’t Blow it” and will deal specifically with the need to maintain pastoral fidelity.. As someone who has been in ministry for over thirty years, please comment on your passion for pastors to ‘disaster proof their ministry’ to the glory of Christ…
Don: I’ll be speaking on 1 Tim. 4:16, which strikes me as a text which could be the theme verse for every seminary. Paul’s emphasis is for the minister to pay close attention to two things—piety and theology. To my knowledge this is the only text in the Bible where the reader is basically given the same command three times in the same verse (“pay close attention . . . persevere in these things, . . . for as you do this”). Moreover, every time in Scripture where Paul wrote to or spoke to ministers (here in 1 Timothy 4:16, in Titus 2:7, and in Acts 20:28-30), he made the same emphasis. So Paul’s pretty passionate about communicating this to ministers, and I think we should be too.
Don, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions and give us a little insight into your life and practices. We look forward to having you come out and join us at Omaha Bible Church on October 20th for a full day of equipping in the practice of spiritual disciplines. In order to help with planning and childcare we do request a preregistration which you may do here.
If you are a pastor or church leader and would like to attend the pastors’ workshop please drop me a note – IrishCalvinistATgmailDOTcom
>>Here is a summary of the day’s events:
7.30 – 8.45 Catered breakfast & registration
9.00 – 10.30 Session 1 :: Reading & Meditating through Scripture
10.45 – 11.45 Session 2 :: Praying through Scripture (pt. 1)
12.00 – 1.00 Catered lunch
1.15 – 2.30 Session 3 :: Praying through Scripture (pt. 2)
4.00 – 5.00 A Workshop for Pastors (more info here)