pocket principle Getting StartedINTRODUCTION

Just before leaving on a big trip, I always take a final look around to make sure I’ve got everything I need. Do I have my wallet, enough money for gas and food, my plane ticket, the papers with the addresses and phone numbers of hotels? Although I’m almost certain I’ve already put these in the car, I check one last time just to be sure. Why? Because if I’ve forgotten something essential, I may never make it to my intended destination.

In the same way, after making a decision to follow Christ, I had to look back to make sure I’d done everything right. I knew that if I’d misunderstood some essential aspect of salvation, I might never make it to where I wanted to go— heaven. Because of the importance of this salvation experience, it’s only natural that some people question their experience or want to make sure they “did it right.” We know that God’s done His part in sending His Son to pay for our sins. Our concern is that perhaps we’ve not done everything right on our part to receive His gracious gift. That’s what this lesson is all about.

Why not stop reading for a moment and ask God to help you understand His Word on this important topic. If you’re not used to talking to God, you could just say something like, “God, I want to make sure I’ve done everything I need to do in order to be forgiven and to be Your child. Please help me to understand. Thanks for caring about me!”

UNDERSTANDING WHAT GOD DID FOR US

First, there are certain things we need to understand and believe. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you live consistently with it.” Yet, Hitler believed that he was doing the world a favor by killing off “lesser” races and helping the “superior” Aryan race to dominate the earth. Osama Bin Laden believes that Allah wants him to kill people who don’t believe as he does. Both Hitler and Bin Laden may have lived consistently with their beliefs. Yet, wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions. Having the right belief is critical. What must we believe to be saved?

The Bad News: We are sinful and this sin separates us from God. Because of our sin, we are lost and can’t have a relationship with God through our own efforts.

Imagine that you’re in a math class and your teacher says, “You should know how to work all of these problems by now. The passing grade for this pop quiz is 100%.” Yet, as you take the test, you realize that you’re getting some of the problems wrong. No matter how many you get right from now on, will you ever pass the test? No. Because passing is 100%. No matter how many you get correct from now on, you’ll never get 100%. You’re gonna fail.

Passing that math test after missing some problems is as impossible as making it to heaven, on our own, after we’ve already sinned—falling short of God’s perfection. Imperfect people can’t make it to a perfect heaven on their own merits. This is the first thing we need to believe.

The Good News: Knowing that we couldn’t save ourselves, God sent His Son

Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to His heavenly Father. When He died on the cross, He wasn’t dying for His own sins, but for our sins. He paid the penalty that we deserved to pay.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18a)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Imagine that last year you found a misplaced folder at work that proved your employers were exaggerating their profits to make their company look good to the stock holders. Although you knew you should go public with the information, you thought of your responsibility to your family and didn’t want to risk getting fired. Now you sit in a courtroom before a judge who finds you guilty of participating in the crime by withholding information. He says that you must either pay a fine of $100,000.00 or serve 10 years in jail. You tell him you don’t have $100,000.00. As a righteous judge, he declares you guilty.

Then the judge, seeing the distress on your face and the faces of your children, appears to be holding back tears as he writes something that only he can see. He hands it to a courtroom aid, who delivers it to you. You gasp as you realize that the judge has just written you a check for $100,000.00, offering to pay the entire penalty that you owed.

That’s what the Bible calls grace—God offering a payment for what you owed, not because you deserved it, but because of His great love. How astounding that God would pay our debt with the sacrifice of His Son.

But it’s not enough for God to offer this gift. You could reject the check offered to you by the gracious judge. How do we receive God’s grace?  It’s not enough to believe in God and believe that Jesus died for our sins. According to the Bible, even demons believe in God (James 2:19). We must receive His forgiveness through repentance and faith. Let’s look at these one at a time.

RESPONDING THE WAY GOD WANTS US TO RESPOND

Repent From Our Sins. Repentance is our response to the bad news: our sinfulness and rebellion against God. The simplest definition of repentance is “a willingness to change.” Don’t get confused here! We’re not saying that we change so that God will save us. That would be salvation by works! Besides, we can’t make a lot of changes in our lives until God renews us and empowers us to live a new life. We’re simply saying that we make a mental change of allegiance, from bowing to self to bowing to God.  In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve You!”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4:17)

Believe In Jesus. Faith or belief in Christ is our appropriate response to the good news.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) and worked miracles and rose from the dead.” To believe in Jesus means that you put your trust in Him. It’s like people who say that they believe in aerobic exercise.

