Beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. Instead, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
– Peter 3:17-18
The gospels are filled with language that focuses on our want and desire for the things of God. If you look at the beatitudes, you will see that many of the words that Jesus used focus on physical desires like thirst and hunger. If we were to take those words literally, how many of us could say that we seek God in the same way that we seek food and our own well-being?
Cultivating a desire for the kingdom of God does not earn us our salvation. But it does push us along our journey towards Christ-likeness. It is a fuel for our sanctification.
As you approach Christian Friendship with one or two others, or seek to cultivate disciplines on your own, it is helpful to review this set of questions in determining where to start:
- Have you ever had a strong and long-lasting desire to pray (over 6 months) ?
- Have you ever thought to learn the scriptures in a sustained way (4 months or more)?
- Have you ever been in a context where you practiced being honest about your sin with God and someone else (friends, faith leaders/priests, counselor, close friend)?
- Have you done outreach or mission-oriented work in a formal way (with a church, youth group, parachurch ministry, religious order)?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, then growing in this discipline simply takes the same focus and desires from your past and uses them in a more sustained and focused way so that your heart may grow.
If you answered no to 3 or more of these questions, then you should think about what it might look like to build on existing desires.
Building a habit of discipline isn’t meant to supplant existing faith commitments – whether small groups, serving in the church, or other ministry callings. Instead, it is meant to sit side by side with your other faith commitments.
As you cultivate a life of prayer, reading the scriptures, confession, and mission – it is important not to try to tackle all of these areas in equal measure at the same time. Instead, keeping your existing commitments and rhythm, prayerfully discern which of these areas you currently want to deepen as a manifestation of your commitment to seek first the kingdom of God.
- It can be hard for most Christians to sustain prayer for more than a few minutes at a time. Depending on your background, you might be most inclined to a particular style of prayer (spontaneous, liturgical, or group-led, to name a few). Whatever your starting point, growing a life of prayer is more about the intersection of regularity and love than anything else.
- First, regularity. A person who is prone to somewhat random acts of prayer (finding it easy to pray for up to an hour in a prayer meeting, but difficult to pray more than 5 minutes in other settings) will not cultivate a heart that loves to pray. Scripture calls us to pray without ceasing, which in some sense means that Christians should eventually find prayer becoming regular and easy to access at any time of day.
- Second, persistence: In order to let prayer become second nature to our thoughts and actions, we have to start pushing into places that we don’t want to pray. In order to do this, developing a discipline of prayer is particularly helpful.
Read more and access valuable prayer resources here: Deepening a Life of Prayer.
Cultivating a familiarity with the scripture including and up to daily reading is a particular challenge for many Christians. We know that understanding the whole counsel of scripture begins with an understanding of what scripture is.
We believe that the whole Bible is worth knowing and understanding. We also believe that the Bible reflects the character of God through a range of human experience.
If you have never considered the themes contained throughout the Old and New Testaments, you may want to consider picking up one of these resources.
If you are well familiar with the themes and structure of Scripture, then the question becomes how to grow in a pattern of sustained reading.
There are many places to start, but we suggest picking up a habit of reading the Psalms. There’s no best number to start at, but reading 2-3 or 5-7 Psalms each day can help you grow in both your habit of regularity as well as in your ability to digest scripture. Next, adding a reading of the regular portion of the gospels is recommended. Then, adding an epistle reading. Then, adding one or two Old Testament readings. If it is easier for you to follow a suggested format, here’s a list:
When reading with someone else, consider the length of the reading and balance it both with time spent with the other person and the natural capacities of both persons. The idea is to find something to share, not to exhaust the person you’re reading with. In essence, less is more.
Unfortunately, many Christians live in contexts where openness and confession are overladen with guilt and shame. While confession should be marked by repentance and a turning away from sin, repentance plus shame often pushes people into secrecy, which tends to breed even more sin. Discovering how to listen to others without reacting or caving into a desire to “lord over” the other is fundamental to cultivating an atmosphere of openness.
Openness is easy to emulate but hard to control in terms of degree. The best principle for fostering openness is to be open yourself, but just because you have chosen to be open doesn’t mean you can make that choice for the person you’re being open with. Confession in a friendship context tends to lead to transformation only when there is trust between the individuals. As such, confession on its own can often lead to depth without context. The danger here is that, without context and trust, the confession becomes artificial and even, at times, a barrier to mutual relating, because a sin may be confessed for which the context of trust in the relationship is not present. However, if openness and the corresponding trust becomes more primary as a focus, confession in various forms should eventually follow.
A degree of mutuality and respect has to complement the cultivation of openness between people. This is one of the reasons we don’t call this particular practice “confession,” because even though confession of sin may accompany openness, confession and openness can never be compelled from another. Instead, the quality that we hope to foster is a greater degree of transparency between those who are committed to seeking Christ first.
Openness can take many shapes and forms, but does require a degree of “opting-in” from both persons. It is this opting-in that is more essential than any particular formula.
Christians tend not to inhabit the same neighborhood space, making outreach and mission with others increasingly difficult. In the context of friendship, taking on a focus can take a wide variety of forms. For instance,
- Reaching out to others for Christ: Both friends may decide to make an intentional, prayerful effort to share the love of Jesus with those they are in contact with in their day-to-day experience. While both friends may not know the same people, they may “partner together” by praying for individuals and sharing the experience of this shared outreach.
- Connecting with those in impoverished circumstances: Both friends might decide to volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, life skills training, or other form of outreach together. This commitment might be taken on for a season.
- Giving to missions: Both friends might decide to financially decide to give to a project of concern overseas. It could be to bring fresh water, rebuild a devastated community, or other forms of Christian compassion. This might be done over special seasons like Advent/Lent, or even summer missions trips.
- Special and Seasonal Callings: Both friends might share even more specific interests in Christian life. This might include how to be a Christian in the business world, campus ministry, and other specialized callings. Both might commit to join outreach for a season.
The idea of a mission component to discipline and personal outreach is to keep disciplines from becoming too insular. Just as there are seasons for rest and activity, engagement for the interior and exterior life, so there are disciplines to benefit ourselves, our families, and those in the wider community.
Mission shouldn’t be seen as an “also,” but should sit alongside any one of these inward practices.