In our Spiritual Life Survey last year, one of the areas we asked church members to share about was spiritual disciplines: their study of the Bible and prayer. Comparing it with a survey done a few years before, we noted a decline in the practice of the disciplines. This led the church to start off this year with a pulpit series to rekindle our love for the disciplines. So far we have covered studying God’s Word, prayer and fellowship. Why do we need disciplines? After all, we acknowledge that we are sinners, saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ alone. Our human efforts have nothing to do with it. Is not our emphasis on spiritual ‘disciplines’ misplaced we may ask. After all, if God wants us to walk close to Him and follow His ways, He will do it Himself.
David Mathis recently wrote a book on the spiritual disciplines which he very aptly titled: ‘Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines’.
For a start, the phrase “Enjoying Jesus” points to the central object of all our disciplines – loving Jesus – and loving Jesus more and more each day to the point that we enjoy Him more than anything else in our lives (Matt 10:37-39).
Back to disciplines, we know that because of God’s overflowing love he can give us his goodness even when we don’t cooperate at all. A good example is Paul, who as Saul was bent on destroying the Church – God simply turned him around to become a follower and lover of Jesus.
But as Paul himself shares with us in the letters he wrote, his ever deepening love for Jesus didn’t just come in a flash once and for all and stay that way. He freely admits the grace of God in his life, and at the same time refers to the effort he put in.
In 1 Cor 15:10 he says “By the grace of God I am who I am… I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
In encouraging his disciple Timothy, he took the same approach, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:8, NLT)
On another occasion in a letter to the Colossian church he said: “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Col 1:29 NLT)
To use the analogies that Mathis gave, God’s grace and power available to us is like the electricity which does not come on if we don’t take the step to switch it on, and the water which does not flow until we turn on the tap. These analogies illustrate well the twin aspects of grace and effort.
This year I am putting in effort to work on hearing God through Acts which we are all studying together in the Small Groups and soon from the pulpit too. I maintain a small book where I try to daily record what I learn from bite-sized portions of Acts as I go along.
Last year, the men in my SG started a scripture memorisation program. One brother was tasked to send us a verse every 2 weeks by ‘WhatsApp’. We have been trying to memorise the verses. Yes, there may have been lapses, but we persevere believing like Paul that God will supply the strength to make up for all our failings and weaknesses.
You may have been involved in a time of regular prayer, or fasting, or reading the Word. And there have been lapses. Don’t be discouraged – press on. Like Zacchaeus, persisted to find Jesus. Plan to go where he is passing by and climb that tree to get the best view of him and you will be rewarded with that much desired meal with him.
God bless you,
By Daniel John, Elder (YCKC Bulletin 10&11 February 2018)