Archives For Personal Spiritual Development

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Logo Transparent jpeg without words“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

 

It could be easily argued that the greatest spiritual problem many of us have is the discrepancy between our talk and our walk. Even the Apostle Paul had this deficiency. He wrote to the church at Rome,  

“We know that the Law is spiritual, but I’m made of flesh and blood, and I’m sold as a slave to sin. I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. . .The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. (Romans 7:14-15, 18b-19 CEB).  

For many years now I have served as a church pastor. However, even before I became a pastor I observed this discrepancy between our talk and our walk that exists in all of us. This was true of Paul and other Christians in the New Testament. And yet the Christians I know, including myself, seem to fall far short of the ones in scripture who were willing to die for their faith. We certainly fall far short of the example of Christ.  

Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission–make disciples. But how do you make disciples who seriously follow the example of Jesus like the apostle Paul and others in the New Testament? How do we overcome the human condition Paul described so powerfully and become the person God created us to be? I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to discover the answer to this question.  

We’re talking about transformed lives. Of course, Christians believe the first step is to surrender our lives to Jesus and invite him to become the Lord of our lives.  This first step is referred to by theologians as justification. Some call it “getting saved” or being “born again.” But this is just the beginning of the process of sanctification or spiritual growth. Our goal is not spiritual birth but spiritual maturity. 

In my search for a better way to help people grow spiritually into mature disciples of Jesus Christ I began to look around to see who or what organization was experiencing transformed lives. The place I found was not where I expected it to be; it wasn’t even a  church. It was Alcoholics Anonymous. Now, I have some issues with this organization. I’m afraid it may have gotten away from its Christian roots in many ways. However, when I investigated this organization’s ministry I discovered the key that makes it so effective for so many.  

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are based on Jesus’ Beatitudes. It outlines very specific steps of repentance, forgiveness, and commitment to changed behavior (what Christians call justification and sanctification). But AA also has a very powerful strategy to implement this process.

I believe the key to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous is the way they use sponsors. An AA sponsor serves as a spiritual coach (mentor) and accountability partner.  Of course AA is not the only organization to use this strategy. History gives us other examples of what some call “obedient-based” discipleship. One from my own tradition is that of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley organized small groups he called societies and bands throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In these groups there was a high degree of accountability, regular spiritual assessments,  and a strong expectation for obedient discipleship. 

The Spiritual Assessment 

The new Spiritual Life Assessment on this blog site is designed to be used as a regular spiritual “check-up.” You will want to complete it on a regular basis, preferably once a week.  You can print the results for yourself. However, the real power of this assessment is implemented when you email a copy of your answers to your spiritual coach, mentor, or accountability partner. He or she should read the results and respond to you with an email, phone call, or personal meeting when possible.  

The significance of a spiritual partner cannot be overemphasized. This is the key to our spiritual growth. You and your partner may share your results with each other or the person who serves as your coach, mentor, or accountability partner may have someone else to whom they are accountable. I encourage you to read the blog posts on this site to learn more about the role of accountability partners. The following posts will be particularly helpful:

Moses and Joshua: Five Characteristics for Mentoring/Coaching Disciples

Six Accountability Principles: Keeping One Another Accountable as Disciples of Christ

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “Make Disciples?”

Why Aren’t Christian Churches More Committed to Making Disciples?

Six Things To Consider About Making Disciples as a Life Coach

GOD: OUR ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER (Part II–Listening to God)

GOD: OUR ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

A MORE EFFECTIVE WAY TO MAKE DISCIPLES?

CHRISTIAN ACCOUNTABILITY–III

Take a bold new step toward mature discipleship by filling out your first Spiritual Life Assessment.

I would love to hear about your experience with the Spiritual Life Assessment. I do not get an email copy of your responses. Please respond in the Comments section below.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsI’ve written often that a church should be a disciple-making factory. Of course, this  requires knowing how to make disciples. And before we can figure out how to make one, perhaps we need to closely examine a quality disciple to see just how it works and how it is put together.   

