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Spiritual Development

3 Disciplines That Will Strengthen Your Relationship with God

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

God wants a relationship with you. A meaningful, honest, loving, and liberating relationship. The Scriptures reveal a story told through God’s relationship with mankind. God’s story is one of triumph even though many characters in the Bible lacked discipline in some way. And where discipline was lacking, so was their relationship with God. The disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and the Church revolve around communing with God and his people. A fresh look at these foundational disciplines is a great place to start when strengthening your relationship with God.

Everyone has experienced a relationship that needed to be strengthened or rekindled. Discipline is an incredible gift of grace to humanity that images God’s own character. Bible study, prayer, and engaging with the Church will not only strengthen your relationship with God, but it will also strengthen your relationship with your family and friends, even with yourself. From the beginning, Jesus displayed perfect discipline and remained steadfast to the grave. Paul modeled disciplining his mind and body and instructed Titus to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (Titus 1:8).” We must remember discipline is not only a mastery of self by our own strength but through the help of God. David wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” 

The Discipline of Bible Study

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

The Bible was written over 1,500 years, by 40 authors, including 3 languages, spanning 3 continents and it all tells the same, brilliantly cohesive story. God is revealing himself, his name, his character, his purposes and plans for how we might be reconciled to him and join him on his mission to reconcile a lost and broken people to himself (2 Cor 5:17-20). All of the Old Testament points to Jesus, while all of the New Testament presents Jesus. Through creation, fall, rescue and ultimately restoration, Jesus is the hero of his story!

One who is disciplined in the Word learns how to rightly divide or interpret it. Inductive and discovery Bible study begins with observation, moving to interpretation, and finishing with application. A student of God’s Word is faithful to context and to the author’s original intent.

7 Questions of Discovery Bible Study

Read the passage and recite out loud from memory.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about man and woman?
  3. Is there a sin to avoid?
  4. Is there a promise to claim?
  5. Is there an example to follow?
  6. Is there a command to obey?
  7. What is God saying to me and how does he want me to be obedient from this passage?

By asking these questions of a passage, it not only follows a healthy scientific or inductive approach, it increases comprehension and retention. Even more, it is incredibly simple and allows the Holy Spirit to lead the discussion and learning.

According to Wycliff Bible Translators1, out of the 7,378 languages spoken across the globe, 3,011 possess no Scripture. God’s Word is a gift and we should consistently discipline ourselves to it and by it. While presenting the Bible to every tribe, tongue and nation is the goal, the fact remains the majority of people in the world are oral learners, therefore we must remember the power of Bible storying. By studying and memorizing the Scriptures we are allowing God to talk to us, telling us of his character, purposes, desires, his tenderness and strength, miracles and promises. The goal of disciplined Bible study is to grow in obedience, not to simply store up knowledge. The Word has the power to transform. The discipline of digesting the scriptures provides the sojourning Follower a map and compass of all other disciplines.

The Discipline of Prayer

…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

Prayer stills and strengthens our hearts. Prayer positions a person in a posture of humility and hope. It is a weapon against the enemy and an ointment to our souls. There are many types of prayer in the Bible. There is the prayer of worship (Revelation 4:11), thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4), faith (Hebrews 11:6), intercession (1 Timothy 2:1), corporate prayer (Revelation 19:1-8), consecration (Psalm 51:10), a prayer of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27) and more.

Jesus modeled the practice of prayer and taught his disciples to pray earnestly and confidently. Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7).”

Prayer is about communing with God and aligning our minds and hearts with his. It is no wonder why every great spiritual awakening throughout history was the result of intentional prayer. Practice praying through the prayers in the Bible after studying and meditating on them to strengthen your relationship with the Lord.

The Discipline of Church

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven. You have come to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:22-24

The discipline of church includes covenanting with others in your community for corporate worship, fellowship, discipleship, accountability, ministry, and mission. It is through the discipline of gathering and co-laboring with other believers, true and deep relationships are built. From laughing, crying, praising, and praying with others as we walk alongside them in life, we experience God in fresh ways and strengthen our relationship with him.

We share our greatest hopes and victories through Christ with our believing brothers and sisters. One of the greatest impacts on my relationship with God has come from staying in countless Believer’s homes as I have had the privilege to travel the globe. The reality is that no matter where in the world you are, every believer and church is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, glorifying one God and Father of all… (Eph 4:4-6). Our relationships with God are strengthened because he has given us a family in his Kingdom. God made us for relationship.

Strengthening Your Relationship with God

The discipline of Bible study allows God to talk to us. The discipline of prayer allows us to talk to God. The discipline of the Church allows the marriage of communing with God and kingdom family in concert.  At times, these disciplines come easy, other times it requires the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears.” The author of Hebrews reminds the disciplined one of the reward, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).”

