Open Thought: What does it mean to be a mature Christian? What are you willing to do about it?
2 Peter 1:5-7
A disciple is willing to grow in Christ!
John Bunyan said: “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”
Being a disciple encompasses more than just asking Christ in our life and heart, and goes far beyond baptism or our church membership. Being a disciple goes further than our conversion, our acceptance of Christ as Savior, our election, or any initiation we could conceive of into the Christian life. Our initiation is by what Christ gave us and is only the beginning. The first step we take, that we receive by faith through His grace, is the entrance into the faith and Christian life. Accepting our election in Christ is not the only act of being a Christian! Yet, so many live their lives as if this were so! It would be like joining a ritzy and fancy full service club, but never venturing into that club. Therefore, we would miss all the exercise equipment, fellowship, and fun. We would never go to the parties, the dinning, and would miss the connections because we never attended. Thus, we would get virtually nothing out of it, except the satisfaction that we had joined. It is the same with becoming a Christian. We join the ultimate “club,” but never use it or let it help develop our connections and depth with God and others.
Yes, you may be saved, but if all the opportunities have been set aside, forgotten, and missed, oh, how sad that would be! Perhaps you may think all you have to do is be baptized as public initiation or dedication, and then sit yourself in a pew of compliancy and comfort, thinking, “I did my part, the rest is up to others.” Acceptance of what Christ has done is to be the door through which we walk in faith, as is our public profession or testimony of our faith. It does not stop there! It starts there!
I have been on staff at many churches where the members and leadership felt their profession of faith or church membership was all they needed to get by in their Christian life and their leadership in the church. Yet, these people were shallow and did not understand the richness and depth of the faith. They did not even know how to run a church, because they did not know, because they did not learn, and because they did not grow in Him! Fortunately, I am a part of a church now that is concerned with discipleship and missions. However, have you wondered what the average church or Christian does about discipleship and encouraging people to draw nearer to the heart of God?
In most churches, people are encouraged to accept Christ, make a profession of faith, or be baptized. Then, they are congratulated, put on the membership role, and then quickly forgotten. Sadly, the Church has become a warehouse, holding Christians to numbers as a testimony and perceived success, and, as a whole, forsaken discipleship for cheap, contemptible programs with no teaching or meaning. These programs may seem great on the surface because they attract people, but they do not keep them. In doing shallow programming with little teaching or discipleship has left its members to figure out these spiritual growth things on their own. Therefore, the back door of the church is as big as the front door!
Perhaps this was not an act that was conceived in a smoke filled room by a counsel of demons, but it might as well have been so. Maybe the church has gotten lazy and has placated to the busyness of the culture. Whatever the reasons, the lack of discipleship builds a barrier to growth in Christ and exercising the best for His glory. It then corrupts our attitude, allowing us to forsake the time and effort needed to work on our relationship with Christ. When a church forsakes discipleship, many will give up on Christianity, while others become confused, calloused, or complacent. Alternatively, they are swept away by false doctrines and cults because they do not know the difference.
Four points to consider and ask of yourself, “Where am I?” in these thoughts:
1. When we forsake discipleship, we will end up just living for and to ourselves. We will miss opportunities, learning experiences, growth, and will exchange an eternity of rewards for a limited time of fun. This will turn into anger and bitterness later on in life!
Q: How have you seen this in your life?
2. We need to consider this extremely important point: Jesus lived and died on our behalf, for He willingly gave up His life by paying the penalty for our sins. He allows us not only to escape the fires of hell, but also gives us eternal life.
Q: What has been your response to who Christ is and what He did for you?
3. Being a true disciple means having a willingness to trust Him completely in all aspects of life, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. It means we are not only willing to trust Him to provide for our salvation, but we trust Him for the future. We are to trust Him even when we do not know, like, or understand when, or where He is leading, or even if it is unpopular!
Q: What is in the way from this happening fully in your life?
