Tag Archives: spiritual disciplines

A Spirituality of Depth and Fruitfulness (Part Three)

In John 15 Jesus says,

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

There is a mysterious, but powerful relationship between reading the Bible and prayer.  Jesus draws attention to the fact that if his words remain in us, our prayers have a power that lead to God’s glory and our lives being fruitfulness for Him.

The Bible is spiritual food.  In Deuteronomy 8:3, God reminds his people that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  We need to feed on God’s word in order to avoid being spiritually malnourished.  In a similar way, prayer is oxygen to the Christian’s soul.  It is the process of learning to turn theology into experience, and develop a personal relationship with Christ himself.

But how do we do both in a way that is meaningful?  Many Christians want to read their Bible and pray, but many struggle.  I believe this is because we are often told what we should do, but are not instructed in how to do it.

If you are looking for a daily devotional structure that help you engage God through the Bible and prayer, try the following for the next few weeks:

  1. Pick one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Head over to www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have a Bible.
  2. Read one chapter a day. Read the chapter slowly at least twice, but ideally 3 times, each time taking notes of what stands out to you.
  3. But instead of trying to figure out what to say, let the Bible teach you to pray.  Turn each verse (the little numbers at the start of some sentences) into a prayer.  Example: 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples can used to pray, “God, help my life to bear fruit that brings you glory. Help me to live in such a way that it is clear to others that I am a genuine disciple of Jesus.”  By turning each verse into a prayer, you’ll combat the three biggest obstacles most people encounter when they pray: a wandering mind, repetitive prayers, and boredom.

Reading the Bible and praying is the central way in which we abide in Christ.  This ritual, when done with a surrendered, obedient heart, leads to untold riches in our Christian walk.

 

Note: This reflection first appeared in the January 19th edition of the Nelson Star News.

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6 Ways to Pray

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5–6

A lot of people struggle with prayer.  I certainly do.  For me, cultivating a meaningful prayer life is something that has proven to take sustained effort. I’ve discovered there’s a reason why prayer falls under the category of spiritual discipline and not the category of spiritual “this-happens-automatically-and-effortlessly-in-one’s-life” thing.  Prayer is a lot like farming: lots of hard work up front before one receives a harvest.

I recently taught on Matthew 6:5-13, and noted that Jesus assumes prayer will be an integral part of being in relationship with him as a disciple.  Note that  Jesus says “when you pray…”, not “if you pray…”

But where do we start?  Especially for those of us who have no idea how to start praying or what a prayer life is supposed to look like?

I know a lot of people are intimidated and/or confused about prayer, so I thought it would be helpful to highlight six simple ways to pray that people can mix-n-match as they seek fit.  A life-changing prayer life begins as we embed prayer into each day (even in small ways!), and these six ways to pray are a good starting point that can help us build patterns of prayer into our lives.

One way to use these six ways of praying is to assign one to each day of the week, and then come back to one that really struck a chord with you on day 7.  Of course, you can mix these up in any ways that are helpful, but let’s assume you’ll do one type of prayer per day.  This is what a weekly prayer plan could look like:

Day 1: The Lord’s Prayer

What to do: Pray through the Lord’s prayer once (slowly).  Come back to a line or two from the prayer that stood out to you and pray around those themes for yourself and others.

Day 2: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength Prayer

What to do: Using the categories Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, set aside 16 minutes to pray…

  • Heart: Pray for relationships in your life
  • Soul: Pray through a time of confessing sin, followed by silence and stillness
  • Mind: Pray through a Scripture (e.g. Psalm) or a Scriptural theme (e.g. discipleship) that you have recently been challenged with
  • Strength: Pray for any tangible needs for yourself and others.

Day 3: Ignatian Prayer

What to do: Read over a story about Jesus encountering someone in one of the gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).  Attempt to vividly imagine the scene as one of the spectators or participants.  Take a few minutes to journal on your impressions coming out of imaginatively meditating on that scene.

