In this, the seventh installment of our series, we offer four spiritual disciplines for the hearing of faith.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that God is working in us to will and do to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). His work is that of a loving Father (Hebrews 12:5-11), bringing us up in His nurture and admonition (Ephesians 6:4). Incredibly, His good pleasure is to give us His kingdom (Luke 12:32).

Furthermore, it helps us to recognize that our Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit operate in process. They are process-oriented problem solvers. As we are discovering, the problem of overcoming our carnal mind is dependent on the process God has created for the maturing of our faith. The process of faith consists of at least seven discrete steps beginning with the word of God and being perfected in His good work (James 2:22) – the good work we are created to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).

For the purposes of our study, the disciplines are presented in four categories: Foundations, the hearing of faith, obedience to the faith, and the work of faith. The four foundational disciplines are covered in Part 1. Before we move on to the disciplines God has provided for the hearing of faith, let’s take a quick look at the definition and use of “discipline” in the New Testament. It should be enlightening.

Discipline Defined

There are three notable Greek words which are translated as “discipline” (in different translations). Before you start wondering which one is correct, let me suggest that each one – and the associated passages – may have meaning for you. Together they give us the deepest understanding of God’s purposes for the spiritual disciplines He has designed. Definitions are from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, found on www.BlueLetterBible.com.

Paideia (pī-dā’-ä)

The whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose commands and admonitions, reproof and punishment (Ephesians 6:4); whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing passions; hence, instruction which aims at increasing virtue (2Timothy 3:16); as well as, chastisement, chastening of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Sōphronismos (sō-fro-nē-smo’s)

An admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, to moderation and self-control; self-control, moderation (2Timothy 1:7).

Gymnazō (güm-nä’-zō)

To exercise vigorously, in any way, either the body or the mind; of one who strives earnestly to become godly (1Timothy 4:7-8).

There are a few mentally renewing discoveries here. First, the disciplines are, in their very nature, relational. We harm our relationship with God when we reject or ignore them. Conversely (and second), exercising them vigorously empowers our intimacy with the Father. Third, disciplines are aimed at cultivating the soul, producing soundness of mind, and empowering self-control; thus affirming the necessity of discipline in our overcoming the carnal mind.

Disciplines for the Hearing of Faith

The discipline of prayer has been introduced previously as foundational to the faith process. We mention it here as an introduction to emphasize the hearing aspect of prayer. The hearing of faith occurs most often in prayer… if we are listening. The challenge we face is positioning our hearts and minds to hear and recognize God’s voice. That is, therefore, the focus of the following four disciplines.

Surrender – Surrender is not something we normally think about as a discipline. It is likely true, and regrettable, that we don’t think about surrender much at all. Surrender to the American Christian is difficult to think about. Surrender flies in the face of our culture. In part, this country is great because its people refuse to surrender. To surrender would be a disgrace. Backing down is for cowards.

Of course, this is not what the Scriptures tell us. Surrender is the absolute first step into the kingdom of God. Let that sink in. Much of humility is dependent on surrender – including Jesus’ humility in coming to dwell among us. By His own testimony, He did not come to seek His own will but the will of the Father who sent Him (John 5:30).

Jesus left His authority and force in heaven (Philippians 2:5-7), becoming totally dependent on His Father for everything. He went on to proclaim that only those who do the will of His Father will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). Furthermore, Paul encourages us to submit (1Corinthians 6:1-10) and give preference to one another (Romans 12:10).

This conflict exposes an interesting trick our carnal minds will use against us. Rather than resolving the conflict we feel about surrender, we push it to the recesses of our minds. In so doing, we unwittingly give our carnal mind more leverage to control what we think and do.

In this regard, our discipline becomes a form of resistance. What discipline is that? For me, it is the practiced surrender to God as the Potter of me, the clay; and the proclamation of my position as bondservant to Jesus Christ. This is how I begin my morning prayer. I also find my iPhone Reminders app helpful in this discipline throughout the day.

For me, an intentional and decisive surrender is the first step in hearing the word of God.

Worship – Generally speaking, the church has succumbed to two debilitating errors regarding worship. First, we have fallen into the event trap – that worship is something we do at a particular time and place. Most will agree that worship is more than an event. We must, however, resist the temptation to agree and move on. It will do us good to consider the contrast between our assumed understanding and our actions.

Man was created to glorify God and enjoy His presence forever. Does this describe an on-again-off-again relationship? Is there ever a time that we are not in His presence? What should be our primary practice while we are with Him? Is it possible to be in His presence and not worship Him? If we are not worshipping Him continually, what would we say is missing – His presence or our appropriate recognition of Him?

Our lack of appropriate recognition is our second debilitating error. As congregations and media outlets become increasingly competitive for a share of the Christian market, worship has lost its intended focus. The worship experience has been compromised by the perceived need to entertain. Worship has become the draw. Consequently, most Christians are being discipled to pursue worship for their personal benefit.

The cure for our debilitation in worship is worship that God deserves. The Scriptures prescribe worship that is focused on the Father and His Son – primarily for who they are (i.e., their holiness and glory). The worshippers are more uncomfortable to be in the LORD’s presence than we find currently encouraged in the modern “worship” service. Even when God has done great things for His people (e.g., deliverance at the Red Sea, the birth of Jesus, His second coming), the people’s attention is dominated by His power and glory; it is very much not about them.

Regrettably, the current trend in congregational worship will likely continue until it proves ineffective to its core objective. However, in the meantime, much can be accomplished through a renewed focus on the majesty of God and the glory of Jesus in our personal and family worship. We must discipline ourselves for this, remembering that the songs we choose and the tone we set are more critical than we have imagined.

And our worship must not stop there. Indeed, music and singing are merely instruments of our worship. We might just as well have encouraged true worship in silence as we have in song. The same applies to our work. We are commanded to do all things as unto the Lord. The “all”, though easily overlooked, has been included with intention and meaning. All that we do can be brought under discipline to the worship of God.

Quiet – Quieting the mind is perhaps the greatest challenge to our hearing the word of God. The world and our life choices have given us much to think about. Adopting a simpler life would help tremendously in this regard. That is beyond the scope of this study, but I strongly suggest its pursuit just the same.

In the meantime, God has given us the method by which we may quiet our minds. We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2Corinthians 10:5). While this is perhaps easier said (or written) than done, it is not a complicated practice. I can personally testify to God’s blessing in the exercise of this discipline.

Here’s how it goes: When you perceive what you presume to be an alien thought, don’t try to push it out of your mind. Take it captive and asked Jesus what He would have you do with it. Then, by His authority, do what He says. If He tells you to put it away, you will find it more often stays away. You will often discover that He has more intention for what seemed alien than you presumed.

Over time, this discipline will empower your mind to filter on its own. You will find quiet more rapidly and for longer amounts of time. Practicing this at the beginning of the day will have an additional – and very exciting – affect. One day – perhaps completely by surprise – you will discover that you have a supernatural ability to sort through the intruding and chaotic thoughts of the day. Indeed, this is proof that your carnal mind is being overcome.

There is one additional consideration with this discipline: Most of the prayer that has been modeled for us consists of talking to God. This is good when practiced in moderation. However, stating the obvious is sometimes necessary: to be quiet, we must discipline ourselves to stop talking. God speaks to those who are attentive and responsive. It is best to speak after being spoken to.

Desire – The purposes of God for every season of our lives are found in the desires He has placed in our hearts. He intends to give them to us (Psalm 37:4). Consequently, He speaks to them and uses them to motivate our continuing response. It is therefore reasonable to assume that He expects us to discover and maintain our attention to them in our conversations with Him.

We must be keen to cull out those desires that have been deposited in our heart and mind by Satan, the world and our flesh. The more completely we reject them, the less distracting they will be – leaving us to hear what God has to say about the desires we share with Him. These desires are purposes that will not be withheld from Him (Job 42:2); ultimately becoming the good work He has created us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).

We begin this exercise by first making a list of all the desires that have found their way into our heart and mind. That list is then put aside – an act of surrender. We next ask God to give us a new list, taking care not to presume on Him anything from our initial list. Do not become anxious; God’s list will likely include items from the original one.

Finally, the old list is discarded and the new placed in several prominent locations for use in our ongoing conversations with God.

These are the four disciplines that have served me best in hearing the word of God. I humbly share them; recognizing that there are others (quite a few, I imagine). Please share any that have blessed you. Your investment will be used by God to aid another.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with a warning. Disciplines can become rote, ineffectual exercises. Our mind has a way of turning them into performance tasks. Disciplines are – more than anything – to be exercises in relationship. This is particularly true for those most associated with hearing the word of God.

Prayer is one of God’s ways for restoring our intimacy with Him. Consequently, our intimacy in the exercise of these disciplines is a good measure of their efficacy. When intimacy wanes, we should step back and review (with God) what is going on and how He would have us respond. He loves talking with His children.

Some disciplines are for a season; some for a lifetime. The Holy Spirit will guide us through the process of faith and its disciplines. Our greatest responsibility is surrender. The Father is working in us; His Son is making us. We should be greatly encouraged and motivated to participate.

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob

P.S. If these articles are blessing you, then they will be a blessing to others. Please pass them along – with encouragement – to the leaders you know. The church is in dire need of leaders who will search out deeper kingdom matters (Proverbs 25:2).

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