The past couple weeks we have discussed reaching out to people in our lives who don’t know Christ. Really what we are discussing is a matter of discipleship. It is part of your discipleship as you are faithful to God’s call to make disciples. Furthermore, as you enter into conversations with people about things of faith, you are really taking them into the first steps of discipleship for themselves.
It is important that we keep in mind that sharing our faith, whatever the means, is only the beginning of discipleship. We have to remember that the Great Commission is not a call to make converts or church attenders, rather it is a call to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
I want for a moment though to offer a word of encouragement in the midst of this emphasis of evangelism. As we enter into conversations with people we can easily become discouraged, people can be unreceptive at best and downright mean at worst. At times the fear of this receptivity can be so paralyzing that we never begin the conversation in the first place.
Furthermore, when we do have success in the conversation, and our loved ones are receptive, discouragement can still be lurking around the corner. It is a difficult thing to pour time, energy, and love into people as you disciple them, only to watch them walk away knowing the truth. This too can become paralyzing.
As you begin these conversations, remember that you are being conformed into the Image of Christ. These failures are not unknown to Him and His ministry. Countless people heard His message only to walk away because it was too difficult, others actively plotted to murder Him. Then within the twelve themselves, men who walked away from everything to follow Him, there was even failure. Peter. Judas. The ten who were nowhere to be found during His trials.
We must realize, that if the perfect Creator—Savior God in the Flesh didn’t have a 100% success rate chances are we won’t either. Take heart, you are in good company. Be encouraged, sometimes, like Peter, the prodigals return. Be comforted, you can only control yourself, you are only accountable for your actions and words, while you can encourage and try to guide you cannot make the choice for others.
The question left, will you be obedient to the call to go and make disciples or will you be disobedient and choose not to, leaving it for others?
Sunday in his sermon on prayer Gary shared the acronym A.C.T.S., which stands for “Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication.” While discussing the confession portion of the message Gary addressed the very real issue of our being overly vague in our confession. Often we don’t find freedom through confession because we use some general confession along the lines of “Forgive me of all my many sins.” but we never really name what those sins are.
As Gary shared this I wanted to cheer; I also immediately connected the thought to thanksgiving and joy. I suspect that a large reason that we often fail to live the joyful lives we are called to live is because we fail to be specific in our prayers of thanksgiving. Much like confession, when praying prayers of thanksgiving we can have a tendency to pray things like “Thank You God for all Your many blessings.”
A while back I was challenged by something I read in Hidden in Christ, by James Bryan Smith. He discussed being at a speaking engagement and ending up in a small group with a woman who described having a “Gratitude Journal.” Smith explains that a few weeks later he decided to begin this spiritual practice as well. At the end of the chapter Smith issues this challenge:
“Today, or this week, begin keeping a gratitude journal. Try to write down five things that happened to you each day that were a blessing to you. Do not feel a need to make everything ‘spiritual’; if you enjoyed a delicious slice of pizza or a funny movie, simply write it down. The cumulative effect of these small moments of pleasure will, over time, amount to a large amount of gratitude and thanksgiving.” (Page 165)
I can tell you from my experience this has been helpful, though I have struggled to be consistent in practicing it. You see, I too fall into the habit of thanking God for “His many blessings” even thanking Him for “His grace and love.” While both statements are true they don’t really cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and joy. In my gratitude journal I will write things like, “Thanks for kids who show the love and grace of God in their willingness to forgive me for being short with them.” Or even God’s grace for that specific sin. The specificity does something in the heart and mind to intensify the joy and thankfulness.
As I flip back through my gratitude journal I am reminded that this journal fueled my intercessory prayer, as I thanked God for those answered prayers, it would fuel more prayer.
Here is my encouragement/challenge: begin your own gratitude journal. Strive everyday to think of five things for which you are thankful, whether big and “spiritual” or as “worldly” as a nice cup of coffee. Try this for a month and see if it hasn’t increased your joy.
May we be ever faithful to the command to, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:15-17
This is the time of year where people often begin to think about things they want to change in coming years. One change I often hear Christians mention is their desire to read the Bible more. It is a desire that I think is very healthy.
