There’s no way around it. Participating in the life of a church costs us. It takes time, involves commitment, and it involves inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of others. The resources we invest in the life of church are resources we can’t spend in other ways.
To be involved in the life of a church requires:
- attending the church regularly
- serving others with our time and abilities
- supporting the work of the church with finances
- investing in other people within the church so that they grow
- following the leaders of the church, which can be hard even when we have good leaders
In a busy world, our resources are limited. Getting involved in a church can seem like an optional extra given the commitment that it requires.
It’s costly. There’s no other way around it. And yet it’s worth it. It’s essential to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
The Cost of Following Jesus
As I write this, the Washington Capitals and Las Vegas Golden Knights are about to battle for the Stanley Cup. The members of 29 teams are resting, while 2 teams continue to practice, travel, play, and strategize. Only 2 teams are paying the cost — but they do so gladly, because winning the Stanley Cup is worth it. If it’s valuable, it always comes at a cost.
It’s true in every area of life. Education, relationships, children, careers all take time. Anything that matters carries a high price tag.
As followers of Jesus, we often emphasize that God’s grace is given to us freely at Jesus’ cost. We do nothing to earn it or deserve it. We must guard this truth carefully It’s at the core of what it means to be a Christian.
And yet we must also guard a corresponding truth: following Jesus requires everything. We are no longer our own. We belong to him. He calls us to obey him and love others while holding nothing back.
In other words, following Jesus is costly. Our salvation was purchased at great cost, and following him requires everything (Luke 14:25-33). It’s that important.
This is the Christian life. There’s no other way.
The Rewards for Following Jesus
Jesus reminds us that whenever we pay a price for following him, the payback will always be greater.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-30)
The rewards of following Jesus are always greater than the cost. Jesus doesn’t say we will get 100% more, but a hundredfold more. One old preacher said, “One house gone; but a hundred doors are open! One brother in the flesh lost; but a thousand brothers in the spirit, whose love is deeper and whose kinship is profounder” (G. Campbell Morgan).
Following Jesus costs everything, but it’s always worth it. No matter how much it costs, we will always receive more from God than we ever give him.
Pay the Price of Community
Gladly pay the price of Christian community. Believe that it’s worth it. Show up. Sacrifice your time and money. Invest in blessing others. Share your life — not just the tidy parts, but the messy parts too. Inconvenience yourself for the sake of others. Look for opportunities to serve even when it would be easier to serve yourself.
There’s a price to participating in worship and community within the church, and yet the cost is worth it.
What behaviors lead to spiritual growth? According to Daniel Im, author of No Silver Bullets, studies show that three behaviors matter most:
- Reading the Bible
- Attending a worship service at your church
- Attending small classes or groups for adults from church, such as Sunday school, Bible study, small groups, Adult Bible Fellowships, etc.
In other words, if you want to grow, it’s important to read the Bible and to get involved in worship and community at a church. Few things matter more than these.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Scripture often reminds us that we need others to grow. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” Hebrews says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25). The many “one another” commands of the Bible — love one another, encourage one another, etc. — remind us that we need each other. We don’t grow alone. We need others if we’re going to grow the way that God intends.
Don’t Believe Two Lies
If we’re going to grow, we need to stop believing two lies.
First, don’t believe the lie that you can grow alone. There’s no such thing as a solo Christian. No matter how much you read the Bible and pray by yourself, you will never grow the way that God designed by yourself. He’s designed us for community. If you’re a Christian, you’re part of God’s family. You were meant to grow within a church community.
Second, don’t believe that church exists to please you. Approach church as a disciple, not as a consumer. Frankly, church shouldn’t please you. Biblical community is costly, inconvenient, and uncomfortable — and also necessary and a source of great joy. In his book Uncomfortable, Brett McCracken writes:
What we think we want from a church is almost never what we need. However challenging it may be to embrace, God’s idea of church is far more glorious than any dream church we could conjure. It’s not about finding a church that perfectly fits my theological, architectural, or political preferences. It’s about becoming like “living stones” that are “being built up as a spiritual house” focused on and held together by Jesus, the stone the builders rejected who became the cornerstone (1 Pet. 2: 4– 7).
Embrace church not because it gives you want you want, but because it gives you what you need.
Nobody Grows Alone
I’ve never met a mature Christian who hasn’t grown in community. To grow, we need to worship with others, hearing God’s Word and praising God together. To grow, we also need to sit in a living room or classroom, building relationships and learning together. We need to pursue worship and community within a local church.
Read the Bible. Get involved in a church. If you want to grow, these behaviors will help you. We grow best when we absorb God’s Word and pursue worship and community within a church.
Prayer is both easy and hard at the same time. It’s easy, because anyone can do it. There are no secrets other than to communicate openly with God. It’s hard, because prayer doesn’t come naturally to any of us. We all feel like beginners when it comes to prayer.
Prayer is one of the key practices that can help us grow. Here are some simple instructions on how to build a prayer habit.
One of the best things we can do to develop a prayer habit is to cultivate a mindset of dependence. In his excellent book A Praying Life, Paul Miller reminds us that Jesus told us to come to God like children. “The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.”