What fresh practices/activities would you like to experience as you discipline yourself to grow your relationship with God?

1https://www.wycliffe.net/resources/statistics/

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

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Spiritual Development

How to Live For God: The Four Spiritual Secrets

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

God will demonstrate His faithfulness by showing you how you can be in Him, and He can be in you…” Pastor Dick Woodward

For over 40 years, Pastor Dick Woodward centered his ministry around four profound truths he called the “spiritual secrets”. These are not secrets in the sense that only a select few special individuals get to know about them. Quite the contrary. They are a distillation of Pastor Woodward’s study of scripture. In a way, they are a core message decoded by a serious student of the Bible walking closely with the Holy Spirit. These four truths, or secrets, can change your life and with them, you can learn how to live for God.

 

The First Spiritual Secret:

“I am not, but He is”

When you truly encounter the One, Holy Creator of everything, you realize what Pastor Woodward calls “the absolute difference between me and the God who calls Himself ‘I AM.’” Like Moses standing before the burning bush, we must understand that, in God’s presence, we are nobody. We bring nothing to the table, even if we are wealthy, powerful, or wise according to the world’s standards. God wants to show us what He will do with somebody who recognizes that he is nobody.

Moses certainly understood this when he stood in God’s presence. He had been somebody, the son of Pharaoh, in line to rule a powerful nation. Instead, God took Moses into the desert to become a nobody; a wandering shepherd. There, through 40 years of losing himself, Moses learned humility. Then, when Moses was, as Number 12:3 tells us, the most humble man on the face of the earth, God was able to use him. As a nobody, Moses did great things because God was powerful through him.

“It’s not about us and our identity, our self-esteem, our success or any feelings of adequacy, inadequacy or anything in between.” Pastor Woodward says. “It’s about God and His identity.”

 

The Second Spiritual Secret:

“I can’t, but He can.”

If you have ever had the experience of coming to the end of yourself, you will be familiar with the words “I can’t.” When you’ve exhausted your own resources, your own power, there comes a point when there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes you might experience this in response to something God is calling you to do, but something for which you feel entirely inadequate. “I can’t” is not something anybody enjoys saying – it hurts our pride too much. But it can also be quite liberating, letting go of expectations and weights that we put on ourselves. 

Moses came to such a moment when God called him to stand before Pharaoh. God called him to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses’ first reaction was to say “I can’t” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t wrong. He had tried to stand up for his people his way and only ended up killing a man and running for his life. No, Moses couldn’t, but God could. Once Moses realized he was nobody, God used him to do amazing things. 

 

The Third Spiritual Secret:

“I don’t want to, but He wants to.”

God’s love is strange – mind-blowing might be the better word. He loves people who we don’t want to love. He loves you and me, and we all know how unloveable we are. When we stand before God and utter the famous words of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am, send me!” we are not always prepared for what comes next. Sometimes our neighbor is unlovely. Sometimes the journey is difficult or dangerous. The truth is, when it comes to God’s mission to love people, we don’t want to do it. But he does.

Jonah found himself in exactly such a position when God called him to preach repentance to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2). These were awful people; the worst of the worst, and God loved them. As the story goes, Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction, but God followed him and got his attention (to put it mildly). Jonah did not want to do it, but God did.

We find ourselves in a similar situation whenever God asks us to do something, whether it is loving our enemy or repenting of sin – or even something as simple as spending time in the Word. When we follow our own desires, we run from God. Instead, we need to make His desires our own, realizing that our hearts are corrupt. God won’t make us do anything, but he will send a storm to get our attention, and a great fish to bring us to repentance. Far better that we lay down our desire at the start.

 

The Fourth Spiritual Secret:

“I didn’t, but He did.”

At the end of the day, when we have finally understood and applied the first three spiritual secrets, we are tempted to sit back and say, ‘well now I’ve done a great thing.’ But here is a great danger and we risk losing everything. If ‘I am not’, and ‘I can’t’, and ‘I don’t want to’, then how is it that I so often come to the conclusion that ‘I did’? How is it that we take credit for something that is so clearly not our doing?

After Jonah preached to the Ninevites, an amazing thing happened: they actually repented! (Jonah 3:6)  Nobody, especially Jonah, would have expected it. Jonah could never have caused that to happen, and he certainly didn’t want it to happen. (Jonah 4:1) Though he was angry, he rightly credited God with accomplishing such a miracle. How silly would it have been for Jonah to sit back and take credit for Nineveh’s sudden change of heart?