They don’t mean merely that they believe that somewhere in the world, aerobic exercise classes exist. They mean that they believe enough in aerobics to be willing to do aerobics. If a person says she believes in Coke, she’s saying more than she believes Coca-Cola exists. She believes in it enough as a refreshing beverage that she’s willing to drink it.

Similarly, faith in Christ is more than an intellectual agreement that He exists. It’s putting our trust in Him to save us. It’s entrusting ourselves to Him. We’re saying that we believe that God has offered us forgiveness through the death of Christ for our sins and we accept the payment that He offers. We’re also saying that we’re willing to follow Christ.

In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change!  I want to turn from my sin and serve you!”

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Although repentance and faith focus on two different things, sin and Christ, they are actually one mental act. As we turn away from our sin, we turn toward Christ at the same time. As Jesus said,

‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)

So, let’s go back to the important trip we talked about at the beginning of this lesson. In order to make sure I could make it to my destination, I asked myself, “Did I bring my plane ticket? Did I bring enough cash?” In the same way, if we want to make sure that we are truly God’s children and are going to make it to heaven, we must ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins? Have I truly believed on Jesus?” If you know that you haven’t, or if you’re simply not sure, why not confirm your decision by expressing it to God in prayer. He’s not so interested in the words you use as He is the sincerity of your heart. If this written prayer expresses the desire of your heart, why not say it to God right now?

“God, I’ve gone my own way. I’m sorry. I’m turning from my sins. Give me the strength to follow You. I believe in You, putting my trust in you to save me from my sins. Make me into a new person and take me to heaven. Thanks for forgiving me and loving me so much!”

If you prayed that prayer and sincerely meant it, then on the authority of God’s Word, you are His child and you are successfully headed to your destination—heaven!

FACTS VERSUS FEELINGS

You’re having one of those days. You didn’t get enough sleep last night. Your boss treats you like dirt. You go to your home fellowship meeting and hope to get some encouragement. Instead, you see this bubbly Christian who never seems down who tells about how God solved all her problems. “All my problems aren’t solved,” you think. Then a new Christian gives a dramatic testimony about how he received Christ and felt something like electricity go through his entire body.

“I didn’t have a big emotional experience when I got saved,” you think. Then you begin to wonder if you’re really a Christian at all.

This is where you must put emotions in their place. The Bible said, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It didn’t say, “whoever feels bubbly all the time” will have eternal life. It didn’t say, “whoever has a dramatic emotional experience” will have eternal life. It says that “whoever believes in Him shall…have eternal life.”

So, if I truly believe/repent, but am not saved, what would this say about God? (He would be a liar. And if God’s a liar, we’re all up the creek!) So the salvation of those who repent and believe is as secure as the promise of God, regardless of how we feel.

Hint: Some people offset future doubts by writing down exactly what they understood and prayed when they received Christ. For example, you might photocopy this lesson and write at the end, “I understood this lesson and prayed this prayer for assurance of my salvation on this day” (write out date). Next, put it in a safe place.

Ten years from now, when you have another one of those bad days and Satan whispers in your ear, “You didn’t know what you were doing when you prayed that prayer ten years ago,” you can take it out and show Satan exactly what you did. Your salvation is as secure as the promise of God. Then you can tell Satan to “get lost.”

DVD

Why is Discipleship critical for the church worldwide?  The WDA 2820 Conference DVD provides insight from WDA President Bob Dukes and Restoring Your Heart Leader Jack Larson.  Watch this introductory video and consider getting this conference produced on DVD and suitable for use in many ministry contexts.


180px-Bankofamerica-atlanta1When my two sons were young we went to Atlanta for the groundbreaking of one of the more famous skyscrapers. We had been reading about the project for months in the local papers and were excited to watch the construction of the “tallest building in the South.” As we arrived on the scene, the bulldozers were already clearing the site, but there was a viewing area for spectators with an architectural rendering of the completed structure emblazoned on the side of the construction fencing. “Wow!” my oldest exclaimed, “It’s humongous!” And indeed it was, soaring nearly seventy stories above Peachtree Street, it certainly promised to be a focal point of the city skyline.

We faithfully trekked to the site and watched trucks haul away dirt and debris while other trucks delivered steel girders and other building materials. After several weeks of this vigil, one of the boys exclaimed in frustration, “Dad, when are they going to start working on the building?” (It was a question that I had pondered myself, because all that existed was a large hole and lots of mud.) Approaching a worker with a set of plans under his arm, I inquired, “Can you give us some idea when the building is going to begin?” His chuckle made it obvious the question had come up before.

