God has a vision for our lives. It’s an epic vision of deep and radical transformation. His vision is much more than simply accepting Christ, receiving forgiveness, and then going to heaven when we die! His vision is that we would be transformed in our core character to become like our Creator.
This is how the Apostle Paul describes this vision:
You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:9–10
Did you catch that? Renewed . . . In the image of the Creator.
We were originally created in the Garden to be like God in our core character. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). But when we rebelled against Him as a race, this image was deeply marred and defaced. This is why Jesus has come—not simply to forgive us, but to restore us to be like Him again.
When we first come to Christ, something supernatural happens to us. We receive the gift of the Spirit and we start this supernatural transformation process. Here’s how the Apostle Paul describes it:
The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17–18
Notice the key words: we are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory by the power of the Spirit.
However, we need to remember what we learned last week—this transformation process is not automatic. If we want to experience change in our lives and become the people we were created to be, we have to listen and follow the Spirit’s leadership.
We also need to train for transformation—like an athlete preparing for competition. The Apostle Paul uses this athletic imagery to coach his younger colleague Timothy on his life and leadership. Athletic competitions (such as the Olympics) were very popular in the first century. But in order to qualify to compete, athletes had to go into strict physical training.
Paul writes to Timothy,
Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7–8
What Paul is saying is that physical training—like working out, eating right, and practicing your skills—has real value. But it’s a limited value. However, spiritual training has tremendous impact on every area of our lives, in both this life and the next.
As we learned last week, pursuing God one-on-one is one of the core components in any spiritual training program! This is evident in the lives of God’s people throughout the Bible. Enoch walked with God. Abraham built altars. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai. Joshua meditated on God’s Word. David arose early to seek God in the morning. Daniel prayed towards Jerusalem three times a day. Esther saved Israel after a three-day fast. Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days. Mary listened and learned at Jesus’ feet. Paul prayed without ceasing. John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he received the Revelation. These people pursued God one-on-one—and as a result, they experienced God’s epic vision for their lives. So, the question is: How do we get started on this journey?
In the next few days, you will be designing your own “training program”—a detailed plan to help you train for transformation. This will take some time and deep reflection. But remember, there’s no substitute for time alone with God—and there’s no way we can discover His epic vision for our lives without it.
If you were asked what it means to be a follower of Christ, what would you say? How would you describe God’s big-picture vision for our lives?
Have you ever trained for an athletic event, a music recital, a dance competition, a play, or any other sort of performance? If so, how much time, energy, and practice did it take to become successful?
What are some implications from that experience (above) that might apply to your spiritual training process?
Write a prayer asking God to help you understand and embrace this spiritual training paradigm and the role it plays in your relationship with God and your personal transformation.
DESIGNING YOUR PLAN, PART 1
If you decided to run a marathon, what would you do first? Would you head for the track and run ten miles on your first day? Of course not! If you had any sense at all, you’d start by designing a training plan. You’d probably sit down and think through a series of questions such as: Why do I want to run a marathon? When is the best time to train? Where is the best place to run? What exercises should I include? How often should I train? You might even go online to search for some training tips from people who have successfully completed a marathon.
We need to go through a similar process when it comes to spiritual training. Since spending time with God one-on-one is a core component in our spiritual training program, we need to answer these same questions as we would if we were training for anything else. Today we will start with the first two questions (Why? And When?) and tomorrow we will finish with the last three.
The first question is: why? In other words, why do you want to create this rhythm of relationship with God? Since we discussed this question in depth on Day Two last week, we won’t spend a lot of time on it here. However, it’s vital we start designing our training plan by answering this question if we want to succeed. Take a moment to look back at your notes and review your answers. Remember, if we don’t have an adequate answer to the question why, the cost will always be too high.
The next question we need to ask is when? This is an easy question to ask, but a hard one to answer! Let’s face it—life is busy. Most of us don’t have an extra 30-60 minutes in our daily lives when it will feel natural to meet with Jesus. However, finding this space is one of the most important steps in our training plan, because if we don’t select a specific time—and learn to keep it consistently, we will probably fail. Remember, one of the keys to creating a new keystone habit is to keep it consistent, especially until the habit is firmly established and becomes part of your natural rhythm.
