Have you been thinking about pragmatic practices to work on this year? If not or if you don’t know what I am talking about, you may want to begin by reading last week’s blog post here. But for those of you who are up to speed, how is it going? Have you been practicing?
I know when I think about things I need to practice in order to be a stronger believer, I don’t have to think long. If you are like me, our weaknesses tend to hit us in the gut when we are faced with them. Whether it be gossiping, misplaced priorities, hard hearts, or anything, really ( and no, I wasn’t naming my weaknesses…never…), we all have the same starting place. We all need to begin practicing in the same place. There is no differentiation required here. To realize where that place is, let’s go back to the scripture I left you with last week.
“…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”
There are two things right at the beginning I want to focus on: Prayer and spiritual wisdom and understanding.
First, Paul wrote this letter to the church of Colossae and he began with giving thanks and then a prayer. He outlined his goals for this church through scripture, but he realized where it all began. With prayer. We cannot do any of this without prayer. No amount of practicing will improve us if we are not praying, if we don’t have open lines of communication with God. It is like practicing and practicing, but never having a coach comment on how you are doing. Your level of improvement will only go so far.
So first and foremost, we must realize that all spiritual practice must begin with prayer. Without adequate prayer, we will never find success or improvement. Make prayer a priority.
But what I really want to focus on today is spiritual wisdom and understanding. If I was going to pick one weakness for most believers, this would be it. We only have a surface level understanding of our beliefs, and for many of us, we believe the way we were raised, never stopping to question why or if it is even correct. To really grow as a believer, you have got to understand the why, you have got to have deep spiritual wisdom and understanding. So how do you get that? How can you practice spiritual wisdom and gain spiritual understanding?
Here are a just a few ways to begin practicing:
1) READ. THE. BIBLE.
There is no substitute for reading the Bible. No amount of Bible studies and great preaching can compensate for actually reading the Word of God. Don’t get caught in the secondary. Go straight to the primary source of information. It is important to know exactly what the Word says, not just what someone else says it says.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking… but it is a big intimating book with little words and lots of pages. There is so much I don’t understand. And I get it. I have been there too and sometimes still have my moments, so here are some suggestions.
First of all, find your niche. Are you artistic and would appreciate Bible journaling with a more artsy approach? Start there. Draw out what the scripture means to you. Research some of the background for artistic inspirations. Or if you are the exact opposite of artistic (like me) try a different approach. I have been doing verse mapping, which is an intense breakdown of a verse with the options to individualize the process. Here is a link to my Bible Study Pinterest board. Here you can research some different approaches to Bible study.
Also, I would suggest starting with the book of John. It concentrates on the life of Jesus, which is really what the whole Bible revolves around anyway, directly or indirectly, so that is a perfect place to start your study.
Listen, I am a part of a women’s Bible study and we decide to take a little time off from completing Bible studies and just study the Bible (there is a difference). I think some ladies were hesitant at first, but we discussed different approaches and then we all studied it in a way that was comfortable to us. We had some great discussions, posed interesting questions, and learned more than we thought. It was a valuable time for all of us. And it will be for you too.
2) Grow from the wisdom of others.
I know I just said read the Bible, and I still believe that should be the first place for you to start in your spiritual understanding. But as you read more and more of the Word and you develop that habit, it is beneficial to hear the wisdom of others. God has enlightened many spiritually wise people, and we should take advantage of their understanding.
There are many ways to do this. First, find a Podcast that fits your needs and interests. There are hundreds out there with varying focuses and lengths. Find what works for you.
Read books and complete Bible studies (Remember this shouldn’t be all you do, but there is a place for it). There are hundreds, maybe thousands out there. Again, find one that fits your interest and needs in terms of spiritual understanding and start there. I love Max Lucado. He writes with humor and style which create easy reads and he has books on nearly every spiritual topic.
And also find a church with wise preaching and teaching. There is no substitute for a smaller group setting. The relationship you build with these preachers and teachers is priceless and the wisdom they can share over extended time periods is invaluable. I know people have problems with the conventional church and I don’t think it is perfect by any means (hello, imperfect sinners run it) but despite the flaws, there are hundreds of benefits.
But, even with all the knowledge you gain from the sources, always check it against the Word of God. Don’t take them for face value. Go read and research yourself, and even when you find it to be true, you will be so much wiser from the process.
3) Talk about it.
When you are interested in something, what do you do? You talk about it. So, find a one or two friends or a small group of friends and discuss the Word, discuss prayer, discuss all spiritual matters and grow from these discussions. Find some people that you are truly comfortable with, friends that you won’t mind sharing your ignorance and weaknesses with, and just hang out and talk. Let iron sharpen iron. Grow from each other. While you build your relationship together, all involved strengthen their relationship with Christ as well.
I know I have a spiritually wise friend that I have met with a few times lately. We usually end up discussing a particular issue, an issue I am still exploring, but she has a solid stance on (Now, this issue is not in relation to salvation. Some of those issues are non-negotiable). I love discussing this with her because I feel I grow each time. We look a scripture, discuss life, and even issues that are indirectly related. I don’t totally agree with her on all points, as I am still learning and praying, but that is okay. She gets me thinking, and I would like to think I do the same for her, even if it is to just strengthen her stance. Whether we agree or disagree is not really the point. We are both growing through our discussion and relationship. I will forever look back to those discussions as a reference in my growth.
So, as you think about practical practices that you would like to develop in the new year, make sure you start with this pair. Prayer and Spiritual Wisdom. These are the foundation for all other areas of growth, as we will discover through this month of study. Continue to look over Colossians 1 and definitely pray over it. Shoot, why don’t you even find some friends to discuss it with? But again, do be afraid to take it one day at a time, maybe even one verse at a time in terms of your spiritual understanding. Just do something, even a little something, to practice your beliefs.
As you practice, email or comment your thoughts or questions. I would love to hear from you. And if you are not on the email list, sign up. Bonus material and encouragement are just around the corner and you don’t want to miss out.