What has church discipline got to do with divorce? If you are a Christian, depending on the tradition that you come from, there may be a practice of church discipline. From the outside looking in, the church may or may not have a good reputation for doing well with this practice. The basic idea is actually to extend as much opportunity as reasonable and safe for grace.
The whole theme of Matthew 18 as a chapter is forgiveness. There is one part of Matthew 18 that describes church discipline. Or the mechanism for excommunication if excommunication is to happen. It goes like this:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, and if he repents, then you have gained your brother.
If he does not repent, then go to him with two or three witnesses.
If he still does not repent, then tell the church leadership.
If he still does not repent, then let him be to you as a non-believer.
I say that if this would apply to any brother or sister in the faith, then why would you not apply this in marriage. It seems like if you apply it at this low level, why would you not do the same thing in marriage, for the major offenses.
You’re not going to go through a church discipline process every time your husband leaves his socks on the floor. Or every time your wife gives you a look that means you’re in trouble. Those are part of life, those happen. But for the major offenses: abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction. If it is safe to do so, then going through the church discipline process may be appropriate. (In the case of abuse it may not be safe to do so).
I imagine that would be different than what people in struggling marriages have experienced for the last 50 or 60 years from the Church. It would be interesting.
Now, what that would look like in your church, in your context, really depends on several things:
Your theological structure,
your church tradition,
the leadership structure of your church,
and then the particular practice of your church.
This may or may not work. But if you want to get support from your church to save your marriage, this might be something to consider.
Of my five siblings, Jon and I were the closest. Ben and I had a sibling rivalry growing up, with both of us trying to fill the role of the firstborn. Isaac and my sisters are just so much younger that we experience life at a different pace. We’re not supposed to have favorites. I love all my siblings equally. But Jon was my closest sibling, so he probably was my favorite.
When Skylar and I were getting married and I could only have three groomsmen, I chose my two best friends and my brother Jon. Not to exclude my other siblings. Just that Jon was the closest.
When Skylar and I got our first house, we opened the spare bedroom our home to cousins, college friends, and Jon. Jon was our only roommate that paid his full rent on time, helped with the chores, and did not only what he was asked, but more.
When my daughter Keaton was born, Jon loved her almost as much as I do. He was like her second daddy.
Jon was the one that I wanted to look after my family if anything ever happened to me.
If I wanted a drink, he was my drinking buddy. If I wanted a cigar, he was my smoking buddy.
More than anything else, what I remember most about my brother Jon is how much he loved Jesus. Because of that, the rest of what I have to say is more like a sermon than a eulogy.
Now that Jon is Gone
I have spent this last month in the hole and under a bar.
The kind of bar loaded with a crushing burden. The kind of hole at the bottom of lifting that burden. The guy in the picture is about to squat more than 700 pounds.
Sticking with that metaphor, I’ve handled 500 pounds. I’ve handled 600 pounds. Never 700. This is crushing. This is too much for me.
To handle those past burdens, I had to look to four places to gather the needed strength:
I am immensely blessed to have a loving and supportive family and friends, and an understanding and supportive employer. I could not get through this without the people around me who love me and have held me up in their prayers, and literally held me up as I cried on their shoulders.
Thank you to everyone who has answered phone calls or texts at inconvenient times to help me get through this. Thank you to everyone who has changed their schedules to either be with me or to watch my children so that Skylar and I could have some time together.
You have been more than just “spotters” for me. I cannot thank you enough.
My prayer for the rest of you who are grieving my brother is that you have a similarly supportive community around you. If you do not, come see me or Greg. We’ll get you connected to people who will love and support you.
Horatio Spafford was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago in the 1800’s. He had established a very successful legal practice as a young businessman and was also a devout Christian. Among his close friends were several evangelists, including the famous Dwight L. Moody, also from Chicago.
Spafford’s fortune evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, he lost everything overnight. In a saga reminiscent of Job, his son died a short time before his financial disaster. But the worst was yet to come.
Kenneth Osbeck tells the story: “Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody … in one of [his] campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days.
