Here are some great suggestions for growing in 2012. My wife and I implemented several of these in 2011 and hope to add the rest in 2012. As Andy notes, it has been very important for our marriage and our growth in grace and knowledge of the Lord.
1. Read your Bible before you read your email, login to FaceBook, turn on the radio, etc.
Far too many of us spend time in the world, before we spend time in the Word and as a result we begin the day with the wrong frame of mind and perspective, and not having “broken our fast” by partaking of the bread of heaven. For many people, this means that they begin the day having partaken of things that cause them to be irritable, anxious, or distracted, rather than filled with the things that promote peace, contentment, and knowledge. If we wonder why we are weak in the faith, it might just be because our primary diet consists of things that are not spiritual food. Let your first meal in the morning be the milk and meat of the Word of God!
“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.”
— Psalm 119:97–99
2. Start attending the church events you normally miss
If there is one thing we learn from the Apostolic church, it is that they never missed an opportunity to worship together. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This should still be the fondest desire of every Christian’s heart. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1). But it is also something that we desperately need for our growth.
Indeed, the Christians who are growing the most in the faith are almost invariably the ones who spend the most time in worship and study. Sometimes people really are providentially hindered from attending the services of the church, but more often than not we have simply made a decision not to go. There are many excuses we can generate for not coming to both worship services on Sunday or the Bible Study or the Prayer Meeting, but how often can we honestly say, “Lord, the thing that I am doing instead of going to church is more important than worshipping you with the saints and is better for my spiritual growth?” Do we really think that the eternal blessings that we gain from attending on the means of grace will not outweigh the temporary hassles of traveling to church? Do we expect that in heaven we will say, “I’m glad I didn’t go to church more often?” or that if we did attend all the church services we could that we will regret doing so?
Finally, before you protest that you would be physically exhausted if you attended more of the services of the church, make sure that there aren’t other activities you could cut out that would enable you to get more rest. Often church is the first thing we remove from our schedule rather than the last. Christians are by definition people who hope to spend eternity in the corporate worship of the Lord, and we need to begin living now as we mean to continue forever afterwards. Remember, we can suffer from a lack of grace, but it is impossible to suffer from having gotten too much of it!
“. . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
— Hebrews 10:25
3. Begin and stick to a pattern of daily family worship
Properly understood there are three different spheres in which worship should take place; privately, as we do our personal devotions, corporately, as we assemble for worship with the other saints on the Lord’s Day, and household, as families assemble to worship together on a daily basis.
While all the different spheres of worship have declined in modern times, perhaps none has suffered quite so much as family worship, and I believe that the results of this decline can be seen in the exodus of covenant children from the church. Simply put, an hour of corporate worship or even an hour of corporate worship and a youth program like AWANA cannot ever replace daily household worship and instruction. Fathers, you and not your pastor, youth pastor, or Sunday school worker have been charged with bringing up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). You simply cannot do this without following that daily pattern of instruction and worship set out in Deuteronomy 6. Additionally, Family Worship is a bulwark of any marriage, and you will find that although it is a cliché, there is a LOT of truth to the saying “The family that prays together stays together.” Indeed, it isn’t surprising to see that as family worship has declined, divorce rates have increased. In 10 years of pastoring, I have yet to encounter a family that kept a regular pattern of daily family worship that was on the verge of divorce.
Many families are intimidated by the thought of starting a pattern of family worship because they were not brought up doing it themselves, and were thus never taught how to worship at home. The keys to starting off a successful program of family worship are simplicity and consistency. If you have never done it before, I would recommend you start this way:
First, pick an event that the entire family already does together, such as eating a meal like then covenant that as soon as you have finished your meal you will assemble together for family worship. Keep your family worship simple and brief, and make your family wish there were more of it rather than wish that it would finally end. A sample pattern for worship might include:
- Father or mother prays.
- Father reads a short selection from the Bible (no more than a chapter!) that he is familiar with and can explain, or from a good family devotional like the ones written by Jim Cromarty.
- Father explains the text and asks the children some questions about the text designed to stimulate thought and conversation.
- The family closes by praying together and offering up their individual praises and requests to God.
Later, after your worship has grown consistent, you can begin gradually adding in other items like singing and reciting the Shorter Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, etc.
“We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” — Psalm 78:4–7
4. Start reading systematically through the Bible
One of the trends that has emerged over the years is that while Christians read email, text messages, magazines, novels, and FaceBook, they rarely read the Bible. The Bible reading that does go on is either needs based (I have to read this for a Bible study) or random. The result of this is that Bible knowledge amongst Christians is declining at a precipitous rate. As an example of that, one seminary president pointed out that while it used to be the case that only 1/3 of the incoming class failed the English Bible exam, now only 1/3 of the incoming class passes the English Bible exam. It should shock us that the majority of future pastors begin their training without a firm grasp of the content of the Bible, but it should be even more distressing when we consider that these men usually represent the most biblically astute members of the church.
A failure to read systematically through the Bible also tends to generate an atomistic understanding of verses. We may be familiar with what a particular verse says, but we are not aware of its context or its connection to the rest of scripture. This often leads to serious theological error. It also often means we fail to recognize the progressive nature of revelation in the Bible.
Instead, find a Bible reading plan such as McCheyne’s and read through entire books in BOTH the Old and the New Testaments. Even if you don’t want to begin a Bible reading plan, at least begin a process whereby you select books of the Bible and read them rather than merely letting your Bible fall open at random.
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:14–16
5. Read at least two Christian biographies this year
Few things are as informative and encouraging as the biographies of great Christians. Through them, we learn that the God who equipped and sustained the Christians of the Bible is still raising up ordinary men and women like ourselves to go out and do extraordinary things for his kingdom. These biographies are packed full of practical Christian wisdom that would take us a lifetime or possibly several lifetimes to learn ourselves. My own testimony is that other than the Bible, no other kind of book, has taught me as much as biographies about the Christian faith and I include systematic theologies in that statement!
