Discipleship as a Way of Life

On March 24, Scott Chafee brought a message that followed up the lesson from March 10, on Discipleship as a Lifestyle. This message looked at three biblical examples on how the rhythms of life were used to reach people trapped in doubt, darkness, and deception.

Luke 18:31-34 (Jesus predicts his death, as the Suffering Servant)
DOUBT – the disciples did not understand
The Rhythm of Story – Luke 18:31-33
The Rhythm of Listen – Luke 18:34

Luke 18:35-43 (blind Bartimaeus, receives his sight)
DARKNESS – the man could literally not see
The Rhythm of Listen – Luke 18:40-41
The Rhythm of Celebration – Luke 18:43

Luke 19:1-10 (public sinner Zaccheus is transformed)
DECEPTION – the enemy had deceived him and his behavior followed
The Rhythm of Eat – Luke 19:5-6
The Rhythm of Bless – Luke 19:8

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Transforming Prayer – Daniel Henderson

Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, by Daniel Henderson and Jim Cymbala (Please support the authors by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A “new normal” had occurred and my soul was re-calibrated to move beyond perfunctory prayer lists and to set my heart to seek His face.

One thing I know–once you have tasted this kind of prayer experience, nothing else satisfies and everything else is seen in a new light.

I say often that prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. I get that. It is very easy for me to forge ahead on Christian autopilot, relying on the reserves of previous learning and last week’s worship, and not abiding in Christ in a constant, moment-by-moment reliance.

We look around church and assume everyone else must be praying more and better than we are. With rare exception, they are not.

According to George Barna, the majority of born-again Christians admit that their bi-weekly attendance at worship services is generally the only time they worship God. Eight out of ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God or experienced a connection with Him during the worship service. Half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him in the past year.

This leads to a core inquiry. Who taught you to pray? Has anyone provided a positive and life-changing model of prayer for you? Do you feel that you even know how to pray effectively? What is the purpose behind your praying? Is it working for you? Are you sure it is a biblical approach?

Theologian D. A. Carson makes the observation: “Christians learn to pray by listening to those around them.”1 I must admit that I had to unlearn prayer.

The exhaustive requests continued until someone happened to glance at their watch and exclaim, “Oh, we’re almost out of time! We’d better pray.” Hurriedly, we would slide our folding chairs into smaller circles, yellow pads in hand, and start praying for the myriad of documented needs.

This praying minority would seldom miss a week. As much as I did not appreciate their pattern of prayer, I loved their hearts and willingness to persevere. These prayer warriors really did make prayer a priority. They saw some wonderful answers to prayer and were careful to thank the Lord for it all. It did seem, however, that they were inadvertently stuck in a long, deep prayer rut.

The rut occurs when we allow requests to serve as the foundation of our praying: focusing on our problems rather than actually engaging with God in a multifaceted biblical prayer experience.

Worship is the response of all we are to the revelation of all God is. J. Oswald Sanders describes worship as “the loving ascription of praise to God for what He is, both in Himself and in His ways. It is the bowing of the innermost spirit in deep humility and reverence before Him.”

Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God. God’s face is the essence of who He is. God’s hand is the blessing of what He does. God’s face represents His person and presence. God’s hand expresses His provision for needs in our lives. I have learned that if all we ever do is seek God’s hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.

transformation. In the discovery of these realities, a Christian is then empowered and enlightened to pray about issues and needs in a whole new way.

As a pastor, I have seen firsthand the power of worship-based prayer to bring healing and restoration to hurting congregations. I have watched it reinvent a staid, traditional church into a church-planting, mission-oriented force.

Prior to the retreat, he was asking, “What am I going to talk to God about for three days?” Afterward he noted, “I was asking the wrong question. What I should have said was, ‘What was God going to talk to me about for three days?’

Peter Lord, one of my personal mentors and a pastor for over five decades, states, “Most Christians pray out of crisis or from a grocery list–period.” His point is that God has much more for us in our walk with Him when we learn to seek His face, not just His hand.

Too many times we become preoccupied with the tools, techniques, and even the finer points of theology when it comes to prayer. All of these are helpful, but prayer is not so much an issue of fine-tuning the regimens but of enjoying the relationship. It is not so much about fixing all the peripheral issues of our lives through prayer, but allowing God to change us through prayer. When we get the man right, by His transforming grace, it is amazing how so many other things seem to line up and make sense.

What created this spiritual movement? Not a program. Not a pastor. Not some new church-growth strategy. All of these blessings came because people learned to seek the face of God in prayer.

Personal prayer lives were ignited and changed as well. Ultimately things changed because people changed.

Christ’s evaluation, both now and in eternity, is based upon the fruit evidenced in the lives of the people to whom we minister.

It means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is working in me, around me, and through me to make me holy, more like Jesus.

The early disciples, who “filled Jerusalem” with their doctrine and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 5:28; 17:6), truly mystified the religious people of the day.

The world is not transformed by relevant Christians, strategic Christians, visionary Christians, leadership-savvy Christians, wealthy Christians, attractive Christians, educated Christians, active Christians, or articulate Christians. These are all interesting qualities, and might be helpful on occasion–especially in building big religious organizations and selling books. Ultimately, the world is transformed by sanctified Christians through whom the life of Jesus becomes a mystifying manifestation.

People changed by Jesus cannot help but change the world.

But when our Savior “puts the man together” to make us right first, then in so many ways the world comes together. God is glorified. We are sanctified. The church is edified. The world is mystified. The enemy is notified.

All true prayer Exists for the glory of God And is Based in the worship of God Focused on the face of God Shaped by the Word of God Inspired by the Spirit of God Offered through the Son of God Aimed for the Will of God Experienced by true children of God – DANIEL HENDERSON

“Prayer was simply asking, pleading, seeking action from God on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of others,” Connie says. “I participated dutifully but did not recognize the hole in my heart as the lack of a truly personal, intimate relationship with God. He was there, but distant, and I did not know life could be any different. I did not know God’s purpose for prayer.”

Spiritual Warfare – Clearly, prayer is an area where believers experience spiritual warfare. Our spiritual enemy is fully aware of the power and promises available to us in prayer. He knows that every major spiritual revival began with prayer. He knows we are all called to be “praying menaces” to his cause. Therefore, he fights us from every angle to keep us from praying effectively.

Fear of Intimacy – Some falter in prayer because of a fear of intimacy. I often say that we live in a culture of spiritual AI DS (Acute Intimacy Deficiency Syndrome). Some of us still carry the baggage from parents or other authority figures in our childhood who were distant, negligent, or even abusive. These experiences can leave us with distaste for emotional vulnerability and transparency. We protect ourselves from getting too close to anyone, even God.

Misguided Focus – Many of us maintain a misguided focus in our prayers and miss the life-giving reality God intended. Instead of our first resolve, we view prayer as our last resort. We see prayer as our spiritual e-mail sent to God, with instructions as to how He should manage the affairs of our life each day. We attempt to use prayer to get our will done in heaven rather than His will done on earth.

Counterproductive Tradition – Countless believers have learned to pray, from a counterproductive tradition, forms of prayer passed down through the generations without much critical evaluation and biblical investigation. Some traditions in prayer rely mainly on “prayer lists” and others on rote expressions, rather than upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. The primary content of many prayer gatherings is juicy information about other people rather than the foundation of God’s Word. We tend more toward discussions about the problems of people than the real experiences of the presence of the Problem Solver.

David Butts, chairperson of America’s National Prayer Committee, says, “The reason most people do not attend prayer meetings at their church is that they have been to prayer meetings at their church.”

Boredom – All of these factors can fuel a deep-seated feeling of boredom. As a Christ-follower for over forty years, I am resolute to banish boredom from my prayer life. As a pastor for almost thirty years, having led multiple weekly prayer times, I have declared war on sleepy prayer meetings.

Lack of Positive – Models One colossal reason we have not experienced transforming prayer is the lack of positive models. I have learned that people do not arrive at a new, powerful, and life-changing place in their prayer life through information. It happens more by “infection.” It is not accomplished through explanation, but by experience.

D. A. Carson confirms this truth when he writes, “Many facets of Christian discipleship, not the least prayer, are more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. . . . We should choose models from whom we can learn.”

I heard a Brazilian proverb years ago: “The heart cannot taste what the eyes have not seen.” This experience of praying with a pastor, church, and congregation that authentically value the priority and power of prayer has accomplished much to help me and many other believers understand a truly biblical paradigm.

I had discovered that prayer truly has only two purposes. First, it is the means to developing a true love relationship with God by communication with Him, not to get His ‘stuff ’ but to get to know Him more deeply. Prayer is intended to develop a two-way love relationship. Second, it is to receive His assignments for me, both daily and long term–by listening to Him–then acting, not only in how I live but also in how I pray for myself and others.”

What’s in a Face? What is meant by face? It is the representation of the real essence and character of a person. It is the unique identifying characteristic of an individual. It is also the key to really getting to know someone.

An Intimate Encounter – God’s face really speaks of His intimate, manifest presence. I like to speak of the teaching about God’s presence as His general presence, His indwelling presence, and His intimate presence. Psalm 139 speaks of His general, invisible presence in this world. While unseen, He is present everywhere.

Yet God calls us to an intimate encounter as we pursue Him with all our hearts. In my understanding, to seek His face today means to set our hearts to seek Him in worship with biblical understanding, submitting completely to the control of His Spirit with a longing to know and enjoy Him more. Again, it is not about rehearsing a quick list of needs with God, but seeking Him because of who He is, with a passion for a deeper intimacy and experience of His presence.

The Old Testament followers spoke of God “hiding His face” or even setting His face against people. This reflected those times when His intimate presence and favor was hindered because of sin (Deuteronomy 32:20; Job 34:29; Psalm 13:1; 30:7; 143:7; Isaiah 54:8; Jeremiah 33:5; Ezekiel 39:23–24; Micah 3:4).

First Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Clearly we understand that intimacy with God means life and blessing. For His face to be withdrawn or set against someone (Psalm 34:16) is misery of the worst kind.

God’s Invitation – The Scriptures are clear that God desires that His people know and enjoy Him. He is ready and responsive to restore His people, if they will again seek His face. We know the familiar call of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In a similar way, God made the offer through the prophet Hosea: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hosea 5:15).

We need His face to shine upon, bless, and envelop us–because all that we are and all that we do in obedience to His commands and commission is the overflow of intimacy and the fruit of His blessing.

Here is what God wanted everyone to understand, from His heart to ours, every time His people worshiped: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. NUMBERS 6:24–26 Face time with the Almighty was the key to blessing, protection, grace, and peace. It is still true today. Let us join our voices and say, “Amen!”

With a second copy of the Decalogue (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) in hand, Moses arrived in camp–GLOWING ! God’s presence was so real that it left its mark on Moses’ face. The brightness was so overwhelming that it frightened the people. Moses had to put a veil over his face. Every time he went back to meet with God, experiencing His intimate presence and receiving His truth for the people, Moses would remove the veil in unhindered divine fellowship.

The greater the revelation, the greater the transformation. Unveiled in his worship and given incredible access to the presence of God, Moses also became a changed worshipper who glowed with the glory of God.”

Paul makes this potent declaration, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 3:17–4:1). I urge you to read that passage again, because I believe it is the core of effective, enduring Christian ministry and the source of daily transformation.

Yet at the core of Paul’s theology of life and ministry is this amazing truth that communion with Christ changes us! This is no superficial rearranging of the activities, approaches, and attitudes of life. This is inside-out change. Transformation. The English pronunciation of this Greek word is metamour-foumetha–very similar to our idea of a metamorphosis.

This all occurs by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in our lives. We are captivated by Christ, changed by Christ, and conformed to Christ.

Paul understood transforming prayer from the moment of his first encounter with Christ. He never got over it and never stopped growing in it. He saw it as the core of his credibility and the life-source of all Christian living.

In relation to prayer, we want to use all we know from the Scriptures to discover the best practices. We want to learn to understand the leading of the Spirit to experience and achieve the desired result–the glory of God (we will talk more about this “desired result” as you continue to read). This would be “best-practices praying.”

Accordingly, we need to thoroughly know and understand what it means to seek God’s face in worship-based prayer. We need the Spirit to give us holy dissatisfaction and the motivation to change. We need to know how to engage in transforming prayer.

Unfortunately, we seem to give God our spiritual leftovers in prayer.

When we engage in the great privilege and joy of prayer with a “leftovers mentality,” the likelihood of spiritual blessing is slight. The Lord says, “Love me with all of your heart,” worship me “in spirit and in truth,” present your bodies as a “living sacrifice.” He calls for our passionate best. Instead, we bring spiritual leftovers to the throne of grace.

The Lord did not require great quantities–but He did ask for their first and best as a demonstration of their gratitude to God as the source of all their blessings and an indication of their reverence for God as the One worthy of worship. Instead, they were bringing leftovers. They offered blind, lame, and sick animals at the temple.

Even today, not all sacrifices are created equal. From a New Testament standpoint, acceptable sacrifices include: • A commitment to worship in spirit and in truth ( John 4:22–24) • A genuine sacrifice of praise, giving thanks to His name (Hebrews 13:15) • The presentation of our bodies in complete surrender (Romans 12:1–2) • A life of love that produces right living (Philippians 1:9–11) • Doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” with thanksgiving (Colossians 3:17) • Service conducted in supernatural power (1 Peter 4:11) • Generosity that flows from a heart of love (Philippians 4:10–19)

Relating to prayer, God is not looking for a dutiful contribution of time or energy in the spirit of religious observance. He is looking for a hungry heart that seeks after Him in praise, gratitude, and loving surrender, with a readiness to pray, think, and live like Jesus as the expression and overflow of that intimacy.

We must continue to grow so that we understand prayer as more of a transforming experience in the Holy of Holies and less like a rushed trip to the grocery store to grab what we think we need for the day.

There was not one single prayer for revival or awakening in our church, community, or nation. Sad. As I surveyed the results of this prayer snapshot, my gut reaction is that this is typical of the average prayer list, whether compiled in a Sunday school class or a personal journal. Thank God, people are praying, yet I believe something more powerful and purposeful can be discovered about the reality of prayer. No one really wants to serve God leftovers.

