In Pursuing God . . . One-on-One, our primary focus has been on learning how to create a “rhythm of relationship” with God. We’ve focused on three key spiritual disciplines that play a vital role in these one-on-one times with Him: the Word, prayer, and journaling. In this, the last week of our journey, we want to introduce two more important spiritual concepts to help us grow as we pursue God one-on-one.
The first concept is spiritual pathways.
A spiritual pathway is a metaphor used to describe different ways we can pursue God in our lives. Many authors have described different pathways in various ways, but the core concept is the same—we are all different—and therefore we need more of certain kinds of spiritual activities and practices than others to thrive.
In his book God is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg introduces one popular model of seven different spiritual pathways. Today we will cover the first four: the Contemplative Pathway, the Relational Pathway, the Serving Pathway, and the Intellectual Pathway.
THE CONTEMPLATIVE PATHWAY
All Christ-followers need to spend time with God one-on-one if we want to experience renewal, transformation, and a deep, personal relationship with Him. But for the contemplative, this time alone is by far the most important way they connect with God. They find that, to be at their best, they need more alone time with God than the average Christ-follower. In fact, they often experience God’s presence more in their one-on-one times than in large group or small group settings. This time alone with God energizes and empowers them to live out a life of love for God and others. In the Bible, Mary—the woman who sat at the feet of Jesus, while her sister Martha was serving in the kitchen (Luke 10:38-42)—is an example of the contemplative pathway.
THE RELATIONAL PATHWAY
We are all created for relationship, but some people grow most in their relationship with God in community. Those who are drawn to this pathway need and love their time alone with God. But they find that spending long, extended time alone tends to drain their cup, not fill it. In order to thrive they need to pursue God with others—whether it is in a small group setting, a shared ministry, or simply discussing their spiritual journey with close friends. When they are with other passionate Christ-followers, they come alive and sense God’s Presence in a powerful way. They are energized—and this creates a deeper passion to know, love, and please God. When they feel far from God, one of the best ways for them to reconnect is by spending time with other Christ-followers who are pursuing God—because “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).
Luke’s description of the early church in Jerusalem inspires the relational Christ-follower:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Acts 2:44–46
THE SERVING PATHWAY
Every Christ-follower receives “spiritual gifts” to serve God and others (I Corinthians 12:7-11)—and we are all called to live a life of service. But for some Christ-followers, when they are serving God and loving others in practical ways, they feel most alive and connected with Him. In the famous movie Chariots of Fire, the Scottish Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell expresses his God-given passion for running with this famous line:
When I run, I feel His pleasure. Eric Liddell
This is exactly how these Christ-followers feel when they are serving. They love pursuing God one-on-one—but when they are using their gifts to serve others, they feel His pleasure. As Mother Teresa said,
When I'm holding a dying person, I feel most alive in Christ.
THE INTELLECTUAL PATHWAY
While all Christ-followers are called to love God with all their mind, some are more drawn towards the intellectual pursuit of God than others. They have a deep passion for the truth. They want to understand life and see it from God’s perspective. They often feel most connected to God when they are learning new principles and gaining new insights from the Word, books, articles, blogs, podcasts, documentaries, etc.
In God In The Dock, C.S. Lewis wrote,
For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand. C.S. Lewis
When it comes to spiritual pathways, you may find that you are drawn to several different paths. In fact, your pathways may even change or evolve over time. The most important thing is once you discover your pathway, you intentionally pursue the practices that help you connect with God the best and grow the most.
Is this concept of spiritual pathways new to you? Can you relate to any of the three pathways we’ve studied so far? If so, which ones?
Write a prayer asking God to help you understand how He has wired you so you can pursue those activities which help you connect with Him the best and grow the most.
This is the last week in our Pursuing God . . . One-on-One study. Now is a good time to start thinking and planning how you are going to continue to pursue God one-on-one next week when this study ends. As a first step, take a few minutes and review Week 3, Days 2 & 3 – “Designing Your Plan – Part 1 & 2”. Review both the studies and your journal entries. Then spend some time praying and asking the Holy Spirit to help you design a plan this week to continue building your “rhythm of relationship” when this study ends.