When we realize that we’re dependent on God, it will be much easier to pray because we know we need him. I try to remind myself often that I don’t have what it takes to live life on my own. It makes it much easier to ask God for his help in every part of my life.
Drop the Act
I don’t know where I got the idea, but I often think that I need to pull myself together before I can pray. The truth is the opposite: we need to stop pretending and to come to God just as we are. Our prayer lives improve when we drop the act and come to God in complete honesty.
Tell God what’s on your mind. Tell him the good, but also tell him about the bad and the ugly. Share your struggles with God. You won’t surprise him. As one author writes, spill your guts to God.
Try Both Scheduled and Unscheduled Prayer
I would never pray without structure. Every morning, as part of my morning routine, I spend some time praying. If I didn’t schedule prayer, then my prayer life would be irregular. Pick a time that works for you, and schedule some time to pray, even if it’s short.
But we also need unscheduled prayer. It’s what Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” Never stop praying. Talk to God throughout the day about whatever is going on. Live your entire life as one ongoing conversation with God.
Try Both Structured and Unstructured Prayer
In the same way, try both structured and unstructured prayer.
Sometimes I pray from a list. I love PrayerMate, which allows me to enter prayer requests in categories (family, church, friends, etc.) and prompts me to pray through topics every day. It helps me to remember to pray for things I’d otherwise forget. I also love to journal prayer. I just open an app or journal and begin to tell God what’s on my mind. I need both kinds of prayer.
The most important thing is to just start. If any of the suggestions above make it harder to pray, ignore them. Just start praying. Tell God what’s on your mind.
Building a prayer habit is important for our lives. There’s no better time to start than now.
Want to grow? Engage in three practices regularly:
These three practices are simple but not easy. Practice them well, and you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of growth.
Here are some simple instructions on prayer.
Martin Luther Writes to His Barber
Martin Luther was a colorful character. He launched the Protestant Reformation, translated the Bible to German, and became one of the most influential figures in church history.
He also made time to write to his barber on prayer. “I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray,” he wrote. “May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I! Amen.”
I love this first sentence! We learn two things.
First, prayer is for everyone. Prayer isn’t just for theologians and church leaders like Martin Luther. It’s for barbers. It’s for all of us.
Second, we all struggle with prayer. When he writes, “May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I!” most of us can relate. Few of us feel that we’ve mastered prayer. We’re all learners when it comes to prayer.
Some Simple Instructions
As you’d expect, Luther’s instructions on prayer are simple and practical:
- It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.
- When your heart has been warmed…and is intent upon the matter, kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can…
- You must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say "yes" to your prayers.
- It is of great importance that the heart be made ready and eager for prayer.
Luther instructs the barber on how to use the Lords’ Prayer, The Ten Commandments, and the Creed to build a simple habit of prayer.
Prayer for the Rest of Us
No matter how experienced we get, we’ll always be beginners at prayer. Nobody feels that they’ve mastered prayer. It will always seem a little hard to us.
At the same time, prayer is simple. As I read Luther’s instructions, I’m reminded of how simple prayer actually is. God has given us a model prayer we can use as an example. We can follow its pattern, adapting it for the circumstances of our lives. Bring everything in your life before God. Be honest before him. Hold nothing back. Tell him about everything that’s on your mind.
The biggest challenge seems to be our hearts. It’s hard to believe that God wants to hear from us. It’s hard to believe that he’s listening. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t better things to do. “We must be careful not to break the habit of true prayer and imagine other works to be necessary which, after all, are nothing of the kind,” Luther writes. “It is of great importance that the heart be made ready and eager for prayer. As the Preacher says, ‘Prepare your heart for prayer, and do not tempt God.’”
So pray. Prayer is for everyone: great theologians, and barbers too. Even the great theologians find it hard to pray sometimes! “May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I!” said Luther. Now there’s a prayer worth praying.
I was going to write this week about prayer, but this blog post changed my mind:
It sounds a bit shocking to twenty-first-century ears, but hearing has been the primary way Christians have taken in Scripture throughout the centuries.
We should all thank God for movable type, but I wonder if we’ve lost something over time as we stopped listening. No doubt, early Christians were missing something by not reading the text for themselves, but was there something the ancients knew about listening that we today have forgotten?
It seems like a fitting follow-up to last week’s post about reading or listening to the Bible.
I love to read. If you gave me a choice between reading a book or listening to it, I’d choose reading nine times out of ten.
But I’ve noticed a couple of things. First, when I listen to something I’ve read, I absorb it differently. Hearing seems to access a different part of the brain. I’ve sometimes absorbed something for the first time after listening to it, even if I’ve read it many times before.
I’ve also noticed that some people prefer to listen rather than read.
After we suggested in one of our lessons that people try listening to the Bible, one of our participants wrote to us. “Every morning I go for a walk, listening to the Bible and then spending time in prayer. It’s a really simple change, but it’s made a big difference in my life.”
If you’ve never tried listening to the Bible, then it’s worth trying. It’s a great way to absorb God’s Word.