In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of fasting. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, and stewardship as it relates to both time and finances.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch yourself up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and he makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
So what about fasting? Most of us who have some experience in the church know what fasting is, even if we don’t really understand what it is. Is fasting so important that it should be considered a discipline or a habit that leads to godliness? Should I fast? What happens if I do fast? How does fasting accomplish its purpose for me? We will look at these questions in this post.
What is fasting?
Christian fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Other types of fasting - despite the benefits they may produce for the mind and body - could not be classified as Christian fasting, and fasting by a non-Christian obtains no eternal value. It is for believers in Christ because the habit or discipline must be rooted in a relationship with Christ and practised with the desire to become more like Christ. Believers should fast according to biblical teaching and according to the biblical teaching and purposes that are God-centred. It is voluntary in that fasting should not be imposed or coerced. And fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.
Fasting is expected
For those who may be unfamiliar with fasting, the most surprising part of this post may be the discovery that Jesus expected that His followers would fast. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:16-18:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
So, by giving us instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, Jesus assumes that we will fast.
This expectation is even more obvious when we compare these words with His statements in the same passage about prayer and giving.
Matthew 6:2-3 - “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Matthew 6: 5-7 - “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Few of us doubt that Christians are to pray and to give. In fact, Christians often use this passage to teach Jesus’ principles and expectations about praying and giving. And since there is nothing here or elsewhere in Scripture to indicate that we no longer need to fast, and since we know that Christians in the Book of Acts fasted (Acts 9:9, 13:2, 14:23), we may conclude that Jesus still expects His followers to fast today.
Fasting is to be done for a purpose
There must be more to a biblical fast than simply abstaining from food. Without a spiritual purpose for your fast, it’s just a weight-loss fast. Without a purpose, fasting can be a miserable, self-centred experience about will power and endurance.
Having a biblical purpose for your fast may be the single most important concept to take from this post. In real life, here’s how it works: As you are fasting and your head aches or your stomach growls and you think, I’m hungry! your next thought is likely to be something like, Oh, right - I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. Then your next thought should be, And I’m fasting for this purpose: (insert biblical purpose here) .
Without a clear biblical purpose, fasting becomes an end in itself. Every hunger pang only makes you figure out the time left before you can eat. This kind of thinking disconnects the experience in your mind and heart from the gospel and descends into the deception that perhaps your suffering will earn God’s favour.
The Bible shows us many purposes for fasting, but they can be pared down to 10 major categories. Notice that none of the purposes is to earn God’s favour. It is a fool’s errand to try to impress God and earn His acceptance. Fasting has no eternal benefit for us until we have come to God through repentance and faith (Ephesians2:1-10, Titus 3:5-7). Then, as a Christian, you should fast for at least one of these biblical purposes.
What has been your past experience with fasting? Why do you think that there is so little said about fasting? What will you do to incorporate fasting into your habits of grace? We would love to talk with you about this.
Reply in the comments section or give us a call at 1-800-784-7077.
Matthew 6:17-18 - “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of stewardship as it relates to money. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, and stewardship as it relates to time.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and Paul makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
The previous post in this series was supposed to be about Stewardship generally, but there was so much material when considering both the time and money aspects that I decided to split it into two posts. So this is the second post, dealing with stewardship of money.
Now, the Bible relates not only our use of time to our spiritual condition (that is to say that our spiritual condition is closely related to the use of our time) but also our use of money. The disciplined use of money requires that we manage it in such a way that our needs and those of our families are met. Actually, the Bible condemns as a hypocrite any professing Christian who fails to care for the physical needs of his family because of financial irresponsibility, slothful mismanagement, or waste.
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” 1 Timothy 5:8).
So how we use our money for ourselves, for others, and especially for the sake of God’s kingdom is from first to last a spiritual issue.
Now, why do you suppose that God would consider the biblical use of money and resources a crucial part of our growth in godliness? For one thing, it is a matter of pure obedience. There are a whole lot of verses in the Bible that speak about our use of wealth and possessions. If we ignore it or take it lightly, our ‘godliness’ will be a deception. But as much as anything else, the reason our use of money and the things it buys indicates our spiritual maturity and godliness is that we exchange such a large part of our lives for it. Because we invest most of our waking days working in exchange for money, in a very real sense our money represents us. Therefore, how we use it reveals who we are because it makes plain our priorities, our values and our heart. To the degree we use our money and resources Christianly, we prove our growth in Christlikeness.
Let’s consider how the Scriptures teach us to discipline ourselves ‘for the purpose of godliness’ in the specific area of using our money for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.
