September 6: Study

Read 2 Timothy 2:14-19

Yesterday, I was meeting with someone faced with a real life question.  This person was inviting insights from the word of God on how to proceed.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we had come to a standstill.  We both acknowledged that the Scriptures speak to the situation…and we could even find the specific chapter and verse.  Unfortunately, our ability to understand what God meant through those words was limited.  We quickly discovered the need to not only read the passage but also to study it in greater detail.  While Bible reading is an important discipline, we must also move beyond that in seeking to understand the author’s intent for the original audience and the eternal principles that apply to us.

That need for careful study is not new to our generation.  Even in Timothy’s day, there was false teaching and the need for clarity on God’s word.

It is only fitting then that Paul invited readers like Timothy hundreds of years ago and you today to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  Look at these quick observations from this verse:

  • “…present yourself to God as one approved…not ashamed…”  Your study of the Bible will be judged!  Would you pass the test on how you not just read but also seek to understand the Bible?
  • “…present yourself…as…a workman…”  Your study of the Bible is work!  Are you willing to invest time and energy to move from accurate observation (what does it say?) to correct interpretation (what does it mean?) and on to personal application (what do I do?).
  • “…present yourself…as one…who correctly handles…”  Your study of the Bible has its methods!  To say that you can correctly handle the Scriptures also implies that it is possible to incorrectly handle them.

Are you one who not only reads but also carefully considers the meaning and the implications of the word of God for today?


September 5: Protection through Prayer

Read Ephesians 6:10-20

We are engaged in an invisible battle.  Many of the difficulties, challenges, and opposition we experience in life have a root cause beyond that which we can see.  There are rulers, powers, and world forces that are not incarnate.  They do not don flesh and blood…although they can influence others.  They do not manifest themselves in the 3D world in which live…although their work impacts us.  We live, you see, in a world where the obvious, visible physical world intersects with the less obvious, invisible spiritual world.  And, even within this invisible spiritual world, righteous, angelic beings are at odds with wicked, demonic entities.  At times, we are caught in the cross hairs of this invisible battle.

For such a battle, we need a strength greater than our own.  It is a strength that comes from the Lord (v. 10).

For such a battle, we need protect that we cannot manufacture by ourselves.  It is the armor of God (vv. 11, 13).  The armor He makes available to us includes truth, righteousness, gospel witness, faith, salvation, and His eternal word (vv. 14-17).

While these are collectively described as having their source in God, you and I carry a responsibility of “being strong” (v. 10), “putting on” and “taking up” the armor (vv. 11, 13), and “standing firm” (v. 14).  Those are actions best initiated in the context of private spiritual disciplines.  In fact, I believe it is safe to say that:

We are best equipped for the invisible battle when we are steadfast in private disciplines.

It is no surprise that Paul ended this section on spiritual warfare by giving repeated, focused attention to the value of prayer.  Here it is stated once again:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”  (vv. 18-20)

Will you arm yourself for this invisible battle by engaging in the private discipline of prayer?


September 4: The Discipline of the Fast

Read John 6:25-59

In the middle of a rough patch several years ago, God taught me about real bread and real life.

My daughter had been sick. A lot. My husband’s job was iffy at best. And my spirit was tired from the emotional battering that the physical exhaustion had brought.

I found myself escaping any chance I got. Game after mindless game of Bejeweled Blitz was my drug of choice. Sixty seconds at a time I would look for life and rest in that mindless digital puzzle.

When 5,000 men and that many women followed Jesus up that mountain, they thought they knew what would give them life and refreshment. But there was not nearly enough food to go around.

That’s when Jesus stepped up and revealed the truth about real life and bread.

Only He is the bread that gives real life. Only Jesus. Not flour or barley. And not Bejeweled Blitz.

In John 6:35, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. But it’s hard to remember that when we stuff our faces with actual bread and feel full and satisfied afterwards. Because physical hunger often masks spiritual hunger.

It’s difficult to picture Jesus being everything we need when we live like we already have everything we need. When we look to anything but Him to satisfy our deepest hunger.

When we fast, we become acutely aware of the stuff we crave. We ask God to help us crave Him more than we crave anything else.

To fast is to be serious enough with the Father to give up something important in order to get down to business with Him.