“It’s hard to believe it,” he said, “but this hole is the most important part of the building. We have to dig down several hundred feet and build a solid foundation to support a structure that’s over seventy stories tall. It will take several months to pour the concrete and sink the steel pillars, but then we’ll start going up. Once we start, it will rise pretty fast!”

The Bible compares living the Christian life with constructing a building. Just as there are phases in building a building, there are phases in the growth of a Christian, and the first phase is: “laying a foundation.” Our initial salvation experience is the beginning of a process of growth that lasts a lifetime. The success of our Christian walk is determined by the strength of our spiritual foundation. Matthew 7:24-27 asserts that the Christian life built on a solid foundation will withstand the storms of life. The tallest building in the South is still standing today. Believers who lay solid foundations are more likely to stand tall than those who fail to establish a solid base for growth.

This foundations phase actually consists of four interconnecting parts: 1) relating to God, 2) relating to other Christians, 3) understanding truth, and 4) applying truth so that it transforms us. Let’s explore these together!

The success of our Christian walk is determined by the strength of our spiritual foundation.

RELATING TO GOD

Unlike other religions, the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, not a set of rules. In John 17:3, the Scripture affirms that eternal life is all about knowing God. It is thrilling to remember that God desires a relationship with us that will never end. The great news is that believers don’t have to wait for heaven to experience this. It begins the moment we accept Christ!

Unlike other religions, the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, not a set of rules.

Having a relationship with God is not all that different from having a relationship with anyone else. As we relate to others, we get to know them better and the relationship deepens over time. There are specific situations that will help believers better experience a relationship with God. The first of these involves setting aside time for personal devotions, a quiet time each day devoted to prayer, Bible reading, and personal meditation. The Scripture promises in James 4:8 that as we come near to God, He will come near to us. This coming near to God is not a religious duty, but a time for relational development. Of course, just as good disciplines and habits can be beneficial in other areas of life, the more we remain faithfully committed to our quiet time, the more benefit we derive from it.

Another aspect of developing a relationship with God is attending public worship in a church that exalts Him. Although we can worship God any place, any time, worshipping with other Christians deepens and develops our ability to relate to God. There are many different public worship experiences and not all churches structure them in the same way.

Worship that focuses on the greatness of God and includes times of singing praise, prayerful meditation, and Biblical preaching should be a priority. Ask God to help you find a church in your community and become a part of the fellowship. This leads to another important part of laying a good foundation— relating to other Christians.

RELATING TO OTHER CHRISTIANS

God has placed us in His spiritual family, the Church, to encourage us, protect us, correct us, direct us, and provide for us. Again there are specific situations that help believers experience relationships with other Christians. Each of these plays a unique role in helping to form a spiritual foundation, and each will require some effort. But they all are incredibly beneficial. Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25).

In the first century there were very few church buildings. Mostly the believers met together in private homes for Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. There are benefits to meeting with large groups in public worship, but there is also an advantage gained from being part of a small group. The intimacy of the setting provides a place for relationships to flourish. Many modern believers have learned that meeting together in small groups helps to forge close relationships as members discuss Scripture, pray for each other, and share personal matters.

The term “life coaching” was coined by the modern business community to describe a relationship where a seasoned executive tutors a younger colleague in commercial practices. But long before mentoring was introduced to the world of commerce, it had already existed in the spiritual community as “one-to-one discipleship.” In this case, it describes an intentional relationship between a young believer and a more mature Christian who models the Christian life, answers questions, gives counsel, and helps the younger Christian stay focused on the priorities of growth.

UNDERSTANDING TRUTH

Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One important priority for growth (and the third part of laying good foundations) involves developing an increasing understanding of God’s truth. The Bible is the Book of Truth for Christians, but it can appear overwhelming to a new learner. It was Jesus who proclaimed that knowing truth sets people free from the bondage of sin. Therefore, it is helpful to have a basic plan of study for learning the truths that we need to build upon, a plan that focuses on specific themes and principles of foundational development. A good beginning series of studies for young believers should include themes such as: truth that helps someone to know more about God, truth that helps people understand themselves, and truth that helps someone to grow spiritually.

There are specific approaches to gaining an understanding of these foundational truths. This series you have just read is the first in a curriculum of systematic instruction. Next is a series called Laying Foundations, which is designed specifically for helping new believers (or mature believers wanting a review) lay solid spiritual foundations.

