Practice Personal Disciplines

Practice Personal Disciplines

Chapter Four

Practice Personal Disciplines
Turn Off The Noise! 58 Benefits Of a "Christian Growth Group" 66
Importance of Daily 'Quiet Time' 60 Fasting For Spiritual Growth 68
Who Spilled Sunshine On My Floor? 62 Spiritual Growth According To Jesus 70
Are You a "Christian In The Making?" 64 Discussion Questions 72

Luke 10:38-42

Turn Off The Noise!

Near our house is a donut shop which offers all kinds of most deliciously 'sinful' donuts any dieter might be tempted with. And if their regular sugar coated delicacies are not enough to tempt you, they have a sign outside which lights up when their donuts are hot, fresh out of the oil. The other day as my son and I were running errands, 10 and behold I was knocked off my horse by that light from above. Responding to the beguiling illumination, I succumbed and entered the establishment. We each got a donut and sat down to eat. After about 30 seconds into our donuts, suddenly the power went out and the place was plunged into darkness and silence. The radio in the kitchen, the squeaks from the automated donut fryer, the steady sound of wind from air blowing through the central heating ducts, and a mysterious steady thumping coming from some unknown source deep within the store all stopped immediately.

After a few moments of this unnatural silence, people began to wonder out loud at what had happened. One worker commented, "Wow, I have never heard it this quiet in here before." It actually was a very pleasant, and since we were by a window, we had plenty of light to finish our donuts in peace. How refreshing it can be to experience a time of quiet in our noisy world. For those of us who live in the cities, we get used to it and it does not seem to affect us. One of my friends who lives out in the sticks, the Sand Hills of north central Nebraska, told me once how he notices the noise of the big city when he comes to visit in Omaha. Cars and machines run 24 hours a day creating a noisy place. And Omaha is nothing like L.A. or NYC! Sometimes it is good to get out away from the noise to experience "quiet".

This is true in a physical way, but even more so in our spiritual lives. We fill up our lives with so much. We become so busy; our DayTimers are full and we rush to this or that project. If we are not careful, the noise of our lives constantly breaks the silence we need in order to hear the voice of God. Rarely will the Lord shout to be heard. We must create times of silence to hear his voice, times for refreshing, strength, and peace. In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary created a time for "quiet." She knew that to be silent and listen when Jesus was talking was very important. What Martha did was important also, and we all must keep doing those things which are the necessary everyday aspects of living. But in order to have peace amid the noise of a full life, we need regular, daily times where we turn off the noise and listen to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests that "We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and

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we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God. Silence is nothing else but waiting for God's Word and coming from God's Word with a blessing." The best way to do this is to designate a certain amount of time, 5 or 10 minutes to do nothing but sit in silence and not feel guilty about not "doing" something, because you are! You are listening for God.

"Heavenly Father, help me create a space and time in my schedule to simply sit in silence before your Word. 'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The Lord desires to speak to me as a friend speaks to a friend, to give me counsel for living a peaceful life.

– Martin Adamson –

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Habakkuk 2:18-20

Importance Of Daily 'Quiet Time'

"Be still and know that I am God." A phrase such as this is heard throughout a lifetime. Only occasionally does it become a reality. In the first place, being still is not really an option for our generation. We are moving and progressing far more rapidly than anyone ever imagined. We drive ourselves harder and harder, chasing after goals and dreams which only seem to become farther from the reality. In the first place, being still is not really an option for our generation. We are moving and progressing far more rapidly than anyone ever imagined. We drive ourselves harder and harder, chasing after goals and dreams which only seem to become farther from the reality of our reach. There is no time to just stop and "be still."

In the second place, having such a little time available to us only leads us down a lane of deprivation. We are deprived of knowing God with first-hand knowledge. If we dare to discipline ourselves, we may squeeze God in sometime between morning coffee and a shave.

This simple text from Psalm forty-six is one of those we like to say, love to hear, but fail to obey. Did you notice that it is a command and not a suggestion? The two halves of verse ten are inseparable. Being still and knowing God are twins. You cannot have one without the other.

The goodness (and the sad news) is found in the truth that if we are not going to find time to be with God, He is going to make the time to be with us. For many it takes the event of a heart attack or the loss of a job before we will sit silently before our Maker. For others, God has a way of penetrating into our lives until we stop and take notice. If given a choice, I will take the latter, which is precisely what my Lord did for me this week. In my daily routine of doing those things which really are not all that important, God moved upon me as if He were saying, "Excuse Me, but I was here first!" That knocked me on my butt! Then I had time to sit and ponder the meaning of my existence in relationship to Jesus. Honestly, that did not take much of my precious time, nor were my conclusions very pleasant. When God sets you in your place, you really do know where your place is! The tingly feeling I experience while contemplating God was not from knowing that I am a child of God, but from knowing He expects certain things from me as a child of God. One is my obedience and the other is my attention.