It’s not an act for others to see and be all impressed by. Rather, it’s an act of humility before God, denying self and all that pretends to satisfy, and looking to Him alone for life.

That’s when God prompted me to fast from computer games for a while.

He used that fast to remind me of my humble position before Him — He alone is the Giver of real life. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy my deepest needs.

It was an act of dying to myself so I could become more fully alive in Him.

It’s why the apostles fasted in Acts before they made big decisions. To humbly ask for His guidance and state without doubt that it was His choice to be made.

How has God shown Himself to be the Bread of Life to you? Is it time to fast from something so He can remind you of His real life?


September 3: Robbery = Withholding

Read Malachi 3:6-12

Robbery.  The mental pictures I associate with that word include banks, masks, guns, and getaway cars.  Even my less extreme mental scenarios include a person who takes something belonging to and in the possession of someone else and claiming it as his/her own.

But the example cited in today’s reading?  That doesn’t fit into my traditional mental picture.  The Israelites “robbed” God by failing to tithe?  Let me share just a couple of my initial qualms.  How could it be considered “robbery” if…

  • It already belonged to them?  I mean, hadn’t they worked hard to plant the seed, cultivate the ground, and harvest the grain?  Wasn’t it theirs to begin with?  Didn’t the profit they received from their daily work belong to them?
  • They were only “withholding” instead of “taking”?  It wasn’t like they were sneaking into the storehouse late at night and taking wagonloads full of money or crops that had already been donated.  They just weren’t giving it.  After all, shouldn’t God just be content with any kind of gift whether large or small, whether 10% or 1%?

Of course, God is right.  Obviously, I am the one with the misunderstanding here.  What I need to realize here is a principle of stewardship.  The things I “possess” in the form of time, abilities, and resources are not ultimately mine.  They already belong to God.  They have been entrusted to me to use in ways that bring honor to God and godly help to others.  So, since they already belong to Him, withholding would be equivalent to “taking” or “robbery.”

Understood in that light, have you been guilty of “robbery?”  Have you been withholding from what God has entrusted to you?  Have you called it your own?  God invites you to joyfully and generously give to Him a portion of all that is His anyway!  Oh, and don’t miss out on the promise He extended to the Israelites.  He invited them to give it a try.  If they would be faithful in giving, He promised to be faithful in providing.  That sounds like a great deal!

Giving is one of those private disciplines of which others know nothing.  But God is fully aware, and He blesses those who participate.


September 2: The Discipline of Solitude

Read Mark 6:21-56

It was bad. His cousin and dear friend, the man who had baptized Jesus Himself, was dead. This right after the visit to his hometown that landed him criticism from his own family. (See Mt 14:53-58) It had been a tough few days for Jesus.

He needed some time alone.

When Jesus heard of (John the Baptist’s death), He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. (Mt 6:13)

Time after time in the Gospels we find Jesus sneaking away for some solitude. He modeled for us the private discipline so that by practicing it, we might become fully alive.

Solitude can be a catalyst for us to become fully alive. 

It would have been easy for Jesus to ignore His need for solitude. I mean, consider all the need He saw every single day. Hungry people. Sick people. People who just needed His touch and would be healed and changed for life.

But Jesus knew what Richard Foster wrote so well in his book, The Celebration of Discipline. We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully.  (p86, 1978 edition)

The truth is, without the practice of solitude, our souls grow weary and desolate. Without the practice of silence before God, we cannot sustain healthy community, fellowship, or ministry.

That’s why Jesus stole away on a regular basis. It’s why He called His disciples to do the same.

Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. (v31a)

Led by the Spirit, Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness before facing the tough temptation the enemy would bring. (See Mt 4.)

Before calling His disciples into life with Him, we find Jesus alone with the Father. (See Luke 6:12.)

And now this, at the end of a hard couple of days, bad news all around Him, Jesus just needed to be alone.

And the full life of Jesus shone most gloriously bright as He paused the solitude and offered abundant bread for the people who just kept coming, kept seeking, kept needing.

Then after He returned to that quiet alone place, He gave Peter and His disciples more faith in which to walk as He chased them over the water and displayed more might than they had yet seen.

The practice of solitude was more than just a decompressing for Jesus. It was life-giving, soul-refreshing empowerment for doing God’s work.

It is no less for us today.





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!


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.


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.


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.


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!”