Frankly, I admire those who manage long lists of needs, answers, commentary, and details. I found that I was spending more time organizing, rewriting, or trying to find my list than I was actually spending time in prayer.

Yet in group settings, the focus on lists of needs and prolonged discussions about details can distract from the purpose. Some groups spend significant time talking and taking notes about issues, people, and problems. This has two effects. First, a gathering that was announced as a prayer meeting becomes mostly a discussion session. At times, those discussions border on gossip. This is not a best practice. Second, we can tend to be operating simply in the realm of our own human thoughts, our own observations, and our own ideas about what we should pray about. We often ask the question, “What do we need to pray about?” This is followed by long discussion of detailed situations in our lives, the lives of others, the church, community, and society. Sometimes the discussion occurs as if the Lord was not even in the room, aware of the problems, or had any opinion about the subjects at hand.

Now, I do not want to offend or anger anyone by what I am about to say, but I have to put it on the table: I find little evidence in the Bible for our routine emphasis on extensive prayer lists focused almost entirely on temporal concerns.4 I do not want to be legalistic here. But I do want to jolt us out of a rut of thinking that lists are the key to effective prayers.

I am not suggesting that everyone stop using prayer lists. But we must recognize the possibility that our prayer lists are replacing the Scriptures and the Spirit as the primary content providers for our prayer times.

We spend more prayer energy trying to keep sick Christians out of heaven than trying to keep lost people out of hell. – JAMES WALKER

We often pray to escape our difficulties rather than embrace discipleship.

Like anyone, I love it when God answers my prayers in ways that make my life more pleasant or pain-free. Yet I am learning that my deepest needs are met when my heart is most closely aligned with the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God, and the purposes of God.

Yet, it is so easy to reduce our focus in prayer to the typical “organ recital” concerns about Paula’s pancreas, Larry’s liver, Sarah’s stomach, and Artie’s appendix. Our Father knows, cares, and is fully capable of taking care of all these needs according to His will and glory. Yet the privilege of prayer offers so much more.

Amid all our worries about our health, finances, family, job, education, and ministry concerns, are we seeking first His kingdom and not our own?

What might Jesus have in mind with His commands to ask, seek, and knock? A pay raise? A new car? An all-expenses-paid vacation? What are the good things He promises? In the context, Jesus spoke specifically of the basic provisions of bread and fish, with no mention of fishing boats, lake cabins, or new video games. Perhaps the answer is in the point He has already made, that the truly “good” things we seek first are the issues pertaining to the kingdom of God.

Clearly, these teachings, like other instructions about prayer, are not carte blanche encouragements to concoct a long list of anything our heart desires. Rather, it is a promise of basic provision, spiritual empowerment, and guidance for His kingdom purposes.

Comparing the Content – We know we are supposed to bring our requests to God. Yet one of the most important questions we need to ask is how the content of our prayers differ from the biblical patterns and teaching about the things we should be praying about. I would suggest that the prayer requests we find in the Bible are shorter, deeper, and fundamentally different in nature than the lists that can tend to dominate the prayer approach of modern Christians.

Praying Just Like Jesus? – Scripture records numerous examples of Jesus’ prayer life. We find six references to Jesus’ prayers that give no clear indication of the content of what He said (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 3:21; 9:18, 28; 11:1). We find He often withdrew from activity in order to enjoy private communion with the Father. While we do not know the substance of His prayers in these times, it appears they were directly related to fresh empowerment for His self-less, sacrificial service. There are also occasions where Jesus blesses people, but His exact words are not given (Mark 10:16; Luke 24:50).

Many modern-day teachers encourage us to “do” like Jesus, lead like Jesus, and speak like Jesus. Our passion must also be to embrace these truths so we can pray like Jesus.

We see the early church in prayer most often seeking the advancement of the gospel through any circumstance. They prayed daily as part of a vital regimen of spiritual growth–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 2:42). In the face of attack, they gathered to pray from the Scriptures, requesting fresh power for boldness–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 4:31). When they were persecuted, they rejoiced in God for the honor of suffering–for the sake of the gospel–rather than asking for a reprieve (Acts 5:41). When Peter was in jail, they prayed for his release–for the sake of the gospel (Act 12:5). When Paul and Silas were in jail, they rejoiced in prayer and singing, trusting God–for the sake of the gospel (Acts 16:25).

Every one of Paul’s model prayers sprang from expressions of thanksgiving, truths about God, and notes of praise. They are the fruit of his worship and intimate, experiential knowledge of the person of Christ. Paul’s requests were focused on the growing faith and love of believers with the goal of God’s glory.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer lists and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes. Worship-based prayers set the foundation for something other than “me” prayers, because they start with a “Thee” focus. This changes the nature of how we pray.

Psalm 70:4 had taught Bill that prayer is about seeking God, rejoicing in Him, and continually focusing on His glory. Yes, let God be magnified!

Suntan Lotion in a Snowstorm – Unlike Bill Sheehan, many of us fail to focus our prayers on the core motive: that God would be magnified in everything we seek or say. If we were to be honest, our prayers are often motivated by a desire for comfort and convenience. Many times our prayers are viewed as a divinely ordained way to get what we want out of life, or to avoid what we don’t want. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking prayer exists so God can be used to help us preserve our glory rather than our being used to promote His glory.

In John 14:13, Jesus gave us a standard for all of our praying, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” What motivates us to ask can often be all over the map. What motivates our Father to answer is that He would be glorified in our prayers through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Work in Us for His Glory – No one ever lived with more passion and intentionality than Jesus, our Master and model. Everything in His life was for the glory of the Father ( John 11:4; 13:31–31; 17:1, 4–5). He is our ultimate example for everything we do, including our prayers.

An Agonizing Alignment – Inspiring as these reminders are, our flesh struggles to pray in alignment with the truth of God’s glory. Our prayer lists can easily become so saturated with our desires for ease, comfort, convenience, and accomplishment, that the goal of God’s glory becomes obscured. Our human tendency to avoid pain, loss, and difficulty can dilute our passion for God’s glory. When our goals and God’s glory are in conflict, it can be hard for our hearts to choose.

Think about this exchange. Jesus describes a very undesirable death as part of Peter’s destiny as an obedient disciple. If we could rate our old age or death scenarios, what Jesus described here is “dreadful.” Yet John says it is a death that will glorify God.

As good as this process was for me, I still drew this conclusion: The hardest thing about the Christian life is that it is so DAILY

There is a sense that every day we live with one hand on the perishables of this life: family, health, job, home, hobbies, plans, etc. In the other hand, we grasp the unseen and eternal reality of thinking, feeling, speaking, acting, and praying, all for God’s glory.

Grace to “Go for the Glory” – I define grace as God doing for us, in us, and through us what only He can do through the person, power, and presence of Jesus Christ. I have learned that God has tailor-made grace for everything we face. I need the grace to long and pray for His glory.

Just as God’s Word must reform our theology, our ethics, and our practices, so also must it reform our praying. D. A . CARSON

Mark describes it as a profound, life-changing experience. The power of praying from the Scriptures in the company of other believers brought healing and hope to their hearts–as spouses and parents. Mark discovered an incredible unity with leaders from other churches in the Lord’s presence.

Prior to this weekend, Mark says his prayer life was “mostly focused on request-based praying.” His attempts to pray with others were often “dry and boring.” He notes, “I knew that praying with others was important, but it was a real chore!” This dynamic young pastor explains, “More than anything, worship-based prayer has made me a more passionate lover of Jesus. I see His Word and prayer as means, not ends. Worship-based prayer has helped me to see that the ultimate aim of my time with the Lord or with others before the Lord is worship. It is the starting point and the goal.”

Calvin Miller explains, “Too often, we go into God’s presence with a list of pleas, trying to talk God into granting our desire. But this kind of praying makes us ‘one big mouth’ and God ‘one grand ear.’ But when we pray the Scriptures, it makes God the voice and leaves us as the ear. In short, God gets His turn at getting a word in edgewise.”

One core focus of worship-based prayer is the commitment to always start our prayers from the Word of God. This is the key to abiding. Jesus emphasized, “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” ( John 15:7–8).

Abiding and Abundance – What does it mean to abide? The word means to “continue, remain, dwell, or stay.” It is the idea of a life-giving connection with Christ that produces His character and accomplishes His will in us. As Charles Spurgeon noted, abiding means “yielding ourselves up to Him to receive His life and to let that life work out its results in us. We live in Him, by Him, for Him, to Him when we abide in Him.”

Pastor John Piper gives the right perspective when he says: There are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for desires as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, recovery from sickness, etc. My point is not that those desires are wrong. My point is that they should always be subordinate to spiritual desires; kingdom desires; fruit-bearing desires; gospel-spreading, God-centered desires; Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. And when our natural desires are felt as a means to these greater desires, then they become the proper subject of prayer.

A. W. Pink described this fruit as “Christlike affections, dispositions, grace, as well as the works in which they are displayed,”5 adding that fruit is “the outflow of our union with Christ; only thus will it be traced to its true origin and source.”

George Muller, the renowned man of faith and evangelist who cared for thousands of orphans and established dozens of Christian schools in the 1800s, spoke about the vital role of Scripture in his prayer life. He noted that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. Inevitably, his mind wandered sometimes for ten, fifteen, even thirty minutes.6 Then, when he began to start each morning with the Bible to nourish his soul, he found his heart being transformed by the truth, resulting in spontaneous prayers of confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. This became his daily experience for decades, resulting in great personal growth and power for life and ministry. In his autobiography, Muller noted that this kind of prayer is . . . . . . not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. When we pray, we speak to God.Now, prayer, in order to be continued for any length of time in any other than a formal manner, requires, generally speaking, a measure of strength or godly desire, and the season, therefore, when this exercise of the soul can be most effectually performed is after the inner man has been nourished by meditation on the Word of God, where we find our Father speaking to us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to instruct us, to humble us, to reprove us.

John Piper says, “I have seen that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer.”

When we get into a routine of simply praying our own ideas and thoughts, our prayers are increasingly misguided. The longer we do this, the further we travel from God’s design for prayer.

Pastors speak with me often about the unreasonable resistance they face when trying to move people in their church from a request-based paradigm to a worship-based approach.

Who Starts the Prayer Conversation? In a sense, prayer is a continual conversation between our hearts and God’s. Nevertheless, when we stop to spend time in focused prayer, it is important to know who should start the conversation. If prayer is simply the discharge of my own will and thoughts, in the hope that I can help God run the universe, then I should start the prayer conversation. On the other hand, if prayer is about my heart becoming intimate and aligned with the heart of the Savior, then I should let Him start the conversation. This is the reality of abiding in Him and letting His words abide in us.

Our Father, with His unlimited resources, and His commitment to teach us to pray, has given us a supernatural tutor. The Holy Spirit is available to us and resides within us 24/7. Our Father longs for intimacy with us and knows that real prayer is impossible apart from the indwelling Spirit.

Worship-based prayer brings us to a greater sensitivity and surrender to the Holy Spirit. As a result, our prayers become Spirit-fueled. And we are transformed.

Worship-based prayer brings our hearts into intimate harmony with the person of the Holy Spirit and enhances our surrender to His control, wisdom, and power for our prayers. The Spirit then enables us to worship more fully. This worship, in turn, brings us into a deeper reality of the Spirit’s life, thus continuing the circle.

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan writes, “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.”2 He continues, “If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit . . . but when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”

Word is a stimulus to worship and a tool for worship.

Those who have adopted a worship-based approach of seeking God’s face first and foremost have experienced this amazing reality. God’s Spirit takes God’s Word and ignites our heart with truth, wisdom, direction, focus, and passion in our prayer experiences. Once you have tasted this kind of prayer, you never want to go back. This is why God longs for us to pray in the Spirit.

Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest noted: “Praying in the Spirit is praying in dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is prayer exercised in the sphere of the Holy Spirit, motivated and empowered by Him.”

Spirit Scriptures Eastern religions, and even some teachers of the Christian faith, propose that the best way to hear from God’s Spirit (or maybe some other spirit) is to empty your mind, accompanied by various breathing exercises. That might be a great way to get a D in Prayer. Rather, the Scriptures affirm the best way to hear from the Spirit is to fill the mind with the Word of God, accompanied by careful reading and meditation on the sacred text. That’s the best way to receive what the Spirit is speaking clearly.

Even the apostle Paul confesses that in our mere human intellect, we are not able to pray effectively. Our minds and hearts are weak. The Holy Spirit moves and prays within us, in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and the Son. The Spirit works in us to tutor us in prayer according to the will of God, as we have assurance of God’s goodness and sovereignty in the unfolding of the events of our lives (Romans 8:28).

Oswald Sanders wrote, “Prayer in the Spirit is prayer whose supreme object is the glory of God, and only in a secondary sense is it a blessing for ourselves or for others.”

Of course, the reason many of us tune out the pre-flight orientation is that we have heard it so many times before. This familiarity can lead to ignorance and perhaps tragedy. The flight attendants are there to prevent this. Prayer is a very familiar idea to many of us. We are also accustomed to the truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like the road-warrior frequent flyer, we may tune out the instructions we need because we are so familiar with the experience. However, unlike a flight, where the instructions and routines are usually predictable, there should be nothing mundane or standard about our prayer times.

Every one of us is confronted with a choice. Will we allow familiarity to breed apathy and ineffectiveness as we tune out the vital instructions? Will we be content to simply pray from our own intellectual framework of understanding, with potentially careless and endless lists of ideas that have not been surrendered to the power of the Word and the Spirit? Will we merely seek God’s hand to get what we think we need to get by for another week as we hurry in and out of His presence? Or will we seek His face, from His Word, by His Spirit, as we learn to pray in a life-transforming fashion?

Prayer is a means God uses to give us what he wants. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

There is no name like the name of Jesus Christ. Knowing the power of His name, most of us remember to tack it on to our prayers virtually every time we pray. However, like Carnegie’s students, our reason for remembering His name may be for our own purposes, not His.