“On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’”
Spafford left immediately to join his wife. This hymn, “It is well with my soul,” is said to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk.
These are the words to the song he wrote:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!— My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.
Christian history is full of examples of men and women like Spafford. People who, in their pain, turned to God and found hope, then applied their gifts and talents as a way of spreading that hope to others.
I am a writer. So writing has been a helpful way for be to find and spread hope.
Whatever your talents are, use them as part of your grief process. Use them to spread hope.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
The Greek word for “temptation” is interchangeable with “test” or “trial.” No trial has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. No test has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. No temptation, trial, or test ever overtook Jon that is not common to mankind. The loneliness due to his move, the shame over his finances, and impaired thinking from lack of sleep blinded him to God’s faithful provision of a way out.
No temptation, trial, or test has overtaken any of us grieving Jon that is not common to mankind. God is faithful. This grief does not have to crush us. Look to your left and right, these are your spotters. These are your God-given way out from under this grief. Do not be blind to them. None of us want to be here again.
People grieving together in a healthy way are stronger than people grieving alone. There is a healing synergy in grieving together.
One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most and one Belgian can pull 8,000 pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull 20,000 – 24,000 pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull 30,000 – 32,000 pounds, almost four times as much as a single horse.
People grieving together are similar. So stay close and connected to each other in this time. You will make it through.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul shared a struggle that grieved him. A heavy temptation that he constantly had to seek refuge from.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
This is one of those times in scripture when God is intentionally vague. We do not know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. It could have been enemies that hounded and discredited him. It could have been a sickness or physical ailment. It could have been thoughts of suicide. It could have been anything.
Whatever it was, the point of it was to remind Paul to rely on God. Every weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, and calamity presented Paul with an opportunity to rely on God so that God could be glorified.
As we grieve for Jon, we have an opportunity to rely on God so that He can be glorified.
Some of you may be thinking, “wait, God’s the one that let this happen, why rely on Him?” God let this terrible darkness consume Jon to the point that he took his own life. Why rely on God? God let me lose Jon. Why rely on God?
Rely on God because if you let him, He will redeem this tragedy into something better.
Nothing worse ever happened to any better person than Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross. Jesus was innocent of the charges against Him. He was “convicted” of blasphemy by an illegitimate court. He was then tortured to death in one of the slowest and most brutal forms of death known to mankind.
And three days later he rose from the dead.
Now, if you’re an atheist, you don’t believe that. But I am a Christian. I believe that. The hope of Heaven and of the final resurrection is only for Christians. The hope of Heaven and seeing Jon again is only for Christians. What better time than now to turn to God?
God is capable of redeeming Jon’s death and our grief into something that changes lives. My prayer is that at least one of you hearing this will have a softened heart, and turn to God.
What if we’re wrong to rely on God? What do we lose? Nothing!
Blaise Pascal argued that it is better to live deluded as a theist and be wrong than it is to live deluded as an atheist and be wrong. If the theist is wrong, he loses nothing. If the atheist is wrong, he loses everything.
I argue that it is better to live deluded as a Christian and be wrong than it is to live as deluded as anything else and be wrong. If Christians are wrong about the afterlife, and wrong about salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone; then when we die we either:
cease to exist
reincarnate and get another chance to get it right
our energy joins with the energy of the universe
or we at least go to Heaven’s basement
Going to Hell is not on the list of possibilities if Christians are wrong. We’re the only ones that believe there’s a permanent Hell.
If anyone else is wrong about the afterlife, and wrong about how salvation works, then going to Hell is one of the possibilities.
If you want to see Heaven, if you want to see Jon again, you need to be a Christian. Your past does not matter. God would have forgiven Hitler if he had repented. Forgiving you and me is easy in comparison. If there are things in your life that separate you from God and from being in community with Christians, join us at Parkside, Harvest, or Grace. We’ll love you where you are, and let change be between you and God. Martin Luther said that “the Christian life is one of constant repentance.” It doesn’t all happen at once. It doesn’t all happen overnight.
Choose to start repenting now. Model your life as much as you can after Jesus’ life. Join a community of Christians who will love you where you are and support you as you grow. You’ll see Jon when you get to Heaven. And I’ll join the party eventually.