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When David wrote this Psalm, I think it was son after he too was bowled over by a God who will not allow the trivial pursuits of life to replace Him. If I were David, I think I would have heard it a little differently. "Sit down. Shut up! I am God! You are not!"

"Lord, for this moment I am not going to pray for anything … 1 simply want to listen to You. Speak to me, O God." (Now listen).

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Satan shouts. God whispers. When God speaks, Satan trembles.

– Thomas Duckworth –

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John 15:1-27

Who Spilled Sunshine On My Floor?

A day without spending quiet time with God is like a day without sunshine. Unfortunately, we live in a world of distractions. Too many times we fill our days with other less important activities because of society's dizzying pace and come to the end of the day physically drained, mentally depressed, and spiritually shriveled.

I learned early in my married life that I would have to fight for moments alone with God. Four preschool children made unrelenting demands on me, and most of the time it was easier to give up than to persevere. I wanted to be attached to "The Vine" (John 15), but my devotional life seemed always to fly off center and disintegrate in a maze of constant chores and noisy voices.

One day I was standing at a sink of dishes watching my small charges as they played happily on the swing set outside the window. My attitude was frayed by sleep deprivation and lack of peace. Anger billowed behind my emotions, and I looked down and saw what seemed to be spilled flour on my kitchen floor. Teary-eyed I reached for the vacuum and swept the spot repeatedly, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed an odd circumstance, so I followed the source of the spill to a ray of sunshine coming in the window. Instantly my sour attitude changed and a smile broke across my face as question formed on my lips: "Who spilled sunshine on my flour?" The finger of light pointed upward to God.

That's how it is most days. God is trying to sprinkle sunshine on our schedules. Too often we dose the curtain and shut Him out. Prayer is a precious time. It's a time to invite God in and shut the world out. It doesn't have to be done in a closet. It doesn't even have to be done in isolation. As long as I lived at 7762 Greendowns, my altar was at the kitchen sink. It was there that I connected with God daily as I watched my children play happily outside the window. What had once been drudgery became my favorite time of day.

From that time on, everywhere we moved I set up an altar. There was the noisy den in one home, the yellow living room in another, the pink sitting room, and now the red and green bedroom. I require only two elements in my holy places; God and sunshine. God wants our fellowship and we need His.

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"Dear God, keep me walking in fellowship with you every new day."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God's presence brings sunshine into all the dark corners of my life.

– Loretta Jenkins –

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Romans 12:1-21

Are You a "Christian In The Making?"

"Missing last week's session was like missing a meal." With these words, Sue expressed her regret for being unable to enjoy the benefits of her small sharing group. She is among the many who are finding new meaning through these dynamic groups. When something ranks as high as a meal, it is important and anticipated. Personal schedules are arranged to accommodate it.

Sue's group is called a Christian growth group. Members search for God's direction and help through two means. One is study of the Bible or a Christian book. The other is prayer. Members share through two means. One is exchanging insights and understandings. The other is bringing new people to experience the group. Sue sensed that others in the group cared for her. She knew she was loved and respected. She belonged!

Members learned spiritual truths from studying the group's assigned readings. Application of these truths were made to Sue's life and to the lives of others in the group. Thus biblical principles became real. They were no longer just statements to be identified from the Scriptures. They meant something. This enabled her to better live the Christian life.

The group taught Sue to assume responsibility for others. She moved from self- centeredness to other-centeredness. This concern extended beyond the sessions. It became an attitude of love. Then it became love in action, love that is expressed in response to personal need. People need the concern and caring for one another which Sue experienced it comprises the special fellowship of Christianity. Fellowship is three sided: the individual, others, God. In a Christian growth group it is experienced in a setting where the meeting of human needs is stressed.

Sue and her associates are free to be who they are. They are free to examine what they believe. As they discover new insights they can test them against others. Through searching and sharing they find greater meaning in their lives. They see a clear picture of what being God's person in their situation is like. Then they cooperate with God in developing their lives to conform with that view. As expressed by W. Stanley Jones, each is a "Christian in the making."

