Monday, June 27, 2016

Discipleship Lessons

This year I took our congregation through the New Testament letter of James. To make application easy to remember, I summarized each message with one main discipleship lesson. James is all about practical discipleship. His letter encourages disciples to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ in all of life. So most of these lessons are very action-oriented. Some also call for self-examination. Together, these lessons help us mature in Christlikeness, as we aim to be doers of the Word (1:22).

  1. Be joyful because God is using our trials for spiritual transformation (1:1-4). 
  2. Pray confidently with a stable, God-centered faith (1:5-8).
  3. Reverse your thinking in how you view yourself and others (1:9-11).
  4. God is completely sovereign and yet we are fully responsible (1:12-18).
  5. The evidence of our discipleship is found in our godly speech (1:19-21).
  6. The evidence of our discipleship is also found in our obedience to Jesus (1:21-27). 
  7. The glory of Christ should grab our gaze, not gold and garments (2:1-9). 
  8. The only cure for our sin is obedience to Christ that rests on his mercy (2:10-13).
  9. No one can separate genuine faith from active works (2:14-26). 
  10. Your tongue is evidence of who controls your life (3:1-12). 
  11. Jealously and selfish ambition will destroy your discipleship (3:13-18). 
  12. Sinful pleasure and pride will also destroy your discipleship (4:1-6a). 
  13. Pursuing humility is the way to repair our discipleship (4:7-10). 
  14. Disciples are cautious when talking about people and future plans (4:11-17).
  15. Living in luxury and self-indulgence carries eternal consequences (5:1-7).
  16. There is a great reward when you persevere in your discipleship (5:7-11).
  17. Prayer is the lifeline of our discipleship (5:13-18).
  18. Discipleship must be carefully grounded and guarded in the truth (5:12,19-20).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 Lifeline Lessons on Prayer

At the end of James, an entire section is devoted to the importance of prayer (5:13-18). Prayer is encouraged in all occasions, must be fervent, and persistent. Followers of Jesus Christ know that sustained prayer can be difficult at times. That is why there are so many admonitions in the Bible about prayer. But for faithful discipleship, ongoing prayer is vital. It is the disciple’s lifeline. Here are five lifeline prayer lessons to encourage a stronger prayer life. They only work if you put them into practice, as a doer of the word (Jas 1:22). 

1) Pray Scripture constantly.  The best way to stay connected in prayer is to connect it to your daily Bible reading. Take a verse or a theme from what you read and turn it into prayer. The Psalms work well this way. Also, a helpful book that encourages this is Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. 

2) Have a widening circle of prayer.  One of the easiest ways to get stuck in a prayer rut is to pray with a short daily routine that only includes trivial needs. Christians should aim at a widening circle of prayer concerns and prayer groups. Practically, get outside of yourself in prayer; pray about, with, and for others. Pray for what God is doing in the world through global missions. Get past the sick list. Pray for spiritual growth for yourself and others. Join in prayer groups if you can. This is the nature of basic discipleship.

3) Keep a prayer journal.  This is not for everybody, but it can be useful for many. My wife has kept something of a prayer journal for years, and it is encouraging to look back and see what God did through prayer a decade ago. The prayer journal can be used to record prayer requests, answered prayer, Scripture, encouragement, and trials of faith. A prayer journal may be the added accountability for personal discipline that some need. 

4) Remember that sin is the stumbling block to a vital prayer life.  I don't need to go into much detail on this one. One example of this is found in 1 Pet 3:7. If husbands don’t treat their wives well, God will not hear their prayers. Simple enough. You cannot have an amazing prayer life if you are not submitted to Christ in obedience (Jn 15:7). 

5) Don’t ever stop praying (Lk 18:1).  Jesus told his disciples a parable “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” This seems to be the point of another parable Jesus told in Luke 11:5-13 (ESV): 

 “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Prayer is so vital to discipleship. For it to mature and work, perseverance and persistence are needed. So keep on praying. Don’t let go of your lifeline.