formation (28)

Lay Down Your Gifts

Let’s start today by revisiting Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two from a few weeks ago. The seventy-two certainly had something to rejoice in when they used the gifts they had received: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). And because of that, we tend to read Jesus’ response, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v.18), as something that happened at that very moment. I’m not so sure any more.

What if what Jesus really meant was this?: “I was there when Satan fell. I was there when he became so full of pride over what God had given him that he exalted himself above God. Be careful the same doesn’t happen to you.”

It certainly would explain Jesus’ next words, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you”—because after all, you’re not the first, and you’re not always in good company—“but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven” (v.19).

There may well come a time where we will have to lay down our very giftedness and callings before Jesus—when we will need to say, “This is yours, Lord, and I will walk away from all of it if that’s what you want.” Should that occur, it will likely be because we’ve allowed our identities to become so wrapped up in what we’ve been called to do by Jesus that our identities are really no longer in Jesus.

It’s very easy to fall in love with the idea of “I’m called to do this.” It’s much easier to get excited about something new and unique than it is to get excited about doing what everyone else is doing—or at least, should be doing. Every day God calls us to many seemingly mundane acts of obedience that are no less important than our seemingly “special” acts—and might well, in fact, be more important.

Doing God’s will and living in God’s will, while certainly related, are not the same thing. One involves obeying a very specific directive from God; the other is God giving us the freedom to live creativity within his broader will. Both please him—if they’re done in a spirit of obedience. As important as it is to use the gifts God’s given us and to follow his calling, it’s more important to develop the fruit of the Spirit—those qualities that grow from our new life within.

Jesus’ ministry was literally crucified. Why should we dare to think that our ministries and good works would be exempt from such testing?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:4–5, 7).

Lay down your gifts, and concern yourself with abiding in Jesus. He knows how your gifts should be used—and whether they should be used—better than you. Apart from him you can do nothing. As your desires become his desires, his gifts and calling upon you will be used in ever-greater ways—because they’ll truly be his gifts and his calling.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s take another cue from the Sermon on the Mount for today’s prayer time:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–25).

I want to expand the parameters a bit past this text’s original meaning, but with an intent that I think you’ll agree is thoroughly biblical. We may not bring physical gifts to the altar, but we do have gifts we need to offer up to God. There are ways we need to love those around us more, whether it’s a matter of anger and forgiveness (as stated here) or in other ways.

Therefore, spend some time in prayer today identifying the gifts God has given you and leaving them “there before the altar.” Ask God to help you be obedient, whether it’s something you’re gifted in or comfortable with or not—or no matter how “trivial” your act of obedience may be. Have the faith that God will use your obedience to produce what he wants in others’ lives—and in your own.

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Walk It Out

All of our lives, when lived rightly, are a journey into trust. A few days ago, I mentioned one prayer I’ve been repeatedly lifting up to God. In fact, there’s another particular prayer I’ve been praying for quite a while, and I think (and hope) that the development of this prayer has been reflected in these pages.

At first, and for a long time, it went like this: “Lord, help me to learn to trust you more deeply.” However, over the last several weeks, I’ve felt the need to add this: “…and to become more worthy of your trust.”

This is not about theology, so don’t go there. This is about relationship. I want to know God more deeply, but I have to allow him to know me more deeply. Again, suspend the theology; I know God knows me. And yet, I try to hide.

This journey into trust, however, requires me to stop hiding. It requires me to put my sin and my agenda and my fear away, so I can truly experience God’s knowing of me—that my relationship with God might be truly intimate and not just “all in order.”

The fact is, both parts of this prayer are flip sides of the same problem—there’s only one person in this equation who can’t be trusted. However, my own untrustworthiness feeds my inability to trust God. Only as I begin to obediently walk out what God’s commanded do I begin to, in turn, feel as if I can trust God with every part of my life. God doesn’t condemn me; he forgives me and wants me to be better.

This isn’t just for me. At the same time that I need to receive his grace, I need to extend it to others. I need to show genuine pity—not in the sense of “I feel sorry for you,” but in the sense of “I ache for you and want to help you.” Because that’s the kind of pity Jesus has shown to me.

As we’ve observed repeatedly this week, we know the way to where Jesus is going. It’s time to walk it out.

We are called to be a blessing to every person we meet, whether they realize it or not. The only way to become that blessing is to be emptied of our own stuff, so that God can fill and transform us into the individuals he has created us to be. Each of our lives need to move from being of Christ to being in Christ—and finally to the point where our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

Love is union—with Jesus and with those he’s called us to love. We as Christians—or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “little Christs”—are called to reconcile the world to God. We’re not just here waiting to be taken from the world, but to begin bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to the world now, even as we are “in the world but not of it” (see John 17:15–16).

We cannot change the things, or the opportunities, that we’ve lost, but we can be prepared to receive and walk in the new things God has created us to do. We are new creations. God is still creating something new within us. God wants to bring us into something new. But we must want what God wants—not just something new.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:1–3, 12–14).

One last thing to remember about walking: It’s not always exciting. Sometimes there are breathtaking vistas, and that great feeling of “a second wind.” Sometimes it’s monotonous. Sometimes it’s difficult. Often, it’s just plain tiring. But walking gets you somewhere. If we’re following Jesus, it’s somewhere better.

We can walk in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a good day—and that even if it’s not a good day, experientially speaking, God is working out the events of the day for our good (Romans 8:28). Because his good is our good.

The time to walk out our new lives in Christ is today. So let’s do it. And may God continue to bless you as you lay it all down again each day, for the sake of the One who laid down his life for us.

Lay It Down Today

We’ve approached your next steps from a variety of angles this week. Hopefully, at least one of these approaches has resonated with you. So now, it’s your turn.

If you sense what God is leading you into next, or know you’re already in the midst of it, spend time thanking God for the desire he’s given you, how he’s fulfilling it, and for the desire to keep moving forward. If not, spend time pursuing things with God. “[H]ow much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

Finally, spend some time thanking God for this journey into trust he’s taken you on over the last few months; and ask him to take you far beyond even where you are now—and into eternity with him.

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Lay Down Your Crown

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown (Revelation 3:11).

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:9–11).

Read those passages again; and this time note that the last three come from successive chapters of Revelation. There is a crown reserved for each of us who love God, and who out of that love persevere and remain faithful. And one day, we will certainly have to follow the lead of the twenty-four elders and lay—nay, cast—those crowns down before Jesus. It’s hard to picture, isn’t it? But try, right now, before moving on.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this picture to accept is the idea that the only way to have a crown is if God should give it to us—and that God ever would give it to us. In fact, the knowledge that we deserve far less than a crown makes us want to hang onto the lesser things we do have all the more tightly.

But remember: Everything we have from God, ultimately, is a gift. When we truly accept this, we’re able to “give to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). We’re able to trust God with his own gifts.

Read that last sentence again. It sounds ludicrous when put that way—because it is ludicrous. Who else can we trust? Do really have a choice—besides either trusting or not trusting God?

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). Why then do we live as if this isn’t true—as if we need to have a contingency plan in case this “God thing” doesn’t work out?

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory….

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:9–11, 17–18).

Whose image are we being transformed into? The image of our King. The one who deserves his crown—and ours. What the Lord has done for us is not contingent upon our own righteousness.

However, our faithfulness does play a role. We will be given crowns; but we will never possess those crowns. Everything, including us, is God’s. As we lay down everything that is us, and remain steadfast and faithful to him and what he has done for us, we shall receive the crown of life. As we remain faithful into eternity, we shall be forever entrusting our crowns back to our King.

Today is the day to begin—and to stay forever beginning.

Lay It Down Today

Matthew 7:7–8 promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Where is your lack of faithfulness showing? What are you still hanging onto? What are you trying to do yourself instead of asking for God’s help? And thus, where are you denying God’s life so that you can live your self life (however miserably)?

Spend time brooding on these questions—then repenting over the answers. Afterward, take the time to ask, seek and knock. Let go of your pride, your shame, your sense of self-sufficiency. Instead, ask God to show you the better things he wants to give—and for the heart to receive them on his terms. This gift, too, can only come from him.

