How to Make Room For God in Your Life FBCA College Ministry Summer 2020
Week 1 –Introduction / Sacred Pathways / Bible Study
“The apostle Paul says, ‘he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life’ (Gal. 6:8). Paul’s analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless in growing grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The Disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and and transform us. By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace. The inner righteousness we seek is not something that is poured on our heads. God has ordained the Disciplines of the spiritual life as the means by which we place ourselves where he can bless us. “
– Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
This summer, the goal of this study is to help you ‘place yourself where God can bless you’. We will study several different ‘practices’ or ‘disciplines’ that help us make room for God’s Spirit to guide our life. Many of these may be disciplines you’ve never tried – I’m excited for that possibility. So, each week we will look at the Biblical basis for these practices, and then have some homework to try them out. When we come back together each week, we can reflect on how God used that discipline, and then study a new one.
There are two broad categories of Spiritual Disciplines. They are disciplines of abstinence (the removal of things) and engagement (the addition of things). While we will not study all them, here is a full list that may help you know what we are talking about when we talk about Spiritual Disciplines:
Solitude Silence Fasting Frugality Chastity Secrecy Sacrifice
Study Worship Celebration Service Prayer Fellowship Confession Submission
It is my prayer that you will find life-long practices that can help you keep your spirit open to and in tune with the Spirit of the God who made you, loves you and offers to guide you.
Growth Group Kickoff Exercise
As we gather, let’s begin with acknowledging that we are all different – each of us is unique in the way we see the world, our varying passions and interests – and that is also true about the ways we feel close with God. While together today, take this Sacred Pathways assessment to discover the ways you might flourish in your meeting with God. When done with the assessment in the first link, click on the second link to see a breakdown of what your results mean. Discuss your findings and takeaways with your group.
Take this quiz (don’t give them your email at the end):
(Courtesy of NorthPoint Community Church)
To interpret your answers, read this page:
(Courtesy of Chi Alpha Ministries)
Questions for discussion:
- What did you learn about yourself that you find helpful to growing closer to God?
- How does this practice help us understand the church and it’s function better? Consider 1Corinthians 12:12-27.
“The mind will always take on an order that conforms to the order of whatever it concentrates on.” – Richard Foster
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
– 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might no sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11
Of all the disciplines we need to get down, reading and studying the Bible may be the most important. It is how we understand who God is, his interaction with humanity and his desire for our lives. Without it, we cannot be mature Christians. That is why the first week should start with Bible reading. Our homework is this: Read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount this week. It is broken into a daily reading plan. Discipline yourself to create un-rushed time alone with the Scripture. Pray before you read that God would speak to you through it. Remember that reading by itself is not the point; the point is that you make room in your life for God to speak to you through the Bible this week. So, try your best to be present and listening to God to emphasize a certain point or invitation while you are reading. If it is helpful, make notes that you can share with your group when you come back next week.
Day 1: Matthew 5:1-20
Day 2: Matthew 5:21-48
Day 3: Matthew 6:1-18
Day 4: Matthew 6:19-34
Day 5: Matthew 7:1-14
Day 6: Matthew 7:15-29
Questions to consider while studying:
What might God be saying to me through this?
Is there an invitation from God that I need to respond with? How does this passage change the way I live?
Reflecting on last week’s discipline:
- – Did you find daily Bible reading to be a meaningful exercise?
- – Did God reveal anything to you?
- – What takeaways do you have for future application?
Discipline #2: Fasting
“Christian fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”
“Few Disciplines go so radically against the flesh and the mainstream of the culture as this one.”
– Donald S. Whitney
“Fasting confirms our utter dependence on God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food. …[it] is one of the more important ways of practicing that self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). In fasting, we learn to suffer happily as we feast on God.”
– Dallas Willard
“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
– Matthew 4:4
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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 6:16-18
Fasting is a practice that was extremely normal in Jesus’ time. If you notice in the Matthew 6 passage, Jesus says when, not if you fast – yet it is a practice many of us have never tried. People fast for a number of reasons: to cultivate a dependence on God, to pray for a loved one, or to seek a specific answer or direction from God. This week, we are going to try fasting.