I want to spend a moment to encourage you to think on your Bible reading habits. How often do you read? When was the last time you read through the entire Bible? How much do you remember about your last reading?
I don’t want these questions or thoughts to shame you, but I do want them to challenge you. There are numerous ways in which we can read Scripture, but the tendency we often gravitate to is as little as possible, and frequently passages we are comfortable with reading.
I want to encourage you to be stretched this year. Maybe your current approach is to meditate on one verse a day, which can be fruitful. However, this approach is very limited and can create problems with certain verses. One big issue is that this approach provides no context. Maybe you could start reading a little larger chunk of Scripture, and meditate on that passage the rest of the day.
Maybe you read through the entire Bible cover to cover regularly, but it is disjointed and disconnected for you. I would suggest finding a way to be more intentional about connecting with the Scriptures.
In order to aid in this endeavor we are providing a host of options to choose from as far as Bible reading plans are concerned. From a month in the Gospels to the entire Bible in 90 days, and everything in between.
Before you say that this is too lofty consider a few things. We live in a culture that reads a fair amount. Yet we watch T.V. and play a fair amount of video games, and other activities that are mindless.
However, when there is something we are excited about we read. We devour. We wait in expectation until we can read some more. Here are a few statistics of some popular works.
In the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series there are 1,850 pages.
In the classic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the four books accumulate a total 1,516 pages.
Finally, in the recent (past handful of years) the popular Twilight saga amass over 2,500 pages.
These are books people dive into and don’t want to leave. I’ve known people who will binge read and finish one or more of these volumes in a week.
Yet, The Bible, the book we say gives us the guide to living and tells us of the God we serve and claim to love, we have trouble getting into. I just reached up and pulled a copy of the Bible off of my shelf. It is a simple copy, no study notes, not a lot of extras, just the text, some translation footnotes, and short introductions (one paragraph) to each book. This copy of the Bible is merely 895 pages long. You could read this Bible just shy of a full three times to reach the same page count as the Twilight saga.
I don’t want this to be a shame article. I hope this spurs you (as it does me) on to a greater commitment to The Word of God.
Here’s my challenge, find a plan that works for you this year. Maybe it is through the Bible in a year, maybe it is the 90 day plan, whatever it is, find a plan and work it. There will be times that you get behind. Don’t stress about catching up, just keep working your plan. If you have free time and can catch-up that’s great, but working the plan is what makes a difference.
For instance you get ambitious and decide to complete the 90 day plan, and you continue to find yourself behind, and it ends up taking you 180 days to finish…when was the last time you read the whole Bible in 6 months?!
My prayer is that the plans we provide will help you to better love and devour The Word of God. I pray that as you love and devour His Word that He continues to transform you by the renewing of your mind. Conforming you to the image of Christ for the sake of others and the glory of God. Living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit living in you.
It’s no secret that Spiritual Formation is a passion of mine; I desire it for myself, and I desire it for others—for you. As a reminder here is the big all-inclusive Trinitarian definition of Spiritual Formation: “God the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, through various means, in cooperation with our response, changes us to look like God the Son, in order to serve others, to the glory of God the Father.” (J.K. Jones).
What that says is that God the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Spiritual Formation in us. Furthermore, He uses various means (good things, tragedies, life experiences, etc.) to change us to look like Jesus Christ (God the Son), in order to serve others, all to glorify God the Father.
However, there was one piece in my explanation that I left out; “in cooperation with our response.” You see, God the Father wants us to reflect Jesus in our lives, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If Christ lives in you and your life really is hidden in Christ, then it suffices to say that when people look at you they should see Christ. The problem is that we must cooperate. The Holy Spirit cannot make us look like Jesus if we refuse to cooperate and participate in that formation.
Think of it this way for a moment. Imagine there is a skill that you want your child to become great at (football, band, baking, NASCAR, etc.); in your desire for them to be the best you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them be the best. You hire the most skilled people in that field to train your child. You buy them books. You take them to seminars. You dedicate your life to helping your child become the best. But…you see that your child ignores everything the professionals say, they refuse to read the books, they play on their phones in the seminars, they have caused you to spend your life in vain. If your child is to be the best, they must cooperate and participate in the opportunities provided to become the best.