 

Of course, the Bible describes what a disciple should look like and how s/he should “work.” Upon “examining” many samples of “obedient followers of Christ” I think we can briefly describe a mature disciple thusly: 

A mature, obedient disciple of Jesus Christ is: 

  1. A LOVER: A mature disciple of Jesus Christ loves God and loves her neighbor. She takes seriously Jesus’ Great Commandments. This love is expressed in a number of ways, including gathering with other Christians to express their love through worship. She also spends private time with God in prayer and meditation, seeking to grow a more intimate relationship with God.
  2. A LEARNER: A mature disciple never stops growing spiritually. He recognizes Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsI wish every Christian would read Neil Cole’s book, Organic Church. Neil tells us how to connect with the unchurched, introduce them to Jesus Christ, and help them grow into mature discipleship. And he doesn’t just offer theory; he has been busy doing it himself.

 

There are two important features of his work. One is his commitment to going where the people are, coffeehouses, parks, bars, restaurants,  homes, etc. The second is his emphasis on accountability.  

I had emphasized small groups for most of my ministry, believing that a Christian would experience her or his greatest growth in these small groups. However, over the years I came to realize I could not get the kind of accountability in these groups that was needed for maximum growth. (Click on Personal Spiritual Development for more blog posts on the subject of accountability.) Neil Cole has discovered the key is not small groups of 8-12, like most people think. The key is groups of “two or three,” as mentioned in Matthew 18:20. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” 

In Organic Church Neil Cole gives seven reasons why he believes a group of two or three is the ideal size for spiritual growth: 

  1. Community is stronger with two or three. Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 tells us, Continue Reading…

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John Wesley’s General Rules for Small Group Accountability:

1) Do no harm or any kind of evil

2) Do all the good and acts of mercy you can

3) Attend upon the ordinances (This refers to the spiritual disciplines such as worship, Communion, Bible study, prayer, etc.) 

 

John Wesley was an 18th century Anglican clergyman who is known for founding the Methodist movement. This evangelical, church renewal movement was extremely successful, having a profound positive influence on society and leading eventually to the establishment of the Methodist Church. The following is an excerpt from the Wikepedia (please don’t laugh) article on Wesley:

Wesley helped to organize and form societies of Christians throughout Great Britain, North America and Ireland as small groups that developed intensive, personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction among members. His great contribution was to Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsHow are lives transformed? How do we become the person God created us to be?

Jesus commanded his followers to “make disciples.” Disciples are followers of Christ who grow into mature people who find meaning, purpose, peace, and joy in life. But just how are disciples made? I believe this is the most pressing question for the Christian church in the 21st century.

Many people believe it is a matter of inviting Jesus into our hearts. Pray the sinner’s prayer, then on to baptism and church membership. Deal done. Others believe that God simply chooses some to be disciples. Deal done. Of course, that’s not exactly how they explain it.

Jesus practiced a process of coaching and mentoring, investing most of his time in twelve men; these, in turn, coached others. Continue Reading…

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsJohn Wesley was an 18th century evangelist and founder of the Methodist movement. He was probably not the greatest preacher you ever heard, but he was a fantastic organizer, and he knew how to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Wesley traveled throughout England and beyond on horseback, preaching the gospel and organizing “societies,” what we would really understand as churches. He divided these societies into smaller groups, called classes, that had up to twelve people. The classes met weekly where each member was given the opportunity to tell how they had lived out their life for Christ since they last met. Members were to “watch over one another in love.”

These class meetings were essentially accountability groups. Wesley had discovered the power of mutual accountability when he and his brother Charles organized what they called the Holy Club at Christ Church, Oxford University. The following is one version of the 21 accountability questions used daily by the Holy Club:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence? Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. AM I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. AM I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that i am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publicans?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to Me?

