Spiritual Habit

Fighting for Silence in a World that Never Stops Shouting

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I’m never alone. Every minute of every day, I carry a device that tethers me to the world. It’s a silent loudspeaker, buzzing its notifications. With a touch, I’m in the conversation. Even in my solitude, there is no silence. Even in my silence, there is no solitude. I’m not sure I agreed to this arrangement. But I have indeed bought into it. The bill is connected to my bank account. It couldn’t be easier to be united. Now, like so many, I’m wondering how to unplug.

God didn’t create me to be alone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need solitude from time to time. The digital age creates space for everything except the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude. But my soul depends on it.

Is there an app for that?

Getting Away

A need for connection comes pre-installed in our soul’s software. So although something as simple as getting away doesn’t sound hard, our very nature pushes against it. We need scheduled maintenance, and it takes an override code to get inside. What’s the code? Silence and solitude.

Jesus was the most whole human ever to walk the earth. If he needed something, how can I say I don’t need the same? On multiple occasions, the scriptures show us that Jesus slipped away. He intentionally withdrew from his work. He went away from the crowds. He left his friends. He needed time to be alone with his Father.

The connection between Jesus and the Father wasn't breaking up, but mine often does. I go through dead zones, and when I look down, it’s not God’s end of the line that broke up. It’s mine. My hardware fails. The battery dies. I need a recharge.

My instinct is to head to social media for a recharge. Maybe I need a gospel pick-me-up from Twitter. Maybe I need an inspirational image-quote from Instagram. Maybe I need to catch up with friends on Facebook. Maybe. But maybe I need the maker of my soul first. I need his sustaining presence.

I need to get away with my Father.

Solitude

It starts with solitude. It can happen at home, but it probably won’t. For many of us, we must be pushed out. Thankfully, we have biblical precedent. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to begin his ministry (Matt. 4:1). And though I don’t necessarily desire him to take me through a time of testing, I want him to lead me to solitude regardless of the reason.

But it’s only solitude if we discount the omnipresence of God. I may be alone physically, but when the Spirit takes me away, my solitude becomes communion. The online world offers the same deal, but what I find there often leaves me hungrier than before. Shouldn’t a meal so large make me full? Why then does it leave me starving for more? The phantom presence the screen offers is no match for the personal presence of God.

And that’s where the problem arises. The digital world follows me into my alone time with God. It bursts in like an unwelcome but eager guest. And I invite it in. I pull up a chair. I ask for its thoughts. I draw out disruption. Really, I’m no different than the leaders Ezekiel witnessed in the temple's inner court—surrounded by the presence of God with my back toward the mercy seat and my face toward the east, worshiping the wrong thing (Ezek. 8:16).

Satan doesn’t need to use stones as bread substitutes. When I carry the digital world into my alone time, I carry all the ammunition he needs for every temptation. Man cannot live by bread alone. Nor can he live by pixels alone.

Silence

Solitude should lead to silence. But in the age of hot takes, silence is frowned upon. When silence is presumed as apathy, we’re quick to speak out of the shallow end of our wisdom pool. Deep, sustained thought occurs best in silent meditation, but we often don’t have time for that. Our voice must join the cacophony of the masses now. How else will we be validated? Justification by claim is the doctrine of our day.

But God’s ways are not man’s ways. God does not look upon our silence as a problem. In our hustle, we often don’t give him the space to speak deeply to our soul. We see silence as weakness. God sees silence as openness. He fills it with his voice. In the beginning, God called life from the void. He spoke over formless mass and spun the world into action (Gen. 1). Since our creation, it's not a lack of speaking that strains our connection. It's a lack of listening, which often results from constant talking. Pride always talks. But humility knows when to shut up. The elevation of ourselves, as always, comes home to roost.

Today, I’m too busy for silence. People need my voice. But it’s not my voice that upholds the universe. Jesus’ does that (Heb. 1:3). Have I stopped to listen?

Israel discovered what happens when speaking overtakes listening. It left them speechless, wandering prophet-less for four hundred years. Their incessant talking led to the cessations of God’s. Am I in danger of the same?

Thankfully, Israel heard from God again, because his steadfast love brought a new word. Out of the silence grew the heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest.” The silent night was filled with the newborn Christ.