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Put on Your New Self

Whatever we truly do for God, it is Christ in us. Whatever holiness we have is not ours to take credit for, but Christ’s to be glorified with. Even then, it is not what Christ does, but who Christ is—and how he is being formed in us.

Slowly, we are becoming the people God created us to be. Slowly, the new life Christ has in us is growing outward. However, it’s not all about waiting for things to happen. We can begin, even now, to put on our new identities in Christ, even as we wait to mature enough to “fill out the suit.”

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going (John 14:2–4).

When we look to Jesus, we “know the way to where [he] is going,” and consciously turn ourselves in that direction. As we look to Jesus, we see One who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), but who nonetheless was in constant communion with God. It is simultaneously putting the flesh to death and living entirely for the Father. This can become our increasing reality—not perfectly, but intentionally, and progressively better. We position ourselves, we put on the new self that’s already ours—and as we do, the Spirit empowers us.

Because he is the New Man, Jesus looks at even the most common things in godly terms, and by doing so transforms them into lessons, parables, teaching instruments… temporal things capable of conveying eternal life. In doing so—and because we remain connected with him—he continually shows us how to follow him as human beings. We become people capable of conveying eternal life.

We are no longer—check that: never were—self-appointed experts, no matter what the world tells us. We are God’s children, whom God increasingly entrusts with the fullness of his life so that the other kids can see it. In the words of Thomas Merton, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!”

There is so much God has for us next, and our perspective and our actions need to change to reflect that. We need to take those steps of faith that will allow the Spirit to change our perceptions and our actions—so that we faithfully and intentionally put ourselves in places where only God can work.

We have not been left alone to figure out how to follow him. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26–27).

It’s a common misconception that walking in the Spirit invites abuse. The fact is: It’s the counterfeits of walking in the Spirit that invite the abuse, not the real thing. If we are truly in Christ, it will be impossible to go out into left field. Christ takes care of us, and the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

When in doubt, give yourself this test: Is what I’m experiencing helping me love God more, and love others more—or just helping me to love myself and my experiences more?

Our new lives in Christ bear fruit by abiding, not merely by doing (John 15:4–10). We are to pass along the life God’s given us, in the ways he’s given it to us, not manufacture something “to please God”—which doesn’t. It’s possible that God will honor our intent, and yet the works themselves will be “wood, hay, straw… and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Corinthians 3:12–13). Isn’t it better to pass on the things you know God’s given you?

Receive the new identity you’ve been given in Christ, and cover yourself in it like it’s armor—because it is. Then, get ready to walk forward.

Lay It Down Today

Take as long as you need for this one—it could be a minute; it could be an hour. But get somewhere quiet and repeat the following to yourself: “I am in Christ, and Christ is in me.” Allow some silence between each repetition, but keep repeating this truth until it sinks in.

Then, once you’re “there,” ask yourself: “If Christ is in me, what does Christ want to do through me?” This is not asking, “What would Jesus do?” This is discovering how we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). If you settled on an answer during your activity in “Pick Up Your Cross,” dwell and pray more on it now. If not, dwell and pray anyway; earnestly seek an answer from God, and discover your first steps in making that answer a reality.

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Lay Down Your Life

Death is not just the end of life—it is the returning of life to its Creator. It is not a loss, but a fulfillment. All the laying down of all the pieces of our lives are but a rehearsal for that moment.

No wonder Paul says, “[W]e would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Sometimes we just want to jump to the end. Even for a coward like myself, the idea of martyrdom seems noble, even romantic. But if we’re not willing to die to ourselves right now, it’s a fairly safe bet that we wouldn’t lay down our physical lives if we were ever called to do so.

On the other hand, when we lay down every claim we have to our lives—which, after all, has been the thrust of this entire book—we’re free to be used of God in any way he chooses, up to and including martyrdom. No matter what God calls us to actually do at that point, our obedience will not seem spectacular to us but normal.

More than likely, what we’ll be called to—and are already called to—is to die anew every day, to crucify the flesh day by day and moment by moment. Not only that, but to live that death outwardly, so that we can “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Even here on earth, there is a life beyond all this dying. First John 3:16–18 gives us a glimpse into dying to self, and to what our lives should look like beyond that death:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Before we head toward the finish line of this book—and at the same time, see how far we’ve already come—let’s spend one more day in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17, 20). He proceeds to break that down for us throughout the rest of that chapter—anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retribution, loving others. “You have heard it said… but I say…” All of it is about dying to ourselves, rather than clinging to our lives (especially by outwardly conforming to the law).

Our only hope is in Jesus, and following where he leads. “[T]he gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). The way that leads to life leads through death to ourselves—and by giving our lives for others. Paul puts it even more bluntly:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace….

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (Romans 6:3–4, 12–14; 14:7–9).

We lay the entirety of our lives down, as Jesus did, because of the hope of new life—eternal, incorruptible, irreversible, and communal. Even now, he is both Lord of the dead and of the living. Eternal life starts now. So let us get on with dying, that “we too might walk in newness of life.”

Lay It Down Today

I’m leaving today’s assignment(s) rather open. The first piece is between you and God; the second is a longer-term challenge that I hope you’ll accept.

First, spend some time dwelling on our passages from Romans. How is God calling you to be “instruments for righteousness”? What still needs to die for you to fulfill that calling? Where do you need to trust God and just walk, regardless of the consequences? Where do you need to accept that “you are not under law but under grace” and get on with it? Spend some time praying about this. Ask God (“and you shall receive”) to give you the clarity and courage to “walk in newness of life.”

By the way, congratulations on spending the week in the Sermon on the Mount. I assume you’ve already been challenged pretty hard by Jesus’ message. Here’s my additional challenge: Commit to memorizing the entire sermon. Give yourself a chance, even if you think you can’t do this. At the very least, take on the Beatitudes. See how God might use it. I’m just about done myself, and it hasn’t been easy—in fact, it’s taken me three and a half months—but I can tell you that it’s been a convicting, difficult, yet steadily transforming experience. You’ll spend time wrestling with Jesus’ words in ways that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

You can spend a lifetime dealing with everything Jesus says here—and if you’re smart, you will. For “[e]veryone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24–25). Seriously consider this challenge, and then do what you think best. And good luck!

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Lay Down Your Dreams

I am becoming increasingly convinced, as I get older, that God does not demand our obedience simply because it honors him. That is, of course, a true and healthy reason to do it; and I wouldn’t even bothering arguing with someone who insists that it is the primary reason. Still, as I come to more deeply experience God’s love, I’d suggest that God demands our obedience because he wants us to become the people we were truly created to be.

Because only God sees the final picture, he’s therefore the only one capable of making it happen. Without our obedience—our submission to God’s vision of us, which is far bigger than anything we can come up with—the end result is a tragedy that only God can comprehend and experience the full depths of. The suffering we see and experience is but a rough fragment of that. In fact, I think that’s why Jesus became so angry with the Pharisees. They saw a broken law as an excuse to claim superiority. Jesus saw it as a sin so profound that only he could die to remove it.

Yet we insist on pursuing our own ways, our own visions of life. After all, we live in the Land of Opportunity, Where Dreams Come True®. All sarcasm aside, sometimes our dreams are God-given. Even then, however, they are God’s to dispense with as he pleases.

God has often blessed us by giving us the desires of our hearts. The thing about following Jesus, though, is that he keeps us moving. We’re never going to reach our destination here on earth. If we’re following Jesus, we’re always going to be moving forward, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Moving forward almost always means leaving things behind—even good things. At the very least, as Jesus changes us, our relationships with whatever or whoever comes along with us will also be changed.

As Jesus changes us, we also begin to let go of whatever keeps us from following him wholeheartedly. As we’ve seen, sometimes that’s sin; sometimes it’s our personal agendas or ambitions; sometimes we need to let go of lifelong dreams because they’ve become our idols. Sometimes, however, we even need to let go of good things, so that God can give us something even better—or transform those good things into something even better. In fact, God often doesn’t show us “the better thing” until we’ve given him what he’s asked us to give him.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in The Cost of Discipleship, “The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world…. We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life.”

We must be careful not to love our dreams for their own sake. We are to love the One who gives us those dreams and takes joy in fulfilling them, and share in his joy. Our joy and our longing are not always related. The joy produced by longing also delivers the promise of fulfillment, while longing without joy usually devolves into depression, decadence, or both, depending on your moral inclinations. It is the joy of God’s fulfillment, not the longing toward the dream’s fulfillment, which should be desired.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7–11).

