Spiritual Disciplines (Sanctification Series #6)

prayer

Philippians 2:12-13

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

When the people of Israel came out of bondage in Egypt God provided them bread from heaven called manna. But as soon as they crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan the manna stopped appearing. At that time they begin to work the ground in order to produce a harvest. Some would say the first type of provision was a miracle and the second was natural, but this is incorrect. Wheat coming from the ground is just as miraculous as bread coming from heaven. The Creator provides both by His grace. The difference is not that one way of providing is miraculous while the other is natural. The difference is that in one scenario God provides the food without the cooperation of men, while in the second men have a role to play.

Understanding this distinction can be helpful in understanding how a healthy and steady growth in sanctification occurs. Only God can sanctify a human heart, just as only God can send rain, sunshine and transform the seed into a fruitful plant. But we do have a role to play. Just as the farmer must till the soil, plant the seed and guard the seedlings, so there are some practical things we must do to ensure that what God works in us will develop in a consistent manner.


Prayer

The first thing that we must do on a daily basis is prayer. Prayer is simply speaking to God and asking for Him to have His way in the various aspects of our life in particular and in the world in general. God has called us to be priests that can come before Him and intercede for ourselves, those close to us and for the world at large. Without prayer we will lack the power we need to accomplish true transformation. In prayer we show that we understand that sanctification is truly a supernatural and divine work. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

Of course God can change us and the world around us without our prayers just as He sent manna to the Israelites without them tilling the ground or planting seeds. But God has adopted us as His children and made us heirs of His kingdom. As His children He desires that we walk in a dependent relationship with Him. And as His heirs He desires that we will take part of the responsibility for the expansion of His kingdom on earth, both in our lives and in the lives of others.

Genesis 1:27-28

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.

This was the original design God had for humanity. He created them in His image so that they would be similar enough to relate with Him, and He gave them authority to rule over all things in His name. It was only through a dependent relationship with God that mankind would have been able to rule over creation on His behalf. But they chose independence instead of dependence. They chose to do their will instead of His. Through this rebellion the relationship was broken the coming of God’s kingdom was postponed.

But through Jesus Christ God has restored both the relationship and the kingdom that was sabotaged in the garden. As God’s adopted children we must not make the same mistake as our original parents and imagine that we can live independent of God. We must submit all of our desires, fears, problems and plans to God in prayer. Though He knows all that we think and desire before we share our heart with Him, prayer is the means by which we surrender control of our life and will to Him. In prayer we acknowledge our need for God, for His wisdom and transforming power. In prayer we show that we fully aware that we are “poor in spirit,” and by it we show that “the kingdom of heaven is ours.”

As disciple makers we must not only tell the disciples that they must pray and how to pray; we must also show them how to pray. We should pray with them when we meet. Maybe at first they will be very nervous as they stumble through a few sentences of prayer. But as they watch our example every time we meet, eventually they should be encouraged to be more and more comfortable sharing their heart to God in our meetings.


The Word of God

In John 17:17 Jesus prayed that we would be transformed. He said it was the truth that had the power to do this. He goes on to declare that God’s word is the truth. This is the bright light that exposes every scheme of the devil. When the truth of God’s word comes, every lie of the father of lies is exposed for what it is. The power and stench of pride is cast down by the exaltation of sweet humility. The peace of contentment casts out the consuming power of greed. The beauty of holiness reveals all the spots and blemishes that cover immorality. God’s truth defeats the devil’s lies!

Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

The lies of the world are exposed by the truth of God that is found in His written word, the Bible. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, we must have a regular transfusion of God’s word to replace the corruption of the worldly values we were raised on, and which we still face on a daily basis. Since we face the corrupting power of the world on a daily basis, we must also have an intake of God’s word on a daily basis to overcome the influence of the world’s influence.

The disciple must be taught how to have a regular time of reading and meditation. We should not just instruct him in the way to do this, but we should spend at least a couple meetings doing devotional reading together so he sees what it consists of.

The main 3 aspects of devotional reading are reading, meditating and applying:

  1. The disciple must be shown how to arrange a system of Bible reading. He needs to be told in detail how much to read a day. Three chapters a day is ideal.
  2. Then he must be shown how to meditate on the parts of the chapter that most catch his attention by asking questions like who, what, when, where and why. “Who is the passage about?” “What was taking place in the passage?” “Why did the main person in the passage do that?”
  3. And finally the disciple must be shown how to apply the passage to their daily life. This can be done by asking questions like, “What command does this passage have that I should obey?” and “What promise does this passage contain that I should trust?”

