If I needed to lose weight, without buying what you’re selling, what two things would I need to do? In almost every instance, you would tell me to eat right and to exercise. If I would do that, I would lose weight, but the benefits don’t stop there. Doing those two things would change so much more. I would begin to have more energy, feel better, have lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol and so many more things. By doing two simple things, I can affect many areas of my life. The problem is that there are so many options out there that I and so many others choose daily not to do those two things. Then we wonder why we have all these other problems.
In our spiritual life, we have the same choices that we have to make daily. Many of us struggle with poor discipline that results in the inability to hear God’s voice, no resistance to temptation, low faith, poor prayer life and many other things. We wonder why some people make living the Christian life look easy while we struggle. A lot of it boils down to choices we make daily where we choose other things over the spiritual disciplines God has called us to. The New Testament has many of these disciplines that we must follow. Dif you try to employ all of them at once, you can easily get overwhelmed. So start with a couple and add more as you grow.
Three disciplines that you can choose daily are found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. It says, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT). Choose joy every day. It’s not based on your circumstances. It is rooted in trusting God, and it’s the source of your strength. Being in a continual mindset of prayer will keep you connected to God throughout your day. It will increase your faith and increase your ability to hear His voice. Being thankful in all circumstances will create an attitude of gratitude. It will help you to see God’s hand in whatever you go through, helping you to trust that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Doing these three things daily will have a major impact on your life, your attitude and your relationship with God. Start choosing to do them today.
I take a spiritual growth assessment a couple of times a year to get a snapshot of where I am. It helps me to visualize the different aspects of my disciplines, see where I’m gaining ground and where I’m losing ground. I’ve noticed when certain disciplines, like listening in my prayer time, are low, there are fewer experiences with God. There’s a direct correlation between my listening to His voice and experiencing His power and presence in my life. If I want more of it, I have to make time to listen instead of just talking through that time to Him about my needs. Listening is a great way to honor God’s presence.
In 1 Samuel 3, Eli was the High Priest of Israel. He was their spiritual leader, but the first verse says, “Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon” (NLT). The reason why the messages and visions were rare is because Eli had quit honoring God’s presence. He no longer slept in the tabernacle tending to the candlestick, he allowed his sons to steal God’s offerings and turned a blind eye to their promiscuity. God had enough of it and spoke to Samuel a prophetic message of how He was going to remove Eli and his sons from their positions.
In Matthew 13:57-58 it says, “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.’ And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.” Our belief and honor have a lot to do with how much we experience the power of God in our life. If it’s been a while since you’ve heard God’s voice or experienced Him in a real way, take a close examination of your life. Are you honoring Him in all aspects of your life? Have you been relaxed on your spiritual disciplines? When we honor God, He shows up in our life in real ways.
In his book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, John Maxwell starts with the Law of the Lid. It basically states that your leadership ability determines your leadership effectiveness. There’s a lid on your ability to be an effective leader. The good news is that it’s based on your abilities. Every one of us have unique abilities, and we are able to increase our abilities thereby increasing our effectiveness. The problem most people face is that we get stuck in our ways and become complacent with our level of effectiveness. The choice is up to us to do the work, enroll in classes, read and spend the time and effort it takes to raise our lid. When we do, it exponentially increases our effectiveness.
There’s a spiritual law that works the same way. Our spiritual disciplines determine our spiritual effectiveness. There’s a lid on our ability to be effective Christians. Just like the other lid, it can be raised but it takes efforts on our part. In both of his books to Timothy, Paul was writing to him to help him increase his level of effectiveness. We know 1 Timothy 4:12 where Paul tells him not to let anyone despise his youth, but to instead be an example to all. He was reminding him that age has nothing to do with his ability to be effective. It had everything to do with how we utilized his spiritual gifts and attended to his spiritual disciplines.
2 Timothy 1:6 says, “I’m writing to encourage you to fan into a flame and rekindle the fire of the spiritual gift God imparted to you when I laid my hands upon you” (TPT). There are things we must do to keep the spiritual gifts we’ve been given active and effective. We must fan them, add fuel to them and rekindle them. Our daily spiritual disciplines will do that. When we add fuel to our fire by increasing our knowledge and understanding of Scripture we increase our effectiveness. When we increase our time in prayer, we increase our ability to hear God. When we increase our study and meditation of God’s Word, our lives increase exponentially. If we want to be more effective as believers, we must raise our lid through spiritual disciplines.
One of the things that writing every day has done for me is that it has improved my relationship with Christ. In the early days of writing, I would keep a list of topics in my phone that I could write on at a moment’s notice. Some days I would get up, look at that list and draw a blank. Panic would ensue. I began losing sleep because I was always trying to think of what to write about. I shared that with William Paul Young who encouraged me to go to God every day with an empty bucket asking Him to fill it. I learned to seek God in the process, to hear His voice, to study the Bible better and to find daily bread. It became less about what I could write about and more of what God could show me. I haven’t visited that topic list since.