Day 4: A.C.T.S. Prayer

What to do: Pray through the four categories of

  • Adoration.  Time time to praise and celebrate God’s goodness, power, and beauty.
  • Confession.  Honestly admit your known failings and sinful actions/inactions to God.
  • Thanksgiving.  Give thanks to God for how you see Him moving in your life as well as listing several things you are grateful for
  • Supplication.  Ask God for any relevant needs that you or someone you know is in need of.

Day 5: Lectio Divina Prayer

What to do: Take a passage of Scripture and read it slowly to yourself 3-4 times.  As you prayerfully read over it, make note of words/themes/images that stand out to you with each successive reading.  Jot these down and spend a few minutes praying about these things.

Day 6: Personal Popcorn Prayer

What to do: Set a timer and spend 10 minutes praying about anything or anyone that pops into your head, using a word to acknowledge the situation or person before God. For example: “Trust…finances…Wendy…school…Tony…disciple…passion…help…” (etc.).

Day 7: Your Choice

What to do: Repeat one of the ways to pray that was especially meaningful to you this week.

There you have it.  Six ways to pray.  Nothing crazy or complicated, but a starting point for learning to experience the power of prayer in a way that will stretch and challenge underdeveloped prayer muscles.

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5 Ways to Experience God’s Love

“There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.” Jonathan Edwards

Talking about God’s love is easy.  Experiencing it is quite another.

Many Christians “know” that God loves them, but many of those same people do not know–deep in their bones–the love of God.

I preached a message last Sunday that centred on Galatians 4:1-7 and our adoption into “sonship” through Christ.  In my preparation for the message I was struck by Timothy Keller’s distinction between the status of sonship and the experience of sonship.  It’s one thing to understand that one’s legal status has changed; that one has been adopted into a new family and placed under the care of a new father.  It is quite another thing to experience that new “sonship” via the warmth and protection of a father’s embrace.  For example, my son Brayden knows that he’s my son.  But when I pick him up in my arms, laugh, and squeeze giggles out of him, Brayden experiences his sonship.

It’s easy for me to proclaim from the pulpit that both the status and experience of sonship are available through Christ.  “That’ll preach!” as the saying goes.  But how on earth can you and I access that experience?    I’ll offer some ideas in a moment, but two framing thoughts:

Firstly, it’s important to remind ourselves that there is no way to control, facilitate, manage, and/or sustain an “experience” of God, anymore than you can do this with any other relationship in your life.  Moments of genuine intimacy are a gift, and don’t operate according to a mechanical formula.  There is no “system” or “process” through which we can secure an experience of God “on demand.”

Secondly, we should also remind ourselves that striving for an experience of God should not be the central aim of our daily efforts as Christians.  Obedience to Jesus’ commands should be!  However, it is a good thing to desire a full and rich experience of God.  It is a good thing to want the truths of God sink into our hearts in ways that catch fire and warm us.

While I still have a long way to go in terms of “experiencing sonship,” here are five ways I’m learning to step into a deeper experience of God’s love.

1. Ask.  

The first way is easily overlooked: ask God to make His love known to you in increasingly personal and powerful ways.  This is not a selfish prayer!  In fact, it reveals a tremendous selflessness.  You are asking for more of God, not more of yourself! When we ask for more of God, we are telling God is that we are dissatisfied with our present spiritual experience, and we want more of Him.  We are proclaiming that we are hungry and thirsty for God Himself, not just abstracted truths about God.  And we can ask in confidence because Jesus taught that those who hunger and thirst for God “will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

2. Confess and Repent.

Romans 8:1 declares that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” meaning that there is nothing in all of creation–including my sin–that “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-29).  But my experience of God’s love is very much tied to whether I’m keeping short accounts with Him.  Like any relationship, intimacy is lost when layers of unconfessed sin and unrepentant actions pile up in my life.  Setting aside a few minutes a day to prayerfully confess my shortcomings before God helps keep my heart softened and attuned to His grace towards me.

3. Meditate on Scriptural Truths.

John Piper has some wise words as it relates to pursuing an experience of God’s love:

“One key is to realize that the experience is not like hypnosis or electric shock or drug-induced hallucinations or shivers at a good tune. Rather it is mediated through knowledge. It is not the same as knowledge. But it comes through knowledge.”

