Discipleship, The Key to Christian Growth

Each week I have the privilege to sit down with a group of men in the chapel to discuss life and the gospel. During my time in settings like this, I’m reminded of the importance of discipleship. Though discipleship can take on many forms, however it always involves honesty, seeking advice, and Scripture, and someone willing to do all of the above. This time is essential in the growth of a Christian!

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10). The Preacher here is writing about the benefit of working together. Two are also better than one as we live out our faith in Christ. We really need each other, though we often try to go at it alone. We really need reproof and instruction, though we seldom seek it out. This is why discipleship is so important.

Discipleship builds humility. Our temptation might be to think we know what is best for ourselves. But Proverbs says that a wise man will hear and learn, and will acquire wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5). So we can safely assume that an unwise man will not hear from others, will shut them down and will not listen, will lack understanding and will not acquire wise counsel. We need to resist the temptation to be wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7). We must humble ourselves!

Discipleship also unites us with fellow believers. The body of Christ isn’t meant to simply exist for us to gather together on Sundays and then move along with our lives the rest of the week. God’s word paints a picture of believers doing life together (Acts 2:44–47). Seeking counsel and discipleship is one way to invite others into your life. And also discipleship equips us for faithfulness. We become faithful when we make ourselves available. In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells the church of Corinth to follow his example as he follows the example of Christ. Paul was in the process of raising up leaders in the church and through this discipleship process he wanted them his example. If we want those who we are in discipleship groups with to follow our example then we better walk in faithfulness. And for those who are struggling in this area can learn and be equipped by those who are faithful.

Discipleship needs to happen among Christians! I would never trade the times I have and have had with these men. I have learned so much and I pray they have received from me as well.

Happy New Years!

2016 (1)

As we turn the page and begin a new year in our lives, I wonder, what this new year will hold. What new joys await us this next year? What challenges? What trials and heartaches? What new lessons? What dreams will come true, and what new ones will be birthed?

The great news is that God is the author of 2016! He knows each and every twist and turn that lay ahead both for you and for me. He has planned 2016 down to the tiniest detail—all with the goal of his glory and our good.

So when it comes to facing the new and unexpected, when the future seems frightening and uncertain, and when we come to a new and unfamiliar junction in the road of life, the best and greatest thing we can do is pray.

While the list of things we could pray for this year is endless, I’ve created a list to get us started. Will you join me in praying these things for ourselves and others?

  1. That we would know the love of Christ.This is one of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. It is a prayer that opens our eyes to seeing Christ’s love in new and fresh ways.

    “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:17-19).

  2. That we would love God’s Word.It was God’s Word that started this blue marble that we call Earth spinning and twirling in the darkness. It is His Word that brings life and sustains life. It is His Word that decreed redemption was accomplished when Christ cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” And it is His written Word that shows us the path of life.Scripture tells us all we need to know about who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. It also His Word that changes us and sanctifies us.

    “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

    Let us pray this year for hearts that love God’s Word.

  3. That we would desire Christ above all else.We cannot love God on our own. Left to our own devices, we would only love ourselves. Only God can bring our dead hearts to life, giving us hearts that love and desire to obey Him.

    “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Eze. 36:36).

    Let us pray this year for hearts that love Christ above all else. Let us pray for hearts that are dissatisfied with the fast-food offerings of this world. Instead, let’s pray that we would develop a taste for the rich and deeply satisfying love of Christ.