Don’t forget to take into account your natural wiring when you are deciding when to meet with God. One helpful rule of thumb–schedule your time with God when you’re at your best. For some people this will be first thing in the morning. This is often when our minds are most alert (assuming you got enough sleep) and also the time you are least likely to be interrupted. However, for others, the best time will be late at night after the family is in bed, in the middle of the day on your lunch break, or while your young kids take a nap in the afternoon.
In Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, Pastor Rick Warren gives some great advice on this:
The general rule is this: The best time is when you are at your best. Give God the best time of your day - when you are freshest and most alert. Don't try to serve God with your leftover time. . . . Whatever time you set, be consistent in it. Schedule it on your calendar; make an appointment with God as you would with anyone else. Rick Warren
Another important step in answering the when question is to evaluate what you need to cut out of your schedule to free up some time. If you simply try to add 30-60 minutes a day with God without cutting something out of your incredibly busy life, chances are you will not succeed. As Greg McKeown points out in his book Essentialism,
The reality is, saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others. Greg McKeown
For example, if you decide to get up earlier in the morning to meet with God, you need to go to bed earlier at night. This will require you to make some changes in your evening routine. You will need to turn off the TV, shut down your projects, or stop gaming earlier so you will be fresh in the morning. If you don’t make these “cuts”, chances are you will be falling asleep during your time with God and wondering why you ever wanted to spend time with Him in the first place!
So, the first step in creating an effective spiritual training program is to start with the question why? The next step is to decide when is the best time for you to meet with God—and then stick to it religiously until it becomes part of the natural rhythm of your life.
Are you a morning person or a night person?
When is your best time to meet with God?
What do you need to cut out or cut back on to create space for God?
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to creating time to meet with God?
Write a prayer asking God to give you the wisdom to decide when to meet with Him and ask Him to give you whole-hearted passion to make this a priority.
DESIGNING YOUR PLAN, PART 2
This week we’ve learned God has a vision of radical transformation for our lives, but in order to get there, we must train for change—like an athlete preparing for competition. We also learned that pursuing God one-on-one is a core component in any spiritual training program. Yesterday we began to design a practical training plan by asking the first two (of five) strategic training questions: Why? and When? Today we will finish by asking the last three questions: Where? What? and How long?
Once we’ve decided when to meet with God, the next question is where to meet with Him. The ideal place will vary from person to person, but wherever it is, it needs to be a place where you feel comfortable. It should also be a place where you are able to concentrate without being disturbed or distracted.
In his book Warfare Prayer, Peter Wagner gives this helpful advice:
Find a comfortable, peaceful place as your habitual place of prayer. Having a pleasant and familiar environment will bring you more quickly and naturally into an attitude of prayer. To help you relax, take a cup of coffee or a glass of juice with you. There is nothing wrong with feeling good while you are praying. C. Peter Wagner
Many people find it helpful to find their place, and then stick with it. Mark Batterson refers to this as a “whispering spot”—a designated place where we sit and listen for the whisper of God. Over time, this space can become your personal Tent of Meeting where you experience God on a regular basis. You may even find that having a steady location to meet with God makes it easier to enter into His presence.
The next question is what should you do in your time with God? Again, this will vary from person to person and will likely change during different seasons in our lives. We are all designed differently and it’s important to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in this process. Some people find it’s helpful to approach their time with God with a specific plan or routine. Others prefer to let the Holy Spirit lead them in a more spontaneous way. Whatever approach you take, your time with God will generally include these three key ingredients: the Word, prayer, and journaling.
The first key ingredient in every believer’s quiet time is the Word. The Bible is the primary tool the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us and transform our minds. Jesus once said,
If you hold to my teaching (literally, “my word”) you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:31–32
It’s vital we learn how to read, study and interpret the Bible on our own so we can discover these truths that will set us free and lead to transformation. We will start learning how to do this next week.
The second key ingredient is prayer. Prayer is how we connect with God. This is where we learn to listen for His voice and process our lives with Him. Prayer is also the place where we partner with God to bring about His Kingdom. In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard describes prayer as “talking to God about what we are doing together.” That’s a great definition. We will dig deeper into prayer later in this study.
