Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year I’ve often found myself discouraged by my seemingly hot and cold approach to what many Christians call quiet time, devotions etc. It’s challenging to feel a passionate drive to get deeply into the word. Spending time unearthing the deep truths found there, to then journal my findings, realizations, and response over a couple of focused pages of writing. Then to finish in fervent prayer, only to forget to even pick up my bible the next day, or perhaps for the next couple weeks!
My wife, on the other hand, is incredible. While world-class at mothering our children and caring for everyone’s needs, she finds what space she can in the margins to seek the Lord. Resting in the reality that even if she only reads one verse, and her prayer life manifests throughout the day in little moments of silence, that Jesus is still her Lord and she can grow in greater adoration and communion with him yet still.
All the while our family has always made an intentional attempt to be part of a church and a Christian community.
As I’ve seen my own structure of devotion change from season to season, I’m realizing more and more that these habits, whatever the look like at the time, are simply ones that God designed to allow us greater access to his grace.
After reading a book recently called Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines
. By David Mathis, I’ve found his framework helpful in sifting through the myriad of things claimed as spiritual disciplines. He outlines what he believes scripture shows us as the 3 primary spiritual disciplines designed for us to encounter God’s grace.
Although there are many facets to each of these, I would agree with Mathis is his statement that the three habits of grace most important to a Christians life are scripture, prayer, and Christian fellowship.
Now, before you check out and move on to something else in your day I encourage you to hear me out here. It’s not as straightforward as some might assume and it’s also not as complex or ambiguous as some might fear either.
One thing is for sure, our spiritual disciplines cannot be about us. I’ll explain what I mean by that shortly, but first, let me outline the key points of each of these 3 disciplines.
Our consumption of scripture is intended to reveal to us more and more of the heart of God. But consumption alone is not the end but the means. The end is to grow in a deeper relationship with the person of Jesus and in this process, be transformed from glory to glory into Christ-likeness more each day. So how do we convert our consumption into something that brings us closer to the person of Jesus?
There are many ways to consume the Word of God but for today we’ll just discuss the personal reading of scripture. First, Mathis suggests we read for breadth and study for depth. What this means is we are to consume as much of the Bible as possible throughout the year because without the entirety of scripture we miss critical aspects of the biblical narrative and the context needed to fully understand scripture. While in this process, as certain scriptures stand out to you and speak to your heart, take note, make a note and follow up with meditation.
The goal of Christian meditation is to pause on a concept, roll it around, chew on it, apply it to your current reality, grasp the heart of God for you through it and let this lead into prayer. This meditation can look like a lot of things, but for many it’s simply making a physical note of the verse, assessing the context and meaning as it was delivered by the writer to the original hearers and determining what God wants to reveal to you about Jesus and your life through it.
As I mentioned before, the ultimate goal is to capture the heart of God through his whole word and allow that to help you understand more about the grace and love of Jesus. To find the gospel (good news of Jesus) in everything you read.
Here’s an example: When reading the story of Noah, we can understand the covenant God made with Noah never to destroy the whole of mankind again due to our evil. It sets the stage for the story of redemption and foreshadows God’s heart for saving a sinful mankind. God knows the only way to reconcile his people to himself is to send a perfect and permanent sacrifice and because He’s the only one capable, you can see even throughout the old testament God’s plan to put on skin and bones, live a sinless life and die on our behalf that we might be able to be reconciled to him. It’s a passionate pursuit, the greatest love story ever known. All of which is found hidden in the “death and destruction” outlined in the story of Noah.
The Gospel is everywhere. We just have to look.
As Mathis puts it: “Prayer, simply put, is talking to God. It is irreducibly relational. It’s personal – he is the Absolute Person, and we are derivative persons, fashioned in his image. In a sense, prayer is as basic as persons relating to each other, conversing, interacting, but with this significant caveat: in this relationship, we don’t chat as peers. He is Creator, and we are creatures. He is the great Lord, and we are his happy servants. Yet because of his amazing love and extravagant grace, he invites us to interact. He has opened his mouth and spoken to us. Now he opens his ear to hear us.”