I believe it is spiritually dangerous to seek an experience of God that is untethered to His Word.  Some rare cases notwithstanding, Scriptural truths are the means through which God’s love, grace, and power pour into our lives.  When a sermon or Scripture passage resonates with me, I try to make it the anchor of my weekly meditations.  I come back to it again and again, asking God to make this Scriptural truth real to me on every level.

4. Ignatian Prayer

Ignatian prayer is imaginative, reflective, and personal. It places great emphasis on the power of the imagination to deepen our relationship with God. One of the principal forms is an imaginative reflection on scenes from the Gospels.  For example, I may spend time meditating on the truths revealed in Matthew 19:13-14 (see above).  An Ignatian prayer practice, however, would invite me to put myself in the role of one of children in the story.  Then I’d vividly imagine the scene in as much detail as possible as it unfolded.

How are you feeling as you are brought towards Jesus?  Nervous?  Excited?  Ambivalent?
What does it feel like to be rebuked by Jesus’ disciples?
How does it feel to hear Jesus’ rebuke of his disciples?
What are you experiencing as Jesus embraces you and places a hand of blessing on you?

Putting myself into different gospel encounters with Jesus has been a powerful way to experience God’s love.

5. Preach the Gospel to Yourself. 

“There is a difference between merely reminding ourselves of truth, and preaching to ourselves the truth of the gospel. The latter is self-consciously and intentionally reminding ourselves of the person and presence and provisions of our Redeemer. But while gospel self-preaching is not the same thing as Bible reading, the connections and interdependences are profound.” Paul Tripp

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I Don’t Connect With My Family Through Family Meals. I Connect With Them Elsewhere.

The following is written in response to this recent post by Donald Miller.

I’ve got a confession. I don’t connect with my family by eating with them. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I sat down to (yet another) family dinner that had, perhaps, the most delicious spread of food I’ve ever had. I loved the food. But I loved it more for the how it tasted than for how it opened up space for me to connect to Heather and our children. As far as connecting with them goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this.  But to be honest, I experience an intimacy with my family that I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy when I sit down to eat with them. In fact, I can count on one hand the number family dinners I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t find “breaking bread” with my family particularly meaningful or stimulating. Like most men, I find that a family meal can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

I’m fine with this, though. I’ve studied psychology and family dynamics long enough to know family meals aren’t for everybody. There’s an entire demographic of people who simply don’t find this mode of connection gratifying. You can put food in front of them all day long, do your best to instigate conversation, but they’re simply not going to get into it.

Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course families have all kinds of ways of connecting, but if you want to attend a “family meal” every day, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much on offer for kinesthetic or visual learners.

How do I find intimacy with my family if not through a traditional family meal?

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with my family by working. I literally feel an intimacy with them when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my family and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve him while feeling connected to my family!

So, do I attend any family meals? Not often, to be honest.  Like I said, it’s not how I connect with my family.

But I also believe “family” is all around us, not to be confined to specific expressions of solidarity and commitment.

I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I build intimacy with my family every day through my work. It’s a blast.

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Prayer As Incubator

Personally, I’ve always struggled with prayer.  It’s not my spiritual love language (in fact, it may be my weakest!), and that’s led to prayer being associated predominantly with dullness instead of vitality for me personally.  I know prayer is something I ought to do, but it’s not something I often find myself wanting to do.

Despite my own weak and shabby prayer life, I can’t help but notice how prayer seems to be on the rise within Grindstone over the last year or so.  I can’t remember a time when people have been more interested in coming together to pray.  It’s definitely exciting, because the more I learn about prayer the more excited I get for how God is going to use this new hunger within our church and the communities we’re a part of.

One of my favourite windows into Jesus’ prayer life is found in Luke 5:16, where we read that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  That one verse has really pushed me to rethink my own prayer rhythms and what they reveal about the state of my heart and my discipleship to Jesus.  If Jesus often withdrew to lonely (i.e. wilderness) places and prayed, in what sense can I call myself a follower of his Way when I seldom withdraw to lonely places and pray?