Ten New Testament Principles of Giving
1. God owns everything.
1 Corinthians 10:26 - For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.”
Exodus 19:5 – “…for all the earth is mine;”
Job 41:11b – “Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”
God owns, everything, including everything you possess, because He created everything. This means that we are simply managers or, to use the biblical word, stewards of the things God gives to us.
As a slave, Joseph became a steward when Potiphar placed him over his household (Genesis 39:5-6). Since slaves own nothing, Joseph owned nothing. But he managed everything Potiphar owned on his behalf. His management of Potiphar’s resources included the use of them to meet his own needs, but Joseph’s main responsibility was to use them for Potiphar’s interests.
That is our task as stewards. God wants us to use and enjoy the things He permits us to have, but as stewards, we have to remember that they all belong to Him and should be used for His kingdom.
God has specifically said that He owns not just the things we possess, but even the money under our name in the bank and the cash in our wallet or purse. He said in Haggai 2:8 that the silver is His and the gold is His. So the question is not, “How much of my money should I give to God?” but rather “How much of God’s money should I keep for now?”
2. Giving is worship.
Philippians 4:18 – “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
In this verse, Paul calls the money that the Philippians gave a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to the Lord. This is a comparison to an Old Testament sacrifice people gave in worship to God. In other words, Paul said their act of giving to the work of God was a way of worshipping God.
Have you ever thought of giving as worship? You know that praying, singing praises, participating in the Lord’s Supper, thanksgiving, and listening to Him speak through His word are all worship, but did you realize that giving to God is one of the biblical and tangible ways of adoring and worshipping Him?
Giving goes way beyond being a duty or an obligation. Biblical giving displays a heart worshipping God.
3. Giving demonstrates faith in God’s provision.
Mark 12:42-44 - And He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And He called His disciples to Him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
This poor widow gave everything she had, all she had to live on because she believed God would provide for her. We, too, will give to the extent we believe God will provide for us. The greater our faith that God will provide for our needs, the greater will be our willingness to risk giving to Him. And the less we trust God, the less we will want to give to Him.
Your giving is perhaps the most tangible indication of how much you believe that God will provide for your needs. Examine yourself and ask God how He thinks you are doing.
4. Giving should be sacrificial and generous
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 - We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
Paul describes these Macedonians as people living in extreme poverty. And yet their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity. They gave not only according to their means but beyond their means. Like these people, our giving should be sacrificial and generous.
Remember this; giving is not sacrificial if you don’t have to sacrifice something to do it. Many professing Christians give only token amounts to the work of God’s kingdom. A much smaller number gives well. Probably only a small few actually give sacrificially.
5. Giving reflects spiritual trustworthiness
Luke 16:10-13 - “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
In these verses, Jesus reveals that your giving is a reflection of how trustworthy we are with spiritual resources. If we are not faithful with the money God entrusts to us (and that certainly includes the giving of money for Christ’s kingdom) the Bible says that God will not treat us as trustworthy to handle spiritual riches.
This is why your financial records tell more about you than almost anything else. If after your death, to learn more about your commitment to Christ, a biographer or your children were to scan your financial record of what you did with your money, what would they conclude? Would your footprints prove your spiritual trustworthiness?
6. Giving – Love, not legalism
God doesn’t send you a bill and your church doesn’t send you a monthly statement of your account to remind you to make the necessary payments as though you had an obligation. We don’t give to God and to support the work of His kingdom to fulfill some supposed ‘eleventh commandment’. Love to God should motivate giving to God. How much you give should reflect how much you love God (and it probably does).
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul reports to the Corinthians how some of their fellow Greeks in macedonia were such good and faithful givers.
2 Corinthians 8:7-8 - But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
Paul didn’t exercise his authority as an apostle of Jesus and command the Corinthians to give. No, instead of dictating a law of giving, he said that giving is a way of proving the genuineness of your love for God.
God wants you to give, not as a formality or an obligation, but as the overflow of your love for Him.
7. Give willingly, thankfully and cheerfully
2 Corinthians 9:7 - Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
God doesn’t want you to give with a grudge – that is, you give, but you would rather not. He takes no pleasure in gifts presented resentfully, regardless of the amount involved. God is not a divine landlord, tapping a greedy, outstretched palm, demanding His due, having no concern for how you feel about it. God doesn’t want you to give to Him out of a reluctant compliance to the reality that He owns it all anyway. He wants you to give because you want to give.
Somebody has said that there are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says ‘I have to’; duty giving says ‘I ought to’; thanksgiving says ‘I want to’.