These 3 ingredients of devotional reading can be illustrated to healthy eating habits. In the first place we must eat on a daily basis to maintain a healthy body. In the same way Christians must meditate on the word of God daily to maintain a healthy spiritual life.

Reading is comparable to putting the food in our mouth. If we don’t get the word inside us it will never change us. Meditation is comparable to chewing. We must break the word of God down so that we can actually swallow it. And obedience is comparable to swallowing the food. If a person always spits out his food after he chews it up he will die of starvation. In the same way, if the disciple does not follow through on the application of the word into his day to day life he will die spiritually.

Matthew 25:29

To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.

Many people grow weary in daily reading because they either don’t take the time necessary to meditate on the word and make it applicable to their daily life. Or they never actually follow through on the application. In either case Bible reading will grow boring and lifeless. But when we practice the things we learn from God’s word, daily reading becomes an exciting time that we look forward to.


Fellowship

Daily devotional prayer and Bible reading is not the only place we grow in sanctifying grace. If we want to live in victory and not fall to the omnipresent temptations of the world we must have regular fellowship with the Body of Christ that is centered on God’s transforming Word. Through the Spirit-imparted gifts of Christ’s Church we will be brought to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). In this way we will no longer be tossed to and fro by the waves of worldly values (Ephesians 4:13). This is why the Scripture declares that the Church is the pillar and support of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Fellowship in a local church that teaches the truth of the Bible, and walks it out by the Holy Spirit, is an absolute necessity if we want to avoid falling under the influence of the world. By regularly participating in such fellowship we are reinforcing kingdom values in order to stave off the continual and invasive pressure of the world system. The local church which preaches the word of God and walks in the Holy Spirit is a kingdom community that exposes and opposes worldly influence.

Many Christians understand the need to be connected to the Body of Christ. They read Christian books, listen to the Christian radio station, attend seminars about biblical topics and go regularly to a Sunday morning worship service at a nearby church. They understand that they cannot be genuinely connected to Christ without relating with his Body, the Church. But what many fail to realize is that the only way to truly connect with the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole is by fellowshipping with, submitting to and serving in a particular local church. Many insist on associating with every church and in so doing fail to truly connect with any church.

In John 13 Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and then calls them to follow his example by regularly serving one another in a similar manner. Jesus chose foot washing as a way to illustrate the intimate fellowship he calls his Body to partake in.

When washing someone’s feet we must get close enough to touch them. And we cannot really expect someone to wash our feet from ten feet away. The fellowship that Christ calls us to participate in requires that we get close to people and allow them to get close to us. Many attend a Sunday morning service in the same way they go to a movie at the cinema; walking in and walking out without any real personal interaction. If this is our practice, it is true that we are attending a church, but we are not fellowshipping with the Church. We are attending an event, but we are not relating with believers.

Why is it that people hesitate to get close to people in a local church? There are certainly many reasons that we could give. But the illustration Jesus gave us in John 13 reveals the most common one, dirt! Whether we are taking someone’s dirty feet into our hands or humbling ourselves by putting our stinky feet in theirs, it is an uncomfortable practice.

True fellowship obliges us to make other people’s difficulties and trials our own. We often feel we have enough troubles to deal with in our own lives, and so our selfish hearts resist taking up the responsibility of helping our brothers and sisters with theirs. On the other hand, when we are called to open up the dirt and dysfunction of our own lives to others our prideful independence loudly objects. In order to accept the practice of true Christian fellowship we must be willing to love others and bear their burdens, as well as humble ourselves and admit our weakness. This is not the broad and easy way of the world. The very practice of intimate fellowship itself helps to break off the influence of the world. Pride and selfishness are cast out as we submit to the discipline of godly fellowship.

Jesus told Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). In Jesus’ day men often wore sandals and walked on dirt roads. If a person took a bath he was clean from head to toe, but as soon as he went for a walk his feet would be covered in dust and dirt. By the blood of Jesus we have been cleansed from the guilt of our sin. But as we walk out our faith in this corrupt age the filth of the world can cling to us. In order to keep from being thoroughly corrupted by the ways of the world we must allow ourselves to be washed by the truth of God’s word that is distributed by the Church of God. It is through regular and intimate fellowship with a local congregation that we are able to come in contact with this cleansing work. If we explain these things to the disciple, and urge them to commit to fellowship in a faithful Bible-believing church, we will do well.

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