Intro: Commitment to Christ
“Come, follow me.” (Mark 1:17)
Knowingly or not, all of us follow someone. We can do so with great intention and care, or we can do so haphazardly, stumbling from here to there but nevertheless moving in a general direction. We identify those persons whom we most desire to emulate, and we make our decisions accordingly. We all have some general conception of what the good life looks like, either through exposure to a model, or by piecing together a patchwork ideal all our own. It remains with us to discern whether or not our focus is on Jesus as our model, or on something or someone altogether different.
As you begin this journey toward living a more generous life, your first stop is Jesus Christ. You must consider his invitation, his life, his path, his truth. You must ask whether or not Jesus is truly worthy of your devotion, your dedication, your wholehearted discipleship.
God has supplied you with the grace necessary to bring you to a place where you can consider what a life committed to Christ entails. Trust him, whether for the first time, or yet again. Turn your life over to him, and see what good and beautiful things he might bring.
Jesus, I wish to be your disciple, and I trust you to lead me in a good way, a way that leads to a generous and beautiful life. Amen.
We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Before you made any move toward God, before you discovered or contemplated or considered Jesus’ invitation to follow him, God moved toward you. Before you did or said anything, God declared a deep, abiding love for you. God loves you. God loved you first. This is a life-altering truth.
Our capacity for love is influenced significantly by the love we have received. If our parents and other adults have loved us well throughout our lives, we find it easier to pass along love and encouragement to others.
Following Jesus is a natural consequence of realizing who he is and the greatness of his love for us. John Wesley, who at Aldersgate saw that “Christ died for me, even me,” is but one example of the transformative power of beholding the depth of God’s love displayed on the cross.
Likewise, may you behold God’s love and, as a follower of Christ, evidence that love to others.
Creator God, may my commitment to you be a response to your love and commitment to me, to save, redeem, and use me for your purposes. Amen.
“So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14)
We were created for God, to be used for God’s purposes, if we would only listen. But often we give in to enticements, other voices, and we serve other gods. When we do this, we often tread a path of destruction, leaving in our wake broken hearts, broken lives, disappointments, and failures.
The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to choose him as our master, as the one who always knows what is best for us, and who trains and equips us to follow all his commands obediently. Christ is calling you to follow him, serve him, and be transformed by him. He is calling you to a new kind of life! God will take your talents, abilities, passions, and unique personality and use them for the good.
Turn your life over to Jesus. Let him guide you. Leave behind old gods, and embrace him as Lord.
Almighty God, help me to choose to serve you this day, rather than false idols. Amen.
“Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t deviate even a bit from it, either to the right or left. Then you will have success wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7)
As you commit your life to Christ, you may find the task before you intimidating. You may be scared. It is daunting to imagine yourself becoming a different person. The battles you will face ahead may appear threatening.
Don’t be afraid. You are not alone. You can follow Jesus. You will be given all you need.
Like the women and men in the Bible, God calls you to pay attention to the Scriptures and the teachings of trusted pastors, teachers, and godly examples. As you move forward, God promises to journey with you. “Be very brave and strong.”
When you feel blindfolded, when you are unsure of the next step, God is there to guide you. Listen for the divine voice. Through prayer, worship, Bible reading, witness, financial generosity, and service, your ability to hear God’s voice will be sharpened. And as you come to greater clarity concerning God’s voice, you are invited to step forward in obedience, doing what Jesus calls you to do.
Gracious God, help me to follow your path, not deviating either to the right or to the left. Amen.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. (Acts 2:42)
In Acts chapter 2, we find an amazing story. We are told that on the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter and other disciples were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and began to announce the good news of Jesus Christ to all those gathered in Jerusalem. The result was overwhelming: three thousand were added to the number of disciples that very day. And the outcome was unity, as we see in verse 42: “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.”
These new believers learned from Peter and the other apostles. They gathered together with other believers. They shared the common meal that Jesus taught his disciples to observe, and they prayed.
Four simple acts. Discipleship. Fellowship. Worship. Prayer.
These four acts remain key for all who follow Jesus. As you walk with Jesus or explore what it means to follow him, find a group of believers. Hang out with them. Ask them to teach you about Christianity. Learn about the Lord’s meal. And pray, asking God to help you as you seek out truth.
Lord God, give me the desire to devote myself to your teaching, to the church, to the common table, and to prayer. Amen.
Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Following after Jesus is costly, and the grace that he extends to us, though free, was obtained at a price. This paradox stands at the heart of the Christian faith. You must deny yourself and follow Jesus.
What keeps you from following Christ? Do you have an attachment to money? Is your identity so intertwined with a social group or class of people that you fear following Christ might transform your understanding of yourself? Are you sometimes self-righteous, or vain, or prideful, and worried that following Christ might bring your flaws into the light?
Following Christ means freedom from greed and can lead to a life of generosity. Following Christ means freedom from insecurities and brings you into the fellowship of the saints, who are called to love and accept you regardless of age, race, social status, or any other attribute. Following Christ means freedom from self-righteousness and for selflessness, freedom from vanity and for a deep realization of your beauty as a child of God. Following Christ means freedom from pride and for deep humility.
Will you take up your cross?
Almighty God, you call me to a costly way. May I look to Jesus as my example, leaving behind every hindrance, and willingly sacrifice anything that would keep me from being obedient to your call. Amen.
Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The saying “the truth will set your free” is well-known, but too few know where it is found, and even fewer have contemplated what it might mean. Jesus is challenging his disciples to follow his teachings and to find freedom in him.
