“Fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). Our salvation from the wrath of God is a gift of sheer grace – we cannot add to it nor take away from it. However, progressively working out of that salvation (Philippians 2:12), pressing it into the details of our lives, striving to live in congruence with the good news (Galatians 2:14), and planting ourselves near the Word that is Living Water (Psalm 1, John 4) is our responsibility. As Dallas Willard said, grace is opposed to earning, but it is not opposed to effort!
Below are four ways you can take responsibility for your growth in 2019. But first, a warning: these activities have no value in and of themselves; the Holy Spirit is the only cause of Holiness. In these practices, we must aim at participation, posturing ourselves in dependence as we prayerfully, personally meet with God. It is He who began the work in us and is faithful to carry it towards completion (Philippians 1:6). “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) We show up with open hands – God does the work and takes the credit.
When you love someone, you care about what they have to say. Horatius Bonar said “Love goes to the Law to learn the divine will, and love delights in the Law.” It is our love of God that drives us to God’s instruction, his Word. The goal in daily study and meditation on Scripture is not to receive a “spiritual high” or a “morning boost,” rather the goal is that, over a lifetime, we will become people shaped by God’s Word. There are days when your study of Scripture will seem “boring” and that is fine. All Scripture is equally inspired by God, but not all Scripture is equally exciting. How might you be different in ten years if you commit to studying God’s word daily?
Where to start: My wife and I use the Read Scripture App and love it. With only 10-15 minutes per day you read through the whole bible in a year, including the Psalms twice. Also, it has helpful, well-done videos that explain each book of the bible as you progress. So, even when you don’t understand what you’re reading, you still get the big picture of each book and what it’s doing.
In our present moment in world history, solitude is hard to come by. We are perpetually “connected” but are subsequently disconnected from ourselves. Jesus modeled solitude and silence regularly for us as he was regularly withdrawing from the crowd to be alone with his father (Luke 5:16, Luke 11:1).
When we are alone and quiet, we are confronted with our own thoughts and feelings and are forced to honestly deal with them. We cannot escape to tasks, music, podcasts, or people. We need to pay attention, take personal inventory, and invite God to be near. Much of what we see and sense will be uncomfortable because we have been avoiding our painful memories, sinful desires, and “unrefined” emotions for so long. Developing knowledge of ourselves is often painful, yet, at least for John Calvin, it remains the way forward: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
When we see ourselves, we see two things: 1) places in which we image God well, 2) places in which we don’t image God well. In both circumstances, we worship God for his grace.
Where to start: Spend a half-day (4-6 hours) 4-6x per year absolutely by yourself without any stimulus or input. Leave your phone at home or in your car. Take turns with your spouse, hire a sitter, or sign your kids up for Winter Camp if you need to. If you have little children, take what you can get during nap time and sit still in your backyard. Don’t multi-task in any way. You can bring a journal to take notes, but don’t write for the purpose of being “productive.” Then, regularly pray Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV):
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Imagine you served someone lovingly, sacrificially, and effectively in a way outside of your comfort zone and then told absolutely nobody about it. How much tension would it create in you? In our social media saturated age this would be insane. Often we serve others not unto the glory of God, but unto the glory of ourselves; our acts of service are really just acts of personal branding. The discipline of secrecy is about combating that “see me serve” mentality.
Where to start: Once per month, ask God to give you an opportunity to love someone sacrificially. This is a prayer he always answers with a “yes.” Then, tell nobody, as in zero people (not even your spouse!) about it, ever. Then, when you feel the strong desire to tell people, examine that tension and invite God into it. What is he teaching you about yourself and about himself?
Jesus’ purpose on earth was to serve and so is yours. Not-serving dehumanizes us and therefore is accompanied by a host of negative side-effects, as humans were created to serve (Genesis 2:15). Service is love made visible and genuine affection is cultivated through acts of service. Also, having regular responsibility, having people depend on us, even for the smallest of tasks, is one of the ways we learn.
Where to start: Come to our volunteer fair on January 13th after one of our services. We have a role for you to play. For more information on this, go to gateway.redemptionaz.com/serve.