 

How to Live for God

When we finally obey God, after we have become nobody, we become vessels of His love and mercy. It isn’t our love that we show to our neighbor; it’s His. It’s not our Word that changes lives; it’s His. We are like the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:7) We merely carry Jesus with us, but He does the work.

These four spiritual secrets are meant to show you how to live for God. I’m not, I can’t, I don’t want to, and I didn’t – this is the necessary starting point for obeying and following Him. When you become nothing, God shows up. When you are nobody, God becomes somebody in your life. Put these four spiritual secrets into practice and you will see God do amazing things through you.

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Moses

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

God on god Violence

When going to Bible college, my professors were wont to say that God’s ten plagues against Egypt were attacks against the gods of Egypt. Did not Yahweh say to Moses in Exodus 12:12, “…on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD”? Just as three meant few, forty meant many, and seven was a sacred counting, so also ten plagues, matching the ten fingers on the human hand, did represent a type of fullness… here, a fullness of judgment against Egypt and her gods. When, however, I would ask what Egyptian gods were involved and how the plagues diminished them, I never got more than one or two obvious ones tossed back at me, like “attacking the Nile (Hapi)” and “blocking out the sun (Ra).” They would usually mumble off after those and say to the rest of the class, “Any other questions before we move on?”

So that you don’t have to suffer the same unmet curiosity, let me give you a list.1 When Pharoah boasts, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” Yahweh shows Pharaoh exactly who He is. He is the Lord of Lords.

1. The Nile turned to Blood

Hapi was the god of the yearly flooding of the Nile, which was the very source of Egypt’s life. Pharoah made the Hebrews cast their sons to the Nile, and when it was struck with Moses’ staff, it ran red like the blood of those drowned there and devoured by fish and crocodiles. Hapi was often called, “Lord of fish and birds and marshes,” as well as “Lord of the river bringing vegetation.” Everything in the Nile died.

2. Frogs Swarm the Land

Heket is a fertility goddess with the head of a frog. The frog was a fertility symbol. Yahweh makes them fertile indeed. Rather than rising with the Nile they exit from the Nile, swarm the land, and fill Egypt with putrefaction. Though Heket was also “She who hastens birth” it is the Hebrew women worshiping Yahweh alone, who “are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

3. Lice From the Dust

Geb was the god of the soil, i.e. the dust of the earth. Yahweh “invades his territory” and brings forth lice rather than rice. He is also regarded as the father of snakes, giving a deeper sense to Moses’ staff becoming a serpent and swallowing up the Magicians’ serpent staffs.

4. Swarms of Flies

Uatchit, also called Wadjet, was the goddess of the marshes where papyrus and swarms abound. She is the goddess of the heat of noon which empowers the swarms and was closely associated with the Sun god Ra. She both wore and was the image of Pharoah’s crown, a protector of the land. Yahweh blots out the sun with swarms and devastates the land over which the Swarm goddess stood sentinel.

5. Death of Livestock

The Cow goddess, Hathor, like many Egyptian deities, has a complicated history. She was pictured as a cow or a woman adorned with cow horns. Like other cow goddesses, Hathor is also associated with the sun and sky, and thus the symbolic mother of the Pharaohs. Cows were revered as nurturers and givers of milk. She is symbolically struck down with Yahweh’s plague against the cattle of the land.

6. Ashes Turn to Boils

Isis, the goddess who resurrected her brother, Osiris, had legendary magical powers and is commonly associated with magic spells of healing for everyone, even common people. Here, even Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand before Pharaoh because the boils were tormenting them.

7. Hail and Fire From the Heavens

Exodus 9:23 says, “Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth.” As with the swarm goddess, when swarms destroy and the frog-headed fertility goddess when frogs overrun and pollute the land, Yahweh “seizes control” over the heavens and rains down lightning and lethal hail. There are a few different sky deities at play here. Primarily, we have Tefnut, goddess of sky moisture, we have Shu, god of winds and air, we have Horus, god of kingship and sky, the spirit of Pharaoh in life, and we have Nut goddess of the sky, a nourisher suckling the world. None can hold back Yahweh’s hand.

8. Locusts Plague From a Strong East Wind

Seth was the ruler of the red land, i.e. the east and west desert regions surrounding the black land of fertile Egypt. As the desert was a protective flank, Seth was thought to play his part in warding off the chaos from Egypt. From “Seth’s desert,” however, Yahweh brings locusts to finish off what remained from the hail.

9. Blocking Out the Sun

Ra, the noon-day sun, ruler of the sky, earth, underworld, and kings. He was divine order and the source of creation. The Egyptians called themselves the cattle of Ra. Yahweh’s penultimate strike was to blacken out all the light of day and night so that painful darkness spread throughout the whole land.

