Friday, April 04, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Intentional Listening

So far this week we’ve talking about having a regular time of prayer and daily Scripture reading.  Another way we can grow spiritually is through intentional listening to the voice of God.  This may be the most difficult spiritual practice I’ve ever implemented in my life but it’s also been one of the most refreshing.  In the forty-sixth Psalm we see the Psalmist write about how listening to God changes us:
He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
The Psalmist explains God as a refuge for us to run to and an ever-present help in our time of need.  He makes mention of the sea raging and its waters foaming.  Can you relate to that this?  Does your life seem like the waters are raging around you, sometimes too much to bear?  The response to a crazy busy life is just the opposite as we would think.  The response is to slow down, to be intentional to listen to God.  There is something special that happens when we stop what we’re doing and take the time to listen to God.

One morning of seminary, the summer of 2009, our professor took our class to the church he lead.  Behind his church was a prayer trail into the forest.  After a 15 minute walk we found a small stream.  Our prof had us spread out in the forest that morning where we spent two hours, alone, with God.  It was one of the most refreshing times I enjoyed, as God was growing me spiritually.  Most of you aren’t currently enrolled in Seminary but the thought of getting an entire morning to spend with God excites your soul.

Here are some ways I think we can be intentional to listen to God in our context.  First, you may want to shut the radio off in your car.  If you have a long commute this could be your opportunity to be alone and listen to God.  You can stop listening to sports radio and start listening to your maker who calms the raging seas in your life.  If you don’t have a long commute you may want to turn the TV off at night and get some extended time with God in your home.  Another option would be to head over to the beach or walk a trail with the expectation God will meet you there.  You know yourself best and you’re going to know the best time and way for you to be still and know God.  Be creative with this time and I trust God will show up and meet you there.  Spiritual growth happens in many ways; let it be motivated by a love for God.

I hope talking about spiritual growth prompted you to action and connection with The Lord.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Daily Bible Reading

The value of daily Scripture reading in our lives is not to be overlooked; there is a reason the Psalmist wrote: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I mighty not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) and “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).

The only way you can hide God’s word in your heart is through reading Scripture.  The Psalmist is telling us when we hide God’s word in our heart it becomes a safeguard in our life.  When we become tempted with sin our heart reminds us of the truth of God and helps us to avoid sin.  When we avoid sin God’s word becomes a light for our path.  I want you to think of God’s word like a bright flashlight you can use on a dark night.  A flashlight doesn’t show you everything around you but it lights your path so you can safely get where you want.

Maybe when I mentioned daily Scripture reading you remembered the time you tried to read through the entire Bible in one year and how ashamed your felt quitting in March.  Statistics tell us: at least 90% of all households in America own a Bible but only 20% of those who own a Bible will ever read through it, in its entirety, in their lifetime.  It’s staggering to think only 20% of Christians will ever read through their Bible in their life.  Once again, growing spiritually never works when motivated by guilt.  You may never read through the entire Bible but how does Scripture reading become a priority in your life at this stage?

Starting on January 13 my church started a church-wide Bible reading plan that we think will impact people who are seeking Jesus all the way to those who’ve been Christ followers for years.  Its a Bible reading plan that doesn’t have any dates attached so you won’t feel bad if you miss a day (not guilt based Bible reading).  Its a Bible reading program built around 100 carefully selected short Bible passages — 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament.  Its going to enable you to get the big picture of God's Word and in the process of a daily Bible reading habit.  Its called the Essential 100 but for short its called E100.

The E100 Bible passages are usually one to two chapters in length and can easily be read in 10 minutes or less.  The E100 Challenge will take us through all of the major types of biblical writing including: Historical books, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles and Revelation.  My hope, this morning, is to wet your appetite for daily Scripture reading and I think this is just the way.  You can read the E100 in your Bible or if you have the You Version App on your phone or tablet you can access the E100 plan there also.  We’re also going to link the reading plan to our church website!

Before you convince yourself there’s no way you could possibly commit to 100 days of Scripture reading you need to know the value this will have for your life.  Our Campus Pastors and Elders just finished reading a book titled Move.  Move was a study done by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago to measure spiritual growth.  Over a six year time period data was collected from over a quarter million people in well over a thousand churches of every size, denomination, and geographic area in the US.  Of all the data presented in this survey, the thing that stuck out most to me was: daily Scripture reading was one of the major catalysts for Spiritual Growth.  To say this differently, if you’re going to grow spiritually it has to involve daily Scripture reading.

The E100 challenge may not be for you, but find a daily Bible reading plan!  Share with others what you're using.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Growing Spiritually: Regular Times of Prayer

The first way we can be growing spiritually this year is by committing ourselves to a life of prayer.  As I look back on the summer of 2009, one of the main things I neglected in my spiritual growth was a regular time of prayer.  I’ve always loved what David wrote in Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."  You may be able to relate to David, you currently have a time of regular pray where you connect with God.  My prayer life was far from what David wrote here, in fact it looked more like Vince Vaughn in a scene from The Dilemma.

We neglect time with God, we get busy and our prayer life becomes scattered.  Now I understand everyone of us is at a different place in our spiritual walk and I want to be sensitive to that.  I’m going to do my best to address all the different spiritual walks represented.  Some of you can totally relate to Vince Vaughn from the movie The Dilemma where he has no clue how to approach God in prayer.  Next, there are those of you who have recently given your life to Christ.  You haven’t been following Christ for long and you’re not sure what a regular time of prayer would look like in your life.  Maybe when you think of prayer you naturally go back to your childhood where you were taught to recite The Lord’s Prayer.  Finally we come to those of you who’ve been following Christ for a long time.  You have gone through wonderful times where you’ve spent regular time with God and encountered times where you’ve struggled to figure out how to connect with God.

Its easy to talk about regular times of prayer when you’re sitting in a church service, it can be more difficult to implement regular times of prayer in our daily life.  While reading Psalm 5:3 you saw “the morning” and immediately started thinking of twenty-seven reasons you could never wake up in the morning to pray, before you stop reading, check this out.  The coolest part about this verse is that before David even opens his mouth God has already heard his request.  Don’t get hung up on the morning part; you may be a night person and the night time might work best for a regular time of prayer.  If you look back to the end of Psalm 4 in your Bible you’ll actually see David make mention of night time.

I like to think about prayer like spiritual food.  Most of us eat three meals a day to keep our body sustained, but are we caring for our soul three times a day?  The great thing about prayer is we can always return to God throughout the day and it doesn’t have to be hour blocks in the morning, it may look like text messages with God throughout the day (read Refuel by Doug Fields).  It could be a quick prayer after lunch or on the drive home to refresh your soul once again.  What it comes down to is you finding what works for you.  The main thing is to make sure your regular time of prayer isn’t motivated by guilt, but a love for the Father.  It can become very easy to turn Christianity into legalism; a self-imposed check list used to validate ourselves based on what we do or what we don’t do.

You can probably think about more than enough to pray about but just in case you need some help to get your regular prayer time going start with the list of things you’ve been worrying about lately.  Paul wrote to the church at Philippi and encouraged them to “Not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6).  So instead of worrying about how you’re going to send your kids to college pray for God to provide.  If you’re having a hard time in school ask God to help you out.  If you’re marriage is struggling ask God to help you love your spouse.  If you don’t have a spouse, and you’d like one, ask God if this is His will for your life.  If you’re struggling with your work situation pray for God to give you contentment and show you how to serve your boss... or ask for a new job.  The list could go on and on.

What would you add to regular times of prayer?