Wow. Such an amazing reality to consider. Due to immeasurable grace and love of God, he’s given us, his mere creation, access to approach him in conversation as a relational interaction. If that doesn’t blow your mind, it should.
Prayer is about relating to God in light of what he’s revealed to us. Prayer is not about what we can get from God, but actually about getting more of God himself. Think of it like dating a girlfriend or boyfriend or relating to your spouse. When you’re just sitting there chatting, you’re there to enjoy, engage and connect, not specifically to get something from your significant other. The results of the interaction, however, are that we do receive from our significant other, often in the form of love, intimacy, service, gifts encouraging words and more. Occasionally in light of a discussion, we do have things to request from our significant other, but surely this isn’t the only intent behind ever talking to them. This illustration pales in comparison to interaction with God and couldn’t begin to do justice to what is imparted to us through prayer, but I believe it helps frame the heart we should come with and the intent behind prayer.
Prayer is done in many forms. We’re called to pray alone in “in a closet”, with fellow believers, and corporately as a church. All expressions of prayer are beneficial and bring with them a unique grace and power. All of which draw us closer to the heart of God and reveal the person of Jesus.
Probably the most misinterpreted and wrongly defined spiritual discipline is that of Christian Fellowship. Fellowship amongst believers is about the grace of God being delivered through the faithful and committed gathering of his believers. There are many ways to Fellowship, but if attempted apart from scripture, prayer, encouragement, rebuke and other aspects of collectively building each other up in the faith, you’re simply some Christians hanging out. You’re not fellowshiping. Even as a small group or missional community, too often people gather in the name of ‘fellowship’ to eat a meal, watch a sporting event or go out together. These activities are good things. But when these activities are void of the practices listed in scripture in relation to Fellowship, it simply is not defined as such and doesn’t carry with it the same transformative weight that it should.
Christian Fellowship is seen all over the New Testament as including the encouraging each other in the faith, bearing up each other’s burdens, confessions of sin, prayer, healing, taking of the Lord’s Supper and other activities. Fellowship can happen one on one, in small groups, or corporately. One thing is for sure, it’s designed for Christians to grow in an understanding of the grace of God and grow together in Christ-likeness.
If it looks no different than what you would do with non-believers, something is lost.
Mathis wraps up his general thoughts on Fellowship in a way I couldn’t agree with more:
“…the deepest, most durable form of fellowship is covenantal – in other words, it is between parties that have made formal commitments to each other. This is not only true in a partnership of marriage, but also in the local church. When we make vows and promises to each other in covenanting together in a local church as “members” or “partners”, we don’t inhibit the true life of the church but give the truest conditions for its growth and flourishing.
When our fellowship is not simply a network of loose Christian relationships, but anchored in a particular “covenant community” as committed members together in a local outpost of Christ’s Kingdom, we come closest to experiencing what those first Christians did, when people didn’t just drift in and out of the community, but were either in or out – and those who were in were pledged to be the church for each other through thick and thin.”
Ultimately, spiritual disciplines are about placing yourself in the path of God’s grace as outlined in scripture. The same way that I can push the accelerator of a car, but don’t personally hold the power to move the car, spiritual disciplines are our way of tapping into more of our amazing Creator and the person of Jesus through the avenues he designed to help us do life with him.
These habits are not about us, our growth and development, scriptural knowledge, or moral behavior. Rather these habits are first and foremost about God revealing more of his nature to us, and in turn, the results will inevitably be, as promised in scripture, that we become more like him until the day Jesus comes back or we are taken to heaven.
Think of it like this, I can know everything there is to know about Michael Jordan, what he likes to eat, what the rooms in his house look like, his favorite TV shows, what time he goes to bed, all of his family heritage and more without ever meeting him or knowing him deeply and personally. Every Spiritual discipline void of a heart that is simply seeking more relationship with the person of Jesus, has the potential to lead us to a place where we know of Jesus but never truly know our Lord and savior.
I am guilty of this at times and I certainly don’t pretend to have this all figured out. I’m simply convicted, encouraged and relieved. I don’t need to be perfect, I don’t need to know everything, and I certainly am not responsible for conjuring up the grace of God. I just need to show up in his streams of grace with a heart of gratitude, adoration, and commitment to knowing him more.