In the last blog I discussed how we as Christians never want to be persecuted for the wrong reasons yet comedian, Nick Thune in his stand-up routine on the Jimmy Fallon show several months back, found enough YouTube evidence to come to some scary conclusions. The first is that churches would hire him based on his “beard alone” so in essence, looking trendy is a requirement for pastoral leadership. The second is that to be a pastor, one doesn’t have to know a lot about the bible. He believed he could be a pastor of a mega church by simply making references to experiences that he’s had in order to relate to people spiritually and stir up emotions.
I wish I could say his conclusions were wrong but in many churches these requirements aren’t that far off base. I argue that study, prayer, service and discipleship are lacking, whether it be all of those areas or some, which leads to an acceptance of shallow faith. I grew up in the Bible belt, which is the part of America where you can find a church on every street corner and to be American means you’re a Christian. You’ll find a plethora of people who claim to be Christian because their mom and dad are Christians or because they attend a church on Easter and Christmas. Cultural Christianity is the term commonly used for the problem that is plaguing the southeastern and south-central United States. I believe this is one of the main reasons we have whole congregations of baby Christians. I could go into other reasons why shallowness is so ever-present within the church but I’ll save that for another blog. Today, I simply want to explore how we fix it. This isn’t a formula I’ve come up with on my own or new revelations I dreamed up (If so, you should discontinue reading this blog!). I’ve simply compiled four areas that I’ve observed to be lacking in many churches that are biblical marks of Christ followers.
STUDY. God has revealed His will to us through the scriptures. The Holy Spirit is what enables Christians to understand His Word. The good news is that throughout the Bible God used ordinary, uneducated people to accomplish great things through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 4:13) I do not believe that you have to go to theological seminary and get a doctorate in biblical studies in order to effectively follow Christ. It’s not our biblical knowledge that makes us right before God. We can look to the Pharisees for an example of that. One can know a lot about the bible and still have a wicked heart. (See Matthew 12:34) In his book I Believe in the Church, David Watson writes, “All Word and no Spirit, we dry up; all Spirit and no Word, we blow up; both Word and Spirit, we grow up.”
Once we receive the message of Christ and choose to follow Him, in order to be His disciple we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and “daily” follow Him. (Luke 9:23) The key word here is “daily”. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”. One of the main reasons we fall into sin is because we have not immersed our hearts everyday with the Word of God.
Some of the darker times in my life came when I started to doubt the word of God. How quickly Satan will distort the Word of God in our minds leading us to ask the question, “Did God really say I shouldn’t (insert whatever sin you are trying to justify)?” Satan is the master of deception. It started in the Garden of Eden and you better believe he is still using this same old trick. The main reason I couldn’t see my sin at that point in my life was because I started twisting Bible verses to fit my lifestyle rather than allowing the Word of God to pierce my heart. We must believe in the authority of scripture. In David Platt’s book Follow Me he explores the book of Genesis referring back to Adam and Eve in the garden, “He (Satan) elevated the thoughts of men above the truth of God, and sin entered the world. Let us learn our lesson here. It is a dangerous thing to twist Jesus and His Word to reflect what feels most comfortable to us. As disciples of Jesus, we must take Jesus at His Word in the context of total trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I cannot always base my actions off of what my heart is telling me to do. Scripture is our source of true guidance. (For more on studying God’s word see Job 23:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12, Romans 10:17, Romans 15:4, Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 4:4, John 8:32, John 15:7, Psalm 1:2, Isaiah 40:8, Proverbs 4:20-22)
PRAYER. There’s a vivid picture painted in Luke 22. Jesus was is in the garden of Gethsemane praying to the Father and “being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” Jesus was preparing for His death and He knew the only way to prepare for this monumental moment was by communing with the Father. Then in verse 46, He arises to find the disciples have fallen asleep for “sorrow”. He tells them to wake up and pray they won’t fall into temptation. I’ve read that verse so many times but I was usually so engrossed with idea of Christ praying so hard that he begins to sweat drops of blood, that I overlooked something central. If you go back to verse 31, you find the disciples and Jesus eating the Passover meal. It was at this meal that Jesus says, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” We find later in verses 54-61 