Yesterday we introduced the concept of spiritual pathways—different routes we can take to pursue God in our lives. We discussed the Contemplative Pathway, the Relational Pathway, the Serving Pathway, and the Intellectual Pathway. Today we will examine three more: the Worship Pathway, the Activist Pathway, and the Creation Pathway.
THE WORSHIP PATHWAY
As Christ-followers, we are all designed to enter into the presence of God and worship Him. As the Psalmist writes,
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 100:1–2
While we are all created to worship, some Christ-followers connect with God in worship more than any other avenue. Worship is where they experience God’s presence the most, where they encounter God and hear His voice. When the worship starts, they enter quickly into His presence and experience tremendous passion as they offer their whole lives to God in worship. They are often drawn to worship regardless of the setting—whether it’s in a large group, a small group, or one-on-one.
King David is a great example of this pathway. He wrote many powerful worship songs (Psalms), and modeled worship for Israel by “dancing before the LORD with all his might” when he brought the Ark of God back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12).
THE ACTIVIST PATHWAY
As Christ-followers, we are all called to make a difference in the world, and some people are wired to be activists. These Christ-followers are high-energy individuals who want to change the world. They are drawn toward important projects and causes—whether inside the Church or outside in the world. Their passions will vary greatly—from planting churches, to feeding the hungry, to social justice. Regardless of the cause, they are passionate about bringing God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. They have little patience for simply talking about change; they want to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. They feel most alive and connected to their Creator when they are running hard, taking risks, and making a difference.
Nehemiah is a model of this pathway. When he heard about the devastation in Jerusalem, he resigned from his high-level government position to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. It was a difficult and dangerous task—but he completed it in just fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15)! Once that was finished he started tackling issues of social justice and religious reform with the same incredible level of energy, courage, and tenacity in the face of danger.
THE CREATION PATHWAY
All creation reveals the power, brilliance, creativity, beauty and goodness of God. As the Psalmist writes,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Most Christ-followers experience God’s presence through nature to some extent. But for those drawn to this spiritual pathway, they sense the Presence and power of God most when they are in nature. When they are out in creation, they find it’s much easier to connect with God and hear His voice. They are renewed and energized when they spend time with God in this setting. A simple sunset, the rising of the moon, or a gentle breeze on their face speaks to them of the presence of God. Nature itself becomes a powerful metaphor that communicates eternal truths to them about who God is and how He works. As the Psalmist writes,
Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep. Psalm 36:5–6
This description of these seven spiritual pathways is not an exhaustive list. These are simply seven examples of how different Christ-followers connect with God the best and grow the most. The most important insight to take from this study is that God has designed each of us differently—and it’s helpful to learn what recharges our batteries and fuels our passion for Christ so we can make the practices of our pathway a priority.
Here is a list of the seven pathways:
The Contemplative Pathway
The Relational Pathway
The Service Pathway
The Intellectual Pathway
The Worship Pathway
The Activist Pathway
The Creation Pathway
Which of these seven do you think might be yours and why? (Remember, it can be more than one).
Can you tell a difference in your life and relationship with God when you are “pursuing your pathway” compared to when you aren’t?
Are there any specific practices you need to make more of a priority now that you know your pathway?
Write a prayer based on what you’ve learned about your spiritual pathways.
Yesterday you reviewed Week 3, Days 2 & 3 – “Designing Your Plan – Part 1 & 2”. Now it’s time to start designing your specific plan in your journal. Take a few minutes and write down when, where, and what you are planning to do. Be specific. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you plan how to continue building a “rhythm of relationship” with God when this study ends.
This week we have been exploring the concept of spiritual pathways—different ways to pursue God based on the way we are designed. A second helpful concept is spiritual disciplines. The very term can sound a bit intimidating or restrictive, but the reality is that spiritual disciplines can lead to new freedom in our lives when they are led by the Spirit. In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg defines a spiritual discipline as,
Any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. John Ortberg
This is a great definition—and it opens the door for a wide variety of spiritual disciplines. During this study, we have already focused on three of the most important spiritual disciplines: study, prayer, and journaling. However, there are many other spiritual practices that can also help us grow and pursue God.
