Thrive Pt. 8
Be Spiritually Disciplined
This is the last week in our Thrive series, and so far, we have covered a lot of ground.
Oswald Sanders, a great Christian writer and teacher once wrote,
“It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”
This week begins the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. In evangelical circles, my past self also included, Lent as a religious practice gets a bad rap. Usually because of the way we perceive the Roman Catholic Church observes Lent starting with an ashen cross on the forehead and six weeks of Friday fish fry and a return of resolutions to give up this or do more of that, that usually last less time than a New Year’s resolution. After growing up in the Catholic church and my long journey back to faith, although my wife would typically celebrate Lent and ask us to observe some of the tradition as well; I typically bemoaned the time. It is in more recent years that I have begun to see the benefit in celebrating the season in a constructive way according to its purpose, and it was most profoundly demonstrated to me last year by the massive amount of spiritual growth I saw in my wife as she spent 40 days in prayer, devotions, and fasting. And those changes have carried through from last year to today.
Lent is meant to be a time of repentance. These 40 days are set aside to praise and worship the Lord; to read the Bible more, and to pray more often. Christians who observe Lent correctly anticipate deeper intimacy with the Lord. It is a time of prayer, fasting, self-sacrifice, and rededication to the Lord. The time of repentance associated with Lent is not a feeling of shame, guilt, or condemnation, but an awareness that sin separates us from God and of what it cost Him to be reunited with us.
The history of Lent is connected with the 40-day fast that Jesus undergoes (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13). Mark tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan, but it is in Matthew and Luke that the details of the temptation are fleshed out. All three accounts say that Jesus went without food for the 40 days. One of the spiritual disciplines closely connected with the observance of Lent is fasting. We are not talking about medical fasting, or fasting for weight loss; nor are we talking about screen fasts, etc…
Fasting – not eating (and sometimes drinking too) for an extended period of time – is a practice that goes back long before Jesus. Ancient Jews fasted on certain days throughout the year. Mark 2:18–23 and Matthew 6:16–18, for example, both take for granted that fasting is a normal part of Jewish religious practice. Other Jewish texts from the Greco-Roman period depict fasting as an effective substitute for sacrifice. About a hundred years before Jesus, the Psalms of Solomon 3:8–9, which are a part of the collection of Hebrew literature from the Second Temple Period, describe fasting as a way to atone for sins and as a habitual practice of the righteous.
In the earliest years of Christianity, Christians seem to have observed the same fast days that Jews observed. Not eating and not drinking could be seen as a means of atonement, but it could also clear the way for an expected meeting with God. Moses, for example, fasted prior to going up the mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:28.
Jesus’s fast in the desert, then, would have been understood to prepare him to commune with God and to strengthen him against the devil’s temptations. It is little wonder, then, that later Christians began to associate fasting with being close to God.
Greater intimacy with God is the reward of sacrifice. His love and one’s salvation are not reliant on denying oneself chocolate or coffee, but idolatry stands in the way of worshiping the one true God. These 40 days are set aside to praise and worship the Lord; to be more spiritually disciplined, and to pray more often. They learn to practice various spiritual disciplines to assist them in their growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord and Savior. Those who celebrate Lent correctly gain deeper intimacy with the Lord, which is the blessing; they do not expect rewards such as more favorable answers to prayer or the resolution of health concerns, although many Christians have reported that, following Lent, they experience freedom from long-standing issues.
This morning, in preparation for the Lenten season about to start, we are going to spend some time looking at various spiritual disciplines and practices. Not every one of these suits every individual; for instance, I could never get into journaling. However, journaling has become a foundational part of my wife’s spiritual growth. Other things, like prayer, worship, confession, repentance, practicing good stewardship, regular, personal Bible study; those are universal to all believers and Lent is a great time to rededicate ourselves to diligence in those things.
Spending regular time in God’s Word is one of the most important spiritual disciplines the is. If we do not know God’s written revelation of himself to man; we really do not know God himself. Regular Bible study and hearing the Word of God taught in church are important but having a daily devotional time to spend with God’s Word in prayer and reflection is extremely important as well.
Here are five steps to devotional reading:
1. Pray—pray and release the chaos and noise occurring around you. Invite the Spirit to join you as you engage with God’s Word.
2. Read—Lectio means “listen.” Slowly read the passage out loud and listen to the text. When a word or phrase stands out to you, linger over it. Don’t overanalyze or justify it. Just listen and consider what the Lord may be saying to you in that moment.
3. Meditate—read the passage out loud again. Meditate on the words that stand out to you and reflect on their significance.
4. Respond—read the passage again prayerfully. As you talk with God about the passage, tell Him how your spirit is resonating with the passage and how this passage is stirring in you. Not every passage of scripture, particularly historical accounts and promises made directly to certain individuals or the descendants of Israel apply directly to us today, but we may consider replacing the pronouns in the passage with our name, or using the passage as a template for a personal prayer to God, particularly in the Psalms.
5. Contemplate—take some time to let the passage sink in. Jot down what stood out to you from your devotional that you want to be reminded of later. Throughout the day return to the passage and mull over what the Lord said to you.
Other people will ascribe to the SOAP method of Bible study and reading.
Scripture – What does it say? If it seems unclear or confusing, read several different translations. I prefer the NET for daily reading, but I will frequently compare it to the New Living Translation, the NIV, the NASB, and even the King James and the Greek New Testament (although I have gotten a little rusty). No, I haven’t learned to read Hebrew.
Observation – What did it mean to the audience to whom it was originally written within their historical and spiritual context?
Application – Primary. How did those people apply the lesson or instruction in their lives?
