After recently preaching Cost of Discipleship (linked if you haven’t heard it) from Luke 14: 25-27, I would like to add some more practical thoughts and resources on personal growth in the Christian life.
I hope we can all agree that our engaging Jesus with consistent Bible reading and prayer is essential. There are many other “spiritual disciplines” as I like to refer to them, such as meditation, fasting, journaling, singing, etc.
The main thing is this, training up in Christ does not happen by accident. We certainly do not perform anything for our salvation but we do have a part in our sanctification. Romans 12:2 says, “To be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Now, what does that look like?
As I have discovered that nobody else’s devotion is going to look exactly like mine, as it shouldn’t. Since this is the case it could be very helpful to personalize your devotion time.
I do commend at least a morning devotion time, simply because it has the effect on an upcoming day, not as the day is ending.
Sometimes the benefit of this devotion is simply encouragement for the day. Or sometimes it provides needed grace and mercy after I feel like I have failed or sinned somewhere. Other times I receive a bit of wisdom for a particular topic or decision. Others, it seems to be filled with prayers for other people. To be honest, sometimes I oversleep and miss my time or, maybe I have that time but it was not profound at all and I do not feel any different than when I woke up.
To personalize this time, you may like to have a consistent place and location. Or you may like to randomize your devotion time by walking outside, listening to different worship music, or going to a public place.
There is one more thing that I want to consider about growing in Christ, we need each other. We need others that are growing in Christ that may not be exactly like us. And occasionally though hopefully not very often…….we will need to fight for one another.
What I mean is this, take Paul and Peter, for instance. Paul was an educated scholar of the Old Testament, a Hebrew of Hebrews. Paul was probably wealthy, powerful, and an influential man who after conversion loved Christ and served the mission.
Then take Peter, a fisherman who probably couldn’t read all that well. If it had not been for Jesus calling him, Peter would have spent most of his life working very hard, living a blue-collar life, and smelling like fish. But Peter, after conversion loved Christ and served the mission.
Paul at one point rebuked Peter for showing favoritism to the powerful Jewish social circles. Peter felt compelled to remind Paul to minister to the poor.
I believe both had a personal growing relationship with Christ. I believe both served Jesus well. But, I also believe both were served by their being in ministry near one another because they sharpened each other in complementary ways.
Because Paul wrote most of the letters in the New Testament, we have this impression that he was this loner missionary conquering Greece with nothing but the clothes on his back and the gospel. But, how many times does he include in those letters, a request to thank a long list of people with funny Greek names? Paul not only needed help, he loved his friends. He loved Timothy and Titus, and Luke, and all the other people that accompanied him. In the book of Acts as he is leaving he tells the church that is trying to keep him, “Why are you trying to make me cry?”, “I have to go.” (paraphrase)
So we should aim to grow personally and learn to feed ourselves scripture and to meditate and grow in our prayer life.
But Christianity is not a solo mission. Jesus designed us to be in community, namely the church which he is the cornerstone.
In the church, there are shepherds and brothers for each other’s edification, mentorship, and accountability.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul writes to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
I would like to close with several recommendations and also would love to hear your comments or questions and recommendations:
I am not going to fight over Bible translations. If you’re a King James guy, great. You like the NIV, great. It’s a fight that nobody wins. The best Bible translation is the translation you will read. The guys doing translations are smarter than me and we have the freedom to choose. Stay away from some versions that are way too lax like the Message or the New World Translation which is a Jehovah’s Witness bible translation and you will be fine. To be clear though my preference due to biblical accuracy and readability are the ESV, CSB, NKJV, and others are acceptable like NIV and NLT.
Another Bible edition that is extremely helpful is a Study Bible. All the above-mentioned translations have their Study Bibles. Study Bibles have a commentator who includes helpful insights below the referenced scripture verses. These are useful in understanding difficult passages, creating a devotional environment, and providing context such as time, author, critical events, type of literature, etc.
Podcast & Audible or Christian Audio:
There are many great preachers that upload their sermons for free. If you do not want to listen to more preaching, an alternative is podcasts that can be helpful covering topics in a conversation or interview format. Audible and Christian Audio provide books to listen to rather than read. I recently started listening to “The Whole Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson as my first audiobook.
The great thing about podcasts, sermons, audiobooks, is that you can multi-task. You can drive, work out, do your chores, etc. all while listening to something that is helping you grow in Christ.
I also advise, choosing to listen to more than one podcast. Balance it out to not have just one teaching style in your head. Also, it is beneficial to get the gospel applied from different age groups, different regions, different cultures, even different denominations. For example, I listen to Tony Merida out of North Carolina, Art Azurdia from Portland, Joe Thorn from a suburb of Chicago, Tim Keller from New York City, and Matt Chandler from DFW.
The Briefing with Al Mohler (Christian analysis of world news updated every weekday morning)
Radical or Pray the Word by David Platt
Culture Matters by The Village Church
How do I know it is a good book? It makes me want to pick up the bible more.
Some people frown upon reading other human’s works rather than the God-authored bible. I understand what they are saying, but the execution of this idea is what I have a problem with. I have a hunch, that people that “only” read the bible probably don’t read as often as they think they do. And that people that read other books for personal growth can responsibly read these types of books, grow in discernment, be helped taught the meaning of scripture, and are probably reading the Bible more than those that claim to “only read the bible”. It is valuable and important to learn from godly Christians who have gone before us or are in it with us.
Book Recommendations for personal growth:
-Knowing God – J.I. Packer
-Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
-Abide – 6-week devotional in the Lifeway Growing Disciples Series
-Spiritual Disciplines – Don Whitney