That's just like God to break the silence with his grace. When we, like the Psalmist, quiet our souls (Ps. 131:2), God's voice grows loud. When the world feels overwhelming, we can be silent. God fights for us (Exod. 14:14). No wonder Jeremiah, in a moment of clarity, broke his lament to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (Lam. 3:26). As the Lord fills his temple, silent awe fills his people. (Hab. 2:20). The Lamb broke the seventh seal, and heaven was silent for half an hour (Rev. 8:1). It’s a hard truth to believe in a world that never stops talking, but when we fall silent before God, God breaks our silence into worship.

The Nearness of God

God came to Moses on Mount Horeb (Exod. 3). He came to David in the wilderness (1 Sam. 23). He spoke to Elijah in a whisper (1 Kgs. 19:11-13). He took Paul to vacant Arabia (Gal. 1:17). He revealed the heavens to John on the Island of Patmos. Silence and solitude are God’s ways of speaking to his people. When he draws us away from the crowds, he draws us to himself. God speaks loudest when we get to where we can’t hear anyone else.

These men didn’t necessarily choose their silence or their solitude. God chose it for them. They had much to say to the watching world, but first they needed to be alone with God. That’s not the road I want. It’s too uncomfortable for me. But out of the silence and solitude of his people, God changed the course of history. What might he do with mine? What might he do with yours?

The world will still be turning when we come back from our solitude. But maybe we won’t turn the same. Maybe we’ll radiate like Moses. Maybe we’ll have confidence like David. Maybe we’ll trust God like Elijah. Maybe we’ll know Jesus like Paul. Maybe we’ll see heaven like John.

Life is not about being informed, but about being eternally transformed. The gospel is not a call to doing before it’s a call to being. God justifies us in Christ. It’s in silence and solitude where that is often confirmed the deepest. Our technological age puts the pressure on us to produce, but God took that pressure off at the cross. Our digital age pushes us to the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” When my action feels like the only way, I need the reminder of Gerhard O. Forde.

“We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age-old question, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ the confessional answer is shocking: ‘Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!’”

There’s not an app for that. There’s only a call. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).

Israel was unwilling to wait when such swift horses were at hand. When cyber-speed offers so much more, are we willing to stick to the ancient roads?


David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.

Relax, Jesus is Already Proud of You

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I enjoy running and have learned and experienced much with God as a result of this rhythm incorporated into my life. I once ran in a half marathon in Nashville, and the experience provided a glimpse of the gospel for me. The main reason that I was running this particular race was to redeem the first not-so-great experience I had at that same race, years earlier. The first time I ran it, I’d never run a half marathon. Although I set some goals that I was able to reach, it wasn’t the best experience because of the physical toll it took on me. So, after about six years, the opportunity presented itself for me to take part in the race again.

Leading up to this second half marathon, I trained hard to make sure I could meet my goals and exceed my time from the previous race. Along the way, I developed some pain in my Achilles tendon, which led to an interruption in my training. Still, I didn’t want to drop out of the race. Instead I made the decision to rest for a few weeks, hoping that would give my body the boost it need to run.

The morning of the race, I was filled with anxiety. I hadn’t run very much in the month leading up to that day because of my injury, and I wasn’t sure how my body would respond. I knew it was a risk to have missed out on the weeks of training, but I counted on the hope that letting my body heal was enough to get me through the 13.1 miles.

JUST FINISH!

The countdown began, and our group took off. I was feeling good. I began to pace myself behind a man and his son who were running together. They were the perfect rhythm, and it was doubly motivating because the son was at the most thirteen years old. I remember thinking, “If I can’t even keep up with a thirteen-year-old, I’m in big trouble.”

At about mile six, I started feeling my body betraying me. But, as any athlete knows, that’s when it’s time to kick it into another gear. That’s what I did. I kicked it into the “JUST FINISH” gear. It was very humbling. I don’t take for granted that many would be happy to complete a half marathon at all. I had some pretty aggressive goals and had even used words like, “I’ll be extremely disappointed” when asked about not meeting my expected finish time. I had set a pretty hard line on my definition of success. Not only did I not finish at my goal time, but I finished embarrassingly far behind.

Knowing the goals that I set and how hard I was working to achieve them, my wife was incredibly supportive. She continuously encouraged me when I was feeling disappointed in my body. On the day of the race, when I was walking out the door at 5:00 am, while everyone was asleep, I saw that my wife had written and taped a sign to the front door.

The sign said, “You can do it, babe! We are proud of you already!”

When I crossed the finish line after struggling and stumbling through the physical pain and emotional disappointment of my failure, the remembrance of that sign entered my mind.

