doubt assumptions, ask questions, search for answers.

When I work as a computer trainer and consultant, I offer potential or new clients a free “needs analysis.” It didn’t take me long to realize that most of these clients fall into one of three categories:

1. They know exactly what they need, and they are right. They understand their situation and possibilities.
2. They know exactly what they need, and they are wrong. Their perspective is limited and/or skewed.
3. They’re not sure what they need, but they know they need help.

I’ve found a similar pattern with people who believe they are a Christian:

1. They believe they are a Christian and they are right. They have a relationship with Christ.
2. They believe they are a Christian, but they are missing a relationship with Christ.
3. They’re not sure what they believe, but they are seeking.

(And then there are those who are comfortable with where they are and aren’t seeking.)

John Wesley saw that second group of people clearly. Adam Hamilton, in his book Revival, described it this way:

“Wesley said that many who thought they were Christians seemed to be so in name only; they were almost Christians. They did not have the joy, assurance, or peace that comes from being wholly surrendered to God. They lived their lives in compromise with sin, willing to do just enough good but no more. They entertained evil, provided that it wasn’t too extreme. They did little or nothing to grow in love with God.

In what ways did faith in the church of Wesley’s day resemble the faith in our churches today? Some would suggest in a great many ways.

Wesley said there is so much more to being a Christian than simple acceptance; there is a power, love, and joy that come from walking with God. And God expects more of Christians than simply trying to not be so bad as other people.”

To say this quote resonates with me would be an understatement. I can only speak from my experience and understanding, so I’ll say it this way. When I accepted Christ at 15, He became my savior. I lived my life in the context of that relationship with Him until 2007, when He revealed to me that I was holding back. He wanted to be more than my Savior. He wanted to be the Lord of my life. He wanted me to give up my will and trust Him in every aspect of my life, with no limitations. Over the last 7 years, by the grace of God and through the equipping of the Holy Spirit, I’ve taken down the boundaries between the different aspects of my life and I’ve been striving to offer up all of me to Him. I’ve been growing into an intimate, dependent, living relationship with Christ.

Live wisely make the most of every opportunityWhile I’ve spent most of my career as a computer trainer and consultant, at my core, I’m an educator. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a passion to help people grow. As I myself have grown closer to Christ, the Holy Spirit has taken that passion and set it on fire. I’m determined to encourage and challenge people to intentionally examine what they believe and why they believe it. I’m determined to encourage people to doubt their assumptions, ask questions, search for answers and make informed and intentional decisions about their beliefs.

Notice the language I just used. It’s very specific. I said “decisions about their beliefs” not “decisions about God.”

My goal within any of these conversations is not to change someone’s mind.

My goal is to leave a “spiritual stone” in the shoe of everyone with whom I interact, mostly through asking questions and listening.

I fail often.

But when I have a conversation with someone who wasn’t thinking about God, and the conversation results in them thinking about God – especially long after the conversation is over – I haven’t failed. After the conversation is over, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften that person’s heart and open their mind as he draws them closer to Himself.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44a (ESV)

Relating to the three possibilities above, God has specifically planted and grown in me three distinct, compelling and persistent passions:

1. Discipleship
In addition to my own desire to be discipled, I have a passion to disciple others – to help people who have a relationship with Christ, continuously grow closer to Christ. My prayer is that God would reveal to all who know Him what he revealed to me: That He wants them to give up their will and trust Him in every aspect of their lives. That He doesn’t just want to be their Savior, He wants to be the Lord of their Life. He wants an intimate, dependent, living relationship with them.

2. Relational Evangelism
a) For the people who believe they are Christian but have never entered into a relationship with Christ, my prayer is that they would enter into that relationship. I can’t help but think of this verse:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Matthew 7:21-2321 

b) For the people who know they aren’t Christian, but are willing to share with me what they think and feel about God and, more specifically, Jesus, I’m determined to be a safe person with whom they can voice their doubts, ask hard questions and search for answers. My prayer is that they come to faith in Christ. It’s not my job. It’s my prayer.

iceberg doubt assumptions ask questions search for answers3. Apologetics
For people who are apathetic about God, who don’t believe in Him or flat out hate Him and all His followers, my passion is to help them set aside the baggage that so often comes from religion and help them see that the selfish behavior of some of the people who profess to be Christian is more a reflection of flawed humanity than that of a perfect God. My prayer is that they make their own personal decision about Jesus based on Jesus, and Jesus alone, rather than on their thoughts and feelings about religion and the bad behavior and beliefs of other people.

John 10:10 tells us that Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness. Not abundant blessings or stuff. Abundant LIFE.

That’s what Biblical discipleship leads to.

Abundant Life in Christ.

CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series.

The Risk of Discipleship Practices.