Some give because they can’t keep it. Others give because they believe they owe it. And a happy few give because they can’t help it.
God wants you to enjoy giving.
8. Giving – an appropriate response to those in need
Acts 11:27-30 - Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
The Christians (disciples) in Antioch, some three hundred miles to the north of Jerusalem, gave money to help feed and meet other needs of their unknown, fellow Christians in Jerusalem. This example gives a biblical precedent for our taking special collections in church, such as collections for international and home missions, world hunger, disaster relief, and so on – even for taking a spontaneous offering for any appropriate need.
Giving is an appropriate response when we become aware of those in need.
9. Giving should be planned and systematic
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 - Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
This collection for the saints was a special offering for the poor Christians suffering in Jerusalem because of a famine. But even though the collection targeted a specific need, Paul instructed the Corinthians to give toward that need on a weekly basis (a recurring gift) for some time in advance of his arrival to Corinth. He knew that in the long run, greater efficiency and effective results from giving in a planned and systematic way than haphazardly whenever a need arises. Since many needs are ongoing – like missions, feeding the hungry and maintaining the ministry of the local church – systematic giving will meet those needs more consistently than an unceasing series of special offerings.
10. Generous giving results in bountiful blessing
Luke 6:35 - “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
2 Corinthians 9:6 – “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
These verses are not an endorsement of the ‘prosperity gospel’ that teaches financial wealth here on earth as a result of your giving a lot to those ministries. “Prosperity preachers”, I believe, pervert the gospel, misrepresent God and mislead their listeners.
But I do believe that these verses and others indicate that earthly blessings of an unspecified nature will be given to those who are faithful stewards of God’s money.
Much of God’s blessing for our giving, however, will not come in this life. And it takes faith to believe that giving money here lays up treasure in heaven. It takes faith to believe Jesus correctly said that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. These passages are true and at a definite time in a real place God is actually going to reward us bountifully for what we have given generously and cheerfully.
Regardless of your interpretation of these passages, regardless of how much God rewards you here for your giving and how much in heaven, the bottom line is clear: God will bless you bountifully if you give generously.
If you want to know about the many opportunities to give at OMS Canada, please click here.
Think for a moment: What events have produced the most stress in your life last week? Have they involved the feeling of being overloaded with responsibilities at home, work, school, church, or all of the above? How about stress related to paying bills? Running late for an appointment? Going with too little sleep? Juggling your finances? Waiting in a traffic jam on the highway or a runway? Facing unexpected car repair expenses? Running short of cash before payday?
Each one of these anxiety producers, like so many other daily issues, relate to either time or money. The clock and the dollar are such substantial factors in so many parts of life that we need to consider their role in any serious discussion of godly living.
We will look at the stewardship of our time this week and at stewardship of our finances next time.
The Disciplined Use of Time
As we have discussed already, godliness is the result of a biblically disciplined spiritual life. But at the heart of a disciplined spiritual life is the disciplined use of time.
To be like Jesus, we must see the use of our time as a spiritual discipline. Having so perfectly ordered His moments and His days, Jesus was able to pray to the Father at the end of His life, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do” (John 17:4). As with Jesus, God gives us both the gift of time and work to do during that time. The more we grow to be like Jesus, the more we understand why the disciplined use of the time God gives is so important.
So, here are ten biblical reasons to use time wisely:
1. Use time wisely because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16)
Paul exhorts the Ephesians to ‘make the best use of time because the days are evil.’ This curious phrase may have been prompted by persecution or opposition that the Ephesian believers may have been facing (Acts 19:23-20:1). But even without the persecution known by believers of Paul’s day, the world we live in makes it difficult to use time wisely, especially for the purpose of godliness and biblical spirituality.
Our days are days of active evil. Great time-thieves act as servants of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They may range in form from high-tech, socially acceptable preoccupations to simple, idle talk or uncontrolled thoughts. But the natural course of our minds, our bodies, our world and our days leads toward evil, not Christlikeness.
The use of time is important because time is the stuff of which days are made. If we do not discipline our use of time for the purpose of godliness in these evil days, these evil days will keep us from becoming godly.
2. The wise use of time is preparation for eternity.
You must prepare for eternity in time. That statement can be taken in two different ways. One means that during time (in this life) you must prepare for eternity because there will be no second chance once this life is over. Regardless of when or how death occurs, there is a specific day on the calendar when all my preparation for eternity will indeed be over. And since that day could be any day, I need to use my time wisely because it’s all the time I have to prepare for where I will endlessly live beyond the grave.