Another way of gaining insights into living the Christian life is by reading. There are many excellent materials and resources available in Christian bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet. Your own informal reading will supplement your growth. But be sure to focus on the foundational themes mentioned above as a starting point.

Your local church is also an excellent source of content. Besides the weekly sermon delivered by the pastor or other teacher, many churches offer small groups devoted to helping new believers get established in the faith. Consult the churches in your area for opportunities to learn foundational truths.

APPLYING TRUTH

But as important as truth is in the growth process, it is not the information alone that transforms us. In fact, other parts of Scripture warn us that knowledge by itself can be dangerous, leading to spiritual pride and the deadening of our hearts to God. This particular sin characterized the Pharisees who were enemies of Christ. It is only truth that is obeyed or applied to our lives that changes us and causes growth. Romans 12:2 reminds us that it is a life consecrated to obeying God that is impacted by truth. When our minds are transformed in this way we help establish the will of God on earth. This is more than just knowing the truth, it is actually doing truth.

A skyscraper is an engineering marvel, but soaring high means digging deep and laying solid foundations. A maxim of the Christian life asserts that “you can only grow as tall as you grow deep.” Laying good foundations takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. The new believer needs to embrace experientially the truths related to knowing and understanding God and other believers.

CONCLUSION

Applying truth will require becoming involved in specific situations that facilitate foundational growth. Establishing a time for personal devotions, joining a small group, locating an older believer who can come alongside you as an encouraging mentor, setting up a systematic plan of study, and participating in public worship are layers of spiritual brick and mortar that form this foundation. But these situations without a heart commitment to obey the truth will not suffice. Blessings to you as you grow!

 

friendsThe Gathering Of God’s People

I hear people say, “I love God. I read His Word. But I don’t see any good reason to go to church. I can be a good person without going to church. Besides, so many of those people are hypocrites!” What reasons do you hear from those who don’t attend church? Do you think their reasons are legitimate?

Let’s look to the New Testament to discover God’s plan for the church, and how church could make a difference in our lives.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

During His time on earth, Jesus trained his disciples (later called apostles) to carry on His ministry and establish His church (Mark 3:14; Matthew 16:18). After Jesus’ death, the apostles led the first church in Jerusalem, but eventually went out establishing churches everywhere, turning the leadership over to qualified believers (Acts 6:1-7; I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

SO, WHAT’S A CHURCH?

The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means “gathering.” It’s a gathering of believers who are committed to following God, ministering to one another and taking the message of God’s love to the world.

In one sense, it’s an organization, structured with regular meetings (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2) and official leaders (I Timothy 3:1-13). In another sense, it’s an organism. Believers are members of God’s family (Ephesians 2:19), so that we are spiritual brothers and sisters (Luke 8:21). Through this gathering, we draw closer to both God and other believers.

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20) 

From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16) 

Once you establish a set of solid relationships, you’ve found a sweet fellowship that can change your life.

Some might object, “But can’t we draw closer to God simply through walking in the woods and draw strength from other believers by visiting at a coffee shop?” Sure. But for some reason the church gathering makes this happen in special ways that other methods can’t. Perhaps that’s why Hebrews challenges us:

God wired us to function best in the context of significant relationships. We need each other.

Since we don’t know people’s hearts or their private lives, it’s often hard to tell the sincere from the insincere. So don’t get turned off when you meet hypocrites at church. We should expect them! Even one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples was a hypocrite: Judas. But once you establish a set of solid relationships, you’ve found a sweet fellowship that can change your life.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…. (Hebrews 10:25) 

WHAT THE CHURCH IS NOT:
A GATHERING OF PERFECT PEOPLE

At a typical church service you’ll find some dedicated believers who came to worship, others who came to please a spouse or parent, others who came to make business contacts, and still others who came to find someone to date. Even the committed believers aren’t perfect (I John 1:8). Some are more mature than others. Some have better people skills than others. Some are downright obnoxious.

Here are a few of the reasons that God wants us to get involved with a local church.

1. For Fellowship 

God wired us to function best in the context of significant relationships. We need each other. Successful individuals have often discovered the value of regularly hanging out with those who have similar interests and goals.

Twenty-two-year-old Albert Einstein and likeminded friends met frequently in each other’s homes and talked on hikes, sometimes all the way through the night. These conversations had an enormous impact on his future work. They called themselves “The Olympia Academy.”

Fifteen-year-old Bill Gates met regularly with other computer enthusiasts who called themselves “The Lakeside Programmers Group.”

Benjamin Franklin met every Friday for decades with a diverse group of civic- minded thinkers called “Junto.” Many of his great accomplishments were a result of cross-pollination from this group.

Writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met with a group called “The Inklings,” on a weekday morning and Thursday evenings at Lewis’ house, often reading their manuscripts aloud to get input. I think it’s significant that the groups were organized enough to have names: “The Inklings,” “Junto,” “The Lakeside Programmers Group,” “The Olympia Academy.”

If the synergy of such gatherings can make people vocationally successful, doesn’t it make sense that regular gatherings with committed believers could make us spiritually successful? So what is it about fellowship that helps us spiritually thrive?

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

First, fellowship stimulates us through the sharing of ideas (Hebrews 10:24,25). These extremely successful people found that the collaboration of several minds produces more wisdom than the sum of their thoughts working separately. It’s the same in our spiritual lives. When I read the Bible on my own, I come up with a few applications to life. But when I study it with others, I discover a whole array of life applications that I would have never come up with on my own.

Our spiritual fire will diminish if we forsake meeting with motivated believers.

Second, fellowship keeps us balanced in our thinking and our lifestyle (Ephesians 4:11-16). On our own, we gravitate toward certain teachings while ignoring others. I suppose that’s why the New Testament authors had to spend so much time warning believers that they’d gotten off course with their understanding of grace or legalism or spiritual gifts or the second coming. Each believer offers wonderfully unique insights into Scripture and life that keep us out of spiritual ruts and guard us from extremes.

Third, we build relationships that motivate us spiritually. Close together, the sticks in your campfire burn brightly. Spread them out and the fire quickly goes out. In the same way, our spiritual fire will diminish if we forsake meeting with motivated believers.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24,25) 

Fourth, we find support and encouragement for difficult times (I Thessalonians 5:11-15; II Corinthians 1:3,4). When my wife was ill with cancer, church folks brought meals and offered other practical help. Raising four boys, working, and caring for my wife overwhelmed me. I needed help. The church came through. But those relationships don’t generally come from just having your name on a church role and showing up at Easter. It comes from developing solid relationships through participating in small groups, learning and serving together.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR OTHERS?

Fellowship isn’t all about me. It’s also about helping others. God’s equipped each of us in special ways to build up, encourage and instruct others. You may not think you have much to offer. But God’s Word says that each of us has been given gifts that are critical for the health of the church.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others….(I Peter 4:10) 

“But I don’t know what my gift is. How can I serve?” you might ask. I’d suggest, “Start serving wherever you see needs.” Spend time with the lonely, encourage the discouraged, give advice to those needing counsel, keep the nursery, assist in a small group, help with clean-up, build wheelchair ramps for the needy…well, you get the idea.

There are many gifts and ministries (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; I Peter 4:7-11), so start trying them out! The more I serve, the more I discover what ministries I enjoy, what people say I’m good at, what I’m most motivated and equipped to do. Ask the leaders of the church you attend to help you find areas of service that are appropriate for you.

And don’t get infatuated with the gifts that get the most attention, like preaching and singing. The Apostle Paul likens the church to a body (I Corinthians 12:12ff.), with each part doing its part to make the body work. Toes and thumbs may not be glamorous, but if you wake up one morning to find them not working, you’ll realize pretty quickly how important they are!

In other words, there are no small gifts. So take what you’ve got and begin serving.

2. For Learning the Word of God 

We’ve just seen how the church is a family that nurtures us. But it’s also a school that teaches us. Sure, I can read the Bible on my own. And I should (I Peter 2:2,3). As the Psalmist said,

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97) 

But I also learn from gifted teachers and preachers (Ephesians 4:11-13) who’ve spent years studying the Bible. While a young believer can read a chapter and glean some truth, a mature, gifted teacher can bring in many other related passages to bring balance and depth to that truth.

But just because teachers are gifted doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. That’s why Luke praises the noble character of the Bereans. When Paul taught them, they didn’t blindly follow. Instead, they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) Over time, the nurture and teaching of the church helps us to grow up in our faith, so that we may one day find ourselves teaching others (II Timothy 2:2).

3. For Worship 

What is Worship? 

Worship is declaring God’s worth—that He is above all else, number one in our lives, the One most worthy of our worship (I Peter 2:9). Someone has defined worship as “setting our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God, praising Him for who He is and what He has done.”

Worship is declaring God’s worth—that He is above all else, number one in our lives, the One most worthy of our worship.

If that’s true, then it’s entirely possible to attend a worship service, but never truly worship! If we’re more excited about our things and our friends than our God; if we sing songs about God while our thoughts are elsewhere, we’re not really worshipping.

