The Space between Grace and Discipline

The Space between Grace and Discipline

One of the hardest things in life is knowing where to stand. On a recent trip to Israel I had the honor of going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I'm not sure what was happening that day, but there were people everywhere. It was a veritable feast of polite pushing, rushed picture taking, and hurried confusion. An introvert's nightmare.

At one point in the madness, I wandered into a part of the church where there weren't as many people. Down a small corridor I saw a very small nun seemingly standing guard over some sort of ornate structure. Curious, I decided to investigate. But no sooner had I taken a step toward whatever this small woman was guarding, I felt a sharp pain in my left leg and heard one of the few Spanish words I know: aqui! As I looked down to find the source of my pain, I saw a small wooden cane that had been applied to my leg with the stealth of a samurai. Stunned and confused, I wandered back whence I came.

The message was clear: Too far.

Christians have long fallen victim to a sort of pendulum mentality when it comes to many things, this may just be the human condition, but especially when it comes to discussions on grace and discipline.

Too far is often where we end up, rushing back to the other end of the spectrum lest we be theologically whacked across the shin.

However, there is often an interesting space between the extremes where new voices can be heard. Craig Groeschel's newest offering, Divine Direction, lives quite well in this space.

Groeschel, who leads what just might be the largest church in America depending on how you measure it, has developed a reputation over the years for his sermons full of quotable lines and practical wisdom.

In that vein, Divine Direction is much like his previous work, but Groeschel doesn't linger for too long in one spot. Though this is a book very much about the choices one makes and the story that leads to, it is also about the fact that none of these choices can be made without the power of God.

Yet Groeschel doesn't seem interested in pitting these against each other. This can be confusing at points, as he seems to contradict himself by saying that you must make the choices that change your life, then backtracking to say that Jesus is the only one who can help you make that choice.

Groeschel, in this way, is not linear at all. But maybe he doesn't need to be. He may run back and forth between grace and discipline, but he never gets too far down the road with either.

The results, though mixed, are actually quite helpful. Groeschel shines when he offers applications for his reader and, quite frankly, anyone who purchases this book should buy a journal to go alongside it.

The book itself is built around seven choices or decisions on which Groeshel expounds:

  • “Start,” where he lays the foundation of the book and develops his strategy for a good life, small disciplines, and wise choices;

  • “Stop,” a chapter on fighting sin or bad habits;

  • “Stay,” a chapter on perseverance;

  • “Go,” a chapter on stepping out with courage;

  • “Serve,” a chapter on the importance of being a servant and not just serving;

  • “Connect,” a chapter on friendship; and

  • “Trust,” a chapter on faith and doubt.

The end result is very helpful indeed. Groeschel's talents, as said before, are clearly in application, and this is him in full flight. He pastors the reader through every chapter and gives tangible advice on exactly what to pray about and how to journal, and all of that ultimately leads the reader to ask what choices need to be made to make their story what it needs to be.

Some of the highlights are:

  • The virtue of flossing (33) – The idea that everyone has one good thing they know they should do but don't really like to do. Thus, finding that one thing and doing it as the first thing you do that day gives you the momentum to make good choices the rest of the day.

  • Improve in one way every year (40) – Rather than overwhelming yourself by trying to take on several new habits or virtues all at once, Groeschel advises putting all your energy into one new thing every year. In this way, he says leaders especially can add virtues that actually stick and accumulate over time.

  • Find the friend you need for this season of your life – Groeschel's chapter on friendship may be the best in the book. Here, he lists three types of friends (152-163): a friend who can challenge you, a friend who can help you find strength in God, and a friend who can tell you the truth. What's particularly interesting here is that Groeschel makes the case that everyone—but maybe especially leaders—needs all these types of people in their lives, but at different points along the journey. He thus invites the reader to think about not just where they are, but about what sort of friend can get them to where they need to go. It's actually quite brilliant and helpful. At one point he even seems to be describing the practice of spiritual direction, though I'm not sure he would call it that.

However, there are some weaknesses. Groeschel's section on the spiritual gifts seems forced and is truncated at best (132-133). Additionally, Groeschel's use of Scripture often tends to be supplemental rather than primary to his goals.

In the end, Divine Direction is a solid offering from one of America's best pastors. As one reads, it’s obvious why he has been so successful. Packed with wisdom, insight, and memorable proverbs, Divine Direction lands squarely in the space between grace and discipline. And while it may struggle at times to decide which direction it is heading, it never strays too far. And that, trust me, is a very good thing.

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