The Bible tells us that we are to be holy as the Lord is holy (1 Pet.1:15,16). But how do we get there? How do we gain a life that conforms to the likeness of Jesus Christ?
For centuries the church has relied on spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, worship, solitude, and fasting to further the sanctification of God’s people.
Following this pattern, the church today needs to recover the spiritual disciplines that are so essential to the Christian life.
Here’s why. . .
The example of the Scriptures
The Bible shows us that the Christian life is marked by certain practices. When you look at the followers of Christ in the Bible, what did they do? They prayed, they spent time in God’s Word, they served, they fasted, etc. . .
And they did these because Jesus Himself did them. Before calling His first disciples, for example, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer (Lk.6:12). The pattern of practicing the spiritual disciplines is well established in the Bible.
The instruction of Scripture
The Bible not only gives us the example of spiritual disciplines as a way of life, it also instructs us that we are to practice them. The Bible is straightforward when it tells us, for example, that those who live righteously and prosper are those who meditate on God’s Word (Ps.1:2).
Why does the Bible tell us such things? So we can be properly formed and developed as human beings to serve God in His kingdom.
To deal with the body
God gave us bodies, and with our bodies we carry out service to Him in the world. But the body is often a source of trouble for people. Many see themselves as imprisoned by their bodies and enslaved to its passions. It’s often thought that the only way to live a spiritual life is to escape from the body.
The spiritual disciplines are God’s means for bringing the body under subjection. By them we are able to bring our bodies into the service of the king rather live in service to our bodies. As Paul made clear, our bodies are to be our slaves, we are not to be enslaved to our bodies (1 Cor.9:24).
Godliness requires spiritual discipline
The Bible tells us that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, and it compares spiritual discipline with bodily discipline (1 Tim.4:7,8). Everybody is used to idea of bodily discipline for some purpose (like losing weight), but we easily presume that growth in godliness is automatic.
Could it be the reason why there appears to be so little godliness is that there is little serious application of the spiritual disciplines of the faith?
Good words from one of the finest preachers of the last century. . .
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You must take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, you have to preach to yourself, question yourself. . . then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones
What is the biblical basis for talking to yourself? Psalm 42:5. . .
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.
The Bible tells us that “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Ps.19:7). In a world of fractured souls, that’s good news.
It’s also surprising news for many, because it’s often thought there is little place for the law since the coming of the gospel. But Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Mt.5:17).
So, how is it that God’s law restores the soul? God graciously uses His law to restore souls in three primary ways.
First, He provides the law as His standard of righteousness. As we meditate on the law with faithful hearts, God uses it to renew our souls by causing us to marvel at the beauty of His precepts and making obedience to Him the desire of our hearts.
Second, He reveals His law as a way of restraining us from evil. In the process of restoring the soul, we need to avoid evil. God’s law shows us what evil is so we know what we must flee. Through practice, our souls become better able to discern good and evil.
Third, and most importantly, God uses His law to lead us to Jesus Christ. As we seek to abide in God’s law, we discover our own insufficiency and our continual need for Christ. It’s ultimately only through Christ, and Christ alone, that our souls can be restored.
God’s law – which rightly understood encompasses His entire Word – has been graciously provided as a means of restoring our souls. Let us not neglect what He has given to us as we recognize the need for restoration of our own souls.
Most people think the cause is jealousy. The jealous person says: “You’ve got something I want. I’m going to take it away from you.” Envy says, “You’ve got something I want. I can never possess it. So, I’m going to destroy what you have. I don’t want anyone to have it until everyone can have it.”
Unfortunately, it’s this thinking that drives our social behavior and politics today — and it’s destroying us.
For more, read Envy and Poverty by Gary North
Lent is a season of forty days (except Sundays) before Easter. It is a time that many Christians observe as an opportunity for soul-searching and repentance.
Anyway, my friend was telling me that he and his wife considered chocolate, meat, movies, and a few other items as possible candidates to sacrifice for Lent.
Then they decided together, “Let’s give up our sins.”
That’s one of the shortest and best descriptions of what Lent is all about that you could find.
What does God have in mind for your life? The answer is pretty straightforward. It’s that you would mature in Him. Or, as the book of Romans puts it, it’s that you would be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom.8:29).
When people think of becoming like Jesus, what usually comes to mind is being obedient and doing the right thing in every circumstance. This is very biblical, but there’s another dimension that must be considered – the emotional dimension.
God made us emotional creatures. Emotions like joy, peace, fear, sadness, anger, and love are all part of what makes us human. In proper balance and in their right place, emotions like these enable us to live lives that are full and effective as we engage others and receive what God brings us.
The problem is that many people find their lives dominated by negative emotions. They wake up every day bound up by a negative feeling like anger, bitterness, jealousy, fear, or sorrow. The result? They are stuck, with little hope for the future. Instead of living their lives to the fullest as they serve others, they endure each day trapped by their own negative emotions. They fail to grow and become stagnant.
