Essential Disciplines – Session 1 – Introduction
Spiritual growth does not happen by accident. Christians over the centuries have learned that we need to work at bringing our wayward mind and body into alignment with God’s purposes. We need to develop strong spiritual habits that will enable us to withstand challenges and to serve in this world. We have identified four spiritual habits, or disciplines, that we need to cultivate:
- Bible Reading
- Giving & Stewardship
- Sharing Your Faith
As with any discipline, it may take some time and effort before any of these practices become an everyday part of our lives. We can begin, however, to take small steps, and, over time, these small steps can carry us a long way.
1. Bible Reading
Our first discipline is reading the Bible. The Bible remains a mysterious book for many, but for disciples of Jesus, it remains a spiritual source of strength. As we read the Bible, the Spirit works in our hearts and our minds to produce the changes in us that God desires. As the Apostle Paul tells Timothy:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16
1.1 Fundamental Concepts
The Bible is written as a collection of stories, told over a period of many centuries. These stories, however, share a common theme. They all point to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, who is Himself both God and Man, Lord and Savior. In the scriptures, we are invited to follow the rich textures of countless stories through centuries of change as the narrative builds to a glorious finale in Jesus.
As we read and reflect on these stories, we are ultimately looking for Timeless Truths, truths that can cross from these ancient stories into our own stories, truths that apply to all people, in all times, in all cultures. To get at these Timeless Truths, we ask two basic questions.
- What Did God Say? Here we consider things like language, context and culture.
- What Does It Mean for Us Today?How do we apply God’s truth to our lives, in our decisions and actions?
1.2 Practical Steps
Given these fundamental concepts, we can now make a few practical suggestions. Here we recommend:
- A Study Time. This time should be fixed, regular and daily.
- A Study Method. We suggest a simple approach that focuses on the Big Idea and Timeless Truths.
- A Study Group. Studying the Bible with others will hold us accountable and will provide multiple perspectives on God’s truth.
- Study Resources. In Session 3 of this series, we suggest some good English translations, study bibles and other resources, focusing on those that are freely available on the internet.
Our second discipline is prayer. Prayer is perhaps the most misunderstood and underused tool that God has provided for us. In this course, we define prayer as dialog with God, a conversation with Him about His ways in the world. In this dialog, we seek to reconcile what God says with our daily experience, with what we see in real life. Our goal in this conversation should be to reconcile our will with God’s will, our ways with His ways. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6
2.1 Three Fundamental Dynamics of Prayer
To fully realize the power of this ongoing dialog with God, we must understand three fundamental dynamics of prayer. These dynamics include:
- The Role of the Spirit. As we pray, the Holy Spirit speaks for us and to us, acting as our mediator in prayer.
- The Role of Faith. Powerful faith believes God, trusts His will and His ways, and obeys His commands.
- The Role of Community. Together we seek God’s will, intercede for those in need, and encourage one another in our faith.
2.2 Learning from the Lord’s Prayer
With these fundamental dynamics in mind, then, we can ask a practical question. How should we pray? Thankfully, Jesus Himself gave us a model prayer, known as the “Lord’s Prayer”. This model prayer is filled with requests regarding four of our basic needs:
- Worship. We call on God’s name and pray for His will to be done. His truth, righteousness and love must reign in our lives, displacing the lies, evil and hatred that now infects our world.
- Physical Needs. In praying for our daily bread, we learn our dependence upon God, our contentment with God, and our comfort from God.
- Relationship Needs. In praying to be forgiven and to forgive, we seek to have God’s merciful, forgiving Spirit inform our spirit.
- Spiritual Needs. In asking to avoid temptation, we dialog with God about how to fight against the evil spiritual forces that seek to destroy us.
3. Stewardship & Giving
Our third Essential Discipline is Stewardship & Giving. God’s Story features a consistent challenge to His people, that they be faithful stewards in the creation that they enjoy. Jesus says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-20
3.1 Foundational Principles
First, we examine our motivation to give, and we find three foundational principles in scripture:
- Creation. God created human beings to be stewards of His creation. Ultimately, we will be held accountable for the time, talent and treasure that He has entrusted to us.