Business owners can be just as pastoral and missional as paid ministry staff. When you run your business with integrity, your work is an act of worship to God. It is also an act of love to your neighbor (or customer).
The work we are called to do every day is an important part of our image-bearing nature and stewardship. As human beings, we were created to do things. In this sense we are not only human beings, but we are also human doings. – Tom Nelson
This post comes out of a conversation about two years ago with my dad. As I was struggling to describe my long term goals, I was using terms like
business of ministry
business and ministry
business as ministry
I was even writing them down and using a Venn diagram to try to describe what I was getting at. Finally, dad just said, “Okay, so business IIIS ministry.” Loudly emphasizing and drawing out the word, “is.”
How did I miss that? It had been right in front of me the whole time. I think that I missed it because I was afraid. I often hear things like “selling is stealing.” (Bernie Sanders supporters, anyone?) Even in circles where people would deny that claim, it is common to fear to charge fairly for what you do.
I think that fear is what kept me from seeing what was right in front of me. Once I acknowledged the fear and got past it, I felt more comfortable charging fairly for what I do.
What is Business
In modern English, the word “Business” means many things. It can be a euphemism for bodily functions. (Skylar and I had just loads of fun potty training Keaton, now we’re in the diaper phase again with Sawyer.)
It can refer to what some of us do to bring home a paycheck. It can apply to things we do at home like keeping a calendar or a budget.
In this case, I am using it mainly in the economic sense. What we do to bring home a paycheck.
What is Ministry
Some people think that “ministry” is only done by religious professionals. People like pastors or rabbis. Some people think “ministry” is only done by religious leaders. They add elders or deacons to the list. Others think that “ministry” is only done when it meets basic needs. Like food, shelter, or the spiritual need for a Savior.
Others recognize that all Christians are to be doing some sort of ministry. Everywhere. At all times.
In this case, I am using it in a way that recognizes that spiritual and basic physical needs can be met…
by unexpected people
in unexpected places
at unexpected times
in unexpected situations
I think that ministry is preparing to meet people’s needs. Not just spiritual, and not just the basic physical needs. Ministry meets people’s needs in a way that leads to human flourishing, in this life and the next.
Business of Ministry
“Business of ministry,” usually refers to business aspects of running a church or nonprofit. Thinks like accounting, leadership meeting agendas and minutes, filing taxes, etc. In this case “business” is more like what we do at home with our calendars and budgets. It is less like an exchange based economic issue. It’s mundane and routine, a necessary evil.
This term is somewhat helpful. It acknowledges that there are necessary business functions in any ministry. Yet, it is problematic because it creates an artificial separation between business and ministry. It conveys the idea that ministry can never overlap with business.
Business and Ministry
For some absurd reason, we put little economic value on vocational ministry. Pastors, missionaries, church staff, nonprofit executives and nonprofit staff are obscenely underpaid. Because of this, bivocational ministries are increasingly common. “Bivocational” just means having two vocations.
Bivocational ministry is not new. It’s what Paul did (he built tents for people so that he could be a missionary).
There some great things about bivocational ministry:
It provides for the financial needs of religious workers
To outsiders, it breaks down the sacred/secular divide
It keeps ministers connected to culture outside of the “Christian bubble.”
There are also some not so great things:
It excuses and perpetuates low pay for ministers, missionaries, and nonprofit workers
To some insiders, it highlights or reinforces the sacred/secular divide
It’s hard to excel at more than one thing
It divides attention
Business as Ministry (or Mission)
Now we’re getting warmer.
Sometimes Missionaries need a cover story to go places they could otherwise go. A business provides an easy cover story that is difficult for governments to turn away. It’s a great way to get the gospel into places where missionaries aren’t allowed.
The problem is this. Business as Ministry perpetuates the sacred/secular divide in closed countries.
Business IS Ministry
To avoid being misunderstood, Ministry IS NOT Business. It doesn’t work the other way around. Evangelism and missions are done to save souls and glorify God, not make a profit. But making a profit does not exclude evangelistic or missional activities. Making a profit does not preclude caring for souls and basic needs.
