A common desire many of us share in the new year is to grow closer to God. But the challenging part in all of this is knowing where to start.

Fortunately, Jesus specifies the starting point in Matthew 4:19:  

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Notice the order of the invitation.

Follow Jesus then be used by Jesus.

Be with Jesus then work for Jesus.

Enjoy Jesus’ presence then offer Jesus’ priority.

Jesus makes it clear that our first invitation is actually not disciple-making but disciple-being. Although, disciple-being is not a replacement for disciple-making, it is a requisite.

We often flip the order. We go straight to the work of disciple-making without first enjoying the grace of disciple-being. This is called religion and it’s one of the main reasons why we get so tired, lonely, and discouraged in our pursuit of God. In all our doing, we’ve lost sight of being.

“In all our doing, we’ve lost sight of being.”

So here are a couple of suggestions to help us elevate the priority of disciple-being.

First, recover a Vision for Disciple-being: 

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus and his disciples were welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha, who had a sister named Mary. As the account develops, we learn that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet.”

Martha—perceiving her sister’s behavior as irresponsible—goes to Jesus and complains. Surprisingly, Jesus actually confronts Martha, saying she’s the one who missed it.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion [disciple-being], which will not be taken away from her.”

But why did Jesus’ commend Mary and confront Martha? Wasn’t Martha the responsible one? Not in Jesus’ eyes. Although, Mary was busy serving God, she had lost sight of being with God—the first call of every Christ-follower.

Jesus was more impressed by Mary because she had a vision for what we so often miss. That is, Jesus desires that we be with Him before He expects us to work for Him. Accepting and embracing this truth is the first essential step in growing closer to God.

“Jesus desires that we be with Him before He expects us to work for Him.”

Secondly, develop a Plan for Disciple-being.

Every Christ-follower has a choice to make. We can purposefully love God more this year or we can accidentally love Him less.

We are a little under two weeks into the new year. How’s this going for you?

Do you feel closer to God now than you did at this point last year?

Either way, without a purposeful plan for disciple-being, the distance you feel will increase, or the nearness you enjoy will decrease. So, here are three essential areas for disciple-being worth planning out and thinking through.

a. Bible Intake.

Thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word is the primary place where we seek to hear His voice and encounter His presence. Apart from Bible-intake, disciple-being is simply not possible.

That’s why I believe one of God’s great gifts to our generation is the Bible app by YouVersion. This free tool gives access to hundreds of pre-set Bible intake plans to help us read, hear and explore God’s word on purpose.

I recommend searching for one of the plans by The Bible Project. The guys at BP offer a number of great Bible intake options for every spiritual stage and major section of Scripture, which include videos to help you better understand what you’re reading.

Regardless of which plan you pick, pick a plan, work the plan and enjoy disciple-being that way!

b. Prayer

Many methods have been used over the years for approaching God in prayer. If you don’t have one you’re currently using, here’s a faithful outline you may want to follow:

C.A.T.S. (don’t have to be a cat person to benefit!)

C – Confession (agreeing with God about sin)

A – Adoration (for who God is)

T – Thanksgiving (for what God does)

S – Supplication (personal requests & needs)

In addition to methods, we also have our preferences. Some enjoy typed prayer lists, some index cards, others journaling. Over the years, I’ve benefitted greatly from a typed list that I can update every month. About a year ago, I made the switch to handwritten prayer cards, which has been deeply impactful as well!

The point here is not to get hung up on which method or preference is best, but which method or preference you can commit to in your own disciple-being journey.

c. Biblical Friends

 You will be hard pressed to be Jesus disciple in isolation from other disciples. The steady refrain of Scripture is this: no one grows close with God or does great things for God alone. Here are a few examples…

Adam needed Eve in the garden.

David needed Jonathan through conflict.

Mary needed Elizabeth through pregnancy.

Jesus needed the disciples in Gethsemane.

Paul needed brothers while in prison.

There are 3 key Biblical friendships we see in the New Testament, which illustrate the friendships we all need today. As these friendships flourish, our disciple-being efforts fortify.

