MAINTAINING DAILY DISCIPLINES Part 2 – Leadership Letters to My Children
Daily disciplines are those things which when repeated on a regular basis provide the foundation for your Christian walk. Included but not exclusively, they are such things as recognizing divine authority over my life, practicing biblical obedience, showing proper restraint in difficult situations, bringing all aspects of my life under the control of the Holy Spirit and learning to feed ourselves.
1. Daily disciplines can be tedious and mundane. Brushing your teeth, bathing daily, exercising regularly can all be tedious and mundane – the more so the older you get but, it is in fulfilling the tedious and mundane that great lives are made. Jesus reminded us that learning to handle the little things prepares us for handling much greater things. Fifteen minutes of practice on the piano just before the lesson cannot make up for the thirteen days when nothing was done. Daily spiritual disciplines are imperative if we hope to be powerful and effective in our Christian walk. We need the power of the prayer closet and the saturation of our mind with God’s Word.
2. Performing the tedious and mundane builds skills which respond in an instant. In the movie Karate Kid, young Daniel asks Mister Miagi to teach him karate. Miagi agrees on the condition that Daniel does not question his methods of instruction. Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn. But rather than some great lesson, Mister Miagi has him paint a fence, using precise motion for the job: up and down, up and down. After the fence is painted Mr. Miagi demonstrates the stroke he wants Daniel to us for scrubbing the deck. All the time, Daniel wonders what these things have to do with karate, but he says nothing. Next, Miagi explains to Daniel the stroke he wants him to use for washing and waxing three weather-beaten cars. Finally, Daniel reaches his limit: “I thought you were going to teach me karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!” The old man’s face is flushed with anger and he says, “I have been teaching you karate! Defend yourself!” Miagi thrusts his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defends himself with an arm motion exactly like that used in one of his chores. Miagi follows up with a strong kick, and again Daniel diverts the blow with a motion used in his chores. After several similar exchanges, Miagi simply walks away. He allows Daniel to discover for himself that the mundane and repetitive actions of the chores were the means of developing his skills of defense. In a similar way, the repetitive acts of Godly living and thinking prepare us to instinctively act when confronted by an attack to compromise our principles and morals. The Bible says, “Do not grow weary in doing good.”
3. Successful Christian living is the result of the tedious and mundane practiced on a regular basis. Acts 10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” It was during a daily prayer time that God met Cornelius in a special way. It was a turning point in the life of Cornelius and also the infant church. He prayed everyday. It was part of his ongoing devotion to the Lord. At times it may have seemed mundane but at other times it was alive with excitement. Cornelius gives us a good principle to follow in our personal spiritual walk – spend time daily with the Lord. I want to encourage you to have a daily time of spiritual nourishment. Someone has said, “If you are too busy to spend time with the Lord then you are too busy.” I agree. Luther said, “Because my schedule is busier, I need to spend more time with the Lord.”
What does a quiet time do for me?
• It causes me to focus more clearly on the Lord. If He is my captain – my leader – then I need to spend time with Him. If I ignore Him, I begin to focus on what I want.
• He helps carry me through the times of temptation. Psalms 119 continually reaffirms the importance of the Word – the Word which purifies and fortifies us. As we are saturated with the Word, we are better able to cope with temptation. You will be tempted, but the Word you have stored in your heart will support you during the testing times. The Psalmist asks the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure? And the answer is “By living according to your word.” (Psalms 119:9). You can only live it by knowing it.
• It clarifies my vision and goals. What does he want me to do? Looking at His agenda will take us to a whole new level. For example – Looking at the lost harvest rather than looking at how many I have in the barn, will totally change the way I approach my work (John 4).