In business, we have opportunities to serve people that may not attend a church. We set a positive example when we:
Are open about our faith
Run our business with integrity
The internal ministry of a business
Business leaders can care for souls by having meaningful relationships with their teams. Business leaders can care for basic needs by investing in their teams, not just by paying them. To invest in their team, leaders must have meaningful relationships with their team members.
To have meaningful relationships with team members, leaders must:
Know their team members on a personal level
Know, at least generally, the home or family environments of their team members
Know, at least a little, the personal growth struggles of their team members
Be willing to support team members’ personal growth
Be ready to provide support in ways other than with money
Be prepared to provide financial aid at unexpected times
The external ministry of a business
Businesses can care for the souls of their customers by caring for the souls of their teams. Customer interactions may not lead to salvation. But they must not lead away from it. When you care for the souls of your staff, they will have a much easier time doing their work as unto Christ. If they are not Christians, they will still have an easier time keeping a good attitude. Customers will notice the real attitudes of your staff.
Businesses meet the basic needs of their customers by … doing business. It’s easy to see how any business that sells food or shelter meets basic human needs. Whatever you sell helps to solve a problem, or you would not get paid. Solving problems leads to human flourishing.
The fundamental principle of a fair exchange is that both parties place a higher value on what they get than what they give. The apple I just ate from a local farmer’s market was worth more to me than the money that I paid for it. The money was worth more to the apple grower than the apple.
A few weeks ago I heard an interesting spin on the Lord’s Prayer on the radio. It went something like this:
Father in Heaven, may your name be made Holy.
May your Kingdom come, and your will be done in my life, as they are already in Heaven.
Give me today my daily bread. And thank you for the grocery store cashier, water, and electrical utility workers, that work to provide for my daily needs. Help me to see opportunities to provide for the needs of others.
Forgive me as I forgive. And thank you for the pastors, counselors, and mentors that help me work through the process of forgiveness. Give me a hand to see the hurts that I haven’t forgiven.
Lead me not into temptation.
And deliver me from evil – and thank you for the police, EMTs, and firefighters who will come to help if I need them.
Ever heard someone say those things? In particular how many Christians have you heard say those things?
I imagine you have. I have said those things. I have heard them.
The problem is that its usually fluff. How often do you ask someone to do something important and they respond with “I’ll pray about it…”? What they are really saying 99% of the time is, “no.” They’re using God and the appearance of spirituality to make excuses.
There may be legitimate reasons to say, “no.” But what stops us from saying, “no, because ___”? That’s much more honest.
My pastor (Darryl Elledge) has spoken about this often. But last Sunday he added this statement: “Prayer should never be an excuse for inaction.” That statement has a lot more layers to it than just trying to appear spiritual.
Prayer is a great thing, when we actually do it. But if you say you’re going to pray for a friend or a situation and then you don’t, you have lied, broken a promise, and you have used prayer as an excuse for inaction.
Prayer is a GREAT thing when we actually do it. If you say you’re going to pray for or about something, and you actually do, great. But how long should you spend on your knees before you get your hands dirty?
Prayer should not stop you from serving your community
Christians that perpetuate the “christian bubble” problem drive me absolutely nuts. The thinking is that the world has gotten so bad that we can’t possibly live authentic Christian lives while also authentically engaged with the world around us.
When asked for solutions for how to make the world better, they offer two things:
The segregation of the Church from the World
Prayer is the only means of influencing the outside world
What GARBAGE!? Christ’s last directive to his disciples was to GO (Matthew 28:19). You can’t do that when you completely cut yourself off from the outside. Jesus also said that whatever we have done to serve the least fortunate, that we have also done for Him (Matthew 25:31-46). I am pretty sure that means we have more options than just prayer for serving our community.
We should be feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and loving our neighbors.
We need to pray for our communities, but at some point we also need to get off our knees and get our hands dirty.
Prayer should not stop you from serving your church
Most of Darryl’s examples of prayer-as-an-excuse have been in this category. It happens whenever a leader notices that someone in their congregation is good at or talented at something, asks them to serve, and the person responds with “I’ll pray about it.”
