MEANS OF GRACE
"Exercise [train, discipline] yourself toward godliness [the best area to work on]…[because] godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of life that now is and of that which is to come…to this end we both labor and struggle [strive; some manuscripts (NKJ) read “suffer reproach”] because we trust in the living God…" (1 Tim.4:7-10)
There have been and still are pockets in the
world where life is easy. In rich
countries like the
Historically many disciplines (often in the form of some physical self-denial or deprivation, self-inflicted pain, punishment, or suffering) have been employed ostensibly to draw nearer to God: abstinence; chastity; fasting; solitude; silence; simplicity; poverty; frugality; etc. But people tended to look upon these works of the flesh as if they were godliness, rather than disciplines toward godliness.
Christian life involves four areas of personal discipline which may be categorized (no particular order) as:
MEDITATION - Bible reading, study, thinking through, etc.;
WORSHIP (communication with God) - adoration, rejoicing, prayer, praise, intercession, thanksgiving, supplication, etc.;
FELLOWSHIP (communication with one another) - 2 types of interaction:  getting to know and keeping up with one another,  gathering around the Word, specifically discussing scripture, examining subjects from a biblical perspective, and planning spiritual projects together;
SERVICE - ministering the gospel, helping others, visiting, teaching, witnessing, etc. (active involvement in contributing to the welfare of others). I've also included STEWARDSHIP (management of time, resources and gifts) here. [some make EVANGELISM a separate category from SERVICE or MINISTRY]
These four areas are absolute in that they accommodate the whole of the Christian life, ie. every other activity is includable within them.2 They are not only disciplines, they are also our fulfillment.3 That is, they are not an end in themselves, they are means of drawing near to God, of pursuing holiness. What other labor of love is so satisfying and full of joy as these? - not because of the disciplines themselves, but because they are the means by which we partake of His grace. This necessarily implies that each of us will suffer from lack of fulfillment [a reduced sense of meaning, purpose, and significance] to the extent that we neglect any aspect of these means. Neglect fosters disconnectedness with God, spiritual realities, and each other. We become attached to all kinds of lesser things that offer a counterfeit satisfaction. Reality slips through our fingers and we lose ourselves. Through these disciplines, we learn of Christ and partake of His life. He becomes real to us and we know who we are, what we are about, and the difference we make. The disciplines themselves are not godliness. They are the means by which we deny ourselves, take up His cross, and follow Him.4
1. From time to time, hardship also comes to Christians in prosperity and our protective pockets collapse. It is devastating to those who have not cultivated the habit of discipline toward godliness through the means of grace. Intrusion into our comfort zone and disruption of our lifestyle hurts. Losing those things we have come to love shocks us. It tells us that, unlike pilgrims, we have become too attached to this world. It also comments on how ready we are to leave and our preparedness for Christ's return. Better to repent now. JESUS IS LORD (Phil.2:9-11). "Return to God's arms and start working out your salvation with fear and trembling (v.12), for God is the one working in you to both will and do His good pleasure" (v.13).
2. I have not included here the concept of the sacraments as inculcated in Covenant Theology. See comment on God of Promise by Michael Horton at RESOURCES http://pop.eradman.com/
3. Example of applying your creative energies to God's means of grace - You know who you will likely see at a certain meeting or place and recognize areas where they are being tested or need strengthening. Begin praying for their up-building in Christ. Keep them in mind as you read the Bible [as well as books and recorded messages] and look for passages to share with them. Study those passages and pray for understanding. Ask God for sensitivity and opportunity to share with that person. If none presents, design the occasion and share your insights with them. As you can see, such a planned approach involves all four areas of spiritual discipline. Who knows where such a path will take you and the joy of it?