It is the same with being conformed to the image of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we have the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we participate with the Body of Christ (Hebrew 10:23-25). Yet, if we ignore the Spirit’s work and prompting in us, if we neglect the Scriptures, and are half-hearted in our commitment to The Church, we are not going to progress in our conformity to the image of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I must admit that what I said to start is a bit misleading. I said that I desire Spiritual Formation for myself, which isn’t completely true. On my good days I want to be conformed to the image of Christ, but then there are other days, the not so good days, the days in which I am pretty apathetic, the days when I am content to conform to the image of me.
These apathetic days are what I want to address. Even on these days there is hope. I want to share something I read recently on a solo retreat. The author was discussing Romans 8:34 and that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you and me. Additionally, Paul also explains that the Holy Spirit also intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
This is what James Bryan Smith encourages us with, “[Jesus] is praying that you and I would be completely new people…He will not stop until he has made us all new people.” (Hidden in Christ, 33-34).
I find this encouraging, because it means that even on my apathetic days Jesus doesn’t give up. On the days where I couldn’t care less both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on my behalf to the Father for me.
May you and I find hope in the fact that God doesn’t give up on us. May we find encouragement knowing that when we are apathetic, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. May we cooperate with God in conforming to the image of Christ.
In 2011 I was talking with a friend who had registered for the Illinois Marathon half-marathon race. As we talked I thought, “I should do this.” Keep in mind that this conversation was in January, the half was to take place in April, a half is 13.1 miles, and I hadn’t run since I left ISU in 2004. Naturally I did the only reasonable thing there is to do, I went home got online and registered for the race, I also talked another friend into joining me in my insanity.
Even since this entry into the running world, I have learned several things about which I could spend a great deal of time writing or talking about. I have inevitably learned a lot about running, but I also have learned, through observation and conversation, much about spiritual life. I learned that while on a 6+ mile run with people it provides a lot of time (especially when you are as slow as me) to talk. There have been times when the run was pretty much a full on Bible study, other times it was a discussion of the value on our marriages and how we can continue to honor those marriages and set an example for others.
However, these are not the things I want to address presently, rather I want to talk about one of my favorite aspects of running. I absolutely love the running community. Through running I have seen community that transcends race, religion (several of the runs, I mentioned, where we talked faith and Scripture it was a protestant, a Catholic, a Mormon, and an atheist), gender, lifestyle, politics, etc. These things fade to the back as we all gather around a common interest, running.
Ever since I began my journey running I have started, stopped, and restarted several times over. It is frustrating to begin from square one again, but that’s been my pattern. A couple years ago I was a few months into running again, I was scheduled for 6 miles that day, but by mile .5 I wasn’t feeling it and began to mentally talk myself into simply running 2 miles and being done for the day. As the group began pulling away, because I just couldn’t keep pace with them, one guy stayed with me and I decided I would go until he took off then I’d turn around. That day I ended up getting in my full 6 miles, because he stayed with me the whole time. The crazy thing about it is that his pace then was easily 4 minutes a mile less than mine, yet he ran slow in order to encourage me and keep me going. I recognized a while later that I probably would have quit after that day had he not stayed with me.
Additionally, “races” are incredible venues for community. The last run I did was a 6.5 mile trail run, it was also an out and back, which meant not only were people running in the same direction but we were also meeting people coming at us. The entire 6.5 miles was filled with encouragement, warning of obstacles, and motivation from others. As I listened to people speaking words of encouragement and motivation between breaths I couldn’t help but think about the example that it sets for the Church.
This is why the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25 ESV).
The very thing I have experienced within the running community is what we should be practicing and experiencing in the faith community. We need to begin to look for those people who are struggling, thinking about quitting and run with them. We need to be warning each other of temptations that may be headed at us. We need to tell each other “Good Job.” “Keep it up.” “Press on.” “You’re almost there.” “It’ll totally be worth it when you cross the finish line.”
Who do you need to encourage? Who has God placed in your life that you can come alongside and help them press on?
It is time for the Church to begin setting the example for the rest of the world.
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.