‘I’M ALREADY PROUD OF YOU’

Whether I accomplished my goals, won the race, or didn’t even step foot on the course, I was already loved. My value had nothing to do with what I did in the marathon. This letter was a picture of the gospel. “I’m already proud of you.” Before I had done anything, before I even stepped to the starting line, she was already satisfied with me.

In Christ, this is how God views us. He is pleased with us, not because of the work we do or the way we finish. It’s because he doesn’t see us—he sees Jesus.

This reality, this love so unfathomable, leads me to a feeling of celebration, relief, and great joy! At first sight of my wife and son after the race, I welled up with tears and couldn’t stop smiling. My little boy spotted me and was calling out, “Hip, hip, hooray!” It reminded me of what it means for me to understand on a daily basis the great rescue I’ve experienced by the work of Jesus.

A good friend and mentor Keas Keasler once said, “The most theologically appropriate response to the resurrection is to dance.” I simply cannot argue with that. Understanding the gospel has reshaped the way that I live and rest.

THE GOSPEL SETS US FREE

The implications of understanding the truth of the gospel in our lives cannot be understated. For so long, I only understood the significance of the story of Jesus on the cross as meaning that when I die, I will get to go to heaven. It’s almost as though I approached life in a way that was apathetic about my current reality. I was grateful for God’s sacrifice on my behalf, but I was just hoping for the best as things played out before me.

Preaching the gospel to myself and studying the Scriptures led me to a personal awakening in light of the work of Christ. Jesus intended that we would experience the fullness of joy and life in Him on earth now, not only after death. Jesus’ words continually point to this message. John 10:10 says that He came to give us “abundant life.” In John 8:36, He reminds us that if He sets us free, we are “free indeed.” I had been dishonoring the finished work of Jesus by attempting to pay for my sin through my self-righteous life, when it had already been paid for by Him.

The central message of Jesus is that of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 4:23 it says, “He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” The significance of this idea cannot be understated. God intended for us, as His followers, to be intentional to live into this message. The most vivid picture is found in Matthew 6:33 when He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” As we consider what it means to respond to His instruction, we can be encouraged that He is with us as we move forward.

KINGDOM LIVING

We don’t need to be convinced that our world is a broken place. Politically, racially, economically, and culturally, our world is out of rhythm. In Romans 8:22 it says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We all long for things to be the way they were in the beginning, at creation.

But, we receive a beautiful promise in the book of Revelation: The One who is seated on the throne says to John in a vision that He is making all things new again (21:5)! The most amazing thing about this is that God intends for us to join Him in the work of the renewal of all things. Jesus even instructs His followers to pray along these lines: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9–10).

In this verse, Jesus teaches us to ask that earth would look like heaven now. When we pray for and look at our neighborhoods through these lenses, we remember that God desires to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20) Or as author N. T. Wright says, “We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now.” We, as the family of God, get to join Him in this beautiful work!

Matthew 13:44 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” For most of my life as a follower of Jesus, I wouldn’t have used the word “joy” to describe the condition of my heart. So much of my lack of understanding of the finished work of Jesus kept me from seeing God’s intention for my heart and life. Jesus Himself says in John 17:13 that He desires that His joy may be in us to the full.

RESTING IN OUR TREASURE

To know that this discovery of the true treasure has reshaped everything about the way that the man in the above parable will live is a picture of the real response to the gospel. He is willing to forsake all else to give himself to the purposes of simply being with the treasure.

One of the most significant indicators of whether we’ve begun to give ourselves to the understanding and response to soul rest is if we are displaying the fruit of joy in our lives. When we know and understand the magnificent, mysterious, radical, and miraculous love and grace of Jesus, we will find our hearts bursting with the joy of the Lord.


Content taken from Soul Rest: Reclaim Your Life. Return to Sabbath by Curtis Zackery, Kirkdale Press (June 6, 2018), lexhampress.com.

Curtis "CZ" Zackery is perhaps best known for his deep empathy and contagious passion for the gospel, which defies barriers of age, ethnicity, and religion. Whether teaching, speaking, or writing, CZ provides a perspective on the gospel that is raw, accessible, and relevant. Curtis has served in various ministry and leadership roles over the last 15 years―including church planting, pastoring, and speaking on rest, the kingdom, and the beauty of the gospel. Curtis, his wife Monique, and two sons, Noah and Micah, currently live in Franklin, TN. Learn more at curtiszackery.com.