• Develop your values based on God’s Word. Use the plumb line. What are your values? Keep the 10 Commandments? respect all persons regardless of position, color or statue? Defend the defenseless? Practice the Golden Rule? • Remember your values. – The king was to write his own copy of the law and study it every day. Psalms 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” • Use the plumb line when making decisions for life. At every major harbor you will find two or three markers on towers – one behind the other. The ship entering the port knows that when all of the signs line up as one, they are in the middle of the channel. As you seek the will of God ask three questions… o What do the circumstances tell me? o Does this violate the Word of God? o What does the Holy Spirit seem to witness to my spirit? • Don’t violate what you understand to be God’s law. There needs to be agreement internally between what you believe and what you practice or you will be miserable. Keep your internal guidance system (conscience) in line with the plumb line. If you are not sure seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and/or advice from trusted spiritual advisors. • Use a prayer list for consistency in praying. Truly remember to pray for people you said you would pray for. Keep a diary of how God answers prayer and works in your life. You will gain great strength by rehearsing God’s faithfulness to you in the past. • Develop a sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Learn to distinguish His voice. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. You will find there is agreement between what the Holy Spirit tells you and what the Bible tells you. • Don’t be surprised when you get just what you need for the day. It is amazing how many times what you are reading in the Word is used by the Holy Spirit for the day’s engagements. My brother Kenny made it a daily practice to read the Daily Bread prior to leaving for work as a fighter pilot. One day we received the fateful news that Kenny had been killed in a plane crash. In checking on the reading for that tragic day, it seemed appropriate that Kenny had read the lesson entitled, “Jesus Savior Pilot Me.” The Holy Spirit helps prepare us for whatever eventualities we face. • Build consistency. Make it a top priority every day. For me, I schedule my time first thing in the morning. I learned that once I got into appointments, visitation, etc. there was always more work than I could get done, so I needed to have my quiet time first thing. Also, I feel the need to let the Lord talk to me before any morning TV host or radio announcer gets to me. I need Him more than I need them. No one can get you up in the morning or keep you up at night to work on your disciplines, but you. But, if you do it long enough you will discover that you don’t want to do without it. You will fall in love with God and His book and will not want to miss the intimate times of fellowship with Him. Some of my most important spiritual lessons I learned in the early morning hours of my personal disciplines. It was early recommended to me in my Christian life to read a chapter a day from the Proverbs along with my other Bible reading; that suggestion has been invaluable. Many years I have read through the Proverbs five or six times. I just read the chapter numbered with the day of the month. When I get to the end of the month, I start over. It is like my daily vitamin. • Feed yourself. My devotions are for me, not for my next sermon. I need the help. Yes, sermon ideas came during those times, but that is not my primary purpose • If you get off base rebuild the altar. Like Elijah on Mt Carmel. Elijah said to the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins” (I Kings 18:30). When Asa heard the words of the prophet Azariah, “He removed the detestable idols … He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the portico of the LORD’S temple” (II Chronicles 15:8). 2CH 33:16 After God reinstated King Manasseh to his kingdom, after a time of captivity, the king “Restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it” II Chronicles 33:16). • Clean away the old things that have collected! Elijah had to move trash away from the altar before he could begin to rebuild it. A neglected altar is usually littered with sinful or spirit sapping habits which quench our spiritual fire. The items to be cleaned out include wrong reading material, music that is not Christ exalting, a rebellious attitude, failure in stewardship of time, talent and tithe, lustful thoughts, etc. • Rebuild the old altar piece by piece. Elijah rebuilt the altar piece by piece. Altars do not rebuild themselves – someone must do it. The individual stones need to be reset in place. The little things that were done to bring about the broken condition needs to be corrected. If Bible reading was neglected, then Bible reading needs to be re-instituted. And, the same follows for prayer, tithing, faithful church attendance, etc. • Smash the idols to other gods! Gideon smashed the altar of Baal at the word of the Lord. We cannot have any other altars or idols if we want to experience the power of God on our life. If there is anything that is between us and our God, it must go. It must be put aside for the sake of rebuilding only one altar in life – that to the living God. • Come in a spirit of sincerity! Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only (I Samuel 7:3-4). And God promised King Solomon the following: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
There is one incredibly important principle to remember: God cannot rebuild the altar, but he can relight it. The fire was never to go out (Lev 6:12,13; 9:24) but sometimes it did. After Elijah rebuilt the altar and placed the sacrifice on the altar the fire fell from heaven. • Our responsibility is to rebuild the altar. • Our responsibility is a prayer of confession. • Our responsibility is obedience. • Our responsibility is to place the sacrifice on the altar. • Our responsibility to stay at the altar until the fire falls. • God’s responsibility is to send the fire. The prophet Azariah promised King Asa, “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” II Chronicles 15:2). • Build in safe guards. Self Disciplines will do most of the work, but it is also a good thing to establish safe guards in areas of potential failure or embarrassment. Two things I heard as a young pastor, “Never get entangled with women or money.” I think these two areas have been singled out because so much damage has been done to so many over the years. You and I may have a strong resolution to never let these two things bring us down, but to avoid the fire pot is a greater way not to get burned. Guarding your relationships with other women is imperative. I made it a practice to always have a desk between me and a lady I was counseling. I know a desk is a huge barrier in the minds of many counselors, but for me it was a one of my safeguards. We all appreciate the good work of financial people in the church, but separating function and having multiple counters is one way to protect those who are involved in the treasury work of the church. There is a sad litany of people who could not resist the lure of easy money. Thinking no one will know, they dug a hole they could not get out of. Good people have gone to jail when things got away from them. A humorous article in the Danbury, Connecticut “News-Times” relates that a hospital administrator was startled to see a patient fleeing down the hall out of the operating room. He stopped the patient and said, “Do you mind telling me why you were running away from your surgery?” The patient looked at him with startled eyes and said, “It was because of what the nurse said.” The administrator said, “Oh, what did she say?” “She said, ‘Be brave! An appendectomy is quite simple.” The administrator said, “It is quite simple. I would think that would comfort you.” The patient said, “I’ll tell you why I ran: the nurse was talking to the doctor – not me.” There are times to flee certain situations. The Apostle Paul, author of 13 of the books that make up the Bible, warned Timothy, a young understudy, to run from certain things. He was to evade things that were as ominous to him as the unskilled doctor was to the patient. Timothy was told to flee sexual immorality, idolatry and the love of money. Each of these things if not avoided would bring about the down fall of the young man. He was to run from them as quickly as he could, not stay and try to fight them. The best way to avoid most punches of the enemy is just not to be there when he swings.