The second meaning of the phrase “You must prepare for eternity in time,” is that you must prepare for eternity before it is too late. 2 Corinthians 6:2 is the spiritual alert that must be sounded at this point. “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Right now is the right time to prepare for where you will spend eternity. If that is an uncertain or unsettled matter for you, take the time to settle it now. You have no guarantee of any more time than this moment to prepare for eternity.
3. Time is short.
The more scarce an item is, the more value is assigned to it. Gold and diamonds would be worthless if you could pick them up like gravel along the roadway. In just the same way, time would not be so precious if we never died. But since we never live more than one breath away from eternity, the way we use our time has eternal significance.
Even though many years of life may remain for you, the fact remains, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Even the very longest life is short in comparison to eternity. You can probably remember a happy or tragic event from your childhood or teenage years as vividly as if it happened yesterday. The reason you can is that it simply hasn’t been that long ago. When you think that a decade as only 120 months, a great chunk of time suddenly seems much shorter.
So, regardless of how much time remains for you to develop more Christlikeness, it really isn’t much. Use it well.
4. Time is passing.
Not only is time short, but what does remain is passing. Time is not like a bag of ice in the freezer, from which you can take a little now and again as you need it and save the rest for later. Instead, time is really like the sand in an hourglass – what’s left is continuously slipping away. John put it very plainly: “The world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17). Passing along with the world is our time in it.
As a child, time seemed to drag on. Now I find myself saying what I remember my parents saying: “I can’t believe another year is over! Where has the time gone?” It seems that the closer we get to the end, the faster it comes. If I don’t discipline myself for the purpose of godliness now, it won’t be any easier later.
5. The remaining time is uncertain.
Not only is time short and passing, but we don’t even know how short it actually is nor how long before it does all pass away. That’s why the wisdom of Proverbs 27:1 tells us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Thousands have died and gone into eternity today, including many much younger than you, who just hours ago had no idea that today was their last day. Had they known that, their use of time would have become far more important to them.
Neither youth nor strength, stardom nor stature obligates God to give us one more hour of time. Regardless of how long we want to live or expect to live, our time is in His hands (Psalm 31:15).
Obviously, we must make some types of plans as though many more years do remain for us. But a proper recognition of reality calls us to use our time for the purpose of godliness as though it were uncertain we would live tomorrow for that is a very certain uncertainty.
6. Lost time cannot be regained.
Many things can be lost and then regained. Many men and women have declared bankruptcy only to amass an even greater fortune later. Time is different. Once it is gone, it is gone forever and can never be regained.
God offers you this present time to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. Jesus said in John 9:4, “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” The time for godly living is now while it is day. For each of us, night is coming and none of us can stop or slow the approach of that night. Despite how we may have squandered time in the past, the will of God for you is found in the words of Paul: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Through the work of Jesus to repentant believers, God will forgive every second of misused time. And it pleases Him for you to discipline the balance of your time for the purpose of godliness.
7. You are accountable to God for your time.
There is hardly a more sobering statement in the Bible than Romans 14:12: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” The words ‘each of us’ applies to Christians and non-Christians alike. And, even though believers will be saved by grace and not by works, once in heaven our reward there will be based on the basis of our works. The Lord will cause each one’s work to be ‘shown for what it really is,’ and for each, it will be either that he will receive a reward or he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Not only will we be held accountable for our use of time, but our eternal reward will be directly related to it.
Hebrews 5:12 shows us something of how God will hold us accountable at the Judgement for our use of time in disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness. In these verses, God criticizes these Jewish Christians for failing to use their time in a way that develops spiritual maturity: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” If, as here, God holds believers still on earth responsible for not disciplining their time for Christlikeness, He will surely do at the Judgement in heaven.
Deciding to discipline yourself to use your time for the purpose of godliness is not a matter for delay or deliberation. Each hour that passes is another for which you will give an account.
8. Time is so easily lost.
Apart from the fool, there is no other character in the book of Proverbs that draws the scorn of Scripture like the slothful sluggard. The reason? His lazy and wasteful use of time. The sluggard never has time for the things that really matter, especially things that require discipline. And before he realizes it, his time and opportunities expire. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:33-34). Notice that it’s just a ‘little’ sleep, a ‘little’ slumber, a ‘little’ folding of the hands that brought the ruin of lost time and opportunity. It’s so easy to lose so much, just a little at a time. You don’t have to do anything at all to lost time.
9. We value time at death.
Just as the person without money values it most when it’s gone, so do we at death value time most when it is gone.