Why Worship? 

First, God is worthy of our worship. He created this vast universe and breathed life into each of us. He sculpted the mountains, filled the oceans with waterand created exquisite beauty with His masterful artistry. He provides rain and sunshine to grow our crops, His Word to light our path, intelligence and wisdom to navigate life.

And even after we failed Him horribly, rebelling and going our own way, He sent His Son to pay our penalty, so that we could experience true life and look forward to an eternity in heaven. Truly, God is worthy of our worship!

A second reason to worship is that it meets one of our deepest needs. Everyone worships something. If we fail to worship God, we’ll find something else to worship, like material things, sex, power or false gods (Romans 1:21-23). But all those objects of worship fail miserably, leaving us feeling shallow and unfulfilled. God is the only object of worship who truly satisfies our deepest longings.

HOW TO WORSHIP

There are many ways to worship God, so don’t get stuck in a rut! In the Bible, we find worshippers speaking, singing, and playing instruments to God. They used a variety of instruments (horns, cymbals, tambourines, stringed instruments) and praised Him in different locations (in a house, in nature, in His sanctuary, in bed, in jail), in different manners (leaping, clapping, dancing, lifting hands), with different content (thanking Him for personal blessings, for His character and attributes, for His creation).

Some people enjoy reading a Psalm to God; others write a letter of thanks to Him. Some sing to Him; others take a walk with Him, thanking Him for the beauty and wonder of their surroundings. Find what works best to keep your mind’s attention and heart’s affection focused on Him.

Often we worship privately, but neglect corporate worship in the gathering of believers (Colossians 3:15,16). “But can’t I worship God just as well in the privacy of my bedroom, or in my car on the way to work? Why commute to worship when I can do it at home?”

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to compare our relationship with God to our closest human relationships. Are you familiar with the concept of “love languages”? In brief, when I want to express my love for my wife, I don’t express it in the ways that mean the most to me. I express love in the ways that mean the most to her—in her love language.

So if I love cold orange juice in the morning and she prefers hot coffee, what do I bring her in the morning to express my love? Obviously, the hot coffee. I don’t have to like hot coffee. I don’t have to understand why she likes hot coffee. It’s enough that she told me that she likes coffee, likes it hot, likes it with a spoonful of sugar, and likes it in the morning. If I want to express love to my wife and her love language involves hot coffee, I will bring her coffee just as she likes it.

I think of worship in the same way. Some may think, “I don’t like lots of people talking to me at the same time. I prefer intimate, one-on-one settings. God’s probably the same way, preferring my individual worship more than group worship. Therefore I don’t need to go to church to worship.”

But if worship is about showing God our love for Him, we’d best pay attention to His love language more than our own. How does He tell that He prefers to be worshipped? Since we know that He established the church, called it His body, and that we see corporate worship demonstrated throughout the pages of Scripture, we have to assume that corporate worship is an important part of God’s love language.

Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints. (Psalm 149:1) 

Finally, we worship God by the way we live. He’s not impressed with beautiful voices, lengthy prayers or perfect church attendance on Sunday, if our hearts and actions are far from Him on Monday through Saturday.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17) 

WRAPPING IT UP AND APPLYING IT TO LIFE

Church isn’t a place that we passively attend. It’s a living fellowship where we actively interact with fellow believers and with God. All believers should find a church where they can have fellowship through building relationships, learning God’s Word and worshipping Him.

If you’re not currently involved with a church, make plans to visit a church with a friend this week. Perhaps the person who shared this Pocket PrincipleTM can recommend one. If you already attend a church, make sure you’re deepening your relationships, learning His Word and truly worshipping.

To get more involved, consider praying these three things on the way to church,

“God, today at church, help me to:

•Meet other believers and encourage someone who might need help.

•Learn something from You and other believers that I can apply to my life.

•Truly worship You, rather than just say words while my mind is elsewhere.”

If you want to express love to God in His love language, make church a part of your worship experience.

prayerCommunicating With God

I recently saw news footage of a famous actor filming in a small Wisconsin town. The sidewalks were filled with adoring fans who had traveled for hours to stand and watch, dreaming of an opportunity for a handshake and autograph, but content with just a glimpse of their cinematic hero.

For a moment, imagine yourself as one of these fans, standing on a frigid Wisconsin sidewalk, hoping for a sighting. Suddenly, a limo pulls up beside you and the actor himself steps out, shakes your hand, and offers you a ride! “I’m a bit lonely today,” he explains. “Being hours away from any friends or family, I asked around for some friendly locals who might be fun to hang out with. Your name kept coming up. Hey, I’ve got the day off from filming. Would you have time to show me around, chat a bit, and introduce me to your friends?”