In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life’ (the previous post in this series) I concluded with the statement:

“All in all, I spent over 40 years striving to live a good Christian life. Some of that time was before I became a Christian. Sadly, some of that time was after I became a Christian.”

Until October of 2007. That’s when God led me to two books. Sifting through hundreds of books at a rummage sale, I stumbled upon a worn copy of “The Taste of New Wine” by Keith Miller, published in 1965. Around the same time, I discovered the existence of a short, 112 page book called “The Practice of the Presence of God,” which is a compilation of documented conversations and letters written by a 17th century French monk named Brother Lawrence. As I read these two books, God revealed something I had been missing my entire life. I had never noticed I’d missed it because I never knew it even existed.

An intimate, personal relationship with a living God.

As I affirmed in my last post in this series, I had been in a relationship with Christ since I was 15 years old. It’s just that the relationship had boundaries. After reading these two books, I saw those boundaries clearly for the first time.

Keith Miller was a layperson who wrote about how he had decompartmentalized his life and began to live authentically as a follower of Christ. He took down the barriers between his professional life, his church life, his personal life – everywhere he had segmented himself in an effort to appear as the person he was expected to be in each role in his life. Most people would assume that kind of transparency would make others uncomfortable. That he would be ostracized, alienate friends and lose opportunities for career advancement. That people would be offended when he talked about what God was doing and teaching him in his life. Instead, he found that living authentically and transparently opened respectful dialogs and deepened his relationships with the people God placed in his life.

Brother Lawrence Quote time of business does not differ from time of prayerBrother Lawrence worked in the kitchen and, as the title of the book says, he “practiced the presence of God.” All the time. And by doing so, he epitomized 1 Thessalonians 5:17, which tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I had never understood that verse until I read how Brother Lawrence described it:

“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

Keith Miller and Brother Lawrence had a kind of relationship with God that saturated their lives – their days and their moments, regardless of where they went or who they were with. They experienced an acute awareness of the presence of God in their lives, so much so that they felt like they were never alone. They had the kind of faith that fueled a continuous conversation with God as if He was a tangible person in their lives instead of some abstract entity they couldn’t see.

Once I knew that kind of relationship with God was possible, I wanted it.

I wanted it bad.

Since October of 2007, God has been teaching me and molding me into someone who is determined to pursue that kind of intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him. Over the years, I’ve adopted a number of Biblical discipleship practices which help me decompartmentalize my own life and live authentically and transparently, grounded in my intimate relationship with Him.

Through this series, I hope to share those practices with you.

But there’s a risk.

I find myself between a rock and a hard place when trying to describe core discipleship practices in a way people can absorb and carry with them unless I use short descriptors. Which can easily turn into a list. A kind of “Christian to-do list” which could, if we’re not careful, manifest itself into living “a good Christian life.”

Some might even call it a new law. In The Fallacy of a ‘Good Christian Life, the previous post in this series, I said:

“Satan is the master of distraction, getting us to focus on to-do lists and never-do lists instead of on discipleship and relationship with Christ.”

Helping Satan distract people from a relationship with Jesus is the last thing I want to do. I believe the key to preventing a lapse into a routine of checking off these practices on a to-do list lies in the reasons behind the practices, which have to be put BEFORE the descriptors – in both the explaining and in the striving to live out.

Pragmatic CommunionThat said, I’m going to introduce the 9 key Biblical discipleship practices I strive to incorporate into my daily life in my pursuit of an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ. These 9 discipleship practices are represented by an acrostic using the word “Pragmatic” and in a greater context, they are the foundation of what I call “Pragmatic Communion.”

Pragmatic is my word. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years, after I read this definition in an old dictionary:

pragmatic adjective \prag-ˈma-tik\
“concerned with causes and effects or with needs and results rather than with ideas or theories.”

Pragmatic. This word fits me like a glove. I don’t want to think about how something works, I want it to work. In this context, I don’t want to think about how to grow closer to Christ, I want to grow closer to Christ.

Communion can be defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings.”

Since October of 2007, I’ve continued to grow in my relationship with Christ through a Pragmatic Communion with Him built on these 9 practices, which I’ll be writing about over the next few months.

Pray
Read (& Study)
Abide
Give
Meet
Accountability (Partners)
Trust
Influence
Commitment

Do I follow these practices all the time?

I wish I could say yes, but no. I don’t.

Because I’m human. And I forget God. People do it all the time. God’s chosen people forgot him. Again and again and again – and I’m no different. Brother Lawrence forgot God, but here’s what was said of him when that happened.

[When Brother Lawrence] “had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God,
‘I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself;
’tis You must hinder my falling,and mend what is amiss.’
That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”

That last line is my favorite. He forgot. He repented. He went back. He forgot, He repented. and he went back.

“And he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”

CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series.