A Call to Christian Living –

Five Spiritual Disciplines

Matthew 6:5-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; James 5:13-20; Prayer

Matthew 22:23-46, Study

Luke 4:14-19, 31-44, Worship

Acts 2:1-7, 14, 38-47, Fellowship

Acts 10:9-29, 46b-48, Spiritual Discernment

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Matthew 6:5-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; James 5:13-20; Prayer (2/20/12)

We’ve been looking at how Christians are supposed to behave, and this week we’re going to quickly cover five of the most fundamental spiritual disciplines we should engage in:  prayer, worship, study, fellowship, and cultivating spiritual discernment.

There are two types of prayer, private and corporate.  So that you can see the difference, I’ve indicated below whether “you” in today’s readings is singular or plural. Note that although Paul is writing a personal letter to Timothy, he is instructing him about being a pastor.

The only New Testament guidance we have on private prayer is that it should be private, but the Old Testament psalms have some good models.  You can say anything you want to God; he’s not going to spread it around.  No problem is too difficult, no shame is too great, no sadness is too deep to take to God.  God also likes to hear from you when things are going well, of course.  It looks to me as though the sins of others is encouraged as a topic for private prayer, even though it is at the end of a general discussion of prayer in the church.

Corporate prayer, on the other hand, is well described both by Jesus and in several of the letters.  Corporate prayer typically praises God, asks God’s blessing on the Church, asks for physical as well as spiritual blessings, confesses corporate and individual sins, and intercedes on behalf of others.  Some appropriate topics for corporate prayer are “joys and concerns,” prayers for the nation and its leaders, prayers for church leadership, and prayers for the spread of the Gospel.

Matthew 22:23-46, Study (2/21/12)

Have you ever gotten half-way into a discussion of some detail of the scripture and then realized that you didn’t know the Bible well enough to continue?  Jesus got hostile questions and trick questions from people trying to discredit him.  Unfortunately for them, he knew the scriptures, our Old Testament, like the back of his hand, and they didn’t. 

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that believed mostly in political power.  In particular, they didn’t believe in angels or in the resurrection.  They tried to trap Jesus either into disagreeing with the Law, which would offend most Jews, or into denying the resurrection, which would offend many Jews, and especially their rivals the Pharisees.  The first thing Jesus said to them is, “You are mistaken because you don't know the Scriptures.”  Study of the scriptures is important.

So then the Pharisees, who were extremely religious and who did study the scriptures, tried to trap Jesus into choosing any one of the 613 commandments as the most important, with the implication that the other 612 were therefore not important.  Jesus answered that the most important is “Love God,” and the second most important is “Love your neighbor,” and that every other commandment follows from those two.  They could hardly disagree and say that some other commandment was more important than loving God.  Then he went on to ask them a scriptural question that they couldn’t answer.

Study of the scriptures is an important spiritual discipline for both Christians and Jews, according to Jesus, who ought to know.

Luke 4:14-19, 31-44, Worship (2/22/12)

Whenever someone says to me that they prefer to play golf (or whatever) on Sunday because they “can worship on the golf course,” I want to answer, “I agree that you can.  Do you?”  (I don't say it out loud, of course.) We can worship God anywhere, but the fact is that we are much more likely to worship God at a regularly scheduled service at our church or synagogue.

Don’t you think that Jesus was able to worship God anywhere he happened to be?  Of course he could.  Nevertheless, his regular practice was to attend services in the synagogues wherever he happened to be each week, and in the Temple whenever he was in Jerusalem.

Regular, i.e., weekly, attendance of the worship service is one of the most fundamental spiritual disciplines.

Acts 2:1-7, 14, 38-47, Fellowship (2/23/12)

You are like the people you spend time with.  Pentecost came upon the Christians when they were all gathered in one place (vs. 1).  In vss.  42-43, fellowship is listed right along with study, communion, and prayer.  The believers were united in purpose – this is so important that it’s mentioned in vs. 44 and again in vs. 46.  And what happened?  Thousands of people were added to the fellowship!  Complete strangers became like the existing Christians. 

Fellowship is an important spiritual discipline because together we are united in the purpose of becoming better Christians, whereas separately we become like the world.

Acts 10:9-29, 46b-48, Spiritual Discernment (2/24/12)

You’ve read the story about Peter’s vision before.  Have you ever realized how astonishing it is?  Two things about the story are amazing. 

Peter was a good, solid Jew who had never eaten an unclean thing in his life, and at first he interpreted the vision as a test.  Nevertheless, as soon as the Gentile messengers came to his door, he had this tremendous insight:  the vision wasn’t about food – it was about people.  Don’t call people unclean when God has called them.

Second, Peter was a good, solid Jew who didn’t associate with Gentiles.  Cornelius gave Peter at least two chances to keep his distance.  His messengers called out their business from the gate.  Peter could have – and up until that moment he would have – sent them to a hotel.  Instead, he invited them into the house.  Then when Peter and his companions got to Caesarea, Cornelius met Peter at the door.  He was willing that Peter not enter the home of a Gentile, but Peter went on in.  Then he decided to baptize the Gentiles, something that had never happened before.  Peter understood that something new was happening now.

Peter knew what the rules were, but he realized that the vision about the animals took precedence over the rules.  Spiritual discernment is the gift of seeing God’s plan, even through the dark glass of our preconceptions.  Cultivate the discipline of spiritual discernment.

More about Living the Christian Life
A Call to Christian Living
Christ-Centered Community
Charitable Giving
Christlike Compassion
Christ-Led Courage
Living So It Shows
Overcoming Sin
Sharing the Good News
Who Is Your Legacy?
Five Spiritual Disciplines
Christian Character
New Life and New Standards
Living in the World
Love One Another
Again, Love One Another
And as a Final Word, Love One Another

Copyright 2012, 2021 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

The illustration of Joppa, where Peter had his vision, is from the Thomas family Bible, now in a private collection of a family member.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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