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"O God, I sense a deep desire within me to become a transformed person through the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:1-2). Empower me with the needed discipline to change my life patterns to please you. Amen"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: The best that I can say about myself is that I am only a "Christian in the making." I determine to enjoy the lifelong process of increasingly becoming more like my loving Master, Jesus Christ!

– Dorsey Brause –

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Galatians 6:1-3, James 5:16

Benefits Of a "Christian Growth Group"

We are commanded to "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ". (Galatians 6:2). Sue's Christian growth group is a structure that accomplishes this. It opens members to intimacy -relationships in which persons, free of distrust and hidden motives, meet at the center of their lives, not only at the fringes. From this a freedom emerges which overcomes suspicions and fears. People become close and share. And this is extraordinarily beautiful. Everyone needs regularly to unburden themselves in the presence of other caring Christians (James 5:16)

Whenever eight to twelve people are interested, a Christian growth group may be formed. The group may meet at Church, in a home, or any place providing privacy. Inform interested persons of expected outcomes and activities. Determine a mutually acceptable time and place for meeting. Decide upon a resource for studying.

It is not necessary for a minister to lead all groups. Leaders usually can be prepared by the Church's pastor or director of adult ministries through several explanatory sessions. In some groups, leadership may rotate. The pastor or director of adult ministries should meet regularly with group leaders to provide coordination and direction. A group may study the Bible or thought-provoking Christian book.

Christian growth groups do not replace the need and value of worship services. Just the opposite occurs. They enrich and give new meaning to Sunday services. And these services can give new meaning to small group experiences. The worship service is for public proclamation and exposition of the gospel. Attendance at these services prevents small groups from becoming introverted, overly personal, and out of touch with the totality of God's message to the world.

Small group experiences, on the other hand, prevent larger worship services from becoming overly formal, ritualized, impersonal, and sterile. Congregational worship services and Christian growth group experiences complement each other. Each provides what the other lacks. Both should be provided. Our Sues (and Joe's) must not miss their meals.

"My loving Heavenly Father, give me courage to meet other struggling believers at the center of their lives, and not always at the mere fringes of their lives. Help me to lay down my personal fears and defenses and suspicions of others, that I might experience

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the joyous freedom of being an honest and authentic person who communicates openly and intimately within the context of a small and caring group of earnest believers. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will no longer remain aloof in lonely isolation from other believers, but I now commit myself to become a faithful participant in a small Christian Growth Group, either by joining one or by starting one!

– Dorsey Brause –

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Isaiah 58:6-9

Fasting For Spiritual Growth

I decided to go on a fast. I had not fasted for years, even though all Free Methodist Pastors are encouraged by the Book of Discipline (the official 'Guidebook" for the Denomination) to regularly fast. The second day of my fast, as I was driving to work, I was listening to a song by Michael W. Smith, when God broke through to my Spirit and I began to weep. A deep inner work of God moved my Spirit.

Why would one want to fast? It seems crazy in this age where we get impatient waiting in line at McDonalds. Perhaps that is the very reason we should fast. In this consumer age in which we are living, fasting and prayer are our strongest Spiritual disciplines to counteract the gluttonous influence of our culture.

Every time we say "yes" to our earthly desires, our desires say "more". Self-discipline gives way to habit. Our habit of indulgence makes the soil of our spirit like concrete. Fasting is a powerful sledgehammer, which can break up habits and soften our souls. Through fasting and prayer, the habit of indulgence through saying "yes" and "more" is chipped away through a continual process of saying "no" and "less".

The habits of life, such as watching TV, eating junk food, and the striving for recognition, pollute our minds, bodies, and spirits. A periodic cleansing is needed. The water or juice that we drink during a fast has a cleansing effect upon the body, just as the prayer and confession have a cleansing effect upon the soul. A fast that involves physical denial and Spiritual filling through prayer brings us back to balance.

How long should we fast? Fast until the last piece of concrete is broken, revealing the soft soil beneath, soil in which the seeds of the Gospel sprout and grow the fruit of the Spirit. Fast until one's desire and cravings for material things such as food and pleasure, and emotional things such as recognition and pride, have completely disappeared and turned into an intense hunger for the Spiritual.

How should we fast? Fast with a humble and broken spirit, seeing yourself as nothing but what God has made you. Fast by continually yielding your body, mind, and spirit to God.

"Lord, is it your "ill for me to fast? If I were to fast, would my motives be right in your sight? What can I do to allow you to soften my Spirit, to break my hurtful habits, and enable You to exercise greater control of my life? Lord, I yield to you. I continually yield to you. ! want to be soft in which your Spirit can grow."

