September 1: General Principles on Private Disciplines

Read Matthew 6:1-18

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

If you just read from Matthew 6, that sentence should sound familiar to you.  Yes, it was found in the passage…not once, nor twice, but three times.  The first time (v. 4) it was stated with reference to giving (vv. 2-4).  The second reference (v. 6) was in the context of prayer (vv. 5-15).  And, the final use of that sentence (v. 18) was a reflection on fasting.

Each one of those disciplines (giving, praying, and fasting) is deserving of its individual attention, but, today, let’s make some general observations about the practice of these disciplines.

  1. The proper practice of spiritual disciplines results in blessing. In each instance, there is the promise of “reward.”  What does that reward look like?  Of course, it has many different possible complexions.  It may be a future reward given at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).  Perhaps it will be a direct response experienced in this life in the form of answered prayer, increased resources, or growing understanding of God, His will, or His ways.  We experience blessing as a result of participating in these disciplines
  2. Many spiritual disciplines were designed to be private in nature. Jesus is here warning repeatedly against fasting, praying, and giving in order to attract the attention or approval of other men and women.  Instead, these private disciplines were designed as a special, intimate expression between an individual and their Father in heaven.  As important as that is, it can also be overstated.  There is room for corporate calls to prayer, fasting, and giving.  We find examples of these in both Old and New Testaments.  But even then, the practice of these disciplines is not a form of competition or showmanship.
  3. Here is one final caution that we must heed. We must guard ourselves lest the practice of these disciplines become for us a mindless habit or a means of grace.  If we are not careful, we could, for example, verbalize routine words in “prayer” while our thoughts are actually on something else.  Equally dangerous, we could approach any of these disciplines as if it, in itself, is what grants us acceptance with God.  Friends, it is only by grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8, 9).

These cautions merit your notice as you give practice private spiritual disciplines!


Posted in Fully Alive, Matthew

August 31: Fully Alive Through Spiritual Discipline

Read Galatians 5:16-26

Practicing private spiritual disciplines help us become fully alive.

The thing about discipline is it’s not about to-do lists or rules. In fact, Galatians 5 says if we let the Spirit lead us, we can follow Him right out from underneath the Law.

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (v18)

When we walk in the Spirit, when we let Him invade our lives and lead our every step, He brings forth fruit in us that looks like love and joy and peace and patience. It tastes like kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. This fruit comes as we keep in step with His Spirit.

And the keeping in step happens as we practice spiritual discipline. For, how can we hear the Spirit of God if we don’t listen in the quiet? How can we know His utter love for us if we don’t let Him know our whole hearts in worship and in private prayer? How can we truly trust Him for our every need if we don’t step out in faith through fasting?

When we live by the Spirit of God, when we trust Him for every next step, we become fully alive.

It means dying to ourselves on a regular basis.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (v24)

Practicing discipline requires death to our own desires and obedience to His. Seeking God’s way in the details of the every day. Finding Him inside the quiet of the private moments set aside to practice those private disciplines.

We get on our knees every day and ask the Lord of our lives to show us where to step.

Then we stand up, and we take the next step.

Because it’s one thing to say we live by the Spirit. But it’s an entirely different thing to actually stand up and walk in it. This is what it means to become fully alive through private discipline.


Posted in Fully Alive | Tagged

August 30: Pivoting Towards Faith and Rest

Read Psalm 95:1-11

As we wrap up this week’s focus on pivotal circumstances that catalyze increased faith, you need to remind ourselves that all of your circumstances have pivotal, even polarizing potential.  You have probably noticed that with others.

  • Two patients…both diagnosed with a terminal illness…one’s faith and intimacy with God seem to grow daily…for the other, doubt is multiplied and animosity towards God seems to grow.
  • Two employees…both lose their jobs in a corporate reduction…one’s bitterness seems to drip like a leaky faucet…the other’s “God confidence” inspires all in his path.