We have a long way to go. Whatever dreams we have right now, even the ones God has placed in our hearts, are but “see[ing] in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). They’re an infinitesimally small part of an infinitely larger picture. So lay down your dreams, so God can create what he intends from them.

Lay It Down Today

Reread Philippians 3:7–14. What’s the one thing—no matter how good or bad it is in itself—that you sense God is calling to you to surrender? What better thing(s) do you sense, even now, God may want to give you? And even if your answer to one or both of those questions is “I don’t know,” are you willing to trust God anyway?

If something did come to mind in response to that first question, decide now in your heart to commit that thing to God. Decide that no matter how many times you might fail—how many times you take that thing back—that you’ll trust God more and more to help you to let it go. Then, ask God to help you receive what he wants to give you. If you’re comfortable doing so, turn your palms downward as if you’re releasing that thing. Then, turn your palms upward to receive what God wants to give you—even if you have no idea what it is. It might even be that same thing, only changed. But let God have his way with it

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Pick Up Your New Life

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:20–21).

Transformation comes by taking Jesus’ yoke—by saying, and believing, “I am yours.” We can hear it, and say, “Yeah, that sounds right,” but we need to learn to see it—really see it—as the reality of our lives.

Some of this can sound pretty abstract. But we need it to become as real to us as our salvation has become to us… just as God himself has become real to us, and continues to become more real to us. It’s OK to nod your head in agreement right now, but pursue it with God, and don’t stop. Be able to say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8), and mean it.

There is no question as to whether God wants to see revival. Every word here backs that up—God wants us to draw closer to him, and more often than not that’s going to require our hard hearts to be re-broken so that they might also be reopened to him.

The question is: Are we committed to seeing the Spirit bring this? Are we willing to be obedient to what God has called us to, and to who God has called us to be? Are we willing set aside our own self-image, good or bad, and believe that God has something better for us, no matter what package it might initially come in? Most of all, are we willing to obey this command of Jesus, given to us as new creations in him, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35)?

I believe Jesus is talking directly to the church here. Literally, he’s talking to the first apostles, but with the knowledge of what the Spirit would create in their midst only weeks later. Of course this commandment also applies outside the walls of the church, but I fear many of us treat the church (at least in its current state) as a bad idea to be given up on. I get that. Boy, do I get that. But Jesus has not given us that option. We not only have been given new life, but are part of a bigger new life—the Body of Christ.

Given how we’ve done with this commandment inside the church, it’s painfully apparent that we’ll never get it right outside the church until we take off the polite faces and begin truly relating to our fellow Christians in love. Besides: Who’d want to come inside the church until we do?

Those within the church have the same problems as those outside the church. We have the same temptations, and the same sins—a fact the world has no trouble pointing out to us. You’ve read all this, probably as a believer. I’ll bet you’ve identified with a lot of what I’ve talked about here. Well, guess what? Nonbelievers struggle with (or for that matter, go on blissfully unaware of) all the same things we do.

The only difference between “us” and “them”… is Jesus. Jesus is the only reason we have a new life to talk about. It’s literally all the difference in the world, and beyond.

One way other people will begin seeing that difference is when we actually love those other annoying, flawed—and yes, sinful—Christians. In other words: those people who are like us. If we can pull that one off, how will we fail to love someone with the same problems who doesn’t know Jesus? We want those people to know Jesus, after all. But without love, they’ll never see Jesus in us or through us, let alone beyond us.

Just as we’re here because we’ve recognized Christ as our eternal Savior, we need to recognize him as our Savior, and our life, from moment to moment. Paul David Tripp, in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, observes, “[I]t is impossible to celebrate God’s work of transformation without confessing your need for more. No one is more ready to communicate God’s grace that someone who has faced his own desperate need for it.”

Let God’s work of transformation begin here. And let it spread to the ends of the earth. We have a job to finish. Let’s begin living our new lives in full and get it done.

Lay It Down Today

Look inside your church today—or at least at the Christians you’re still in relation with. How can you serve them in love today, or in the coming week? I’m not asking for a long-term commitment here (although that’d be great); just come up with one thing that breaks your routine, gets you outside your own life, and gets your sharing your new life in Jesus with someone else who has that new life—especially if it’s someone you don’t normally do it with. And watch what the Spirit does with it.

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Lay Down Your Relationships

Let’s pick up where we left off last week: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Is Jesus always trying to separate us from friends and family? Is that what he really wants?

I don’t think you can make a rule out of this. I think the real point is: We’re always to choose Jesus first. Whatever their proximity, Jesus’ brother and sister and mother are those who choose to do God’s will (Matthew 12:50).

That said, Jesus is warning us of the division his presence, and our allegiance, may cause. We may indeed be forced to choose a side. But Jesus promises that no matter whatever, and whoever, we leave behind for his sake, we “will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

Since we’re already considering this, let’s look at it from a couple other angles:

  • Is the abundant life Jesus promises us simply a pleasant existence among a bunch of “Christian friends”? To be honest, I think that’s the way most American Christians live it out. Jesus addresses that too here. We may not have to leave our churches behind, but we’ll almost certainly need to step outside of the human comfort of them, in order to fully follow Jesus.
  • A perhaps lesser-acknowledged yet much larger fact is: We are never alone in our relationships. Jesus is always there, in our midst, whether we acknowledge him or not. To believe anything different is to cultivate the kind of relationship Jesus says we need to lay down. Conversely, the friendships where we know Jesus is ever-present, and where we put him first, are the richest friendships we will ever have. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know this to be true.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that this world is only temporary, that everything in it will pass. That doesn’t just go for the present world system and its evils, but even the people and things we love. This is a tough truth to accept. We’re being prepared for an eternity with Jesus. We must learn to love him first. Will we be reunited with those we love in heaven? One could make biblical arguments in both directions. But Jesus makes it clear that our ultimate priority must be him.

The good news behind this tough fact is that loving Jesus doesn’t obliterate our love for those here on earth—rather, it transforms it. Remember, “laying it down” is really about laying our selves down. Much of our love for others is about what we get out of the relationship. We love others, or are attracted to them, because they make us feel good, special, important, worth something. That’s not a bad thing. The problem occurs when we base our lives upon those feelings, and rely on those around us to constantly replenish those feelings. When those people or feelings fail us, we’re devastated in more ways than we’re even aware—because when that happens we also begin to feel, however vaguely, how far we’ve let ourselves drift from God.

No matter what our worth to others, we’re worth so much more to Jesus. Likewise, no matter what others are worth to us, Jesus should be worth so much more. As we learn to live out of that reality, we not only enter further into the presence of that infinitely greater love but can now truly share that love with those we love.

Yes, I’m talking very loftily here. It’s true, we seldom live in this place. But I fear that many of us have given up even trying to pursue Jesus’ love because of this—that we have found even his “easy yoke” of obedience too restraining. The fact that we have given up is the principal reason why we settle for something—or in today’s case, someone—less than Jesus.

As one of my favorite songwriters, Bill Mallonee, phrases it: “Love is just a plea / Deepest point of need / We take a reasonable facsimile, most of the time.” We desire to feel something, and Jesus just seems too far away, so we unwittingly (or bitterly) turn away from the One who’s right next to us—the One whom we’d see if we’d only truly desired him long enough to see past the troubles we’re facing right now.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him…. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:12, 16–18).

So let’s start living as “firstfruits.” Let’s begin cultivating the deepest and most satisfying relationship we can ever have—our relationship with Jesus—and allow him to transform our earthly relationships into what he desires. Let’s lay it all down, and move on to receiving his life and living it out day by day.

Lay It Down Today

Between Weeks 4 and 5 you’ll find an “interlude”—a retreat time you can either do on your own, or better yet, with your group. Let’s begin preparing for that today. Take a fifteen-minute mini-retreat, as soon as you’re able to do so.

For the first ten minutes: Quietly reflect on that time when you first drew close to Jesus. Whether you focus on one specific moment or that general season of your life, try to really reflect and recapture the sense of what that time was like. Who was with you (or who were you close to, at that time)? Where were you? What were some of the sights, sounds, and smells you associate with that time? What were you thinking and feeling? Replay all of it in your mind and heart.

