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All I needed to know about Leadership, I learned riding my bike!

Dr. Phil, Dr. Seuss, Dr. Spock, Dr. Dobson who is right? I mean each of them tell me they have figured out the best process for me to raise my children, resolve conflict at work and to share a great life with my wife.

Every magazine I read in the grocery check out line tells me they have a lock on relationships, on personal development, on how to manage my life. I wonder if there really is some formula for how to go about improving my stance with those I love, I manage and meet each day.

Somehow it seems that relationship, information, process, all work together but I am really not sure which one, in what order matters most. However, after looking at a zillion different improvement formulas I have come across one that just seems to make the most sense.

The process goes by the acronym R-CAPS and the letters stand for Relationship, Content, Accountability, Prayer and Structures. The process says that in order to grow myself or others that I must first develop a relationship that fosters trust and safety, then I can introduce content that is specific to what I want to achieve, accountability means to have people in place who care enough to help me stay the course, Prayer is asking God to intervene and sustain me. Finally it is important to have structures or situations in which to prove out and practice what I have learned.

father son bikeAs I think back to situations in which I really grew I see these elements in place. As I remember learning to ride my first bike I remember my dad holding on to the seat holding me up. I knew my dad was not going to let me get hurt, I mean I really trusted him. I also remember him telling me specifics about holding the handle bars in a straight line and remembering to pedal to maintain enough speed in order to not fall over. As I began to get the hang of things dad kept reminding me to “steer straight and keep pedaling” he kept me focused on what was important. Pray-you bet! Dad was asking the Dad of all dads to not let me get hurt. Finally, rather than just tell me about a bike, dad had me on a bike, in a safe place, practicing. When the time came to let go, I was ready and away I went.

Flash forward forty years and it is time for me to mentor a young friend. It seems that spending time with him, learning about him and his interests is the best way for us to develop trust and learn to believe in each other. Sure he wants to learn stuff, but I need to listen well and look for the signs to understand just what it is he really needs to learn. As I pay attention to what he says and observe his life I begin to understand just what content to introduce him to. Giving him information is not worth much unless I hold him to his promise to begin to use it. So much I cannot control, only God can know the depth of our hearts and minds, so I spend time speaking to God to ask for His protection and care for my friend. Finally, and often the hard part, is to find a specific activity that will let him use his new found knowledge.

Think about it. What good is it to learn about building a dog house if we do not actually try it out by building a dog house. By the way, dogs do not live in dog house theories they live in actual dog houses! Kids do not learn to ride a bike by reading a book, they learn to ride bikes by……riding a bike! And adults do not learn to mature and grow by just getting more information. Just like riding a bike, maturity takes practice, accountability and the right structures in which to try out what we are learning.

R-CAPS is a method that just makes sense. What is really cool is that it is a process that is over 2000 years old. It has been used on every continent and every nation in the world. The “process” book is well known and easy to find. The teacher, the most acclaimed “growth coach” the world has ever known. To learn more read about the R-CAPS method and the organization that developed it follow this link to the book MATURITY MATTERS.

Editors Note: We are reposting some of our blogs for you.  David Parfitt originally posted this article in 2011.  We think it is worth re-reading!

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.

“God, make me good, but not yet.” – St. Augustine

The quote above attributed to one of the early church fathers, while perhaps tongue in cheek, contains a significant element of truth. Our goodness (growth in holiness) depends on God, but it also depends on us. God will not make us good until we are ready and willing to partner with Him in the process. We have focused previously on God’s role in our spiritual growth and meditated on the magnificent resources available to us. Now, we turn our attention to the flip side of the equation and focus on what is expected of us. The truth is that the believer plays a significant role in his own spiritual growth.

Consider, for example, the building of a garden shed. You may think about what you want the shed to look like, and you may draft plans for the structure. You may even secure all the necessary tools and materials to build the shed. However, at some point you have to actually get to work⎜to saw boards and hammer nails or the shed will never get built. Successful completion doesn’t depend on your grand dreams or your good intentions. It comes about only through hard work. So it is with the Christian life. God has placed everything we need for growth at our disposal but, until we actually start to use what we have been given, we will not make progress.

Paul wrote to his young charge Timothy that he should train himself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). Paul uses an athletic analogy to convey to Timothy that effort will be involved. The Olympic athlete dedicates himself to countless hours of rigorous training, all the while refraining from otherwise acceptable enjoyments to maintain discipline, all for the sake of achieving his goal. So, too, the follower of Christ must engage in certain activities and refrain from others in order to achieve the goal of increasing Christlikeness.

