The Key to Living Well?

Hey TD!

What is the key to living well? I believe it is abiding in Christ.  John 15 speaks quite a bit on this:

4“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Our friend, Margaret Manning Shull, from Ravi Zacharias Int’l Ministries, recently posted a very valuable article in RZIM’s A Slice of Infinity.  Please read the article below and grow your acumen in abiding in Christ, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all those around you! – Arthur

The Art of Abiding by Margaret Manning Shull

When it comes to exercise many of us ask: “How long will it take?” or “How much do I have to do?” The shorter the duration the better, we hope. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have researched the benefits of shorter-duration, high-intensity workouts. They found that the aerobic benefits were just as high as those who had worked out for much longer periods of time.(1) As one professor noted, “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”(2) This is good news for all who feel there are not enough hours in a day.

Yet, as good as this news may be for some, I am increasingly nervous about all the schemes and strategies to make one’s life more efficient. From the One Minute Manager to the One Minute Workout the short-cutting of our lives appears endemic. If one needs a quicker, faster, shorter version, there is an app for that. But I worry about what happens to our aptitude for endurance in the elevation of the efficient?

Edgar Degas, Musicians in the Orchestra, oil on canvas, 1872.

By contrast, author Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Outliers that ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed before one can become good at some things. He cites Mozart, Bill Gates, and the Beatles as examples of brilliant artists and inventors whose patient practice and discipline began at an early age.(3) In fact, many artists suggest that their creative expression is something that must be practiced—exercised, as it were, just like any muscle. Significant achievement—in any area—is realized when bounded by discipline, and a tireless commitment to practice, routine, and structure. The painter, Wayne Thiebaud, once said that “an artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom.”(4) Sadly, Thiebaud’s and Gladwell’s views are often the minority report in our hurried age.

Assumptions about growth in the spiritual life often parallel these assumptions about efficiency. Often, the drive to see measurable results creates unrealistic expectations. We often want a One Minute Spiritual Life that still yields unbounded growth and instant transformation. We expect the constant flow of “good feelings” surging through us. If we do not experience these things, or if we don’t perpetually experience something novel and instant from the rhythm of worship, prayer, or study, then we believe that something isn’t right. Sadly, we eschew the repetitive nature of discipline and routine.

Ritual, discipline, commitment, and structure seem impediments to growth, rather than the soil in which spiritual growth is nourished and fed. The drive for efficiency lures us into wanting a spiritual life more like osmosis—a process over which we have little control or responsibility.

There are not three easy steps to a vital spiritual life, nor an efficiency guide to greater transformation. And in his life and ministry, Jesus makes this connection between growth and discipline. In the gospel of John he exhorts his followers to “abide” in him—literally to rest and to take nourishment from the life Jesus offers.(5) Rest is the opposite of the efficient. In addition, he describes abiding in terms of love and obedience. “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”(6) Jesus insists that joy flows from a life of discipline and obedience that includes keeping his commands. They are not separate endeavors, but intimately enjoined to produce abundant life.

How ironic this statement seems when most of us do not associate joy with discipline or endurance! Our daily living often feels like monotonous routine. We can understand the desire to find a short-cut that brings excitement or instant results. But joy cannot be reduced to a feeling, nor is it dependent on the whims of our personalities. Joy is the result of a life lived in the rhythm of rest, routine, and discipline. Following in the way of Jesus can sometimes feel both tedious and difficult, as surely it is both tedious and difficult at times. But disciplined obedience is not a blockade to fullness of joy, but rather a doorway that opens into the abiding presence of God. There, we encounter one who produces something beautiful that remains.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Gretchen Reynolds, “One Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion,” The New York Times Blog, April 27, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(2) Ibid.
(3) As cited by Timothy Egan in “The One Minute Life,” The New York Times, May 13, 2016, Accessed 20 May 2016.
(4) As cited in Clint Brown, Artist to Artist: Inspiration & Advice from Artists Past & Present (Corvalis, OR: Jackson Creek Publishers, 1998), 87.
(5) John 15:4-5.
(6) John 15:9-11.

 

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TD Friday – “Everywhere & Nowhere SG Study

Hey TD!