Will you lead worship? … I’ll pray about it.
Will you teach Sunday school? … I’ll pray about it.
Will you help with ____? … I’ll pray about it.
Why not just be honest and say that you don’t want to? It is perfectly okay not to want to. Sometimes in church life you need do do things that you don’t want to, but that is the exception, not the rule.
When you are asked to serve your church, it is okay to say no. It is okay to say that you don’t want to. It is okay to say that you have other priorities. But keep this in mind: you get out of it what you put into it. If you won’t serve your church, don’t expect much from the church. Your eternity is secure as long as you believe in Christ, but this life can be hard without the deep friendships you’ll build in your church.
We need to pray for our church. We need to pray for how we can serve our church. But we eventually need to get off our knees and get our hands dirty.
Prayer should not stop you from being responsible
I’m going to paraphrase what Darryl said on Sunday here. I didn’t come up with this, but it is worth repeating.
It is not in the bible, but there is a saying that “God helps those who help themselves.” That doesn’t mean God favors those who are arrogant, presumptuous, or thieves. It means that God will often make of the gaps between our needs and our abilities after we have tried something.
If you need change in your life, you certainly need to be praying for that change. But get off your knees and get your hands dirty.
If you need a job, don’t just pray about it, ask your friends and colleagues who they know that is hiring for your sort of work.
If you need to lose weight, don’t just pray about it, eat less and go to the gym. Even if it means getting up early and skipping ice cream.
Prayer is not a boundary
I have written quite a bit recently on the theme of boundaries. Christians have huge problems with boundaries. We think that it’s not okay to come out right and say, “no, I don’t really want to,” or, “no, I can’t because ___.” But for some reason it is “okay” to be fake and say “I’ll pray about it.”
Prayer is an ingredient, not the pie
Just as you can’t have an apple pie with only apples, so you cannot have a prayer life with only prayer. You need to get off your knees and get your hands dirty.
Whoever came up with the question “Is prayer your steering wheel or your emergency brake?” was pretty clever. You don’t drive with just the steering wheel. You also drive with the brake and gas pedals, the mirrors, and possibly the clutch and gear shift (if your car has a manual transmission). Prayer is one element, it is not the whole thing.
To help you lead better with a better balance between prayer and action, I have created a free, one-page guide with a list of prayer suggestions and matching action suggestions. Click the button below and enter your email to download it now.
Hearing and accepting the Gospel is not a magical pill that makes one healthy, wealthy or prosperous. That is a false gospel that makes Jesus no more than a genie in a bottle. But a life lived in light of the Gospel may be good for your health, and the health of your community.
The church has always done its best missions and outreach work when addressing the issues of health, education, or poverty. Beyond biblical and theological training, health and educational disciplines have been the most consistent disciplines on the mission field.
Jesus and the Apostles
Much of Jesus’ ministry was characterized by healing the sick. Granted, a key distinction between His ministry and ours is the miraculous nature of Jesus’ healing work. The purpose of Jesus’ work was to prove His identity as the Messiah, but the effect was still that people were healed, and some people believed in Jesus.
The Apostles also healed miraculously. The purpose for their miracles was to demonstrate authority. Still, the effect was that people were healed and people were pointed to Christ.
I am not hugely concerned whether modern healing is miraculous, natural, or mixed. I am also not hugely concerned whether the healing is small or great. I am primarily concerned that people are healed, and that people are pointed to Christ.
Participating in someone’s healing process provides an opportunity to present the Gospel.
You don’t have to be a doctor to participate in someone’s healing process.
The Gospel and Emotional Health
At the moment we are saved, we are released from guilt. We have been forgiven, and we are called to forgive. We may still have remorse for our past sin, which is totally appropriate. But we no longer have to carry guilt. Abiding in forgiveness and setting aside guilt can do wonders for our own emotional health.
Paying forgiveness forward is another major contribution to our own emotional health. When we stop poisoning our hearts with bitterness, we have space for better emotions. What might happen when we stop treating our offenders with bitterness, and instead treat them with the love of Christ?