I recently taught on Jesus’ transfiguration found in Luke chapter 9.  I was specifically mining the passage for insights into the nature and purpose of prayer.  After several readings a metaphor jumped out at me that instantly helped me understand prayer in a way that was both new and exciting: Prayer is an incubator for spiritual growth, vibrancy, and power.

An incubator is an enclosed apparatus in which premature or unusually small babies are placed and which provides a controlled and protective environment for their growth and development.  It’s a place or situation that permits or encourages proper formation and maturation.

As I thought through the metaphor of prayer as incubator, holding it in my head alongside Jesus’ transfiguration, I began to see several ways in which this passage highlights how prayer acts as an incubator which God uses to do something in, through, and for us that would not be possible outside of the posture of prayer.

Over the next few days I’m going to post some thoughts about how the disciples’ encounter with Jesus in Luke 9 reveals how prayer is:

  1. An incubator for Intimacy
  2. An incubator for Identity
  3. An incubator for Mission
  4. An incubator for the Miraculous
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7 Deadly Sins: Greed

Sunday night our young adult group ventured into our second deadly sin: Greed.

Greed is defined as the “inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort.”
We began our study by noting two elements of greed.

1. Greed involves inordinate desire. Most of the seven deadly sins are hyper-desires; desires that are out of control and out of proportion to what is healthy and life-giving. In the case of greed, the desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of value is not sinful in and of itself. Rather, it is the intense preoccupation and devotion to the acquisition of wealth, goods, and objects that is one of the defining characteristic of the sin of greed.

2. Greed is self-focused. The other defining characteristic of greed is that the aim of accumulating wealth and possessions is the benefit of “me, myself, and I.” Greed is a sin, not simply because I am in possession of too much, but because I’m completely oblivious to how my excess wealth could benefit and bless others.

Taking these two considerations together, we see that a (moderated) desire for wealth, coupled with the intention to bless others through it is not greed. In fact, this outlook may be a particularly godly expression of a heart that has been transformed by God’s grace.

Scriptures that warn us about greed

Warnings against greed are pervasive throughout Scripture. We looked at four on Sunday night:

Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”

Isaiah 5:8 “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”

Ephesians 5:5 “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

1 Timothy 6:9-10 “9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

In discussing these Scriptures and thinking out loud together as to why greed is so “deadly,” it was the passages from Isaiah and Ephesians that seemed to offer the greatest insight into the power of greed to interfere with our ability to experience the good life.

God warns in Isaiah 5:8 that a life build on “continuous expansion” (upward mobility?) is one that is unjust because it fails to account for the needs of one’s neighbours. A few people noted that living a life of greed ultimately leads to isolation, simply because as we expand our territory we simultaneously push others away.

The Ephesians 5:5 warning resonated with many of us, because it underscored that a posture of greed is literally anti-gospel and anti-Christ. When you take a moment to think about it, the gospel story is one of anti-greed. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, emphasis mine). Jesus holds an inordinate desire to love and rescue us, and impoverishes himself so that we might be enriched. That’s why you can’t inherit God’s kingdom if you live inside of greed; greed is a “brick wall” (to steal a metaphor from Glen Watkinson) that stops the kingdom life from flowing into you and through you.

The Subtle Danger of Greed

There’s a really terrifying story in Scripture about a rich young ruler whose greed blinds him to one of the most incredible opportunities ever offered. It’s found in Matthew 19:16-22.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Here is this rich young ruler, who is wealthy both in money and morality, but who cannot let go of his wealth, because his wealth was his treasure. Even a personal invitation by Jesus couldn’t dislodge the hold his wealth had on him.

Did the rich young ruler recognize his greed issue? Did he ever regret his decision to turn Jesus’ offer down? We’ll never know. What we do know is that this man’s greed subtly blinded him to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow Jesus as a disciple. That’s why greed is so dangerous. We can be caught up in its web and not even know it. How many of us would name greed as a sin we struggle with? Culturally, we told in a thousand ways each day that “greed is good” and that it is normal and “no big deal.”

Scripture, and life (if we’re paying attention), tells us differently.