Secondary. Does this also apply to us today, and if so, how do we implement that in our lives?
Prayer – Holy Spirit wrote these words, ask Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and direct us into a better relationship with our Father through what we are reading and studying.
Memorizing Scripture is a great way for some people to tie the practice of Bible study and devotions into their daily lives. It is also our defense against the schemes of the Devil trying to sow lies into our lives. From the beginning when Eve was deceived, the serpent said, “Did God really say…” The Devil knows the Word of God and how to pervert it to lead us astray. If we don’t know the scriptures ourselves, it is easy to get sidetracked or dive head first into the rabbit hole leading to sin and disobedience in our lives. I admit, I also am not the best at quoting verbatim or remembering the address, the reference, chapter and verse; that is why technology like smartphones and the YouVersion Bible app are so great.
This week, I am making a printed Lenten devotional reading plan available on the welcome desk. I will also be posting a link on our Facebook page to a YouVersion Bible reading plan that can be accessed through bible.com or the Bible app on a smartphone or tablet. Feel free to participate with me through either or both of these reading plans. I will also be making a special printed reading plan available on Palm Sunday for Holy Week.
However, coming to church or reading God’s Word and not allowing Holy Spirit to direct you into correctly applying it to your life is like filling your refrigerator with expensive, healthy foods and allowing them to mold and rot; then eating them gets you sick or leads to death. But eating that same food fresh and prepared properly in correct proportion leads to a healthier body that will flourish and thrive.
Closely tied to Bible study and devotional reading would be journaling. Journaling is one of the spiritual disciplines that many people find deeply fulfilling. It is the discipline of reflection, a tool for slowing down and reflecting on how you see God showing up in the ordinary moments of your everyday life. It can also provide a way of processing your hopes, fears, dreams and emotions, especially in uncertain times. Providing a space where you can get real with God, journaling allows you to address what is going on at a heart level to see where you need Him the most, and the areas in which you have growth opportunities in your faith. Even a prayer journal, writing down your prayer requests and then going back over them later and recounting how God may have acted in those situations is a great bolster to our faith.
Over the last few weeks, we have spent a lot of time discussing prayer. Scripture says in Luke 6:12,
Now it was during this time that Jesus went to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God.
We frequently find times in the Gospels when Jesus separates himself out from the crowds and even his own disciples early in the morning or late at night to pray. Even the night he was betrayed, he set himself away from everyone, taking Peter, James, and John with him; then leaving them to keep watch went by himself to pray. We have also talked about the roadblocks and obstacles that can hinder our prayers before God. Oswald Sanders also wrote,
“The Bible is very clear on the reasons why prayers go unanswered, and every reason centers on the believer’s relationship with God. God will not cooperate with prayers of mere self-interest, or prayers that come from impure motives. The Christian who clings to sin closes the ear of God. Least of all will God tolerate unbelief, the chief of sins.”
Many may not think of good stewardship as a spiritual discipline, but obedience in our tithes, offerings, and management of our resources God’s way is very much a spiritual discipline. Good stewardship includes obedience to the tithe (Deut. 14; Lev. 27; Neh. 13; Heb. 7), the giving of the first ten percent of fruit of our labor, in our modern equivalent, our paychecks and earnings, back to the Lord. In 2022, only about 25% of a normal congregation give a biblical tithe. But of those that do, 77% give an additional offering of 1-10%. Historically, the tithe is not divided up among all those organizations and ministries you would like to support with “YOUR” money. The tithe is entrusted the administration of the local church (Mal. 3:10) and the leaders whom God holds accountable for the care of your soul. Good stewardship also includes sacrificial, generous giving (Luke 21; Deut. 15; Prov. 22) of our time, talents, and treasures in the form of our offerings to God in worship and service; our generosity in our offerings above and beyond the tithe to the local Body is where we support other “good” causes, or other ministries within our local Body as the Spirit leads. Good stewardship also includes handling our finances and resources in a God-honoring way as prescribed by scripture; avoiding debts, providing for our families, investing wisely to support generous giving, scripture even teaches such countercultural concepts as when you lend generously (Deut. 15:8) not to charge interest (Exodus 22:25, Lev. 25:37) and not to expect repayment (Luke 6:34), and not to store up treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (Matt. 6:19)… Some great resources for guidance in managing finances would be Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace curriculum and Larry Burkett’s Crown Financial ministries.
Other forms of spiritual discipline to focus on during Lent may be a concerted effort to further personal evangelism. To spend time in prayerful contemplation and self-examination where we can focus on areas of strength in obedience or weakness in sin and turning those over to the care and control of our Creator. We can focus on gratitude and thanksgiving as we talked about during the month of November, cultivating a heart that recognizes all the blessings God has for us.
When comes to any of these and other spiritual disciplines, while Lent is a great time to rededicate ourselves to a new practice or something we may have strayed away from; building the habit is meant to be carried through our daily lives in the form of transformation beyond just these 40 days. It is also interesting, Oswald Sanders also wrote,
“Most Bible characters met with failure and survived. Even when the failure was immense, those who [rebounded] refused to lie in the dust and bemoan their tragedy. In fact, their failure and repentance led to a greater conception of God’s grace. They came to know the God of the second, chance, and sometimes the third and fourth.”
When we meet with failure in our lives, we lean on the mercy and grace of our loving Father through the gift of his Son’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf to bring us into closest fellowship with him. We confess our weakness and shortcomings and we lean on the promise of 1 John 1:9, that he is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness, restoring us back into that most intimate of relationships with our Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must remember, God is far more interested in our character than he is our comfort.
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