Beyond guilt and forgiveness, a Christian’s discovery of a new identity in Christ can bring tremendous healing to self doubt, pride, and shame.
Anyone can participate in this healing process. All you need to do is forgive and encourage others. Forgiveness can seem impossible in many cases, I don’t mean to make light of the suffering that sinful people bring to each other, but forgiveness is possible.
The Gospel and Social Health
The Great Commandment is to completely love God, and to love people as ourselves. If we really live that out, in light of our forgiveness, and by paying forgiveness forward, we influence the people around us in ways that are good for all of us.
By creating a culture of healing in our churches and communities, we can “stack the deck” for a lot of healing processes to get started. What comes next is a lot of opportunities to present the Gospel.
One thing we can do to stack the deck to advance access to affordable healthcare. I know this is a politically charged issue, but the fact is that the Church has massive opportunities that it is largely ignoring. This is a stewardship failure on a lot of levels.
How can the Church advance affordable care? There are of course the legislative solutions such as the Affordable Care Act. But I think the free market has other models that the Church can use. One possibility is a simplified version of concierge care combined with an altruistic outlet.
The Gospel and Physical Health
Forgiveness reduces guilt, bitterness, and shame, which reduces stress. Reduced stress improves sleep and health in general. Improved sleep improves health in general. A life lived in light of the Gospel will also tend to lead people to healthier behaviors.
Again, the Gospel is not a magic pill. That is bad doctrine. But it can help us feel better and function better. We can love others as Christ has loved us, and in doing so we can help them to feel better and function better.
Add Your Voice (comment below)
What do you think? Am I out to lunch?
What other connections can you see between the Gospel and health?
Effective leadership requires personal development. For any Christian leader, personal development requires spiritual growth.
How do you grow spiritually? Do you read scripture daily? Pray daily? Meditate? I’ve seen and heard plenty of people get on their soap box about having a “daily quiet time.” Worse, I’ve heard most of those same people talk about how missing their quiet time has some magical effect that ruins the rest of their day or week.
I’ve tried a number of bible reading plans, stuck to them faithfully for a month or so, then dropped them because they got boring. Then the quiet time pharisees come squawking.
I have heard enough people speak of similar experiences to know that I am not alone. Clearly, there is something wrong with the party line in evangelical Christendom about what habits lead to spiritual growth.
No one discipline works by itself
Bible Time Alone
I don’t buy the party line that it is impossible to for a Christian to grow without daily time in God’s word. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that common people like you and I had personal access to the word. Are we supposed to believe that for the first 1500 years of Church history, no Christians experienced any kind of spiritual growth? Hogwash!
Don’t misunderstand me, we are blessed today beyond measure that most of us have a bible within reach that we can read in our own language. If we are not making use of that blessing on a regular basis, preferably a daily basis, we are utterly poor stewards of that resource.
Prayer Time Alone
Another party line that I just don’t buy is that to “really” grow spiritually, you need to spend a portion of every day in some kind of emotionally charged prayer. No matter how talkative you are, you eventually run out of words, and to pray longer is faking it. No matter how emotional you are, you eventually run out of emotional energy, and to pray beyond that is faking it.
We absolutely must pray regularly, or else why would Paul admonish us to “pray without ceasing”? But to ascribe some magical power for spiritual growth to long prayers, emotional prayers, or certain prayer formulas is Pagan, not Christian.
Strength Training For Spiritual Growth
There are other spiritual disciplines one could examine. But giving some magical power to either prayer or bible reading are the most common. To answer the possibility of any other “magic pill” spiritual discipline, allow me to use a fitness metaphor.
Imagine a weight lifter that only trained on bench press. He’d have a huge chest and gigantic arms, but puny legs. Is he strong? What if he only trained on squats? Clearly not. Just as you cannot train only one muscle group to get bigger and stronger physically, so you cannot train only one discipline to grow spiritually.
Just as strength training requires variety, so spiritual growth requires some variety. At the risk of sounding really silly, there are a variety of ways to add variety. But I’ll focus on two ends of a spectrum, what’s right for you will be somewhere in between. Also take note that what works for you today may not work in a few months. So be prepared to adjust.
