Picture yourself alongside the apostle Paul. There you are in a dark, miserable prison. Rats are plentiful. The smell of human waste is everywhere. You have no idea when you’re going to be released. You’ve been faithful to Jesus to share the good news of the gospel with many in the city of Philippi and because of that, you’ve had handcuffs slapped on your wrists and you were thrown into this prison.
Then, Paul leans over to you. You don’t necessarily expect Paul to gripe and complain, but you weren’t prepared for what he said next: “Brother, I know it’s late. I know we’ve just been beaten and the rats are starting to nip at us, but we should start praising the Lord.”
In that moment, what would your reaction be?
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I would just jump right in singing and praising God like Silas did. Your reaction to that statement tells a lot about what you believe God deserves praise for. Paul had learned something that others before Him learned: We don’t just praise God because circumstances are going well. We praise Him because of who He is.
In this way, praise is a discipline. We don’t just wake up one morning desiring to praise God in the darkest and most bitter circumstances. What’s more likely is that we begin every day to delight in God for who He is and what He’s done for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. *This allows us to praise Him no matter the circumstances.*
Listen to David:
“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,” (Psalm 31:7)
“Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright,” (Psalm 33:1)
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth,” (Psalm 34:1).
All of these point to David calling us to make a decision, based on who God is, to offer praise. None of these commands are based on the circumstances going on around him or us. In fact, some of them call us to praise in spite of the circumstances.
Beloved, we must get better at praising God for *WHO* He is, despite our circumstances. It’s the only practice that will get us to the place where we praise God in the prison. We want to be the people whose spirits are so alive with God that despite the gruesomeness around us we still love God.
We don’t get there in a minute. We get there day by day, praising God where we are at right now.
I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.
He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:
“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”
He shook his head yes.
“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?
He shook his head again.
“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”
Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.
This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.
So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.
Yesterday I shared some thoughts about how “not being fed spiritually” isn’t why we participate in a church. My primary argument (in case you hate clicking links) is that we weren’t primarily designed be fed by another person, but by the Lord Himself. But I realize that because of the state of the church today, that could leave many of you asking, “How do I do that?”
Because of that, I want to look at four different ways the Bible encourages us to fuel our spiritual man. God actually has ways for you to feed your heart and soul yourself as you encounter Him. My encouragement to you is to look at the four different ways listed below and pick one (or more) that you aren’t doing, but to also do it daily for ninety days before you give up on it. There are many, many days where the disciplines I practice don’t feel like they are accomplishing anything. But the overall effect of doing them consistently over the years has had a tremendous impact on my life.
So, to feed your spiritual man, you should try the following:
- Pray. I know what you’re thinking. You pray. But I’m not talking about the short “Help me, God,” sort of prayers we pray throughout hectic days. I’m talking about a kind of prayer where your mind is focused, your heart is attentive, and you and the Father are dialoguing back and forth. Part of the problem we experience with prayer is much of the church has taught us not to expect God to talk back to us. But prayer is a communion of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit where real relationship happens. If you have problems praying I have a few suggestions: 1) Get alone. 2) Leave behind all of your electronic devices. 3) Bring a pen and some paper. Write your part of the conversation out on paper and then wait. And as God brings truth to your spirit or brings up a Bible verse, or shows you a picture write those things down. Over time as you practice this, you’ll begin to get good at hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit as you wait for Him.
- Read the Bible. Again, this can seem so elementary, but we so don’t do the simple things and it hurts us. Can we put away our books, our blogs (even this one?), our Christian programs, and truly begin to understand what God is saying? Jesus (and Moses) said “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). We have to get to our place in our walk where we understand we are dependent on God’s word to feed our spirit on a daily basis. This encounter with the word has to go beyond just dull, repetitive reading, though, to ushering us into an encounter with Jesus (John 5:39). In our network, I encourage believers to get in groups of two or three and read 20 to 30 chapters of the Bible in context every week. Consuming a large amount of Scripture in context has helped us grow in understanding of God’s will for our lives. Not only that, but we’ve met God in the process.