Dealing with Greed

Whether we want to proactively deal with greed before it becomes a problem, or interrupt greed’s current hold on our hearts, I’m reminded of RR Reno’s insight that “Vices are cured by their contrary.” Sin is put to death through the cultivation of righteousness. Experience tells us that simply trying to not sin won’t work. Therefore, the way to combat greed is to commit to focused generosity rooted in the recognition that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our group brainstormed some ideas, and came up with the following “next steps”:

1. Sponsor a child.

2. Commit to tithing (i.e. giving 10% of one’s income to their church)

3. Once a week spend some of your money on someone else, to a degree that the action qualifies as generous and self-sacrificial.

While we’re often ambivalent to its seductive pull in our lives, greed continually calls to us, tempting us into a life that runs against the grain of Jesus’ love, grace, and hope. Unless we’re participating in spiritual disciplines of financial generosity and sacrifice, greed will likely (inevitably?) take root in our hearts and lives. Once it does, we’ll find that despite our best intentions, our lives will have more and more of what doesn’t matter, and less and less of what does.

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Farewell to Facebook?

When I studied for a year at the Institute for Christian Studies, one of my assigned readings was The Fall of Interpretation by James K.A. Smith.  I remember really enjoying Smith’s perspective as well as his writing style, and I ‘ve followed his rise to his current positions of Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College and Executive Director, Society of Christian Philosophers.  His latest book Desiring the Kingdom is on my to-read list and was recently awarded The Word Guild Award in Leadership/Theoretical, as well the Christianity Today 2010 Book Award in Theology/Ethics.

I happened upon a recent blog of his entitled “Farewell to Facebook,” where Smith provides a brief overview of why he has decided to delete his Facebook account after only a few months.  He writes:

There are multiple factors in this decision. For instance, I finally joined Facebook to stay connected with my son who left for college. But now everything I know about him through Facebook I wish I didn’t! I also find that Facebook has taken away from what blogging I did–and I think blogging is a much better exercise for a writer than dashing off status updates.

Later he candidly admits:

Facebook plays into all of my vices: my pride and arrogance, my self-centeredness, my penchant for vainglory. Most of all, Facebook feeds and fuels my addictive personality, especially when it comes to communication.

Email, as you can imagine, took this to ridiculous new levels, precisely because email can arrive 24 hours a day. You can guess what this does to someone who’s already addictively fixated on snail mail that arrives just once a day. Facebook, of course, just added another layer of fixation on such “connection,” while also creating a quick and easy outlet for expression that is always a veiled cry for attention.

And closes his post with the following:

What’s at issue here is precisely the fact that Facebook is an environment of practice which inculcates in us certain habits which then shape our orientation to the world–indeed, they make our worlds. So, in the spirit of Desiring the Kingdom, I started to take a “practices audit” of my Facebook patterns. The results weren’t pretty.

While I certainly can appreciate several of Smith’s concerns (namely the issues of pride and addictive patterns being amplified through Facebook), I tend to see moves like his to be overreactions.  Sure, deleting Facebook is probably a valid exercise for some people, but there’s are many reasons why social networks are so popular, and those reasons extend beyond the immediacy of communication or the ability to share “veiled cries for attention” (a comment of Smith’s that I felt was a bit telling). 

Facebook, like any social network, comes with all sorts of challenges and opportunities.  The potential for abuse and misuse is enormous, but in what area of life is this not the case?  I don’t think Facebook challenges us with anything new.  At their heart social networks disclose our longing to “not be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and often reveal creative ways of connecting that are real and legitimate, although different from face-to-face communication.

I’m a deeply vain person myself, so I appreciated Smith’s candor at this point.  I’d love it if others liked, respected, and admired me.  Facebook does provide a vehicle through which I can self-promote and self-proclaim to help achieve those ends.  But over time–and because I’ve stuck with it–I’ve learned to confront those demons that Facebook initially spurned in me.  Was Facebook the problem?  Hardly.  Facebook simply amplified what was already inside:  pride and vanity.  I imagine that had I, out of righteous intentions, deleted my Facebook account when I became aware of it’s pull on these areas, my heart would have found a way to celebrate the fact that I was “above” people who used Facebook to prop up their self-esteem, pride, and ego.  I would have found a way to see my deletion of Facebook as evidence of being spiritually elite.

