Friday, April 7, 2017

How to live as a consistently growing Christian


Brass tacks, let's talk practical application.  What are the most common practices that underpin a legitimate growing Christian faith?  I consider in my own life, how I can be a real, genuine follower of Jesus.  Not just a faker, or a part time believer.  What does it look like where the rubber meets the road?  How can I grow as a Christian?

As the word of God says, "Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God" (Hebrews 6:1 NIV).

One of the most important parts of the Christian life is communication.  We are living in a relationship with God almighty.  Relationships require communication. I try to pray at least three times a day. 

The greats of Christianity prayed sometimes 1-3 hours a day, often in the morning.  The scriptures say Jesus often went away to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16).  I tend to pray about 5 min in the morning, not more than 1-2 minutes at lunch, if that, and at night is my major prayer time, when I tend to pray about 10-30 minutes.  Many would probably say that isn't enough.  I know many Christian greats prayed for hours each day, but I always think of the scripture which says "The gentiles think by their many words that they'll be heard" Matthew 6:7.  Who said that?  Some guy named Jesus.  Interesting.  And he followed that statement saying, "instead pray like this" and he indicated the Lord's prayer.  I pray the Lord's prayer every night, and I tend to follow that up with intercession in the form of the five finger prayer.  I also take time to express my emotions and deepest thoughts to God.  I think our prayer life should be growing in vibrance and length if we are growing Christians.  

Here's one I never knew: Buy a good Bible! And put it in a leather case. Carry it with you to church, and carry it with you throughout the week.  Ding ding, that's correct!  I never knew that really.  I kept giving away my Bibles though, so I'd always find myself without one.  If you don't have a Bible, get one, obviously.  But consider it your constant companion, put it in a case, highlight, underline, jot down notes in the margins. The Bible isn't a novel to be read once and discarded, it's to be studied, examined closely, and considered.  

Though with smart phone Bible apps and websites today, many use those more so than paper print Bibles.  I certainly use Biblegateway.com and Biblehub.com among many others, but I also use a good paper print Bible.  I like the new living translation, and the NIV is also excellent.  For straight up accuracy, I recommend an ESV or NASB, but for modern language, evangelism, and such, I recommend the NLT or the MSG.  

I have a really, really hard time picking up a book to read.  It's insanely difficult for me.  If you have that same problem, I recommend listening to audio Bibles.  They are available free on Biblegateway.com and other sites.  Or just buy it from Christian Audio or Christian Book dot com.  And listen.  But I still have to read that paper copy, I really do.  I had such a hard time with that.  So I asked God, Please help me with this reading thing, I'm not good at it.  And he did.  He provided to me (through a gift) a small hand held Bible that I found I could hold up and read in bed quite comfortably.  And God established the pattern in my life, where I do now lay down every single night, and I read 1-2 chapters from the New Testament.  It isn't that hard when we ask God for help.  It really isn't.  

Study Bibles are great.  Two I recommend are the Reformation Study Bible and the NIV study Bible. The Matthew Henry commentary is also quite awesome.  

Thirdly, have a good daily devotional.  Read it in the morning before you go to work.  Some say this is impossible.  I understand, it seemed impossible to me.  Once again, we ask God for help and suddenly the pattern is established and we enjoy it.  Let me tell you, if your married, one of the most beautiful things to do is read a morning devotional with your wife or husband and discuss it.  Truly a beautiful practice.

Here are some daily devotionals I recommend:
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
Take Time to Be Holy by Samuel Logan Brengle
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
Morning and Evening with Charles Spurgeon

Attend local church services four times a month (every Sunday).  What a shocker right?  It's amazing how many people will only attend services once a month, or twice a month.  It seems to be the new normal.  I know for me personally, I need to be fed four times a month through full worship services. 

It's not hard to find a decent church.  Google churches in your area.  Try out a few until you find one that is spirit-filled and biblically driven.  If your out of town a lot, fine, attend a church wherever you happen to be.  There are churches everywhere!  Something I look forward to on vacation or when I'm out of town is getting a fresh perspective from a church or denomination I've never learned from before.  If your church is dead or non-biblical, then find a different one.  