- Do the will of the Father. “I have a kind of food you know nothing about…My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work,” (John 4:32-34). Jesus, as a human being, had learned to become dependent, not on natural food, but a spiritual food that came from the Father. This wasn’t just because Jesus was God. Jesus had to lay aside His divine nature and become like us in all things (Philippians 2:6-8). So His entire life was an example of how redeemed humanity can live in relationship to the Father. Friends, this means you can be fed spiritually when you participate in God’s will! That can be as simple as encouraging someone or responding to a truth from the Bible or as unique as Jesus prophesying to the Samaritan woman about her various scandals and leading her to repentance. Regardless, every time we do God’s will, it strengthens who we are on the inside. Many of my friends who understand spiritual disciplines miss this reality because it can’t be done alone in a closet. But some of my most spiritually dynamic mentors and friends are people who were people who received from God and obeyed when He asked them to act. Don’t miss this powerful step!
- Pray in the Spirit. Paul had a very particular type of prayer that he stressed was important for building up our inner man. This was praying in tongues or praying in the Spirit and it was designed as form of communion between our spirit and God’s Spirit. When Paul talks about this type of prayer, he says that a believer “…will be speaking by the power of the Spirit…[and] is strengthened personally,” (1 Corinthians 14:2-4). And because of this, Paul says about himself “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you,” (1 Corinthians 14:18). I think many times, we under-emphasize the role this gift has in strengthening our spiritual lives. Much could be written about this gift, but let’s start here: If you have this ability, put it into practice daily. If you don’t have this gift, ask the Lord for it. He loves to give more of the Spirit to those who ask.
The Old Testament has a story that we can learn from in regard to these disciplines. During their time in the wilderness, God would rain down manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat and told them to gather what they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more than what they needed for that day, when they went to eat it the next day, what was left over had rotted and was covered in maggots. They couldn’t live off the previous day’s manna.
So too, we can’t live off of one good day with the Lord or three good days in a week, let alone one day a week when we gather as a church. Again, much of the church is weaker than it needs to be because they aren’t daily engaging the Lord in these ways.
My encouragement to you if you read yesterday’s post and didn’t know where to start is to pick one of these disciplines that you aren’t strong in and practice it for the next seven days. Take stock on what you’ve noticed as far as a change in your walk. I want you to spend 90 days trying a discipline, but even at one solid week, my guess is you will start to see a dynamic change in your walk with the Lord.
Remember, this is important. You were created for relationship with God. Don’t miss these avenues to encountering Him and growing by feeding yourself on God and His word.
I just finished reading a really good article by Alan Hirsch that describes seven practices (or disciplines, as they are traditionally known) that cause a church to thrive in the midst of chaos. Alan loves “living systems theory” and believes the church will thrive best when she is constantly operating in a crisis mode. This crisis mode causes her to trust Jesus and not be encumbered by distractions that easily shift our gaze from Him. But obviously, to survive in the midst of crisis continually is difficult and so he suggests the following practices for a church trying to live near the edge of chaos:
1. Infuse an intricate understanding of what drives organizational success.
2. Insist on uncompromising straight talk.
3. Manage from the future.
4. Reward inventive accountability.
5. Harness adversity by learning from prior mistakes.
6. Foster relentless discomfort.
7. Cultivate reciprocity between the individual and the organization.
Alan is also very clear that these disciplines must integrated. To have one without the other six or even six without the other one leads to problems. But here’s my question: What does this look like practically in the life of the church? How have you seen these sort of practices fleshed out between human beings in the church to which you belong? I think the answer would be helpful for us all.
I was going to ask Alan on his blog, but you can’t leave comments there. So now, I’m asking you, my faithful readers, what you’ve experienced. And if Alan should happen to stop by, he could leave a comment as well. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge)