Life As It Ought to Be: A Journey Towards Joy, Part 3

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This is the third of a planned four article series on what I call life as it ought to be. Life as it ought to be is lived in the power of the Spirit, it is union with Jesus, and it seeks the Father’s agenda rather than our agenda. “Life as it ought to be” is stepping into the power and presence of the Triune God. Paul describes “life as it ought to be” in Eph. 3:19 when he prays that we would be filled with all the fullness of God.

The way to enter in to “life as it ought to be” is to walk the gospel path. Here is my explanation of what it means to walk the gospel path and thus to live the way God intends for us to live: To walk the gospel path is to participate in the power of the gospel through aligning our hearts with three gospel dynamics which are unleashed in and nourished by three gospel practices that more and more produce gospel awakened people whose lives demonstrate three gospel fruits.

To walk the gospel path is to participate in the power of the gospel through aligning our hearts with three gospel dynamics unleashed in and nourished by three gospel practices that more and more produce gospel awakened people whose lives demonstrate three gospel fruits.

A long sentence. Let me explain. The three gospel dynamics are living in Christ, by the Spirit, and for the glory of the Father. The previous BFC OneVoice article reflected on those dynamics. But let me say briefly that it is as we align our hearts with those Bible truths that we step into the power of the gospel and we begin to experience the presence of Jesus.

These dynamics are not a formula, but rather a way of being in any one moment. Being always precedes doing. The dynamics are not a check list to be done, but a supernatural way to live. They are not an unattainable ideal, but how we live in a broken world of failed dreams, dashed hopes, and unexpected problems. Living in Christ by the Spirit for the glory of the Father is “life as it ought to be.”

Gospel Practices

But more needs to be said. The gospel dynamics need to be lived out in what we do. Being precedes doing, but being also produces doing. Being who we are in Christ by the Spirit is primary, but if that dynamic is genuine it will produce the doing of what I call gospel practices. God has given us three daily practices which unleash the reality of Christ in us by the power of the Spirit. These three practices are the renewing of the heart before God, gathering together in New Testament community to build the gospel into one another, and engaging our world with the gospel in the power of the Spirit. For short… renew, gather, engage. These daily practices are the subject of this article.

The gospel dynamics and gospel practices have a reciprocal relationship. When we live moment by moment in Christ by the Spirit for the glory of the Father, the power of the gospel is unleashed in the three practices. And when we practice daily renewal, daily gathering, and daily engaging, it further nurtures the gospel dynamics.

Three Spheres

These three practices address the three spheres of life in which Christians live: before God, with one another, and in our world. We renew our hearts before God, we gather with one another, and we engage the world in which we live. We must live out the gospel in all three spheres.

Word and Prayer

These three practices are all “word and prayer” practices. We renew our hearts before God as we read/hear the word of God and pray in response; we gather together to speak the word of God to one another and to pray together; and we engage our world first in believing prayer and secondly through speaking the word of the gospel to our world.

Daily Practices

They are daily practices. We must daily renew our hearts before God. In 2 Cor. 4:16, Paul says, Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. We daily seek to gather to encourage one another in the gospel. Acts 2:46 tells us about the early church: And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes… And we should seek to engage our world every day. Acts 2:47 tells us And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Emphases in verses above added.)

Reciprocal

These three practices are interdependent and reciprocal. If I am not renewing my heart and gathering with other believers it will be difficult to engage the world as God intends. We must live the gospel in all three spheres of life if we are to live any well. They are like the legs to a three legged stool. All three are necessary for the stool to function well. Below are some of the ways I seek to live the three practices.

Practice One: The Renewing of the Heart Before God: beyond Bible reading

I begin each day with what one of my pastors calls “gospel amnesia.” This means I must relearn the basic truths of the gospel every day. I have discovered that I must intentionally renew my heart each day and throughout the day. I use three phrases to help me remember the rhythm of renewal: behold the glory, feel the weight, embrace the wonder. Each day, I must behold anew the glory of God, I must feel again the weight of my sin and inadequacy, and I must embrace with renewed wonder my union with Jesus, the power of the Spirit, and the glory of the Father’s agenda. These are the rhythms of faith.

behold the glory, feel the weight, embrace the wonder

How I seek to renew my heart day by day

The primary way that I seek to renew my heart and mind each day is The Sword Of the Spirit Devotional Journey – (The SOS Journey). This is not a Bible reading plan, but a devotional journey.

Although I suggest using the M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Guide, the SOS Journey can be used with almost any reading plan. The SOS Journey seeks to be both systematic and contemplative. On the Journey we read, we ponder, we pray, and we live and share. The purpose of the SOS Journey is not just Bible knowledge, but a renewed heart, a heart set aflame by the word of God and the Spirit of God.

In addition to the SOS Journey, there are a number of spiritual habits that help me to experience ongoing renewal. I will mention four.

Awakening prayer — when I first awaken, usually before I rise from bed, I seek to orient my heart around the gospel. I do this by praying through various scriptures: the Lord’s prayer (slowly and thoughtfully); Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16ff, etc. Awakening prayer prepares my heart for the SOS Journey. This takes a few minutes or longer according to my schedule for the day.

