In Jesus’ day when someone was referred to as a disciple (Greek term is mathetes) it meant that the person was a “student”, “pupil”, “follower” or “adherent” to the teachings of a great religious leader or teacher of philosophy. A disciple was a student who would strive to learn, live, and share what was taught to him or her. Ultimately, disciples were seeking to become like the teacher they followed.
The Practical Disciple is dedicated to helping people be better disciples of Jesus Christ through simple daily practices that anyone can understand and apply. I’ve always organized the content around three essential elements that I believe are core to faithfully and consistently growing as a follower of Jesus Christ.
ESSENTIAL #1: STUDY
Obviously, if a disciple is a student, then study is going to be essential. Specifically, Christians study the Word of God so that we come to understand, love, and serve God fully with our lives. The Bible is a guide, a lover letter, a source of comfort, a witness to Christ’s life, and so many other things.
Paul wrote to Timothy a young disciple,
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
Are you regularly spending time in the Word? If not, then you are missing out on an essential element of discipleship.
GETTING STARTED WITH STUDY
Begin by creating a daily habit of reading God’s Word. Many Christians feel a compulsion or duty to read the whole Bible. This is a good desire, but you should not view reading God’s Word as a “one and done” proposition, meaning, don’t try to just get through the Bible once and feel you’ve done your duty. Instead, nurture a habit of daily reading.
When you have daily habit of reading. God will speak to you again and again through scripture. Sometimes you’ll discover a comforting thought. Other times you will find yourself convicted of something wrong in your life. Truths will present themselves again and again and your life will become better for knowing these truths. These meaningful moments all begin with reading consistently. Plus, when you read daily, you’ll finish the Bible not just once but many times.
To read the Bible is a good beginning, but to benefit from your reading you should strive to be a student of the Bible. There are many approaches to studying you can take: inductive bible study, book-by-book study, topical study, word studies, theological studies, etc. The bottom line is to read with an inquisitive mind and heart, regardless of what type of study method you use. Ask God for the help of the Holy Spirit in understanding what you read.
A tried and true method for self-guided study is inductive bible study. Inductive bible study is a three-fold movement of observing, interpreting, and applying. One easy journaling practice you can use as a starting point for learning this method is to follow the SOAP method of bible study. SOAP stands for Scripture, Observe, Apply, and Pray. If you would like a more in depth understanding of inductive bible study there are links at the end of this article to a two page worksheet on inductive bible study developed by the campus ministry STUMO.
Ultimately, your goal in studying the Bible should not simply be mastering information. The Word of God is intended to shape your life. You truly don’t understand the Word of God until you begin to live obediently by applying what you learn. That’s when scripture figuratively and literally comes alive. Therefore, always strive as you are reading to recognize how you can respond to what you are learning. Is there a call to action in your reading? Is there a principle to apply, a task you should achieve, or a change you should make reflected in your reading?
ESSENTIAL #2: PRAYER
in Matthew chapter seven, Jesus says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out many demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I (Jesus) will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.'”
Obviously, being a disciple isn’t just about works. Everyone doing good deeds isn’t necessarily a Christian. You need a relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. As a disciple, one of the most basic ways we trust and grow in our relationship with the Lord is through prayer.
GETTING STARTED WITH PRAYER
Many people pray only when crisis hits.This isn’t a very good basis for a relationship. Imagine a friend who only calls you when they are in desperate need. You don’t want to be that person. The backbone of a vibrant prayer life, and by extension a vibrant relationship with God, is having a rich daily devotional time when you intentionally set apart time to be with God.
Having a daily prayer time with God, makes God and your relationship with Him a priority over other things. Committing to daily prayer is a way of saying, ‘God you matter to me and I am going to make sure that every day I am making time for you.’
Five factors shape your prayer. Neglect them and they will be killers of your prayer life. Strategically develop them and they will be pillars of a dynamic and transformative prayer life. The choice is yours.
I refer to these five factors as The 5 Pillars of Life-Changing Prayer. This is what they are as described in my book, “Tips on Prayer: A Quickstart Guide to Improving Your Prayer Life.”
Consistency–Repeatedly, people share with me what a struggle it is to make prayer a regular part of their day. They donʼt pray as much as they feel they should. Consistency is absolutely critical for prayer to become transformative. Imagine trying to improve your physical health by going to the gym only every couple of weeks. How consistent in
prayer are you? Do you feel you need to pray more?
Breadth–People often struggle with what to say or feel trapped in ruts, i.e. “I am really good about thanking God, but seldom pray about anything else.” Or, “I feel like I am always asking for things.” How broad is your prayer life? Do you struggle with what to say?