of Luke that indeed these things came to pass. Instead of praying in the garden with Jesus, Peter slept. Jesus knew the power of prayer but how many times do we let our sorrows and cares overwhelm us rather than turning our burdens over to the Lord in prayer? I don’t know about you, but it’s a little scary to think that Satan is literally standing there with a sickle in hand ready to cut us down at our weakest moments. What if we really started tapping in to one of the greatest weapons God has gifted us with? Prayer is so much more than something said at our evening meals. It is an opportunity to commune with the living God! It is a time where we can ask God to keep us from temptation because we will be tempted. Guaranteed. (For more on prayer see Philippians 4:6, John 9:31, John 15:7, Romans 8:26, Matthew 6:6-13, Matthew 26:41, Luke 11:9-13, Luke 21:36, Jeremiah 33:3, James 1:6-7, James 5:16, Psalms 34:17, Psalms 145:18-19)
SERVICE. Serving people is one of the best ways to understand the ministry of Jesus Christ. He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 ESV) We are called to be a part of the body of Christ. We must utilize our unique spiritual gifts and talents. It’s so easy to have the mentality that if you don’t do something, someone else will. When it comes to serving in the church, many members leave it to “someone else” so the job either doesn’t get done or you have one or two very burnt out Christians who pick up the slack. Not many of us want to do the “behind the scenes” jobs like cleaning up after the Wednesday night meal, visiting the elderly shut-in down the street, or preparing a meal for a new mother. Those are jobs that don’t come with very much foreseeable reward or glory. It’s when we decide to make ourselves a little uncomfortable and get our hands dirty that we are building up the Kingdom of God rather than our own kingdom.
Luke 6:24-26 is a stark reminder that we must value Christ over our comfort, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all peoples speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that resting in our comfort, abundance of stuff, or our status in life reveals that we have idols in our life. It’s not just about helping as many poor people as you can while you’re on earth. While that’s important, it’s not our works that save us or allow us to find favor with God. We should serve out of an overflow of the love we have for Christ and because of the grace He has given. If you feel your love is lacking, ask God to fill your heart. When we make Christ Lord that means He has authority over every crevice of our life – our time, our money, our comfort, our family, etc. Serving will require sacrifice. It may come at the expense of some of those areas in our life. What areas are you holding back? What are you bowing down to today? Where do you spend the most time? Are you serving God or are you a slave to your own comfort? (For more on serving see Mark 10:45, 1 Peter 4:10, Galatians 5:13, Galatians 6:2, Matthew 6:24, Matthew 23:11, Luke 12:33, James 1:27, James 2:14-17, Colossians 3:23-24, John 12:26, Philippians 2:1-11, 1 Samuel 12:24, 1 John 3:17-18, Romans 12:1-21)
DISCIPLESHIP. “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) Take a moment to evaluate your life. Who are you discipling right now? If you have been a Christian for several years and can’t name the names of people you have taken time to invest in, then you are disobeying this commandment of God.
Titus 2:1-8 says, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”
I would suggest figuring out what age group and stage of faith you’re in and pinpointing someone around you that you can invest in. You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to care about someone. Discipling doesn’t mean that you know all the answers to someone’s deepest spiritual questions but that you are a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, an encourager; someone who gives the honest answer instead of the answer that tickles the ear. Discipling may be as simple as sending out a text message that says, “I’m thinking about you this morning, is there anything I can pray for you about?” If you are a brand new Christian, think about having lunch or coffee with one of the pastors’ or leaders of the church you attend and let them know about your desire to be discipled. I know that they would love to pair you with someone in the church who can spur on your faith. (For more on serving see Matthew 5:14-16, Ephesians 4:11-17, Luke 6:40, 2 Timothy 2:1-26, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Galatians 5:19-23, Hebrews 13:17, 2 Peter 1:3-8)
I am by no means perfect in any of these areas and neither is anyone else. My hope is that we are not persecuted by the world for being shallow but for living out our faith in a way that glorifies Christ. Suffering is inevitable and trials will come but those who are grounded in the Word of God will not be shaken.
“Father, I pray that you would strengthen me. Let me hunger for your word. Give me eyes to see the needs of others and a desire to meet them. May I think less of myself and love others more. I want to be heaven-minded and not chase after the things of this world. Rid my heart of idols.”
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have and respond to any feedback. Thanks for reading,