4. Being a true disciple allows us to put our hand to the plow and not look back. When you plow a field, you have to keep your eyes ahead. If you keep looking back, you will create zigzags so the water cannot flow and the cultivators and harvesters cannot function. Then the crops will not grow or ever be used. As we grow in Christ, we too have to keep our eyes on Him. In doing so, we will be of better use to Him, and become increasingly unsatisfied with anything less than His call and character.
Q: Has this become a reality in your walk with Christ?
God does not ask us to seek converts, He simply asks us to disciple. Discipleship is modeling and teaching Christians the precepts of the Bible, mainly prayer, doctrine, and Christian living. All will lead to the main thing--the reason for our being, the meaning of life--worship. It is not the services on Sunday; it is having an attitude and heart that worships Christ! Yes, we are still to evangelize, but that is not our main mission and call! When we evangelize, we must realize that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to bring people into an intimate relationship with God. This is an act of divine intervention and grace. He uses us as the tools, but He is the means! We are to care, and share with others His love and character. We are to obey and reach out, but we cannot lead people anywhere. He is the One who leads! Our goal is to worship and model to others our worship. Not just the service in the church, but the lifestyle of a heart surrendered and poured out to His (Gal. 2:20-21; Phil. 3:10).
Out of a worship-centered heart will come a church that is also poured out in the community, a lighthouse of God’s love and care to the world. We are to model to the community a Christ-like character, encouraging others to surrender themselves to Jesus Christ. However, this is only the beginning!
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Surrender is the process in which we grow toward Him and His will, and away from our will. Surrender is making Christ the Lord of all of our life so the worship can happen, so that the discipleship and growth can happen. For this to truly happen, we must rid ourselves of false presumptions, perceptions, reckless ideas, faulty thinking, and other such things that are barriers to our growth, so we can make room for Him.
Jesus authors our faith, and teaches us how to run the race according to God’s will, His glory, His worship, and His purpose. Thus, we gain a deeper intimacy with our Lord as our Commander and Friend, as our God and our King and the provider of Grace, as our Love, and our reason for being. In His purposes, we find real contentment, joy, and fulfillment.
So how can I do this? My proposal is basic on how to grow closer to Christ and deeper in our walk with Him, and in drawing near to the heart of God! This is for a new Christian, with no idea of what to do, to the experienced pastor who has walked with God intimately for decades. It is for me, and it is for you, regardless of personal experience, spiritual growth experience, developmental level, disabilities, or age.
How to have a Devotional Time
GETTING STARTED: How to draw closer to the heart of God by building a deeper relationship with God!
First Peter talks about humbleness, which is characterized by the willingness to grow in Christ, receive learning, and experience growth. Two of the best ways to do this is personal devotion time and being a part of a small group Bible study. Peter tells us we ought to be humble toward one other so that we can know the grace of God, and not be in opposition to God. Then secondly, he says, we had better be humble, not only toward one another, but toward God. This is so straightforward. This is so essential--to be a blessed Christian and church, to be a growing Christian and church, not in numbers, but in what is most important--discipleship, which is leaning, learning, and growing in Christ, leading to a lifestyle of worship!
How can I develop quality time with our Lord so I can become a deeper and more mature Christian?
Here are nine thoughts to get you pointed in the right direction:
A. GOAL: See where you are Spiritually (Acts 22:8-10; Phil. 2:13) and determine where you need to go. Then, make a goal, and understand your GOAL. Your goal is to become complete, that is, fullness in Christ, (Col. 1: 28), or to say it another way, to become a mature Christian, a person whose attitudes and actions are like Christ's (Eph. 4: 13). Where are you spiritually and where do you need to go? Not only where do you want to go, but also where is God calling you to go?