But let me be clear, church shopping isn't a cool thing to do.  If your firmly part of a good church community, stick around, even if something bad happens, try to work it out.  Sometimes people will bounce from church to church, leaving every time something happens.  That's just not a healthy thing to do. Community, relationships, church in general is messy.   But be willing to work out conflicts when they occur, don't just run.  I've made this mistake in the past, it's not a good thing to do.  Resolve those conflicts, because the church family is your family and it matters.  

Take part in a small group or weekly Bible study.  These are awesome.  Sometimes I would look forward to small group more so than church services themselves.  If one small group doesn't work out or you don't jive with the personalities, ask to be linked up with a different one.  I didn't attend small groups at first because the first one I tried I really didn't like the people, eventually I asked to be part of a different one and in that one I made lots of friends and had a great experience!  Small group, Bible study, is just wonderful. Sometimes it's deeper and more thought-provoking and meaningful that the church services.  Why?  Because we are participating and really studying the word.  I have a bit of a problem with some small groups at bigger churches, because they rarely open the Bible.  It's all just videos of mega-church pastors and videos of preachers.  And the Bible is never studied.  Try to find one where they actually open the Bible, or work through studies of the Bible!  

Regularly share your faith in Jesus.  This is my favorite thing to do.  I love to share my faith.  And I love to find new ways to share it.  Go to all nations and preach the gospel!  Baptize them, and bring them in.  That's our mission.  Be creative.  Be bold.  This is one of those rare Christian activities where the presence of God will astonish you.  You'll be amazed.  It isn't easy though, and this is when the enemy will come against you most ferociously.  The enemy doesn't care if your a silent Christian.  But when you start telling people, wearing it on your sleeve, sharing Bible verses on social media, emailing your friends, writing blogs, giving your testimony, and ministering and meeting with people you know to tell them more, better watch out, because now your really living your faith.  That's when the spiritual warfare will come upon you, but that's a different subject.  

Second aspect of sharing faith in Christ centers on participation in church ministries and volunteering.  This is a vital part of what we do.  There is an absolute crisis of volunteering in the non-profit world and in the Christian ministry world.  Where are the dynamic Christ-followers who yearn to serve?  When I first got saved I wanted to serve in church ministries.  I got involved with prayer team, with creative team and with planning committee. In the Salvation Army, I serve by going into the nursing homes and visiting with the elderly, visiting elderly in their homes who have a hard time getting out, boys club, youth ministries, and camp trips.  How can you get more involved at your local church?  There are so many ways to serve, from picking up trash along highways to evangelism outreaches.  If your church doesn't have ministry opportunities volunteer at your local Salvation Army food pantry, friendship kitchen, St. Vincent De Paul, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Seventh Day Adventist pantry, Red Cross, or other non-profit entity.  

Growth means study, I really believe that.  I love to read books, listen to audiobooks, and learn.  Growth is fun.  It should be too. Watch presentations by the greats on You Tube.  And read lots of books, if your like me, bad attention span, listen to audiobooks.  Here are twelve of my favorite books (in no particular order) for additional study and growth in Christian faith (I could name two hundred but for the sake of time and space we'll stick with this list)

1. I don't have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norm Geisler & Frank Turek
2. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
3. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (get it in modern english unless you prefer the old style)
4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
5. The Strategy of Satan by Warren Wiersbe
6. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
7. The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
8. Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
9. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
10. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
11. Has Christianity Failed You by Ravi Zacharias
12. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Lastly, change literally everything in your life to revolve around Jesus Christ.  Didn't say it would be easy, but it is quite possible.  In fact the more I commune with God and ask him to set me free from sins in my life, the more I realize that it is inevitable.  Let me say that again, it is inevitable, every dirty nasty piece that still hangs on will be gone, gone, gone in the fullness of time.  It is inevitable, like the rising of the sun in the morning, nothing can stop it. God's power, His work in me is unstoppable, it can't be defeated, and He will accomplish it all.  So it isn't so hard, in fact, if your surrendered to Christ, it will all happen, in His timing.



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