It is the traditional thing to do. In group or public prayers, it is a given that whoever prays better wrap it up “in Jesus’ name.” When they fail to do so, they may get a few raised eyebrows and words of doubt about the spiritual legitimacy of their prayers. After all, will God really hear their prayers if they fail to include this three-word add-on?

A popular worship song says, “It’s all about you, Jesus,” and leads us to acknowledge that our lives are really not about our own agendas. We recognize that Jesus is God and our response is to surrender to His ways. In my years of learning about and leading others in prayer, I have found this to become the heart reality of what the Lord accomplishes as we pray. This is the path to praying in Jesus’ name.

This is God’s gracious work in drawing us to a deeper knowledge of Him and a greater response in prayer. He excited their worship, for example, with the “I am” statements Jesus made in the gospel of John: • “I am the bread of life” ( John 6:35). • “I am the light of the world” ( John 8:12; 9:5). • “I am the gate for the sheep” ( John 10:7, 9 niv). • “I am the good shepherd” ( John 10:14). • “I am the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25). • “I am the way, the truth, and the life” ( John 14:6). • “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). Later, the New Testament books will explode additional truths about our Christ, telling us that He is the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 1:8), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the chief cornerstone of the household of God (Ephesians 2:20), the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), the very Word of God (Revelation 19:13), and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). Again, these are more than name tags on the lapel of His robe. These are powerful revelations of His character that empower our worship and prayers.

Samuel Chadwick wrote, “To pray in the Name of Christ is to pray as one who is at one with Christ, whose mind is the mind of Christ, whose desires are the desires of Christ, and whose purpose is one with that of Christ.” Chadwick further clarified, “Prayers offered in the Name of Christ are scrutinized and sanctified by His nature, His purpose, and His will. Prayer is endorsed by the Name when it is in harmony with the character, mind, desire, and purpose of the Name.”

In his excellent book The God Who Hears, W. Bingham Hunter summarizes the New Testament teaching about praying in Jesus’ name with these four truths: • It seeks the glory of God. • Its foundation is the death, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus. • It is offered by Jesus’ obedient disciples. (Hunter points out that praying in Jesus’ name is virtually synonymous with obedience to Jesus.) • It asks what Jesus himself would pray for.

Frustration comes from bombarding heaven with our own ideas of what God should do to accomplish our will in heaven. Fulfillment comes from knowing that His will is being implemented in our lives.

People talk as if prayer is the way we get God to give us what we want. Those who think this way seek prayer promises, techniques, locations, mediators, and other methods they believe will influence God or place Him under obligation. But Scripture points in virtually the opposite direction, indicating prayer, communication with the living God, as a means He uses to give us what He knows we need. – W. BINGHAM HUNTER

When anyone is in the presence of something very powerful and experience, it is difficult to remain the unusual to their normal experience, it is difficult to remain the same.

Four common and essential responses are: a believing faith, authentic confession, conformity to His will, and empowerment for spiritual warfare.

Worship-based prayer is a powerful spark that produces a response of faith. When we begin our prayers with a passionate pursuit of the character of God, we are gripped with the reality that “He is” and are soon reminded that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Again, notice the focus on “seeking Him,” not just trying to solicit His help or provision. This is an emphasis on His face and a key to faith.

We are familiar with Romans 10:17, where it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer is the foundation that fills our minds with the truth of God’s Word and great thoughts about God.

Confession means “agreeing with God” about our sin and failure to align with His person, purpose, and plan.

Lasting Restoration – One of the many ways I have seen this truth on dramatic display is at prayer summits. These multi-day “worship fests” are marked by spontaneous Scripture reading, singing, and heartfelt response, bringing people into an encounter with the living Christ that is incredibly intimate and moving. The more the truth of the Scriptures is read, heard, cherished, and applied–the more deeply the Spirit begins to expose needs, habitual sin, and broken relationships.

A. W. Tozer described this reality: “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Our Lord and Master has a will. It is the specific and intimate expression of His heart. His Word is His will. The application is revealed by His Spirit. Our requests that have not been surrendered to His Word and Spirit in intimate pursuit may simply reflect our will, not His.

John Piper describes it well: “The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission.”

I may be naïve compared to the warfare experts, but I have discovered that a life of passionate worship–one that delights in biblical truth about God’s character, seeks the empowerment of the Spirit for application and articulation, then surrenders in every way as prompted by this intimate encounter, is equipped to “fight the good fight” every day. Jesus, on the heels of forty days of prayer and fasting, wielded the truth of God’s Word in facing down the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4–11). We, too, are equipped by His sufficiency to brandish the “sword of the Spirit,” which is the spoken word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We have His perfection and power living in us. He has given us the victory in His finished work of redemption. As we abide in Him, with hearts fully responsive to His intimate revelation of truth and insight, we overcome temptation and are delivered from evil.

In a similar spirit, some today repeat the Lord’s Prayer verbatim as some kind of magical charm. Jesus’ intention was not that we simply recite this prayer to manipulate some blessing. It is not a celestial secret password to opening the treasuries of eternity.

Guilt–the belief that if I do not pray, I will not be an acceptable Christian.

Approval–the belief that if I do pray, I will be an acceptable Christian in the eyes of others.

Church growth–the belief that prayer can be a useful tool to meet my tangible ministry goals.

Revival – the belief that God will bring revival if I will just “work Him” enough through prayer.

So we pray because God is worthy. But there is a second side to the motivational coin: I am needy. As I said earlier, prayerlessness is our declaration of independence from God. The heart of real prayer is, “Lord, I need you. I cannot do it on my own. I must seek you today.”

I heard a speaker say once, “You can tell someone how to do something and they may keep it up for awhile. But if you show them why they are doing it–it will take a brick wall to stop them.”

So as we prepare to clearly understand and apply a pattern that can enliven our prayer life and give us a biblical, balanced approach to prayer, let’s review a quick list of “pray this, not that” principles: • Pray to seek God’s f ace, NOT just His hand. • Pray with your heart fixed on God’s glory, NOT just for personal satisfaction. • Pray from the treasury of God’s Word, NOT from a list of your own ideas. • Pray according to the Spirit’s instruction, NOT only from human reason. • Pray with a heart completely surrendered to His will, NOT with a hurried personal agenda. • Pray in anticipation of living triumphantly in the war zone, NOT in satisfaction with your comfort zone. • Pray that God would change you, NOT simply change things.

Prayer is not asking God to do my will. It is bringing myself into conformity with His will. It is asking Him to do His will and to give me the grace to enjoy it. – JOHN MACARTHUR

The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate pattern of prayer Jesus gave to His disciples. He repeated it twice in the gospels. The first delivery (Matthew 6) occurred near Galilee before a large crowd in the context of an extended sermon. His second iteration (Luke 11) occurred near Jerusalem after the disciples observed Him in prayer. He repeated this specific pattern after they made a request to learn how to pray.

In keeping with Jesus’ instructions, prayer begins with the character of God as we take time to focus our entire being on the wonders of who God is.

If our prayers are not focused on God, we are guilty of idolatry, as we are putting someone (or something) else in God’s place.”4

A. W. Tozer said it famously: “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.”

This response to God’s character in prayer involves yielding to the control of the Holy Spirit and recommitting ourselves to God’s kingdom purposes.

Scottish writer Robert Law said, “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.”

I often say that we do not really know what to ask for until we have worshiped well and surrendered completely.

As our prayer continues, the outward stroke reminds us of the spiritual contest before us and, more important, reassures us of the spiritual resources within us. We know the time comes when we must get off our knees and reenter the warfare zone. We must be battle ready.

I often say the comfort zone is the danger zone. As we come to the concluding moments of a prayer time, we not only anticipate but also embrace the responsibility to “fight the good fight.” We are called to be praying menaces to the devil. Prayer is not an escape from the battles of life but a great equipping to fight them in supernatural power. The very fact that we are seeking God’s face and engaging in life-giving prayer alerts the enemy to our increased threat to his dominion. When we pray, we pick a fight with the devil at a completely new level. Yet this is why we are on earth–not to cruise along on a luxury liner until Jesus comes, but to stay actively engaged in our “search-and-rescue mission” in the midst of the global spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people.

At the beginning of our Christian life we are full of requests to God. But then we find that God wants to get us into relationship with Himself – to get us in touch with His purposes. – OSWALD CHAMBERS

I like to call it Christianity in its purest form, as there are no celebrity speakers, music groups, bulletins, or agendas. In fact, for me this is one of the most beautiful demonstrations of the sufficiency of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God in active and practical ministry. My faith in God’s desire and power to lead us into life-changing, Christ-exalting prayer has grown immensely over the years.

So let’s see how we can make this approach very practical. Again, we always begin with the Scriptures, and then I use four key questions to bring focus and stimulate specific prayers. I call these the who, how, what, and where questions of practicing this pattern. • Who is God? (reverence) • How should I respond? (response) • What do I pray about? (requests) • Where do I go from here? (readiness)

Individual + Community = Transformation We know that God wants our prayers to be transformational. If you were to ask, “Which is more important, private prayer or corporate prayer?” My answer would always be “yes”! It is like asking which leg is more crucial to walking–the right or the left?

It says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” You could not learn the apostles’ doctrine by downloading a message to your iPod! You had to be gathered in community. The same was obviously true of fellowship and the breaking of bread. And how did they learn to pray? Together.

The church was birthed in a ten-day prayer meeting (Acts 1:14; 2:1). They coped with crisis and persecution together, on their knees (Acts 4:24–31). As the church grew, the apostles refused to become embroiled in administrative problems because of their resolute desire to model prayer in their leadership team (Acts 6:4). Through united prayer, they trusted God for miraculous divine interventions in times of extreme trouble (Acts 12:5–12). They received ministry direction through intense seasons of worshipful prayer (Acts 13:1–2).

What a contrast to our individualized culture. Most of us were taught prayer is something we do almost exclusively on our own in a closet somewhere. In reality, early Christians learned to pray largely by praying together.

In our Western culture, we have come to believe that it is more important to pray alone than with others. This is a symptom of our basic view of society. In his book The Connecting Church, Randy Frazee describes our culture of individualism. He explains that we are no longer born into a culture of community but a “way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything.”2 Frazee documents this as a problem especially for those born after World War II . He laments the impact on the church by observing that we have “all too often mirrored the culture by making Christianity an individual sport.”

Therefore, if I were the devil, I would use my best deceptive tools to keep Christians from praying in transforming ways–and especially to keep them from praying together. I would keep them busy and isolated from one another. I would do everything possible to keep them distracted and disinterested in biblical, balanced, revival-style prayer gatherings. To accomplish this, I would do the following: Fuel the spirit of rugged individualism. By keeping Christians independent of each other, I would keep them independent from God. I would keep them frustrated in their personal prayer lives by preventing them from learning to pray by praying together. Dig ruts of boring prayer. When they did try to pray together, I would make sure the prayer meetings were based more on human needs than on God’s power. I would do everything possible to encourage boredom and gossip in these gatherings so that most people would stay away from these passionless “prayer” times. Delight in theological orthodoxy without spiritual passion. I would know how effective it is to get Bible-loving Christians to delight in theological correctness without spiritual intimacy. It worked very well in Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1–7), a once-great church that fell out of love with Jesus, even though they had great theology and teaching. I would let them be content with good sermons and grand theological ideas, as long as they stayed off their knees in trying to make it real in their hearts. Encourage idle preaching on prayer. I would know that sermons on prayer frequently fall on deaf ears, especially when the leaders do not model prayer. I would keep pastors content with talking about inspiring prayer ideas as long as they did not actually lead their people into extraordinary gatherings of prayer. I would know that prayer information without prayer action anesthetizes Christians from spiritual reality. Promote “success” in the ministry. Crazy as it sounds, I might even promote church growth as a replacement for real revival. I would encourage an interest in numbers, activities, strategies, and events. This would keep them away from brokenness, repentance, and passion for God’s transforming presence. This would distract them from a real pursuit of the awakenings that have undermined my nefarious efforts.

As long as Christians were sincere but isolated, active but powerless, entertained but shallow, I would win.

If Jesus answered all of your prayers from the last thirty days, would anything change in THE world or just YOUR world? – JOHN W. BRYSON

We need an Acts 6 revival. Revival is not a week of evangelistic meetings or a televised healing crusade. It is a period of unusual blessing when God brings a supernatural re-enlivening to His people. Dr. A. T. Pierson, pastor and missionary leader from the 1800s, observed: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”2 It is broadly believed that whenever God wanted to bring a great work of revival, He always began by sending His people to their knees.

Ultimately, the goal is not only that you experience transformation or that your circle of friends feels the change or even that your church becomes spiritually reawakened. If these realities are authentic, it will spill into the community and beyond in powerful, Christ-exalting fashion.

Honestly, I find myself wondering if this is really the Lord’s best plan for reviving His church. In the rush of getting God to show up at another revival event, I wonder if we might not need to slow down, tone down, and get down to the humble, quiet, grassroots spiritual transformation that revivals are made of in intimacy and obscurity.

The vision for organic revival that moves my heart today looks like this: “Pastor-led, local church-oriented movements of Christ-exalting, worship-based prayer–leading to a full-scale revival, supernatural evangelism, and cultural transformation.”

Change Starts Now You can be a vital part of this compelling and essential vision. Ultimately, this kind of revival starts with my heart, my home, my church, and my community. If you pray that for me–and I pray that for you–and we act in faith to seek His face, something organic and glorious might just occur. It is worth dreaming about, worth seeking after, and worth living for.

My friend Byron Paulus says, “The biggest billboard for revival is a changed life.” That is the beautiful outcome of transforming prayer.

Related Images:

What if Jesus was Serious About the Church

What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended, Skye Jethani (this is a must-read book, please support the author by purchasing his book) Below you will read some of the highlights from my reading through the book.

Few doubt the dominance and effectiveness of corporations. For that reason, over the last fifty years, churches—both large and small—have increasingly copied the values and strategies of corporations as well.

Most pastors now stay inside church facilities all week managing programs, and ministry happens when people come to them.