- Worship. In the Old Testament God introduces the practice of tithing to remind His people that everything, including they themselves, belong to Him. These gifts also support God’s work and the people devoted to this work. In both the Old and the New Testament, we worship God by supporting those whom He calls to work exclusively for Him.
- Love. Over and above regular giving to God’s work, we are called to care for the basic needs of those who are suffering.
3.2 Recommendations for Giving
With these foundational principles in mind, we address a few practical questions concerning giving.
- What should we give? Scripture refers to God’s people giving time, talent and treasure.
- How much should we give? We should use the Old Testament practice of tithing as a guide, not as a hard, fixed amount. In fact, Jesus speaks more of maximums than minimums. To whom much is given, much is required.
- How often should we give? We begin by giving regularly to support God’s work, but we also give in times of special blessing and in times of acute need.
- To whom should we give? We begin by giving to the local church as the hub of God’s work in our part of His garden and His kingdom. Then, we should consider other faithful individuals and organizations that are faithfully exercising their role of stewardship.
- How should we feel about giving? Here, we simply need to refer to Paul’s words, that “God loves a cheerful giver”. (2 Corinthians 9:7) If we truly care about the advancement of God’s work, then we should be filled with joy when we are able to give to it.
4 Sharing Your Faith
Our fourth and last Essential Discipline is sharing our faith. Here we address what, for many people, is perhaps the most challenging aspect of their spiritual journey. It is one thing for us to work on our own spiritual development, but how do we invite others to join us on this journey? What happens when our private faith must go public? This line might be difficult for some people to cross, but tremendous growth and fulfillment awaits those who are willing to take this challenge.
4.1 Why Share Our Faith?
The Bible speaks of three primary motivations for sharing our faith.
- The Plight of Our Neighbor Jesus says:
- The Call of Our Lord. Here we refer to what has been called the Great Commission, when Jesus says:
- The Power of our Story. As we argue in our Essentials Truth class, “Why Am I Here?”, the entire purpose of our life on earth is to become and make disciples, to Be One and to Make One. Sometimes, however, we may question whether we are ready to do this big and difficult job of leading others to God. But, even our broken lives can bear witness to His grace. Paul famously makes this point in his letter to Timothy, when he says:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” Matthew 9:36 -38
Jesus wants His people to know Him, because He is the only one who can save them. He is the only real solution to their broken and hopeless lives.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
This call becomes a command for the entire community of disciples. Everyone must find his or her role in this mission to make disciples.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
4.2 How to Share Our Faith
Here we offer a few, practical suggestions on how to share our faith.
- Listen to their story. This involves asking caring questions and listening without judgment. By listening to others tell their story, we show that we are genuinely interested in helping them. We want them to find the answers and restoration that they seek.
- Share our story. God uses our story to show the power of His healing and redeeming work. We recommend that you write this story out and practice sharing it with someone you trust. In putting this story together, we suggest that you keep it real, keep it short, and keep it organized.
- Share God’s Story. You don’t have to be an expert to do this step. Just stick to the basics. We suggest learning the Essential Truths in our Bethany Church series, memorizing a few key verses and creating a simple outline. This outline should focus on the problem of Sin, the solution, who is Jesus, and our response, which is to repent and believe.
- Connect Their Story to God’s Story. The last step in sharing your faith focuses on decision. We would like the person hearing both your story and God’s story to be impacted in some concrete way. We recommend three possible next steps:
- Invite Further Discussion and Questions. Sometimes you will need to do a little research before these follow up conversations.
- Invite Them to Join You. You can go with them to church, a support group, or a service project. In each case they can see faith at work in our community of faith.
- Invite Them to Follow Jesus. Ultimately, we want them to find forgiveness and new life in Christ. The Spirit will guide you as you lead them in prayer through this decision.
These then are the four Essential Disciplines. We hope you are inspired to make these disciplines a regular part of your obedience to Jesus. And, as always, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Jesus. For more information, please visit us at bethanychurch.com.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all English translations of the Bible in this document are taken from The New International Version. (2011); Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.