4. Why take the means as only personal? Why not structure body [corporate, church] life around them as well?
Godliness with contentment is great gain for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Let us be content [satisfied] with food and clothing. Those who desire [resolve] to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown [plunge, sink] men into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil for which some have strayed [wandered away] from the faith [teachings of Scripture] in their greediness [craving] and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim.6:6-10)
[God’s] divine power…has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption [decay, rottenness] that is in the world through lust [sinful desire]. For this very reason, giving all diligence [working hard at it], add [supply] virtue [excellence – in wisdom, ethics, etc] to your faith, and to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness love. If these [qualities] are yours and are abounding [increasing, growing], you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who lacks these [through neglect] is blind being nearsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure [by cultivating these qualities], for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet.1:2-11)
FORMULATING A SPIRITUAL GROWTH PLAN
… We each have to recover it [recognition of the importance of the eternal] in our own lives by reinstating it in practical ways. When I came to faith… the practice of daily personal worship was fundamental. We were taught to begin every day with a sustained time of worship, reading the Bible, and prayer… In many circles today, however, that habit has worn thin and that practice has become casual. The result for the people of God is an extraordinary loss of a powerful insertion of eternity’s perspective at the very outset of the day. Equally, when I was young in the faith, regular public worship was considered essential… In many parts of the West this is no longer the expectation or the practice. Church-going is viewed by many as merely optional… there were many… moments in public worship when… there was an irruption of the transcendent… Sometimes… during the hymns, sometimes during the preaching, and sometimes during the Holy Communion…There was many a time when the lightening flash of those moments jolted my heart and mind into seeing things that the normal, secular view never allows… many of my best ideas have come in the setting of worship… attention to the eternal assumes and requires the practice of spiritual disciplines… to cultivate the spiritual habits of the heart and learn to do as second nature what we cannot do as first. [with small changes, from Puncturing The Ceiling, in Chap.6 of PROPHETIC UNTIMELINESS by Os Guinness]
The principles below establish the importance of working through following steps in planning to change current unfruitful and harmful practices.
· Growth and maturity as a Believer in Christ is deliberate.
· Discipline is necessary for spiritual growth.
· The key to discipline is motivation.
· Motivation emerges from sufficient reasons.
· The right reasons grow from the truth. The word of God requires that we not only interact with truth in order to learn and understand, but that we also struggle with the truth as a matter of personal integrity before God because His Spirit reveals dark secrets that must be addressed.
· Reasons need to be identified, stated, and reinforced. [Questions and answers can be discussed at a group participation meeting to get a better grasp of the whats and whys of God’s word and of His ways.]
· NAME the Discipline you intend to pursue: [example – MEDITATION through BIBLE STUDY. Can be PRAYER or any other spiritual discipline]
What does [Bible study] include? [define discipline]
Why is regular [Bible study] important? [reasons (motivation)
for doing] ______________________________
Why have you determined to change your current practice? [opportunity for
confession and statement of desires and expectations]
What hinders you from devoting significant effort to [Bible study]? [anticipate obstacles and temptations] __________________________________________________________________________________
How will you overcome the above hindrances? [determine
beforehand how to respond to obstacles and temptations]
What is your
[study] plan? [specify
schedule and procedure] ________________________________________
When? ______________________ Place? ________________________
How will you involve the other spiritual disciplines in Bible Study?
· Could you use some help? _____ What Kind? [accountability, partner, teaching, group, etc?] _________________________________________________________________________________________
Who will you ask to partner with? ______________________________________
SUGGESTED PRACTICES WITH YOUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH PLAN
1. Practice giving thanks regularly, consciously, and reflectively with thoughtfulness of the reasons for doing so, "that God might give me a grateful heart." Recall what He is like and cling to His promises (what He says He will do). “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs…Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” (Ps.100:2a & 4) “Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.” (Ps.95:2)
2. Be slow to judge and speak with discontent to God – to blame Him or whine and complain – Why me? Why this? Why now? Practice placing a positive construction upon the events and circumstances of your life (deliberately construing all things in Gods favor pursuant to His character) because you know that God is, and that (among other things) He is good (and works all things for good); He is sovereign (He manages everything; there is no such thing as chance); He is deliberate (He does, causes, and allows everything including the suffering of His people for very good reasons). [see Attitude, a Bible Study http://pop.eradman.com/] Therefore, let us magnify the Lord (make much of Him; hold Him in the highest regard) and bless His name at all times. Only in this way can we satisfy ourselves in Him and will He be glorified in us. Reinterpret past difficulties and tragedies of your life in light of this understanding.
3. Work on the four areas of personal discipline: meditation; worship; fellowship; ministry. Meet regularly with a partner or group to share results and for mutual encouragement.
4. Purpose to seek wisdom and take appropriate steps with respect to all matters of conscience and practice. Achieve and maintain a clear conscience by becoming a "doer of the word," both with respect to confession and righting (rectifying) of past wrongs (sins and offenses, including negligence), and with respect to future conduct.
5. Write your own helpful practices