Most pursue a course of life based more on pleasure than on the joy found in the way of God’s disciplines. God warns them through His Word of the regrets that will cut their hearts when their time runs out. “At the end of your life you groan when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.” (Proverbs 5:11-13). If, like this man, you suddenly understood you had no more time, would you also regret how you’ve spent your time in the past and present? The way you have used your time can instead provide great comfort to you in your last hour. Won’t you be glad then for every moment you spent reading Scripture, praying, worshipping, evangelizing, serving, fasting, and so on for the purpose of becoming like the One before whom you are about to stand in judgement?
Why not do something about it while you still have time?
10. Time’s value in eternity.
It is doubtful that in heaven we experience regret, but if we did it would be for not using our earthly time more for the glory of God and for growth in His grace. Hell, on the other hand, will howl forever with agonizing laments over time so foolishly squandered.
Let us learn the true value of time by encountering the truth and discipline our time for the purpose of godliness. After all, if you have given your life to Christ, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). “Your” life and “your” time belong to God now. The best and most joy-filled way to spend them is to use them the way God wants.
So how are you doing with your time? We will all have some room for improvement. What can you do this week to make better use of your time for the purpose of becoming more Christ-like? Let us know in the comments. We would love to pray with you about this most important matter.
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of serving. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, and evangelism.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the following links to catch up:
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
And one very powerful way to become more proficient in godliness is through serving God and others. The act of serving can be as public as preaching or teaching, but more often than not it will appear as hidden as nursery duty or cleaning the kitchen after an event.
Serving usually looks as unspectacular as the practical needs it works to meet.
And that’s why serving must become a Habit of Grace. The flesh schemes against its hiddenness and sameness. Two of the deadliest sins – sloth and pride – hate serving. So, if we don’t discipline ourselves to serve for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom and for the purpose of godliness, we will serve only occasionally or when its convenient or self-serving.
However, not every act of service should be disciplined serving. Much of our service should flow naturally from our love for God and love for others. Like our worship and evangelism, our service should also often just flow from inside of us as a result of the life-transforming presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
But because the Spirit of Jesus within us causes us to yearn to be more like Jesus, and because of the persistent sinful tendencies toward selfishness in our hearts, we must also discipline ourselves to serve. Those who do will find serving one of the most certain and practical means of growth in grace.
Every Christian is Expected to Serve
When we are called to God, none of us is called to idleness. When we are born again and our sins are forgiven, the blood of Jesus cleanses our conscience according to Hebrews 9:14 in order for us to “serve the living God.” Every believer’s Bible tells him or her to “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2, NASB). There is no place for spiritual unemployment or spiritual retirement. And the believer should find ample motivation because God mentions at least six in the Bible.
Every Christian is Gifted to Serve
In 1 Corinthians 12:4 and 11 we read about the different varieties of spiritual gifts given to believers and that the Holy Spirit determines by His sovereign will which gift goes to which believer. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.” And Peter makes it clear in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”
So every Christian has received at least one gift and that gift is given for service.
Let’s diligently practice the discipline of service. And your service is no doubt needed more now during this time of pandemic.
Are there particularly vulnerable people within your network who need your service? Are there those who might be susceptible to depression?
Who could you call and encourage?
So let’s be about the business of serving.
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of evangelism. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer and worship.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the following links to catch up:
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say that, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
Only the joy of being lost in the worship of God is as exhilarating and intoxicating as telling someone about Jesus Christ. And those who do embrace this habit or discipline report that some of the most rewarding times have been during missions trips when they have done nothing but talk about Jesus, on the streets and in homes, with one individual or group after another, all day long. I can put you in touch with several MFM team members who will tell you that this is true.
Yet, nothing causes more foot-shuffling eye-shifting anxiety among disciples like talking about our responsibility to evangelize. I know many believers who are confident that they are obedient in the area of Bible intake, giving, or serving, but I don’t think I know of a single person who would say, “I am as evangelistic as I should be.”
What I want us to see is that godliness requires that we discipline ourselves in the habit of evangelism. I’m convinced that the main reason that most of us do not witness for Jesus in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply that we do not discipline ourselves to do it.
Evangelism is expected
Most of us reading this post will not need convincing that Jesus expects each of us to be involved in sharing the gospel with those around us. Because there are many methods of evangelism, it is not expected that believers would all do it the same, but He does expect all disciples to be fishers of men.
What do I mean by evangelism? It is always good to make sure that we are all on the same page in terms of what we are talking about and having a common understanding of the terms will help us understand what is being said.
Evangelism is presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to unbelievers so that they might come to put their trust in God through Him, to receive Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.