First, we all need a mentor-Paul who will push us.

Second, we all need a trusted peer-Barnabas who will encourage us.

The first two friendships make the third possible…

Third, at some point, we all need a mentee-Timothy who will learn from us.

Are one or any of these relationships in place for you? If not, pursue them as if your joy in Christ depends on it. Start with the Paul / Barnabas relationship. Once more, the Timothy relationship will flow from those two.

And be patient in pursuit! These relationships take time. We should not expect something so meaningful to form over a week or even a month. They are the fruit of established trust and patient, purposeful pursuit, within the life of the local church.

What makes these relationships worthwhile is how they invariably draw us closer to God—something we all need.

In reality, disciple-making is the fruit of disciple-being. Like a child who must learn to walk before running—as Jesus’ followers—we must learn to be before doing. When we aren’t doing for God well it’s most often because we aren’t being before God well. To be little with Him is to be little for Him. This explains why Jesus said what He did, in the order that He did, in Matthew 4:19.

God put this pattern in place on purpose. He’s out to show us that our joy in Him doesn’t begin with earning, it begins with being. That’s the grace of the gospel and that’s the order of discipleship.

“Disciple-making is the fruit of disciple-being.”

If you read all or part of this post, please know that I prayed for you—that you would grow closer to God in 2019 by recovering a vision and developing a plan for disciple-being that results in effective disciple-making.

 

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods

How to Pray like Michael Scott (Part 1)If you’ve ever seen NBC's, The Office, then you know about Michael Scott, the narcissistic Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, PA.

The annoyingly comical thing about Michael Scott is how he tries way too hard to make himself look good—usually at the expense of others. In episode one, season one, he actually awards himself a coffee mug that says, “World’s Best Boss.”

worlds best boss.jpg

 

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a story about two men who went to pray. One prayed like Michael Scott (proudly), the other prayed nothing like Michael Scott (humbly). The story was less about the words of the prayers and more about the hearts of the pray-ers.

The first pray-er was a proud-hearted Pharisee, drunk on self with no capacity for humility. As a religious expert, he was good at being good. He would go throughout his day telling himself: “I’m amazing! I must be God’s favorite! Nobody loves God like I do!”

As Jesus points out, this man trusted in himself and treated others with contempt. Naturally, his proud heart poured out as he prayed…

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

From the Pharisee’s prayer, we see 3 marks of a proud-hearted pray-er (i.e., how to pray like Michael Scott).

1. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are God-Minimizing.

Notice how quickly the prayer shifts away from God and back to the Pharisee. Here are some questions to help us know when we might be praying like this…

When I pray, am I out to make much of God, or are am I more interested in God making much of me? Do I minimize God’s worth by failing to adore Him as merciful and gracious or able and powerful? Do I minimize His faithfulness by demanding He give me more while never thanking Him for what He’s already provided? 

2. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are Self-Referencing.

A proud-hearted person’s favorite subject is self. Enter Pharisee. He mentions God once while referencing himself five times. The only reason God makes the cut is so that He can attend the Pharisee’s personal parade of self-glory.

Here’s the paraphrased prayer: God, I, I, I, I, I am really fantastic. Don’t you just love me. You’re welcome.[1]

Sickening, right? I mean, who really prays like this?

We do. You see, when our prayers are all about us, we are praying like this. They may not come out sounding this narcissistic, but we are still the focus.

More questions… if God answered every prayer I prayed last week, how many other people would benefit? How many… Would begin to follow Jesus? Follow Jesus better? Missionaries be empowered? Marriages be saved? Bills get paid? Prodigals come home? Addictions be broken? Sick find healing? Orphans adopted? Would finally forgive? Or, stay in school?

If the only person who ever benefits from my prayers is me, then I am praying like a proud-hearted Pharisee.

3. Proud-hearted Pray-ers are Others-Condemning.

In verse 9, the Pharisee, lists off the filthiest groups of people he can think of. The tax collector—who as I will share in the next post, actually was a filthy guy—makes that list.