Elsewhere in John, Jesus identifies himself as “the truth.” It is Jesus, and following his way, that can set you free. You can be set free from any sin, any hindrance, any pretension. You can learn to serve others, be a voice for the voiceless, stand for justice. You can make joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control your way of life. You can learn from Jesus the way of generosity and humility and speech-that-builds-up.
In order to learn these things, you’ll have to be set free from hatred, despair, restlessness, impatience, anger, pridefulness, and sloth. These sins will not die an easy death. But as John Wesley wrote, in Christ “sin remains, but does not reign.” Jesus has claimed the victory over sin and death, and works by the Spirit to transform you into a new creature.
Let him set you free.
God, freedom is found in you. May I see and know your truth, that I might leave behind all that hinders me, and experience the freedom found in your grace. Amen.
Step 1: Prayer
“I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
There is a subtle logic contained in this saying of Jesus, one that could be missed. It is not simply a matter of asking Jesus for anything we desire in order to benefit ourselves. Jesus says he acts on our behalf “so that the Father can be glorified in the Son.”
Jesus acts to bring glory to God the Father through the granting of our requests. Therefore, the requests made in his name must take a certain shape, they must be “in Christ,” reflecting the character and heart of the one who declares he will grant us “anything.”
When you pray, ask God for anything, but remember God’s character. Ask that your soul might be formed in Christ-likeness. Then, as you grow, your petitions will become more and more glorifying to God, for they will reflect the heart of the one you follow and worship.
Father, teach me to pray in a way that will bring you glory. Form Christ in me, so that my heart will become like his heart. Amen.
You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings. (James 4:3)
Does God always give us what we ask for? Of course not. Good thing, too!
But why? God gives us permission to ask for anything. Yet we do not always receive what we ask for, sometimes to our great disappointment. This circumstance should lead to contemplation. The book of James gives us one reason why we may not receive that for which we ask—we do not ask with a right heart, and therefore God’s “no” is justified. Rather than sulking, we must learn.
Think of the relationship between a parent and child. If the parent grants every request the child makes, the child never matures or grows. Children ask for cotton candy until they are sick, but the loving parent will deny the request before that moment comes.
- H. Auden wrote, “Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.” The evil that resides in our own hearts is not always easy to discern. This is all the more reason to pray. For it is in prayer that we open our hearts to God and create space for the Holy Spirit to bring to our consciousness our need for repentance and a renewed reliance on God’s grace.
Gracious God, teach me to accept humbly those moments when you say no to my request. Amen.
“The Lord proclaims, the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord; call to me and I will answer and reveal to you wondrous secrets you haven’t known.” (Jeremiah 33:2-3)
You have been claimed by God in Christ. You are a child of God. God, “the Lord who made the earth,” invites you to bring your questions and your thoughts, both great and small, and place them before the throne. God then says you will receive an answer. You will be taught. You will discover things you have not known.
Often, we think of God as the one who grants our requests: our divine waiter or cosmic vending machine. We forget that God is also the One who made all that is, and in whom is found all true knowledge and wisdom. God desires to teach us.
Whatever your pursuit, you may bring it before God in prayer. You may ask to receive knowledge, to be instructed. Jesus, as your teacher, will instruct you. He will “reveal to you wondrous secrets you haven’t known.” No question is too great for him; no matter is outside the purview of his glorious wisdom and knowledge.
After all, he is the Lord of all.
Eternal God, help me to trust you as the source of all wisdom, and to bring before you my questions, my concerns, my every thought. Amen.
Do not be anxious about anything; rather bring up all of your requests to God in prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. (Philippians 4:6)
What are you most anxious about? Do you struggle to pay the bills? Is your marriage in crisis? Are you stuck in a dead-end job? Do you have friendships that are under strain?
Life is not easy. We are burdened by the concerns of the commonplace, the small yet continuous concerns that come with being in relationship to other people, with having responsibilities in the workplace or school, with keeping our commitments. We are also burdened with causes that capture our hearts, stories of a developing movement, hotly debated issues in the political or ecclesial realm, and more.
We live in a stress-filled time, plagued by busyness and pressure and worry. But we are encouraged to take our anxieties to God in prayer.
Go to God today, naming your troubles. Ask for comfort. Ask for wisdom. Trust that you have been heard. Give thanks for what is going well. And lean in to the future, knowing that God goes with you.
Holy Spirit, may I turn over every stress, worry, and anxiety that falls heavy upon my heart to your loving and eternal care. Amen.
Let my prayer stand before you like incense; let my uplifted hands be like the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)
The Psalms contain a record of many powerful prayers. They range from lament to celebration and record the full range of human emotion. There is happiness and sadness; hope and despair. But in all instances, God hears the cry of his people, even when his people sense God to be very distant.
Take a moment to focus on a particular concern you need to bring before God. If you need to confess your sin and offer repentance, you may wish to lay face down on the floor in a posture of humility and contrition. If you need to offer thanks, you may wish to raise your hands high in celebration. If you need to receive grace, you may want to extend an open hand, asking God to fill your palm with grace overflowing.
You may wish to consider your body posture during prayer. Do you sit still in a comfortable chair? Do you kneel beside your bed or another place you have designated as an altar? You may have a kneeler for this purpose. How does your posture communicate to God in a way that transcends your words?
Like the psalmist, let your body and your words guide your prayer.
God Who Is Worthy of Glory and Praise, let me come before you, body, soul, and spirit, bringing to you my entire being as an offering. Amen.
