As a believer, you and I are both faced with some important choices about how we live our lives. One of those choices is this: am I going all-in for Jesus or for something else? That something else can be anything: family, career, health, money, business, even church. That something else can be something really, really good. Really important. But whatever it is, if it isn’t Jesus – it isn’t enough.
Going all-in for Jesus is not always easy. In fact, it is not usually easy. It means making hard choices. Choices that are laughed at or looked down on or simply not understood by our culture, our friends, our family.
Want a simplistic example? How many people do you know who watched and loved Game of Thrones? Complete with pornographic sex scenes, I believe that a Spirit-filled Christian would shun this program. Yes, I heard the buzz and wanted to check it out. I lasted about 10 minutes. No matter how good the storyline is, or the characters are, the included pornography put the show firmly on my ‘do not watch’ list. I am not up-to-date with any of it. I don’t get the memes. I don’t know the characters’ names. I don’t understand the story or the to-do about the last season. And I fully admit my ignorance.
This example is such a small thing. I’ve suffered no ill in my life by refusing to watch Game of Thrones. But that is not always the case when we go all-in for Jesus. A less simplistic example: being sued for following your beliefs and refusing to make a cake celebrating a gay marriage. No, not my experience, but one I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It’s been in the news quite a bit.
As our country (I live in the USA) plunges ever deeper into a post-Christian mess, the choices we make will become more like the baker who stood for something or the florist who lost her business or the soccer player who wasn’t welcomed on the team. We will be called on to count the cost. The question we will all eventually face is, “What will I choose – Jesus or comfort/job/security/money/reputation?”The low cost of our faith has made us weak and overly comfortable in the world that killed our Savior and would do so again.
We Have it Too Easy
I belong to a good church that teaches the Bible clearly and uncompromisingly. A church that stands on its belief that sin separates us all from God. That repenting of our sin and accepting the forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ death is the only way of salvation.
Part of my experience at my church is belonging to a Life Group. Our group meshes well, we have lively discussions, and we enjoy each other’s company. But every time the conversation turns toward matters of commitment and what our faith costs us, my mind brings up the image of Christian men kneeling on a beach. Prisoners of ISIS refusing to deny the Christ who died for them as they face death for Him. And I think, my faith costs me nothing.
In the United States, at least, most of us pay little price for our faith. We are free to believe whatever we want and discuss our faith with whomever we desire. The low cost of our faith has made us weak and overly comfortable in the world that killed our Savior and would do so again.
As believers in the West – especially in an increasingly hostile West – we must make choices that challenge us and grow our faith. Otherwise, we risk growing too soft to stand up for Jesus when the reality of most of the world’s believers becomes our own.
How to Strengthen Your Faith
I’ll start by getting the basics out of the way. Belong to, attend faithfully, and serve in a Bible-teaching church. Read your Bible regularly. Pray daily. Memorize Scripture. Fellowship with other believers. All of these are important parts of growing our faith. But, again, because we live in the West, they too easily become routine parts of our lives instead of vibrant expressions of our reliance on our omnipotent and loving Father.We risk growing too soft to stand up for Jesus when the reality of most of the world’s believers becomes our own.
I want you to know, as I go deeper into the spiritual disciplines that can strengthen our faith, that I am preaching to myself as much or more than anyone else. Just as the father of the boy that Jesus healed in Mark 9, I exclaim to my Lord time and again, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
I believe, but I struggle to believe enough to put feet to my faith. It is a daily task to surrender myself to His leading and Lordship. Only then can I begin to hope that my faith will stand against all tests. Only then can I even begin to imagine that I might have what it takes to kneel on a beach one day if that is asked of me.
With that said, let’s dig a little deeper.
Read Your Bible
This should be on the top of every believer’s to-do list. But so often it is only something on our to-do lists. It needs to be so much more. Reading the Bible is like sitting on the beach and watching the waves roll in. You see the ocean, but don’t really know it. You’re an observer, not a participant. To really know the ocean, you need to leave the safety and comfort of the beach, get in a boat, sail past the sight of land, and don diving gear and jump in.
In my journey as a believer, my relationship to the Word has changed. I started on the beach; now I love diving in. No matter where you are in this journey, press forward to the next stage! The end goal is where the treasures are found.
Sitting on the beach is simply reading the Bible. There is a place for this. Not every venture into the Word needs to be a full-blown study. Even the most dedicated divers enjoy sitting on the beach occasionally. Enjoy the Word even when you have little time. But don’t let this ‘beach-sitting’ be your ultimate goal. You need to take action: get in the boat!
Using devotionals to guide your reading is like getting into the boat. Someone else is steering, someone else is doing most of the work. You are being taken where they want you to go. And that’s fine. When I was a new believer, I had no idea where to go! So, I used devotionals. Sometimes I still use devotionals, but not nearly as much as when I was a younger believer. I’m probably showing my age here, but when I was a fairly new believer, I subscribed to the “Walk Thru the Bible” monthly guide which came in the mail. This guide led me to read through the Bible in a year, taught me background information, challenged me with actions to take, and related the books of the Bible to each other. It was priceless to me in my new journey and I used it for three or four years. Although no longer available, there are many similar resources to choose from. When you don’t know where to start, using a devotional can be very useful. And when you just want a different perspective on the deep waters of the Word, using a devotional provides that. But don’t live there – reach beyond or you’ll never get below the waves.
In my analogy, next comes sailing so far we cannot see land. We’re still in the boat, still not making decisions about where the boat goes or doing any of the heavy lifting of running the boat (or digging into the Word). But we’re getting closer to our ultimate goal. This stage of growth in my journey was using printed Bible study booklets. None of these were video-driven, because the technology wasn’t there yet. Today’s similar studies are almost all video-driven. I used these Bible study booklets to read portions of Scripture, answer various interpretive and application questions, and then meet with other believers to discuss our responses. They were insightful, challenging, and the perfect stepping-stone to self-directed study.
Finally, I graduated to non-printed study of the Word by myself. No longer on the boat, I have donned my dive gear and jumped in. There is so much more to see and discover than staying on the surface, safely in the boat. This is my preferred method of studying the Word. I use many resources to help me, but do not like going through printed studies as much as I used to. Deep, personal study of the Bible requires time and commitment, but the rewards far outweigh the costs in time and effort.
The truth is all of these – reading, devotionals, printed or video-driven studies, and self-directed studying – have their place. Even the most avid divers I know seldom go diving every day – unless that is their career. Most of them engage with the ocean in other ways: going to the beach, boating, water-skiing, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming. All have their place, all are enjoyable. But none are as thrilling as diving. So, it is with the Word. I read, I use devotionals, I use printed studies. But the real excitement comes when I set aside an hour or more to dig into a passage, a topic, or even just a word.
More to Come
When I started writing this post, I thought I could cover it all – the need to strengthen our faith for future challenges and the different ways to accomplish that goal. I was wrong. I hope I have challenged you that more is necessary. I hope you understand why growing into personal study of the Word is vital. I hope you are encouraged to make a plan – and follow the plan – to increase your time in the Word and your depth of engagement with it.
I have included a few Bible study resources in the Resource Library for you to use. I am also working on a more in-depth guide to independent Bible study that should be available within the month. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s finished.
Next time, I’ll dive more into other disciplines that can strengthen and deepen our faith for when the storms come. But it all starts with getting into the Word and letting the Word get into you.