The challenge is to choose one meal this week and sacrifice it as a time to pray, read Scripture, or meditate – and think about what purpose you are pursuing. Put a reason to it. Examples could be: I am using this time to pray for this lost friend who is hurting, or I am using this time to ask God to give me direction in an area of my life, or I am praying this hour for God to strengthen my discipline regarding a certain sin. Use the meal, and the subsequent hunger until the next meal, to pray for the purpose you have assigned to this fast. That means, every time you are reminded of your hunger, you can use that as a prompt to continue in your prayer and devotion until your next meal.
Before you leave your group, discuss:
- – When you will fast
- – What purpose you are assigning to it.
Reflecting on last week’s fasting exercise:
- – What was it like to fast one meal for a spiritual purpose?
- – Did you feel that God used the experience?
- – Is it something you would do again, or build into your spiritual life?Discipline #3: Prayer“Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. When we pray we talk to God, aloud or within our thoughts.”
“The more we pray, the more we think to pray, and as we see the results of prayer – the responses of our Father to our requests – our confidence in God’s power spills over into other areas of our life.”
– Dallas Willard
“If all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father.”
“To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.”
– Richard Foster
“Prayer is learned.”
– Donald S. Whitney
“Lord, teach us to pray…. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
– Luke 11:1, 9-10
“Pray without ceasing.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Prayer is one of the more obvious and vital Christian practices. We know we ought to be doing it. However, sometimes we find ourselves not doing it – or maybe not really knowing how. Also, prayer is tied closely to many of the other spiritual disciplines – bible study, fasting, meditation, solitude. We know we must do it – but do not always know what to do. The good news is that it is a learned practice – we start as beginners and grow from there. This week, we will practice a very simple technique of prayer using the acronym ACTS. The discipline for you will be finding a time during each day to practice it. It goes like this:
A – Adoration. Praise God for who God is, and what role God plays in our lives.
C – Confession. Honestly confess to God your sins and shortcomings – where did you fail today?
T – Thanksgiving. Thank God for every good thing you can think of that today held.
S – Supplication. Ask God to supply all of the things you need, and pray for the people around you.
Before you leave your group, share when you will try to make time to pray this week.
Discipline # 4: Unplugging
“With the aid of technology we can attempt to juggle multiple worlds at the same time. But we can’t keep juggling for twenty-four hours a day and not get worn out. …Unplugging recognizes that personal beings are created for personal interaction by a personal God.”
- Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
“…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the [message of God], making it unfruitful.”
- Mark 4:19
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
- Ephesians 5:15-16
This week’s challenge is a different type of fasting. This week we are going to fast from something other than food. We are taking on the challenge of fasting from technology. Even in a time where our phones and computers are our lifelines to community, they can still take over our lives in ways that are not productive or edifying. We all know the reality of wasting loads of time scrolling through social media, or deep-diving on YouTube, only realizing after it is over that we have wasted precious time. Let’s use this week to re-prioritize and examine how we spend our time. As with our fast a few weeks ago, I want us to assign a spiritual purpose to this unplugged time.
Knowing that during this Covid-19 time your technology may be your only lifeline, I want you to create an ‘unplug’ that challenges you but doesn’t push you beyond a healthy limit.
Choose one or more of these challenges for yourself this week:
- Create a digital-free time period for two hours each day.
- Log out of one particularly distracting app for the week.
- Go to bed without your phone next to you, and spend time with God before you grab your phone again in the morning. (This may require purchasing an alarm clock!)
Whatever you choose, do your best to assign a spiritual purpose to your fast, and make a conscious effort to use that time differently (Bible reading, prayer, connecting with a friend, etc).
Before you leave your group, declare what your “Unplugging” is going to look like this week.
Reflecting on last week’s discipline of Unplugging:
- What was most difficult for you about unplugging?
- Did God reveal anything to you about the way you spend your time?
- What changes do you want to make in light of last week’s challenge?
Discipline #5: Witness
“Evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life. Every should be able to talk about what the Lord has done for him and what He means to her. But evangelism is also a Discipline in that we must discipline ourselves to get into situations where evangelism can occur; that is, we must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.”
- Donald S. Whitney
“Our communication of the gospel depends not on human strategies or well-polished techniques or even brilliantly reasoned arguments but on divine initiative. It is the hidden work of the Holy Spirit that gives our words meaning and power and that produces heart change.”