Then: Take another five minutes to quietly reflect on where you are right now in your relationship with Jesus. Where you are in comparison to those first days, and why?

Finally, think about Jesus coming alongside you right now. What’s different from before? What’s better? What do you miss from that first time you drew close to Jesus?

Close by thanking Jesus for the brief time you’ve spent with him, and how your relationship with him has grown over the years. Ask him also to begin preparing you for the longer time you’ll be spending with him in a couple weeks. Also, if there are places where you feel you’ve “lost your first love,” ask Jesus to restore and rekindle your heart toward him.

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Lay Down Your Reputation

Recently, I’d been walking around a wildlife area of Colorado, where informative plaques abounded. One plaque in particular caught my eye, highlighting the families who’d formerly owned ranches in this area in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. It got me thinking about all the different ways we come up with to “historically” immortalize ordinary people after they’re gone (and by “ordinary,” I mean people we wouldn’t give a second thought to if they were standing in front of us, because they’d be roughly as accomplished or smart or likeable as us). But because they’re no longer with us, we’ve found ways to keep them alive—resurrect the memory of them, if you will.

I think, at least on some unconscious level, we do it because we inwardly recognize our own desire to keep ourselves alive a little longer, beyond our own time on earth. We believe, or at least hope, that people will remember us after we’re gone. We want our lives to have mattered to someone, to have been significant in some way. Far too many of us among the living don’t feel that. You might be feeling that right now.

This is also apparent in the reputations we try to keep—whether it’s a good name, or at least in a name bad enough that people will remember it. We want to be loved or respected or at least feared, even if it’s only really a persona with our name on it rather something that represents who we really are. Eventually, if we’re not careful, those reputations will own us, rather than the reverse.

I think that’s one of the biggest reasons that God calls us to lay down our reputations. Not because we need to grovel before God and make sure he’s higher than us, but because manufacturing a false reputation—or even an accurate one—is a way of securing and encasing ourselves in a human love that, even when genuine, is less than God’s love for us. Thomas Merton once described this as “winding experiences around myself… like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.”

As soon as we begin to rest in our own accomplishments and others’ perceptions of them, we drift away from the Spirit. Spend some time with almost any long-established church or denomination if you need further proof of this.

We try to play this game with God, too. We not only want to be remembered by God, but have the audacity to think we deserve to be rewarded for the good things we’ve done. Yes, Scripture does say that God rewards the faithful. The problem comes when we put the focus on doing good—and making very sure others, including God, know it (as if he didn’t)—rather than seeking our joy in what is good. When we seek to be recognized for our good behavior, Jesus says, we already have our reward (see Matthew 6:1–16), and shouldn’t expect anything more than the massaged egos we already have. The apostle Paul got this, too:

In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:6–11).

Anything we’ve done apart from God is… apart from God. To lay down your reputation is to experience the life of Christ (turn one chapter earlier to Philippians 2 for a fuller illustration). So lay it down, and let Christ be the one to raise you back up.

Lay It Down Today

What are the “plaques” in your life, whether they’re physical or not? What do you point to as evidence of your own goodness or righteousness? Put another way, what do you find yourself defending other than God—perhaps even in the midst of “defending God”?

A.W. Tozer, in his “Five Vows for Spiritual Power,” said, “We’re all born with a desire to defend ourselves. And if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you.… For 30 years now it has been a source of untold blessing to my life. I don’t have to fight. The Lord does the fighting for me. And He’ll do the same for you. He will be an enemy to your enemy and an adversary to your adversary, and you’ll never need to defend yourself.”

Where do you need to lay down your reputation? Submit that to God in prayer right now. Resolve not to defend yourself, but to allow God to be your defender. Then, get up from your prayer and start walking it out.

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Lay Down Your Blessings

Our new lives in Christ are just beginning. We are changed; but we are eternally far from finished. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). We will not be finished until even our new lives are fully laid down before Christ; and that cycle of blessing, crucifixion, and resurrection will continue until the day we meet Christ face to face.

More often than not, I value my comfort more than I value obedience to God. I want to hang on to the good things God’s given me, and pester him for more. As I do this, I reject the One who blesses me in favor of his blessings. Romans 1 speaks to the end of this condition, if not halted: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22a).

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount the past few months. (You will too—but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.) At the time I’m writing this, I’m dwelling on the first half of Matthew 6—and it’s been dwelling on me, too. Specifically, there’s this rhythm Jesus repeats over and over, to the effect of: And when do this good thing, do not call attention to yourself like the hypocrites do, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward. But when you do this good thing, do it not so that it may be seen by others but so it is seen by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (see Matthew 6:1–4, 5–9, and 16–18).

“They have already received their reward.” Sometimes it’s OK to need reassurance or confirmation, but we need to move away from our dependence on it. God has given us many good things—and yes, sometimes as the result of the good things we’ve done in obedience to him—but sometime in the next handful of decades, I’m going to stand before God. How horrific it would be to hear, “You’ve already received your reward. I’ve provided for you, allowed your work to be recognized, even given you the joy of accomplishment. What more were you expecting? After all, you did it all for you.”

Now mind you, I am putting hypothetical words in God’s mouth here. But the fact remains, many of the things we do for God are done with an eye toward how God will bless us, and how others will recognize it. (Virtual street corners count too, by the way.) Even if I’m doing it solely for the sake of eternal reward, my self-satisfaction about that, too, can become my reward.

God does promise us rewards and blessings as a result of our obedience to him. But we need to take a step further up—to learn to do things purely for God’s glory. That, truly, is its own reward. As we learn to do this, God can trust us to do the right things with the blessings he bestows upon us. Our Father is in secret. We must learn to become God’s spies in this world—as much as, if not more than, become “God’s spokespeople” or “God’s personal ambassadors.”

In case we still don’t understand, Jesus punctuates, and clarifies, all of his previous warnings to us with this:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Teresa of Avila put it this way: “Spiritual maturity and its reward do not consist in spiritual delights, but rather in the increase of love.” This is where we need to head; and God help us, we will.

Lay It Down Today

Before getting to your assignment, I want to reemphasize that in the course of this larger “Eternal Life Starts Now” section, I’m introducing practices you can do well beyond this study—because, after all, laying down your life doesn’t end once you stop reading this book. We don’t get days off from the lives God has given us.

This week, we’re focusing on prayer, and providing the context Jesus wants us to have for our prayers. Thus, it’s your turn to spend time in the Sermon on the Mount.

Every day this week, read Matthew 5–7. One hundred eleven verses won’t kill you, but they will convict you.

As you read through these chapters each day, be sure to linger on The Lord’s Prayer, located dead-center of this sermon (Matthew 6:9–13). Where is Jesus’ sermon hitting you right now? Which parts of this prayer do you most need to experience or respond to? Don’t move on to the second half of the sermon until you’ve wrestled with this each day. As the Spirit brings up specific matters—in every part of this sermon—stop and lift each of them up to God. Then act on them, as needed. Forgive your enemies—in person, if possible. Set your eyes aside to deal with your lusts. Repent of your need to have your good works noticed and praised.

You could spend a lifetime dealing with what Jesus brings up here. And you will. Eternal life starts now.

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Lay Down in Peace

We can get so worked up whenever someone criticizes God or Christians. We want to run to God’s defense—or honestly, much of the time, our own—and say just the right thing that will shut that other person up (in love, of course). But God can defend himself far better than we can. We are called to stand and deliver, then take what comes—just as Jesus did.

Let’s consider that for a few more moments. Take off the table the idea that Jesus was the Son of God—that Jesus is God. Look, for a few moments, purely at the human Jesus of the gospels. Look at how much he loved God, and how he presented the kingdom of God and defended it—including, very often, from those who claimed to speak for God and clearly did not. Here was someone who actually knew the right answers. How do you think Jesus felt during when he was assaulted verbally—and later physically—by those who didn’t want to hear those answers?

But how did he respond? Certainly there are examples of anger—pretty much reserved for those who insisted they could represent God better than Jesus could—but there was also patience. Love. A desire that the people he responded to somehow did hear it. If that’s the model of a Christian response, who are we—a hopeless jumble of spirit and flesh being perpetually sorted out through this process called sanctification—to respond any more pridefully?