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AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will fast in a way that offers every ache of my stomach as a prayer to my God!

– Brock Hoyer-

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Mark 4:26-29

Spiritual Growth According To Jesus

Better than anyone else, Jesus understood the principles for dynamic spiritual growth.

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." Mark 4:26-29

My new lawn was a lush green color. Neighbors said it was the nicest lawn in the new subdivision where I lived. When hot weather came, at first I watered it. When I got my water bill, I remembered what someone had said to me about lawns being able to go dormant.: "You have two choices, water your lawn every three days, or let your lawn go dormant. If you don't water it and let it go dormant, it will come back again in the fall and spring." I decided to save some money on water and let my lawn go dormant.

My lawn turned yellow, and then after two weeks of no rain, patches of it started to turn white. I realized that I had been given bad advice, or at least incomplete advice. I watered my lawn again. The patches that were yellow came back a lush green color. The white spaces stayed white.

I learned something about plants. If they are not growing, they are not healthy. The moment they stop growing, they begin to die. A mature plant can go without water longer than a young sprout because they have deeper roots (Jeremiah 17: 8). However, when a mature plant goes without water long enough, the root dies, no amount of water will bring it back.

It is no coincidence that Jesus used the plant more often than any other metaphor to describe the kingdom of God. What is about a plant that is similar to the Spiritual?

There are five Spiritual principles which come out of Jesus' plant metaphors: the sowing principle, the germination principle, the soil principle, the growth principle, and the fruit (or harvest) principle.

These five principles describe an individual's Spiritual growth process. The sowing principle states that God is continually sowing His Word, the Good News, everywhere. The germination principle states that faith may lie dormant, and then suddenly spring to life with incredible power. The soil principle states that we are the soil and must be

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yielded to God for germination and growth to occur. The growth principle states that it does not matter how small faith begins; what matters is that it is continually growing. The fruit principle indicates that there will be Spiritual fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience etc.) In our lives and a harvest or multiplication of Christians as a result of the growth of God's Spirit in us.

"Lord, thank you for sowing your good news everywhere I look. Help me to be more aware of your Spirit. Germinate your Spirit in me in power. Grow in me. I yield my life continually to you. Grow in me the Spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace and patience. May my faith be seed which you can u se to sow upon my relatives, friends and neighbors. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Today I will carefully water the lawn of my heart, to guarantee the continuing lush growth of spiritual life and vitality!

– Brock Hoyer-

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Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think that it is necessary for a following of Christ to develop the habit of personal involvement in a private "Daily Quiet Time"?

  2. Share ways in which you have personally enhanced your "Daily Quiet Time", in terms of logistics and content and variety. Share some of the significant benefits which you have derived from your faithful observance of a personal "Daily Quiet Time."

  3. Tell if you "identify" with the following statements: "We become so busy; our 'DayTimers' are full and we rush to this Old Testament that project. If we are not careful, the noise of our lives constantly breaks the silence we need in order to hear the voice of God. We must create times of silence to hear IDS voice, times for refreshing, strength, and. peace."

  4. From your own personal experience and from your study of God's Word (Bible), have you found it to be true that, if you fail to take time to be with God (in solitude and in earnest prayer), God "makes time" to be with you (perhaps by "getting your attention" through an unexpected change of circumstances)? Why is it so difficult in our modern society for persons (believers) to obey God's command: "Be still and know that I am God"? (psalm 46)? Is it possible for one to "know God" without being "still'? Are you (as a child of God) learning daily to "take time to be holy, to speak often with your Lord, to abide in Him always whatever betide"?

  5. As you "go about your daily tasks", have you discovered the joy of making an "altar of prayer" at the kitchen sink or at your carpenter's bench or at your conference business table (or at a thousand other places)?

  6. Shall some specific "benefits" which you have enjoyed as a result of your faithful (weekly) participation in a "Christian Growth Group".

  7. Should "Christian Growth Groups" replace the larger Church worship services, or simply be a supplement to them?

  8. Tell to what extent you agree (or disagree with the following statements: "Attendance at public worship services prevents small groups from becoming introverted, overly personal, and out of touch with the totality of God's message to the world. Small group experiences, on the other hand, prevent larger worship services from becoming overly formal, ritualized, impersonal, and sterile."

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  9. What "benefits" can you personally derive from an occasional or regular practice of Fasting (going without food for a particular time and for a spiritual purpose)?

  10. From a study of a physical plant, what five principles can be learned which describe an individual's spiritual growth process.

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