“Pray like this…” (Matthew 6:9a)
Our reading today is from Matthew 6. Open a Bible and find the passage. Jesus says, “Pray like this,” and then provides us with what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. If you know it by heart, then you have obtained a very helpful guide for learning how to pray, not only in repeating Jesus’s words but in adopting the themes for other concerns.
Jesus tells his disciples to petition the Father, asking that the Kingdom be present among them, thus “hallowing,” or making holy, God’s name. Jesus instructs them to ask for daily provision of food and forgiveness, as well as a generous heart that extends forgiveness to others. The disciples ask God to watch over their path, leading them away from pitfalls and temptations, and lastly, to trust all things to God’s care.
If this prayer is new to you, work diligently to memorize it. If you have long known these words, break it up in to phrases. Write each phrase in your calendar, one phrase per day. Instead of saying the prayer as a whole, take it piece-by-piece, asking afresh, “What does this mean?”
Jesus has given you a pattern to follow in prayer. Learn from it.
Lord Jesus, teach me to pray, so that I may come before you with confidence. Amen.
This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him. (1 John 5:14-15)
There is no request that God deems off-limits in the life of prayer. But not every prayer is answered in the way we desire. This troubles us. Oftentimes, we even ask for good things, such as recovery from illness or the alleviation of suffering, and it does not come to pass. Why would this be so?
In every instance, we simply cannot know why our prayers were not answered in the way that we desire. It takes a great deal of humility to concede this. But we do know that when our prayers are answered, it is an occasion of God’s grace. It is a cause for celebration and thanks. It is a sign to us that we have asked for something in accordance with God’s will.
Lord, help me to discern your will, so that I bring prayers to you that are good and right, that align with your purposes and hopes for this world. When my prayers are answers, help me to remember to give you thanks. Amen.
Step 2: Bible Reading
“Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32)
Oftentimes, we are like these admirers on the road to Emmaus. We have long known about Jesus. We have heard his teachings; observed his life. But we haven’t completely given ourselves over to him, for we perceive him as less than he truly is. We’ve read our Bibles, but we haven’t encountered God.
Once the two companions on the road to Emmaus perceived that Jesus was not a failed Messiah, but the fulfillment of the very hope of Israel, they moved beyond a posture of observation and spectatorship and stepped squarely into the stream of history as followers of the very one who set the world into motion. Once they saw Jesus as the one to whom the Old Testament was pointing, they understood that their allegiance could be to no one else.
The Bible assists us in becoming truly committed to Christ. In the Bible, we find the story of God’s redemption revealed fully in the person of Jesus, and as Jesus teaches us to read this story aright, we become characters in that very story. We become the actors through whom God brings about his good ends.
God, I have a desire to learn the story of the Bible in a way that helps me become a better follower. Teach me. Amen.
I keep your word close, in my heart, so that I won’t sin against you. (Psalm 119:9)
Opening our Bible and reading its contents grounds us, helping us remember who we are and to whom we belong. We have been created in God’s image, and, in Christ, we have received an inheritance as a child of God. By coming to grips with our identity, we are able to act accordingly. The choices we make, whether it be for sin or for righteousness, are a reflection of our self-understanding. Are we “lousy sinners” or “those in whom Christ dwells”?
The psalmist instructs us: by taking God’s words as they are found in Scripture and placing them at the center of our being—our heart—we are enabled to avoid wrong behavior and sinful action. When we read our Bible daily, we internalize what we encounter. Through familiarity with the narrative accounts, the commandments, and the wisdom sayings, we are empowered to live righteous and holy lives before God.
The Bible places us on solid ground.
Father, may your word saturate my thoughts, so that the story of Scripture permeates my life in such a way that I live blamelessly. Amen.
Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
When learning a new skill, it is wise to seek and learn from those who have mastered that skill, whether it be playing an instrument, molding a piece of pottery, or perfecting a jump shot. If we open our lives to a person possessing the authority and knowledge to help us progress, then our training will naturally include correction, teaching, and steering away from common mistakes.
Just as a master of a skill or body of knowledge has much to offer us when consulted, so too does the Bible serve as the critical source for our formation as disciples of Jesus.
A right reading of the Bible leads to a transformed life, for the Bible, read rightly, points beyond itself to the God who inspired it. Through an encounter with the God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, united to the Son, and adopted as sons and daughters by the Father. The Bible is not an end in itself. It is given to us so that we might be joined to God, and transformed by God.
God, may I have a open heart, so that the Bible teaches me, uncovers my errors, corrects me when I am wrong, and refines my character. Amen.
Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
There are both explicit and subtle pressures in our world encouraging us to privatize our Christian faith. But we are to share the word nonetheless, whether it is “convenient or inconvenient,” teaching, correcting, rebuking, and patiently inviting others to consider following Jesus. “If you have thoughts on religion, keep them to yourself,” says popular sentiment. The writer of Second Timothy disagrees: “Preach the word.” The command could not be more plain.
But to preach the word, one must know the word. This verse from Second Timothy is but a sampling of Scripture. There is more to be discovered. Take time today to read the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4, or choose another portion of Scripture to sit and soak with. Let the word permeate your mind. Internalize it. Let it shape you. And then share it. Spread some seed. Then wait to see what comes up.
Beautiful Savior, let my preaching of the word always build up, always encourage, always steer others right, and always point to you. In Christ’s name, amen.
The word of Christ must live in you richly. (Colossians 3:16a)
My identity as a disciple of Jesus is dependent upon stories, culture, and practices. The stories are given in Scripture. The word of Christ is contained within the Bible, a text that points beyond itself to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Bible must be read, experienced, and understood. And the best place for that to happen is within the culture and practices of the church, the people of God.