In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard lists fifteen examples of “classic” spiritual disciplines. The “classic” disciplines are those that have been practiced through the ages to help Christ-followers grow and pursue God. He divides these disciplines into two major categories. There are seven “disciplines of abstinence”: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. And eight “disciplines of engagement”: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.
We have already studied or mentioned many of these disciplines: study, solitude, silence, worship, service, prayer, and fellowship. The goal of this study is not to explain each of these disciplines but simply to introduce you to the concept of spiritual disciplines in case you want to explore them more on your own in the future as you continue to pursue God one-on-one. We also want to present three important principles to guide your use of spiritual disciplines in general.
Principle #1: Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end.
The whole point of practicing spiritual disciplines is to empower us to become more like Christ. They are a means to an end—not an end in themselves. It’s important to start by understanding this, because if we miss it, spiritual disciplines are more likely to lead to spiritual bondage than spiritual freedom. The goal of spiritual disciplines is not to simply become more disciplined or to impress God, others, or ourselves. Rather, the goal is to grow and change. If a particular practice helps us do that and increases our affection for Christ and His Kingdom, it’s great. If not, don’t use it.
Principle #2: Different people need different disciplines.
One of the most important lessons we have learned in this study is that we are all different and we need to experiment to discover how we connect with God the best. This is true for all spiritual disciplines. Different people will need different disciplines. In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg writes,
The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people. If we can do this without the practice of any particular spiritual disciplines, then we should by all means skip them.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines, we need to pray and ask God to show us which spiritual disciplines will help us grow the most.
Principle #3: Spiritual disciplines are most effective when they are led by the Spirit.
One of the most important principles we have learned in this study is listening and following the Holy Spirit is the key to every area of our growth. This is equally important when it comes to spiritual disciplines. When the Holy Spirit calls us to practice a particular discipline, He gives us the desire and power to put it into practice. When He is leading us, spiritual disciplines can lead to powerful life change and transformation. When we simply practice them on our own, they often lead more to frustration and failure than spiritual growth.
Lead pastor Matt Chandler was once asked how he approaches the “sanctification” process at his church, called The Village. (Sanctification is an important theological term that simply refers to the spiritual process of the transformation we go through as we listen and follow Christ). Here’s what he said:
Sanctification here at The Village begins by answering two questions. What stirs your affection for Jesus Christ? And what robs you of those affections? Many of the things that stifle growth are morally neutral. They're not bad things. Facebook is not bad. Television and movies are not bad. I enjoy TV, but it doesn't take long for me to begin to find humorous on TV what the Lord finds heartbreaking. The same goes for following sports. It's not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that's a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ.
I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him. . . . We want our people to think beyond what's right and wrong. We want to fill their lives with things that stir their affections for Jesus Christ and, as best they can, to walk away from things that rob those affections — even when they're not immoral. Matt Chandler, Leadership Journal, Summer 2009, "The Good Fight"
This is a brilliant approach—and this illustrates the heart of what spiritual disciplines are all about. They are simply practices we pursue (or avoid) to help stir our affections for Christ and His Kingdom.
Tomorrow, we will roll up our sleeves and talk about one of the most important spiritual disciplines that can supercharge our prayer life—especially during times when we need God’s intervention or guidance—the spiritual discipline of fasting.
Re-read the quote from Matt Chandler above. What are some spiritual activities (classic or contemporary) that “stir your affection for Christ” the most? Can you think of any practices that might be “robbing” your affection for Christ?
Has the Holy Spirit ever lead you to cut out certain activities from your life that are not immoral but are impacting your affection for Christ and His priorities in your life?
Set the timer on your phone for five minutes. Practice the spiritual discipline of silence. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there are any practices or activities He wants you to pursue or avoid to increase your affection for Christ. Jot down anything He shows you in your journal.
Spend some time praying about your plan to pursue God one-on-one next week. If you did not write down your specific plan yesterday, take a few minutes and catch up now. Be sure to include your answers to the key questions of why, when, where, what, and how long your one-on-one times will be, as you move forward.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
Yesterday we introduced the topic of spiritual disciplines. Today we will highlight one particular spiritual discipline that can play an important role in our lives when it comes to pursuing God one-on-one—the spiritual discipline of fasting.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline that can lead to spiritual growth, answers to prayer, and a deeper relationship with God. It is mentioned often in the Bible. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes,
Scripture has so much to say about fasting that we would do well to look again at this ancient Discipline. The list of biblical personages who fasted becomes a “Who’s Who” of Scripture. Moses the lawgiver, David the king, Elijah the prophet, Esther the Queen, Daniel the seer, Anna the prophetess, Paul the Apostle, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son. Richard Foster
On top of this, Jesus assumes His followers will fast. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us,
When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:17–18
Notice that Jesus says “when” you fast—not “if” you fast.
