I am often blown away by this truth. We, as Christians, can have a personal relationship with God! Read that sentence again…we say things like this a lot so this truth may be common enough that it doesn’t impact like it should. WE can have a PERSONAL relationship with GOD! When we consider who WE are (sinners-Rom. 3:23) and Who HE is (the holy God of the universe-Is. 6:1-5), the fact that He would not only care about us, but want to commune with us is nothing short of AWESOME. The Bible says we can know Him (Phil. 3:10), and have fellowship with Him (1 John 1:1-4). He wants to know our cares (1 Pet. 5:7), and when we cry out to Him telling Him our requests, He gives us perfect, mind-blowing peace (Phil. 4:6-7). That truth blows me away.
But it’s been my experience as a pastor and biblical counselor that most Christians have a real hard time with actually living out that relationship. Most believers struggle with the basic spiritual disciplines (bible study, prayer, scripture memory, witnessing, etc.) and so they feel like utter failures. They walk around with guilt and believe, at some level, that God is disappointed with them. And since God must be frustrated with them, they are not drawing closer to Him, but further away.
I would like to spend some time talking about spiritual disciplines. I would like offer some help to those who are struggling with living out that personal relationship with Jesus and share some tools that have helped me in my walk.
Let’s start with motivation, and next time I’ll blog about methods (aliteration makes Jesus smile, by the way).
Henry is sitting in church one Sunday morning and something his pastor says just “hits” him. He’s not sure why, but all of a sudden he’s convicted about his personal devotional life. “I really need to be more consistent in my bible reading and prayer,” he says to himself. “I’m going to do better!”
The next morning, Henry gets up and immediately his mind is on work. He has a big proposal he has to finish this week, several meetings today, and his son’s basketball game is tonight. He gets up, gets ready, and heads out the door…only to remember at lunch the “promise” he made to God yesterday. “Ok, Lord…tonight before I go to bed…I’m doing it then!” And sure enough, right before his head hits the pillow, Henry picks up his Bible. “Hmmm…where should I start? I guess at the beginning!” He reads Genesis 1, shuts the Bible, and goes to bed. The next day is similar…and Henry does pretty well for a week. But the next Tuesday after a very hard day at work, Henry just doesn’t feel like reading. “After all, God understands and He knows I need some ‘down time,'” he reasons with himself. So, he watches the news, and hits the hay. A few days pass by, then a couple of weeks, and before he knows it, he’s right back into the old habits. And that personal time with God just doesn’t seem to fit in his very busy schedule.
I think Henry’s story is very, very common. What happens next is this: Henry feels guilty. He knows he SHOULD be reading and praying, but it just doesn’t seem to work. His pastor talks about it often…and Henry feels like a failure every time. And if Henry were going to be honest, He believes, deep down in his heart, that God is frustrated and disappointed with him. So he doesn’t draw near…he steps away.
Henry’s problem is as simple as it is ancient. He is trying to live by LAW and not GRACE. Henry is convicted about his lack of righteousness (right living before God). What is his answer? Works…DO better. What He wants is to be a better person. Another way of putt it is “self-righteousness.” Matt Chandler, the Lead-Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas rightly calls it “white knuckle Christianity.” We are holding on to our own self-discipline as the answer for our right standing before God. This is not so much to earn our salvation, but it is certainly to earn God’s favor. This motivation does not work and only a very few can make lasting life changes with strict self-discipline alone.
What Henry needs is the gospel.
“But wait…isn’t Henry already saved?”
Yes…and Henry STILL needs the gospel! Henry needs to remember that he is a horrible sinner (Rom. 3:23) and that God is holy God (Is. 6:1-5). He needs to remember that he was NO righteous on his own (Rom. 3:10). What he needs more than anything is a Savior! And God sent His only Son to DIE for Henry and raise again over sin and death! Henry needs to come back to the cross and get overwhelmed with God’s grace! Listen…it’s God’s LOVE and His GRACE that should draw us to him on a daily basis! The CROSS becomes my motivation for my personal spiritual disciplines…NOT my own righteousness. I don’t read my Bible daily to GET favor with God…I read it because God has already shown me favor at the cross.
2 Cor. 5:14-15 (ESV)
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
The LOVE that Christ showed me is my MOTIVATION!
Here’s the truth. I get up early in the morning to do my devotions…and every morning it’s HARD. Being honest, I would like to just roll back over and get a couple more hours of shut-eye! So here’s what I have to do…repeat the gospel to myself every morning! “I’m a horrible sinner with a wicked heart. God loved me, sent Jesus to die and be raised for me, and right now I am “accepted in the beloved.” This is not because I am good in any way, but only because He is good…and He loved me.” My motivation is not to be better, though it may help me live more godly. My motivation is simply, I love Jesus because Jesus first loved me.
There are a couple of books that I highly recommend to help you with living the gospel daily.
—“A Gospel Primer for Christians” by Milton Vincent is an excellent read. It will teach you the importance of a daily remembering of the gospel as well as some practical ways to preaching the gospel to yourself.
—“Living the Cross Centered Life” by C.J. Mahaney is a short, easy to read book that will challenge even seasoned Christians about the importance of the cross!
What books do you recommend? What are some ways you remind yourself about the gospel in your daily life? Sound off in the comments!
Next up, METHODS for effective devotions.
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