Wrongly Handling the Word of Truth

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I still remember my first hermeneutics class, where I learned how to interpret the Bible. We were required to take one through my university. I was not excited to spend a semester learning what I assumed I already knew. I recall being stunned as I learned that I was far from reading my Bible correctly! I quickly found that I knew nothing of the context from which any of the biblical stories came from, nor had I ever even taken the time to look for contextual clues through careful study. Questions like, “Where does this passage occur in the book?” or “Who is the author speaking to?” had never crossed my mind. But once I learned some basic Bible study tools, everything seemed new and no text felt off-limits or unapproachable.

Recently, Crossway released new research and infographics that revealed people’s bible study habits. As a Bible teacher, I was shocked to see how many books of the scriptures go completely unread because they're hard to understand.

With countless Bible studies are available for churchgoers, this shouldn’t be something we have to grapple with. Yet biblical illiteracy remains pervasive among us.

Perhaps that's because we teachers too often assume people understand the importance of Bible study. Why should people learn to study the Bible? After all, it's difficult to understand ancient cultures and multiple genres.

WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THE BIBLE

Why do we want our people to study the Bible? Because the Bible yields its treasure to those who dig for it. Too often we take a shallow approach to reading Scripture: we want the application without the work, the easy-to-grasp imperatives without the hearty parables, the cozy promises without the uncomfortable truths. Christians should study the Bible to know God deeply. It is a book filled with the glories that teach, reproof, correct, and train us (1 Tim. 3:16), but it is ultimately a book about God and what he is like (Luke 24:27).

As G. K. Beale’s popular work states, “We become what we behold, we become what we worship.” We are formed by the things we do, by the liturgies we participate in, and one of these things that can form us into disciples of his words is the careful study of Scripture. This is why love must be what drives us to the text. Then our study will formational instead of just educational. Disciples are, by definition, learners, and that learning should change transfer across creed and into conduct. Doctrine must motivate practice. Truth has to move from our head to our hearts and actions.

As we seek to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27), our answer is to submit to be shaped by the author of life abundant. His words and his Spirit given to us are what guide us, as they point us consistently back to be like Christ.

A CALL TO BIBLICAL LITERACY

I shouldn’t have had to wait until a hermeneutics course to have at least some tools to study Scripture. Christian universities don’t bear the weight of training church members in biblical literacy—churches do. My local church should have equipped me with the basic tools for reading, understanding, and applying the foundational text of our faith.

Biblical literacy helps us more clearly recognize the gospel as it is reflected across all of Scripture. Even in portions of the Old Testament where it seems the difference between their culture and ours is too foreign and unfamiliar; Jesus, covenantal love and grace have abounded since the beginning. And that affects how we read scripture as a whole.

WRONGLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH

Many of us could tell horror stories of passages being skewed, and the marks the false interpretations leave on the lives they touched. Books like Finding the Love of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin unpack the many ways we have tried and failed to read God’s Word. You will no doubt find your reading habits implicated in some way, just like mine were.

But we can’t press on in learning to study if we don’t first know what we’re doing wrong. If being told that your way of studying and understanding has been wrong causes you a twinge of pain, this may be because it has become an idol in your own way of making Jesus out to be who you’d prefer him to be, rather than who he actually is presented to be in Scripture.

Hold fast, friends. Don’t let this warning deter you from stepping foot into what he has to offer you in his Word.

So many resources are readily available to understand the context and background from where the words of Scripture were written as well as resources on how to see meaning and application from them. Books like the aforementioned Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, Asking the Right Questions by Matthew Harmon, and One-to-One by David Helm all outline helpful ways to approach the text. Online resources like stepbible.org, blueletterbible.com, and luminabible.org aid with things like cross-references and comparing translations of the Bible. Websites like bibleodyssey.org and thebibleproject.com can give you a feel for the history of the people and the literary structures within the book you may be reading.

TAKE UP YOUR SWORD

Teaching your people that these resources are easily accessible to them is a comfort, and helping them to test and discern these resources is so fruitful. A Sunday morning understanding of the Bible is simply not enough for the battle that wages from Monday to Saturday. We need to be able to readily approach scripture each day of the week.

There are a lot of voices out in our world, and we desperately need a whole body fighting together—and that means each of us must know how to fight. You wouldn’t send soldiers into combat without them knowing how to use their weapons; likewise, we shouldn’t send believers into the world ill-equipped to wield the double-edged sword of the word they have been handed (Heb. 4:12). Together, rightly handling the truth, we can be church bodies filled with the true and good news of the gospel, as seen page after page in God’s Word, and this should make a difference not only within our churches but in the world around us.