More concisely, we could say that all New Testament evangelism is communicating the gospel. Anyone faithfully relating the essential elements of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is evangelizing. Evangelism occurs whether the words of the gospel are spoken, written, sung, or recorded.
Jesus has commanded us to witness. Consider these five references:
And consider this final exhortation from Peter. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) I think that we usually view this reference in terms of establishing the priesthood of all believers. But we may also identify it as one that challenges each of us to a kind of prophet-hood of all believers. God expects each of us to “proclaim the excellencies” of Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is empowered
So, if it is so obvious that we are to evangelize, why do almost all western Christians seem to be disobedient?
Some may think they need a lot of specialized training to witness effectively. They might be afraid to speak about Jesus until they are confident in their knowledge of the Bible and/or their ability to deal with every potential question or objection.
Think about the blind man that Jesus healed in John 9. What if he had felt this way? Would he ever have felt ready to witness to the hoity-toity Pharisees? No way! And yet, within hours or minutes of receiving his sight he gave a compelling witness to his new reality; “He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and I see.” “Once I was blind, but now I can see!”
Sometimes we may be afraid that if we speak about Jesus that people will think we are strange and reject us. And for many, this will probably be true. Jesus told us that this would be the case in at least some of our interactions with unbelievers. But it is not a good reason to do nothing.
Another reason for inaction might be the fear of not being successful in witnessing. So, what exactly does it mean to be successful at witnessing? When the person you are witnessing to comes to Christ? I mean that’s what we want to see, isn’t it? But if we measure evangelistic success only in terms of conversions, does this make Jesus or Paul or the other apostles unsuccessful when many people rejected what they preached? Obviously not. So we also are not failures. We will not be held to a higher standard.
We need to learn that sharing the gospel is successful evangelism. Certainly, we should also be passionate for souls, and plead with God to see more people saved, but ultimately only God can produce the fruit of evangelism called conversion. We are like the postal service. They measure success by the careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient. Whenever we share the gospel accurately and clearly, we have succeeded. In the truest sense, all biblical evangelism is successful evangelism, regardless of the results.
Remember this; the power of evangelism is the Holy Spirit. From the instant that He indwells you, He gives you the power to witness. Jesus made this very clear in Acts 1:8 when He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus expects evangelism from every Christian because the Holy Spirit has been given to empower every Christian to evangelize. All believers have been given the power to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Not only is the witness empowered by the Holy Spirit, but the very gospel we share is also embedded with the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” This is why people can be converted whether they hear a teenage teacher at VBS share the gospel, or a seminary trained PhD; whether they read it in a book by a scholar like CS Lewis or a simple gospel tract. The gospel is empowered by God. Therefore your evangelism is empowered.
We can be confident that some will believe if we will faithfully and diligently share the gospel. Abundant gospel sowing is our responsibility. And the seed we sow, the gospel, is empowered by God Himself.
Evangelism is a habit or a discipline
While evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life and every Christian needs to be able to talk about what God has done for him or her and what He means to him or her, it is also a discipline in that we must discipline ourselves to get into situations where evangelism can occur. We must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.
Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16 to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The implication is that you will be in a place where this light can be seen.
Again, I think the main reason we don’t witness is that we simply do not discipline ourselves to do it. Yes, there may be those unplanned or unexpected opportunities that God brings our way to give a reason for the hope we possess (1 Peter 3:15). But I still believe and contend that unless we make evangelism a discipline or a habit, most Christians will seldom share the gospel.
So let’s make evangelism a discipline and a habit. Let’s all become recipients of the soul-winners crown.
Since evangelism is expected, will you obey the Lord and be a witness?
Since evangelism is empowered, will you believe that God can use your words in the salvation of others?
Since evangelism is a discipline, will you plan for it?
Without discipline, our best evangelistic intentions often go unspoken. May we discipline ourselves to live so that we can say with the apostle Paul, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:23 ESV)
In a past series of blog posts on the ‘Call to Missions’ we concluded that if one is properly relating to God and pursuing godliness, there is little to fear in terms of missing God’s call, whether to missions or any other pursuit. If you haven’t read that post yet, click here to go to it now.
We then determined that the way to ensure that one is properly relating to God and pursuing godliness is through the practice of the spiritual disciplines or habits of grace. We composed a list of ‘habits of grace ‘that are biblical, that is, they are taught or modelled in Scripture.
The first was Bible Intake. The second was Prayer. And this post is Worship.