Be forewarned that either end of the spectrum can become a rut or “magic pill” of its own. So, again, be prepared to adjust.
The Power Lifting Approach to Spiritual Growth
Power Lifters train with intense focus on three exercises: Squat, Bench Press, and Dead Lift. The goal is to lift as much as possible. Power Lifters tend to have three to six workouts a week, and each workout contributes directly or indirectly to performance on one of those three lifts.
In our metaphor, we’ll consider prayer, scripture reading, and meditation as our three core exercises.
I have found that new Christians are often uncomfortable with prayer. Sometimes it’s “performance anxiety” from being asked to pray out loud. Other times it’s discomfort with being asked to talk to someone not physically present. This discomfort or anxiety is normal. It will take you a while to get past it. Here are a couple of tools to get you there.
Adoration: Start by telling God what you “adore” about him. If the word “adoration” feels too strong to you, just tell him what you like about him.
Confession: What wrong actions or attitudes might be interfering with your relationship with God right now? This is the time to talk about them.
Thanksgiving: What are you thankful for? Whatever you have, God has provided it, so express your thanks.
Supplication: Are there things that you want or need? Go ahead and ask. Asking God for things is not a magic wand that will guarantee you get what you want, but there is no harm in asking.
Wednesday: Scripture Reading
The best scripture reading plan for a spiritual growth power lifter is a sequential one. Follow a plan that takes you sequentially through the bible either chronologically, canonically, or topically.
If “meditation” sets off your radar as a practice of eastern mysticism, it should. Most of what we in the West know as “meditation” comes from Buddhism. But the truth is that meditation is a biblical idea, and it was a biblical idea before it was a Buddhist idea.
Christianity is not a faith meant to be experienced alone. Make sure that you regularly attend a church. Arrive early, stay late. Talk to people. Participate in their lives, and allow them to participate in yours. You might find a good spotter this way (someone to help you learn to pray, read scripture, meditate, and live it all out).
Advanced Power Lifting for Spiritual Growth
By this time, you are more comfortable with prayer. I hope that you have read Dennis Fuqua’s book, Living Prayerby now. Not that it’s the only good book on prayer. But it is certainly the most practical book that I have read.
If you haven’t read Dennis’s book, personalize the Lord’s Prayer in this way (inserting your specific needs in each area):
Father in Heaven, May your name be made holy on earth as it is in heaven. May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Providing for me. Forgiving me and helping me to forgive. Keeping me from temptation and delivering me from evil.
Father in heaven, please provide for me, forgive me and help me to forgive, and keep me from temptation.
Your name will be honored on earth as it is in heaven. Your kingdom will be built on earth. Your will will be done on earth as in heaven.
Tuesday: Meditative Prayer
Think and pray slowly and carefully through the same prayer that you prayed on Monday. What does scripture say about the things you prayed about? Have you heard sermons on the topic? How would you apply those sermons to your situation?
Wednesday: Scripture Reading
Stick to your same sequential reading plan as before. Just keep plugging along.
Thursday: Pray through Scripture
This practice tends to work best with either Psalms or Proverbs, because those are often the easiest scriptures to emotionally personalize.
If what is going on in a given scripture passage is “good,” pray that it would be true in your own life. If what is going on in a given scripture passage is “bad,” pray that it would not be true in your own life.
Sit and think carefully and slowly about whatever comes to mind. What does scripture say about it? What does your experience say about it? What does your faith community say about it?
Saturday: Scripture Meditation
Think carefully, slowly, and sequentially through scripture. Go back to the start of your reading plan, and work through it at one third to one half the pace. Spend some time journaling your thoughts about how that scripture applies to your life, work, and ministry today.
Hey. You’re an advanced power lifter in spiritual growth at this point, right? That doesn’t mean that you don’t need community. You need it now more than ever. Find a beginner or two and spot them while they’re getting started.