In this post you will have nearly everything you need to prepare for our small groups this Friday – the mp3 and small group study of “Everywhere and Nowhere,” as well as a meaningful Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning Shull entitled, “An Answered Prayer.”  It’s like a TD small group kit!

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (message) – Sandra

“Everywhere and Nowhere” (small group study)

Please prepare as well as you can for our first small group study of 2016!  The better everyone prepares, the better our small groups will be!  Prep well, TD!

An Answered Prayer 

Just type the word “prayer” into an internet search engine as I did the other day and you’ll find almost a hundred million different articles, sites, books, and periodicals on the topic. Discussions about prayer are as ubiquitous as the praying football player in the end zone after a touchdown. Every major world religion has some form of prayer, and in some of the earliest words to the church Christians are exhorted to pray “without ceasing.”

And yet if we’re honest, prayer can be a frequent source of confusion and deep mystery. Confusion comes not only with questions concerning what to pray and how to pray, but also in questioning whether or not prayers make a difference or are being heard at all. Phillip Yancey’s book, which asks one such question in the title, attempts to address many of these questions about prayer. Why does God seem silent so much of the time to our prayers? Why does God seem to answer prayers affirmatively for some and not for others? And when all we seem to receive in response to our prayers is “no,” how are we to understand both prayer’s efficacy and the God who loves us?(1)

If these questions aren’t difficult enough, Jesus’s own bold statements about prayer make us all the more confused. The Gospel of Matthew seems to record some matter-of-fact statements about prayer. After all, Jesus proclaimed, “I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, it shall be opened.” Likewise, Jesus promises that like our earthly fathers, God longs to give us what is good in response to the asking, seeking, and knocking of prayer.(2)

Yet Luke’s Gospel narrative makes explicit what Matthew’s Gospel keeps implicit about the gifts given in response to prayer. Jesus tells his disciples, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?(3) According to Jesus, the goal of all prayer is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in the world. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate “good gift” that God gives in response to our asking, seeking, and knocking.

So, then, Jesus describes prayer in terms of connection and affiliation, a linking of our lives by the Son with the Father who gives the gift of the Spirit. The more this connection grows and develops, the more one desires it. Hence, God promises to give us more of the Holy Spirit-in and through all the circumstances of life-as the deep answer and the good gift in response to prayer.

Further, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, and the one who comes alongside us.(4) This is the same Spirit the apostle Paul suggests “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words,” and “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”(5) Therefore, when difficulties come, when our prayers seemingly go unanswered, there is the unfailing assurance that we are not alone. The Father longs to come near to us as tangibly as the human Son of God has come into the world and as assuredly as the comforting presence of God’s Spirit who comes alongside us.

Craig Barnes, former pastor of the National Presbyterian Church, adds:

“Sometimes life gets overwhelming, and we realize we could use a little help. So we pray for our health to get better, for our marriage to work out, for success in our work that has taken a turn for the worse. There is nothing wrong in praying for these things, but they are not what our salvation is about. Don’t expect Jesus to save us by teaching us to depend on the things we are afraid of losing! He loves us too much to let our health, marriage, or work become the savior of our lives. He will abandon every crusade that searches for salvation from anything or anyone other than God. So he delays, he watches as we race down dead-end streets, he lets our mission du jour crash and burn. To receive Jesus as Savior means recognizing him as our only help. Not our only help for getting what we want. But our only true help.”(6)

God’s promise to be present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit suggests that God’s presence with us is the deepest answer to prayer. It is God’s “yes” even if God answers our specific requests with “no.” Ultimately, God desires to bring comfort, not from dependence on the things of this world, but in God’s presence with us and alongside us through the Spirit.

Through the power and presence of the Spirit, God longs to be the very answer to our prayers. Ask, and the Holy Spirit will be given to you. Seek, and you will find the Holy Spirit with you. Knock, and the door of God’s kingdom will be opened to you. For how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask?

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

(2) Matthew 7:7-11.
(3) Luke 11:11-13.
(4) John 14:16, 26).
(5) Romans 8:26b-27.
(6) M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 124-125.