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.

 

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AuthorJeremy Woods

Something I go back to often is my own daily need to “swim in the gospel.” The idea (not original with me) is simple: much like there are depths of the ocean that are impossible to fully plumb, so are the depths of God’s love, acceptance, and plan for us in Christ impossible to fully grasp.

As much as we think we may comprehend God’s free gift of grace, we could never find the bottom. God’s love toward us in Christ is deeper than the Mariana Trench, higher than Mt. Everest and more endless than the sands of every seashore.

Knowing this, Paul prayed fervently that believers in Ephesus “may have the strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth,” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” In this robust prayer, Paul makes it clear that the very strength that brings the all-surpassing love of God home in our hearts are the truths of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-21).

As Tim Keller puts it, the gospel is not merely the ABC’s of the Christian life, it is the A-Z of the Christian life. It is not just how we start, it’s also how we continue. The same gospel that saves us is the same gospel that changes us. Much like a fish was created to swim freely in water, you and I were created to swim freely in the grace and acceptance of God provided us in the gospel. However, because of our brokenness, we are quick to jump out of the pool.

A great way to keep swimming, and certainly go deeper, is by praying what JD Greear refers to as “the gospel prayer.”[1] The aim of the prayer is to saturate our heart and mind in the paradigms of the gospel by rehearsing its truths each day

Before I give you the gospel prayer, allow me to share how God has used it in my own life. At the beginning of this past week, I set a lunch-time reminder to pause what I’m doing for five minutes and say the gospel prayer out loud each day. In doing so, I seek to bring the four gospel-aspects of the prayer to bear on my emotions and circumstances. I actually paused writing this so I could.

Through that time, the Lord moved me…

… to confess and repent of sinful moments when I’ve attempted to earn, replace and supplement His approval with lesser loves.

… to invite blessing over people who have inured me.

… to pray boldly for salvation and restored marriages.

… to be still and let go of the pressure to be everywhere for all, know it all, and fix it all.

… to sing the promises of God out loud (at ease, no one else was around).

Ultimately, the prayer has increased my ability to “swim in the gospel.”

I believe it can increase yours as well.

So, here it is, in four parts…

In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.

Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.

As You have been to me, so I will be to others.

As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.

 

[1] The gospel prayer is actually the outline for Greear’s tremendously helpful book, “Gospel.” You can get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Gospel-Recovering-Power-Christianity-Revolutionary

 

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AuthorJeremy Woods

Can’t believe I’m saying this, but... 3 months!

That's how long it's been since we welcomed our beautiful baby Eleanor into our lives on November 8, 2017.

Seems like yesterday we were holding hands, walking on the beach, talking about having kids (2.5  years ago).

Seems like yesterday we found out we were pregnant (11 months ago).

Seems like yesterday we just brought her home (3 months ago).

And here we are, watching the newborn stage slip through our fingers like sand through an hour glass. It's been a privilege. It's been a joy. We wouldn't trade it for anything.

Overall, here are some *rookie* reflections on life and parenting these first 3 months:

Victoria: Victoria = Mom Goals. Victoria = Wife goals. Just simple math. The way she loves, serves, and nurtures Eleanor (and me) is without rival. I can't thank God enough for my bride of 6 years.

Eleanor: Struggles with FOMO. Looks a little bit like me. Has already made a friend her age. Her smile lights up a room. Her laugh is our favorite sound. Her aftermath sneezes are ridiculously cute (yes, cute). She loves morning cuddles with her Momma (actually, she loves anytime cuddles with Momma). We watch a lot of ESPN / College basketball together. All biases aside, she's a ridiculously cute (sorry, I said it again) baby. if "The Bump" finds out about her, she'll go viral.

Me: I've remixed a few songs since becoming a Dad. For example, "You Are So Beautiful" ... "Can't get enough of Your Love" ... and "You Are My Sunshine." I've also written a few originals. But, don't worry about those. One of my absolute favorite things is reading to her before bedtime (which is 8:30). So far, we're enjoying the Jesus-Storybook Bible & Cat In The Hat. I've also taken some really goofy selfies of her and I. She'll roll her eyes one day, but I don't mind. 

Sleep: The good part is, Eleanor has slept through the night a few times. Hard part is, it was only a few times. For now, sleep as a moving target. Sometimes it slows down, sometimes it speeds up. We've yet to find the bulls-eye (assuming that's a full, uninterrupted 8 hours). We'll take what we can get (And yes, I've been getting more than Victoria). 

Diapers: I come home to stories of Victoria changing them. I actually enjoy changing them. Eleanor laughs at me while I change them. Its a riot. 

Babysitting: We're pitiful, guys. The few times she's not been with us (which we could count on one hand), we've pulled out our phones, looked at pictures and laughed at videos of when she was. Call it love. Call it crazy. We'll probably keep doing it.

Words: Can’t believe what I hear myself saying sometimes. A few real-time examples… 

“Where is Wubbanub?”

“It’s 7:45pm. Time to go home.”

“Whose ready for tummy time???”

(*think high pitched, a little too excited, proud Dad voice*)

God: He hears our prayers. He still moves mountains. He has smiled on our home. Eleanor belongs to Him. We are His Ambassadors to her.

Money: Babies aren’t cheap. Emergency funds = good life decision.

Time: Until now, I never understood what parents meant when they said: "what did we even do with all that time before we had kids?" We are beginning to understand. Time flies, priorities change.

I'll end with gratitude. Thank you so much for each and every one of you who have supported Victoria and I in our new calling / adventure as parents. We are full of faith moving forward!

 

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AuthorJeremy Woods