• Keep growing and maturing. Former Harvard University President, Charles William Eliot (1834-1926) was born with a sizeable birthmark on his face. One can only imagine the difficulties the young man faced as he struggled with this noticeable blemish. The birthmark was the first thing people noticed when they met him. Doctors were consulted to see what could be done surgically, but at that time no help was available. He would just have to live with it. His mother’s heart ached for her son and what he had to go through. She knew that children could be cruel and life could be hard for those with such marks. She could not remove the remark, but she wanted to help her son in someway. Eliot’s mother decided to help him rise above his misfortune. If he couldn’t get rid of the misplaced mark, he would have to do his best to overcome it. She reminded him that “It is possible for you, with God’s help, to grow a mind and a soul so big that people will forget to look at your face.” It is in the inner person where true beauty resides. Americans spend millions of dollars annually to improve their outward appearance, while often neglecting the internal person that truly makes one attractive. We can all think of someone who has the outward features associated with beauty, but yet their spirit casts an ugly hew over their being. Physical beauty is only part of the equation. To complete the package we must also develop the inner person. We need to develop such a big soul that people forget to look at our face. Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian elders was to keep battling even after serious problems in warfare. Yes, conflict will come and at times the growing leader will get blasted. But rather than lay there and succumb to the battle, we need to get back up and keep growing. There are some lessons we will only learn after facing the enemy in the trenches of life’s battles.
Keep praise in perspective…
PRO 27:21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.
We often think of testing coming from adversity: criticism, financial reverses, physical problems, etc. We quote James 1:2-4 to remind ourselves of the value of adversity, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Or we point someone to Job as a model for testing and endurance. However, more people may have fallen by the onslaught of praise and success than by problems.
A few bullet points others have learned over the years… • Don’t believe all of your press clippings. After a glowing introduction a leader said, “That intro is like perfume: you smell it but you don’t swallow it.” • Don’t brag about the gifts you were given. (I Cor 4:7) • Remember – you are only the messenger – not the message. Once Billy Graham was asked how he held up under all the praise he received. His response was enlightening, “The donkey Jesus rode on was not the star attraction – Jesus was. So it is with me.” • Avoid the tendency to depend on the strokes of others. You will not lead well if you are always looking for praise from others. We all like to hear “That was a great sermon, pastor,” but you cannot build your ministry on that. • Don’t touch the divine glory. Herod, after a speech, accepted the applause of men when they said, “that was the voice of a god – not man.” An angel struck him down and he was eaten by worms, because he did not give praise to God, but accepted it for himself. There will be those who hang on your words and may talk about how great you are. Keep it all in perspective. • Develop a backbone so the fear of man doesn’t paralyze you. You cannot lead by always assessing the favorable winds of the crowds. The very idea of leadership is “showing the way.” If you fear being criticized you too often will lead the way of least resistance rather than they way which is most effective. • Accept who you are. You don’t have to try and make yourself bigger than life. Mental and emotional health is shown by an honest evaluation of who you are. Paul said, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should.” How sad when someone tries to boost themselves in the eyes of others by distorting reality… o Don’t stretch your accomplishments. o Avoid the necessity of always trying to be #1 o Don’t think you need to be talking all of the time. Some of the most educated and accomplished people I know often speak the least. They are confident in who they are and have nothing to prove.
A Christian pacesetter cannot lead from a cold heart. A Christian Pacesetter is bound for trouble if he fails to observe and heed the daily personal disciplines of spiritual development. And regardless of how long you practice them, you can never let loose of them.