10. Killing the Firstborn

Pharaoh was worshipped as the son of Ra, Horus on earth, and Osiris in death. Not only does Yahweh strike down every firstborn from beast and man, from the lowest servant to the very house of Pharaoh, but here Pharaoh is defeated in his resistance to releasing the labor force of Israel to go their way.

 

Conclusion

God said to Moses in Exodus 7:2-5:

“…tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

Yahweh did. Egypt did. Pharaoh did. Israel did.

 

1I’ve seen some variation in the list from different scholars, particularly those who mistake Khepri for a fly-headed god, but this is a good list.

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Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Joseph

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Most of us know the story of Joseph well. And there are many lessons to be learned from this historical and dramatic narrative. I want to point out one of the central ideas of this story that, despite its importance, is often overlooked. It has to do with the idea that God was with Joseph. Here’s the question I want to answer: “Why was God with Joseph?”

 

The Story of Joseph

Joseph is favored by his father, Jacob, and given a “coat of many colors.”1 Joseph also tells his brothers of dreams, dreams where his brothers would bow down to him. His jealous brothers throw him into a pit and sell Joseph into slavery. A traveling merchant then purchases Joseph and takes him to Egypt. While in Egypt, Joseph faithfully serves a military officer named Potiphar, until he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison.

 

During his 13-year imprisonment, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants and does so accurately. When Pharaoh has a strange and unsettling dream, one of the servants recommends Joseph as an able interpreter. Because Joseph was able to interpret the dream, he is made second in command over all of Egypt. In Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph foresees a coming famine. Wisely, Joseph advises the Pharaoh to store grain before the famine hits. During the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt in search of food. When they arrive, they soon discover that little brother Joseph now runs the entire kingdom and doles out the food when scarcely any could be found. They end up bowing to Joseph, just like Joseph’s dream had predicted so long ago.

 

God Was with Joseph

At one of the key moments in the story, the narrator tells us this: “The Lord was with Joseph…” (Gen. 39:21a). This comment comes right after Joseph found himself unjustly placed in prison.

It is tempting to think that God was with Joseph because of what Joseph did just a few verses before. Joseph demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity by resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph risked his comfortable and prestigious position to do what was right. So, when we are told that “God was with Joseph” immediately after he is locked away, it may lead some to interpret the text as teaching that God was with Joseph because he did what was right. Sometimes, though, well-intentioned people can still misinterpret the narrative.

If we read the narrative again closely, we notice a few important details. For example, the Bible never says that God was with Joseph because of what he did. If we take that view, then we must read that into the text. Instead, Joseph’s dreams show that God was with Joseph at the very beginning. Joseph’s dreams show that God had planned to bless Joseph and bring him to a position of power and influence so that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him. The text confirms that these dreams were from God when we see them dramatically fulfilled at the end of the story (cf. Gen 43:28).

But why is God with Joseph if Joseph does nothing to deserve God’s favor? Joseph himself gives an almost direct answer to this question. After his brothers discover that Joseph is a ruler in Egypt, they desperately sought his forgiveness. Joseph tells them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Gen. 45:5). Joseph adds, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7).

Therefore, according to Joseph, God had at least two purposes for being with him. First, Joseph’s position in Egypt and his ability to interpret dreams meant that there would be food for everyone during the famine; Joseph would “save lives.” Through Joseph, God provides physical sustenance to many nations when they need it most.

Second, through Joseph, God would specifically save the lives of Jacob’s family. This preserves  a “remnant on earth.” Understood within the wider context of the book of Genesis, we see that through Joseph, God keeps his promise to Abraham, to make him into a “great nation” (Gen 12:2). Without Joseph, Abraham’s family would have died in the famine. Ultimately, God would bless all people through Joseph because it is through his family that God would send the Messiah, Jesus, to save the world (Gal. 3:8).

 

God’s Reasons

So, God had his own reasons for favoring Joseph that had nothing to do with Joseph’s actions. God’s purpose in blessing Joseph was to bless others. God chose a particular person and God worked through the circumstances of Joseph’s life to include, ultimately, the entire world in the blessing of Abraham. Once we get a full picture of what God was doing through Joseph, we see that God blessed Joseph to bless all of us. God was with Joseph, in part, so that one day, he could be with all people through his Son.

One of the lessons we learn from Joseph’s story is that God loves humanity and that he will keep his promise to bless the world through Abraham, no matter what. In Jesus, we find the proof that promise has, indeed, been kept.

1It is likely that Joseph’s coat was a meticulously made tunic. The idea that it was a “coat of many colors” comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew versions suggest it was an embroidered tunic.