Practical Discipleship – Part 1
God’s Word, living in Christ and written for us in Scripture, make it very clear what we are called to be as Christ’s disciples. It is also obvious in His Word that this can only be done by His changing our hearts as we accept Him as Savior AND LORD.
So what does it look like? If our hearts are truly changed and The Holy Spirit is dwelling in us, then how will we (and others) know? How do we apply the Scriptural principles of discipleship in practice? For that matter, what are the Biblical principles that make His Lordship and our discipleship evident in our lives and to others?
“While volumes could be filled detailing scriptural principles, I will focus below on nine key applications that are to be practiced by all disciples if we are to live knowing and making Him known as Lord. Before I do, however, I must explain something that is crucial in any disciplines—spiritual, physical, mental, or relational—and that I learned as an athlete and it has served many others and me well in our spiritual walk.
There are two essential elements for any discipline to stick and be effective. Before I get to those let me tell the story of my hard lesson in discipline, and ultimately, discipleship.
As I said, I learned this as an athlete and, of course, the hard way. One year in college after our season was over, I decided to take a break from my regular workouts. Well, two weeks turned into a month. A month turned into two and then to four, and by this time we were six weeks out from preseason. I knew I had to be already somewhat in shape coming into preseason or it would not only be difficult but also put me behind.
No problem. I’d just head to the gym and weight room each day over the next few weeks and be ready to go. My mistake? Not that I was very prideful, but I just knew, and was going to prove, that I could still lift the same amount and run as fast as I had four months ago. I can see you grimacing now.
I did just that. I pushed myself to lift and run what I had done at the end of the previous season and felt great initially (at least for the next few hours). When I woke up the next day (and the following day), I literally could not walk, run, sit, stand, or even eat. I kid you not, for two days every time I tried to put an eating utensil to my mouth my entire arm, side, and back cramped up. It was an extremely painful but lifelong lesson. What did I learn?
I return to the two essential elements needed for good discipline and maturity. Maturity requires discipline and discipline requires 1) Manageability and; 2) Commitment. No matter what we attempt, whether physical as evidenced by my story, mental as evidenced by every test you’ve taken, or spiritual in growing in Christ, in order to learn and grow in His Truth, we must remain committed to those priorities and principles in His Word. And in order to do that we must make it manageable.
If we had the strength to do it all at once the first time, why would we ever need to go into the weight room? If we already knew His Word and will, why would we ever need to step into His spiritual weight room (or disciplines)?
We must make it manageable so we can keep the commitment and grow in order to mature as His disciples. I had plenty of passion, as we all do when we’re going after something we really want or deem worthwhile. The problem is not passion…it’s discipline! Isn’t it interesting that nowhere in Scripture does it say, “Go make zealots!” And yet I hear passion emphasized much more than discipline in our teachings and programs!
I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “Thanks for the painful visual in that story, but how does this apply to spiritual disciplines?” Great question, and here are the answers with Scriptures for your own study and application. The first six deal with personal discipleship and the last three with discipleship in relationships and fellowship as Christ’s Church.
Before I share these, let me explain that those who received the letters in the first century that we’ve come to know as The Bible would have taken the words written as clear commands to be obeyed from the Apostles and other Holy Spirit-inspired writers. The Scriptures used in calling us to apply the disciplines of discipleship were not given as suggestions. They were, and are, received as commands to be followed in loving obedience (John 4:15). I’ll say it again…God has many commands that all deal with His love for us and us loving Him…He has no demands! Willful surrender is what we are called to!
With that said, here are several Scriptures that speak to discipleship and the application in our lives. I include brief explanations and trust The Holy Spirit to compel, encourage, and strengthen you to that loving obedience called for in Scripture and to His Lordship.
Personal Discipleship Applications (Emphasis mine and added)
1) Bible Study – “Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 AMP); “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7
Whenever I’m sharing this with individuals or in events, I recommend that they be sure to spend time in God’s Word. If you choose to use a devotional, be sure to choose one where Scripture as God’s Word is of absolute importance and ask The Spirit to lead and fill you. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16); “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
2) Prayer – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6); “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18) For a simple process to remember when praying, try C.A.T.S. (Confession; Adoration/praise; Thanksgiving; Supplication or requests for self and intercession for others).
One final thought regarding prayer and relationships in general, but especially when it comes to marriage and your spouse: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” 1 Peter 3:7 (The relationship with your spouse is crucial to God hearing and responding.)
3) Quiet Time, Reflection, Meditation – “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) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) For an excellent set of Scriptures exalting God’s Word and helping you meditate and reflect on it, read Psalm 119. Read it by the 22 sections of eight verses based on the Hebrew alphabet. It will really help you appreciate and desire God’s Word.
4) Communion – Allow me a brief explanation, as this includes not only the very sacred time spent in what many churches call Communion or Eucharist, but also growing in the discipline of communion with other believers in Christ. The first is Paul’s recounting Christ’s establishing the Holy Communion: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-31). This second reference is the command to commune and fellowship with others: “They (the believers – mine and added) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
5) Sabbath – This requires another brief explanation as you learn and prepare to follow through as Christ’s disciples. Under the Old Testament law, breaking the Sabbath was an offense punishable by death. The early Church shifted their focus of worship and all it involved (see Acts 2:42 above) to the first day of the week to commemorate Christ’s Resurrection on that day and likely also to allow them as Jews to continue observing the lawful Sabbath. Many believing Jews and some non-Jewish believers continued observing the Jewish Sabbath Day while many non-Jewish believers continued the principle due to the great importance of Sabbath, in God’s design and law, but shifted the day to Sunday. The key is to recognize and be obedient to the command of the Sabbath that served two purposes. The first was to recognize that God is Holy and we are not. The second was to recognize that in our unholiness and weakness we would need to recognize our need for rest, put aside pride in our own strength, and observe the Sabbath. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2-3); “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Exodus 20:8
6) Fasting – While this is not commanded, it is shown as a powerful spiritual discipline with great results. Generally, we fast from food, but it can also mean not partaking of anything from which we draw strength, satisfaction, or pleasure so we can more fully depend on The Holy Spirit and God’s Word. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2); “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (14:23); When Jesus cast out a demon that His disciples were not able to they asked Him why they could not do so? “He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.’” (Mark 9:29)
We don’t have to be commanded to do, and we need little, if any, discipline to follow through, what comes naturally. Discipleship requires discipline. We must make it manageable to keep our commitment to become fully devoted disciples of Christ!
5. Minutes. Every. Day! In God’s Word, prayer and time with Him. Great place to start making it manageable so you can do it every day! You’ll be amazed at what He begins to do in and through your life!
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Make it a great day and God bless in Christ!
Love and Lordship…Food for Thought – We must be willing to develop the new life that Christ has placed within us and that requires our disciplined efforts…that’s why it’s called discipleship. Discipleship requires discipline. What are you doing to die to self and grow in your life in Christ?
Love and Lordship…Action Item(s) – Begin today to set aside 5-10 minutes each day in God’s Word, in prayer and reflection. Don’t miss a day! You will be blessed.