Success is measured by the growth of the institution itself, not how it benefits a community or even its industry. Starbucks doesn’t just want you to drink coffee;

This emphasis on institutional church growth has even changed our language. Earlier generations spoke about Christians and non-Christians, or believers and nonbelievers. But in the era of the church-as-corporation, we now talk about the churched and the unchurched. These invented words reveal a shift in our missional goal. It’s no longer to connect a person with Christ; we want them connected to our ministry.

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

What we’re seeing in the church today—pastoral burnout and immorality, abuse and cover-ups, financial impropriety, toxic leadership cultures, and the elevation of effectiveness over faithfulness—matches what we’ve come to expect from giant businesses. It also explains why the age of the corporate church has not only added churched and unchurched to our Christian vocabulary, it has also given us a new word— dechurched. Some church members now feel more like replaceable cogs in a ministry machine rather than essential members of the body of Christ.

Most, however, express a frustration with the corporate machinery of the church—the institutional upkeep, systems, programs, and a general fatigue over the dehumanizing cultures they foster. As one exhausted middle-aged woman said to me, “Is this really what Jesus intended the church to be?”

They’re not leaving the church to renounce their faith, but to preserve it. They worry that prolonged exposure to the toxicity within their church structure will sour their view of Christianity itself.

“I became a pastor,” one told me, “because I honestly believed the local church is the hope of the world. But now I’m not so sure.” Explaining his exhaustion and fatigue, he continued, “It breaks my heart to admit this, but when I meet non-Christians in my community, I honestly think their lives will be worse, not better, if they come to my church.”

They want to know if the church must be an exhausting corporation, or if it can be a “fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ” as it was in the beginning.

Therefore, while it’s wrong to read the modern idea of the church as a corporation back into Scripture, we can apply to our modern setting the ancient biblical idea of the church as a family.

Recent surveys have found that young people are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Despite the endless entertainment and engagement accessible to them via screens and social media, they desperately long for real, incarnate community.

A church that embraces the value of being a spiritual family, more than anything else, is equipped to meet this generation’s relational and spiritual thirst.

Which is the right definition? That’s not really the best question. Depending on the context, any one of these four definitions may be appropriate. The better question to ask is: How did the writers of the New Testament define the church?

And while the early Christians did meet weekly for prayer, teaching, and encouragement, these events were not called “church” but rather were understood to be gatherings of the church.

It is very possible to dedicate your time, treasure, and talents to an institution called a “church” but never know the mutual love, joy, hope, and support that comes when united with God’s people.

In our highly systems-oriented, institutional age we need the discernment to recognize the difference between serving the church, serving the church through an institution, and merely serving an institution.

Businesses recruit, hire, promote, fire, and replace in order to assemble the best team. And while many churches also apply these marketplace strategies in an effort to get the right people on the bus, they often forget one critical fact—it’s not their bus. The bus belongs to Jesus, and He decides who is on it even if we think they’re not the “right people.”

To make matters worse, they didn’t even share the same values, background, or politics with one another. They had no earthly reason to be together.

No one thought a tax collector and a Zealot belonged on the same bus.

Unity is not something we find through a common interest, a mutual ethnic identity, a shared political ideology, or even a joint mission. It only comes from abiding in the same Lord. Left to ourselves, we would never associate with people we do not like.

If your church is a homogeneous group who all share the same vision of society, politics, and culture, and if you chafe at the thought that you may be worshiping alongside someone who voted for a candidate you despise, or if anger arises when you discover a leader in your church prioritizes issues differently than you do—it’s a pretty good indication that you haven’t gotten onto Jesus’ bus. Instead, you may have invited Him onto yours.

Our culture champions the independent spirit of the explorer, the cowboy, the pioneer, and the entrepreneur. So, it makes sense that in the religious realm, American culture would also emphasize the individual’s connection to God.

But a closer inspection of Scripture may reveal that the “me and God” framework is one we’ve imposed on the text rather than one we’ve learned from the text.

It’s because Daniel recognized a facet of relating to God that we often overlook. While we have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” we also have a collective relationship with Him. It’s not just “me and God,” it’s also “us and God.”

THE CHURCH IS CALLED to courageously and prophetically overcome the divisions of the world, but all too often it merely reflects and reinforces them.

In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.”

But even in more diverse communities, most congregations remain homogeneous, and this is not fueled by overt or even subconscious racism. Instead, it’s driven by pragmatism. It’s far easier to lead, manage, and operate a single-culture church where there is broad agreement about music styles, program structures, leadership, and values, and historically churches have grown faster and larger when they are homogeneous. Birds of a feather, the data says, like to fellowship together.

Just as the pandemic taught us of the difference between school (an institution) and education (the institution’s purpose), we need to have a similar awakening about the church.

The church has a vital and undeniable role to play in our spiritual formation—one that too many Christians ignore. At the same time, the institutional church cannot be the only source for our development as Christians and it cannot encompass the entirety of our life with God.

Likewise, the institutional church is an incredible gift, but we must remember that it is a means to an end. The institution does not exist for itself.

Therefore, when we encounter the word “you” in these writings it is most often plural, but the English reader has no way of knowing that apart from the wider context and an awareness of the apostle’s original audience. Simply put, in most cases, the apostles are not speaking to me, but to us

Our minds are simply not trained to think collectively, so we tend to confine and individualize the text.

What if I am a fool following the imaginary calling of a nonexistent God? What frightens me most isn’t facing hardship or pain, but the possibility that my pain has no purpose. What if everything really is meaningless?

Some think that to believe in God means no longer struggling with these deep questions of meaning, that somehow the true Christian never knows doubt. That is untrue. Being a Christian simply means we’ve shifted the focus of our struggle. As Eugene Peterson said, “Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.”

Jacob’s story epitomizes the life of faith. God’s people trust Him, but it’s often a struggle because we are flawed, fearful creatures. A church—being an assembly of believers—is simply a community that wrestles with God together. It’s where we struggle openly rather than privately, and where questions are asked and sometimes answered. But when no answer is found, the church is also where we find comfort, support, and encouragement.

There is no question we are a deeply divided society, and the divisions are more than political. With the proliferation of social media and algorithms that severely narrow our vision of the world, we seem to occupy completely different realities.

With the aid of technology, divisions today don’t merely separate us, they dehumanize us.

Rather than reflecting the divisions of society, the church is called to reflect the unity of God’s kingdom.

We cannot implore our Lord to both bless and curse our opponent. In prayer, goodwill grows to eclipse malice in the heart of the Christian toward her enemy.

Justin Martyr understood that praying for our enemies is the first step in changing how we see them. And once we see them differently, they might just come to see us differently as well.

That means the church’s greatest weapon against evil isn’t how we vote but how we pray.

Anger is so visceral, and far more accessible for most of us than empathy or reason, that it’s the emotion we usually experience first when challenged. When we feel out of control, fearful, or even mildly uncomfortable, anger appears almost instantaneously. And this anger isn’t generalized—it’s focused on whatever or whomever we perceive to be the cause of our struggle.

For this reason, anger has been elevated to a virtue in much of our culture. With it, we are able to define ourselves by who we stand against, rather than the ideals we stand for. In a twisted way, we have become dependent on our enemies.

Imagine the shock, therefore, when a new community emerged where Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, shared a table, and called one another “brothers and sisters.” It was scandalous and even shameful.

The early church was not driven by anger, nor were Jesus’ followers defined by their enemies. Instead, they were compelled by God’s love and defined by the cross where Jesus willingly gave up His life to save His enemies.

And yet, across every generation, every ethnicity, every economic and denominational barrier, the simple elements of the bread and the cup have endured as marks of Christ’s people.

Sharing a table is how we form bonds and establish a common identity. It’s why every culture uses a meal to celebrate marriages. Two families share a meal to acknowledge their new bond as kin.

But for Christians who recognize the formative power of the table, it can be used by God to shape their lives and community in unimaginably beautiful ways.

Being a symbol always makes something more important and never less. The same is true for Christ’s table.

In each case, the covenant symbol was directly related to the nature of the covenant itself, and each symbol pointed to something powerful about God’s relationship with His people.

A shared meal is a powerful reminder that what Jesus accomplished on the cross wasn’t a sacrifice merely to redeem me, but the way God has reconciled a people to Himself.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg says it this way: “We have in these meals the central symbolic action of Jesus in which his message of the nearness of God’s reign and its salvation is focused and vividly depicted… . Everything that separates from God is removed in the table fellowship that Jesus practiced.”9 In other words, the essence of Jesus’ message was manifested in His meals.

But for Jesus, this was more than a message, and the table was more than a sermon illustration. It was the pattern and practice of His life.

Customer focus groups showed its symbolism was a barrier to newcomers, and the logistics of serving ten thousand or more attendees each weekend proved too cumbersome. Ironically, for attendees of some churches, the central component of Jesus’ ministry is now seen as an impediment to theirs.

When Christians no longer form these bonds around the bread and cup, which represent Jesus’ sacrifice, we shouldn’t be surprised when something else takes its place. According to Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of theology and culture, the coffee bar has replaced the Communion table in many churches, with unintended consequences.

As Metzger recognizes, “Both the coffee bar and Lord’s Table affirm community, but the kind of community they affirm differs significantly”

At the Lord’s Table, we are guests; we are each invited and welcomed by Christ. We do not choose who we share the meal with. We do not place an order. We do not customize our beverage. Instead, we all receive the same bread and drink from the same cup. At the Lord’s Table, we are all humble recipients of the same unmerited grace.

At the coffee bar, by contrast, we are in control. We review our options. We order what we want, when we want, and how we want. We decide whom to share a table with, and whom to avoid. The coffee bar is not designed to form us into Christians, but into consumers

The researchers called it the “Homogeneous Unit Principle.” What they intended as an observation, however, was made into a prescription for church growth by ambitious pastors. Ministry professionals took the data and said if you want your church to grow, avoid diversity. Of course, it was rarely presented that negatively.

There is no doubt the Homogeneous Unit Principle works, but a more important question rarely gets asked—is it right? Does it fit with the church we find in the New Testament?

But that’s not the church Jesus wanted. Instead, He called Jews and Gentiles to share one faith, one church, and one table. As a committed Jew, the apostle Peter struggled repeatedly with seeing Gentiles as his equals.

Like us, Peter wanted a comfortable church filled with the people he preferred. He wanted the Communion table to be occupied by people who shared his identity and his views.

Parker Palmer wrote: In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives

In the ancient world, remembrance was not merely the mental recollection of past events. Rather, it meant recalling a past event so that the power of that event may enter the present. For Jesus and His disciples, the redemptive work of God was not something to reminisce about. It was not just a story to be mentally recalled. The redemption of God, and His power to deliver His people, was continuing right into the present.

The meal was not just about remembering what God had done in the past—Jesus was inviting that saving power into the present.

The table was to be more than an edible history lesson.

The table is a time machine through which God’s saving power from the past is transported into the present.

What if it’s about experiencing His redemption today? What if, in remembering, we bring the salvation from the past into the present?

These words reveal that Jesus was not just focused on God’s past faithfulness or even His present work of redemption through the cross. He was also looking to the future—the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

When we come to the table as Jesus did, we will discover it is where the past, present, and future converge into a single point of grace.

Rather than the open-armed Jesus of the Gospels who welcomed sinners to His dinner table, too many of us imagine Jesus to be an intimidating maître d’ ensuring only the right people get a seat and the unworthy are judged for even trying.

Paul’s primary concern with the Lord’s Table was unity, not purity. Rather than gathering at the table as a sign of their oneness in Christ, the Corinthians were using the table to reinforce social divisions—particularly the divide in their culture between rich and poor.

This is why Paul was so upset. Through their disunity, they were betraying the meaning of the meal. They were mocking the sacrifice of Christ, which had made them one family.

Are we coming as one people united in Christ or as those still divided by the categories of our society? And while self-examination is always beneficial, here Paul is asking us to examine whether we are estranged from a sister or brother, and to heal that division before coming to the table.

To use his words, communities that make the table about me rather than about us are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

To share the same table, partake of the same bread, and drink from the same cup is a bold declaration of our equality before God. The Lord’s Table, when faithfully and biblically practiced, shatters the heresy of white supremacy.

And churches that are determined to maintain or ignore the unjust systems of the world must still contend with the revolutionary implications of the Lord’s Table.

As a result, sharing the bread and cup became a way for Christians to express gratitude for their redemption from darkness, as well as a way to celebrate their Lord’s triumph over the world. That’s why early Christians didn’t merely “take Communion.” Instead, they “celebrated the Eucharist.”

The Pharisees saw a rabbi defiling Himself among sinners who were the enemies of God, but with His response, Jesus was trying to open their eyes to see something more. Not a rabbi among sinners, but a doctor healing the sick. Somehow, by simply sharing a table with Matthew and his ungodly friends, Jesus was bringing healing.

Our acceptability is always conditional, and every human soul carries the wounds of rejection from not meeting someone’s standard.

Rejection always leaves a wound—not a visible one, but a cut in our souls whose scar we may carry for the remainder of our lives. It’s at Christ’s table, as we gather to remember His wounds, that we discover ours are welcomed as well.

Sometimes the bread and cup may become so important to a community that they may become idols. The table itself can become an object of worship replacing the One who calls us to it.

As a result, some modern descendants of these traditions have defined the table as an important ordinance of the church, but not a sacrament of God’s grace and presence. Others, however, have gone much further and marginalized the table or abandoned it altogether.

We crave a visible, sensory encounter with God and if the table no longer fulfills this function in the church, we will find something else.

The awe and reverence some churches exhibit toward the bread and cup are instead projected upon the pastor to the point that in some congregations the line between worshiping Christ and worshiping the pastor becomes blurred.

When people view their pastor sacramentally—as their link to Christ and His grace—very often their faith in God Himself is shattered when the pastor is revealed to be a fraud or even just a fallible human being.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT from a church service? What have you been taught to expect? I often hear church leaders make bold promises about what will happen during their gatherings on Sunday morning.

But there is a significant difference between acknowledging these things could happen and promising they will happen. The former is a humble recognition of God’s power and mystery. The latter is a prideful and downright pagan attempt to control God for our purposes.

I wonder if the promises of some church leaders and our inflated expectations are partly responsible for the disappointment so many have with the church today.

