Archives For Spiritual Disciplines

Plugging Into God’s Power

Chris —  February 17, 2017 — 1 Comment

In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines David Mathis helps Christians understand how they can grow by God’s grace rather than wearing out in their own strength.

The key to growing as a Christians is to understand how to grow through God’s strength rather than by merely “white-knuckling” the Christian life through sheer force of will. 

David Mathis illustrates the idea cooperating or receiving God’s grace. He is careful to show that God supplies the power, but that we need to receive God’s grace. 

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There be no light and no liquid refreshment without some else providing it. And so it is with the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.

Mathis’ book, then, is about how we open the “pipes” and wait expectantly for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

In brief, the way that open the pipes or plug into the power is through God’s appointed means of grace: hearing from God in His Word, praying, and growing together in community. There are vast riches to be discovered on this topic. I highly recommend Mathis’ book.

You hear more in the below video where Justin Taylor interviews David Mathis:

Crossway provided time-stamps of the conversation

00:00 – What do the endorsements for the book tell us about what you were trying to do in Habits of Grace?
02:21 – What are you getting at when you talk about “habits of grace”?
04:39 – In your experience, what are some of the main challenges that Christians face with respect to the “habits of grace”?
07:48 – When it comes to our intake of God’s Word, why is it important to emphasize both breadth and depth?
09:51 – How do we ensure that our understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines is biblical and not unduly shaped by non-Christian influences?
13:04 – Where and how is the Holy Spirit present in your understanding of living the Christian life?
16:30 – With the multitude of books already in print related to the spiritual disciplines, why did you feel the need to write another one?

For more see:

Is Growing as a Christian a Result of God’s Grace or My Strength?  

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Enjoying Jesus: A Review of Habits of Grace by Joe Harrod 

 

Often the best strategy for spiritual disciplines is to set very, very modest goals. Hopping over a low bar adds up to a high stack of results.

The new year is fast approaching when people will identify lofty goals for the coming year. People will decide to read through the Bible, memorize 100 verses, lose 50 pounds and pray for every country on the planet.

Those are great goals. There is a place for setting the bar high. But it is instructive to notice that the Bible points to the example of an ant when deciding how to pace ourselves.

The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer . . . Proverbs 30:25

Ants work one crumb at a time. Yet, they accomplish a great deal.

Rather than waiting until January 1 to set your goals for the year, why not set one really modest goal to accomplish today?

Set the bar so low that you can hop over it this afternoon.

Then go ahead and hop.

Be sure and hop tomorrow as well.

 

Easily, my most important educational choice was deciding 25 years ago to systematically memorize Scripture.

The first principle of Scripture memory is to "repeat to remember." Wear a rut in your mind with the words of Scripture. Here is a brief summary of the system I use for memorizing Scripture. I originally learned this approach from Jim Jeffery in the Fall of 1990, though I have adapted it over the years. My system shares similarities with An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture.

Repeat to Remember

My system for Scripture memorization is divided into two parts. First, I repeat to remember.

After identifying a verse to memorize, I say it aloud. Ideally, I interpret the verse with the inflection of my voice and attitude of my heart as I say it. But there is some “chanting” involved. The idea is to wear a rut in my mind with God’s Word. My goal is to to say the words of a verse so many times that they are as second nature as a phone number or address.

I “repeat to remember” using the following regiment for each verse I memorize:

  • Day 1- 25 times
  • Day 2 – 20 times
  • Day 3 – 15 times
  • Day 4 – 10 times
  • Day 5 – 5 times

So by the end of the 5th day I have repeated a given verse 75 times. As can be seen from the image to the right, there is nothing fancy about my system. I write the verse out and tally each repetition. The image shows that in July of 1991 I was memorizing Matthew 20:37-40 followed by the 10 Commandments.

On the first day, I often look at the verse while quoting it. If it is a longer verse, I memorize it one phrase at a time. I also look closely at it on the page and form a mental snapshot of the verse. I don’t mean to imply I have a “photographic memory.” I don’t. But the combination of repeatedly vocalizing the words of the verse, hearing it as I say it, and picturing it in my mind, all serve to engrave the words on my memory.

On days 2-5, I still need to look at the verse again. But it grows easier to remember each day. If I struggle to remember a verse when reviewing it, I may quote it additional times.

Saying it aloud is important. The discipline of vocalizing each word aloud means that I also hear it.

When I am memorizing verses, I also incorporate quoting the texts into the fabric of ministry. For example, I have recently been memorizing Paul’s wonderful prayer in Colossians 1:9-14. So even as I followed the formal regiment for memorizing those verses, I have repeated or paraphrased it many additional times during my own times of prayer and counseling sessions.