Have you ever considered why those who don’t come to Church, don’t come to church? This is a big reason why. The un-churched, de-churched, sometimes re-churched are often victims of a condemning eye. 

Let’s examine ourselves by asking: who am I proudly condemning that Jesus died to pardon?

Is it… The person who pulls for a different team? The Social Media user who always gets more likes than you? The Dad who passively allows his kids to run buck wild in Target? The single mom who shows up late to Church and can’t get her baby to stop crying during the message? The Republican? The Democrat? The fit person? The overweight person? The addict? The rich? The poor? The LGBTQ? The straight? The black? The white?

Listen, it’s okay to give unequal weight to the ways of certain people. Jesus did that. It’s not okay to give unequal weight to the humanity of certain people. Jesus did not do that.

The main difference between those of us who think we’re better than others and Jesus is the fact that Jesus really is better than the rest of us. Later in Luke’s gospel, the same Jesus who told the story about the Pharisee, would go to die in place of the Pharisee.

So, instead of crushing our proud-hearts with the condemnation we deserve, Jesus humbles our proud-hearts with the commendation that only He deserves (see II Corinthians 5:21).

On the cross, Jesus prayed and died for proud-hearted people.

May this awesome truth humble us all.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~Jesus~

 

References:

[1] I am indebted to Mark Driscoll for this paraphrase in his sermon, Works Righteousness vs. Gift Righteousness: https://markdriscoll.org/sermons/works-righteousness-vs-gift-righteousness/

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods

February 2011, 22 years old, seeping with pride, just getting started in full-time ministry: enter Jeremy Woods.

It was at this point, some eight years ago, that a lively and outspoken mentor of mine showed me something that would shape my life forever. Every day, he woke up early—well before he had to—and spent an hour with God.[1] As basic as it sounds, I found this to be radical.

At that point, I lacked vision and motivation in my personal time with God. When it came to sitting still and being with God, I didn’t really know where to start. Over the course of several months, I vividly recall this mentor describing how the “power of one hour” with God had transformed his life and how it could do the same for me.[2] Slow to respond, the Lord began to soften my heart.

The experience convicted me deeply and challenged me personally. So, I gave it a try. One hour with God, early in the morning. It was brutal. I fell asleep a few times. I struggled with consistency. I almost quit. Only after a grueling, +3-month pruning process, did the habit begin to stick. At that point, a Rule of Life was slowly taking shape. The word “rule” actually comes from the Greek word for trellis—a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a Rule of Life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful. It is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do.[3]

Trellis (2) .JPG

Over the past eight years, my Rule of Life has shaped and shifted, but it has always involved a personal time with God, usually in the mornings. Simply put, this is how I seek to enjoy God each day. Never am I more prepared to face the day than when I get this time with the Lord. Never am I less prepared than when I don't.

Around four years ago, I landed on a Rule of Life concept, which God has since used as the penultimate driver behind four years of personal sanctification. I call it the 4x15 Model.

The “4” stands for 4 habits of grace that help my heart and mind feast on the gospel each day.

The “15” stands for the number of minutes I try and devote to each habit, each day. This doesn’t have to be 15. It can also be 10, 8, or even 5 minutes depending on your schedule / capacity.

I like to think of the model like a sturdy chair held up by four strong legs. Much like each leg is needed in order for the chair to support weight, each habit of grace is needed for my soul to be upheld in the gospel. What I so love about the model is how flexible it is. You can do it in 20 minutes (4x5), 32 minutes (4x8), 40 minutes (4x10), or even 60 minutes (4x15).

If you’ve never developed a personal Rule of Life but are ready to get started, you may want to aim for the 20 (4x5) or 32 (4x8) minute models. That way you can acclimate. Big change starts with small steps. Be encouraged.

Regardless of what time-frame works best for you, let me share how the model works. The pattern listed below is based around 1 hour divided into 4, 15-minute segments. But again, the model is flexible in both time frames and flow. The key is not so much that you have a rigid flow as much as it is that you include all four habits.