A word of caution as we delve into this topic. The Christian life is a marathon rather than a sprint. It takes time to develop the endurance necessary to run a marathon. It doesn’t happen overnight. Some believers hear of great Christian saints who read many chapters of the Bible or pray for several hours each day. Inspired by their example and determined to imitate their dedication, they try to maintain the same habits. Rare is the person who can immediately achieve that level of discipline. Most of us never do. And that’s okay. As we will see below, God does call us to study His Word and to pray. But it is far better to start slowly and develop consistent habits than it is to try to do too much too soon and give up discouraged and disillusioned.

Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy that, “It is much harder [to learn to pray] if we succumb to the temptation to engage in heroic efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.”

Having said this, the truth remains that the degree to which a believer follows God’s instructions determines the degree to which he grows. Following God’s instructions is not always easy, but the fruit is of great value. As the believer engages in the following activities, he will grow spiritually.

Understanding and Applying the Word of God

Believers grow spiritually as they get to know God⎜His nature, His purposes, and His ways. And the Bible is the primary source God uses to reveal Himself to us. In order to get to know God better, a believer must understand the meaning of Scripture by hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the Word. In His second letter to Timothy, Paul writes of the importance and value of Scripture in these words: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, New Living Translation)

The author of the first Psalm paints a vivid picture of the person who delights in God’s Word and meditates on it frequently. This person will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3) What a beautiful picture of the outcome God desires to see in our lives!

It is important that our study of the Word never becomes an end in itself. The purpose of study is to learn and to grow, not just to gain more knowledge. There are people who know much about the Bible and have even memorized lengthy passages but who do not believe in the God of the Bible and have no interest in obeying Him.

James warned his readers against being hearers of the word only, saying that in so doing they were deceiving themselves (James 1:22). Jesus closed a lengthy address (commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount) to the crowd gathered on a hillside by giving the parable of the wise man who builds his house on the rock and the foolish man who builds his house on the sand. The wise man is the one who listens and obeys, while the foolish man listens but does not put into practice what he has heard (Matthew 7:24-27).

Praying

God has provided an open line of communication with believers through prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God, knowing that He is always available and expecting Him to respond to us in the way that best suits His purposes and is in our best interests.

However, prayer is not simply an option that we should resort to when we have exhausted our own resources. Rather it should be the natural response to any situation we find ourselves in. We should turn to God first, whether to ask for guidance, protection, provision, or whatever need we might have. Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Sometimes we may tend to make prayer harder than it needs to be. We don’t have to learn certain techniques, memorize complicated formulas, use just the right words, or adopt a particular posture. However, Scripture does provide a model for the kinds of things we should pray about.

Many of us are familiar with what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer. How often do we look upon this prayer as an actual example for us to follow rather than a fine piece of oratory to be recited or sung? We should remember that our Lord offered this model prayer in response to His disciples’ request for Him to teach them to pray.

This is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your Kingdom come,

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

The prayer begins with recognition of the exalted position of God and ends with recognition of our position of dependence. It is composed of two primary parts. The first section focuses on God as we acknowledge that we are speaking to our loving heavenly Father, worshiping His holy name (which represents His nature and perfect character), and asking that His perfect will be accomplished here on earth. The second section focuses on our needs, as we ask for daily provision, for forgiveness, and for spiritual protection.

Fellowshipping with Believers

One of the greatest needs of our day is for people to develop healthy relationships. God knows this and has provided for this need through fellowship with other believers. The restoration of our vertical relationship with God paves the way for healthy, mutually beneficial horizontal relationships with others. However, these relationships must be nourished through spending time together and celebrating the life we share in Jesus.

This is why Scripture tells us that we should not neglect meeting together with other believers. We need each other. The Christian life was never designed to be an individual pursuit. Regular fellowship with other believers provides comfort, accountability, instruction, encouragement, support, and direction. If a believer is not involved in a local church, he may develop distorted thinking, lack emotional support, feel insecure, and flounder without accountability.

Serving Others

Not only are we to spend time with other believers, we are to serve one another. Again, Jesus is our example. He told His disciples that He came not to be served but rather to serve others. Later He challenged them to serve others as He had served them (Matthew 20:28 and John 13:15).

Serving others is not simply something God thought up to help build character. Rather, service benefits both the giver and the receiver. It benefits the receiver by meeting a need. It benefits the giver by allowing him to experience the joy of seeing a need met and by enabling him to impact others. Along the way, we all have the opportunity to be on the giving end and on the receiving end, and we can find equal joy in each.

