Spiritual Disciplines

Evangelism as the Key to the Spiritual Disciplines

One of my favorite books, and a book that has greatly impacted my life is Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  This book opened my eyes to the ways in which God uses the things that we do to make us more Christ like.  It encouraged me to practice these things, and through them I have been changed, and continue to be changed.

Don Whitney hits the nail on the head when he informs readers that God has commanded Christians in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”.  We are to be constantly growing in our relationship and understanding of God, and that takes discipline.  It is an ongoing process through which “we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him”.

Dallas Willard, along with having an amazing name, also wrote on the topic of spiritual disciplines.  His central premise of his classic book on the subject is that “we can become like Christ by doing one thing-by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”  So it is by doing what Christ did, that we become more like Him.

Both of these books are great on the subject, and I by no means wish to say otherwise.  If you have not read them, you should.  You should also pick up N.T. Wright’s After you Believe.  These three books will change the way you live your life, and you will be forever blessed should you follow their wisdom.

There is one issue that I would like to address shortly today.  Something that God has shown me over the years of my disciplines.

If one were to follow the teaching of these books, their disciplines would look something like the chart below.

Disciplines

As the Christian interacts with each discipline he/she is changed, and shaped, and molded by it.  The interaction with the discipline works to make the Christian more Christ-like.  Each of these works in isolation with each other, and each is of equal value.   Don Whitney’s book is laid out in a format that even encourages this type of understanding.  Each discipline is assigned a chapter, and is giving equal value.  The only exception to this is the idea of Bible intake.  According to Don Whitney taking in God’s Word takes priority over everything else.  Everything else is on equal footing.

Most Christians live their lives with this understanding, though they may not understand that they do.

Over my life I have learned that there is another way to look at the disciples.  In fact, I believe that there is one discipline that is a key to opening the full potential of all others.  That is the key of evangelism.  My rough chart below gives a picture of this idea.

Disciplines 2 (2)

I believe that evangelism is the key to opening the full potential of all of the other disciplines.  I believe that it is through a Great Commission lens that we can open the fullness of what God offers us.  As Dallas Willard stated we become Christ like by “following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself”.  So why did Christ come?  What was his overall style of life?  The Son of Man cam to seek and save that which was lost.  Or, as Christ Himself said in Luke 4:43, “I must evangelize”.

If we truly want to model our lives’ after Christ our primary focus must be to seek and save that which is lost.

Here is where it gets good.

All of the disciplines mentioned above are worthy of our time (to a certain degree) along with many more.  We should each be disciplined and growing.  That is what God has commanded us to do.  If we do each of these, and leave out evangelism though we are doing them for self-serving reasons.  We are focused on ourselves.

If we evangelize our disciplines become tools to shape us so that we can better be used by Christ for His mission on Earth, which is to bring sinners to Himself.

When I evangelize I read my Bible differently, I pray differently, I worship differently, I learn differently, I fast differently.  I do this differently because I do them from a position of being inside God’s will.  I am taking in Scripture with passion knowing that what I read and learn may be used by God to draw someone to Himself.  I pray with passion because I pray for real, lost people and can see their faces and know their names.  I worship differently because I have seen God at work in hopeless situations.  I learn differently so that I can be used by God.

Everything is changed by the practice of the evangelism.

All of the other disciplines fall into place.

Don Whitney teaches that evangelism is often a skipped practice because we are frightened by “the seriousness of evangelism”.  I agree whole heartedly.  When we evangelize we are taking part in the most serious thing imaginable.  We are offering life to the dead.

That seriousness works as a fuel that burns deep and bright.  It forces us to our knees and drives us to the Word of God.  I challenge you to practice the discipline of evangelism knowing that it will change everything about you, bringing you more in line with Christ.

J. W. Willard

 

Teaching them all things

teach evangelism

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Amen.

Matthew 28:19-20

Matthew 28:19-20 has long been used by much of the church as the drum beat for world missions. Although there are 4 other Great Commission passages, these two verses are more widely used in church than the others (at least in my experience).  The clarity of the message leaves little wiggle room in understanding what is needed to be done.  We are to take the Gospel to the whole world, baptize those who respond with faith to the message, and teach them.