ScripturememoryfrontAt other times, I incorporate verses I am memorizing into conversations or counseling sessions. I simply say something like, “Recently, I have been memorizing Colossians 1:9-14. In those verses, Paul prays . . .” Sharing verses in conversation models a commitment to God’s Word and shares the content of particular passages.

Review to Retain

Second, having repeated to remember, I review to retain.

After I have completed the sequence of saying the verse 25-20-15-10-5 times across consecutive days, I write the verse on a 3×5 card and review it daily. Ideally, I review a particular verse:

  • Daily for 45-60 days
  • Weekly for a year
  • Monthly for 2-3 years
  • 2-3 times per year for life

This is the back of a Scripture memory card.When I make a mistake in reviewing a verse, which I often do, I correct the mistake and say it the right way more than once. If I really struggle quoting a particular verse, then I put it through the “repeat to remember” sequence again.

Of course, there are many other memory techniques that can be employed including using music or association techniques. But in my experience, long term Scripture memorization comes down to repetition. Intentionally repeat a verse 4-500 times across several years and you will remember it.

Systematic long term memorization of Scripture requires only minutes on any given day. I took a break while writing this to review 10 verses. It took me one minute and twenty-two seconds to recite them. It was a minute and twenty-two seconds well spent.

See also:

Memorize a Psalm in Order to Be Moved

American football judge.By the powers vested in me by . . . I hereby announce that you can start your Bible reading plan on December 16. Consider this post your license to cheat by beginning to read through the Bible now.  If you need a Bible reading schedule, try this one.

For motivation to read through the Bible in 2015, we need go no further than Psalm 19. C.S. Lewis said that he considered Psalm 19 the greatest poem in the psalter. Whether or not we agree with ranking the Psalms, one can see why Lewis was so enamored with Psalm 19. In it (Psalm 19:7-11) we are reminded that God’s Word:

  • “Revives the soul” – Feel dead inside? Read God’s Word.
  • “Makes wise the simple” – Big decisions ahead? Look to Scripture
  • “Gives joy to the heart” – Feeling melancholy with long days? Rinse your minds with the Word of God.
  • “Gives light to the eyes” – At a dark place? Let God’s truth illuminate your path.

Read through Psalm 19 – – or better yet Psalm 119 – – and purpose to read the Bible in the months to come.

But, “Alas,” you say. “I would be hard pressed to keep up with reading through the Bible in 2015.”

This is where I, Chris Brauns, ordained by Spring Creek Church in Pewaukee, WI, can be of great help. I am announcing a special blessing whereby you are allowed to start reading through the Bible as early as December 16. This is your green light to leave the starting blocks before the 2015 gun sounds: cheat.

Personally, I plan to use a schedule published by Faith Baptist Bible College (my wife’s alma mater). However, in celebration of Christians freedom, you are allowed to choose an alternative schedule. Look around on the web.

I haven’t started cheating yet. But will do so soon. If it makes you feel better, print this off and put it in your Bible to officially document that you have permission. The key is to start now. Get a jump on the new year. Take a swing at 2015 before it even makes the climb in Times Square.

Scripture memory should begin with gospel verses. Which verse of Scripture do you think should be memorized first? Do you agree with my choice? Tell me in the comments.

Memorizing Scripture is one of the most beneficial practices you can ever adopt – – watch the below video from John Piper and you will hear a powerful argument for doing so. But which Bible verse should be memorized first?

Of course, there is no one answer. But the first verse you memorize should probably be a gospel summary verse. We should begin with the good news of how we can know God. (See what do Christians mean when they reference the Gospel or Good News).

I started my system of Scripture memory over 23 years ago. The first verse in my system is Ephesians 2:8 from the KJV. Every time I work through another round of reviewing my verses, I write the date on the card. I have long since moved to writing dates on the back of this card. But it is fun to see all the times I reviewed and meditated on Ephesians 2:8 since October of 1990.

Consider Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace are ye saved through faith. And that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.

If you sink this verse into your soul, you will be unsinkable. I quote that verse to myself often when I preach the gospel to myself (see this post on preaching the gospel to ourselves).

Someone has said, grace is:

God’s

Riches

at

Christ’s

Expense”

Like any gift, the gift of salvation is a package that must be opened. We open the gift of salvation by faith – – by deciding to receive the gift of eternal life.

Salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast.” God is the one who does the saving. If we did anything, we would brag about it like an NFL defensive back after making a big play.

I could think of some other choices of verses to memorize first – – but let me hear from you?

And why not write your verse on a card and say it over and over again?

See also Choosing Verses to Memorize

 

Growth in the Christian life must be by grace.Is growth as a Christian a matter of God graciously changing us through His power?