B. PROCESS: Understand there is a PROCESS (Psalm 16:11; 73:28; Prov. 16:9; Heb. 11:1-6) at work. It does not happen overnight, and you cannot get it in a bottle, off a shelf, or by sitting in a pew. The process is one of the main growth builders. It is about the journey as well as the destination. It is an essential step toward reaching your goal to spend personal, daily time with God. Thus, the journey is as important, if not more, than the destination, because in our walk we are learning and growing! If we just arrived at the goal without the struggles of getting there, we would not have built any depth, strength, or maturity! Make sure your goals are a match to God’s! We must never allow our presumptions and pride to cloud His way!
C. PLAN: Plan ahead (Is. 26:3; Mark 1:35). This does not automatically happen. You need to plan out your devotions to make them more effective. You can get many prepared devotional schedules at a Christian bookstore or sit down on Sunday and decide exactly what paragraphs or chapters you will be studying during each of the next seven days. Doing this will eliminate the problem of spending half of your devotion time trying to decide what you will study that day. You can use a Bible reading chart, quality devotional books, or a pre-written guide, but try not to just dive in. You will get much more out of your experience by having a plan.
D. CONTENT: Put into your devotional time variety and consistency (Psalm 16:8-11) in what you study. One month, you might study an Epistle. Then, you might spend a month or two in a narrative passage such as 1 Samuel. Then, you might go back to the N.T. to study a doctrinal passage such as Romans. Then, switch again to a minor prophet such as Joel. Try to go through the entire Bible in your devotional study within a year, or two at most. Do not stay in just one section, such as the Epistles, and do not skip the O.T., as you cannot understand the N.T. without the O.T.! Do not use the same plan year after year. Break it up, and try new ones. Do the same with your devotional books. Mix them up. If you have a good one such as My Utmost for His Highest, stick with it for the entire year, go to another one, and then go back to Chambers in the following year. When we are too consistent, it may turn into rhetoric, and then you will have a habit, not time with Christ!
E. FOCUS: Set aside time each day by focusing on the purpose for your growth and maturity (Psalm 119:130; Isa. 42:16; John 4: 23-24; 15), and then make it a priority. In doing so, you will be able to “go for it” with passion and vigor. Let Christ transform you through His Word. ATTITUDE is essential. You must start with the proper attitude! You are going before a Holy GOD!!! Usually, it is good to spend most of your devotional time closely examining a few verses, not rushing through multiple passages. This will help you keep focused. Some find it best to take notes, write down questions, and ask a mentor. In addition, you can set aside one day a week to switch from taking detailed notes on a few verses, to reading a chapter or two from a different passage without taking any notes. Whatever way you choose to go, stay focused and do not bite off more than you can chew!
F. MATERIALS: Get the best stuff you can get, and buy a good Bible (Eph. 4:1-3) in an easily understood translation such as the New Living Translation. Consider using a Study Bible. I prefer The Reformation Study Bible. For serious study use the NIV or NASB or NKJV. The best devotional books are “My Utmost for His Highest” by Chambers, and “Evening by Evening” by Spurgeon. You can also get a notebook that can be used exclusively for things to do with your relationship to God and to other believers so you can
write down what you learn and any questions you may have.
G. PLACE OR LOCATION: Select a quiet place (Luke 5:16) to study where you are free from distractions. Remove all distractions. Close the drapes, shut the door, turn off the TV and radio, clear all busy work from your desk, take the phone off the hook, and lock the cat in the bathroom--whatever it takes. You will then be better able to concentrate and have better quality time with Him. Be serious about meeting God!
H. TIME: Select a quality time (Eph. 2:18). Chose a time for your devotions when you are at your best. Usually, early morning is best, because outside distractions are at a minimum during this time. If you are not a morning person, do it when you are most alert. Give God your best! Set aside "x" number of minutes to study, and "y" number of minutes to pray. Be flexible to the Spirit's leading within this framework! If you have a short attention span as I do, then break it up throughout the day. Perhaps read from the OT in the morning, a passage from the NT at lunch, then read a devotion and practice intercessory prayer before bedtime. Remember, this time is holy, which means it is to be set apart to, and for God only. If you are just being devoted to your plan and time, then there will be little room for Christ. The plan is the tool for growth, not the growth itself.