Most service to others is nothing heroic but simply involves everyday expressions of love such as offering a kind word of encouragement, giving someone a ride, providing a listening ear, fixing a meal, having a good attitude, or sharing what God is doing in our lives. Scripture emphasizes the “everydayness” of service by saying, “Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters.” (Galatians 6:10, New Living Translation)

Recognizing The Centrality of Relationships

There is a common theme that runs through the four activities discussed above, and that is the strong cord of relationship. This should not be surprising as relationship is at the heart of the Christian life. We have a new relationship with God and new relationships with His people. Our relationship with God and our worship of God are at the core of everything we do. Without worship, study becomes mechanical and lifeless, prayer becomes self-centered and demanding, fellowship becomes forced and empty, and service becomes an onerous burden.

Conclusion

A believer will grow spiritually as he consistently studies the Word, prays, fellowships with believers, and serves others with genuine humility and a desire to please God. The four topics covered in this lesson by no means exhaust the opportunities for growth; these are simply the primary or foundational means of growth. Other disciplines that may prove helpful to the believer include silence, solitude, fasting, and frugality among others.

However, these foundational activities must be engaged in by anyone who is serious about growth. Although Scripture emphasizes that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), there are no shortcuts to Christian maturity. Scripture and the experience of saints through the centuries prove otherwise. It would be the height of folly for any of us to think that we will be the first to achieve maturity without effort.

The good news is that the ball is in our court. The October 1997 issue of “Today in the Word” relates that the great Scottish Bible teacher Alexander MacLaren once wrote: “We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key of the treasure-chamber into our hand, and bids us take all that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor?” So we see, then, that the choice is ours. May each of us desire increasing godliness and use the keys we have been given.

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 1. What happens to a believer who becomes isolated from other believers and/or God’s Word? List the benefits of meditating on God’s Word.

• Read Romans 12:9-16. List ways a believer should demonstrate love to others.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

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Road SignOne of the most common questions believers ask is “How can I know God’s will?” This is a healthy question and reflects a desire to understand and to do the things that please God. Understanding God’s will is also necessary for spiritual growth. Unfortunately, in modern society instant answers and clear solutions have become expected. Some Christians can get frustrated when they find it difficult to know God’s will or when it is not as clear as they would like it to be. Whether the dilemma is how to lose 30 pounds in three months, how to become financially secure, or how to overcome a bad habit or addiction, we have become accustomed to having someone provide steps to follow that are guaranteed to achieve the desired outcome.

Hide and Seek BoysIt is important to remember that God is not our enemy. We are not playing some game of hide and seek where we are desperately seeking to find something that God is enjoying hiding from us. Christ’s words to His disciples the night before his crucifixion should be an encouragement to us. He reminded them that they had entered a new relationship with Him, and He had now taken them into His confidence and revealed the Father’s will to them. We enjoy the same close relationship with our Lord and can rest assured that He also desires to make the Father’s business known to us.

While there are no easy answers and no set formulas to follow, we can understand the will of God by humbly responding to the truth He reveals. Following are some of the most common ways God reveals His will.

The Bible

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminded him that the holy Scriptures are given by God to make us wise and to help us discern what we should do. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” Not only does Scripture reveal the character of God and how we can grow in godliness, it also prepares us for the specific things that He wants us to do.

The Apostle Peter told his readers that they should desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word as a newborn baby desires his mother’s milk. It is the primary means of growth for the believer. Regular, daily feeding will ensure that our thinking is informed by the Word. Not only is understanding the will of God necessary for spiritual growth, but spiritual growth is important in understanding the will of God. As the believer matures in his Christian walk, he gains more insight into the Word of God and is better able to understand and to apply the principles found in it.

Broadly speaking, when attempting to discern the will of God, the believer should look in Scripture for general principles to apply rather than expecting to find specific guidance. Humorous stories are told of individuals who have opened the Bible, put their fingers on the page, and then made a decision based on whatever they happened to read first. One such man, who was deeply in debt, found that his finger landed on Chapter 11 and he went out and filed bankruptcy. As unlikely as this story may be, it does remind us of the danger of using Scripture inappropriately.

Prayer

Prayer is one of the primary means by which we can determine God’s leading. James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom (the ability to determine the right course of action), he should ask God, and God will freely and gladly respond to his request. Jesus, after teaching His disciples to pray, reminded them of the need for perseverance. He then promised that “everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).