Jesus is clear about our response: “[D]o not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). Somehow, we are to seek the best for the other person, even when the feeling isn’t mutual. Only by remaining under the guidance of the Spirit do we have any hope of responding correctly.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:1–6).

Those who live according to the flesh stand before us. In fact, some of them may be Christians. And lest we forget, they have been us—maybe more recently than we’d like to admit. By remaining in the Spirit, we’re carried from condemnation and suffering to life and peace, and it is only by God’s grace that we can maintain that peace he’s given us. So lay down in that peace, and let the Spirit do his work through you—and despite you.

Lay It Down Today

Today, you get to practice your silence in public. Don’t be rude, mind you, but commit to keeping your verbal responses—either spoken or typed—to a minimum. Commit to not defending yourself, explaining yourself (except when asked), “expressing your concern,” or pointing out what a good thing you’ve just done.

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil…. Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:37, 6:1).

Then, watch what the Spirit does that you couldn’t. And rejoice in it.

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Lay Down in Safety

As we walk according to the Spirit, we do not fully know where we he is taking us. But we do know that the Spirit is in front of us, leading us, and ready to guide and protect us as we travel in his wake. If we don’t expect to find freedom and protection within the kingdom of God, where would we expect to find it?

However, as we’re sent we’re also very much, in a human sense, taking the lead. We’re leaving the security of the known, the tangible, the familiar, and heading “to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Anyone who’s followed the Spirit’s leading into a new work knows how scary it can be. If you don’t know how scary it is at first, you will, once the excitement wears off and the difficulties come head-on. In fact, it’s often far more terrifying once it’s too late to turn back. Yet, it’s an all-too-common experience for those who follow the Spirit’s leading. We’re taken past the point of no return before the lights are turned on—and it’s there that we discover who we’re really depending on.

The prophet Jeremiah certainly experienced this. To the uninitiated, Jeremiah chapter 20 reads like an exercise in schizophrenia. However, to those who have followed God into a holy but a humanly difficult place, it will ring all too familiar. Read the whole chapter on your own time, but here are just a few samples of how far Jeremiah swings in the context of just one chapter:

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me…. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot….

But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!…

Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:7, 9, 11–14, 18)

It is difficult to be overcome by God, and led into places where human safety doesn’t seem to exist. But ultimately, even in the worst of human circumstances, there is no better place to walk than in God’s care.

The Bible certainly contains plenty of tales of difficulty that end in God’s glory; hopefully you have some of your own stories as well. Consider Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two. He sent them out ahead to proclaim the kingdom, and tells them up front, “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). In no uncertain terms, Jesus is telling them: You’re in great danger here. What’s more, I’m not going to let you have any props to depend on—only me. “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:4). No money, no provisions, no human companionship besides the one person travelling with you.

But we also know the ending: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:17–19).

Jesus gave the apostles a power they could not have imagined when they set out. Yet he reminded them that even this spiritual power is not what they should rest and rejoice in, but “that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Our true safety is who we are in Jesus. When we believe this, we’re able to go wherever the Spirit leads, no matter what man might—and likely will—do. We can know that our eternal security far exceeds any earthly security we could ever hope for.

It’s probably far less than coincidental that the next two pieces of Luke 10 are a parable addressing self-preservation (the Good Samaritan) and an account where Jesus gently rebukes an attempt at self-reputation (Mary and Martha). Again, following the lead of the Spirit is scary—especially when we think it’s all up to us. We don’t want to do anything to “unnecessarily” put ourselves in harm’s way; we’d much rather stay in our comfort zones and overexert ourselves there, in an attempt to prove to Jesus how much we love him. But that has nothing to do with following Jesus.

We too have a direct commission, and it too comes with an assurance of security: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). Are we ready to walk this out, to the degree Jesus calls us—in the knowledge that he does have all authority and that he is with us?

Lay down your lives in the eternal safety Jesus offers, and let the chips fall. Whatever we lose here on earth is nothing compared to the glory that lies ahead—if we’re only willing to trust Jesus and walk.

Lay It Down Today

We not only need to silence our lips, but quiet our souls. And as next week’s activities focus on prayer, this would be a good time to (re-)introduce the discipline of fasting. Nothing reveals what we’re relying on—and how badly—faster than abstaining from it.

Therefore, you have some freedom in choosing what you’ll fast from in the next twenty-four hours. I would definitely make food one of those things. It doesn’t have to be an all-day (or twenty-four-hour) fast if you’re not ready. Do abstain from one meal you take regularly. (Skipping breakfast yet again doesn’t count.) Spend your meal time in prayer, thanking Jesus that he is “the bread of life” and asking for more of his kind of nourishment.

Try also abstaining from one additional thing—your answer to the following question, “What do I feel I have to do today, even though no-one else is asking me to do it?” (If you need to continue your media fast from yesterday in response to this, by all means do so.) Use your fast time to consider why you’re so dependent on that activity; ask Jesus to help you repent of your neediness, and to rely on him to address the real need behind it.

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Lay Down in Silence

As we examined last week, we’re often slaves to our own agendas without even realizing it. We can become so paralyzed by self-analysis and self-inflicted hurry that we forget how to simply be obedient in the things God’s already called us to—and to realize that is all God asks of us.

And as last week’s assignment suggested—and you’re doing it, right?—we’re going to spend much of this week practicing the discipline of silence, and in a variety of venues. Because there’s a variety of venues where we need to begin practicing it. We need to be prepared for what God truly wants us to be doing, in every part of our lives.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1–5).

Our ears are itchy, and arguably at a level never before seen in history. As a society, and on a personal level, we’re addicted to news media, social media, sports, games, music, movies… anything that will get our adrenalin flowing and make us feel more alive. If we’re being honest, this is also a testimony about the state of our real lives. We clearly want to be distracted from other things, from responsibilities, from the grind of work, from the pain of dealing with other people. Just as clearly, we’re looking to derive our (self-)satisfaction from something other than God. And once we become distracted from God, it becomes impossible to obey him in the moment.

Again, I say all this as a fellow sinner who’s increasingly shocked by his own shortcomings and hypocrisy. Most of us love having at least an aura of drama in our lives—especially if that drama is more vicarious than personal (although some of us love the personal drama as well). When I first wrote this, a 7,500-acre forest fire was raging about fifteen miles northwest of here; in fact, we could both see and smell it from here. (Fortunately, it’s in a national forest area and no homes were destroyed.) Yet, there’s some part of me that wanted to see those numbers get even bigger, even while the logical part of my brain reminds me that by doing so I’m assenting to the destruction of God’s creation (which I love hiking in, for that matter). You’ve likely felt that kind of rush (and conflict), too.

And as a native New Jerseyan, don’t think I haven’t pulled out our proximity to/experience of 9/11 on occasion to impress my fellow Coloradoans who’ve only heard about it from afar. I say to this my shame, but also again because I’m pretty sure it’s a universal experience. Somehow, for some perverse reason, simply being in the vicinity of a big event makes us—strike that; makes me—feeler bigger, too.

That’s the dirty little secret—let’s go ahead and say it: the satanic lie—behind much of our obsession with instant information, and with much of our busyness: It offers an instant substitute to our God-given desire to become a part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives us the chance to lose ourselves in something—other than God. We’re not willing to wait for God to do his work in his time, and so we turn elsewhere. And we are the lesser for it.

By laying down in silence, we turn back to God. And remember: Turn back means repent. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23). We must give ourselves the chance to hear God’s voice, and to experience his new compassions, because he’s been offering them all along.

Let’s set aside our distractions—and our egos that have become so deftly intertwined with them—and give God our full attention. The daily surprises that come by walking in the Spirit will beat anything we can try to come up with on our own.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s literally “bring it home” today. Sometimes in the next twenty-four hours, set aside one hour to not only be silent but completely media-free. No Web, no radio, no TV, no reading, no nothin’. Within those parameters, how you use the time is completely up to you. Take a long walk, or lay in bed and do absolutely nothing, but do it silently yet mindfully before God. Unplug from the world and plug into God’s presence.