In those instances, the circumstances were similar.  In both instances, the circumstances were pivotal.  But the directions, in which the people pivoted, were 180 degrees apart.

This was not unlike the Israelite experience at Meribah and Massah cited by the Psalmist.  The children of God had already experienced God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt as He used the plagues to show Himself great, loving, and powerful.  They had already witnessed His provision as they traveled through the Red Sea on dry ground between walls of water.  They had already observed His protection as Pharaoh’s army drown in the same waters that had parted for them.

Still, a new circumstance arose.  They were thirsty.  Given God’s track record, wasn’t it safe to assume that He would provide them with an ample supply of fresh H2O?  Easy for us to say, I suppose.  They, however, chose to test God, quarrel, and even suggest that the Lord had delivered them from Egypt only so that they would die of thirst in the desert (Exodus 17).  They allowed their circumstance, you see, to polarize them towards doubt, not faith.

Even though God miraculously provided water for them, the example of their decision has served as a warning for God followers through the centuries.  Don’t do what they did!  Don’t repeat the complaining, quarreling, doubting, testing response of Meribah!  Today, in the challenging circumstances you will face, don’t allow your heart to harden towards God as at Massah!  Instead, listen to His faithful and trustworthy promises and allow yourself to be polarized towards faith and rest.


Posted in Fully Alive, Psalms

August 29: How Tough Circumstances Can Make Us More Fully Alive

Read James 1:1-4

To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion. (James 1:1)

Their circumstances had them living in exile. Dispersed throughout the Roman Empire because of Herod Agrippa’s fierce persecution, Christ-following Jews knew the meaning of “various trials.” In fact, the pivotal event of the Dispersion itself offered them all kinds of opportunity to become more fully alive.

God was moving His hand and working complete and real life in His people as they faced this pivotal circumstance. Living away from the home that had been theirs for hundreds and hundreds of years.

When Agrippa killed James in Acts 12, he had hoped to kill off the life Jesus had given to His followers.  Arresting and imprisoning Peter was no doubt intended to shut them up and squelch whatever fire of life might still be alive in them.

But God had different plans.

In fact, He used Herod Agrippa and the pivotal circumstances of his persecuting ways as a catalyst for His church to grow and know life more fully than ever. The persecution that led to the Dispersion of Christ-following Jews away from Jerusalem and into the rest of the Roman Empire led to the spread of the Good News about Jesus Christ into places that would have otherwise never known.

So God brought more life through the terrible circumstance of Christian persecution.

It’s hard to imagine suffering and trials as catalysts for more life, but God works in ways that you and I would never guess. He uses those trials to make us more complete.

You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:3-4, MSG)

The truth is, if we let God use those difficult but pivotal circumstances for His purpose, we will find fuller life in Him. He will make us more fully alive!

The Christians James wrote to faced a life of exile and persecution. But they could trust that He was working to produce endurance in them, making them complete and mature, lacking nothing. Like them, so we can trust that God, in His perfect and sovereign way, is making us fully alive through every circumstance we face.

If only we will let Him.


Posted in Fully Alive

August 28: A Choice for Today

Read Joshua 24:1-33

Joshua had long been a part of the Israelite story.  He had been part of both the Exodus from Egypt as well as the conquest of the land God had promised His people.

In these, his final recorded words, He took God’s people on a verbal tour of God’s faithful provision in the midst of pivotal circumstances.  Among those circumstances were God’s selection and leading of Abraham, His faithfulness to Isaac and Jacob, His deliverance from Egypt through plagues, His rescues at the Red Sea, His provision of victory over the “…ites” (Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites), and His gift of fruitful land and pre-built cities.  To be sure, God had been faithful in the circumstances of their lives.

Have you ever reflected on circumstances of your life?  What were some of the highest highs?  How about the lowest lows?  Can you identify God’s faithful provision along the way?  Isn’t it a joy to reflect on those times where He has proven Himself?