Living moment by moment – Theologian Francis Schaeffer says, “I can only live [the Christian life] one moment at a time.” Further he states, “The real solution [to living the Christian life] is being cast up into the moment-by-moment communion, personal communion with God Himself, and letting Christ’s truth flow through me through the agency of the Holy Spirit.”7 We can only walk the gospel path present tense. This means that I do not spend my life seeking to live tomorrow today. I have discovered that living the gospel in this one moment is how I experience spiritual awakening through my day.

Living this day for that day – We must live present tense, but always with one eye on eternity. I must live this day in light of the day when I stand before Jesus to give account for my living. I call this living this day for that day. This idea is taught in 2 Pet. 3:11-14 (and other places): Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. I live this day differently when I live it in light of the coming day. I seek to live this day for that day!

Living in ongoing repentance and faith – When we drive a car we are continually making small corrections to keep the car in the center of the lane. Making small corrections is what keeps us from needing to make big corrections or ending up in a ditch. In the same way, I have discovered that ongoing renewal requires small corrections throughout my day. When my hearts begin to stray, I immediately bring my heart back to center through repentance (an acknowledgment that I am going the wrong way) and faith (trust in the God who restores and forgives). The reformer Martin Luther famously wrote that “repentance is all of life.”

If we are to experience the flourishing God intends we must intentionally renew our heart each day and throughout the day. The apostle Paul had his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9). And though that was very important, it was not sufficient. Paul needed to renew his heart daily (see 2 Cor. 4:16). The same is true for us. However we do it, we must renew our hearts day by day.

Practice Two: Gathering Together To Build the Gospel into One Another: beyond small groups

The second gospel practice is gathering. Christianity is a gathered faith. We gather as a larger community on Sunday mornings. But as one of my pastors recently said, “Sunday worship is essential but not enough.” To live out the Christian life the way God intends, we must also gather in smaller communities so that we can live the one another’s of the New Testament. We are to love one another; bear with one another; be patient with one another, build one another up, etc. Some have counted as many as fifty-nine one another’s in the New Testament. Living out these one anothers is how we move beyond the superficial to experience the deep community described in the Bible. But many of these one another’s simply do not happen well in large groups. Thus, we must gather as a large community and as smaller communities. In Acts 2, the first church gathered as a large community (thousands) and in smaller communities (the number who could fit in a house): And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people...(vv. 46, 47).

How I seek to gather together with others

In September of 2020, a year prior to finishing at Christ Community Church, I asked the leaders to read the New Testament together searching for what the Bible had to say about community. Each of the six of us read a portion of the New Testament and then we came together to report what we learned. Here is the summary of what we discovered: The emphasis on love is consistent. We are not to speak evil of one another (Jam. 4:11); we are to confess our sins to one another (Jam. 5:9); we are not to show partiality (Jam. 2); we are to love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1 Pet. 1:22); we are to be a community where the excellencies of Jesus flows forth (1 Pet. 2.9); we are to live with one another in humility; we are to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 2:16); we are to build one another up in the holy faith (Jude); and we are in a spiritual battle (Revelation). We are to love one another as Christ loved us (John 15). We are to bear much fruit that remains (John 15).

This, I realized, was the community my heart yearned for. This was the kind of community that I needed if I was to live consistently in Christ, by the Spirit, and to the glory of the Father. Yet, it seemed clear to me that the community I most often experienced fell far short of what the New Testament described.

I identified four aspects of New Testament community.

  1. We speak the Word of God into one another. We speak the gospel to one another to build each other up. (Jude 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit..);
  2. We do life together. There is no substitute to spending time with one another. (Acts 2:42-44 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.. And all who believed were together and had all things in common..);
  3. We pray together fervently and regularly. (Acts 4:24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.. ); and
  4. We encourage one another in engaging the world with the gospel (Acts 2:46).

These aspects of New Testament community cannot be lived fully in large communities. We must form smaller communities within the larger community. The term I use to describe these smaller communities is micro-community. The micro-community is the key to deep discipleship. Timothy Gombis says that the church should be “communities of God’s resurrection-powered presence.” But to fully experience this supernatural presence, we must walk the gospel path together in smaller communities.

Micro-communities are daily. Micro-communities will not usually meet together daily in a formal sense, but each day we find a way to encourage and exhort one another in the gospel. Heb. 3:13 tells us to.. exhort one another every day… This might be a phone call, a text, an email, or a quick visit to see how someone is doing. However we do it, it is only in the deep New Testament community experienced in something like a micro-community, that the supernatural flourishing of the gospel happens.

Practice Three: Engaging our world with the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit: beyond evangelism

When I say this is beyond evangelism, I mean beyond evangelism as a technique or strategy. I mean beyond evangelism as something independent of daily spiritual renewal and daily encouraging one another in the gospel. Engaging the world with the gospel is the overflow of a life that daily seeks renewal, and daily seeks to do life together with other believers.