The CrossFit Approach to Spiritual Growth
CrossFit Athletes train with variety in every single workout. The goal is to be ready for anything (athletically speaking). They might train legs and arms, pushing and pulling, all in one workout. It might be months before they repeat the same workout. When CrossFit goes bad, they never repeat the same workout, which makes it hard to know if they really ever got stronger or faster. But most CrossFit trainers or athletes do a reasonable job keeping the variety within reason.
As a beginning spiritual crossfitter, you might knock out this “workout” out in as little as twenty minutes. Or you might take up to an hour. The variety that you’ll get here is that you’ll hit each spiritual “muscle group” in each workout. Some days one muscle group will work harder than the rest.
Spend one to ten minutes in auditory silence (or as close as you can get). This can be either prayer or meditation time (check out the prayer and meditation sections above).
Spend one to ten minutes reciting, out loud, a list of things that you believe about God. Follow that up with things you believe about yourself. Follow that up with things you believe about your purpose in the world.
What are the activities you have planned for today? Visualize yourself doing them with a smile on your face, with an internal attitude that honors God and an external expression that points others to God. This is just like an athlete visualizing themselves scoring.
Spend one to ten minutes doing calisthenics (body weight exercises). Your body is a temple, use it to honor God.
Three or more times a week, answer each of these questions in writing, on paper (not typed):
What is God doing in your life?
What are you thankful for?
What have you learned recently?
Who have you helped recently?
Advanced CrossFit for Spiritual Growth
If I am being brutally honest, I am not here yet. This is spiritual strength training at a level of variety that I haven’t achieved yet. The “workouts” might be a week or a month long at this point. They might hit just one spiritual muscle group, or they might hit several.
I had been talking to my dad, getting some fatherly advice about whether to accept a job offer. As we often do, we had gone down a rabbit hole about worldview and why we do what we do. For me to say “yes” or “no” to this job offer, I had to be certain that it fit with my “why.”
The whirlwind that led to this conversation was a bit confusing. so here’s a quick timeline:
Sunday, April 5th. My parents and one sister left on a mission trip to Haiti to serve at the orphanage where we adopted my sisters from.
Thursday, April 9th. Even though I hadn’t been looking for work, a boss that I had worked for two years ago called out of the blue and offered my old job back, with some very appealing modifications. I’m thrown into decision confusion.
Monday, April 13th, I told the old boss I wasn’t sure that I could make it work (soft “no”), and they modified the offer.
Thursday, April 16th. I told the old boss that I couldn’t make it work (hard “no”). My parents got back from Haiti.
Friday, April 17th, they modified the job offer a second time.
Saturday, April 18th. I got to lay things out for my dad, and ask him that question.
From the 9th to the 18th, Skylar and I had spent between 20 minutes and an hour each night discussing the pros, cons, and logistics of the decision.
When I finally got to re-hash the discussions that Skylar and I had already had for my dad. He asked me one question: What are the potential synergies? I had to stop and think really hard about that to see where he was going.
What is the long game here?
Aside from whatever mission is being served, all job offers come with the opportunity to put money in your bank account. However, the opportunity cost is that jobs subtract time from your calendar. Most people stop considering a job offer if the dollars added per hour taken aren’t satisfactory.
That is a short term view.
If you really “want to help people” (what a vague cliche!) then the currency to measure your job in isn’t dollars, it is lives impacted. This particular job happens to be in child and family services, so the lives-impacted-per-hour math is really easy.
This is a medium term view.
What are the potential synergies?
When you’re going to add something new to an already full plate, can it create a positive synergy with things that you’re already doing? What about negative synergies?
This goes way beyond asking whether the tasks fit in your schedule, or whether the difference in pay is worth it. Any time that we’re asked to add something to our schedule, and we’re faced with a good vs. great dilemma, it is about people and causes. To use this question to discern the greatest good, follow these steps:
Consider the people and causes that you’re already committed to
Consider the people and causes that you’re making a decision about
Are these causes aligned?
Are there people or skill gaps in either cause?
Are the people on either side interested in working together?
What greater cause might be served by facilitating synergy?
Back to “what is the long game here?”
Dollars per hour is the short term game. Lives per hour is the mid term game. Synergies per hour is the long term game. There’s where you find the greatest good.