In spite of this, fasting has often become a neglected spiritual discipline by modern-day Christ-followers. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, comments on this teaching of Jesus about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount:
For evangelicals, this whole question of fasting has almost disappeared from our lives and even out of the field of our consideration. How often, and to what extent have we thought about it? What place does it occupy in our whole view of the Christian life and the discipline of the Christian life? I would suggest that the truth probably is that we very rarely thought of it at all. . . Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies In The Sermon On The Mount
As a result, many modern-day Christ-Followers often have a lot of questions about this important spiritual discipline. Today we will address five of these frequently asked questions.
What is fasting?
In the Bible, fasting simply refers to abstaining from food and beverages (or certain kinds of food and beverages) in order to pursue God for some specific spiritual purpose.
Why should we fast?
Fasting is a way to pursue God’s Presence and supercharge our prayers. When we fast, we abstain from food because we are hungry for something more important than food. We are hungry for God—and for His will, direction, and intervention in our lives.
What should we expect while fasting?
Everyone is a little different when it comes to their experience of fasting. Some people find that when they fast, they experience a heightened sense of God’s Presence and a deep sense of spiritual well-being. They find it easier to connect with God and hear His voice through the Word and prayer. For others, fasting is more of an act of obedience. They don’t necessarily feel closer to God or experience more spiritual power while fasting. However, they often receive powerful answers to prayer or major spiritual breakthroughs after the fast.
When should we fast?
Fasting can be done at any time, but historically, people in the Bible usually fasted during times of special need. For example, King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-30) and Queen Esther (Esther 4:16) led Israel in fasts when the whole nation was facing imminent destruction through war or genocide. The prophet Joel called Israel to fast as an act of repentance for their sin and rebellion:
Declare a holy fast;
call a sacred assembly.
Summon the elders
and all who live in the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord . . .
“Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel 1:14; 2:12
Daniel fasted to seek God for insight into a mysterious “revelation” he received (Daniel 10:1-3). Jesus fasted to prepare for His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). The leaders of the church at Antioch were worshipping the Lord and fasting when the Holy Spirit spoke to them with strategic instructions for Saul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-4). Paul and Barnabas fasted when they commissioned elders for their new churches (Acts 14:23). As you can see, in Scripture, fasting is usually associated with times of special need—whether it’s for deliverance, repentance, guidance, or empowering. However, the Holy Spirit may lead you to fast for a wide variety of reasons.
How should we fast?
When people fast in the Bible, they usually abstain from all food and beverages—except for water. However, Daniel is an exception. At one point in his life he went on a “partial fast” where he fasted from all “choice foods”, including meat and wine (Daniel 10:1-3). Occasionally, there are examples of an “absolute fast”—where someone fasts from all food and beverages, including water (Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9). This is highly unusual. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes,
There are also several examples in Scripture of what has rightly been called an “absolute fast,” or an abstaining from both food and water. It appears to be a desperate measure to meet a dire emergency. . . It must be underscored that the absolute fast is the exception and should never be engaged in unless one has a very clear command from God, and then for not more than three days. Richard Foster
Fasting in the Bible lasts various lengths of time. There are examples of one-day, three-day, seven-day, twenty-one day and forty-day fasts. If you believe the Holy Spirit is calling you to go on a long fast, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor to make sure this is safe for you. It is also important to stay hydrated when you fast.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline. When led by the Holy Spirit, it can lead to spiritual growth, answers to prayer, spiritual breakthroughs, and a deeper relationship with God.
Have you ever practiced fasting in your life? If so, why did you fast, for how long, and what impact did it have?
Here are three examples of fasting in the Bible. Read each one and jot down your observations about who was fasting, why they were fasting, how they fasted, and what the result was.