As you make Bible reading a daily practice, you will obtain a deeper understanding of the story of Israel and the words and work of Jesus. In this way, the “word of Christ” will come to “live in you richly.” You will grasp more fully the hope of Israel, and will see how Christ himself is the realization of that hope. If you read prayerfully, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit your reading of the Bible should result in a deepening love for God and neighbor.
As the Bible shapes your identity in Christ, Jesus points you to others, to serve, to share, and to witness.
Let the Bible lead me to Christ. Then, let Christ in me thereby lead others to himself. Amen.
You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. (James 1:22)
The Bible is filled with messages and reminders that guide us in wisdom and faithfulness. We are not only to read them or to hear them, we are to do them. We are charged to “love the Lord with heart, mind, soul, and strength,” and “to love our neighbor as ourselves,” along with many other commands.
But as James says, we must not only hear the word, but do it. Tend to the message of the Bible. Pay attention to the countless reminders of what Scripture commands, and put what you find into practice.
Today, be kind to a stranger. Smile at someone you don’t know. Hold a door. Offer a meal to the homeless man you pass each day on the way to work. Serve at a soup kitchen. Tell a teenager that you value her. Encourage a friend. Contact someone from your church and invite that person to join you for coffee. Tell your spouse one thing he or she does that you are thankful for.
Don’t just be a hearer. Be a doer.
God, your word is eternal and sure. I can stake my life on it. Ignite my passion for your truth as it is found in the Bible, and help me to live in accordance with what you have commanded me to do. Amen.
Therefore, let’s make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience, because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It is able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. (Hebrews 4:11-12)
God’s word found in Scripture is powerful. The philosopher Emile Cailliet once called the Bible “the book that understands me.” As he read through the Bible, he was amazed at how the stories and commands recorded in Scripture cut right to his heart, exposing his wrongful motives, challenging his assumptions, and inviting him to a good and beautiful way of life.
The writer of Hebrews described God’s word as “living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” God’s word cuts through the fluff. When you read the Bible, don’t simply read it to understand what it says. Let it read you, so that through reading it you can better understand yourself. Let it not only be the book you understand, but the book that understands you.
Father God, as I read the Bible I find words that convict me deeply. Help me take action; make me new. Help me discern every wrong motive and root it out. Put in me a new heart, a heart that desires to do as you have commanded in the Bible. Amen.
Step 3: Worship
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him; strength and joy are in his place. Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—give to the Lord glory and power! Give to the Lord the glory due his name! Bring gifts! Enter his presence! Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor! (1 Chronicles 16:27-29)
Worship is not so much a matter of willpower as it is the realization of wonder. If you struggle in your desire to worship, it may be because you have yet to grasp God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ.
According to the passage of Scripture above, the glory we ascribe to God is not something that we conjure in our imaginations; it is something that is deserved. It is God’s “due.” What might this mean?
The church proclaims Christ through the gospel—the announcement of forgiveness through his death upon the cross. This forgiveness is available to anyone by faith, regardless of age, race, economic status, or any other classification that divides us. But this “due” is something we can never fully repay, for the magnitude of the gift is infinite in scope. Therefore, our wonderment expressed in worship should never cease, for the gospel will always contain some hidden dimension that we can newly ponder and appreciate.
Christ is the rightful object of your desires. Christ is “just what you’ve always been wanting.” Look upon him. Let him stir your soul.
Holy and Blessed Father, you are worthy of all glory and praise. Amen.
I will praise God’s name with song; I will magnify him with thanks. (Psalm 69:30)
In worship, we sing hymns and praise songs to express our faithfulness and devotion to God. The songs chosen for worship are as significant as the sermons preached and the prayers prayed. They capture important points of doctrine and teaching, but they also stir the soul and awaken the affections. They help the people gain a deeper love for God.
Through singing, proper doctrine is imparted to the hearers, and truth moves from the head to the heart. Christian truth should not only enable right thinking, but also right feeling. Combined, right thinking and right feeling yield right living, or a transformed life. For those committed to Christ, all dimensions of the human person are changed through discipleship, and one avenue for discipleship runs through the singing of songs.
Praise God’s name with song. Magnify your praise with thanks. And rejoice as God transforms your heart in accordance with Christ-likeness.
Jesus, let me look upon you and discover the motivation for worship. Help me to sing to you in such a way that my love for you is deepened. Amen.
Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
You may be tempted to live your life as a solitary Christian. You may believe church gatherings are empty forms of religion and are of little spiritual benefit. But that simply is not true.
Christians gather each week to do more than sing songs, offer prayers, and hear a sermon. They come together to become holy and to imagine new ways of evidencing for others God’s work of redemption, which has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. We are to “think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works.” We do not gather simply so that we, as individuals, obtain benefit. We gather so that we might bless one another and the city, township, or village within which God has placed us.
Community should serve the purpose cited by the writer of Hebrews, to “motivate each other to show love and to do good works.” When that purpose is being served, we exhibit health, and when the worshiping community engages Jesus in this way, doing what he commands, then holiness follows.
God, help me to live in community and worship you alongside others. Amen.
“You will know them by their fruit. Do people get bunches of grapes from thorny weeds, or do they get figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, and every rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. And a rotten tree can’t produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, you will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-20)
Jesus makes an observation: Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees produce bad fruit. By making this observation, he is posing a question: What kind of tree are you? Character, Jesus says, is determinative for how we speak and act. We produce fruit in accordance with our character.