The Bible is full of examples of saints of the past who inquired of God when facing a decision and received the wisdom needed to take the right course of action (see, for example, the victories of King David recorded in II Samuel 5:17-25). Scripture also records the disastrous consequences when people jumped into action without waiting on God for direction (see, for example, the defeat of King Josiah recorded in II Chronicles 35:20-24).

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit plays many roles in the life of the believer and one of the primary ones is to provide guidance. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the Counselor and indicated that He would teach and direct us. The Holy Spirit is a trusted counselor who confirms truth within our hearts by giving us peace and confidence to move forward. He will withhold this sense of peace if we are heading in the wrong direction.

Another primary function of the Spirit is to point out sin in our lives. Sin clouds our vision and distorts our view of things, making it impossible for us to see God’s leading. Worse yet, sin can cause us to be unable even to realize that our vision is faulty. When we allow Him the freedom to operate in our lives, the Holy Spirit acts with surgical precision to remove the sinful cataracts of our eyes and renew our vision.

Some Christians are uncomfortable trusting the Spirit for guidance because they fear it allows too much subjectivity into the process.

However, the role of the Spirit is to confirm within our hearts the objective truth of the Word of God. George Mueller, who cared for thousands of orphans in 19th century England and was known as a man of great faith and prayer explains, “I will seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Spirit guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.”

The People of God

Fellow believers are another resource we can draw on to understand the will of God. Proverbs 20:18 reminds us to make plans by seeking advice. It is part of God’s design for the church that more mature believers and those gifted at teaching are to teach the Word to younger believers (1 Timothy 3:11-14). This mentoring approach not only communicates principles found in Scripture, but also shows us how to appropriately apply those principles in everyday life.

An example of the biblical pattern is found in Acts chapter 15. Differences of opinion had arisen in the early church regarding the extent to which Gentile believers should be required to keep the Jewish law. Leaders in the church met together in Jerusalem to seek God’s will concerning this situation. Acts 15:6 records that the apostles and elders met to consider this question. It was only after much open discussion that Peter stood up to address the assembly. Then further exchanges took place before the group finally reached a consensus decision regarding the direction they should take.

Circumstances

God expects the believer to use his mind in the process of discovering His will. One of the ways that we meet this expectation is to make sense of the world around us⎜the circumstances that come our way. Often, a common sense approach toward interpreting political, social, economic, or other events will guide us to the right plan of action. For example, a person may be considering adding an addition to his house, one that would take it to within fourteen feet of a right of way. If the local authorities pass an ordinance restricting construction within 25 feet of a right of way, then the person no longer needs to consider whether it is God’s will for him to build the addition.

We should also consider the circumstances of our existence. God has created each of us as a unique human being, with a complex blend of abilities, interests, and desires. Surely these factors⎜God’s design⎜ should be taken into account when determining His will for us. It is highly unlikely that God’s will for a short, slow young man with no interest in sports is for him to play professional basketball. However, a young lady who is extremely talented musically and has a strong desire to perform may well be led of God to use those abilities and to satisfy that desire by performing to His glory.

Conclusion

Although there is not a set formula for knowing God’s will, God often reveals His will in the ways we have considered. Equally important, if not more so, than the means of discovering God’s will is the mindset we have while searching for direction. God will bless us as we exhibit the following attitudes.

Submission. “Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll do it.” Some Christians wrongly believe that they can ask God for direction and then decide whether or not they want to obey the marching orders they receive. Others simply look for confirmation of what they’ve already decided they want to do. Either approach betrays a stubborn resistance to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. The fact is that God reveals more of Himself and His will to us as we walk in obedience. Remember that it is in the context of obedience that Jesus spoke of His new relationship with His disciples and the revelation of the Father’s will to them (John 15).

Humility. “I know I don’t have all the answers.” The story is told of an old sailor who repeatedly got lost at sea, so his friends gave him a compass and urged him to use it. The next time he went out in his boat, he followed their advice and took the compass with him. But as usual he became hopelessly confused and was unable to find land. Finally, he was rescued by his friends. Disgusted and impatient with him, they asked, “Why didn’t you use that compass we gave you? You could have saved us a lot of trouble!” The sailor responded, “I didn’t dare to! I wanted to go north, but as hard as I tried to make the needle aim in that direction, it just kept on pointing southeast.” Our pride tells us that we know best or that we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. We must strive for a posture of humility that expresses itself in a teachable spirit and a willingness to learn from others.