The third key ingredient for your alone time is journaling. Journaling can sound intimidating, but at its core, it is simply writing down what God is showing us. Some people will journal very little; others will journal a lot. But writing down key life insights is important, not only so we remember them and review them later, but also because the very act of writing helps us focus our thoughts and clarify our insights. In his book The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson writes,
In my opinion, journaling is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated spiritual disciplines. Journaling is the difference between learning and remembering. It’s also the difference between forgetting and fulfilling our goals. Mark Batterson
We will learn more about journaling throughout this study.
There are many other helpful activities and resources we can use to pursue God in our times alone with Him. These may include worship music, daily devotionals, prayer books, study guides, commentaries, online resources and so on. Remember, the Holy Spirit is very creative and can work in a wide variety of ways. However—prayer, Bible study, and journaling should be at the heart of your times with God.
The last question is: How long should we spend with God?
The amount of time we spend alone with God will vary during different seasons of our lives, but for most people, you will need at least 15-30 minutes to connect with God each day. This will give you enough time to read some Scripture, pray, listen, reflect, and then journal on what God is showing you. As you grow, you may find that your time gets longer as God reveals Himself to you more and more.
Keep in mind that each of our “training plans” is going to look different. The Holy Spirit will likely design a different training program for a young, single mom than He would a retired college professor. God has designed each of us differently—and one of the goals of this study is to help you discover your own path and how you connect best with God. As Mark Batterson writes in The Prayer Circle,
It takes time to discover the rhythms and routines that work for you. What works for others might not work for you, and what works for you might not work for others. I’ve always subscribed to the sentiment shared by Oswald Chambers: “Let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” Mark Batterson
When you first start out, begin slowly and build up to longer times. As with physical training, trying to do too much too fast can be detrimental and discouraging. It’s much wiser to start slowly and then add more time as the Holy Spirit leads you.
Remember, the goal is not to show how disciplined you are or to reach a certain length of time. The goal is to connect with God in a way that leads to renewal, transformation, and a deep relationship with Him for the rest of your life. As John Eldredge writes in Wild at Heart,
Time with God each day is not about academic study or getting through a certain amount of Scripture or any of that. It’s about connecting with God. We’ve got to keep those lines of communication open, so use whatever helps. Sometimes I’ll listen to music; other times I’ll read Scripture or a passage from a book; often I will journal; maybe I’ll go for a run; then there are days when all I need is silence and solitude and the rising sun. The point is simply to do whatever brings me back to my heart and the heart of God. John Eldredge
Where do you think is the best place for you to meet with God?
When it comes to spending time with God, does it work best for you to approach it in a more spontaneous or a more planned way?
What is the most natural way for you to connect with God in your time alone with Him? Is it through prayer? The Word? Journaling? Worship? Devotionals? Deep study? Etc.
How does spending 15-30 minutes alone with God, five days a week, sound to you? Like a lot? A little?
Write a prayer asking God to coach you on the where, the what, and for how long to meet with Him. Ask Him to reveal to you what will bring you back to “the heart of God” in your own life.
This week we’ve learned if we want to experience God’s epic plan for our lives, we have to train ourselves, just like we would if we were running a marathon. And what would any good coach recommend before starting to train for such an intense physical challenge? A heart check-up.
This is true when it comes to spiritual training too. Before we are ready to start, we need to examine our hearts to see what kind of shape it’s in and be honest about what we find.
We see this idea of “heart check-ups” throughout the Bible. For example, in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, Israel was about to lose their land and be exiled to Babylon because of their long-term disobedience and pursuit of other gods. But in spite of this rebellion, God made an amazing promise:
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11–13
In this passage, God is clarifying His will for His people and telling them—there is still hope for you if your heart is set on finding Me.