Both church leaders and laity have come to believe these external experiences are the primary vehicle for encountering God and growing in faith.

Rather than emphasize external elements, like mountains, Jesus said true worship is an inner posture of Spirit and truth.

The transformation Moses experienced, while real, was only temporary.

It is an ever-increasing change, and this power is not conducted through a sermon, or song, or service. It comes from the Spirit. In other words, for those who belong to the new covenant in Christ, God and His transforming glory are no longer found through external events, but through internal communion.

This truth should profoundly change our expectations for our church gatherings. It means we don’t find communion with God by attending a worship event. Instead, we express our communion with God by attending a worship event.

We live in an age of Christian pragmatism. The influence of business and industry has seeped into the church and convinced many that the church ought to adopt the methods and metrics of the marketplace. Likewise, in many places, the Sunday worship gathering is designed with customer feedback in mind. How many came? Did they like the music? Was the sermon helpful enough? How much did they give? Of course, it’s not just church leaders who are constrained by pragmatism. Many church members approach worship with a similar calculation. Did I receive enough from the church to justify giving up my Sunday morning?

Alec Guinness had it right—if we’ve encountered the holy, mysterious, and infinitely loving God then there will be things about our communion with Him that defy usefulness and that are utterly nonsensical. This is true of love even on a human level.

And if our primary goal for Sunday worship is self-improvement or institutional growth, then we should admit we aren’t really there to worship God at all, but to use Him. And if our worship is always driven by pragmatism, let’s confess that it isn’t really worship. It is witchcraft.

Increasingly, I’m hearing Christians question the value of their church’s Sunday gathering, and the move to online streaming services during the pandemic only accelerated the discontent. I wonder if earlier generations were equally frustrated with church gatherings but carried a greater sense of duty to persevere.

Regardless of the cause, if we are serious about our faith but struggling with attending church, then at some point we must wrestle with what Scripture says about it.

number of reasons for gathering—to offer our worship to God, to learn sound doctrine from our teachers, to be equipped for our mission as Christ’s disciples. But he lists none of these. Instead, the author of Hebrews offers a more basic, human, and pastoral reason. We are to meet regularly to encourage “one another.”

The kind of faith-building encouragement commanded in Hebrews, however, is personal, relational, and reciprocal. It’s not accomplished by passively sitting in a theater seat watching a performance.

He promises to be with us, just as we are with each other. This means we may encounter Him just as easily, and maybe more so, in a small gathering than in a large one.

It’s important to see that Jesus did not condemn John for doubting.

Rather than condemning John’s doubts, Jesus responded by encouraging his faith. He said to John’s friends, “Go and tell John what you have seen” (see Luke 7:18–23). Jesus knew that in Herod’s dungeon John’s vision was severely limited. He saw only darkness, evil, and injustice.

Sometimes our circumstances make us blind to God and we become vulnerable to doubts and fears. In such times we need our friends, we need our community, we need the church.

That is what it means for the church to gather and encourage one another.

On any given Sunday, those of us with vision are to become the eyes of those who are blind, knowing the next week we may be in the dungeon needing to borrow the eyes of our brother on the mountaintop.

MANY HAVE COME TO SEE the church primarily as an event rather than as a community. It is something they attend rather than something they are

What all of these experiences share in common is the general passivity of the audience. They gather to be entertained, informed, or amused by the performers on the stage or the field.

Sally Morganthaler writes: We are not producing worshipers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave

Remember, Jesus did not say where two or three are gathered I will stand before them. He said, “I will be in the midst of them.” The presence of God is revealed in the relationships between His people, not on a stage in front of them.

What we find in the New Testament, however, is that anyone can preach. For example, Jesus sent His disciples out into the villages of Judea to “preach” the kingdom of God when they were still confused about the most basic facts.

In most of our churches, these men wouldn’t be allowed near a Sunday school class let alone a pulpit. So why did Jesus command them to “preach the kingdom”

The problem is that we confuse teaching with preaching. Teaching requires proficiency with a set of knowledge; it requires comprehension. Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to “teach” until after His resurrection when they finally understood his identity and mission. Preaching, on the other hand, simply means “to proclaim” or “to announce.” Preaching requires one to have experienced what is being proclaimed, but it doesn’t mean you completely understand it.

Far too many of God’s people neglect this calling because we have incorrectly made it the domain of trained experts, and this has profoundly warped our church gatherings into a time when nearly everyone is silent and only one person—the one possessing the most knowledge—is permitted to speak.

But when only one person is expected to arrive to the gathering with something to share, what are we communicating about the value of everyone else?

Jesus was raised to life on a Sunday because His resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. Easter was the start of God “making all things new” in Christ.

We worship on Sunday not merely to acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. We worship on Sunday not simply to celebrate our own redemption and access to eternal life through the cross and empty tomb. We worship on Sunday because through Christ we have become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and we have become a people of the new creation.

Like the creation account in Genesis, which began but did not end on the first Sunday, God’s re-creation began on Easter Sunday and continues to unfold even now.

Sunday is about creation and new creation, and it captures the essence of God’s mission, and ours, to make all things new.

At its core, Sabbath is about freedom from bondage, not merely rest from activity. Once we see the link between Sabbath and slavery, Jesus’ controversial actions on the Sabbath also begin to make sense.

The religious elites were narrowly focused on the command to not work, but Jesus was focused on the reason for not working.

He understood that the Sabbath itself was a sign of freedom from bondage, and there was no real Sabbath rest for those still enslaved by disease. By healing, Jesus was fulfilling the meaning of the Sabbath, not violating it.

Therefore, Christians have commemorated the world’s freedom and our deliverance on Sunday—the day our slavery was ended. And the way we now practice Sabbath isn’t merely resting from work one day a week.

For the Christian, the Sabbath isn’t just a day of rest or worship; it’s a day for mission and justice.

Some churches, however, operate more like ground control by utilizing Sunday to recruit more people to do more work. The work is too important, church leaders say, and time is too limited. There’s no time for rest. There’s no time in our church service for silence. We can’t slow down to reflect or meditate—we have things to accomplish in these seventy-five minutes together. Goodness, in many of our churches there isn’t even time for prayer or Communion anymore. Rather than lifting our eyes to the horizon, some church gatherings are designed to keep our noses to the grindstone.

But we are not machines, and God has not redeemed us merely to put us to work.

In other words, Israel’s God did not need us. He does not need your service, offerings, praise, prayers, or your Sunday morning.

Because of our consumer mindset, we assume that worship must have a concrete outcome; some practical purpose that measurably benefits either us or God. In this formulation—which is the hallmark of paganism—worship is a means to an end; it is a transaction in which we offer to the deity what he needs (praise, prayers, sacrifices) and in response, we expect to receive what we need (blessing, protection, wealth, etc.).

That being said, his tweet perfectly captures a transactional understanding of worship. He offered God his praise 24/7, and in exchange he expected divine help catching footballs. Steve Johnson had kept his end of the deal but felt God had failed to uphold his. This is not Christianity. It is paganism. And it is not biblical worship. It’s an attempt to control God with offerings, sacrifices, and incantations.

Properly understood, true Christian worship is never transactional. God delights in our praises, but He does not need them.

What His disciples saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What they interpreted as selfish, Jesus received as worship. The woman had poured out her most precious possession at Jesus’ feet to honor Him. He understood her intent and therefore did not interpret her actions through a lens of practicality.

Real love sees the intrinsic value of that which it adores rather than its transactional value.

She saw Jesus’ intrinsic value, and He affirmed her for it. This is what we, like the first disciples, often miss about worship.

Unlike religions fueled by superstition or fear, true Christian faith does not worship God with a practical goal in mind. It is not transactional. It is not useful. Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.

Our consumer society has formed us to associate value with usefulness, and when something is no longer useful we do not hesitate to throw it away and acquire something else.

That’s why the church’s worship gatherings should be full of beauty, art, and all sorts of impractical things. They serve to counteract the utilitarian impulse of our culture and remind us that the most important things in the world—God and people—do not exist to be used but to be adored.

If the church’s worship communicates, directly or indirectly, that the Creator exists to be used, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an indifference among Christians toward people we have determined aren’t useful either.

We do that by learning to value what is not useful. We do that by cultivating beauty in our worship. Beauty is the prelude for justice, and justice is true worship.

Pragmatism had infected their worship just as injustice had infected the land. The two always go together. That is why God tells His people to honor the poor, set free the oppressed, and show dignity to those the world calls useless, and “then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (Isa. 58:9).

The church’s impractical worship not only reveals God’s character to us and teaches us to value Him and others apart from their usefulness, but our worship also confronts the sinfulness of our world.

Worship, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness.

We are creating an oasis of beauty amid the dehumanizing ugliness of our world.

If we recall the strict structures of worship commanded in the Old Testament, David’s words appear shocking and even blasphemous—especially coming from Israel’s king.

All of these very precise, liturgical, and formal structures of worship were set up by the Lord Himself through Moses and outlined in the Torah, Israel’s Law. But in Psalm 51, David, Israel’s king, dismisses this entire, God-ordained system of sacrifices and rituals—not because the system itself was wrong, but because David understood it was always intended to express a deeper reality. He says God does not delight in these external performances and symbols, because what He really desires is our hearts.

David recognized that if we do not genuinely want God, no amount of singing or sacrifices will make our worship acceptable.

In modern societies, we tend to see God as a machine, and therefore we engage worship as a program or formula. As long as we provide the right inputs (sacrifices, prayers, rituals), then we believe we will get the right outputs (forgiveness, blessings, and euphoria).

What He desires is us. True worship is the expression of a relationship, not merely the performance of a ritual.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in a church? What binds a Christian community together? What is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation upon which everything else depends?

In both letters, Paul is unambiguous—Jesus Christ Himself is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation of the church. At first, this may not strike you as surprising, but upon closer inspection, it profoundly challenges many of our modern assumptions. Here’s why—many churches today have been deeply influenced by corporate business values.

If corporations have proven strategies for selling coffee and chicken sandwiches, why shouldn’t the church use them to sell Jesus Christ? One corporate value the church has been eager to adopt is the centrality of “the mission.”

Everyone wants to be “missional,” “mission-centric,” or “mission-driven” these days.

What is not ambiguous, however, is that what binds the true church together is not a task but a person

When the church copies their values, we can’t help but make our mission foundational as well, and in a subtle twist of idolatry, the work of Jesus comes to replace the person of Jesus in our lives and in our churches. In the process, we cease to be a true temple of God and instead become just another organization with a product to sell.

With this dire warning, Paul is speaking directly to those who are provoking divisions and factions among the Corinthian believers. Through their actions, they are scheming to dismantle the temple of God; to divide and destroy it. And those who destroy God’s temple, God will destroy. It’s the strongest warning Paul unleashes on the Corinthians anywhere in his letter.

Unity is essential to the mission of God in the world. When the world sees formerly divided people who used to be filled with hatred, envy, anger, and rage, transformed and united into a people of love, goodness, and kindness—they will believe. When the world sees people once divided by race, color, class, and tradition, now embracing one another as brothers and sisters—they will believe. But if church unity is lost, if the temple of God is divided, His mission will not be accomplished.

Therefore, those within the church who are causing divisions are actually working to undermine the very mission and purpose of God.

Simply put, the church is supposed to preview the new world God is creating, not preserve the one that is passing away.

Sadly, the church has often abandoned its calling to reflect God’s kingdom in order to reflect the kingdoms of this world. In doing so, it worsens and solidifies the divisions of society rather than heals them.

There may be churches today that are deliberately rejecting the call to reflect God’s kingdom and consciously bowing to the values of consumerism, nationalism, or some other idolatrous kingdom of this world. But I suspect the more common error today is the same one made by the Corinthians. We simply don’t slow down to examine our cultural values and habits and ask whether they are reinforcing the divisions of our society or healing them.

The problem is not that we hear God’s call for the church and disobey it, but rather that we are so immersed in the ways of our culture that we do not hear His call at all.

Society where the categories of rich/poor, male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile, black/white, young/old, native/immigrant, liberal/conservative, and every other social division or hostility are mended. And any church designed—intentionally or not—to reinforce the divisions of society rather than heal them has betrayed the call of Christ.

IN OUR INCREASINGLY DIVIDED CULTURE, there is one thing that Americans still share in common—we all like to be comfortable. Our uncontested desire for comfort, however, has a dark side. Too much comfort is not only harmful, it can be downright dangerous.

For decades, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable setting for both Christians and non-Christians to gather and hear Jesus’ message. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders to the spoon-fed, three-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes—the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the autopilot.

Require discomfort—the very thing many churches work hard to remove from their gatherings.

System two must be turned on, and the autopilot of system one turned off, in order to learn. The brain shifts gears from system one to system two when it is forced to work—when we are challenged, stretched, and made uncomfortable.

I’m certainly not opposed to clear sermons or a safe Sunday morning environment, but our current cultural obsession with comfort in the church may have unintended side effects that disrupt our mission rather than advance it. If our goal is simply assembling a crowd or increasing the membership of our institution, then comfort should be our highest value. But if our mission is to make disciples of Jesus who obey all that He commanded, then we need to rethink our dedication to comfort.

I’ve spoken with countless pastors who believe in the mission of “disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.” But it always provokes in me the same question: What is a disciple?

The goal of most MLMs isn’t merely to sell the products but to recruit more people under you to sell the products and receive a percentage of their revenues.

Some have identified this verse as Jesus’ marching orders for His church, and it’s often cited by church leaders as the biblical and theological justification for their goal of “making disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.” The problem occurs when a church or ministry can’t actually define what a disciple is. At best they may define a disciple as someone who is plugged into the machinery of the ministry itself and therefore participating in its mission of making more disciples. But this is hardly a satisfying answer.

Are there broken things in this world over which the Creator does not grieve? When we say certain things “break God’s heart” we’re implying there is also a category of things beyond His concern.

And yet, that is how many churches function. We assume that God cares about redeeming souls but not bodies.

When the church narrowly defines “what breaks God’s heart,” it ends up producing narrow disciples who do not recognize the reign of Christ over every part of their lives and every atom of creation.