When we know how to read and reflect on Scripture, the Bible studies we lead and the discussions we have gain greater depth. We begin to see how a devotional that shies away from hard texts limits and stifles our spiritual growth.  We see how shallow study gives a limited view of the magnificent depths of our great God!

Most importantly, though, Scripture provides us with hope. Scripture shows us the gospel. The Torah, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, Revelation all point to knowing and treasuring the triune God. To know that God has spoken to our hearts and minds through his inspired Word ought to be a comfort to us. Knowing how to approach passages in their context and apply them faithfully to our lives shows us how to really recognize the hope we have in Christ. The more clearly we can read and glean truth from God’s Word, the more hope can take root in our hearts.

Christian, learning to read the Bible is ultimately up to you since each one of us will one day give an account to God of how we spent our days. I implore you: learn to rightly handle the Word of truth. Learn to study the good book for yourself. Don’t give up when there are so many tools to help you learn. Don’t give up when there are pearls on every page.


Alexiana Fry (M. Div.) is a wife and associate Women’s Director at Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her passion and call are to see the church make whole disciples, pursuing the Gospel in the everyday mundane of life. She also finds herself to be highly caffeinated and blogging regularly at mygivingofthanks.com.

 

A Recipe for Gospel-Centered Prayer

I’m a serial people-fixer. As a pastor, husband, and father, I want to see the people I love grow in their faith, make wiser decisions, and feel closer to Jesus.

I listen to people, give suggestions, recommend books, point out errors in thinking, and help them strategize. If they just get what I’m saying and take my advice, I tell myself, then everything will be fine.

Every now and then, someone takes my advice and things get better. But other times, whether someone takes the advice or not, their life just stays the same—or sometimes gets worse.

You probably experience the same thing with people in your church or family. You feel like you listen to the same problems over and over again, and give what seems like wise counsel—but week after week, nothing changes.

When people aren’t “fixed,” I get annoyed with God or the people I’m trying to help because I followed what I thought was the right formula and it just didn’t work.

Over the last couple of years, God has been showing me why I get so frustrated, and why my attempts to fix people keep failing. It’s because I can’t change people.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN’T CHANGE PEOPLE

I can’t make someone love God more. I can’t make someone love their spouse more. I can’t even make myself do those things. That power belongs to God and God alone.

So what can we do for the people we love? Pray for them.

I know—you already know that. You understand prayer is important and it’s something we should do for those we love. But are you doing it? Are you actually praying for the people in your church or community by name? Actually begging God to change them?

For a long time, I wasn’t.

It wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was because I didn’t really know how.

Maybe that’s where you are. You love the people in your life and genuinely want them to change. You’d like to pray for them, but every time you do it seems like you’re bringing up the same minor details about their lives and asking God to make them a little bit happier.

That’s what it used to feel like to me. But one day God, in His grace, brought me to the book of Ephesians and showed me what it looks like to pray for the people I love.

PAUL’S RECIPE FOR GOSPEL-CENTERED PRAYER

In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul wrote what has become for me and many others a model prayer for those we love—people we want to see changed by the power of the gospel. I’ve come to think of it as a recipe for gospel-centered prayer. Here it is:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe ...” (Eph. 1:15-19a)

Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to taste the fullness of a relationship with Christ. If an abundant life with Christ is the meal Paul hopes they’ll experience, his prayer is that their eyes would be enlightened to three different flavors of that meal: hope, riches, and greatness.

STEP 1: START WITH HOPE

The first ingredient in gospel-centered prayer is that the people we want to see transformed would know the hope to which they are called in Christ. That hope is eternal life in heaven and restoration here on earth. God didn’t just save us from something; he also saved us for something.

Many times, believers come to faith in Christ because they want to secure their eternity in heaven. That’s a very real concern. But at times Christians overplay the eternal aspect of salvation, leaving believers content to coast into eternity without ever realizing the fullness of life in Christ today. We should pray for ourselves and our fellow believers to see that God has redeemed our future and our present.

If people get that they will not only spend eternity with Jesus but that they can actually experience life with him today, they will live differently. The greatest acts in the history of our faith have been carried out by men and women whose hope was fixed on Jesus. If you want to see someone’s life transformed, pray for God to open their eyes to the hope to which they’ve already been called.

STEP 2: ADD THE FULL AMOUNT OF RICHES

Now it’s time to add the second ingredient: “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” The first few times I read this I totally missed whose inheritance Paul was talking about. I assumed it was referring to the believers’ inheritance, but I was misreading the pronouns. Paul prayed that the believers would know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints.