In his book Finding God, Larry Crabb writes,
We find God to the degree we want to find him. Until our passion for finding God exceeds all other passions, and until we long to know him as our Lord and friend more than to use him to get what we want (the way a spoiled child uses a rich father), we will not find him as deeply as he longs to be found. . .God wants to let us find him. . .God delights to be discovered. He is not playing hard to get. Something about the way we are and who he is makes it necessary for us to want him more than we want anyone or anything else before we can find him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (Jer. 29.13-14) Larry Crabb
If you stop and think about it, this makes perfect sense. God is not pursuing a casual acquaintance with us; He is after a deep and personal relationship. In fact, God uses the metaphor of marriage all throughout the Bible to illustrate how intimate of a relationship He is seeking with His people. By its very nature, this type of relationship requires an exclusive commitment by both parties. Imagine if a young man proposed to his girlfriend, and she said yes, but then told him she still wanted to date around after they were married. Do you think he would be willing to share his deepest self with someone who is not willing to do the same with him? Of course not!
Our relationship with God works the same way. God is calling us to a deep and passionate relationship. But He will not reveal Himself to us if we, like Israel, are still running after other gods. He will wait until we are ready to seek Him with all our heart.
If we want God to show up and speak with us when we meet with Him one-on-one, we need to be ready to listen and follow when He does. If our heart is not in the right place, we need to ask God to create a passion for Him that is stronger than all other passions. This is not something we can do on our own; this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to go before Him, surrender any idols that are getting in the way, and then ask Him (and give Him permission) to change our hearts!
If we’re serious, He will. Because this is always His promise: You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
What is your response to the Bible’s teaching that we will find God when we seek Him with all our hearts?
Are there any “false gods” you need to forsake to find God?
Write a prayer based on God’s promise to reveal Himself to you if you seek Him with all your heart.
THE GREATER WORK
When Jesus launched His ministry around the Sea of Galilee, one of the first things He did was to start recruiting His first followers. Here’s an excerpt from the Gospel of Mark:
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:16–18
Just stop to think about that. Andrew and Simon were standing by the Sea of Galilee, holding their nets and going about their day—when Jesus calls out to them. In that moment, they had a choice—and not an easy one. Jesus was asking them to give up everything. They must have felt the pull between holding on to their ordinary, safe lives and following Jesus to see where it would lead. But as we know, they chose to listen and follow. And as a result, their lives were never the same.
The same thing goes for us today. When God calls us to leave our small lives—to live for something bigger, we have to be willing to put down what’s in our hands and follow Him. The key to our relationship with God is learning to listen and follow Him when He calls.
The last night Jesus was with His followers, He promised to send them the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and empower them when He left. However, He made it very clear the Holy Spirit was not for everyone, but only for those who were serious about following Him. This is how He put it:
If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. John 14:15–16, NIV84
Notice the big “if” at the beginning of the sentence. The Holy Spirit was coming—but only for those who are willing to listen and follow.
This highlights one of the most important principles of our spiritual lives—that when we listen and follow what God shows us, He will give us more. But when we reject the truth He reveals, we will lose even the truth we have.
Think of God’s knowledge as being on a “dimmer switch”—a light that can be easily brightened or dimmed. When the Holy Spirit reveals new truth to us, we have a choice. We can either move towards the light (even when it’s hard or painful), or we can turn away from the light (because we don’t like what it reveals). When we move towards the light, it’s like the switch is turned up in our hearts and minds and we can see the path to life more clearly. When we reject the light and turn away, the dimmer switch is turned down and our path becomes darker. As it says in Proverbs,
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what makes them stumble. Proverbs 4:18–19
In our pursuit of God one-on-one, sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that meeting with God will automatically lead to renewal, transformation, and a deep relationship with Him. However, this is not the case. Spending time with God produces growth in us only when we are willing to listen and follow what the Holy Spirit is showing us.
As Oswald Chambers writes,
The golden rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience. . . Obey God in the thing he shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. God will never reveal more truth about himself until you have obeyed what you know already. . . . If things are dark to us spiritually, it is because there is something we will not do. Oswald Chambers
What this means is, if we are serious about following Jesus, we need to learn how to listen and follow, just like His first disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And if we do, our lives will truly never be the same.
How do you think you would have responded if you were on the shores of the Sea Galilee and Jesus had called you to follow Him that day?
What are your thoughts about this “listen and follow” paradigm?
Have you ever experienced the “dimmer switch” principle at work in your life—either because of your obedience or disobedience?
Is there any area of your life where the Spirit is calling you to listen and follow right now?
Write a prayer asking God to help you listen and follow based on today’s study.