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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/

 

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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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Spiritual Development

What is Sin?

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

 

It makes sense that many people wonder “what is sin?” First, sin is uncomfortable to talk about. Hearing the word sin might bring about feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even anger. Second, many people may feel that sin is an outdated concept. Some may think that to sin is merely to violate some arbitrary religious rule and so we don’t really need to worry about it too much. Insisting that sin is relevant and important may seem presumptuous or naive. Nevertheless, from the Christian perspective, sin is an idea that matters very much and it needs to be understood. It is a central idea in the Christian story, the fundamental problem that needs to be solved. After all, Jesus came to save us from our sin (Matthew 1:21).

To understand what sin is, we first need to see that there is a way the world should be and there is a way that we should be as human beings. God created the world with a certain purpose in mind and he created us with a certain purpose as well. That purpose has never changed. Jesus helps us understand what that purpose is when he gives us the greatest commandments. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31).

 

Defining Sin

Here is a simple way to understand what sin is. Any time we fail to live according to God’s purpose for us, then we sin. One Hebrew word translated as sin is khata and it literally means to “miss the mark.”  Hamartia is a word often translated as sin in the New Testament and it refers to an “act contrary to the will and law of God” (Louw Nida).

The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe sin. Sin is described as a weight that keeps us from God and from enjoying God’s blessings (Hebrews 12:1). Sin is a restraint that causes our strength to fail (Lamentations 1:14). Sin is like a sickness that needs to be healed (Hosea 7:1). Sin is a debt that we cannot pay back; our sin results in destruction, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin is also sometimes personified as if it had the power to entice and entangle us (Romans 7:17).

 

Consequences of Sin

As we can see, the consequences of sin are grave. The Bible tells us that a life of sin is ultimately a life of suffering, defeat, and death. Some might think that sin has this power because it is literally some kind of force. And the Bible does sometimes talk about sin as if it was a force (cf. Romans 7), but that is likely only a metaphor. Sin doesn’t have any power of its own. Rather, sin is just the name the Bible gives to those acts which don’t align with God’s will and intentions for us. To sin is to rebel against our Creator. 

But that raises a tough question. If sin doesn’t have any power on its own, then why does it produce all these bad effects? There are two reasons for this. First, when we sin, we do what we weren’t designed to do. When we act in ways that run contrary to our design, it makes us unhappy. It’s as if a bird decided to live like a worm. Birds aren’t made to live like worms; that’s not their purpose. Its wings won’t be much use for burrowing and its beak won’t do for eating a worm’s diet. So the bird will be unhappy because that is the natural consequence of going against its design.

God created us to love him and to love each other. When we don’t do that, we are like the bird who lives like a worm. We will be frustrated and suffer; we will be unhappy. Sin separates us from God. Apart from God, we cannot possibly be happy. That makes sense if loving God is our purpose. Loving him is the only way we can really thrive as human beings. Without God’s help, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–everyone– to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Sometimes, sinning can lead to momentary pleasure, but it will inevitably result in an empty life in the end.

 

Judgment of Sin

Second, the Bible says that God punishes sin. Sin goes against our design as God’s image bearers, but it also violates the law of God. As a God of justice, God must punish violations of the law. God is the perfectly just God who enforces a perfect law. He is not like a fallible human judge who administers an often broken and bent human law. Since the law of God is “perfect” and since his statutes are “trustworthy,” trespasses are dreadfully serious (Psalm 145:7). A just judge cannot simply overlook infractions of a perfect law. So God justly punishes sin. Psalm 145:20 says that God will “destroy” the wicked. Jesus reaffirms this in the New Testament. Jesus says that sinners will “be thrown into hell… where the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47–48). This is another way that sin separates us from God.

That’s bad news. It’s especially bad news when we learn that the Bible teaches that all of us are sinners, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9–11). All of us have sinned and none of us can escape the justice of the all-knowing God. And if we refuse to love God, then the inevitable outcome is that we become hollow and empty. God is the only source of life, and when we sin, we cut ourselves off from that.

 

The Good News

But there’s a reason why the coming of Jesus is said to be “good news.” Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, and his death satisfied the justice of God. Because of Jesus, God can forgive our sins and still be a God of justice. And Jesus restores the broken connection between God and man so that we “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Through the work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love God as we ought. We can live the life we were meant to live. 

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Church Development Spiritual Development

What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

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

 

Jesus was the original disciple-maker. It is safe to say, making disciples was a focal point of his ministry. Not only did Jesus command his disciples to make more disciples, he modeled and taught them for around three years how to do so. His ministry principles recorded in the New Testament reveal the difference between a leader that people have to follow, and a leader that people want to follow. Disciple-making in simple terms is leadership. It is one Believer shepherding another to be made more into the image of Christ, our supreme example (2 Cor 3:18). So when Jesus was discipling his “flock”, he was teaching them to be like him, and to do what he did.