Many of us read this and respond somewhat negatively. It is a far cry from what most of us experience in our churches. But, don’t think that people didn’t respond negatively in Wesley’s day. Critics made fun of the Holy Club. There was a popular ditty that went:

By rule they eat, by rule they drink,                                                                                   By rule do all things but think.
Accuse the priests of loose behavior.
To get more in the laymen’s favor.
Method alone must guide ’em all
When themselves “Methodists” they call.

But criticism didn’t stop the Wesleys. They went on to practice their accountability and eventually began a movement that now includes millions of Christians around the world. I can’t help but wonder what our churches might be like if we were willing to accept a bit of ridicule for the sake of Christ. What would the church be like if we truly “watched over one another in love,” holding each other accountable without unchristian judgmentalism. I really believe this was John Wesley’s secret to making reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian disciple is more than praying the sinner’s prayer or walking down a church isle. It’s about life transformation.

I grew up in a tradition that taught me to present a plan of salvation to lost souls. This included reading or quoting a few key verses and asking for an immediate decision. I even went door to door and, since I had sales training, I was quite successful in getting people to pray that sinner’s prayer. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lot of permanent transformation in people’s lives.

Over the years I’ve discovered that salvation is miraculous, but it’s not magic. Changing lives, even by the Holy Spirit, is a process. And it’s usually, if not always, a gradual process. In addition, it’s more about relationships than dogma or salesmanship. The following is a simplified list that outlines a process many have found effective.

1. Make a list of your friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. (Your FRANs)

Everyone will have different criteria upon which this list will be based. I tend to focus on those who are “unchurched.”

2. Develop a profile of each individual.

Simply write down what you know about this person in the way of a basic “bio.” Focus on what you know about their physical, emotional/psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

3. Pray regularly for each person on your list.

Pray especially that God will give you a deep love for each person. Ask Him to reveal the ones you should focus your efforts on and what specific efforts should be made.

4. Choose three or four individuals on whom you will focus.

Choose those you relate to well and you believe will be the most receptive. Look for common interest or hobbies.

5. Develop a deeper relationship with those chosen.

Doing things together that you both enjoy is one of the best ways to deepen a relationship. Take them fishing. Invite them to attend a ball game with you. Go shopping together at a local flea market or festival. LISTEN. Then, listen some more. Listen to their dreams; listen even more for their pain and struggles. As you listen, you will discover ways to minister to them and build trust.

Years ago I was a district sales manager for an insurance company. One of my most important responsibilities was to recruit and train agents. I often told them that the best salesperson was not the best talker, but rather, the best listener.

6. Introduce them to other mature Christians.

Enlist Christian friends to help you deepen your relationships with those you seek to reach. For example, invite them to go fishing with the two of you. As you expand the individual’s circle of Christian friends, the likelihood that they will be receptive increases. They are much more likely to go with you to a worship service, Sunday School, or small group Bible study if they already know people who will be there.

7. Share your story.

As you listen to their hurts, hang-ups, and destructive habits, you will find opportunities to tell your story. You will find ways to share how God has helped you through similar problems in a very nonjudgmental fashion. The best definition of evangelism I know is, “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” This kind of honest, intimate sharing is much more effective after the trusting, loving relationship has been established.

8. Mentor/coach them.

Remember, discipleship is a process that takes time. Don’t count a scalp when they make a profession of faith and think you can move on to someone else. Encourage the new convert to enter into a serious accountable relationship with you or another mature Christian.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsThe New Year is a great time for a new start.

We are two weeks into the new year. Did you make any resolutions for the new year? If so, how are you doing? I’ve made plenty of new year resolutions in my life but they have not been very effective in bringing about the change I desired. Developing a Personal Life Plan (a written plan with  mission, values, and vision statements along with a strategy and specific goals) has been a more effective approach for me. While resolutions aren’t always effective, a new year is a great time to think about making a new start in life.