- Rebecca Manley Pippert
“A witness tells the story of what happened to them. Anyone who follows Jesus has a story to tell… All disciples have stories of God’s work in their lives that are meant to help set others free.”
- Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
- Acts 1:8
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
- 1 Peter 3:15
This week’s discipline is most likely the one that takes us furthest out of our comfort zone: the discipline to bear witness and evangelize. We can often build it up to be something grand only done by people who have arrived at a certain point in their faith, or that have the spiritual gift of evangelism. But, the reality is that all of us are called to ‘give an answer’ or ‘be Christ’s witnesses’. It doesn’t mean we have to stand on a street corner, but it means we have to play a part in bearing witness to Christ’s love for the world. As Adele Calhoun says above, we are simply called to tell the story of what God has done in our lives. And in doing that, the Spirit of God can draw people toward God. So, the challenge this week is to do what Donald Whitney suggests: “discipline ourselves to get into situations where evangelism can occur”.
Before you leave your group, share a way that you are going to be intentional in sharing your story and putting yourself in a situation where a gospel conversation can occur. If this is difficult, brainstorm with each other ways you can be faithful to this challenge this week.
Reflecting on last week’s discipline of witnessing:
- How successful were you in your attempts to bear witness?
(Success defines as the faithfulness to do it – not the result, which is God’s work!)
- What challenges did you face in this discipline?
- What did you learn about yourself or life with God?
Discipline #6 – Service
“To serve the Lord with gladness is every Christian’s commission. In God’s kingdom, no is spiritually unemployed or retired. Every believer in Christ is gifted to serve, with the goal of being more like Jesus by means of humbly serving others. If we don’t discipline ourselves to serve for the sake of Christ and His kingdom, we’ll serve only when it’s convenient or self-serving.”
- Donald S. Whitney
“Service is a way of offering resources, time, treasure, influence and expertise for the care, protection, justice and nurture of others. Acts of service give hand to the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me.”
- John 12:26
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
- Matthew 22:37-39
Service ought to be one of the marks of a Christian life. Throughout history Christians have been known for their service – through orphan care, hospitals, disaster relief and beyond. And this is for good reason – our Lord Himself commands us to be like him in serving the world. Like Donald Whitney says above, when we serve others we become more like Jesus. So, the challenge this week is to determine one way where you can serve beyond what you normally do, in hopes that you can grow to be more like Jesus. This could look like:
- Volunteering for an hour at Mission Arlington
- Taking cookies to your neighbor and seeing if they need anything (especially during Covid)!
- Serving a co-worker by bringing coffee or doing the task no one enjoys.
- Serving your family by cooking dinner or doing a chore around the house.
Before you leave your group, declare one act of service you’re going to do this week in order to grow to be more like Jesus.
Reflecting on last week’s discipline of Service:
- How did your act of service draw you closer to God?
- What was it like to serve with the intention of becoming more like Jesus?
- Is there a way you can incorporate service into your life more?
Discipline #7 – Celebration
“Celebration is a way of engaging in actions that orient the spirit toward worship, praise and thanksgiving. Delighting in all the attentions and never-changing presence of the Trinity fuels celebration.”
- Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!”
- Psalm 47:1
“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me…
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure…
You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in your presence,
With eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
- Psalm 16:7, 9, 11
As we wrap up our study together, the discipline of the day is celebration. Celebrating who God is and what God has done is a practice every believer needs to build into their life. It is a healthy posture with which to approach God, and helps shift our perspective on every other item in life. So, as you end your summer growth group, spend some time celebrating what God has done. Here are some guiding questions:
- How has God helped you grow through the challenge of these disciplines?
- How has God used your growth group as a safe space during this time?
- What did you learn in these times that you can carry with you?
- Is there any item of celebration you want to share with the group?
As you leave, I would challenge you to continue to practice these disciplines, as they are the ‘workout’ that keeps a Christian healthy. I would also challenge you to explore what it could look like for you to lead your own growth group as you look toward a new semester. How might God use you to lead something similar as you go into a new school year? Keep your eyes open, and don’t be afraid to seize opportunities when they come your way!