It might be uncomfortable at first—and don’t be surprised if all sorts of thoughts start flying around—but remain intentional toward God. Give those distractions the chance to die down. You might actually enjoy it. You’ll certainly have a deeper sense of how constantly distracted you are from God—and what those distractions are. If you enjoy this activity, consider expanding your time to a half-day or even an entire day sometime in the future.

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Lay Down Your Fears

A great deal of the sin in our lives is little more than a lame attempt to protect ourselves from the possibility of being sinned against. Whether it’s a preemptive strike or a full-scale retreat, we’ll do just about anything to avoid the hard work of loving others. But the way to God is through loving others. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). We long to be perfect, but God’s perfect work in us cannot be completed without a willingness to expose ourselves fully to the people and situations God has placed before us.

Even the difficult matters in our lives are signs of God’s love for us. When we can place ourselves before those circumstances, neither shrinking back not attacking, the perfect love of God can be fully manifested in us.

Almost all of us struggle with fear, whether we show it or not. No less a man than Timothy—who helped Paul write the books of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon—clearly struggled with fear throughout much of his ministry. Consider the advice from Paul, near the end of his life and while in prison, to the man who by this time had become bishop of Ephesus:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you (2 Timothy 1:5–14, emphasis mine).

What’s Paul remedy to fear, then? Several exhortations come up here:

  • Remember your faith, and who you are in Jesus (v.5).
  • Take the spark God’s given you, and fan it into a flame (v.6).
  • Exert the “power of love and self-control” you’ve already received (v.7).
  • Be willing to take some heat for the gospel you believe (v.8).
  • Remember that Christ conquered death—what more is there to fear (v.10)?
  • Accept suffering as part of the package of both sanctification, and of life itself, and realize that even in those times God’s protection remains upon you (v.12).
  • Do what you know to be true and right. Obey God, faithfully and in love (v.13).
  • Through the Holy Spirit, guard what God’s already given you (v.14).

Which of these is at the top of your list right now? In what ways can you step out of fear and into “life and immortality to light through the gospel”? Eternal life begins now. So lay down your fear, and step boldly into the light.

Lay It Down Today

If you can’t do this final activity immediately, do it in the next twenty-four hours: Read Paul’s two letters to Timothy in one sitting. They’re ten fairly modest chapters (less than two hundred verses total), but chock full of fatherly advice and en-courage-ment to a son in the faith. As you read, put yourself in Timothy’s place, reading these personal letters from a spiritual father he might never see again in the flesh. Think of these letters as a mentor writing to you, sharing his life experience while he still has the opportunity. Feel the immediacy.

After reading, ask God to show you how to act upon what you’ve just read. Which of Paul’s words struck you hardest, and why? What does God want to do with that? Spend time praying through that, “pushing” God for an answer. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied you’ve laid all out your fears, anxieties, and concerns before God. Then let him go to work, and watch what happens.

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Lay Down Like a Lion

“He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 24:9).

As I first pulled together the ideas for this book, I came across this passage from Numbers, which is part of Balaam’s prophecy over the nation of Israel. (By the way, it’s also a reprise of the man Israel’s [Jacob’s] prophecy over Judah in Genesis 49:9.) It’s a curious phrase, and that’s part of the reason why I’ve held off digging into it until now. But now’s the time. O Lord, is it the time…. I am so wrestling alongside you all with this one….

What does it mean to “lay down like a lion,” and how does that fit into this week’s exploration of walking in the Spirit? Let me come at this sideways and then work my way in, because God’s been spending this past week (and especially today) spelling it out for me….

So far, we’ve considered not only taking our sin seriously, and taking God seriously, but also to take his promises about us seriously. So today, let’s enjoy a brief respite from self-denial, and focus instead on receiving what the Spirit has for us—and resting in it.

In his book of the same name, Watchman Nee speaks of “the normal Christian life.” Think about that phrase for a moment. What comes to your mind when you hear that? I’m betting it looks nothing like what came to Watchman’s.

Sadly, what we usually consider a “normal Christian life” goes something like, “go to church, serve others when we can, try to be a good person, and attend a prayer vigil when we’re feeling really spiritual.” However—and as anyone who truly takes Jesus’ words to heart should already know—the truly normal Christian is nothing like that. The truly normal Christian is the one who’s following Christ, and who’s following the Spirit’s lead in everything.

We are, as the King James Version puts it repeatedly, “a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9, et al.). And much as it might pain some to admit, following where the Spirit leads will only make us more peculiar. We will resemble the world’s definition of “normal” less and less. But we will resemble Jesus’ definition of “normal” more and more. Isn’t that what we want?

I think the idea of “laying down like a lion” is part of that. It captures what the normal Christian life should look like—to us.

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1).

lion-and-the-lamb.jpg?w=276&h=186&width=276Look at the lion, and how he lays down. There’s intent. There’s vigilance. There isn’t hesitation. There’s confidence and boldness, and yet no arrogance—because there’s no fear.

Too often, we settle for something less than what God wants for us, and fill in the gaps with ambition, anxiety, uncertainty, and discontent. How can we become as “bold as a lion,” with the confidence and boldness God wants for us?

It will happen when God’s desires become our desires.

God wants us to remain in his will, but that’s not all he wants. He wants us to want his will. Ultimately, we can’t accomplish this on our own. We’re just too selfish. But as the Spirit trains us, guides us, rebukes us, consoles us—or more bluntly, kicks our butts and then pulls us back up again, and then gives us a shoulder hug for good measure—then our hearts become more conformed to his. We become more peculiar, and we also become more OK with that.

We are truly children of the King. For all the things we’ve dealt with—including all the things we’ve dealt with in these pages—we are still children of the King. As we walk in the guidance and confidence in the Spirit, we increasingly lose our fears. That’s certainly not to say it’s easy—again, think of all the things we’ve dealt with here—but that doesn’t make it any less true. As children of the King, we are becoming more and more like our Father—as well as like our “fellow-son” Jesus.

And remember: There will come a day when the lion will lay down with the lamb. Not only that, but the lion is The Lamb:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:2–13).

One day, it will all make sense. One day, all will be as it was meant to be. So take heart. Be strengthened. Learn to lay down like a lion, because it truly is the normal Christian life.

Lay It Down Today

Presumably you’re reading this at the end of the week. Good. Use a day this weekend to take a full sabbath. Don’t be concerned about which day it is; just use it to be still before God and honor him. Don’t work (or get ready for work). Use the day in a way that’s most conducive to relaxing in Christ. Spend the day in your favorite chair (and tell your spouse I said it’s OK). Spend the day in nature. But spend it intentionally with God.

While you’re doing that, spend some time meditating again on this question: What do you know God has called you to? Where have you felt the tug of the Spirit—and therefore, where is your obedience actually being requested? Pray over these things. Resolve to put all your energies into them, and beg God to give you the time and energy to do them with all your heart.

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Lay Down Your Agenda

We’ve had to lay down a lot so far. Some of it has no doubt been difficult; maybe it’s even felt unnecessarily negative to some. But we have a much longer journey ahead, and we need to travel light—especially since our journey takes us even further upward.

So when I encourage you to “lay down the law—and leave it there,” I’m not just asking you to admire my mild attempt at cleverness. What I really intend to encourage you to do here is live a life where you’re not only walking in the Spirit day by day—but ideally, moment to moment.

Something you might have noticed over the course of our journey together so far is we’ve been moving from dealing with our longstanding struggles with sin to addressing daily temptations. Today, we begin condensing the timespan even further, as we begin exploring the things that tempt us to go into some sort of “spiritual autopilot” rather than obey God in the moment. (And if you haven’t noticed this sequence before now, that’s OK—I just picked up on God’s strategy here myself.)

This transition from day-by-day to moment-to-moment is equally, if not more, true of the works we claim to do in Jesus’ name. As Andrew Purves puts it in his wonderful book The Crucifixion of Ministry:

“Of course we should not exclude asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ There is an appropriate place for the moral influence of Jesus. But it is more important to ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today and what is Jesus doing here and now, in this hospital room, during this committee meeting, during this service of worship, in this counseling session and so on?’… Wherever Christ is and wherever we are joined to him, there truly is the intentional, disciplined and faithful ministry of the church. It is not our ministries that make Christ present; it is the present, living Christ who makes our ministries possible.”