The worshiping community, the church, is the space we enter to be trained as disciples of Jesus. Worship, rightly focused upon God, renders us new creatures. Our hearts are transformed. We are made holy. And our lives then begin to evidence this transformation before the world. Worship is not behavior modification but renovation, all to God’s glory.
Loving and Merciful God, help me to turn my entire life over to you, so that my actions might bring you joy. Amen.
“But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
In John 4, Jesus encounters an astute theologian: a Samaritan woman, whom he meets at Jacob’s well. Their conversation touches on a wide range of topics, among them the difference between the worship of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah of Israel and announces that through him, worship of God has undergone both a renewal and a transformation.
Jesus is not only concerned with the fervor and passion of our worship; he is also concerned with the subject of worship. Jesus instructs us that “it is necessary to worship God in spirit and in truth,” a puzzling phrase that grabs our attention. What does it mean? Jesus calls us to know God as God, thus worshiping truthfully. We are also to experience God as God truly is, resting our spirit upon our heart’s true home.
True worship engages the whole person, enabling us to increase in our knowledge of God and our love for God. We are then sent into the world to serve God with our hands, putting what we have received on display, pointing others back to Christ.
Holy Spirit, renew both my mind and my heart, so that I might worship you in spirit and in truth. Amen.
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (Romans 12:1)
The word worship brings to the imagination an event, most notably a standard church service. But the biblical notion of worship moves us beyond an event and thrusts us forward to a constant way of life. The worship of God is not only marked by the words we say and hear, but is defined by action.
One of the sayings of the Desert Fathers, a group of fourth and fifth century Egyptian monks, reflects this sentiment well: “Abba James said: We do not want words alone, for there are too many words among people today. What we need is action, for that is what we are looking for, not words which do not bear fruit.”
Our worship of God should transcend what we do when we gather with other saints for the celebration of liturgy, the singing of hymns, the hearing of a sermon, and the praying of prayers. Worship of God should permeate every action undertaken in both our ordinary and extraordinary moments. Our bodies should be a “living sacrifice,” offered continually in service to God’s purposes for our world.
Lord, I want others to see you and come to know you. Use my life to draw others to you. Amen.
Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! Thank him! Bless his name! (Psalm 100:4)
How thankful are you?
What do you have that you are thankful for? What possessions? What people? What experiences? What has brought joy to your life?
You may think of many things. List them on a piece of paper, or share them in the comments. If you can’t think of anything, take a moment to consider: Are you focused on the wrong things? Are you so overwhelmed by negative experiences that you cannot be thankful for what you do indeed have? Do you love coffee? Do you love ice cream? Be thankful for those things! Even the simplest experiences and most commonplace objects can be a perfect occasion for thanksgiving.
Next time you enter a place of worship, bring with you those things in your life that you are truly thankful for. Tell God what they are. Give thanks. This simple act will transform your experience in worship. Though it may be only a trickle at first, it will turn on the faucet of joyfulness in your life and may eventually grow into a flood.
God, help me to know you as you truly are, and to experience you in fullness of joy. Amen
Step 4: Witness
“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The book of Acts makes it clear that by the power of the Holy Spirit, followers of Jesus are to point to his person and his deeds. We are to witness to who God is and what God has done. And by witnessing to God’s person and God’s accomplishments, we are to announce the gospel of Jesus Christ. By virtue of God’s character revealed in Christ and his atoning death on the cross, all people can be reconciled to God and to one another.
Like the first disciples in the book of Acts, we too are to witness. We are to point others to Christ. And we are given power to accomplish this task by virtue of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in the work; therefore, “fear not.” As you tell others about Jesus, be confident that the Holy Spirit is with you, helping you to speak and to act in a way that directs others to Christ.
Lord Jesus, by your grace may I lead others to you. Amen.
Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Your speech should always be gracious and sprinkled with insight so that you may know how to respond to every person. (Colossians 4:5-6)
Each day, we are presented with countless opportunities to witness to Jesus. Our text from Colossians instructs us that our words “should always be gracious and sprinkled with insight.” Our witness can take many forms. We may be given the opportunity to tell someone the story of Christ. We might have the chance to share wisdom from Scripture or from a church service or Sunday school class. We might simply share some bit of knowledge we have gained along life’s way in a kind and helpful manner.
We often imagine the task of witness as wrought with difficulty. It need not be that way. Your interactions with your friends, co-workers, family members, spouse, ex-spouse—all these can be seasoned with grace and undertaken in the spirit of the Lord. They can all give witness to another reality, to the hope that you have, to the deep transformation that has taken place in your life by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Every interaction we have is an opportunity to provide a glimpse of God’s grace. Welcome each person today—every stranger and outsider, even those close to you—as you would welcome Christ.
Glorious and Blessed God, give me wisdom to speak to others in a way that welcomes them in the name of Christ. Amen.
Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. (1 Peter 3:15b)
Witnessing to Jesus is a two-fold task and includes inviting others to the life of discipleship and answering the doubts, questions, and difficulties that those inside and outside the church have concerning Christianity. As Alister McGrath writes, “Evangelism could be said to be like offering someone bread. Apologetics would then be about persuading people there is bread to be had and it is good to eat.”
When we are asked concerning our hope, First Peter instructs us to “be ready to defend it.” We are to seek answers actively that address the questions our world is asking, and to respond in thoughtful, reasonable ways.
You may feel ill-equipped to witness to others. But let me encourage you: If you desire to grow in knowledge of the Christian faith, there are resources to help you, foremost among them the presence of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to guide you into the presence of others who can train you to articulate what Christians believe and why, so that when you are asked concerning your hope in Christ, you can provide an answer that gives him glory and honor.