Imagine the awe, the amazement, the disbelief, that a person of such stature would want to spend time with a regular person—you!

Some of the same feelings and concerns should flood over us when we realize that the Creator of the universe desires to talk and spend time with us. “God wants to hang out with me? Cool! But surely I’ll be rather boring to One so great. And maybe He won’t like me if we get too close. He’ll see all my faults. And what in the world do you say to a Person like that?”

Keep those thoughts in mind as we look to God’s Word for answers.

“ME? RELATING TO HIM?” BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS.

God’s so far above us in every way. He’s strong; we’re weak. He knows all; we see bits and pieces. He’s perfect; we’re imperfect. How can we relate to a God like that?

First, God assures us that He loves us, no matter how far short we fall.

For God so loved the world….(John 3:16a) 

Second, God destroyed the barrier that separated us. We are sinners, and God is holy. That is a barrier to our relationship.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. (Romans 3:23) For the wages of sin is death…. (Romans 6:23a) 

So God wants to relate to us, but we’ve rebelled by going our own way. Even if we came back, we’d be sinful people trying to approach a holy God. Something had to give. God gave. He sent His only Son to die for our sins, so that we would no longer have to be separated from Him.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18) 

For those of us who have turned from our old rebellious life and accepted God’s gift of salvation, we’ve gone from being dead in our sins to being alive to God (Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:1-5). The sin barrier has been broken! Now we can approach God, not on the basis of our own merits, but on the merits of Jesus. We could never be cool enough to spend time with God. But because Jesus cleansed us with His blood, we can approach His throne in clean, white robes. Because of Jesus, we can have a relationship—a friendship with God! Like any relationship, our friendship with God grows through communication. That’s what prayer is all about— talking to God and listening to Him. Here are some practical hints to a more meaningful prayer life.

Like any relationship, our friendship with God grows through communication.

HINTS FOR TALKING TO GOD

1. Speak naturally. 

God isn’t impressed with memorized formulas, lots of words, or religious language (Matthew 6:7,8). You’ve probably heard people pray like this: “I pray Thee, O Father, that Thou bless Thy child Mike, who has wandered from Thy paths.” 

Don’t worry. Jesus never said that He preferred prayers like that. It’s your heart that counts, so use the words that best express your heart. My translation of the above prayer might be, “God, could you please help Mike? He’s in trouble and really needs Your help.”

2. Use variety. 

For some people, every prayer is asking God for something. What if you
had a friend whose only conversation involved asking you for things? That relationship’s not going anywhere. Broaden your communication with God by including different aspects of prayer. I’ll put them in a handy acrostic (P.R.A.Y.) to help you remember:

Praise Him: “I love you God!” Thank Him for who He is and what He has done for you. Be creative! Walk a field and thank Him for all you see. Write a list of things you’ve never thanked Him for (like the moisture in your eyes that keeps them from hurting). Sing Him a song. Write Him a poem. Worship Him both privately and with others. Since He is worthy of our worship (John 4:23-24), let’s praise Him (I Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 100, Psalm 150).

Request Things: “Lord, help me and others in need.” It’s not selfish to pray for ourselves. God delights in our prayers and wants us to depend upon Him to meet our needs (Matthew 7:7-11; I Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6,7).

But it’s not all about us. Pray for others with needs,often greater than our own, both near and far away. God’s given His children access to His awesome power that can transform the world. Since we’re talking to the almighty God, don’t hesitate to pray big (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:15-23).

It’s your heart that counts, so use the words that best express your heart.

George Mueller’s diary contains so many instances of answered prayer that, were it possible, a person could be bored by the miraculous. His heart was stirred by the plight of England’s orphans in the mid-1800s. Seven-year olds worked 12 hours a day in factories. Escapees lived on the streets as thieves. Mueller, though a poor man himself, determined to build and operate an orphanage by faith and prayer alone, asking no person for financial assistance, telling no person of his financial needs, and never buying on credit.

By faith alone, Mueller eventually operated five orphan houses caring for 2,000 orphans! When money ran out or emergencies arose, the money always came, so that their needs were always supplied. For example, “in the two years, August 1838 to August 1840, there were fifty occasions on which they were either penniless, or had insufficient means to pay their way for the day. But the money always came.” (1)

One morning Mueller had neither bread nor money to buy bread for the orphans. Rather than despair, he sat the orphans at the table and instructed them to bless their food. “What food?” the orphans must have thought. But they went ahead with the prayer. Just then, a knock came at the door. A bread truck had broken down nearby and the driver wished to donate the bread to the orphanage!