Chances are, there may still be question marks over other circumstances.  There may still be situations where you are unable to understand God’s plan and purpose.  It just isn’t easy to trace.  Be careful as you respond to those circumstances.  They are pivotal.  Your response can either catalyze increased faith and deeper loyalty or growing doubt and a wavering commitment.

In many ways, we are faced daily with the decision that Joshua invited in verse 15:

“…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Even though you may have made the decision to faithfully follow and exclusively serve the Lord twenty years ago, or last year, or even yesterday, there is still today the need to decide today.  The pivotal and perhaps inexplicable circumstances of today will require that conscious decision whereby you join in with Joshua and say, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”


Posted in Fully Alive, Joshua

August 27: Joseph’s Pivotal Circumstances

Read Genesis 37:1-36

I heard his story as a young child in Sunday School. Joseph was the one whose father loved him best and proved it with a beautiful colorfully-striped coat.

I imagined him wearing it everywhere, even into the pit that his hateful brothers threw him into before they sold him. As a child, I felt sorry for Joseph. After all, he couldn’t help it that his father loved him most.

So at the end of the story, when Joseph became a ruler in Egypt, it made perfect sense to me. The good guy finally got what he deserved. And they all lived happily ever after.

But today, I see Joseph’s character a little more clearly.

It proves a far cry from undeserved animosity.

You might say Joseph was a 17-year-old tattle-tale, full of pride and dare I say a good bit of brat, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Don’t get me wrong. Joseph’s brothers had no right to commit the hate-crimes they did. Nobody, no matter how bratty, deserves that kind of spiteful abuse. But as I read the account today, I find a little more understanding for the depth of his brothers’ resentment that had been building all those 17 years.

they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (v4).

So when they picked him up and threw him into that pit, Joseph found himself in a pivotal circumstance that God would use to lead him into deeper, fuller life. You might call it a catalyst God used to make Joseph more fully alive.

When we study the life of Joseph we find circumstance upon circumstance in which God worked to complete the man He had called to help save His people. Each one an opportunity to grow and become more fully alive as God saw fit.

If we look closely, we might find ourselves somewhere in Joseph’s story, too — the bratty brother full of pride, the hateful Judah full of bitterness, the broken father facing his own sorrow and fear, the wrongfully imprisoned Joseph waiting for the promise of release. We may even find ourselves inside some pivotal circumstance of our own, at which point we can choose to remember God’s perfect plan:

To make us fully alive even through this situation and use it as a catalyst to better and more life in Him.


Posted in Fully Alive

August 26: Opportunities

Read Luke 10:1-24

Luke 10 begins with a monumental day in the lives of the disciples and the ministry of our Lord.  This day was one towards which the Lord had been looking from the time He had chosen the disciples.  He had chosen them, you see, not only to spend time with them, but also that He might “…send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14, 15 NIV)  Their commissioning for ministry had always been part of His plan.  In many ways, it was for this day that He had prepared them.  He had long modeled what they were about to do.  And so, with some last minute instruction, He sent them out two by two.

You too have been chosen with a purpose.  God has selected you with good works of ministry in mind (Eph. 2:10).  And when you choose to respond to those opportunities…those pivotal circumstances…you can expect two of the same results experienced by those He sent out in Luke 10.

  1. Your ministry can bless others. As the disciples returned, they reported of how demons had departed from people, who had once been plagued by these tormenting spirits (v. 17b).  Many people walked in freedom as a result of their obedience.  Lives of men and women were transformed because of their efforts.  When you become a conduit, through which God works, others are helped!
  1. Your ministry can strengthen your joy and faith in Christ! The seventy returned with a sense of happy marvel at the idea that they had been used.  They had experienced the reality of God working through them and it thrilled them.  The pivotal circumstances that enabled them to serve Christ touched a faith nerve in them that could not be fully sensitized by theory or verbal instruction.  And the same can happen for you.  You will find an obedient response to the opportunities God affords you to be a key catalyst to growing your faith.

What opportunities await you today?


Posted in Fully Alive, Luke