I have come to prefer the following flow with an hour as the ideal…

15 Minutes of Devotional Intake (Grace Habit #1):

Those who require room for creativity and/or spontaneity will find this habit deeply refreshing. That’s because there’s a lot of freedom here. Over the years, I’ve done several things with this time. For example, you can listen to a helpful podcast, read books that increase affection for God, warm your heart with Christ-exalting music or just sit still and enjoy silence.

15 Minutes of Bible Reading / Listening (Grace Habit #2):

Whereas the devotional intake portion leaves room for freedom, a focused plan is your ally on this habit. With a plan in place, you’ll find it more practical to read the Bible from cover to cover or get the most out of a particular book / section. For that reason, I encourage you to identify a Bible reading plan that will give you daily direction.

The Bible App by YouVersion is a great place to look if you’re searching for reading plan options. YouVersion offers whole Bible, partial Bible and topical reading plans. I’m currently working through a partial Bible plan on YouVersion called F260. Also, if you would like to have the Bible read over you, the Dwell App is a rich resource worth trying. Both apps are free.

15 Minutes of Bible Memorization (Grace Habit #3):

I’m a believing forgetter. If I don’t take the time to actually meditate on what the Lord is teaching me, it tends to go in one ear and right out the other. Just being real, I don’t recall what I read in the Bible a week ago. But I do recall what I memorized (Psalm 101:1-2).

King David said that one of the primary ways he safeguarded his soul from sin was by storing up God’s Word in his heart. Moreover, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he overcame the devil’s lies by quoting Scripture.[4] If David, even Jesus, needed God’s Word in their hearts to overcome sin, you and I do too. I’ve heard it said before that when life cuts us, we ought to bleed God’s Word. That’s only possible insomuch as we’ve daily stored it away in our hearts through this thoughtful habit of grace. I simply couldn't do without it.

15 Minutes of Prayer (Grace Habit #4)

When it comes to listening, my need for grace is glaring. Those close to me will tell you that I’m not a great listener. When I’m in the flesh, I may get about 1/3 of the way into a conversation before mentally moving on, forming my own opinions or skipping ahead to the point. If you’re a type A, choleric, you might be able to relate…

Yes, the Lord is pruning me.

Yes, I covet your prayers.

Point being, my clumsy listening skills make prayer especially difficult, but all the more needful. Most often, we view prayer as more about God listening to us than us listening to God. The danger here is that of a largely self-centered posture. Thus, why I prefer to place prayer at the end of the model. I've noticed that when I expect God to listen to me before I listen to Him, I trend toward mindless, me-first prayers. But if I listen to God before expecting Him to listen to me, then my prayers inch their way closer to God’s heart and gospel. The first three habits are how we listen first. The fourth habit is how we respond through faith. In this way, we place God’s Word and wisdom above that of our own.

*Two disclaimers:

1. This model is a way, not the way. You may have already settled on a Rule of Life that helps you keep God at the center of your thoughts, motives, words and actions. If so, praise God! I would love to hear more about it. If nothing else, just know that this model has been that for me, which is why I wanted to share it with you.

2. I don’t spend intentional time with God every day like I should. I know what you’re thinking: “But you’re a pastor. Don’t you get paid to pray and read your Bible?” Well, yeah, something like that. But more to the point: I don’t share this because I’m batting 1000, I share it because time with the Lord is essential. Though we come up with many other reasons for not putting God and His Word first, one of the more common reasons I hear is this: “I don’t know where to start.”[5]

I hope and pray that this content can help you get started.

If you’re full of questions, ask away!

For God's Glory,

JW

Footnotes.

[1] Thank you, Stuart Henslee!

[2] I borrowed this wording from Ronnie Floyd in his book, “10 Things Every Minister Needs to Know.”

[3] I credit Pete Scazzero for introducing me to the idea of a Rule of Life in his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.”

[4] Psalm 119:11, Matthew 4:1-11

[5] Others may include… I don’t understand what I read; I'm way too busy; Fortnite is calling; or I'm just really into Netflix right now.

 

Posted
AuthorJeremy Woods