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Living life's greatest adventure

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing
of your mind. (Romans 12:2a)

 

If you had to describe the 21st century in one word, what would that word be?

Many words probably spring to mind. If describing the political or economic situation, the word might be “unsettled” or “polarized.” If describing the state of science and technology, the word might be “advanced” or “ever-changing.” On a personal level, however, I think the word I would pick is “busy.”

“Busy” is the word that describes most of our lives. Our schedules are full: We go to work, go to school, run the house, run around the block, and basically keep moving from morning to night. Even our children’s schedules are busy: School, tutoring, music lessons, sports teams, and other activities fill their hours. To make matters worse, we often find the need to be constantly in touch: We email, text, and tweet. Most of all, we multitask. But despite the fact that research shows that multitasking degrades performance,1 people can find themselves texting while driving, chatting online while watching TV, or all these – or other – things at once. No wonder we’re tired and need a break!

As Christians, we also try to fit God into the mix. This is not necessarily an easy task. If we pencil in worship on Sunday mornings, we may have to forgo sleeping in or our weekly golf game. Although both of these activities may be important for our health and well-being, how we prioritize these with going to church says a lot about where our focus lies. Even when we manage to clear out a corner of our lives for God, we have a tendency to try to also march to the drum of the world and then wonder why it is so difficult to find balance. Is this what Christianity is all about? Is this what God wants? Does God deserve no more than a small corner in our lives?

According to the psalmist, this is not God’s plan for us. Rather, we are told to “be still, and know that I am God" (Psm 46:10). Our goal should not be to fill our schedules with the priorities of the world. Our task is to focus on the things of heaven (Matt 6:25-34).

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Keeping our spiritual lives in balance

To keep our physical bodies healthy, we need to live a balanced life. That second piece of pie may look tempting, for example, but is it worth the additional time and effort we will need to put in to burn off the calories? Of course, we could cut back on calories other ways: skipping our vegetables, for example. But our bodies need the nutrients from the vegetables in order to be healthy rather than the relatively empty calories of the pie. So we try to keep things in balance through eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and cutting back on stress.

The same approach needs to be taken in our spiritual lives if we want to be spiritually healthy, too. We can spend all our time in prayer and meditation, for example. But if we are not living our Christianity out in the world, we are putting our light under a bowl (Matt 5:14-15) and not drawing others to God. Similarly, if we do not have an inner life of the spirit where we spend time getting to know God and God's will better, all our good works will be nothing more than filthy rags (Isa 64:6).

<empty>To keep our spiritual lives in balance, we need to pay attention to four aspects of our relationship with God. First and foremost, as Christians, we need to keep our focus on God and doing God's will (Matt 6:19-20). (Note: If you are not a Christian, you must first accept God's free gift of salvation and enter into a personal relationship with the Almighty for the rest of this information to be meaningful. To find out how to accept this gift, please read the article "Having a Personal Relationship with God.")

Once we have entered into a personal, saving relationship with God through Jesus, we need to continue to follow Christ daily in discipleship (Lk 9:23). It is not enough to acknowledge that God is God. The Bible tells us that the devils also do this much and shudder at the thought (Jas 2:19). In fact, Jesus says that even some of those who say that they do good works in his name will be barred from heaven because they do not have a real relationship with him but are doing what they think is best instead (Lk 13:22-30).

Such a focus on God sounds rather difficult to do given the priorities of the world and the already busy nature of our 21st century lives. It is so easy to think that our lives will fall apart if we are not constantly in control and following what we believe to be the right path. However, the Bible tells us that if we trust in God to help us live the life of discipleship and acknowledge the Almighty in everything we do, God will direct our path (Prov 3:5-6). If we really think about it, God being in control of our direction sounds like a much better leadership plan for our lives that for us to try to figure out things on our own.

But such a relationship with the Almighty does not spring up overnight or without effort on our part. For us to know and be able to do the will of God in the world, we must be transformed by no longer conforming to the values of the world but by allowing God to renew our minds (Rom 12:2). To do this, we need to cultivate a relationship with the Almighty just as we cultivate our relationship with our earthly loved ones. It is only in this way that we can truly to be Jesus' disciples. To do this, the Bible tells us to not only read the Bible (e.g., 2 Tim 3:16-17) but to meditate on it (Psm 1:1-3) and encourages us to talk to God in prayer (e.g., 1 Thess 5:17). It is in these ways that we will better know God and what God requires of us. Even Jesus the Son of God practiced these and other spiritual disciplines when he lived on earth.