Whatever it is that I truly do for Jesus, he is already there. I’m the one who’s showing up—and who’s arguably late for the party. Not him.

At the same time, we very often want to do the right things, but we don’t know exactly what the right things are. Oddly enough, this is often when our prayers are most effective. There are times where God gives us the confidence to pray for (and then pursue) something, knowing it’s in his will, but usually our best prayers come when we’re empty. When we have no agenda except, “Not my will, but thine.”

But more often, we’re in that “autopilot” mode, bearing ahead without keeping our eyes open to what other things God wants to accomplish right now. We want a stake in the ground, a fixed point, a checklist—because that’s far easier for us than following wherever the Spirit leads—at least in the short term.

Nonetheless, eternal life starts now. To follow is to lay down your control. What could I possibly plan for myself that’s better than God’s plans for me?

In fact, I’m going to pray this for myself right now. Feel free to join me, and we’ll talk again tomorrow:

Lord, help me to rest in the work you’ve already given me, and to always remember that it is your work. Help me to lay down my agenda and hand over control to you, so that I may remain open to the next work you desire me to find Your joy in, in every moment. Amen.

Lay It Down Today

The good news is, you don’t have an assignment—at this very moment. The better news: The following assignment is meant to last all week. (After all, it’s only bad news if you think of it that way.) It does require some work on your part.

For the remainder of this week, commit to getting up at least a half-hour early to spend time with the Lord. Some of you may already get up early for Bible reading and/or prayer, others not; either way, take some extra time at the beginning of each day this week to be in God’s presence, silently. It’s OK to add Bible reading or other spiritual reading during this time, but be sure to leave time to do… nothing, in God’s presence. Enjoy him. Relax in him. Take peace in him, before starting your day. Try to be observant this week about how God uses your time with him—even after you’re done.

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Lay Down Your Ambition

Recently we’ve explored how we build ourselves up through our “doing.” This week is more about the “triggers” that lure us into that kind of thinking. Our circumstances are one such set of triggers. Our own passions, and personal ambitions, are another.

First, let’s make one thing clear: God has given us hopes and dreams and ambitions to pursue. Not all of the “good things” we do are bad. Not by a long shot. The struggle is in who gets the credit, and in who’s really being served by what we do. Again, and for probably not the last time: Laying it down is about taking our-selves out of the equation and focusing on what God wants, rather than how we benefit from what we do. What we get out of it is the blessing, not the goal.

More often than not, we make even good things about our work and our accomplishments, as if we’re somehow made superior by them because we’ve accomplished them. We may give God lip service, and maybe even some sincere acknowledgement, but we know who really stepped up to the plate and got it done.

In The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee points out, “The enemy well knows how we need our mind to attend the spirit so that we may walk by the spirit. Thus he frequently induces us to overuse it that it may be rendered unfit to function normally and hence be powerless to reinforce the spirit in time of weakness.” A more modern way of putting that is, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” But Nee hints at an even more significant truth: Satan is more than willing to use our busyness and our ambition to, slowly but steadily, make us bad. As we drift from the leading of the Spirit, we leave ourselves increasingly open to things that aren’t of God.

We’ve seen this far too many times in recent church history, but it’s far from a new problem. People often start off sincerely at first and experience success, but soon it become more and more about the success and less and less about serving God. Eventually success becomes “the spirit” of the thing, rather than being something that’s measured by our obedience to the Spirit. “Spiritual leadership” that isn’t leading others closer to Jesus isn’t spiritual leadership at all.

Jesus calls us to a different work: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It is a challenge so difficult that only one man has ever done it entirely successfully—the One who’s calling us to it right now. And he is the one who will make true success happen, in his way and in his time. So lay down your ambition, and begin following Jesus into something far bigger than yourself.

Lay It Down Today

What gets you excited, and makes you want to get up in the morning—or at least has you looking forward to getting back home? Let’s keep relationships off the table for this activity. For now, think of something that isn’t necessarily life-giving in itself but is life-giving to you—a hobby or activity, or something that benefits others. It might even be your work. Got that in your mind? Good.

Now: How can you invite Jesus (or invite him further) into that activity? It might be as simple as adding prayer throughout your activity (and notice I said “throughout,” not just before or after). Maybe it’s tweaking that activity so your actions are more directly giving God glory rather than just about you “taking a break.” Whatever you come up with, begin making it a regular part of that activity—then see how God begins changing things up as you do.

Also—and here’s the deeper part—consider how this attitude can be brought into the more “serious” parts of your life. Where are you striving to accomplish something, and how much of that is you? How can you begin taking your hands off and letting Jesus guide those things—and when success comes, give him the glory instead of taking the credit? This will obviously take longer to develop, but start working on it today.

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Lay Down Your Circumstances

I have to admit, I’ve always been perplexed by people who talk about the “comfort” of the Christian life, especially in terms of it being the primary reason for believing in Christ. To be sure, there’s “comfort and joy” to be had in knowing Christ, and “a peace that passes all understanding.” But humanly speaking, there’s still life to be lived. And life can be painful—so much so that it cuts through the veneer of all that joy and peace that people both inside and outside of Christianity think we’re supposed to be exuding 24/7.

The good news is: God’s OK with that. In fact, he’s the one who’s allowed those circumstances to happen. And a big reason he allows them is this: Our circumstances reveal who we are and what we really trust. The situations we face each day—especially the bad ones—tend to bring out what we’re made of, whether we want them to or not. We may be shocked by what our circumstances reveal about us, but God isn’t—and he wants us to stop being shocked as well, so that we trust him rather than ourselves to get through those circumstances.

However, we often don’t approach it that way. We think that if God cared about us, he’d change our situation. In fact, that was pretty much the serpent’s argument in the garden, and it worked. Even paradise wasn’t good enough for us.

On the other hand, when we lay our circumstances before God, he provides a way through them, even when we think things might be impossible—or probably closer to our real issue: even when we have no control over our circumstances. I already have the control, God reminds us; are you going let me do what I need to do, or are you going to continue to fight me?

The Exodus account is a great example of laying down our circumstances. After the second plague out of ten (frogs, by the way), Pharaoh asks Moses to remove this lousy set of circumstances. Moses’ response in Exodus 8:9 is worth noting: He actually gives Pharaoh, the enslaver and persecutor of his people, permission to set the dates for this plague to be removed. Yet by doing this, he’s acknowledging that no matter what Pharaoh decides, God is still in control and ultimately will deliver Israel.

In contrast to this attitude is the well-known (and often overargued) hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 8:14, etc.). The best definition I’ve seen of this “hardening” is “the continuation of a prior condition.” Put another way: God was pressing Pharaoh’s buttons and revealing his heart, already knowing how he would respond to his circumstances:

For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go (Exodus 9:15–17).

Sometimes, parting the Red Sea is easier than opening up a human heart.

And that brings us back to… us. We want to change our outer circumstances; God is more concerned with changing our inner circumstances—the very ones we seemingly should have more control over but don’t. (Read Romans 7 if you don’t believe me, or even if you do.) When that happens, our outer circumstances begin to change as well. So give it all to God, and let him accomplish his will through your circumstances.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s spend some more time with a question you hopefully began addressing in last week’s small-group session: What circumstances are you facing right now that seem impossible to you—and maybe, therefore, also seem impossible for God?

Ask God to open the way for you to walk through your circumstances—not asking for a solution (though he may well provide one), but to see clearly how to follow him through whatever it is you’re facing right now. Resolve to wait for God’s answer, and ask him for the strength to wait. Start that waiting right now. Don’t just throw up a prayer and stop reading, but spend time waiting. Give God the chance to speak—and give yourself the chance to hear.

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Lay Down Your Weakness

So, let’s get back to our weaknesses. (I’m sure you were looking forward to that.) Most of us are well aware of how we fail to measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. But again, Jesus knows this, too. And again, his concern is not with our failures but with our willingness to follow. He will attend to the things he’s called us to. We simply need to show up, and follow.

Sounds simple enough. The problem is, we don’t do it. We don’t think Jesus will do what he’s promised. Why should he? Look at us.

It’s easy for many of us to look ourselves and think we’re useless to God. We’re still struggling with all those sins and temptations we addressed here weeks ago, for crying out loud. What business do we have even thinking about being useful to God?