THE APOSTLE PAUL SAYS Jesus “emptied himself” when He took on flesh to dwell among us (Phil. 2:7). This means He willingly surrendered some of His divine powers and qualities, like omnipresence, in order to possess a physical body.

Technology, however, gives us the illusion of disembodiment and omnipresence. It allows us to escape the physical limitations of our bodies to transport ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks to the seemingly omnipotent corporations in Silicon Valley, I am no longer limited by time and space. I can transcend my body, my thoughts, and the irritating people in my physical presence. Our phones have become genies that grant us godlike powers, but what are we losing in the process?

The analog church of the past was slow. The gathering of actual bodies was messy and inefficient. The word was transmitted person to person, face to face. And care for souls required shepherds to be physically present with their sheep to listen, comfort, and pray. How old-fashioned.

The church can mass-produce disciples via YouTube, and tweets, and livestream its sermons to anonymous sheep anywhere in the world at any time. Dis-incarnate church is so much cleaner, more cost-effective, and massively more marketable.

Standing with that broken couple, I realized evil makes no distinction between us and our bodies, and neither can the church’s mission to overcome it. Jesus became fully human to redeem every part of us—mind, soul, and body. Any church that claims His name must do the same. Participating in the work of Jesus means accepting, and even embracing, our embodied limitations. It means assembling as physical creatures to care for one another as whole people, and not just as immaterial souls or online avatars.

effectiveness at the cost of our embodiedness. Christ’s mission for the church does not require us to be everywhere, do everything, and engage everyone. Instead, the mission happens when we are fully present with the broken people right where we are.

IN ORDER TO MEANINGFULLY PARTICIPATE in the church’s mission, many Christians assume they are required to dramatically change their circumstances. For example, for those who say the church’s mission is to “make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples,” the best, most devoted disciples of Jesus must be those who give their full energy to this work.

If His goal encompasses all things, then fully participating in Christ’s mission does not require us to change our circumstances.

Paul’s reluctance to remove believers from their existing relationships, vocations, and circumstances reveals how skewed our modern vision of the church, ministry, and mission has become. We assume fulfilling Christ’s call means telling people to abandon their ordinary lives and activities to do more in the church, and we often define disciples as those who forsake earthly things to focus on heavenly things. But that’s exactly backward. For Christ to rule over all things means welcoming the presence of heaven into the earthly things we are already doing.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean becoming a Jewish rabbi. It doesn’t mean becoming an itinerant preacher. It doesn’t mean becoming a first-century carpenter. And it certainly doesn’t mean doing more church work. Being a disciple who participates in God’s mission means living your life, doing your work, engaging your relationships, and inhabiting your community with Christ and in a manner that manifests His rule right where you are.

By leaving his fishing business and following Jesus, Peter was declaring, “From now on I am linking my identity with rabbi Jesus. From now on, what the world thinks of Him is what they’ll think of me.”

If my Master takes the lowest, most shameful position in society, Peter must have thought, what does that say about me? At that moment Jesus wasn’t just humiliating Himself, He was humiliating Peter. He was deconstructing Peter’s pride, destroying his honor, and exposing Peterʼs unholy ambition.

Applying John 13 isn’t about church leaders accepting menial tasks, but about church leaders accepting ridicule and embarrassment, about not being respected in society, and not needing the affirmation of their peers. It’s having their ambitions exposed and extinguished.

By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was not showing us a more effective way to lead others. He was showing us what it really means to die to ourselves.

Jesus affirmed godly authority, even as He denounced corrupt religious leaders. Likewise, throughout his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul repeatedly calls on believers to honor their leaders.

The ancient Near East was an honor-based society where respect and deference to elders and leaders was largely unquestioned. In his command to honor leaders, Paul was simply asking Christians to do what their culture already affirmed.

We’ve seen so many hurt by their leadership and burdened by the dehumanizing systems they’ve overseen, often for personal gain. As a result, rather than affirming or honoring those who seek authority in the church, my instinct is to question their motives for wanting it in the first place.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Paul to draw from his Jewish heritage and reapply the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12), to the new family of God redeemed by Christ. Within the household of faith, we are to honor our leaders as our spiritual mothers and fathers.

Both our physical and spiritual lives are dependent on others.

The fifth commandment to honor our parents, and the instruction to honor church leaders, reminds us of our frailty and contingency—that we cannot obtain the most valuable things in the world without the help of others. These commands confront and unmake our illusion of autonomy and independence.

I desperately need others to lead me closer to Christ. The call to honor church leaders, therefore, isn’t about inflating their pride, but diminishing my own.

I’ve visited some churches where I’ve wondered who is really the object of devotion—Jesus Christ or the pastor?

Ever since Mount Sinai, it has been the tendency of God’s people to replace our invisible Lord with a visible idol. Today, we are not tempted to worship a golden calf, but a pastor with a golden tongue. Some Christians simply cannot imagine their faith without their favorite leaders standing in the gap between themselves and Christ.

With sad predictability, we hear reports of pastors tumbling from their pedestals. These stories are often accompanied by quotes from stunned church members naively unaware of how the pedestals they constructed contributed to their pastor’s inevitable fall.

To be fair, not every pastor who falls slipped off their pedestals; some are pushed. If we have foolishly relied on them as our primary connection with God, then when our leaders disappoint us, and they all will, we are more likely to turn on them just as the crowd in Lystra turned on Paul and Barnabas.

Too many of us grant a leader authority in our lives and over our faith based on popularity alone, rather than through the personal knowledge gained by living in proximity with a leader where true character can be observed.

It’s personal knowledge of the other’s character that establishes the trust necessary for a healthy relationship. This is what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that false teachers would be known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15–

When authority cannot be granted on the basis of proximity, however, our celebrity-obsessed culture will grant it on the basis of popularity alone. In these cases, we do not allow a leader authority based on a track record of faithfulness—because we don’t actually know the person—but, instead, authority is granted based on the magnitude of the person’s platform.

Our obsession with dynamic, effective celebrity pastors leads to a shallow authority based on the size of their platform rather than the gravity of their soul.

The belief that a church must have a compelling vision is now so accepted and ubiquitous in American Christianity that it’s questioned less than most matters of doctrine or theology.

Contemporary church leaders have interpreted this verse to mean that a community must have a shared sense of purpose, a common goal to draw people and align them.

Our culture uses the word vision to mean an inspiring idea employed by a leader to motivate others to action. However, you won’t find that definition of vision in the Bible. Better translations of Proverbs 29:18, for example, use the word revelation or the phrase prophetic vision

Instead, when the writers of the Bible spoke about visions, they meant a supernatural form of communication received by a prophet or apostle in a dream.

With this understanding, we can see that Proverbs 29:18 isn’t saying anything about effective leadership or goals at all. Instead, the verse is reminding us that without God’s words and self-revelation His people would perish.

Simply put, vision is about God revealing Himself to His people, it’s not about a leader motivating people to accomplish a goal.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who opposed the Nazis, recognized the danger of adopting the world’s understanding of vision. He wrote: God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. … He acts as if he is the creator of Christian community, as if his dream binds men together

Rather than a leader and his vision, the church is to be bound together by Christ. He alone is what unites the church, and any leader seeking to replace Christ with themselves or their vision is not serving the church. They are hijacking it.

Simply put, the whole point of Jesus’ mission—His birth, life, death, and resurrection—was so He could rule over everything. Grasping the cosmic scale of Jesus’ mission is critical if we are to understand what Paul says about the gifts He has given to the church.

We define ministry as church work, and therefore we assume that Jesus has given leaders to the church in order to equip others to serve within the church as well. But that is not what Paul meant.

Paul’s concern is much, much wider. He’s asking, How does Jesus expand His rule over everything? His answer: By giving the church leaders, filled with His power, to equip His people to love and serve Him everywhere. Not just inside a church building.

Ultimately it’s not about how many people attend to hear a sermon on Sunday, or even how many volunteers are engaged in the church’s programs. Instead, it’s about whether people are deepening their life with God and manifesting Christ’s kingdom everywhere they go Monday through Saturday.

Rather than empowering people to manifest God’s reign in the world, too many churches seek to use people to advance the goals of the institutional church.

Success is assumed when a person is plugged into the apparatus of the church institution rather than released to serve God’s people and their neighbors out in the world.

Packard interviewed hundreds of Christians who’ve given up on institutional churches. Remarkably, he discovered those most likely to leave the church were also the most spiritually mature and often had years of deep church involvement.

If those at the center are consistently burned out, exhausted, anxious, bitter, and unable to keep their core relationships healthy—be careful. Remember, the reason vampires want to suck the life out of you is because it’s already been sucked out of them.

I suspect that in many places we have created very fragile churches, and we know—although rarely admit—that even a small challenge could destroy them.

The inherent fragility of our churches, ministries, and schools helps explain, at least in part, why so many Christians carry so much anxiety today, and why we’re conditioned to see a threat behind every cultural or political change.

And when the church faced genuine persecution, as it did in Jerusalem following the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, rather than extinguishing its mission, the church only grew stronger and its mission only advanced faster. And even today, we see that where the church is growing most in the world is often where it is most challenged. The church of Jesus is without question the most anti-fragile system in world history.

Why do we build ministries that rely upon a single fallible leader, one dynamic speaker, or that require massive and unsustainable amounts of money? Our devotion to fragile systems means that as the pace of cultural, political, and technological change increases, so will the spirit of fear among Christians.

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Leaders Who Are PROVEN

Leaders Who Are PROVEN

There is talk all the time about leadership. Leadership in the government (having just come out of an election year), leadership on the football team (listening to commentators talking about various players each Saturday), leadership in the home (that whole marriage roles conversation), even leadership in the church (like the role and function of a pastor, the staff, deacons, and teachers). Leadership is not necessarily all about control and authority, because leadership expert Dr. John Maxwell says that leadership is influence. When you have influence over a person, group, a company, or a church, you are a leader.

It’s about influence that moves people to do things that they likely could not have done without leadership. I suppose a glaring biblical example of the lack of leadership may be found in the Book of Judges. There are two verses that tells us that everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25, it’s even found in Deuteronomy 12:8). By the way, Proverbs offers a little commentary when it comes to people doing what is right in their own eyes… “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15) and “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).

In the Titus 1:5-11 passage we read earlier, Paul is coaching Titus on leadership. We can learn much from what we read in Scripture, if we only we take the time to read it, understand it, and seek ways to apply it. Here is how Paul describes church leaders:

Blameless (above reproach) – Their work for the church, as well as their interactions with others outside the church, are to be of such moral quality that they do not bring shame or in any way disgrace the body of Christ or the name of Jesus.

Above reproach, however, does not mean without sin. No Christian lives an entirely sinless life, nor will we until we get to heaven. Above reproach means that the leader’s life is free from sinful habits or behaviors that would hinder his setting the highest Christian standard and model for the church to imitate (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). Remember that leadership is influence.

In the same way, the leader must not give reasons for those outside the church to challenge its reputation or integrity. Being above reproach means that no one can honestly bring a charge or accusation against the Christian leader (Acts 25:7; 1 Peter 3:16).

Husband of one wife – this does not mean that a church leader must be married, or even male, but probably means the person is faithful to the vows he’s made to his wife, and not a polygamist.

Has children who believe – this does not mean that a church leader must be a father or have children walking with the Lord. How many of us have raised our kids in the church yet they today have nothing to do with the church, maybe even nothing to do with God? At some point all human being must make their own decisions about who they will serve. What I mean is that since children have soul competency before God, their rebellion and wild nature cannot disqualify a church leader from effective service to God and this church.

Paul throws in some negative qualities:

Not accused of dissipation (which is indulgence, immorality, depravity, corruption) or rebellion – basically the leader is not overbearing, quick-tempered, given to drunkenness, violence, dishonest gain.

Then on the plus side:

The leader is hospitable, he or she loves good, is self-controlled, holy, and disciplined, holding firmly to sound teaching and doctrine.

So, as we look at leadership today, leaders are to be PROVEN. I am going to share with your six qualities of PROVEN leaders…

PASSION = Passion of Jesus, his mission, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission:

Passion is not a word often used in our culture, unless it is in the romantic sense of being passionate with or about your spouse, but the word is very accurate when it comes to our connection with Jesus.

This word passion fits right in with God’s greatest commandment, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, to love our God with all of our being (heart, mind, soul, and strength). Let me share some guidance from Scripture about how to awaken that in your life:

1) Get to know God. It goes without saying that we cannot love someone we do not know, so the place to start is to get to know God and understand what He has done for you. Before the command to love God is given in Deuteronomy 6:5, the statement is made, “Hear O Israel, The LORD our God is one LORD.”

One aspect of this statement is that the God of the Bible is unique, and the better we get to know what He is like, the easier it will be for us to love Him with our whole being. This also involves getting to know what He has done for us. Again, before the first command is given in Exodus 20:3, God states what He had done for Israel in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. Likewise, in Romans 12:1-2, the command to offer our lives as living sacrifices is prefaced with the word therefore–a word meant to remind us of all of the mercies of God toward us recorded in the previous chapters.

To grow in love with God, a person needs to get to know Him. God has revealed Himself in nature (read about that in Romans 1), but so much more through His written Word. We need to make daily Bible study a personal habit—as much a part of our lives as eating food every day. It is important to remember that the Bible is more than a book; it is actually God’s love letter to us, revealing himself through the centuries, especially through the ministry of Jesus Christ, His one and only unique Son. We must read the Bible, asking His Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts about what He wants us to learn from it that day.

2) Pray like Jesus did. When we examine the life of Jesus (as well as that of Daniel and others who had a passion for God) we find that prayer was a vital ingredient in their relationships with God. You cannot imagine a man and woman growing in love without communicating, so prayer cannot be neglected without expecting your love for God to grow cold. Prayer is part of the armor we use against our greatest enemies (Ephesians 6:18). We may have a desire to love God, but we will fail in our walk with Christ without prayer (Matthew 26:41).