Or, is it that we discipline ourselves?

The answer is that it’s not one or the other. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But it is God who is at work within us. (Philippians 2:12-13).

It is not an easy concept to understand. Many people try and grow by their own force of will. Others “let go and let God.” Either error ends in failure. We must grow in grace. We need to quit paddling the water with our hands and hoist our sails into the warm breeze of God’s grace.

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges is one of the first 10 books I would recommend to any Christian. The reason that it is such an important book is because Bridges offers an extended meditation on the relationship between our effort and God’s empowerment / grace. In the below paragraph, Bridges summarizes the subject of this book.

We try to change ourselves. We take what we think are the tools of spiritual transformation into our own hands and try to sculpt ourselves into robust Christlike specimens. But spiritual transformation is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Master Sculptor . . . Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Colorado Springs (NavPress, 1994), 11,13).

Below is an excerpt from Unpacking Forgiveness in which I consider the relationship between our effort and God’s grace:

Think again of the invitation of Jesus.  This time, read the following two verses.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Just for a moment now, block out all your concerns about whatever fight you may face at home or church or in the world. Consider Christ even more deeply.  Even as I have reminded you that he is the Wonderful Counselor and Almighty God, notice that when Jesus invites you to come to him, he describes himself as gentle and lowly in heart.  Though he is supremely exalted, Christ is not a vindictive taskmaster who would rub your face in your mistakes and beat you down over your failures.  Such a combination isn’t possible in the Savior of the Bible!  He stands at the ready to help. He is gentle and humble in heart.  Why would you not accept his invitation to unload the weight of your burdens?

How to Accept Jesus’ Invitation

But, wait.  Before you accept Jesus’ offer to find rest, read the invitation closely.  Jesus does not invite worn-out people to take a nap.  Nor does He does he suggest that if we will chant a one-time prayer, refreshment will be granted automatically.  No; Jesus says to assume his yoke and learn from him.  Jesus invites those who need rest to come work with him.

Jesus’ offer of discovering rest by means of a yoke is a paradox.  A yoke is a harness used for labor. You might legitimately ask, “How is that in taking on Jesus’ equipment I would find rest?”  The answer is that, as we follow Jesus and learn from him, the Holy Spirit graciously operates in our lives. This is how we who are weak can move forward—not in our strength, but in his.  This is the kind of thing that Paul pointed to in Philippians 2:12-13 when he said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  The reason Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling is that when they do, God will graciously work in and through them.  God works in and through us as we cooperate with his gracious work in our lives.

A sailing illustration might help make this point.  Suppose you are in a boat and you have to travel an incredible distance.  And, to further complicate things, you don’t even know there is such a thing as sailing.

So, what would you do?  You would try and propel the boat in all kinds of futile ways.  You might lie on your stomach and paddle over the side.  If you were a little more creative, you might use a stick as an oar and row in circles.  But, soon enough, you would be worn out and frustrated.

But, then imagine that someone stepped onto your boat and said, “I see that you are exhausted.  How about I teach you how to get somewhere?”  He would then show you how to raise a sail and catch the wind.

You get the picture.  Sailing is still hard work. There is a reason that sailors – – like Popeye – – have big forearms.  But, it is not futile hard work.  Hoist a sail into the breeze and soon enough you are gliding forward in a strength that is beyond yourself.

This is the invitation that Jesus gives.  Are you tired of trying to work your way through forgiveness with one oar?  Are you worn out from trying to paddle with your hands?  Come and sail in the wind of his strength.  Soon you will be gliding forward in the breeze of his grace.

Of course, that begs the question, how do I work in such a way that God gives me strength and grace?  How specifically do I assume the yoke of Jesus and learn from him?  How do I raise a sail into the breeze of God’s strength?”  The answer to how is that God works in our lives through certain appointed means.  Sometimes theologians call these “means of grace.”  Means of grace are how God pours out his grace into the life of a Christian.  These means of grace include his Word, prayer, fellowship with other believes, and worship.[1]  When you participate in any of these means of grace, you hoist your sail into the wind of God’grace.  If you have been trying to work through forgiveness without consistent involvement in the means of grace then you are only paddling with your hands.

The way to accept Christ’s invitation to find rest is to be in his Word, to listen to biblical preaching, to pray, and to be sharpened by other Christians.  While at first, it may seem that you are moving only a bit, before long you will be sailing forward—ridding yourself of the baggage that weighs you down.

You may object at this point! “I have already tried unpacking the Christian way of unpacking my burdens,” you may say. “And it didn’t really work.  I tried Jesus!  He didn’t give me rest.”