  4. That God would show us the idols of our heart.All the things we bow down to in our heart—the things that we love more than Christ—are idols. Success, affection, affirmation, money, possessions, family, jobs, can all be idols of the heart. Pray that God would reveal what idols stand tall on the altar of your heart. Pray that He would help you remove them and put greater love for Christ in their place.
  5. That we would be quick to repent.Martin Luther described the Christian life as one of repentance. As long as we live in this sin-stained world, we will continue to sin. Let us pray for hearts that are quick to repent. May we readily turn to the cross and apply what Christ has done for us, washing ourselves anew in His forgiving grace.
  6. That we would think less about ourselves.Tim Keller says, “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” This year, let us pray that we would spend less time consumed with ourselves and more time thinking about loving God and loving others.
  7. That we would have gospel joy.Gospel joy is the joy that anchors us in the midst of the ferocious storms of life. It is the constant steady horizon in the swells of life. It stays with us no matter our circumstances. This is something I pray for quite often because I tend to notice the storm clouds and forget the sun shining above them. Gospel joy comes from knowing what Christ has done for us, who we are because of Him, and the eternal hope we have through Him.
  8. That we would love like Christ.Just as we can’t love God on our own, we can’t love others on our own either. We need to pray that we would have a love like Christ—the kind of love that seeks the best in others, takes the last place, serves, and sacrifices. The apostle John said that we love because God first loved us. This year, may we focus on the love Christ has for us, and may it propel us to love others as He loves us.
  9. That God’s will would be done.In the fictional Mitford book series, Father Tim would tell others that he was “praying the prayer that never fails.” Praying that God’s will would be done is the prayer that never fails. May we submit all our prayers and desires to God’s will, trusting that His will is perfect, holy, righteous, and good.
Portions of this post were originally written by Christina Fox at reviveourhearts.com

Wrestling with God

Wrestling with God is a real term for me, as the other month I felt a spiritual battle I have never experienced before! You see, I work in a very dark place (prison), a place where the devil has many men bound up in strongholds, a place where there are many pagan religions represented, and a place where much evil happens every day. As I enter this place everyday my prayer has always been, please Lord protect me from the evil here and let me share you in this place! But the other night this wrestling that kept me up all night showed me clearly that I had let my guard down and that I had allowed the Devils lies to secretly manipulate my thinking. My view of who I was and my view of who God was! I had left down my guard, the shield of faith and I now was operating on my own strength instead of Gods strength. During that struggle God brought me to the passage of scripture in Genesis 32 where it gives us an account of Jacob and his wrestling match with God through the night.

In Genesis 32 we see that Jacobs wrestling match was first and foremost terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something wholly different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point, at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent. Jacob was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.” Throughout the course of Jacob’s life, we see him having multiple enemies—particularly in Laban. Jacob anticipated his older brother, Esau, as an enemy and was completely frightened by him. But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob. One can make the argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult. I wonder how many of us view God this same way? I did without really knowing it!

The Lord is our great physician, the great healer of our souls. He is our provider, the resting place, our righteousness and our victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can wrongly assume God is more for us than for Himself. But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours. And, like Jacob, we often use God for our own gain in life and our own wants.

In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth and power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.
Now, in his wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God could not be used for his means. He discovered—quite suddenly—that the Lord is to be feared. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely. Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God and that Jacob was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is shown to be profoundly changed in his life from that moment on. Before the wrestling match, life’s circumstances had reduced Jacob to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived, and God had not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and Jacob was at his wits’ end. I’m sure many of us have felt this way before, for me it came after several great victories and then it seemed like all hope was lost, that all of a sudden I didn’t need God anymore not intentionally thinking that but allowing my actions to portray that. It was a time where I left my shield down because of the thought “I got this!” It was in my own strength that I had actually become very weak, I was nothing to the enemy as long as I was without God.

Frederick Buechner, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter in Genesis 32 as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”

A.W. Pink writes, “Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.”

That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength—submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this. Praise God, this wrestling brought me to my knees, I cried out to Him for deliverance realizing I had been placing my trust in mine own ability rather than His. God opened my eyes to things that I had allowed to creep into my Christian walk that were working against what He had purposed for me! In my weakness, He showed me His strength and renewed my fear for Him, my reverence for Him!

In Genesis 32, Jacob confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing.

What I have learned from studying Genesis 32 and from my own experience is that our lives are never meant to be easy. God has entrusted us as leaders, fathers, and Husbands with His creation and has purposed His will for our lives. Our wants, wills and desires are secondary to what God has for us, our wants, wills and desires have to die to God’s plan, His will for our life! This life that I live is not about me and my accomplishments but about God’s glory! Wrestling with God showed me that I was not capable of ever achieving anything in life without His leading, because I am just a hopeless sinner without Him! I also learned that as a Christian, despite my trials and tribulations, my strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Thank you God!