Lord Jesus, my hope rests in you. Equip me to answer questions in a reasonable and intelligent manner. Amen.
Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, “As you go, make this announcement: ‘The Kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons.” (Matthew 10:5-8a)
We have been called on an adventure. We have been caught up in God’s salvific work. We are not spectators, but participants. The task of the witness is to give testimony to that which we have seen and heard. God has been at work, and we are invited to take part.
Our reading provides us with excellent instruction for the two-fold nature of witness. Jesus’ command encompasses physical and spiritual needs. Jesus does not just say, “Announce the Kingdom.” Nor does he only say, “Heal the sick.” Witnessing to the Kingdom in a faithful manner includes calling people to conversion and new birth, as well as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and protecting the needy.
There is not a single dimension of human existence that the gospel of Jesus Christ leaves untouched. If you have been caught up in the story of Scripture, God through you can heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons, and give evidence of God’s reign. You have been invited to take part in a grand adventure.
God Almighty, may your reign take hold in my life, so that I might give evidence to your Kingdom. Amen.
So, my child, draw your strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Disciples of Jesus are called to a great task. We are to take those things we have learned from faithful pastors and teachers and pass them along to others. We are to witness to Christ and the trustworthiness of his way of life, and to instruct others how they too can follow as his disciples.
It may be that the primary setting for the witnessing task may be at home. You may have a spouse who does not believe. If your children are young, you are called to instruct them patiently in the ways of the Lord. If your children are older, do not despair, but love them as Christ loved you. Pray for them. Serve them. Speak to them of your hope when you have opportunity.
Others may have the gift of evangelism and may be naturally inclined to steer conversations with new friends and old acquaintances toward faith. Even if you don’t have that gift, you can be an evangelist. Whether it be to our close connections or loose ties, we are called to witness.
Father in Heaven, give me the skills to faithfully witness to Christ through word and deed. Amen.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
More of us may qualify as evangelists than we realize. We not only witness to Christ by pointing others to him, but by teaching his ways. We announce Jesus as Lord, inviting others to live under his reign. We can live obediently in accordance with the passage above, words Matthew records as Jesus’ last before ascending to heaven.
William J. Abraham has written, “We can best improve our thinking on evangelism by conceiving it as that set of intentional activities which is governed by the goal of initiating people into the kingdom of God for the first time.”
In other words, the task of evangelism should not only be concerned with telling people about Jesus, but also equipping them to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. Faithful witness includes not only an invitation to believe, but to follow.
Ask others to join you on the journey. Walk with others. Follow after Jesus. See where he leads.
Lord, help me to invite others to follow after you, to trust you, and to learn from you. Amen.
“In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners they are like a “city on a hill” that cannot be hidden. Jesus said these words near the Sea of Galilee, which rests at the base of a valley. When the sun went behind the hills, the towns and villages dotting the hillside around the Sea of Galilee were plainly visible.
Followers of Jesus are to let their light shine. They are to act in Jesus’ name. When people notice, Christians are to explain humbly the reasons for their service, and invite others to give thanks to the God who sends his people forth to love, serve, and sacrifice for their community.
The things we do are of critical importance. The Christian life does not consist only in what we believe, but in what we do. It is in generosity, in serving, in caring for the poor and the outcast that we reveal to others who God is. Through these actions, a space is opened where we can extend an invitation for others to encounter God and to praise him.
Lord Jesus, help me to act in this world in a way that lets my light shine. Let my good deeds point people to you, so that they might give you thanks. Amen.
Step 5: Financial Giving
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too. (Psalm 24:1)
The Bible begins with God’s creation of the world. In Genesis 1, God turns the stewardship of the creation over to human beings, who as male and female are created in God’s image. They are to care for and steward the creation, working diligently to bring about its flourishing. They are to do so as God’s representatives, for the earth remains God’s possession, the fruit of God’s labors. The psalmist reminds us of this above: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
The truth of this statement has tremendous implications for our understanding of financial giving. All our posseions are gifts given to us that we are to steward and put to good use. The portion we return to God through the tithe or other special gift is a recognition of the origin of all that we possess. God has graciously provided us with all we have, whether it be financial prosperity, or the health, mental acumen, and diligence that were necessary for us to obtain what we have earned.
Financial giving is a much more inviting proposition when we first declare to God, “It’s all yours!”
Generous God, help me to see all that I have as yours, whether I have much or little. Amen.
“You must reserve a tenth-part of whatever your fields produce each year.” (Deuteronomy 14:22)
The Bible is unapologetic in discussing our income, possessions, and generous giving. In the Old Testament, the offering was not determined by a percentage of income but instead consisted of sacrificing a portion of crop and livestock yields. The act of sacrifice had a number of purposes, among them atoning for sin and caring for the poor and oppressed. In the New Testament, the practice of giving continues, described most powerfully in Second Corinthians 8 and 9.
For Christians, financial giving is not an act of righteousness to earn God’s favor. Nor is it an atonement for sins, as though turning over a portion of our money would justify our standing before God. Christ has already done these things! Instead, financial giving is a response of worship. God has generously given us the gift of life in the Son as preeminent among all other gifts. In light of this, we are able to use our many lesser gifts, including our income, to bless others in the way we have been generously blessed through God’s grace.
Lord, help me to give of my income proportionately, using the “tenth-part” as a baseline standard. Amen.