3) Walk closely with God NOW. Daniel and his three friends chose to obey God and refused to compromise in even the food they ate (Daniel 1). The others who were brought from Judah to Babylon as prisoners with them caved in, and are never mentioned again. When the Jewish prisoners of war had their convictions challenged in a far greater way, it was only these few who stood alone for God (Daniel 3 and 6). In order to ensure that we will be passionate for God LATER, we need to walk with Him NOW and begin to obey Him in the smallest details of life!

Peter learned this the hard way by following God “at a distance,” rather than identifying himself more closely with Christ before his temptation to deny Him (Luke 22:54). God says that where a man’s treasure is, there his heart will be also. As we invest our lives in God through serving Him and being on the receiving end of persecution for Him, our treasure will increasingly be with Him, and so will our hearts (1 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 6:21).

4) Eliminate the competition. Jesus said it is impossible to have two masters (Matthew 6:24). We are always tempted to love the world (those things which please our eyes, make us feel good about ourselves, and gratify our earthly desires – 1 John 2:15-17). James tells us that embracing the world and its friendship is enmity (hatred) toward God and amounts to spiritual adultery (James 4:4). We need to get rid of some things in our lives that compete for our alligience (friends who would lead us the wrong way, things that waste our time and energy and keep us from serving God more faithfully, pursuits of popularity, possessions, and physical and emotional gratifications). God promises that if we pursue Him, He will not only provide for our needs (Matthew 6:33) but will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4-5).

So, leaders are to be people who are passionate about Jesus and his mission and spiritual disciples.

RELATIONSHIPS = Relationships resulting in accountability and application in small groups:

A small group at church consists of a handful of believers who are connected by our common faith in Jesus. They meet together for Bible study, service projects, encouragement, prayer, and fellowship. As churches grow larger, these small groups keep people connected with one another. The goal of a biblically faithful church is to create authentic community through our small groups ministry, which fosters discipleship, prayer, connection, and accountability. The number of participants in each small group is generally limited so that deep and long-lasting relationships are cultivated and maintained.

The model for small groups is found in the book of Acts when believers met together in homes to eat, fellowship, and take communion (Acts 2:41–42, 46). They would read the apostles’ letters, discuss them, pray, and challenge each other to keep the faith (Acts 20:7–8). A small group that functions correctly is a little church within a larger congregation.

It is within these small groups that the “one anothers” of Scripture take place. When the Bible tells Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), pray for one another (James 5:16), accept one another (Romans 15:7), and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), it implies that we are in close relationship with other believers. On a practical level, in a church of several hundred, the pastor cannot visit every sick person or take a meal to every new mother. Regardless of how friendly or outgoing a member may be, he or she cannot personally know an entire crowd seen only for an hour on Sunday morning. Community doesn’t happen when we are looking at the back of someone’s head. Community happens in circles, not in rows. So, the pastor and staff rely on small group leaders to take care of the members of their groups. They are the shepherds of the small flock of members who are in their charge.

In many ways, the first-century church was a series of small groups. They all studied the same Scriptures (Acts 17:11), read the same letters from the apostles (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27), and obeyed to the same standards for community lifestyle (1 Corinthians 11–14). They met in homes throughout the week (Acts 2:46) and established close, personal relationships with each other (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17). When modern church groups strive for the same unity (Ephesians 4:3; Psalm 133:1), they are fulfilling the expectations Jesus has for His church (Matthew 16:18).

OBEDIENCE = Obedience to the Commands of Christ and the Teachings of the Bible;

The Bible has a lot to say about obedience. In fact, obedience is an essential part of the Christian faith. Jesus Himself was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). For Christians, the act of taking up our cross and following Christ (Matthew 16:24) means obedience. The Bible says that we show our love for Jesus by obeying Him in all things: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). A Christian who is not obeying Christ’s commands can rightly be asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Obedience is defined as “dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands of one in authority.” Using this definition, we see the elements of biblical obedience. “Dutiful” means it is our obligation to obey God, just as Jesus fulfilled His duty to the Father by dying on the cross for our sin. “Submissive” indicates that we yield our will to God’s will. “Commands” speak of the Scriptures in which God has clearly presented His instructions, these “commands of Jesus, which I have studied over past decade. These are grammatical imperatives that must be obeyed, because they are not suggestions. The “one in authority” is God Himself, whose authority is total and unmistakable. For the Christian, obedience means complying with everything God has commanded. It is our duty and privilege to do so.

Having said that, it is important to remember that our obedience to God is not solely a matter of duty. We obey Him because we love Him (John 14:23). Also, we understand that the SPIRIT of obedience is as important as the ACT of obedience. We serve the Lord in humility, singleness of heart, and love.

If we love God, we WILL obey Him. We won’t be perfect in our obedience, but our desire is to submit to the Lord and demonstrate our love through good works. When we love God and obey Him, we naturally have love for one another. Obedience to God’s commands will make us light and salt in a dark and tasteless world (Matthew 5:13–16).

VICTORY = Victory over sin through ongoing sanctification and integrity:

The key to victory in our struggles with sin lies not in ourselves, but in God and His faithfulness to us: “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18; see also Psalm 46:1).

There’s no getting around it: we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). Even the great apostle Paul grieved over his ongoing struggle with sin in his life (Romans 7:18-20). Paul’s struggle with sin was real; so much so that he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).

Yet in the very next breath, he answers his own question, as well as ours: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a).

Our key to victory in our struggle with sin lies in the promise of God Himself: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If God provides a way of escape, it seems to me, that victory over sin is a matter of making better choices with the help of the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside every believer.

The Proven disciple (and the Proven leader) will have this desire to please God in his or her life and victory will come over a lifetime of obedience to God’s Word. When we understand the battle and the enemy’s battle strategy, we can better live victoriously in this fallen world.

ETERNAL FOCUS = Eternal focus resulting in Evangelism and the Example of Jesus:

Personal evangelism appears to be a scary thing for a lot of believers. It is simply the act of a person sharing the gospel, the good news, with someone else. There are many different methods of personal evangelism, and it is a hot topic within Christianity. Books, classes, and seminars are dedicated to the subject of witnessing, soul-winning, and helping others find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Not every method is effective or biblically supportable; according to Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur, “Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know.”

According to a 2016 Barna survey, 73 percent of Americans claim to be Christians. However, after applying scriptural tests to those claims, only around 31 percent actually qualify as practicing Christians. The Bible knows no other kind of Christian (Matthew 7:19–21; 1 John 3:7–10). Clearly, what has passed for personal evangelism for the last several generations has not been effective. It’s time for something new. Not a new message, but a new method of reaching people for Jesus.

I’ve shared this before, but I like the BLESS strategy; I call it “How to BLESS your neighbors.”

  • BEGIN with Prayer. Helping someone come to faith in Jesus is a God thing, don’t leave home without prayer.
  • LISTEN to the people around you. Discover their needs, hopes, dreams, cares, problems, frustrations, joys, and desires by simply having a conversation and listening to them.
  • EAT with them, sharing a meal. Find a time to share a meal. People will open up when they are across the table of fellowship.
  • SERVE them in some way, meeting a need. After all this listening to them, how can you make a practical difference in their lives? Serve them.
  • STORY means earning the right to share YOUR story or HIS story. After you have earned the right, find a way to share one of two possible stories: YOUR story, which is your testimony, or HIS story, the plan of salvation in the Bible.

In our personal evangelism, it is good to remember that we are only responsible to God for our obedience, not the results of that obedience. We may present the gospel thoroughly and lovingly, and the person to whom we witness may hear and understand, but still choose to walk away. We are not responsible for that reaction, but only for the level of obedience involved in our presentation. Acts 1:8 tells us that we will be his witnesses, the only choice we have is will we be a good witness or a poor witness?

NURTURING = Nurture others in the faith through example, teaching, and leadership:

As I think about nurturing others, I think about family and parenting. While the Bible has much to say about physical parenting, we are also called to spiritual parenting.

When God led the Israelites out of bondage, He commanded them to teach their children all He had done for them (Deuteronomy 6:6–7; 11:19). He desired that the generations to come would continue to uphold all His commands. When one generation fails to teach God’s laws in the next, a society quickly declines. Parents have not only a responsibility to their children, but an assignment from God to impart His values and truth into their lives.

While the home is primary place for raising children (Sunday School and VBS is not enough) the church is also a place to nurture those around us. And it is not just for kids. Women get together on Tuesdays. Men of Steel gather at Denny’s on Wednesdays and the Noble Men meet in the fellowship on various Saturdays. Leaders are nurtured and actively nurture others. The growth never ends, not until Jesus calls us home.

So, these six characteristics will help us to be a PROVEN leader, and a PROVEN disciple of Jesus. A lost world is watching us, ad waiting for us to prove that we are who we say we are. We expect more out of our leaders. Remember that being above reproach does not mean we are perfect, but that we live in such a way that no one can honestly say that our behavior would bring shame on the name of Jesus or his church.

Maybe you heard something today, and you need to make some changes in your life. We’re here to help, no one does this Christian life thing on their own. At King’s Grant, we are first of all, a community of faith. You can grow into the disciple and leader God desires for you to be, and the church can help, you’re not alone.

Let’s talk to God about it…

PRAY: Lord Jesus, this time is yours. You know our hearts, motivation, and attitudes. You know where we fall short better than we know ourselves. May we rekindle our passion for you, your Word, and the mission you have in our lives. Help us to live a life of significance and influence. Help us to know your will and your ways and give us the courage to stand up for the cause of Christ. Lord Jesus, may you be glorified through your PROVEN people. AMEN.

Thank you for being a part of this worship and study time. If we can help you in any way, please reach out to us through the church website (kgbc.us/more). If you live in the Virginia Beach area, we invite you to stop by for a visit on Sundays at 9:30am or 11am or join us for midweek activities on Wednesday evenings (kgbc.us/midweek). Until next time, thanks for joining us. We hope to see you soon.

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The Significance of a Life of Faith

The Significance of a Life of Faith
John 4:43-54

Video Clip Introduction – A Leap of Faith – Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.
[ Here is the video clip and message ]

THAT is not necessarily faith. People use that phrase a lot, like, just take a leap of faith. We may even use the words, stepping out in faith, but more often than not, we can substitute the word HOPE or WISH, that something will happen.

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether we are stepping out in faith or following some foolish impulse on our part.

First, I want to take a look at four things about true faith before we get into this passage:

Faith is COMMON – that means faith is universal. Everyone has faith. Atheists have faith, Buddhists have faith, Christians – everyone. You have never met anyone who was not a person of faith. However, what we have faith IN, well that’s the important difference.

Second, faith is CONVERSION. To have true faith in Jesus we have to switch our allegiances from old dependencies of this world and ourselves to Jesus. That is all about transformation. Those who have faith are transformed by the power of God. When you have faith, your Savior becomes Jesus rather than the false gods we embrace. Bud’s class on God’s at War is discussing all the false gods that we embrace and worship which prevents us from worshipping the true and living God.

Third, faith is CONTEMPLATIVE. This may seem to be a bit monk-ish, but here me out. Faith is a response to seeing and knowing Jesus. When we contemplate Christ, really dwell on him, mediate on him, we come to trust Him. Jesus said, “You may go, your son will live,” which is not what the man expected to hear. So, think about this for a moment. That which God speaks, happens. If you want greater faith, then contemplate Jesus.

Finally, faith is CONTINUAL. When we move out in faith, we find confirmation for our faith as we go through life. This is a continual and never-ending process of trusting Jesus, stepping out on the basis of that faith, finding confirmation, gaining more faith, and stepping out again. We begin to trust in the object of our faith, whom we know is totally trustworthy. This is the spiritual life and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Faith is continual.

So, what is it about this story that involves faith?

Last week was all about the woman at the well, and the story ended with the Samaritan woman testifying that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and many believed in him. John adds a great statement, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42).

Now we come to this episode in the life of Jesus, healing the official’s son, which is the second major “sign” of seven miracles which John used to reinforce Jesus’ true identity, with the goal of producing belief or faith in his readers (John 4:54).

In this story, Jesus scolded the official’s unbelief in needing a miraculous sign to trust in Christ (John 4:48). While some believe that this story is the same as the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13; Luke 7:2–10), There are sufficient differences to determine that this story is different from the synoptic gospels’ account.

  1. There is no evidence that the official was a Gentile.
  2. It is the official’s son, not his servant, who was healed.
  3. Jesus was far more negative regarding the official’s faith (John 4:48 – Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe) than the centurion’s (Matthew 8:10 – Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel).

So, let’s walk through this story and discover some spiritual truth about the significance of a life of faith. This was the second miracle John records in his book, (there are seven signs in his gospel).