Depth–Many people feel distant from God or unaware of how God responds to their prayers. There are specific practices that can deepen your relationship with God and build your sense of spiritual awareness. Do you have a growing sense of intimacy with God? Do you readily recognize God at work?
Focus– Sustaining attention is beyond a shadow of a doubt the MOST common problem people report having with prayer. I hear an epidemic lament, “I try to pray but my mind constantly wanders.” Itʼs only getting worse as fast moving technology further compresses our attention span. How well can you stay focused during prayer?
Integration–The full value of prayer does not reveal itself until it starts shaping your daily life and becomes a natural response to lifeʼs events. How much is prayer an integral part of your life? Does it inform what you do in the day? Is prayer shaping who you are, or just an extra-curricular activity?
Intentionally working on anyone of these five pillars can dramatically enhance your prayer life and relationship with the Lord. In my book, Tips on Prayer I share numerous easy-to-apply best practices to grow in each of these five areas.
Ultimately, we would not just pray but live prayerful lives, meaning that all that we would say and do would be a heartfelt response and expression to the Lord of our love and obedience.
ESSENTIAL #3: ACTION
How many times have you heard someone say, “That wasn’t a very Christian thing to do.” Why? Because we expect certain behavior from Christians. Paul, mentioned that “Faith without works is dead.” Consequently, a disciple shouldn’t just believe all the right things, but they should also be living lives that obediently honor God. Biblically, a disciple wasn’t just someone who learned what their teacher knew. They would strive to adhere to a teacher teaching and eventually become like the teacher. So for us, as disciples, we are to both follow what Jesus taught and strive to love unconditionally and sacrificially as he did. The bottom line is that action is about obedience.
GETTING STARTED WITH ACTION
Spending time in bible study and striving to apply what you learn will go a long way toward getting started on actively living out your faith. Being obedient can be as simple as acting upon what you read in scripture, hear in sermons or classes, and feel led to do through your prayer life. The key is to perpetually seek to exercise any principles or practices that are going to expand your ability to love God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Three ways you can accelerate growth in obedience are:
Repentance — To repent is to recognize sin in our lives, to ask God’s forgiveness, and then to change our behavior. When we repent we are consciously striving to yield more of our will over to be directed by God’s will.
Spiritual Disciplines – Intentionally exercising holy habits on a regular basis can shape your character and the choices you make. For example, practicing a discipline of tithing can reshape your trust of God and positively alter your relationship to material things.
Spiritual Goals – Consciously raising the bar on how we serve God by setting goals can be very beneficial. For example, if you want to grow in loving unconditionally you could set a goal of volunteering in a homeless shelter once a month.
Ultimately, as disciples we are blessed to be a blessing. We each have unique God-given gifts. Also, God instills in us compassionate concern for particular people and causes. When we wed our gifts with those concerns to be a blessing we fulfill our purpose and honor God fully with our lives. If you don’t know your purpose, the 5 Day Purpose Challenge is a quick, easy, systematic process to discover it.
The Practical Disciple contains over 400 articles related to Study, Prayer, and Action. Below are a few of my favorites for jumpstarting the three essential elements of discipleship discussed in this article. Many of these articles also have a downloadable free resource included in the article. If so, the related resource is listed along with a link to the article.
TO GROW IN STUDY
Article: The SOAP Bible Journaling Method
Related Resource: The Bible Reading Bundle which include The One Year Bible Reading Tool Kit and the SOAP Bible Journaling Cheat Sheet
Article: Are you hearing these three calls in Scripture?
Related Resource: Spiritual Goal Setting Template
Article: Inductive Bible Study Method
Related Resource: Inductive Bible Study Method, Pages 1 and 2 by Stump Campus Ministry
TO GROW IN PRAYER
Article: A behind the scenes look into my daily devotional life
Related Resource: Video in which I walk you through my daily prayer practice
Book: Tips on Prayer, A Quickstart Guide to Improving Your Prayer Life
Article: Prayer Instruction: How to Respond When God Answers Prayer
Related Resource: Eleven Ways God Responds to Prayer
Article: Benefits of Using a Prayer Model
Related Resource: The article contains multiple links to a variety of prayer methods.
TO GROW IN ACTION
Article: 18 Free Spiritual Discipline Ideas You Can Use for Lent (or any other time of year)
Related Resource: A downloadable bundle of 18 resources divided into Study, Prayer, and Action focused disciplines.
Article: Repentance Prayers – Moving Beyond Just Asking for Forgiveness
The 5 Day Purpose Challenge – An easy-to-follow process for discovering your purpose. Sign-up to receive five simple email lessons on discovering your life purpose.