2 Chronicles 20:1-30
Ezra 7:11-13 with 8:21-24
Write a prayer asking God to teach you more about fasting—and to help you listen and follow if He ever calls you to practice it.
Over the last two days, you’ve written your plan for creating a rhythm or relationship with God—starting next week. How are you feeling about them?
Building new habits and rhythms takes work and accountability. Is there someone in your life who can counsel, encourage, and keep you accountable in this area?
THE PURSUIT OF THE PRESENCE
When we first started this journey, we learned that we were created to live in the Presence of God. We said that the story of our race is the story of the Presence. It’s the story of how we were created to live in the Presence, how we lost the Presence, and how God has been pursuing us throughout time to restore His Presence in our lives.
We have also learned that pursuing God is a two-way street. God is pursuing us, but He is looking for people who will pursue Him with their whole heart—people who are willing to listen and follow when He speaks.
While there are many ways to pursue God’s Presence, one of the most important ways is to pursue Him one-on-one on a regular basis. If we want to truly know God, we need to invest significant time in the relationship. If we don’t, it will dramatically impact our spiritual growth. As John Piper writes in Desiring God,
I am constantly astonished at people who say they believe in God but live as though happiness were to be found by giving him 2 percent of their attention. Surely the end of the ages will reveal this to be absurd. John Piper
In this study we’ve learned how vital it is to create a “rhythm of relationship” in our pursuit of God. We’ve learned how to design a spiritual training plan and how to build this keystone habit into our lives. We’ve learned how to study the Word, pray, journal, and listen for God’s voice. We’ve explored spiritual pathways and spiritual disciplines.
But now it’s time to start your journey and pursue God one-on-one—on your own.
Of course, as Jesus often reminds us, we are not really on our own. The Holy Spirit will guide us every step of the way if we are willing to listen and follow (John 14:15-26).
When it comes to developing this rhythm of relationship, we often face two major challenges. The first is that we don’t know what to do when we meet with God or how to do it. Hopefully this study has provided you with the tools and perspective you need to meet with God. But the second challenge is more difficult. It’s the challenge of motivation—and this goes to the heart of our relationship with God. As Henry Blackaby writes in Experiencing God,
I hear many people say, "I really struggle trying to have time alone with God." If that is a problem you face, let me suggest something: make the priority in your life to love Him with all your heart. That will solve most of the problem you have with your quiet time. People who struggle to spend time with God don't have a scheduling problem; they have a love problem. Henry Blackaby
So, the question is, do you want to pursue God enough to create time for Him in your schedule? If so, you are ready to start one of the most exciting journeys of your life—listening and following your Creator.
The first step of this journey is simply to build this keystone habit into your life. You already have a good head start now that you have been doing this study for ten weeks! But doing this on your own can feel like a leap. Remember to keep to your selected time, use your designed plan, and then show up. Make your appointment—and keep it. When you get there, tell God you’ve come to meet with Him—and ask Him to guide you. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t experience the Presence of God right away or receive life-changing insights. Just be available. And most of all, be sure to listen and follow when He shows you the next step.
Remember what Jesus said when He spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well:
A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. John 4:23
God is searching for men and women who truly want to know Him. And like Jesus told this woman, there is nothing in all creation that can satisfy the deepest thirst of the human heart other than the living water of God’s Presence. God is searching for people just like you. People who want to know Him in the Spirit and truth. Remember His promise—you will seek Him and find Him when you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
As you think back on the journey of Pursuing God . . . One-On-One, what has been the most helpful insight you’ve learned about building a regular rhythm of relationship into your life?
Research shows that if we write down our goals, and then identify the major obstacles we need to overcome to achieve them—the chance of our success rises significantly. This week you already wrote down how you are planning to build a rhythm of relationship with God in your life. Now, take a few minutes and write down the biggest obstacles you will need to overcome to achieve this goal. Be as specific as you can.
Are there any practical steps you need to take to overcome these obstacles? If so, write them down.
Write a prayer asking God to guide you as you start this new journey of creating a rhythm of relationship with Him on your own. Thank Him for everything He has taught you during this study. Ask Him to show you if there are any changes you need to make to achieve this goal. Ask Him to give you a passion for Him that exceeds all other passions as you pursue Him one-on-one.