  1. The PLACES (John 4:43-46a) – Jesus considers several things here at the beginning of the passage: The text tells us that after two eventful days in Samaria (the women at the well and the teaching about evangelism to the disciples), Jesus continues toward Galilee. First came this seemingly odd statement…
    1. That a prophet has no honor in his own hometown – It seems odd that Jesus quotes this old proverb here (John 4:44, also in Matthew 13:57). The scolding appears to be directed toward Judea, which was also his own country. Here was the reason…
    2. That the people were NOT excited about HIM but rather for what he had done for them (John 4:45)
      1. His reception is contrasted (between Samaria and Judea); Jerusalem gave him no honor, and his messianic claim was unwelcome, so much so that he did not entrust himself to the Jews (John 2:24-25).
      2. Basically, many had believed in HIM, but he did not believe in THEM. He did not entrust himself to them. Believe / entrust are the same Greek word.
      3. While many people eventually followed, they loved the miracles rather than the Messiah. This sets up the rest of the story…
  2. The PREDICAMENT (John 4:46b) This father came to Cana concerned about his sick son in Capernaum.
    1. Positive side – the man knew that he needed Jesus.
    2. Negative side – the man put Jesus in a box, limiting how God will work in the lives of people.
  3. The PLEA (John 4:47) – he begs Jesus to heal his son (a CRISIS of faith). This is the plea of every parent for a child. We can identify with his desperation (my Stephen story as an example).
    1. But the description of the situation reveals the man’s limited faith. The text says that the man implored him to “come down” and heal his son. The man had a weak faith and believed that he needed the actual presence of Jesus for the healing to happen.
    2. Contrast this situation with that town in Samaria where they believed in Jesus because of his words (John 4:42), while here they “believe” based on his deeds/miracles. So, this helps us to understand the seemingly harsh response in John 4:48.
  4. The PROBLEM (John 4:48) – Jesus fires back, as if he laments the fact that people demand that he perform miracles before they will believe in him.
    1. Is this not the same today? Unless God opens the sky to reveal himself, I will never believe.
    2. Signs indicated that the miracles were intended to convey a larger spiritual truth. Wonders would just draw attention to the miracle itself. Authentic faith does not need to be bolstered by miracles, and the Samaritans believed without their faith being propped up by something miraculous.
    3. But Jesus knew this man’s love for his son, as well as his weak faith, and this man needed something to strengthen his faith. God finds us where we are and gently leads us toward maturity and strength.
  5. The PERSISTENCE (John 4:49) – out of desperation, the father continues to seek help from Jesus, using the words as before, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
    1. Literally, “before my little boy dies.” Desperation leads to persistence.
    2. How often are we much more deeply involved and committed to prayer when we are desperate? When we are desperate, we don’t care how this looks to other people, or how foolish we might look, we need God to intervene and answer, and the whole thing will fail unless God shows up.
    3. When was the last time that you poured out your heart to God, recognizing there was nowhere else to turn? Let’s not wait until we are desperate; let our prayer be a part of an everyday life of faith.
  6. The PROMISE (John 4:50) – Jesus says that “the boy will live” (a CONFIDENT faith). With the promise and assurance of Jesus, now the man has to make a choice; essentially, to choose his next steps carefully.
  7. The PATH (John 4:50) – Jesus says to “go your way,” meaning return to your home and to your people. Jesus is forcing this father to believe without a miraculous sign.
    1. Notice that the man said COME and Jesus said GO. We cannot tell Jesus how to do his work; is he in charge or not? The man had to lay aside his expectations and let Jesus handle the situation.
    2. This desperate father had to choose between DOUBTING the man whom he placed his trust and hope, or BELIEVE Jesus, what he said, and go back home.
    3. The man’s confidence was so secure that he did not hurry back home but took his time. The 22-mile journey from Cana to Capernaum could have been done in one day, but all was well, he had confidence that everything was okay, and traveled back the following day (John 4:52). So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”
    4. When was the last time you had to make a tough decision? How do you know which path to choose? Maybe both choices are equally good and appropriate, but you still have to choose.
    5. I love Isaiah 30:20-21 – Although the Lord has given you bread of adversity and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. 21 Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
  8. The PAYOFF (John 4:51-54) the PROOF – I see two things happening here:
    1. The physical restoration of the heir (John 4:51-53a) (a CONFIRMED faith). When the father heard the report and saw his son totally healed, his weak faith had been confirmed. Sometimes just a small step of faith is all it takes for God to open our eyes and let us see the world from his perspective.
    2. The spiritual restoration of the household (John 4:53b-54) (a CONTAGIOUS faith).
      1. How often and how long have you prayed for a lost family member? Weeks? Months? Years? If you are a follower of Jesus, entrust the salvation of your family to him. You may see no way for that person’s heart to open up to the gospel of Christ; but aren’t you glad that their salvation does not depend upon you? God loves your friend or family member way more than you ever could. Trust, believe, have faith, and leave the results up to HIM.
      2. YOUR life of faith will speak loudly to those whom the gospel has yet to be revealed or embraced.
      3. Throughout the book of Acts, people come to faith, and then the entire household gets saved (Acts 11:14, 16:15, 31, 18:8). It may not be instantly, as in these stories, but pray that God will do wonders in your family through you. Live a gospel-empowered life in front of them every day. This is the significance of a life of faith.

The movement of this father’s faith…

  1. A man having faith in Jesus’ POWER.
  2. A man having faith in Jesus’ PROMISE.
  3. A man having faith in Jesus’ PERSON.

Faith is willful, dynamic, life-long, progressive, and at times not very easy. But following Jesus by faith is totally worth it.

Where are you today, in this story?

This story starts out with sickness, anxiety, desperation, and the shadow of death, but ends up with rejoicing, confidence, hope, and wholeness.

Maybe today is when you get on the right path, let Jesus into your life, follow him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Enter into the salvation of the Lord.

Or maybe you need to join this church, choose this path, after all, Jesus brought you here, and you have remained a part of this warm fellowship, but it is time to declare your commitment to Christ and this Church.

What are some elements of authentic faith?

2 Timothy 1:12 – For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

  1. I KNOW = there is knowledge (head knowledge versus experiential knowledge) and there is assurance (one cannot be sold out to Jesus if you are not sure of several things, like, Jesus is the only way, that he can be trusted, that God’s Word is true and authoritative.
  2. WHOM = he did not believe in a set of principles or doctrines, but a person.
  3. I HAVE BELIEVED = there is confidence (perfect tense meaning action begun and completed in the past and the effects continue even now)
  4. I am CONVINCED = there is assent or approval (we can stake our whole life on the trustworthiness of Jesus and his word)
  5. I have COMMITTED or entrusted = there is volition (willfully putting my life into his care and protection). Paul was confident of God’s control and encouraged Timothy that while he was in prison, had lost everything, he had not lost his faith. Trust God when life is hard. Have unwavering confidence and boldness. Paul entrusted (put down a deposit) that God is able to keep us saved.

Hebrews. 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

How significant is faith? Without faith it is impossible to please God.

  1. We must BELIEVE.
    1. That he exists.
    2. That he is a rewarder.
  2. We must diligently SEEK him (see Jeremiah 29:13 – you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart).

So, faith is active, we exercise it, it is not something that we passively accept or simply believe.

It is willful, dynamic, life-long, progressive, and at times not very easy. But following Jesus by faith is totally worth it.

Where are you today, in this story?

This story starts out with sickness, anxiety, desperation, and the shadow of death, but ends up with rejoicing, confidence, hope, and wholeness.

Maybe today is when you get on the right path, let Jesus into your life, follow him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Enter into the salvation of the Lord.

Or maybe you need to join this church, choose this path, after all, Jesus brought you here, and you have remained a part of this warm fellowship, but it is time to declare your commitment to Christ and this Church.

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Why We Don’t Witness

For years, I have heard church leaders bemoan the reality that the majority of Christians never or rarely share their faith with unbelievers. Though declaring the good new of Jesus to others is the responsibility of every Christ-follower, few people in our churches embrace the holy assignment. Why?

In his book, Contagious, author and professor, Jonathan Berger, writes about how thinking and social influence spread, or “why things catch on.” In one chapter, he shares insights from a study that sought to discover why some online articles are shared more than other articles.

Several insights were gleaned, but the strongest discovery was that articles that drove a sense of awe into readers were 30 times more likely to make the list of “most shared articles.” Readers are much more likely to share articles that evoke a sense of awe.

Quite simply, we can’t help but spread news that we find amazing.

Though the book is on every marketing professional’s shelf, the chapter was convicting for me as a believer in Jesus Christ.

According to the research, if I am not sharing the gospel, it is because I have lost my sense of awe and appreciation for it.

The reason the majority of the people in our churches don’t share the gospel is not because they haven’t been through a course. Nor is it because they failed to participate in a training seminar.

Not sharing the gospel reveals a loss of awe about the depths to which He plunged to rescue us. Not sharing the faith with others reveals a loss of amazement that He gave us His righteousness for our sin.

If we are still in awe that the holy and eternal God of the universe would pursue us in our sinfulness, humble Himself and suffer in our place, become the curse for our sin, and absorb our punishment to give us His peace, then we can’t help but share this news. If we are convinced that the news about Jesus is truly good news, we can’t help but spread it.

When the religious leaders asked Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, to stop speaking about Jesus, they replied, “We are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Their hearts were filled with awe for Jesus and His work for them; thus, there was no way they could be silent.

When Jeremiah considered not speaking for the Lord, he realized he could not hold the message inside without exploding: “If I say, ‘I won’t mention Him or speak any longer in His name,” His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Whatever we find amazing, we share. We spread what we are in awe of.

By Eric Geiger

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Dealing with Disasters in Life

Kim is visiting her mom in weather-torn Alabama. I assume that many of you watched last week the story which unfold as killer tornadoes swept across the southern states. Don’t forget about the deadly fires that consumed millions of acres and destroyed lives in Texas.

Here’s the question, one which most Christians wonder about, but are sometimes afraid to ask: “God, where are you in all these catastrophes? Couldn’t you have simply spoken a word to still the tornadoes and quench the fires?”

And then there is THE question behind all others: “If God is all-powerful and loving, then why didn’t He stop the tragedies from happening? So He must either not be all-powerful, or not loving, end of story.”

When people experience calamity and heartbreak, is that the end of their story? Consider a man named Job in the Old Testament. He endured an onslaught of disasters that would have driven most people to despair. Try to put yourself into his world as you read about the tornado of adversity that stormed through every area of his life; he lost his business, family, future, kids, (check it out in Job 1:13-16). He was having a very bad day.

Things continued to spiral downward following these events. Job lost his health, was accused by his friends of being the sinner responsible for his losses, and though he valiantly kept his faith through nearly all the ordeal, the haunting questions about God’s goodness and love consumed his thoughts:

“How I wish we had an arbitrator
to step in and let me get on with life—
To break God’s death grip on me,
to free me from this terror so I could breathe again.
Then I’d speak up and state my case boldly.
As things stand, there is no way I can do it” (Job 9:33-35).

In effect, Job is saying, “God, I’d like to meet you in court so you can stand trial for not stopping the disasters. Either you are not all-powerful or not loving, so which is it?”

Much to Job’s surprise, God answers with a hurricane force series of questions that all fit under the category of “Are YOU talking to ME, Job?” It’s not that God was being cruel or evasive, but the answer to our question lies in another question, which is, “Is God in charge or not?”

The answer is a resounding YES, God is in charge! And because I can hold on to this truth like a ship’s mast in a violent storm, I can be sure that by allowing trials in my life He is acting in the most loving way possible for my ultimate good. It is not only possible but absolutely true that our all-powerful God allows tribulations because He is forming us into Christ’s image and has to tell a story of His love for the world, and the salvation of humanity.

That’s why He boldly declares this truth:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

When we are walking through the storms of life and feel like innocent victims in this broken, fallen and sometimes evil world, it is easy to only be aware of the pain and loss, but we can trust and be certain that above the dark clouds is a loving Father who will redeem all evil and reshape it into His perfect plan.

Remember also that pain and trial are instruments that God can use to reach people who are far from Him. As C. S. Lewis brilliantly stated:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God is all-powerful and loving. Let’s trust in His plan and share the most powerful and loving message ever proclaimed, the Good News about Jesus Christ, the One who will “wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new!” (Revelation 21:4).

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Faith Like Potatoes

Over a year ago I watched a film called Faith Like Potatoes. Weird title but a great film, based on a true story of a farmer turned preacher in South Africa.

Angus Buchan, a Zambian farmer of Scottish heritage, leaves his farm in the midst of political unrest and racially charged land travels south with his family to start a better life in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. With nothing more than a trailer on a patch of land, and help from his foreman, Simeon, the Buchan family struggles to settle in a new country. Faced with ever mounting challenges, hardships and personal turmoil, Angus quickly spirals down into a life consumed by anger, fear and destruction. This is a story that tells the moving life journey of a man who, like his potatoes, grows his faith, unseen until the harvest.

The Bible often brings up farming, for instance…

And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor (2 Timothy 2:6).

In this section, Paul brings up a farmer as one of three illustrations of a faithful minister of the gospel. The other two (soldier and athlete) probably sound more exciting. Although it’s not Paul’s intent, the truth is that a farmer leads quite an exciting life. He works one of the most dangerous careers a person can choose. Soldiers may face greater dangers from time to time, but a farmer lives and works between sky and earth every day. I recently discovered that in our time, farming outranks any other career in producing work-related injuries and death. Farming is not for dabblers, cowards, or the lazy. And farmers can teach us a lot about faith.

In comparison with athletics and soldiering, farming helps us understand the persistent and patient parts of faith. Action and results come fairly quickly for athletes and soldiers. Not for farmers. They place a seed in the ground and return to harvest the results, but it can be a long time between those two actions. Successful farmers know how to wait. They may not enjoy waiting; but they learn to do it. Waiting doesn’t usually mean doing nothing, but the hardest part of waiting is the waiting.

Farming comes up various times in scripture (sometimes the farmer represents God or the ministry of the gospel).

  1. Jesus used many farming situations in his parables (like Matthew 13:1-23).
  2. Paul discussed the parallels between farming and the development of believers (as in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9).

In 2 Timothy 2:6 we get to see ourselves as farmers. With that privilege comes responsibility. If we’re going to “enjoy the fruit” of our labors, then we better be “hardworking.” The farmer who is not hardworking will reap what he sows–little or nothing.

A wise farmer knows what he can’t do.

  1. He can’t put life in a seed.
  2. He can’t make it rain.
  3. He can’t force the seed to grow.

There’s much that’s out of his hands. But he does his part.

  1. He plants
  2. He waters
  3. He cultivates
  4. He waits

As believers, we plant seeds (acts of obedience to God) in one another’s lives. We deposit seeds (the gospel) in the lives of those who don’t know Christ. The actual results of these actions are in God’s hands. But we often get to be the first to enjoy those results because we’re there. If we recognize the way that we are farmers, we remember we’re in the field every day. Every moment becomes a new opportunity to persistently plant seeds and then patiently wait to see what God will do.

Application:

  1. Have you seen the film? It is well worth renting for your family movie night, and then discuss lessons seen in the film.
  2. How is your faith growing? Abundantly? Wonderful harvest? Bearing much fruit? Or is there a drought? Weeds springing up?
  3. What changes will you make to help cultivate your faith?
  4. How are you getting to know God better?
  5. What fruit do you see beginning to bud? Which fruit are ripe for harvest?
  6. What hired help do you need to farm better? To whom can you become accountable for your Christian growth and maturity?
  7. Can the Men of Steel help you to become a more productive farmer? (Next time we get together is April 30 at 7:30 am).

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