One spiritual discipline that we are called to do as Christians, but is often confused or unclear, is worship. Often when we hear that word, our first thought is music, the singing part of our Sunday gathering. While that is an aspect of it, worship is a far greater discipline that should engage multiple areas of our lives.
Worship is difficult to define well. So let’s look at it first.
In John 20:28, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas and showed him the scars in His hands and side, worship happened when Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God.”
In Revelation 4:8, we read about four creatures around the throne who worship God day and night without ceasing and saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Then in verse 11 the twenty-four elders around the throne of God in heaven worship Him by throwing their crowns at His feet, falling before Him and saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.”
In the next chapter, thousands and thousands of angels, elders, and living creatures around the heavenly throne of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, cry out with a loud voice in worship, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (5:12). Immediately following comes worship from “every creature” saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (5:13).
To summarize, to worship God means to ascribe the proper worth of God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better, to approach and address God in a worthy way. As the holy and almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the Sovereign Judge to whom we must give an account, He is worthy of all the worth and honour that we can give Him and then infinitely more.
You see, the more we focus on God, the more we will understand and appreciate His infinite worth. As we understand and appreciate this, we can’t help but respond to Him. Just like a gorgeous sunrise or a breathtaking mountaintop view sparks a spontaneous response, so we cannot encounter the worthiness of God without the response of worship.
Therefore, worship is focusing on and responding to God appropriately.
But how does the invisible God reveal Himself to us here and now so that we might focus on Him and respond appropriately?
First, He has revealed Himself in a general way through Creation (see Romans 1:20), so the right response to that stunning sunrise (I am a morning person) or the spectacular mountain view is to worship the Creator of such beauty and majesty.
Second, God has revealed Himself flawlessly through His written Word, the Bible (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21), and His incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (see John 1:1, 14 and Hebrews 1:1-2). In response, we should seek God through Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. As we do so and the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding, we will see God revealed in Scripture and respond with worship.
That is why all worship of God – public, family and private worship – should be based on and include much of the Bible. The Bible reveals God to us so that we may focus on Him, and to the extent that we focus on Him, we will worship Him. So if there is little focus on God, there is little worship of God. Conversely, much revelation of God fosters much focus on God, which in turn results in much worship of God.
Now, since worship is focusing on and responding to God, whatever else we may be doing we are not worshipping if we are not thinking about God. You may be singing holy, holy, holy but if you’re not thinking about God while singing it, you are not worshipping. You may be listening to someone pray, but if you aren’t praying with him or her and thinking of God, you aren’t worshipping.
Worship often includes words and actions, but true worship goes beyond them to the focus of the mind and heart. Worship is the God-centred focus and response of the soul. It is being preoccupied with God. So no matter what you are saying or singing or thinking or doing at any moment, you are worshipping God only when He is the centre of your attention. And whenever you do focus on the infinite worth of God, you will respond in worship as surely as the moon reflects the sun. This kind of worship is not in vain.
So let’s daily cultivate a lifestyle where we consciously work to make God the centre of our attention and respond appropriately in worship.
This is an especially important habit of grace for those who may be considering a role in cross-cultural missions because the missionary’s role among the nations is to create worshippers where there are none. As John Piper states in the book, “Let the Nations be Glad”, missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions because God is ultimate, not man.
With this in view, Psalm 96 becomes an example of God’s people summoning the nations to worship the Lord. “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For the gods of the people are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”
What do you think about worship? Has this post challenged what you believe? Let us know in the comments section below.
In this week’s blog post we consider the second habit of grace that needs to be built for the purpose of godliness. That habit is prayer.
Prayer is second only to God’s Word in importance when it comes to disciplining oneself in spiritual things. We know that through His Word God speaks to His church and to His people. There is nothing more important for us to hear than the Word of God. He is a speaking God and His Word is written for us.
But, not only is God a speaking God, He is also a listening God. His ear is continually open to us. He stands ready to hear every prayer of His children, even when our prayers are weak. God speaks to us through His Word and He listens to us in prayer.
However, despite its importance of prayer to the Christian, surveys and anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate that a large percentage of professing Christians spend little time in sustained prayer. Short sentence prayers get offered here and there throughout the day but it is rare that more than just a few minutes is spent in conversation with God.
We must come to grips with the fact that, if we wish to be godly, if we wish to be like Jesus, we must pray.
Prayer is Expected
Those who have been brought under the authority of Christ and the Bible know that the will of God is for us to pray. And we also know that the will of God is good.
This expectation is seen in the words of Jesus in the gospels;
Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray…”
Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray…”
Matthew 6:7, “And when you pray…”
Matthew 6:9, “Pray then like this…”
Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask…seek…knock.”