And that’s why I stick with it.  Not because the temptations aren’t there, but because we need Christians who are willing to think deeply and Christianly about social networks while participating in them.  The Facebook’s of the world aren’t going away, and I’m not a fan of the “this could be troublesome, so let’s jump ship” mode of Christian “engagement” with culture.

Kudos to James K.A. Smith if he honestly believes his life and discipleship practice is enhanced by walking away from Facebook.  Personally, I wish he would have decided differently, because his voice is a desperately needed one that could be deep vision and wisdom to those of us desiring the kingdom in this sphere of life.

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Staying Rooted in Jesus

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9: A Tree of Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1–4

How do you and I stay rooted in Jesus? How do we remain connected to Him so that we can experience this great life and extraordinary hope regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? How do we keep Jesus’ call to discipleship front and centre, especially when we are assaulted by countless distractions and difficulties? How do we avoid being overwhelmed and choked out by the cares and worries of this life? Staying rooted in Jesus begins with and is sustained by a commitment to four priorities.

Engage the Bible everyday. Whether it means reading, studying, discussing, or memorizing, staying rooted to Jesus means staying rooted to the Scriptures. We need to continually stretch our understanding of what the Bible says and how that should play out in our lives. The gospels should be read consistently and carefully, because declaring ourselves to be disciples of Jesus means we’re trying to embed the values, attitudes, and priorities of Jesus into our lives. The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and discussing the Bible is a value most Christians agree on but few actually practice. However, everyone I see flourishing in their discipleship walk is engaging the Bible everyday.

Develop a strong prayer life. Developing a strong prayer life is very challenging for most people. Personally, prayer is an area I read about, talk about, and think about more than I actually do anything about. Prayer is very hard for me, because quite honestly it feels like a waste of time. It feels inefficient and sometimes ineffective compared to physically doing something, but I’m pushing myself beyond those faulty assumptions. I’m in the process of exploring different forms of prayer because I want to develop a strong and intimate relationship with Jesus. This intimacy will never happen if I neglect communicating with Him honestly and openly. Although it may not be easy for us, taking time everyday to share our hearts with Him—and taking time to listen for His still, small voice—is critical to our growth as disciples.

Invest in a local church. I will be the first to say that church can suck. You know it and I know it. But here’s the reality: I’ve never, ever met someone who powerfully inspires me to love and serve Jesus who isn’t invested and connected to a local church. I don’t think church is some kind of magic bullet when it comes to discipleship. However, I believe that discipleship outside of a church commitment just doesn’t work. I also know how tempting it is to bounce around and check out the latest ministry, church, or preacher. But discipleship requires roots, and you can’t grow deep roots if you’re continually uprooting yourself in order to be a part of the next new thing. Therefore, if we are serious about discipleship to Jesus, we have to make it a priority to plug into and invest in a local church community.

Serve others. Following Jesus as a disciple means continually reminding ourselves that in Jesus’ kingdom leaders are the ones who serve (Luke 22:26) and greatness is measured by one’s ability lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13). Our days are filled with opportunities to bless and serve others in both simple and profound ways, and Jesus calls us to adopt a servant heart that places our preferences secondary to the interests and needs of those around us. Jesus said that His kingdom is one that will be characterized by servant leadership (Matthew 20:25–28), so if we aren’t consistently serving others we’re operating out of ego and self-centredness.

These disciplines, however, may strike us as overly simplistic or obvious. Because of this, it’s common for us to overlook them in order to look for something that sounds deeper and more profound. But these four practices form the foundation—the root structure—of the Christian faith. If we ignore, dismiss, or abandon them, we’ll soon find ourselves feeling old, gnarled, and lifeless.

After years of discipling, mentoring, and observing many young adults, I’ve noticed a huge difference between those who just talk about these things, and those who actually do them. Jesus said a disciple is someone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24, emphasis mine). It’s easy to extol the virtues of Bible study and prayer, hold lengthy conversations on the nature of community, and discuss new justice initiatives. However, none of these things lead to transformation in Christ. Those who have been truly transformed are those who have consistently done these things and not just talked about doing them.

 

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