What can God possibly inherit? The hardest people to buy gifts for are those who have enough money to buy everything they want. What do you get the guy that already has everything? Here’s the crazy answer: you and me—the “saints.”

We are God’s glorious inheritance. That means God expectantly waits for the day when he inherits you and the rest of his adopted sons and daughters.

I work from home now, but I used to work in an office most of the week. My wife once told me our three children would sometimes stare out the window, eagerly anticipating the moment when I pulled in the driveway. They were longing for the moment when they could rush to the back door, throw their arms around me, and welcome me home.

Did you know that God feels that way about you?

Knowing God is giddy to spend eternity with you changes how you live and think. Pray for the people you love to truly know that love God has for them.

STEP 3: STIR IN THE IMMEASURABLE GREATNESS OF GOD’S POWER

The final ingredient in Paul’s gospel-centered prayer is “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” So many of us, myself included, feel so insignificant and powerless to do anything remarkable for God. We want to make a difference with our lives, but don’t see anything special about our skills or talents. That couldn’t be more wrong.

Right after Paul prays for his friends’ eyes to be opened to the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, he reminds them this power is the same power God “worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20).

Think about that. The power God gives to each believer is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God.

Do you believe that same power is in you? Do the people in your church or your life think that power is in them? If you lived like that were true, how would it change your heart? How would it change the world?

Pray for those you love to realize the power of the Spirit of God. Pray they would live in the Spirit instead of just reading about him.

CONCLUSION

The three flavors of a life lived fully with Christ are the hope to which we have been called, the riches of God’s inheritance in his people, and the greatness of God’s power for those who believe.

The Holy Spirit who inspired Paul’s words knows tasting a relationship with Jesus is the only way people will ever give their lives to a relationship with Jesus. We won’t experience that relationship without a heart transformation. And we can’t experience a transformed heart without tasting the only thing which has the power to transform it.

Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of three, and the Managing Web Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.

Break Free from Bite-Sized Bible Study

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In a well-intentioned effort to motivate daily Bible reading, the church has attempted to make the Bible more accessible. Apps and devotionals aim to make the Bible easier to consume and digest. Sermons are preached at the microscope level. Bible reading plans help us achieve a reading goal in desirable time frames. “Verse of the Day” notifications push morsels of the Word our way. While there is certainly value in these efforts, we cannot deny the problem they also create, namely, that our Bibles have become bite-sized. I’m afraid we have grown content with that measly portion and have lost our wonder at the whole feast. We’re so caught up in the paragraphs that we are falling out of love with the Story.

Has your bite-sized Bible grown your love for God’s Word? Has it led to more consistent and meaningful Bible reading? Maybe it has for you. But what I’ve found in my own life and in conversations with many of my Christian friends is that it has hardly improved anything. The attainability of only having one chapter to read tomorrow morning isn’t motivating us to feast on the Word.

There has to be another approach that makes for a more worthwhile time in the Word and makes us want to get out of bed to read about it. I believe the Story, treated as a story, is the key. Reading large portions of Scripture in one sitting is right and necessary and will increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge of God.

THE LIMIT OF BUSY-NESS

The notion of reading large swaths of Scripture as opposed to more “bite-sized” pieces may scare you. After all, there are only twenty-four hours in our days; eight of those are spent asleep; another eight or more are spent at work. Most of us probably already feel the lack of margin in our lives—it’s all we can do to fit in a five-minute devotional.

Please understand, I am not oblivious to your busy-ness. I am learning what it means to be busy as each week passes. In the past few months, I have watched both my family and my job expand. Adding a baby and new pastoral responsibilities to my plate have me wondering if they make bigger plates! When the baby will not stop crying and the meetings and deadlines begin to pile up, Scripture reading is not naturally at the forefront of my mind. I sympathize with you feeling like you’re trying to manage life with whatever Bible you can fit in whenever it seems to happen.

With that said, I do believe it would be wise to get a little more honest about how busy we are—and perhaps even better, if busy is best. Our Ace of Spades for getting out of anything is that we’re too busy. But the fascinating truth about time is that everyone has the same amount of it—24 hours—each day. There are solutions to recover healthy time in God’s Word in the face of our busy-ness problem if we are willing to face them.

TAKING THE LIMITS OFF OF SCRIPTURE

The fewer constraints and limitations we place on the Word, the better we will understand because we begin to read it the way it was intended to be read. How, in a practical sense, can we begin to reduce the limits we impose on Scripture?

First, at a macro level, we need to know the Story of Scripture as opposed to a few plot points. We must feast continually, not snack here and there. When we begin to see Scripture less as a hodgepodge of spiritual insights and more as an ordered revelation from God, we’ll realize that we need to know the Story.

We should then think about how exactly we read the Word. We are tempted, from the get-go, to start with one verse, one paragraph, one chapter. Why not read, however, until we feel there is a natural literary break? Why not, for example, read the whole book of Hebrews? It only takes about 45 minutes.1 Go even further: What if you read the entire book of Hebrews 45 minutes each day, five times in one week? Don’t you believe your understanding of the whole book of Hebrews would be much improved? But if you committed to a chapter a day, it would take you two full weeks to get through it just once.

A special note for those that preach: we should help our congregation approach the Bible with this emphasis on widening our reading. Expository preaching is wonderful and important. The “microscopic” view of the text is necessary. But microscopes don’t help us see in the same way telescopes do. We need both views of Scripture; one that examines and investigates and determines, and another that searches and finds and marvels. Preach large portions of Scripture. Better yet, let Scripture preach in your stead. Help your congregation see how a passage connects the dots somewhere. Help them see that this small passage fits into a much larger Story.

Finally, we must confront our busy-ness. The first step forward here is to realize that we are not as busy as we think. Many of us can fix our “too busy” problem immediately if, for example, we would simply wake up thirty minutes earlier, spend thirty fewer minutes on social media, or listen to Scripture for thirty minutes of our commute to or from work. The second nudge would be to consider if we are indeed too busy, and what needs to be removed from our plate in order to make room for meaningful time spent in the Word. This may require small, subtle changes, like better time management or better planning. It also may require radical changes, like finding a job that better serves your spiritual disciplines. After all, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?

INEFFICIENT TO GOD’S GLORY

Overall, our Bible reading habits are most in need of the freedom to be inefficient, untidy, drawn out, even wasteful. In a culture that demands we treat everything as Martha would, Jesus asks us to have the heart of Mary, choosing “the good portion” for our day (Lk. 10:38-42).

We truly cannot live this Christian life with any zeal, any hope, or any confidence if we will not feast at Christ’s table. It may mean we don’t get as much checked off of our to-do list as we had hoped. It may mean the Bible reading plan needs to be put on pause. But no matter the cost, we know it’s worth it because the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

May you break free from your snackable Bible and gorge yourself on God’s Word. And may Christ dwell in us richly, freely, and without limitation.


1 - Check out Andy Naselli’s blog post, “Three Tips for Better Bible Reading,” which includes a helpful chart of Bible Reading Times for each book of the Bible: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/three-tips-for-better-bible-reading

Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.

4 Ways to Become A Role Player in Your Church

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Anyone who plays or follows sports knows that it takes an entire team to win. Winning teams usually have star players and role players. A team is usually built around one or more stars, relied on to carry the squad. Role players have lesser-known yet still significant roles. They don’t receive all the credit, take all the blame or provide the most influence.

But each role player is vital to the overall success of a team. If they fail to execute their responsibilities, it makes everyone’s job harder. We often don’t realize that role players strengthen the team dynamic, not the stars. Stars have a significant impact, but without an excellent supporting cast willing to follow, sacrifice, and carry out necessary tasks for the benefit of the team, that team will either remain stagnant or eventually crumble into a rebuilding state.

Sports fans also know there’s no greater competitive experience than when your team is firing on all cylinders because everyone is doing their job.  If you watched the recent demolition in the 2018 NBA Finals as the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers, you understand this illustration very well, but I digress.

A HEALTHY CHURCH

It’s no different in the church. While some may lead out front, and others help make it possible, everyone is necessary. There’s no better feeling than when your church is in sync and everyone is doing their part to make disciples.  A church like this is healthy.

“Healthy" doesn't refer to numerical growth, increased staff positions, the number of ministries, even the longevity of a church.  All those things are good and can be the fruit of faithful service, but they are not God-promised signs of success.

God's path to success for his church is based more on subtraction than addition.  The words of Christ teach us that to gain we must lose; and to live, we must die (Matthew 16:24-26).

This means our churches should forsake worldly passions and pursue Christ.  A healthy church progressively reflects the character of God through a constant dying to self so his name may be magnified.

Every church should desire to be healthy in this manner.  Mark Dever draws a picture of a healthy church; “I like the word healthy because it communicates the idea of a body that’s living and growing as it should.  It may have its share of problems. It’s not been perfected yet. But it’s on the way. It’s doing what it should do because God’s Word is guiding it.”