Write a Personal Mission Statement

The best place to begin one’s “new start” is to write a personal mission statement. That world renown philosopher Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Many of us know the importance of having goals in life, but few people actually get specific with their own life purpose. We are familiar with Thomas Carlyle’s legendary quote, “The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” But still I’ve known few individuals who have actually written down a personal mission statement or committed themselves to a set of specific  life goals.

Know what you want.

Yogi Berra was right; you need to know where you want to go if you want to get there. As a pastor I’ve counseled many  youth and young adults. Most of them had vague dreams of success, even fame and fortune. Some had a sense of what they wanted to do with their lives professionally. There  were those who aspired to be a doctor or lawyer or rich entrepreneur.  But very few had a real sense of mission in life or specific goals they wished to accomplish. And most adults I know aren’t any better. The majority of us spend more time planning our vacation than planning our life.       Compare this reality with the example of football coach Lou Holtz. As a young man in 1966 Lou wrote down 107 very specific professional goals, including having dinner at the White House and appearing on The Tonight Show. He has accomplished over 100 of those 107!

God has an exciting plan for your life.

     The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD ; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 CEB). We read in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV). This doesn’t mean we are puppets on a string, but it does mean God created us to accomplish good things and will help us make good things happen. We need to diligently seek God’s will for our lives when we write our Personal Mission Statement and develop our Life Plan.

Discover your passion.

     Kimberly, my youngest daughter was an excellent student. However, for many years she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life and was never really passionate about anything. She was in her last semester of college, majoring in psychology, when she called me one day and said she had decided not to go to graduate school. I was shocked. Then she gave me an even greater surprise; she announced, “I’ve decided to go to nursing school instead.”

My daughter had never indicated any interest in medicine or any field that required a lot of science. To say the least I was skeptical. But I’ve never seen Kimberly so passionate. She just graduated from nursing school and now has two degrees. Her new found passion for nursing (her “purpose” in life) has made a different person out her.

Purpose and passion gives you a reason for living. It focuses and simplifies your life. It motivates you to act and is crucial for finding meaning, peace, and joy in life.

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsIn my last post I reminded readers that having an accountability partner can be an extremely useful way to help us keep our commitments. I am convinced this is the most important “missing ingredient” in the modern church’s effort to make Christian disciples. And since making disciples is the God-given mission of the church, this is a vital “missing ingredient.”

As I also pointed out in the last post, it is imperative we have an accountable relationship with God. We need to be connecting with a human partner, but this does not replace our connection with God. This divine connection, as I explained, requires us to spend intentional time listening to God. While there are many ways people connect with God, in this post I want to give some suggestions based on my own experience.

1.  Set aside at least 15-30 minutes. Keep a pad and pencil by your side. If distractions come to mind you can record anything important you may need to tend to later. You can also record anything you hear from God you wish to recall later.

2.  Read scripture.Ask God to speak to you through the written Word. You might want to google “praying the scriptures” for more suggestions about how to use the scripture in listening prayer. Scripture reveals the “general will” of God; it applies to everyone. God’s “specific will” for an individual will never contradict God’s general will (laws of God).                                                                                                                                

3. Express your gratitude to God. This is a great place for praise and thanksgiving.

4. Talk to God about your concerns, burdens, and anxieties. This is the place for intercessory prayer.                                                                                                         

5.  Question God. All kinds of questions may come to mind. The scripture you read may generate some questions. You may have questions about God’s specific will for your life. Shut up and listen. You won’t hear if you are constantly “talking.” Empty your mind of other thoughts, especially your answers to your question.

6.  Ask God to help you develop a Personal Life Plan and review it weekly. This will include a personal mission statement, a clarification of your values, a vision statement, a strategic plan for accomplishing your mission, and specific goals to be accomplished. This, along with an accountability partner or spiritual coach, are key components to your spiritual growth. I will be offering more help on my blog site regarding how one writes his or her Personal Life plan.

7.  Ask God to reveal any sin in your life. Sin hinders us from becoming the person God has created us to be. Develop a set of “accountability questions” to use during your intentional time with God. Quietly reflect upon each question and listen for God’s response. The following are some of the questions I use.