Did you really?  Did you really assume Jesus’ yoke, his instrument of work, and learn from him?

  • Have you been involved consistently in a local church where the Bible is preached?  Have you participated in Sunday School or small groups or whatever Christian education opportunities your church offers?
  • Do you pray consistently in a disciplined way?  Not just talking about praying in the car on the way to work.  Have you really gotten down on your knees and earnestly prayed?
  • Are you involved in a Christian community or fellowship?  Are you sharing your life with other Christians?
  • Do you worship Christ on a regular basis?  Do you listen to Christ centered worship?  Have you identified with Christ in baptism?  Do you faithfully participate in observing the Lord’s Supper at your church?

These means of grace are how we take Christ’s yoke upon us and learn from him.  Christ’s way of unpacking forgiveness is not three easy steps.  It is about a way of life, about following Jesus, learning from him, being involved in his Church, hearing his Word preached.  Apart from consistent involvement in these disciplines, you are trying to paddle with a stick.  It won’t work.[2]



[1] The idea of “means of grace” may be new to you.  But I assure you it is not something I invented.  Berkhof writes, “Sanctification takes place partly in the subconscious life, and as such is an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit; but also partly in the conscious life, and then depends on the use of certain means, such as the constant exercise of faith, the study of God’s Word, prayer and association with other believers.  L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Fourth ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 534.

Grudem adds, “The New Testament does not suggest any short-cuts by which we can grow in sanctification, but simply encourages us repeatedly to give ourselves to the old-fashioned, time-honored means for Bible reading and meditation (Ps. 1:3; Matt. 4:4, 17:17), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6), worship (Eph. 5:18-20), witnessing (Matt 28:19-20), Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24-25), and self-discipline or self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 1:8).  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 755.

[2] If you would like to learn more about this area, I highly recommend Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace.  It was an ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award.  In it, Bridges wrote, “Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another.  In fact, they go hand in hand.  An understanding of how grace and personal vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.”  This is what Bridges will help you understand: how grace and vigorous effort work together.  Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994), 13.

How to Be Strong and Courageous

Chris —  April 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

Everyone wants to be strong and courageous. Hence, many quote, Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” But the key to actually being courageous is found by reading Joshua 1:9 in context.

I am on an Old Testament blitz right now: trying to read through the OT as fast as possible. I am not reading the Old Testament books in order. Rather, I am keeping track in Evernote of what I have read. I only started about a week ago, but I have blitzed through Ezra and Nehemiah (incredible books!) and Hosea and Micah as well as many Psalms and Proverbs.

Today I started Joshua and arrived at the Lord’s admonition to Joshua to be strong and courageous. While reading I noticed the emphasis of the surrounding context. Read the surrounding verses for yourself.

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

One doesn’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to understand that time in the Bible and courage go hand in hand. Meditate on the Word of God day and night!

Are you living in fear? If so, why not join me on the Old Testament blitz. I am flying through Joshua right now. Why not do the same?

 

Kill Sin or It Will Kill YouMost of us know what it takes to kill something.  You have to be vicious.The other day when I was mowing my yard I saw my neighbor run out of his garage with a shovel in his hand. He ran into the flower bed by his house and began pummeling the ground.*

I didn’t see for sure what he was hitting, but I have a working theory. I think that while he was cleaning his garage a mouse or some rodent surprised him.  And, my neighbor who does not wish to share his garage with mice, much less be surprised by them, decided to pulverize his uninvited guest with a shovel. My guess is he was trying to kill it.

I know that at any given time, there are many dead mice in the world. But, I can assure you that none of them are deader than this one. It met a violent end.

The Apostle Paul said that Christians should do with sin what my neighbor did with that mouse.  Paul said it baldly.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.(Col 3:5-6).”

We are not supposed to negotiate terms with sin and temptation. Rather, put it to death.

My neighbor didn’t make friends with the mouse. He didn’t try and reason with it.  He didn’t invite it into his home. He killed the thing.

So many times we befriend things that belong to the earthly nature. Maybe we don’t approve and yet we invite certain television programs into our home or look at the wrong things on the computer. We cultivate materialism and greed.

But the Bible teaches that we are to kill sin, not make friends with it.  Let’s pick up a shovel and beat it to death. Because of such things, the wrath of God is coming.

What pet sins are you feeding? Know this. Sin is not a harmless little rodent. Kill it or it will kill you. For more help, see the resources listed below.

********

See also:

How to Kill Sin, Part 1 – John Piper

How to Kill Sin, Part 2 – John Piper

How to Kill Sin, Part 3 – John Piper

When I Don’t Desire God (Redesign): How to Fight for Joy

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace

*This post revised on 5/6/15.