After Jesus fed the 5,000+, He walked on the water to the disciples. The next day, the people He fed searched for Him and found Him. He told them that they on,y sought Him out because they were searching for another miracle, but He wasn’t happy with that. They then referred to Moses who gave the people manna in the desert, and asked Jesus for another miracle. He reminded them that the manna was from God and not Moses. They then asked Him for Heavenly bread to which He replied, “I am the Bread of Life. Come every day to me and you will never be hungry. Believe in me and you will never be thirsty” (TPT John 6:35). Just like the Israelites had to get fresh manna daily, Jesus was requiring us to get a fresh word from Him daily.
I grew up living Sunday to Sunday, sermon to sermon as my spiritual bread. It was good, but I wasn’t satisfied because we aren’t meant to only eat manna once a week. Jesus bids us to come to Him daily, to sit at His feet, to be still and to listen. We need to come with an empty plate, not seeking the spectacular, but the daily bread He offers. It’s difficult at times because of schedules and distractions, but I’ve learned to approach Jesus with the attitude that I’m not going to get up from the table until He’s given me fresh bread. Some days it comes right out of the oven hot and fresh. Other days I have to wait for hours. Christianity was not meant to be lived week to week. It’s a daily walk with God that you and I must be disciplined to do. I can promise you that if you will open His Word each and every day, asking Him to give you daily bread, He will do it.
There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness. One can lead to depression and the other to self awareness or spiritual awakening. One of the shows I watched on Hulu this year was “Alone”. They take several people into some of the coldest and remote parts of the world and drop them off miles apart to survive. They are completely alone in the wilderness and the last person standing wins. Many face loneliness pretty quickly and tap out. Others it hits after several weeks. However, there are some who learn to use the solitude as a means of self discovery and start to have epiphanies. It’s incredible to me to watch these things happen as they start to describe their realizations.
I believe solitude is a lost spiritual discipline. In today’s world we are always connected and available to be reached by someone. Our brains have created the fear of missing out (fomo) and have tethered us to constant information sources. If we’re constantly connected to the things of this world, it’s hard to hear the voice of God. Our fear of missing out has been misplaced. We are missing the voice of God and looking to other voices to replace it. We are constantly connected, yet still feel alone. God is calling us to have regular times of solitude in His presence, but we rarely, if ever do it.
We know Psalm 46:10 by heart and can recite, “Be still and know that I am God,” but when are we ever still? Mark 1:35 says, “The next morning, Jesus got up long before daylight, left the house while it was dark, and made his way to a secluded place to give himself to prayer” (TPT). Jesus made it a regular habit to daily find seclusion and solitude to hear the voice of God. He is our example of this discipline that we should follow. I admit, it’s not easy to sit in silence at first. Try doing it for 10 minutes and wait on God. Leave your phone, your smart watch and all other distractions in another room. Practice being still and waiting on God, and you will find that you will know Him more and develop a deeper relationship with Him.
If you ever see my son, most of the time it feels like he’s wearing high water pants. No matter what we do, we just can’t seem to keep pants that fit him. He’s constantly growing and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We always joke with him about it asking him if he can stop it or grow younger instead. Even as a child he knows that you can’t stop growth and that it happens naturally. It’s the same thing in the animal kingdom, with plants and most living things. They naturally grow and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. God designed physical growth to be natural, but he made other types of growth to require effort in order to create it. If you want to grow your knowledge, you need to apply effort in education. If you want to grow your muscles, you need to apply effort in working out. There are many things like this in life including your spiritual growth.
One of the main concerns of the writers of the New Testament was our spiritual growth. It’s not the type of growth that occurs naturally like physical growth. It’s like the others where it requires effort and discipline on our part. They wanted us to know that there’s more to Christianity than just accepting Jesus as our savior. That’s the beginning of a lifetime of growth. Sadly, for many Christians, the stop there or just past that point in their growth. They fail to adopt spiritual disciplines that will help them grow closer to Christ and to become more like Him in their life. The writer of Hebrews, Peter and Paul all addressed Christians to encourage them to move from milk to meat and to go from infants to mature believers (Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Peter 2:2, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Peter addresses is again in 2 Peter 3:18. He wrote, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growing into mature believers is our goal, but it requires that we do more than go to church once a week. It requires reading the Bible, doing Bible studies, spending time in prayer, reflecting on Scripture, sharing our faith and applying what we’ve learned. If we do these things, we will grow in God’s grace and in our intimacy with Him. The point of sending His Son to save us was the restore the relationship between us. Growth in relationships don’t occur naturally. It requires that we spend time getting to know the other person. The more our relationship grows with someone, the more we adopt parts of their personality into our life. The same is true when we grow our relationship with God. We become more like Him and that’s His desire for each of us.
I’ve watched the movie “Greater” a couple of times this year. It’s the faith based story of Brandon Burlsworth who is considered the greatest walk-on in college football history. He had everything working against him, but he persisted. One coach told him since he didn’t have talent, he was going to have to work harder than anyone else. He was first to show up and last to leave. At one point, he got a new coach and the coach found him practicing his footwork when the practice field was closed. The coach asked him if his previous coaches let him do that. Brandon replied that they never knew he did it. The coach said, “Well, they say character is what you do when no one’s looking.” Brandon quickly replied, “Someone’s always looking.”
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he was reminding them that they were going to go through hard times. In chapter 6, let them know that how they respond matters. Verse 4 says, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly… in hard times, tough times, bad times” (MSG). That phrase, “gets validated – or not – in the details” jumped off the page at me. In hard times, it’s more important than ever to focus on the details of our spiritual growth. We must continue to read and study God’s Word, spend time in prayer and fasting, share our faith and put into practice what we know. It’s those daily disciplines that help us to stay our post when times get tough.
Brandon Burlsworth was only able to achieve what he did because he continued with his daily disciplines no matter what. It’s easy to make excuses right now and to slack off on our relationship with Christ, but now is the time we need to go deeper in that relationship. People are watching how you and I respond to the crisis the world is in. Are we rising to the challenge or are we succumbing to “the new normal”? We must stay at our post, stronger than ever, giving people hope and pointing them to the One who gives peace in troubled times. Our work – our faith – gets validated in the daily details and exposed under pressure. Today’s climate is the time for us to step up, not back, and to stand firm in the power of His might. I believe God is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him than ever before. The way to that relationship and spiritual maturity is in the details of your daily spiritual disciplines.
A phrase that stands out to me, when reading about great men of faith in the Bible, is they “walked in habitual fellowship with God.” Each time I read that phrase, it calls out to me and dares me to do the same. To walk in habitual fellowship with God is to be in constant communication with Him and to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him. The men in the Bible who did this, found great favor with God.
Noah was one such man. The time period he lived in was like no other. There was no one else on earth who feared God or lived righteously. He had no church to find shelter in. He had no Christian friends who could encourage him and pray for him. He was the lone believer in a sinful world. Imagine your life without the help from your church or Christian friends. Imagine having no one you could go to for prayer when you needed it. How long would you last?
This was Noah’s situation and instead of throwing in the towel, he doubled down on his relationship with God. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man [one who was just and had right standing with God], blameless in his [evil] generation; Noah walked (lived) [in habitual fellowship] with God” (AMP). If he was the only blameless person and he could walk in habitual fellowship with God, then you and I can too. We can find the strength within ourselves to be in constant communion with God. We can find time to pray and read His Word each day.
Merriam Webster defines “habitual” as, “Doing something regularly or repeatedly.” These men of faith regularly and repeatedly met with God and He rewarded them with favor and by making covenants with them. The God who made covenants with them still wants to make covenants with us. He’s simply waiting for those of us who will dare to enter into a habitual fellowship with Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (NLT). If you will fully commit to Him in habitual fellowship, He will give you the strength you need to live for Him every day.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
Each year, I take one week off from writing to help me refresh and reset. This is that week. To help you stay faithful to your daily devotional time, I’m bringing back a series I wrote a few years ago on disciplines we as Christians need to have. Enjoy and I’ll be back next week with all new devotions.
The next important step in spiritual discipline is setting goals. Each of us set goals in our daily lives whether it’s for work, retirement, our family or leisure. Why don’t we set spiritual goals? Proverbs 21:5 says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity.” (NLT) We need to plan out our spiritual growth. Where do you want to be in your walk with God one year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? What would that look like?
It’s going to take hard work to achieve those goals. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen over night. It takes time, planning, dedication and hard work. I also encourage you to write out your goals. Read them out loud every day. Tell yourself where you’re going and keep your eye on the prize. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” (NKJV) You are not running a sprint race. You’re running a marathon. If you’re going to run, you need to write it down and read it so you can continue to run in the hard times! Having the right goals for the right reasons will help you to be successful. A few months ago I wrote an entire post on setting spiritual goals. You can read it here.
Wearing The Right Gear
In physical training and exercise, the right gear is of utmost importance. Your gear can help you or hinder you. In I Samuel 17:38 – 40 we read where David was about to go out to fight Goliath. Saul wanted David to be dressed for battle so he put his own armor on him. The Message says that “David tried to walk around but he could hardly budge… Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five stones from the brook, and he put them in his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.”
Knowing what gear you need to be spiritually disciplined is key. While Saul’s armor was too big, God’s armor is just right. It was tailor made for you! Ephesians 6 tells us that we are not fighting against flesh and blood so physical armor won’t do any good. We need spiritual armor. It also tells us that we should put on God’s complete armor. Half way dressed for this won’t cut it. You will be in trouble quickly unless you fully suit up.
In a marathon, your shoes are one of your most important pieces. It’s the same in our spiritual race too. Ephesians 6:15 says, “And having shod your feet in preparation to face the enemy with firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness produced by the good news of the Gospel of peace.” (AMP) If you’re going to resolve to be spiritually fit and to grow spiritually, you need to be prepared to face some opposition from the enemy. You need the Word of God to help you keep your footing while you are fighting. Jesus used the Word of God to keep His footing while being tempted and you should too.
Tomorrow, we will look at having the proper nutrition and staying hydrated.