If you have never read Christian biographies before, I would recommend getting started with the excellent collections of short biographies written by Faith Cook.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” — Hebrews 12:1
6. Start keeping a prayer log
We are told and shown again and again how powerful prayer is and encouraged with statements like “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” to be often in prayer for one another and yet many Christians have great difficulty praying on a regular basis, and many do not know what to pray for or doubt the efficacy of their prayers when they do. Other times we simply forget the things that we have said we will pray for.
Most of these problems will be immediately eliminated if you simply begin to record the things that you should be praying for, and then also record the way in which God answers your prayer. This will also help you to become consistent in your prayers. I would recommend you use an organizer, or a notebook, or your computer to start listing the things you are praying for and the way in which God answers those prayers.
“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.” And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”’ Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?”— Luke 18:1–7
7. Start meeting for fellowship and accountability with other Christians
One of the reasons we often wither in the faith, become susceptible to temptation, or simply “get into a rut” is a lack of regular fellowship with Christians outside of our own family. Make it your habit to meet with Christians, of the same sex, for regular fellowship and seek out Christians who are further along in their walk to be your mentors. Often in scriptures like Titus 2 we see it taken for granted that older Christian women will mentor younger Christian women, and that older Christian men will mentor younger Christian men. These brothers and sisters will pray for you, exhort you, teach you, and stir you up to love and good works. They will also keep you accountable in ways the world NEVER will.
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” — Hebrews 3:13
8. Begin reading about and praying for the persecuted church
From time to time most of us will grumble about our lot in life and frankly be discontent about our circumstances. We will condemn anything the causes an uncomfortable change in our lives as “unfair” and our three great enemies the world, the flesh, and the devil can use these practices to cause harm to us and those around us. This is usually the result of making a habit of comparing ourselves to ourselves, or perhaps those whom we perceive to be in even more agreeable circumstances than we are. When, however, we are well acquainted with what our brothers and sisters are enduring for the faith in Islamic or Communist nations, we will quickly realize that our own circumstances are almost ideal by comparison. One Indian pastor I spoke with openly wondered how one could even preach the gospel in the midst of so much material wealth. His own congregation worshipped in a cinder block building with a corrugated metal roof and no air-conditioning. No one in his entire congregation owned a refrigerator, and the idea of being able to have flush toilets and clean hot and cold water coming out of taps in your own room was unheard of. What we take for granted, they considered to be like living in heaven already.
Also, if we consider what our brothers and sisters in Christ have to endure, we will recognize that Paul’s statement that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) remains true. Indeed, our own faith may be strengthened by the fact that the Lord who sustains persecuted Christians in the midst of so much tribulation is the same God who has promised never to leave or forsake us as well.
Above all, we should be praying for the persecuted because we are commanded to do so, and if the circumstances were reversed and we were the ones being attacked or imprisoned for our faith, we would want to know that no matter how bad things were, other Christians were praying for us!
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also.” — Hebrews 13:3
9. Start praying that the Lord would give you opportunities to share your faith with others
The results of Barna polls conducted in 2010 suggested that American evangelicals are becoming less evangelism oriented than ever, and “less inclined to discuss Christianity with their friends than was true in the past.” This is tragic for two reasons, first, because sharing the faith is one of the primary ways our own faith grows and is strengthened, and second because this is and always has been one of the primary ways that God uses to spread the gospel, even in times of persecution. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Make it your aim to pray that the Lord would not only give you opportunities to talk about Christianity, but that when those opportunities arise, you would take advantage of them. In order to encourage you to do that, I want to share with you an exhortation that Charles Haddon Spurgeon delivered to the members of his own church on May 1, 1870:
If you have found mercy, you ought to praise God and tell others, so that they may believe and in their turn lead others to Jesus. This is the way the kingdom of God grows. I am afraid you are guilty here. See to it, dear ones, and who can tell of what use you yet may be? There was a dear servant of Christ who was just on the verge of the grave, very old and ill, frequently delirious. The doctors said no one must go into the chamber except the nurse. A little Sunday-school boy, who was rather curious, peeped in at the door to look at the minister. The poor dying servant of God saw him, and the ruling passion was strong even in death. He called him. “David,” said he, “did you ever close in with Christ? I have done so many a time, and I long that you may.” Fifty years later, that boy was living and bearing testimony that the dying words of the good man had brought him to Jesus, for by them he was led to seek Christ.
You do not know what a word might do if you would but speak it. Do not keep back the good news that might bring salvation to your wife, to your husband, to your child, to your servant. If you have indeed felt the Lord’s anger pass away from you, right now, on your knees repeat this vow, “My God, I will praise You! I have been a sluggard. I have been very silent about You. I am afraid I have not given You of my substance as I ought. I am sure I have not given You of my heart as I should. But oh, forgive the past, and accept your poor servant yet again. Then ‘I will praise thee; for though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and you comfortedst me.’”
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
— 1 Peter 3:15
10. Don’t do anything you couldn’t ask the Lord to bless in prayer!
Many years ago, an evangelist by the name of Brownlow North wrote the following simple but helpful rule for Christians: “If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God’s blessing on it. (Col. 3:17). If you cannot do this, it is wrong. (Rom. 16:23).”
Sometimes we will have difficult decisions to make over issues that even sincere Christians disagree upon, but more often than not, the word of God contains explicit advice on the subject, but we would rather not follow it. For instance, we can be assured that whenever our action will clearly cause us to violate one of the Ten Commandments, it is wrong. If it is not of faith, it is sin, and if God wouldn’t bless it, you shouldn’t be doing it!
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” — Colossians 3:17