But remember yesterday’s passage from 1 Corinthians: God chose the foolish to shame the wise… the weak to shame the strong… the low and despised, and even things that aren’t, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no one could boast in his presence. God chose you, in your weakness—you could almost say because of your weakness. He wants to use your weakness, and his transformation of it, to display his glory.

However, more often than not, we fly between our pride that we can do everything on our own and our failure that leads us to think we can’t do anything. We’re weak, we’re tempted, we’re overwhelmed, and we don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately, the Bible is clear that our ongoing weakness and temptation can actually be a pretty good teacher. Here are just a few of the potential lessons our weaknesses can teach us, if we’ll allow them to:

• We’re not as strong as we think we are.
• We always need God to carry us through, or at least accompany us as he guides us along.
• If we’re humble enough to let him, God will carry us through, because…
• God is far stronger than we give him credit for.

In the course of writing this, I’ve really come to appreciate Peter a lot more. As brilliant as that “man out of time” Paul was… as loving and engrossed with Jesus as John was… as assertive as James was… for that matter, even as wonderfully morosely skeptical as my boy Thomas was… I think I’m beginning to understand why Jesus chose Simon to become Peter, “the rock on whom I will build my church.” It’s because he was the most human of the disciples. And humanity was what Jesus came to redeem.

For all the evidence you need of this, look at Peter’s “story arc.” We already hit on a huge paradigm shift awhile back, in what we could call “The Tale of Two Fishing Trips”—his transformation from someone who encountered the Son of God and could only see his sin, to someone who encountered the risen Jesus and swam as hard as he could toward him. In between are incredible highs and lows, including the near-simultaneous events where Peter first grasps that Jesus was the Messiah, is informed that he would be the rock upon whom Jesus whom build his church, and then rebuked “Get behind me, Satan!” (see Matthew 16:13–23). You almost imagine Peter kicking the pebbles in front of him and protesting, “Gee, all I was trying to do was protect you, Jesus.”

Peter didn’t yet understand that he was totally incapable of protecting Jesus—and he certainly didn’t grasp it when he tried to protect Jesus again during his arrest in the garden. Jesus once more rebukes Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Peter didn’t yet realize that his strength, like Jesus’, came from obeying his Father’s will.

Even after Jesus came back from the dead, Peter was subject to relapses of fear and bravado. We see this in Galatians 2:11–21, when Paul rebukes him for skulking away from those Gentiles whom Jesus had already declared clean to Peter (Acts 10:9–47). Eventually, though, Peter learns to stop forcing it, and trusts that God will do what he intends to do, when he intends to do it. We see evidence of this in Peter’s final letter: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9).

We are lifetime projects. The sooner we realize it, the better. So let’s lay down our weakness, lay down our own tools that don’t work anyway, and allow Jesus to be the one who builds us up.

Lay It Down Today

What are your weaknesses, and how does God want to use them? After all, God allowed them in your life—and God wastes nothing. Spend time meditating on your “weak spots,” and what God’s teaching you through them.* Your response might look like one of the bullet points above, or it might be something else. But bottom line: How can God’s strength be manifested through (or despite) your weakness? Ask God to begin to help you see and rely on his work in your life.

Also (more on this next week), begin thinking about whom you can share about your weaknesses with—a Christian friend or mentor who can be trusted with this information.

* Note: Meditating doesn’t mean “indulging.” In fact, if your mind begins drifting toward things it shouldn’t, stop meditating right then and start praying, because you already know what God needs to transform, and how badly.

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The Missing Link in the Church

Let’s return to our discussion of “the “D-word” (discipleship) from last week. If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time, you know that it’s the missing link in the church today, whether you’ve been able to put your finger on it before now or not.

The problem of “nondiscipleship” has troubled me pretty much all of my Christian life (31+ years and counting). Perhaps it was more obvious to me because I didn't come to Christ in the “normal” way—a much longer story for another time, but it involves re-meeting my dad after 14 years of divorce/exile, and a LOT of Bible reading.

In fact, I didn’t get involved with a church until after I’d come to know Jesus…. In those days, it was what would have passed for a megachurch (and might still). Charismatic pastor, strong worship focus, dozens of people coming up for altar calls every week… everything’s cool, right?

Not so much. Even early on, it was evident that there were as many people going out the back door as coming in the front. People got excited, got the “saved” stamp put on them, and then… nothing. Or worse, stumbling and being summarily abandoned by a church that had so visibly “loved” them months earlier. After a couple years of watching this, my wife (who was one of those who got saved there, after we started dating) were done with the cliques and the aloneness, and found another church… which wasn’t terribly healthy either, and in fact close to dead by the time we left a couple more years later…. It was by more than a little of God’s mercy that we stumbled into a C&MA church plant sometime later, and eventually found ways both to become self-feeding and to help feed others.

But over 30+ years I’ve seen this same pattern over and over, even in emotionally healthy churches (and far too many unhealthy ones). We have programs, services, events, and other “opportunities to connect”… none of which are bad in and of themselves. But actual discipleship? It’s there, but it’s rare, and it’s almost always behind the scenes where people can only hope to stumble into it. And we haven’t made finding it any easier by burying it under all those said programs, services, and events—and calling that “church life.”

And since we so often get it wrong even when we try to address it, I can’t emphasize this enough: Discipleship is not about completing a curriculum (even mine :)), or attending a service, or doing a one-time event. It’s about developing and deepening the most important spiritual relationships you have—first with Jesus, then with those He’s brought you in contact with—because none of those relationships are an accident.

It’s fair to assume that if you’ve read this far, you already care about discipleship. But you may be struggling with actually doing it, and possibly even with being a disciple of Jesus. This blog, my friend, has always been for you. Apply what’s here to yourself, and then apply it to the people God puts in your path. Because that’s what discipleship is. And since this weekly entry—and really, this entire blog—is about helping other Christians grow, let’s talk about you. And let’s do it by reflecting on your own journey so far….

Think of a time where you experienced a huge “growth spurt” in your life. (If you can’t think of a spiritual example off the bat, use an example from your professional life or another personal example. But find one.) Got an example in your head? Good. Now, think about this:

• When did you first realize that you’d somehow taken a giant leap forward? What was different?
• Who helped you most in taking that leap? What did he or she (or they) do to keep you moving forward?

You just reflected about an important time in your life, and the people who helped and maybe even inspired you. It probably felt good just to think about those people again. But as good as those people made us feel, it’s even more rewarding to be that person—to know that God has truly used us to help someone else grow in Christ.

So ask yourself this: How do you take what God’s already revealed to you, turn around, and help someone else walk through those same issues, rather than stamping them with a “saved” sticker and leaving them to drown? To break that down even further, and in a more positive light:

• Who do you know who seems ready to take the next step spiritually—whether he or she’s already growing, a brand-new Christian, or a not-yet Christian?
• If you could help that person understand just one thing right now, what would it be?
• And if you’ve already shared that one thing with him or her, what do you think that person needs to really “get” it? And if you haven’t shared it yet, what’s holding you back?

Then, consider this: How could spending more time with that person help you grow closer to Jesus? Because discipleship is for everyone who needs to go deeper in their faith—that means you, too. As you invest in others, you’ll learn things about Jesus, and yourself, that you hadn’t known before—or at least be reminded of things you’d long forgotten that you need to remember. And you’ll need to start dealing with that.

Some people might hear the words “accountability” or “discipleship” and say, “I’m in. When do we get started?” It’s more likely that many will be intimidated. So don’t bash people over the head with this. Invite them out to lunch or a cup of coffee for starters. Talk about their lives and the things that are most on their minds and hearts right now. Then ask whether he or she might want to make a regular time out of it. Most people will accept if they know you’re serious and don’t feel overwhelmed by the commitment. A weekly time together is best, but if schedules only allow for bi-weekly or monthly, that’s OK. Start there and see where things go.

You can even say something like, “I’ve been reading this blog about discipleship, and I’d like to try out some of the things I’m learning on a real person. You’re a real person—would you mind helping me work through this?” Once they’re done laughing, they’ll probably say yes.

The important thing is to make it happen. Begin to share what Jesus has done in your life. Help people see that a changed life is possible. Starting with yours.

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