“Bring the whole tenth-part to the storage house so there might be food in my house. Please test me in this, says the Lord of heavenly forces. See whether I do not open all the windows of heavens for you and empty out a blessing until there is enough.” (Malachi 3:10)
Like the people of Israel, we are called to make sacrifices to God, and to give of our time, talent, and treasure in service to God. Yet often we do not. We are deceived in thinking either that there is not enough, or that God will not provide. So we hold back. We live with a scarcity mentality.
But our Scripture today tells us we need not fear. The challenge is given: “Test me in this.” God has provided you with not only enough, but an abundance. God has provided for you in the past, and will continue to provide. Think of the good that God can do with your gifts, extended with an open hand. You will see that with the giving of the gifts comes a blessing—not necessarily a financial return, but joy in the deep realization that the gifts you have given were first provided for you by God’s grace, and the gifts you release came from an abundance of what you already possessed.
Jesus, may we learn how to open our hands and give freely, trusting you will give us an abundance as we progress in our discipleship. Amen.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury.” (Mark 12:43)
There is an unfortunate myth that prevails among many Christian people that the only gifts that can truly make a difference are those that are large, extravagant, and impressive. It is not so. In our reading today, we learn from Jesus that it is not the amount that counts most before God, but the motivation. For gifts large and small, it is the heart that matters most.
Consider the widow. She gave two small coins. The gift was meager, but Jesus was impressed. He knew and understood the sacrifice. He also knew that she gave with a right motivation, unlike so many others. She humbly wished to serve God in her poverty, so that in the giving of the gift she might become rich. We have much to learn from her example.
Give with a humble heart, not to be seen, not to be praised by others, but out of love for God.
Lord God, transform me into a person who is able to give generously and with a pure heart. Amen.
“Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21)
Jesus tells us that we should “collect treasures…in heaven.” We should put our resources toward the eternal. While we should be wise in how we steward our finances today, our ultimate hope is in God.
The hope of Christians is that this life is not all there is, and that though our mortal bodies will one day expire, there will come a day when we will be raised with Christ, clothed in immortality.
Invest in the eternal. Be a good steward of your life, and take the material resources that God gives you and use them in service of the Kingdom. As it is written in Colossians 3, “Set your heart on things above.” When you do so, financial generosity will be a natural outcome, for we worship a God who is generous. If you struggle with the discipline of giving, think deeply concerning how much God in Christ has given for you. God’s action in Christ will melt your heart.
Gracious God, may my financial gifts be given with joy as a blessing to you and to my neighbor that is in need. Amen.
Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
How beautiful is your conception of God? How deeply have you come to know and appreciate the love of Christ? If you haven’t yet seen God as the most magnificent, benevolent, and gracious being in the cosmos, keep looking. The more fully you come to grasp God as revealed in Christ, the more you will grow in your desire to give. You will find “whatever [you] have decided to give in [your] heart” begin to change. You will grow to be a generous person, for we worship a generous God.
This kind of transformation, if it takes hold in your life and in your church, will have manifold results. What would be said of your church in your town if your generosity became widely known? What if your church were made up of “cheerful givers” who gave freely and with concern for the poor? What if your church gladly served the needs of many, and constantly sought to bless others without any expectation of return?
Giving is not simply a matter of obedience, but a matter of witness. It is an act of love for both God and neighbor. It is an evidence of manifold grace.
Lord, help me to be generous with my finances. Help me to give to those that are in need. Amen.
Happy are generous people, because they give some of their food to the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
The book of Proverbs includes many wise exhortations. It is true that the generous are happy. Why is this the case?
The generosity described in this selection from the book of Proverbs uses a specific illustration: giving some of one’s food to the poor. The happiness granted comes through the sharing of resources. If you look, you’ll find many opportunities to do this. Pack an extra lunch and hand it off to the homeless person you pass on the way to work, or serve at a soup kitchen. But there is a larger principle at work here—that of remembering the poor. Maybe you rarely think about the poor in your community. If so, find ways to help them financially, if not through service.
There is transformative power in giving yourself in the service of others. This kind of giving can be done in many ways. It is likely, for example, that your church has opportunities to serve the homeless and destitute. If it does not, find other churches in your area that engage in this kind of ministry, or start a ministry of your own. These ministries need financial and volunteer support, and you can be blessed by engaging in both.
Lord, give me the courage to serve the poor, and to be generous to all people both through service and through financial giving. Amen.
Step 6: Service
Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:10)
Our passage today declares that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good things.” We have been called for a purpose! We are called to love our neighbor, serve the poor, uplift the widow and orphan, comfort the afflicted, seek after the lost, retrieve those on the margins and bring them into the center, disciple others, care for children, announce the gospel, and more! We are “God’s accomplishment”!
Think of service this way: In Christ, you have been freed to live a new way of life. You have been freed for obedience, graciously undertaking the tasks God has given you. You no longer do good works to justify yourself, as though caring for the poor, speaking truth to power, advocating for justice, or converting others to Christ would improve or solidify your standing with God. You do them because God has planned these goods things as your way of life, in which you now are privileged to participate.
Service, then, is no longer a burden, but a joy. It is a grace. God has chosen you! And God desires to act in and through you! This is to be our way of life. We are made for good works.
God, may I discover deep joy in service of your purposes, and may I deeply sense your Holy Spirit at work making me holy. Amen.
Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)
The New Testament gospel accounts portray Jesus as someone full of enthusiasm, filled with the Spirit of God and driven by his Father’s will. Those committed to Christ will conduct themselves in this same way. Jesus had the Kingdom to announce, people to teach, sick to be healed, dead to raise, outcasts to restore, captives to free, and poor to dignify. There was no shortage of work.