Admit Your Sins: “I’m sorry God.”
Confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve sinned (I John 1:8,9). But since we learn to justify our behavior, it’s hard for some of us to admit our shortcomings.

We rationalize, minimize and cover up our sins. But God knows our sins. Why not just admit them to Him?

One day pastor Bill Hybels counseled a man (“Harry”) who didn’t see himself as sinful. Hybels knew him as a man he could shoot straight with, so he probed with a few questions.

“Have you been absolutely one hundred percent faithful to your wife…?”

“Well, you know, I’m in sales. I travel a lot….”

When Hybels asked about his business expense account, Harry admitted that he included things that weren’t strictly his sales techniques; Harry admitted that he sometimes exaggerated. “That’s the industry standard,” he explained.

Hybels looked him in the eye and said, “You have just told me that you are an adulterer, a cheater and a liar. Repeat those words after me—I am an adulterer, a cheater and a liar.” Harry was horrified. He didn’t see himself that way at all. In his view, he’d just fallen into a little of this and a bit of that—no big deal. (2)

Harry’s like a lot of us. We rationalize, minimize and cover up our sins. But God knows our sins. Why not just admit them to Him?

Yearn and Listen: “Here’s how I’m feeling. What do You think?” 

Sometimes words can’t express what we’re feeling. That’s okay.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26) 

Just be there with Him. He understands.

Often God speaks to us in promptings rather than words. So sometimes we need to simply be quiet and listen. Let’s take this aspect of prayer a little further.

HINTS ON LISTENING TO GOD

Don’t you hate it when friends or family members want to talk, talk, talk, but never listen? A one-way relationship is always shallow and seldom satisfying. Yet, most Christians rarely, if ever, hear God speaking audibly, like in dreams or visions. Here are some ways that we normally hear from God.

1. The Bible—God’s Word to Us. 

There’s no need for God to repeat to us audibly what He’s already told us in His Word. By reading it each day, we discover His wisdom on relationships, work, lifestyle, spiritual life, and all the areas of life that count (Psalm 1:1-3).

It may be difficult to understand at first, but hang in there! Pray daily that God will give you a hunger for His Word. Pray for insight. God’s Spirit enlightens our hearts, helping us to understand and apply Scripture to our lives (I Corinthians 2:12).

2. Other Believers. 

Don’t just trust one person, even if he sounds totally sure of himself! There is safety in “many advisors” (Proverbs 15:22), especially those who are wise and insightful (Proverbs 20:18).

Also learn under gifted preachers and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13) who spend unusual amounts of time studying the Bible. You can hear them at church, Bible study groups, through reading their books and listening to their audio messages.

3. Life’s Circumstances. 

God often opens and closes doors with the situations He allows us to encounter (I Corinthians 16:8,9).

4. Directing our Thinking. 

As we pray for direction, study His Word, consult other believers and consider our circumstances, God directs our thinking, giving us the mind of Christ to make wise decisions (I Corinthians 2:15-16).

HINTS ON PRAYING ALWAYS

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17). How does that work?

If you’ve never read the Bible much, start with the Gospel of John, which takes you through Jesus’ life. Set a goal of reading about a chapter a day. Then, make your way through the rest of the New Testament. Some read a Psalm and a Proverb each day. Others use a devotional book, like The Purpose Driven Life. Find something that works for you!

Go ahead, accept His invitation and start a conversation that can grow richer for the rest of your life.

I think of it like my relationship with my wife on a day off from work. Often, we stop to have an extended conversation. But most of the day, we just bounce thoughts off each other, say words of encouragement and gratefulness, ask for help with a project, etc. That’s how it should be with God—like spending a day with your best friend.

Read some of the Psalms. They are often so conversational, expressing doubts, fears, disappointments, frustrations, excitement, joy—what’s going on in your heart right now—the stuff of real life.

WRAPPING IT UP

Thinking back to the actor inviting you into his limo—isn’t it incredible that the God of the Universe wants to hang out with us? Go ahead, accept His invitation and start a conversation that can grow richer for the rest of your life. He’s here. He cares. And He really wants to be your Friend.

 

End Notes:

(1) Compiled by A.J. Rendle Short, The Diary of George Mueller, Great Man of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).

(2) Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 54,55.