Of course, God requires more of us than personal piety and a rich life of the spirit. The BIble also tells us that faith without deeds is worthless (Jas 2:20). We need to put our faith into action just as Jesus demonstrated to us during his earthly life. We need to works of justice, mercy, and kindness and to stand up for what is right. This is how we become God's hands and feet in the world and point others to the Almighty (Matt 5:13-16).

Even with God's help, this might still sound like a daunting task. However, the final part of the balanced life of Christian discipleship is fellowship with other Christian disciples. Although becoming a Christian is an individual decision, Christianity is not meant to be practiced alone. The Bible tells us that together we are the Body of Christ (e.g., 1 Cor 12:12-27). What one of us cannot accomplish alone all of us together can if we are acting in God's will and with God's help. Therefore, the Bible tells us not to not give up meeting together with fellow Christians for worship and fellowship. It is only in this way that we can encourage each other in cultivating an attitude of love like that of Jesus, spur each on to do be God's hands and feet in the world (Heb 10:24-25), and support one another and help bear each other's burdens (1 Thess 5:11).

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It's about the journey, not the arrival time

If we think about our lives and all that we already have on our plates, it can be tempting to throw up our hands and go back to living our lives the way that we please. But the Bible tell us that we are to live our lives as Jesus' disciples. Fortunately, it also tells us that this is a growth process where we grow from being baby Christians to being mature disciples of Christ. The Apostle Peter, for example, tells us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). Becoming a mature Christian is a gradual process of growth just as is becoming a mature adult. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippians that he had not yet become perfected but was pressing on (Phil 3:12-14) in his own spiritual growth process. Becoming a mature Christian is not something we can do in our own power nor is it something that we can put on our to-do list or calendar. However, if we ask, Jesus will give us the strength (Phil 4:13) to do what we need to do to follow him in discipleship. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. All we have to do is ask.

In the end, it is important to note that the life of a disciple is about being in relationship with God, not about doing things for God. It is often helpful to look back on your life and see where you were and where you are now. Recognize where God has helped you during those times just as God will help us move on from here. In the end, it is about the journey and about the relationship, not about the specific steps we take along the way.

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Building your spiritual toolkit

<empty>The Bible tells us many ways that we can grow in our faith in each of these four areas. We can focus on God and strengthen our inward life of the spirit by spending time reading what God has to say to us in the Bible and by spending time with the Almighty in prayer, devotional reading and meditation, and contemplation. We can seek God's guidance as we make decisions and live our lives. Then, in turn, we can live the life of a Christian out in the real world, following the teachings of Jesus and being God's hands and feet in the world with the spiritual and practical support of our Christian friends.

There are many time-proven, biblical ways to deepen one's relationship with God and following Jesus in discipleship: These topics and many more are discussed in the articles on our spiritual toolkit page. If you have a question or if there is a topic that you would like to see discussed in this forum, please feel free to let us know. If you are interested in finding out how we can help your church or ministry setup a program for teaching and encouraging discipleship, please visit our group resources pages.

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On the bookshelf

The following are classic books about Christian discipleship. When prayerfully read, they can be inspirational to both new Christians and to those who have been following Christ in discipleship for years.

Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer)

Written by a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflects on the Christian life and how salvation, although a free gift from God, is not cheap either in terms of the cost to Christ or to Christians who follow him in discipleship. Although this is not an easy book to read, it is well worth the effort, particularly when done slowly and prayerfully.

Celebration of Discipline (Foster)

In the modern spiritual classic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster explores the spiritual practices of the Christian faith: inner disciplines such as prayer and meditation, outward disciplines that demonstrate our Christianity in the world, and corporate disciplines that we practice together. Foster argues that it is only through the practice of these disciplines that a Christian can experience spiritual growth.

The Imitation of Christ (Kempis)

Arguably the classic text on discipleship, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is just as relevant today as it was when it was written nearly 600 years ago. Kempis meditates on the spiritual life of a disciple and gives clear instructions for rejecting the things of the world and focusing on the things of heaven. Prayerfully read, the book is an inspiration for any Christian earnestly wanting to know God better and follow Jesus in discipleship.

Experiencing God (Blackaby)

Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King is an excellent beginners' guide for those who are new to the topic of discipleship as well as an important review for those who have been following Christ for years. Written in easy to follow language, the accompanying workbook includes exercises to help the reader reflect on the concepts and how to apply them in one's own life.

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1 Peter Bregman (20 May 2010). How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking. Downloaded 20 July 2013 from Harvard Business Review website http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html [return to article]

 

 
       
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Updated: Friday, 28-Feb-2014 1:52 PM