Luke 18:1, “And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray,”
God’s word makes it clear that prayer is expected;
Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
These verses are commands for the Christian to pray. Commands. This means that too little time, too many responsibilities, too many kids, too much work, too little desire, too little experience, and so on are not excuses that exempt one from the expectation to pray.
Martin Luther put it this way; As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.
So why do so many of us confess that we do not pray as we ought? Sometimes it is just simply a lack of discipline. Prayer is never planned, time is never set aside just for prayer. While lip service is given to the priority of prayer, in reality it always seems to get crowded out by things that seem more urgent.
Often we do not pray because we are not convinced anything will actually happen if we pray. Naturally, we wouldn’t admit this publicly, but if we felt certain of visible results within sixty seconds of every prayer, there would be holes in the knees of the pants of every Christian (and not because the pants were bought with holes in the knees). The Bible does not promise a visible answer to every prayer but it does promise that every prayer is answered. Since prayer involves communication in the spiritual realm, many prayers are answered in ways that cannot be seen in the material realm.
In addition, where there is little awareness of real need, there is little need for real prayer. The truth is that we believe we can get along pretty well in Canada without any sort of divine intervention. We generally have jobs, shelter, friends, family, healthcare, and safety. What more could we need? In pride and self-sufficiency, we may live for days as though prayer is needed only when something comes along that is too big for us to handle on our own.
But this view is short sighted in that it assumes that the temporal things are the only things about which we need to pray. Listen to the prayer requests that people most often present and they will be for things like health, family, work, finances, etc., all temporal things that really have no kind of eternal significance. Why do we pray so little for the things that really count, like the battle against sin, the lack of faith, the need to evangelize, and the lack of spiritual fruit? Above these needs there is always a need to pray until Jesus returns or calls us home.
Prayer is Learned
Another reason why Christians pray so little is because they haven’t learned about prayer. If you are discouraged by the command to pray because you feel like you don’t know how to pray well, the fact that prayer is learned should give you hope. This means that it is okay to begin the Christian life with little knowledge or experience of prayer but as you are discipled, prayer should be a part of what is taught, learned and practised. I grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario and 4-H clubs were a popular activity for kids. The 4-H motto was, “Learn to do by doing.” This is certainly true of prayer.
If you have ever learned a second (or subsequent) language, you know that you learn it best when you actually have to speak it. The same is true of the ‘foreign language’ of prayer. There are many good resources to help you learn to pray but the best way to learn how to pray is to pray. Learn to do by doing.
Another way that one learns to pray is by meditating on Scripture. Here is the simple but extraordinarily powerful truth. Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer. Although often separated, the two should be united. Typically, we read the Bible, close it, and then try to shift gears into prayer. But many times it seems that the gears of Bible reading and of prayer do not mesh properly. We blow the shift (trucker talk) and lose momentum and give up on prayer.
Instead, there should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move even closer to God in those moments. This happens when we insert the link of meditation in between. There are a couple of Psalms that make an explicit link between meditation and prayer. Psalm 5:1 says, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to You do I pray.” The Hebrew word translated groaning may also be translated meditation, as it is in the King James. In fact, meditation is used for the same Hebrew word in Psalm 19:14; “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Notice that both verses are prayers, pleas to God that consisted of David’s words (as we would expect in prayer) but they also involve meditation. In each case, meditation was the catalyst that moved David from considering the truth of God into talking with God.
Meditating on God’s Word can also serve to move us into a conversation with the author of the Word.
Prayer is Answered
Probably no principle of prayer is more taken for granted than that prayer is answered.
Matthew 7:7-8; “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Andrew Murray makes the observation that asking and receiving is a fixed eternal law of the kingdom. If you ask and do not receive it is always because there is something amiss or wanting in your prayer. Hold on; let the Word and Spirit teach you to pray aright, but do not let go of the confidence God seeks to awaken. Everyone who asks receives…Let every learner in the school of Christ therefore take the Master’s Word in all simplicity…Let us beware of weakening the Word with our so-called human wisdom.
So, despite what we see in response to our prayers, let’s not become so accustomed with our shortcomings in prayer and to the perception of asking without receiving that our faith in the force of Jesus’ promise is diminished. Prayer is answered.
So, how is your prayer life? Is prayer a natural thing or is it a chore? Do you see prayers answered or are you in danger of weakening the promise of answered prayer? Let us know by leaving a comment.
And if you want some prayer requests to practice your prayer skills, click here to find out how to become a prayer partner of OMS Canada.