It is the same today. Jesus calls us to follow his example and his teachings. Think of your community. If that is too broad, think of your church. What are the needs? Still too vague? Think of your home. As Mother Teresa wrote, “Bring love into your own home for this is where our love for others must start.”
Start small, in the immediacy of your life as it is today. Be filled with the Spirit. Be enthusiastic. And evidence great love.
Holy God, help me to be happy in hope, steadfast in trouble, and devoted to prayer. Amen.
Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Jesus called us to the difficult yet immensely rewarding work of following him and acting on his behalf in our world today. He warned us that the tasks we would be given would not always lead to a comfortable life, nor that disciples would be free from suffering. The work can be exhausting, as evidenced by Paul’s encouragement to the churches of Galatia to “not get tired of doing good.”
There are many saints who are tired of doing the work of ministry. They are worn down. There are others who have yet to participate as fully as they could or to help share the burden. You may fall into either category. If you are worn down, be encouraged, and invite others to participate. If you sense you have not yet engaged as fully as you should, go to your pastor and ask, “How can I serve?” Press on. Do the work. Celebrate the good. Be encouraged.
Finally, don’t quit. A harvest is on the horizon.
God of Grace, give me energy and strength to continue doing good, even if I am tired from laboring and working and serving. Amen.
Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Service to God includes advocacy on behalf of those on the margins: the voiceless, the poor, the widow, and the orphan. I do not doubt that you can bring others to mind who find themselves oppressed or marginalized. The Bible is clear: justice is found at the heart of God. Those who love God will do justice. And as we do justice among the voiceless and needy and vulnerable, we are changed.
Yet where to begin? Thomas A’Kempis, a medieval monk and devotional writer, advises us, “Do whatever lies in your power and God will assist your good intentions.” Do what you are able, with an attentive eye watching closely for the works and movement of God.
Jesus commanded us to provide food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for those who have none, and comfort for those in prison. Doing justice encompasses all these tasks, and also takes many other forms. Talk to a pastor or other church leader. Find ministries in your city that are conducting work you are passionate about. Take to the streets, and love.
May others see Christ in me as I work for what is right, speak up for those that are ignored, and advocate for the oppressed. Amen.
Whoever serves Christ in this way pleases God and gets human approval. So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up. (Romans 14:18-19)
Romans 14 addresses a conflict. At Rome, some in the fellowship consumed meat sacrificed to idols. While some found no problem with this (“Idols do not exist! Why let the meat go to spoil?”), others took issue, thinking this was not proper for those in Christ. Disagreement ensued, and division followed. But Paul tells Christ’s people at Rome to walk in love, to refrain from judging one another, and to live in “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” According to Paul, all those in the Roman fellowship should act in accordance with their convictions concerning this matter.
As too many Christians can testify, fractures occur in our churches. Disagreements arise, and division comes shortly after. Some disagreements are healthy and are of critical importance. But others only concern trivial matters, questions of conscience without clear mandate from Scripture. In such matters, we should refrain from judgment, work for peace, and build one another up. In this way, we serve Christ by serving one another. Working through conflict in a loving and Christ-like way is a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel.
Peacemaking “pleases God” and gains “human approval.” Let us therefore serve God and neighbor by conducting our disagreements in love.
Lord Jesus, give me the grace to serve others as a peacemaker. Amen.
“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.” (Mark 10:43)
This saying of Jesus might be the most counterintuitive statement ever uttered, and it continues to turn the world upside down. Jesus says that true greatness is found among those who are willing to humble themselves and serve.
This statement goes against every natural impulse. To most people, those who are great are those who wield power and demonstrate with force that they should be in charge! But among followers of Jesus, it is not so.
Jesus sends us forth as his ambassadors, calling us to live as he lived among us. Through his loving gift—his ultimate sacrifice on the cross—we are given a radical picture of other-oriented love. Jesus laid down his life for us in order to serve us, in order to open the gateway of heaven and to usher us in by his love, making possible our transformation in holiness and our living each day in hope.
Go forth and serve, not to obtain your own glory but to make the glory of God manifest, inviting others to the eternal dance of his boundless love.
Holy Spirit, equip me today to share Christ with one person in both word and deed. Amen.
“‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40b)
For followers of Jesus, feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, comforting the sick, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger are not optional. They are the natural outflow of a life of discipleship to Christ.
Get your hands dirty. Make service in a soup kitchen, a clothing closet, or a justice ministry your way of life. Find a small group of people or a church that you can serve alongside. As a preacher once said, “Get out of your seats and into the streets!” Make the love of God manifest for others through service.
Do these things as an act of discipleship to Jesus. Invite him along to teach you, and expect him to be there before you ever arrive, preparing the way. God will use your acts of obedience to change your heart, to transform you through abounding grace.
Jesus, call me forth to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and raise the dead in the church and in the world. Amen.
“So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)
When Jesus gathered with his disciples for the Passover meal, an argument arose concerning which one was the greatest. Jesus had entered the city of Jerusalem, and the twelve could sense that in him a new day had dawned. They would lead a revolution, overtaking the old powers of Rome and the corrupt priesthood. They would set things right by show of force. But, as is often the case in the gospels, the disciples’ vision was askew. Jesus had in mind a different kind of power, and a different mode of leadership. Jesus came as one who serves.
Service should be oriented to the other. It is not done so that we can be seen or celebrated. It is done in humility, conducted as an act of obedience to God. Service, when done rightly, follows the model of Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served.
Follow his model; follow his way. Love your neighbor, for by doing so you evidence your love for God.
Jesus, you said the greatest commandment is to love God and love one’s neighbor. Help me to follow that commandment today. Amen.