 

Calling and Commissioning

First words and final words hold great importance. When Jesus called out his disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19 ESV).” After he assembled his twelve disciples for the first time, he provided them with more detail about what “fishing for men” means. These first words of Jesus to the Twelve are recorded in Mark 3:14-15, “…he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (ESV).” Similarly, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were a commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).’”

This passage is known as one of the Great Commission passages and almost perfectly resembles his first words to the disciples. The Gospel author, Matthew, intentionally emphasizes Jesus’ first and final words in the structure of his writing. Disciples are called and commissioned by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus.

 

Who is a Disciple-Maker?

A disciple is a repentant worshiper and follower of Jesus. The term translated as disciple in the New Testament means learner and refers to a student or apprentice.  Jesus did not invent the term or practice of discipleship. In fact, the practice of being a disciple or apprentice was discovered in ancient Greek writings five centuries before Jesus began his incarnate ministry.1 When he called out his twelve young disciples, he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, he was inviting them into a discipleship relationship to learn how to be like him (Matt 4:19). After they were called out they, “went where he went, saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and attempted to do what he did.” A disciple is to be a close and obedient follower of Jesus. One church planter says, “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.”2 Thus, a disciple-maker is a disciple of Jesus, who teaches others how to follow and obey Jesus also. When disciple-makers gather and covenant together, they birth communities of discipleship the Bible calls a church. Because we, the Church,  are a nation of priests, Jesus’ command to make disciples has been passed down to every follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not reserved for pastors alone, but for the whole body of Christ. Pastors, then, are lead disciple-makers in a local community of discipleship.

A disciple maker:

  • Is a follower of Jesus who has been sent with his authority and responsibility.
  • A Shepherd who humbly cares for others.
  • Has others’ best interest in mind and fights for their highest possible good.
  • Equips and empowers others to do greater works than they have accomplished.

 

Making Disciples

One of the famous great commission passages, Matthew 28:18-20, offers a simple but profound call for all believers that may be applied through a series of questions.

Am I willing to be obedient to:

  • Commit a few hours a week to share my life with others?
  • “Go” and preach the gospel to a different people group than my own to whom the Lord sends me?
  • Baptize new believers?
  • Teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures?
  • Trust that Jesus’ Spirit is with me everywhere and always?

If you answered yes to these, you need no other authority than Jesus’ to make disciples. However, a first step may be that you need someone to disciple you. Pray for this person, and be encouraged that Jesus is our primary discipler and his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The apostle Paul stressed Jesus’ principle of multiplication to one of his disciples, Timothy. In writing his final letter to Timothy, Paul’s final words mirrored Jesus’ final words, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).” Effective disciple makers equip and empower others to equip and empower others. The intention of discipleship is that those whom we disciple will be obedient to go and disciple others. This is popularly referred to as making disciple-making disciples. One of the men who discipled me through a season of life reminded me that we all multiply. The question is what or who are we multiplying? Disciple makers’ aim is to multiply disciples of Jesus, not simply themselves.

 

What Discipleship is Not

In my experience, the men who discipled me that had the greatest impact on my life did not just fill my head with a lot of knowledge, they shared their own lives with me as well. They led by example and often invited me on short trips to the market, to help neighbors, and oftentimes to sit with them at their family dinner table. They made time for me even when it was not always convenient for them. They used the bible as the training material and taught me how to read it prayerfully and apply it carefully to my own life. While information transfer is an easier form of discipleship, information alone is incomplete. As disciple makers, we must share not only our knowledge but our very lives as well.

 

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

A helpful paradigm for discipleship exists in the four phases of modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving (and launching). First, a disciple-maker models for others how to follow Jesus in obedience. Second, the discipler assists the new disciple in living out Jesus’ character and commands. Third, the discipler watches as the new disciple grows in confidence and competence. Fourth, the discipler leaves and launches the equipped and empowered disciple to go do the same for others. Jesus and Paul most clearly represent this fluid paradigm in the Scriptures. While leaving their disciples physically after a time, Jesus sent his Spirit and promised he would be with them even after he left them. Paul also continually visited and wrote back to those he had once discipled and left. The goal of discipleship is that we would empower others to “do greater works” than we have (John 14:12).

 

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

 

1Robinson, George G. “Grounding Disciple-making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Accessed November 10, 2021, 3. https://www.academia.edu/33940384/Grounding_Disciple_making_in_Gods_Creation_Order_Filling_the_Earth_with_the_Image_of_God.
2F. Chan, Multiply (Farmington Hills, MI: Walker Large Print 2013), 16.