Patience. “I’m willing to wait as long as it takes.” Determining God’s will is often not easy. It may involve waiting on God and wrestling with Him about the decision. Noted theologian and author James Packer reminds us, “ ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms and it is a necessary word, for the Lord often keeps us waiting. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.” We can rest assured that God will never keep us waiting longer than is necessary to accomplish His purposes. However He knows that the process may be as important as the outcome.

Psalm 119:105 speaks of God’s word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is not referred to as a floodlight to illumine the road ahead. Often we have only enough light to take the next step on the path, but that is sufficient if we are willing to trust the One leading us. In this process of seeking God’s will, we would do well to remember the prayer of Richard of Chicester, a saint of the early 13th century: “Day by day, dear Lord, of Thee three things I pray. To see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, to follow Thee more nearly, day by day.”

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Psalm 119:33-40. List the verbs in these verses associated with God’s Word.

• Choose an area in which you want to know God’s will. Based on what you have learned in this lesson, write down what you will do to discover God’s will.

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Discipleship Culture

Discipleship CultureWhy Discipleship?

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

To be a Christian is to be a “disciple” – someone who is learning the way of Christ and following the way of Christ – as Jesus says, learning to obey all that he has commanded.  The Apostle Paul even called it “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20), being transformed into his image.  The goal of discipleship is Christlikeness.

But how does that happen?  How do you grow as a disciple and grow up into Christ and become transformed into his image?

 

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives a picture of how discipleship happens…

“[God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

These verses give you a picture of the process of growing up into Christ.  They show two main elements of discipleship…

First, the Apostle Paul mentions the formal offices in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  (Some of these offices, we believe, were foundational and have passed away.)  These formal church leaders have a primary responsibility for discipleship.  Put another way, part of discipleship happens through the official ministry of the church.  Theologians use the phrase – “the public and ordinary means of grace” – which are the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and prayer.  These are formal, public and corporate means of discipleship.

In other words, coming to church is discipleship.  Discipleship is what happens in Sunday School, in the worship service, in prayer meeting, at the Lord’s Supper.  These are the corporate means of grace.

But Ephesians 4 also shows us a second element to discipleship, which is a “culture of discipleship” – the mutual discipleship of the Body, where all the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all grow up into maturity in Christ, every part doing its share.

The key point is: Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Everyone receives and gives discipleship.  Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play.  There is no place in church for consumers.  We were all appointed to be producers, to bear fruit.  In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”  In the Christian life, we all receive ministry, but we all also are to minister.  We are disciples but we also disciple one another.

 

2 Timothy 2:2 says,

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Titus 2:3 says,

Older women likewise are to be reverence in behavior, not slanderers, or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…”

1 Thessalonians 1:8 says,

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The people that Paul discipled were now discipling others.

Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler.  Is that how you think of your Christian life?  Is that how you think when you come to church?  When you have children, you may think that way – that you have responsibility to disciple your own children.  But what about with other people at church – even people your own age, even your own pastors?  Do you any responsibility to disciple them?

 

What Is “A Culture of Discipleship”?

Biblically, discipleship is not a program, but is a culture.  Some churches have developed discipleship programs, which are kind of like classes that people complete.  These may have some value, but Biblically, discipleship is not a quantifiable skill-set, with set goals that can be achieved.  It cannot ultimately be a program, but is a culture.  Discipleship is what should happen in the ordinary ebb and flow of life.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Discipleship should be part of your daily life!

According to the New Testament, discipleship happens not just through instruction, but through relationships and imitation.

In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, the Apostle Paul writes, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

He repeats himself in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

In Philippians 4:9, he says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This kind of discipleship can only happen through the sharing of lives.  In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, the Apostle says, “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”

The dictionary defines a culture as “The shared values, goals and practices that characterize a group.”  So what is a “culture of discipleship”?  It is a group of people habitually demonstrating through their values and daily practices mutual love for one another and mutual encouragement to be like Christ.

On an individual level, it is being someone constantly looking to others for help in being like Christ  and looking to help others be like Christ.

When my wife and I were young Christians, we were very affected by relationships we had with other Christians, particularly older Christians.  By God’s grace, we were very much the initiative takers in pursuing those relationships.  We were constantly inviting ourselves over to people’s houses, offering to babysit their kids, watching their marriages, watching how they raised their kids, watching how they lived their lives.  We were ruthless in asking people questions:  “We’re struggling with this… How do we get through this? … Why did you do that? … How do you do that? …”  We were hungry to learn how to live practically in godly ways.  We benefited from inserting ourselves into people’s lives and proactively and persistently pursuing people – looking for help in being like Christ.  We knew we needed help.  Fortunately, there were older Christians who made themselves available to us, who were completely open towards us.  They were people putting themselves in our path to let us in.  We were constantly seeking them out, but they were constantly putting themselves in our path.