So even if it’s unpopular, uncomfortable or tedious, continue in steadfast pursuit of what Scripture calls us to in Ephesians 4:11-16, which is to equip the saints, and build up the body of Christ, until we all attain unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Now the question is, “Isn’t building up the church the pastor’s job?”  Yes, but the job isn’t theirs alone. Every member is called to take part in building up their particular body. Members are meant to serve in ways that supplement the pastor’s role and make his work a joy and not burdensome.

Here are four ways to become a good role player in your church.

1. DEVELOP A PRAYING SPIRIT 

We should pray for church leaders and members, always interceding on their behalf.  Paul urges the church in Ephesians 6:18 to at all times make prayers and petitions for all the saints.  Often, our default reaction is to criticize or complain about what goes on in the church, regardless of it is right or wrong, big or small.  I’ve struggled with this more often than I can say.

However, I was convicted by the words of Puritan preacher John Bunyan, who said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” Words, thoughts, and works will all be in vain if we don’t first seek the Lord for wisdom.

How much do our critical spirits or excessive complaints build up the church? If we reprogram ourselves to pray instead of criticizing, I believe our attitudes toward the object of our critique will change.  Excessive grumbling and objection only lead to quarrels and factions.

Remember what James 4:1-3 says: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

We must be gracious and patient with leaders and other believers. We're in this walk of sanctification together. Pray with your brothers and sisters. Pray for your leaders. Let’s guard our hearts against selfish motives, discouraging words, and critical attitudes by striving to pray for one another instead of preying on one another.

2. PARTICIPATE IN CYCLES OF DISCIPLESHIP

Members should disciple one another, walking alongside each other, teaching and showing each other how to walk faithfully with the Lord. Titus 2:2-8 speaks of older men teaching younger men, and older women teaching younger women. The mature need to invest in the less mature.  The Christian life is a life of discipleship, from every angle.

I was oblivious to the concept of discipleship during my younger days in the church. No one ever approached me about reading the Bible together or going through a Christian book. The shallow depth of my Christian relationships was reached between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sundays.

I had a tough and lonely walk for some years. But years down the road, the Lord placed some godly men in my life willing to teach me how to be a godly man.  And it was from that experience that I learned what true discipleship is.

It’s imperative that members do their part by intentionally seeking out others known for their wisdom and maturity, asking him or her to spend some time discipling them. Or seek out a younger, less mature Christian, maybe someone on the fence about membership, and similarly engage them.

Studying the Bible together is a great starting point, but as the relationship builds, begin to step it up a notch and ask tough questions regarding personal holiness, practice confession and repentance, and pray for each other.  These practices will eventually lead to mutual Christian accountability (Proverbs 27:17) and a stronger walk with the Lord.  As each Christian is built up, so is their church.

3. PRACTICE EVANGELISM

In many churches, stagnant growth is often a mystery or a blemish. Despite faithful preaching of the Word and a pastor living above reproach, some churches remain stuck or are on the decline. The causes can’t always be determined, but one diagnosis often is lack of evangelism by members. The sermon is not, and should not be, the only means of evangelism going on.  Every member should be involved in personal evangelism. Scripture mandates that every Christian be equipped for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are responsible to equip the saints. If they do the training, members are responsible for receiving that training and putting it into practice.

4. CELEBRATE EACH OTHER

Individually and collectively, public adoration for the faithful living and gospel witness of members should regularly happen. Our churches should thank God for members showing hospitality in their homes, doing mission work, sharing the gospel at their jobs or with their neighbors, serving in children's ministry, and starting ministries or small groups.

Don't be afraid to publicly affirm, with wisdom, the Christian maturity that particular members are displaying, for the blessing they have been to the body.  2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 says, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

Cultivating the practice of celebrating the work of God in the lives of members will help us think more of others than ourselves and give glory to God.

PLAY YOUR ROLE

Church members who pray, disciple, evangelize and celebrate are blessings to their bodies and pastors. There are other ways to faithfully serve your local church, but for those unsure where to begin, let these four areas be your starting blocks to becoming an excellent role player.  This will help strengthen your church and make for a great team win for the Kingdom of God.

No matter what your role is, if you play it well, you will help build up your church until it reaches its full potential.


Joseph Dicks was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, and is a master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an assistant campus missionary with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He is married to Melanie, and is a member of Mosaic Church Lexington. Follow Joseph on Twitter.