A.  Have I spent significant time in the scripture since my last “check-up?” What did God teach me? What change in my life was called for by the text?

B.  Where have I experienced God within the past _______ hours/days? How did I respond to that experience? Are you pleased with your response?

C. Where am I living out the great commandments to love God and my neighbor?

D. Where have I faced temptation? How well did I resist? Have I been seduced by power, prestige, possessions, or pleasure? Have I engaged in any addictive or destructive behavior (including consumerism or sexual misconduct? Have I hurt someone? If so, how did I handled it? Am I carrying any anger or resentment toward another? Have I been honest in my financial dealings?

E. Have I kept the Ten Commandments?

F. Have I carried out Jesus’ Great Commission?

G. Have I been honest with myself and with God in answering these questions?

One final suggestion. Most of us in western culture have a difficult time sitting in silence. We feel like we should be doing something or at least saying something. Five minutes in true silence, emptying our mind of our ideas and solutions, seem like an eternity. Be patient and listen.

I strongly encourage you to find a trustworthy accountability partner or spiritual coach with whom you meet weekly. Along with your regular accountability meetings with God, these spiritual encounters can help you grow spiritually as nothing else can.

 

Logo Transparent jpeg without words According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the phrase “accountability partner” is a neologism. It explains, “A neologism (pron.: /nˈɒləɪzəm/; from Greek νέο- (néo-), meaning “new”, and λόγος (lógos), meaning “speech, utterance” is a newly coined term, word, or phrase, that may be in the process of entering common use, but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language.” I would insist that the phrase has entered our mainstream language because the idea is becoming increasingly popular. More and more people are coming to understand that having an accountability partner can be extremely helpful in keeping commitments.

Earliest Use of Accountability Partners                                                                    Perhaps the earliest use of accountability partners on a grand scale came with Alcoholics Anonymous, beginning in the 1930’s. The actual term may date to weight loss programs in the 1960’s. I’ve written before on this blog about the importance of accountability partners and spiritual coaches. In this post I would like to suggest the important of God being our most important accountability partner/spiritual coach. Hang with me through two brief blog installments while I pull several ideas together that, I believe, has the power to transform lives.

God: Our Most Important Accountability Partner                                                          Of course, we communicate with God, our accountability partner/spiritual coach, through prayer. When many Christians think of prayer they think primarily of intercessory prayer, with perhaps a little praise and thanksgiving thrown in. This type of intercession is certainly scriptural. However, a close examination of the Lord’s model prayer reveals it is primarily about submission to the will of God and seeking forgiveness when we fail to submit.

Have you ever lost a close family member or friend? Who brought the most comfort to you? The individual who offered some profound truth, or someone who may have had little to say but cried with you and truly felt your pain?

I’ve always had difficulty understanding intercessory prayer. Do I need to talk God into healing a sick family member? Doesn’t God already love that person even more than I do? Do I actually think I’m more concerned than God about another’s need? I have come to believe God encourages us to pray for our own needs and for others, not primarily because it will change God’s mind about acting or not acting, but because of what it does for us. God has big shoulders and is a great listener.

Intercessory prayer is an act of faith; it is a recognition of our inadequacy and God’s adequacy. When I pray for others I’m joining God in concern for that individual and expressing my trust that God will act in accordance with His perfect will.

Listening to God                                                                                                              I’ve come to believe that listening to God is much more important than talking to God. If I had the chance to meet with John Wesley or Martin Luther or the Apostle Paul for an hour, you can bet I would spend most of that time listening to what they had to say. I might put a question to them from time to time, but what I would have to offer would be of little consequence compared to what they could tell me.  How much more true is this when I meet with God?

     Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Many people tell me they have been a Christian for many years yet never “heard God.” In Part II of this post I will share some specific suggestions about how to listen to God and make your heavenly Father your most important accountability partner.