Am I rejoicing in the salvation that God accomplished for me in Jesus, which he freely offers me by sheer grace, and which I receive by faith alone? Or am I using Jesus in an attempt to work my own salvation?
I use Jesus to work my own salvation when my functional saviour becomes my achievement, and I pray for God to bless my efforts.
I use Jesus to work my own salvation when my functional saviour becomes my appetite and I pray for God to ‘meet my needs.’
I use Jesus to work my own salvation when my functional saviour becomes the approval of others and I pray for God to give me favour.
Of course I have Biblical reasons to ask God to bless my efforts, meet my needs, and give me favour.
It comes down to the motivations of my heart.
Do I need these prayers answered in the way expect in order to feel loved, valued and accepted by the Lord?
Or can I look to the cross to remember Jesus’ love value and acceptance of me?
When I find these deepest needs of my heart met at the cross, I receive salvation as God’s work for me, rather than trying to achieve salvation by my work for him.
Praying together is a great privilege that each of God’s children is invited to enjoy. Far too often I have neglected the privilege of praying together with my brothers and sisters in Christ and reaped the unfortunate consequences. Because of this I am glad when I come across reminders of the benefits of praying together like the writing of David Mathis in his excellent book, Habits of Grace. The headings below are his words, with my comments underneath.
Nine Profits of Praying with Company
For Added Power – In Matthew 18:19 we learn that anything we ask for in prayer is easier to receive when we come into agreement together.
For Multiplied Joy – Personal prayer is a joy God offers us. This joy, like so many others, is multiplied when it is shared with others.
For Greater Glory to God – As Mathis writes, “Our multiplied joy in God then makes for multiplied glory to God. … Praying together not only adds power to the request, but also means more glory for the giver when he answers.”
For Fruitful Ministry and Mission – According to the example of the apostle Paul, our service of our Saviour will be more effective when we join together in prayer. Consider how many times Paul invited churches to join him in prayer for the effectiveness of his work – Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3-4; Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1.
For Unity Among Believers – Unity among the family of believers is both a cause and an effect of praying together.
For Answers We Wouldn’t Otherwise Get – We are dependent by design. God created us to need him and one another. James 5:14-16 shows us that there are certain prayers that will only be answered when we pray together.
To Learn and Grow in our Prayers – One of the best ways to learn how to pray is by joining in with others who know how to pray.
To Know Each Other – To pray effectively we have to stop pretending and really be ourselves. Because of this, we get to know the people we pray with on a more profound level than others.
To Know Jesus More – The greatest benefit of praying together is that it will help us to know Jesus better. “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus you have not yet perceived.” – Tim Keller
In light of all of this, praying together with others is a practice I intend to prioritize in the coming seasons.
Reading the Bible is perhaps the most important thing a person can do. But how do we read the Bible effectively? People come to so many different conclusions as to what the Bible means that it can seem impossible for an individual to read the Bible and find the truth. Let’s look at the three most common ways we approach Bible reading and then consider the one question that as at the heart of effective Bible study.
Three Common Approaches to Reading the Bible
The most common way to approach reading the Bible is to treat the Bible like an instruction manual. We turn to it looking for guidance on what to do. The Bible gives us many commands that are to be obeyed. But if this is all we look for, we are left wondering why follow the instructions in this book and not one of the so many others that offer us guidance.
Another common approach to reading the Bible is to treat it like a yearbook. When we open an old yearbook the first thing we usually do is look for our own picture. We turn to the Bible to find out what it says about us. We cannot properly understand ourselves apart from knowledge of the Bible. But if all we look for is what the Bible says about ourselves, we are missing the most important parts.
Sometimes we approach the Bible like a history book. This happens when we read to learn about what God has done in the past. Now we are starting to get to the heart of the matter. The Bible is about God after all.
While each of these approaches has value, none of them get to the heart of how to read the Bible. The Bible contains instruction, but it does more than tell us what to do. The Bible is more than a yearbook, and reveals so much more than just who we are. And while the Bible contains a tremendous amount of history and shows us what God has done, it is still more than that.
The best way to read the Bible is to look for what it tells us about God. We will understand the message of the Bible most clearly when we realize who it is all about. While the Bible tells us a great deal about ourselves, we are not the main characters in its story. God is the main character of the Bible’s story. We will get the most out of our Bible reading when we read to learn about who God is.
So the next time you open your Bible, why not choose a passage from the New Testament and start reading with this question in mind:
I find when I ask this question first of whatever passage I am reading, the message of the Bible becomes more clear to me. However you choose to read the Bible, the most important step is to get started. I encourage you to open your Bible today and ask God to help you get to know who he is.
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again.” . . . Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but he has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
Leadership has been a hot topic for years now. It seems like everywhere I turn, I see leadership books, podcasts, conferences, and seminars. I have learned volumes of theory about leadership and have been fortunate enough to test some of those theories in the crucible of daily church leadership for the last decade or so. In this brief post, I will share three shifts I have made in the way I lead.
Character more than competency
I used to coach and train potential leaders as though competency was more valuable than character. I never actually believed that, but my practices were not aligned with my beliefs. To be candid, there are many prominent leaders who would agree publicly that character matters more than skill, and yet their private lives are full of immorality.
While competency and skill are important, a lack of personal integrity will undermine any level of ability. When it comes to developing leaders, I have learned not to let the brightness of their skill distract me from the dark areas of their character. The task of leading others is too important to take anything for granted, so I must ask questions like:
When is the last time you sought forgiveness?
How do you deal with failure?
What are you tempted to hide?
The primary character trait I look to develop in a potential leader is an eagerness to learn. If a person has every necessary competency yet lacks the willingness to learn and expand their skillset, they will eventually become more of a burden than a blessing. Conversely, no matter a person’s shortcomings, whether in the area of competency or character, if they are willing and eager to learn, they can become a powerful leader.
The living room more than the classroom
I have spent many hours in a classroom hearing principles of leadership pronounced, but not demonstrated. Since effective leadership must build on a foundation of character rather than competency, the training ground for leadership must move from the classroom to the living room.
Today’s leaders must be authentic and transparent in order to be trusted and followed. These are not skills you can exercise only when needed, but character traits that must be part of your deepest self. For the next generation of leaders to be effective and productive they need to see authenticity and transparency modeled for them in a relational context.
I have been told that if I let people get this close to me they will lose respect for me, so a good leader needs to keep a healthy distance in order to be respected. I couldn’t disagree more. If you lose respect for me when you get to know me better, it likely means there is a flaw in my character. Instead of using distance to hide my flaws, I want to commit to relationships where people can see how I deal with my flaws.
Spontaneous more than planned
Competency can be taught on a schedule in a classroom, but character is cultivated spontaneously in the everyday stuff of life. Most of us can hide behind a veneer of good behavior from time to time if we know we will soon be able to return to what we consider to be our private lives. The spontaneity that occurs in a relational context however both reveals and tests the strength and depth of my character more than a planned classroom session ever could.
On a practical level, this means that my leadership development practices look a lot like inviting people into everyday life. Instead of required reading for students, I recommend books to friends. Instead of being available during class hours, I am available almost all the time. This is certainly a slower process, but I am convinced the fruit of it will remain longer than conventional leadership training methods.