Francis de Sales: Devotion and Discipline

Francis de Sales: Devotion and Discipline

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt. 16:24–26)

By way of introducing the meaning of true devotion Francis de Sales wrote:

As ostriches never fly, as hens fly low, heavily, and but seldom, and as eagles, doves, and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently, so sinners fly not at all toward God, but lie groveling on earth with only earthly objects in view.*

Saints alive!

Anyone who has read the Gospels knows that Jesus’s call is to a narrow way (Matt. 7:13–14). I don’t know a Christian in all the ages to whom we turn for teaching and inspiration who did not give himself to discipline and devotion. The nature of this practice is often misunderstood and misguided.

If the Bible had said that you are saved by grace through intelligence, some of us would have been too dumb. If we were saved by grace through looks, some of us would be too ugly. If we were saved through education, some of us would be too ignorant. If we were saved by grace through money, some of us would be too poor. But all that is necessary for you to be saved is simply faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Francis de Sales had an inspiring understanding:

True devotion is a thorough love of God. “For inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, making us pleasing to the Divine Majesty; inasmuch as it gives us the strength to do good, it is called charity; but when it is arrived at that degree of perfection by which it makes us do well but also work diligently, frequently, and readily, then it is called devotion.”*

Genuine devotion presupposes the love of God; thus the disciplines we practice must be all for the love of God. This notion is too often not known and is certainly ignored, particularly early in our Christian walk.

Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works, but rarely, slowly and heavily, but devout souls ascend to Him by more frequent, prompt, and lofty flights.*

As de Sales demonstrates, and as we will see as we reflect on many lessons we learn from the saints, we need to give attention to discipline and devotion for the purpose of enhancing our relationship with Christ, of cultivating a vivid companionship with him. Through discipline and devotion, we learn to be like Christ and to live as He lived.

Reflective Moment: How have you sought to express devotion and discipline?

Prayer: God, my Father, I confess I seek to fly toward You by my good works, and it is slow and heavy. Release me from that notion. I want to make frequent, prompt, and lofty flights. Amen.

This is an excerpt from Maxie Dunnam’s, Saints Alive: A Forty-Day Pilgrimmage with Heroes of Our Faith. Get your copy from our store here.

Readers will be drawn into the reflections of well-recognized voices such as Saint Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas à Kempis, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, and Søren Kierkegaard.

A perfect companion to your morning spiritual discipline, this book will also serve as an introduction to a vast depository of writers and writings heretofore unknown to many.

Francis de Sales, Selections from the Introduction to the Devout Life, arr. and ed. Thomas S. Kepler (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1962), 14–15.


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