That’s what a culture of discipleship means – a group of people who are ruthlessly and seriously looking to others for help in being like Christ and looking to help others be like Christ.  

It is younger Christians pursuing older Christians, pursuing relationships, asking questions.  It is older Christians opening up their lives, putting yourselves in the paths of the younger.  It is also Christians of the same age and station of life mutually pursuing and encouraging one another.

One very important rule when it comes to discipleship is: The initiative for discipleship depends on you.  You have to be hungry and thirsty for discipleship.  You have to seek it out.  If you wait for someone else to initiate towards you – offer to disciple you, or ask you to disciple them – this culture will never develop.  It happens as you live this way yourself and open up your life to others.  Sometimes you might pursue others for help or seek to help others, and it may not be reciprocated or appreciated, for various reasons.  But beginning with you, so much depends on you having your heart open.  The Apostle Paul said, “Our heart is wide open…widen your hearts also” (2 Cor.7:11-13).

How ‘Discipleship’?

So what does initiative in discipleship look like?  What practical steps can you take to engage in discipleship?

First, it is important to emphasize the place of prayer for discipleship.  Do you regularly pray for other Christians in your church or your small group?  When you don’t pray for other Christians, you’re not thoughtful about them.  But when you pray, your mind and your heart are stirred to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You’re thoughtful about ways they are struggling, thoughtful about their needs, and about how you might be an encouragement to them.  Your prayers for them are pleasing to God and near to his heart.  And he stirs your heart to be more purposeful in caring for one another.

Second, be thinking about ways you can use your natural gifts in discipleship What are you good at?  What are you interested in?  Could others be blessed by your sharing of these gifts with others?  A musician in our church mentioned specifically choosing hymns to play during the offertory that would encourage people she knew in the church who were struggling.  Instead of just picking a song by default, she was being thoughtful to use her gifts to encourage and disciple others. Are you a writer?  Are you a handyman?  Are you a baker?  Are you artistic?  Are there ways you can use these gifts to bless others?  Are there ways you could include others while you do these things?

Third, you cannot overstate the importance of hospitality for discipleship Particularly in our culture, which keeps people so far apart, inviting people into your home, allowing them in to observe your life and family, is incredibly powerful.  This was an important part of the early church (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32; see also 1 Peter 4:7-11).

 

The Fall issue of the 9Marks Journal on discipleship listed the following practical steps for discipleship:

In practice, how can I disciple other Christians?  

  1. Join a church.
  2. Arrive early at church gatherings and stay late.
  3. Practice hospitality with members of your church.
  4. Ask God for strategic friendships.
  5. If possible, include a line-item in your family or pastoral budget for weekly time with fellow Christians. Discuss this matter with your spouse. If possible, provide such a budget line for your spouse as well.
  6. Schedule regular breakfasts, lunches, or some other culturally-acceptable social engagement with teachable individuals (of the same sex). Depending on the person, you may decide to meet once, indefinitely, or for a set number of times (say, five). If you and the individual share a pastime, look for ways to share that pastime together.
  7. Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their parents, spouse, children, testimony, job, walk with Christ, and so on. In asking questions, however, do so in a manner that’s appropriate for your cultural context (don’t scare them!).
  8. Share about yourself.
  9. Look for ways to have spiritual conversations. Maybe decide to read the Bible or some other Christian literature together.
  10. Consider their physical or material needs. Would they benefit from your help?
  11. Pray with them.
  12. Depending on your home situation, invite the person to drop by your house or spend time with your family. Let them watch you live life.
  13. Look for ways to pray for the person throughout the week by yourself and/or with your spouse.

Appendix – Suggested Resources

Gospel-Centered Discipleship.  By Jonathan Dodson, Crossway/GoodNews Publishers.

Growing One Another: Discipleship In the Church (9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides).  By Bobby Jamieson, Crossway/Good News Publishers.

Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands.  By Paul David Tripp, P&R Publishing.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  By Eugene Peterson, Intervarsity Press.

What Is A Healthy Church Member.  By Thabiti Anyabwile, Crossway Books.
Matt Foreman– Matt Foreman, studied at Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pastor of Faith Church in Media PA where he serves with his wife Mary Scott and a bunch of adorable red headed kids! Matt and Mary Scott are both Furman WDA alumni. Go Paladins! Read more of Matt’s blogs at http://blog.faithchurchpa.org/