So, how does one in this situation become unstuck and free to embrace life, move forward and mature?
Here are a few places to start.
Let God be God. People who are dominated by negative emotions often have a hard time accepting what God has dealt them in life. By letting God be God they are able to believe that God works all things for good for those who love Him, and are then in a position to experience personal growth. Read more…
In his concise commentary on Proverbs, Derek Kidner notes that the fool presents himself under various names. I like to remember these as the three stooges of scripture.
First, there’s the simple. This kind of person is easily led, gullible and silly. He is naive, and because of his thoughtlessness, may graduate to more serious forms of folly.
The locus classicus of the ‘simple’ is Proverbs 7, where it describes a young man who seems to court temptation. The simple’s problem is not that he is incapable of wisdom, but will not accept it.
Second is the fool. There are actually three Hebrew words that are translated ‘fool.’
The most common refers to one who is dull and obstinate. Not because he lacks mental equipment, but because of his chosen outlook. He likes his folly, and like the dog that returns to its own vomit, he keeps repeating the same sins.
His major problem is that he rejects the fear of the Lord (Pr.1:29). At a minimum, he wastes your time, and if you have to endure him long he becomes a menace.
There is another word for fool that also describes one who is stubborn, but this person’s folly comes across darker. He knows no restraint or sense of proportion. He is impatient of all advice and is flippant. Because of the disposition of the heart, foolishness is very hard to drive from this type of fool (Pr.27:22).
An infrequently used word that is often translated “fool” is nabal and brings to mind Nabal’s wife when she said, “One cannot speak to him” (1 Sam.25:17). He is a crude, overbearing and godless man.
Third, the scoffer or scorner. He despises correction and sets his heart on mischief. He is a debunker and a trouble-maker. He is a bad influence on the impressionable. Yet, for all his arrogance, in the end the Lord will scorn him (Pr.3:34).
The common thread with all types of fools is that their problem is not their mental capability but the attitude of their hearts. They are enamored with their own way of thinking and will not have the fear of the Lord.
Even a brief review of the types of fools is an admonishment to “Get wisdom” (Pr.4:5ff.)
When people feel hopeless and powerless regarding their situation in life, there are those among them that will begin thinking that maybe suicide is the answer. It’s not.
Those who contemplate suicide believe that it may provide a way of escape from their misery. They usually think this is so because they have adopted at least one of a number of false assumptions. For this reason, anyone who gives suicide consideration needs to think carefully about their assumptions.
One common assumption that a person considering suicide can make is that God will understand this solution to their problems. But the sixth commandment tells us that we shall not murder, and this includes self-murder. God is the one who numbers our days, and in the days he gives us we are to cultivate our lives as we seek Him and trust Him through every trial. Read more…
You don’t hear much about the soul anymore. You hear plenty about taking care of the body. And you’ll hear an occasional warning not to waste your mind. But few are the exhortations about tending to your soul. And that’s too bad.
The soul lies at the foundation of human life. It is what integrates your mind, body, and spirit. And it more than any other aspect of your being shapes who you are as a person.
Neglect of the soul, therefore, is a great peril. A well-tended soul brings good to the totality of life. Whereas the soul that’s neglected works deterioration through every aspect of one’s experience.
The overall neglect of the soul in our day is apparent. The isolation, coldness, addictions, anger, and abuse that characterizes so many are all indications of a society that is impoverished when it comes to the nourishment of the soul.
The critical nature of this soul-neglect cannot be understated. Those afflicted with it are engaged in a self-destructive struggle as they are ruled by their desires and habits and held captive by deceptions and falsehoods.
The human suffering caused by this struggle is incalculable. And the ongoing neglect of the soul only makes matters worse. But there is hope for those who seek to have their souls renewed and restored.
The first step is to acknowledge that you have a soul that needs to be cared for. Turn from any neglect and begin to recognize your soul and pay attention to its needs.
Next, entrust your soul to God. There are those who believe they can manage just fine without any dependence on God, but the damage done to the soul in the process cannot be escaped. Rest from the weariness of our souls can only be found in Him.
Also instrumental in restoring the soul is God’s law. The Bible tells us, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Ps.19:7).
God’s law is the perfect standard of righteousness. As we look to this standard we see how we fall short of it, and this serves to lead us to the only one who is perfect, Jesus Christ. As we come to Him in faith, we begin the process of having our souls restored.
But the law of God also serves to restore our souls in another way. God’s law is His ongoing standard for how we are to live, and as we follow this standard with the aid of His Spirit our souls take on new life and develop.
Unfortunately, any mention of God’s law has largely been abandoned in our day – even among Christians. Indeed, we are only accepted before God on the basis of faith. But His law remains instrumental in the keeping and development of our souls.
When Jesus looked on the masses, He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mk.6:34). That is to say, He saw them in need of restored souls. I do believe Jesus’ view of the masses would be just the same today.