I have read this verse countless times, heard hundreds of sermons on it, and have even preached it myself, and yet today as I looked to this passage something I had not considered before came to mind.

A great deal of ink has been used working to have a greater understanding of what “Go therefore” means, and how it should be applied to the life of the church. Pastors have preached to and pleaded with congregations to obey this Great Commission.  Further ink has been used in regards to teaching, and baptism.  What do these look like, and how do we practice them.  And yet through all of the years, today I realized that I have never seen the teachings of the Great Commission brought fully together.

If the Great Commission calls us to make disciples (win disciples would be a better translation of μαθητευω, but that is for a different post) and it also calls us to teach them, should not we be teaching them to make disciples?  Does the text not demand that the teaching of evangelism must happen?

Methodology of evangelism aside, it appears clear that in order to fulfill the Great Commission one must not only be practicing personal evangelism, but one must also be teaching personal evangelism. If we truly believe that Scripture must be read and taught from its context, there appears to be no way to separate evangelism and teaching.  In fact, immediate context would show that in the teaching of all things evangelism would be at the forefront of things to teach.  The command to evangelize exists inside the same statement as the command to teach all that has been commanded.

So today it hit me, can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching on personal evangelism? Can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching that every disciple of Christ must evangelize in some way?

Matthew 28:19-20 seems to point out that the answer to that question is ‘no’. If we are to follow this command the practice and teaching of evangelism needs to be at the forefront of what we do.  It cannot be a token thing done by some of the church in backrooms once in a great while.  The practice AND teaching of evangelism needs to be front and center.

J. W. Willard

Naked in the Cold

This morning I woke up and began to prepare to take the kids to the bus stop for school.  I looked at the thermometer and noticed that it was a brisk 16 degrees, and the wind was blowing strong.  According to the news the wind-chill was in the single digits.  Needless to say, it was cold.

In order to go out to the bus stop, even for just a few minutes I put on my thickest coat, my hat with ear flaps and my gloves.  I took every effort to remain warm.  I had my children do the same.  We prepared for the weather that was outside the door.

I never would have thought to go into the cold world naked.  I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I know that going naked into the cold would never work.  If I had, though, I would have rushed back inside almost instantaneously and it would be a long time before I went out again.

You may find this entire line of thought silly, but for most of us this is exactly how we approach Evangelism.  We do little to prepare ourselves during our day to day life, and in a moment of conviction we venture into the cold world to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are unprepared for the weather outside the door.

We of course know a couple of verses, and maybe (or maybe not) we say a short prayer before going out, and we can stumble our way though the Gospel message.  If anything deeper than that is required we do not have the tools to engage.  In many ways this is like going into a driving snow storm in shorts and a T-Shirt.  We have some clothes on, but we have not taken the time to fully dress for the weather.

It is little wonder that most Christians share the Gospel quickly and run back inside, regretting going out in the first place.  The cold was so great, and they were so unprepared, it will take them a long time to get the guts to go back out.  If they go back out at all.

Who can blame them though?  If I ran outside naked I wouldn’t go back out either.  In fact, I have to applaud the effort since I know the guts it took to do so were great.  Very few Christians even make it that far.

What would happen though if the Christian daily spent time in deep Bible intake (not just skim reading for mileage), and prayer?   The Christian would then venture into the cold world with a far greater covering.  The depth of the Christians spiritual growth would be the coat, pants, hat, and gloves.  They would be better prepared for the cold world that awaits them.

This doesn’t happen quickly or easily though.  Unlike bundling up for the cold these must be put on over time and they grow in thickness and effectiveness as the Christian grows in the Lord.  The longer the Christian truly practices Scripture intake and deep prayer the better prepared he/she will be for evangelism.  It may still be cold outside, and it probably will still be uncomfortable, but unlike for the naked Christian the job will be possible.

When evangelism is hard, and seems like an impossible task perhaps the Christian should not think that evangelism is too hard.  Perhaps they should consider their devotional life to see if they are practicing it as they should, or even practicing it at all.

We have been commanded to venture into the cold.  We better make sure we are prepared to do so…

J.W. Willard