I. SHARE: What you have leaned (Psalm 55:14; Matt. 18:20; Rom. 12; 2 Cor. 12:18). We learn also by doing and sharing. What we have been given is usually not meant for us solely, it is a gift that keeps on giving as we, in turn, help others! A willing heart, a teachable spirit, the willingness and availability to share are essential for a disciple of our Lord!
From these nine precepts, we realize that from the character of Christ will come the conduct of Christ, if we choose to follow Him. Then, those values of our daily walk that drive our behaviors, will, in turn, influence others and build our character. You cannot lead where you have not been, or when you do not know the direction to go. This is why discipleship is so essential to the aspect of being a Christian. We are called, not to just visualize discipleship, but to do it, not to just talk about it, but to do it. One cannot just think about dinner and satisfy hunger. The ingredients need to be gathered, the meal has to be prepared. Then it is eaten! The Christian who wants to become deeper and more mature, and the effective church will take Scripture and the call of our Lord seriously, and then implement it into the function of applying it into their lives!
APPLICATIONS: Here are some thoughts to consider about turning and applying your devotional time into action:
A. You will never be able to fully experience the complete value of a devotional time until you discipline yourself to apply what you have learned. Study with the determination that God will give you an application. Then, be willing and able to put it into action without fear or trepidations. Allow your trust in Christ be real and exercised!
B. Make your applications measurable. Think through the who, what, where, when, how and why, such as, "I will begin showing more love to my neighbor by asking if there is anything I can pick up for them from the store next time I go shopping."
C. Sometimes you will see four or five specific ways the passage you have studied can be applied. It is better to select one you want to apply from the Word that day and do it. If you try to implement three or more ways, you will most likely get frustrated and fail. If you cannot decide, stick to the first one that pops up, or the area where you need the most help.
D. Make most of your applications short-range, such as things you will do within the next day or so, or within the week. Periodically, God will give you an application that you will need to work on for a longer time. When that happens, rejoice and praise God, for this will build you up. At the same time, continue to work on fresh, short-range applications. See them as baby steps that will eventually turn into a marathon. Let God do a new work in you each day, and be thankful He wants to work in you.
There are many ways we can do devotions and study the Bible effectively. There is no "best" way, only that we do it! Many Christians feel all they have to do for their spiritual growth is sit in a pew, turn on the television or radio, or naturally receive their knowledge for being a Christian. However, this is not the way to transform our lives. You can no better grow deeper in Christ without any effort as you can go to a grocery store and stand in the produce section and become a cucumber. To be a mature and growing Christian, we must read and get into the Word of God ourselves. We do it through prayer, hard work, discipline, concentration, application, and even more prayer!
Take this to heart: Jesus never asked anyone to do anything without enabling them with the power to do it. Let this be your encouraging motive (Matt. 28:20)!
Remember, Christ loves you, and wants the best for you. His way is the best way, and we need to have Him and the perspective of eternity in mind, not our limited feelings and desires!
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment." (1 Cor. 2:14-15)
Some passages to consider on discipleship and mentoring which are not options, but a command: Proverbs 18:24; Matthew 7:18-24; 10:1-42; 19:28-30; 28:16-20; Mark 1:1-5; 1:35 – 2:12; Luke 9:23-25; 48; Luke 14:26-27; John. 8:31; 12:20-26; John 14; 15; 1 John: 5:3; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 3:5-11; 12; Galatians 6:1-10; 2 Timothy 2:7; 1 Peter 3:15.
Please see our Website full of tools to help grow your faith with numerous articles, curriculums, study aids, and training resources. We also have Bible Reading Charts and our Devotion page to further help you! www.intothyword.org
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of ‘Into Thy Word Ministries, ’a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org