Engaging our world with the gospel is all of life. It is both being a witness and doing the work of a witness. Renewing, gathering, and engaging are organically related. In John 15:5, Jesus says, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. We must abide in Him – this is the daily renewal of the heart. The ‘you’ though is plural, meaning that we abide in Him together as a community of faith – this is the church gathered. This overflows in fruit (the result of gospel engagement).

For me, evangelism too often felt like duty to be done. But as I have learned to walk the gospel path it is more and more becoming the overflow of the gospel at work in me. Evangelism is not first a strategy but a life lived.

How I seek to engage my world

Evangelism is far more than a strategy, but I still need a strategy. Here is what has helped me. I first heard of the acronym B.L.E.S.S. from Dennis Henderson, a leader of the 6:4 Fellowship. But then I learned there is a book by that same name. B.L.E.S.S. stands for:

Begin with prayer – pray daily for specific people and for opportunity to engage your world.

Listen – care enough to listen to other people’s stories. Cultivate the habit of listening well.

Eat – eating together is more than food, it is relationship. Invite others into your life by eating with them.

Serve – look for opportunities to serve others.

Share – share your story and the Story.

When I first heard this, I thought “I can do this.” And then I thought “Anyone can do this.” We can pray daily, we can learn to care and listen, we can invite others into our lives, we can look for opportunities to serve… and as we do that there will be opportunities to share our story. I have stopped putting myself under the pressure of having a duty to share the gospel. Instead I have started beginning each day praying for specific people and for opportunities to engage people. I seek to be interested in people. I listen to their stories and invite them into my life as I can. Sometimes I ask them “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” Most people tell me something about their spiritual journey. When I can, I seek to serve them. It is amazing how often I end up telling them my story and the Story.

I was so struck by this simple relational approach to evangelism that in January, 2021, my last year as pastor at Christ Community Church (BFC, Piscataway, NJ), my wife and I offered to personally buy a copy of the book “B.L.E.S.S.” for anyone in the church who asked for one. It was a good thing for us financially that we were not an overly large church, for just about everyone requested one!

Here are a couple of examples of what I think it means to engage the world with the gospel by the power of the Spirit. I was flying to New York City to visit a friend in spring of 2022. Before I left I prayed for opportunities to speak the gospel on this trip. On the flight from Augusta Airport to LaGuardia Airport, I sat next to a young man returning from the Masters Golf Tournament. I asked him about himself and his work, etc. I learned a lot about him. I listened. After a while, I asked him, “Let me ask you a different sort of question. Where are you on your spiritual journey?” He responded, “You are going to have to unpack that!” And for the remainder of the flight that is what we did, we talked about the good news of Jesus. At the end of the flight he said to me, “I have never talked with anyone for an entire flight before!”

On the return flight, I sat next to a young lady who was Muslim. After learning much about her, I asked her, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” That led to a conversation that took much of the flight. She was so interested that she took notes!

Engaging our world with the gospel is the fruit of daily renewal of the heart and seeking to daily gather to build the gospel into one another. It is the fruit of seeking to live in Christ by the Spirit for the glory of the Father.

Supernatural Gospel Mode

The way we live life as Christians is to walk the gospel path moment by moment by faith. But that faith must be nourished by and unleashed in the daily gospel practices. This is how we step into the supernatural life God intends.

I recently bought an E-Bike. An E-Bike is not an electric bike, but an electric assist bike. You can use the bike without the electric assist turned on, but it is a heavy bike and so it is a slow go and some hills might be impossible. But peddle with the electric assist turned on and you can find yourself going faster than you are able. You still have to peddle, you are still involved – no peddling and you go nowhere – but when you turn on electric assist and you peddle, you experience a power that is greater than you. In essence, there are two modes on my bike: manual mode and electric assist mode.

When my E-Bike is fully charged, the power of the E-Bike is there but not ready to be used. When I push the button that turns on the electric assist, the power is ready to be used but not yet active. It is when I turn on the electric assist and begin to peddle that the power of the bike is actually unleashed in my riding. I have moved from manual mode to electric assist mode.

Walking the gospel path is similar. There are two modes in which we can seek to live out Christianity: manual mode and supernatural gospel mode. Manual mode is seeing only the natural world and living as if the natural world is all there is. It is doing your best in your own resources. Manual mode is trying really hard. But manual mode is a tough go. And too many Christians lived the majority of their lives stuck in manual mode. Theologian Francis Schaeffer tells us that, “It is perfectly possible for a Christian to be so infiltrated by 20th century thinking, that he lives most of his life as though the supernatural were not there.”

Supernatural gospel mode is different. When I live in Christ by the Spirit for the glory of the Father, I align my heart with the power of the gospel. In that one moment, the power of the gospel is ready to be lived. But the supernatural power of the gospel is only experienced as I live out the three daily practices of renew, gather, and engage. This is not doing our best in our own strength; it is doing our best in the strength of the Triune God! It is walking in the power of the Spirit. It is Jesus in me seeking to further the Father’s agenda, not my agenda.

So stop living in manual mode when God has given us His supernatural power-filled gospel mode! Align your heart with the power of the gospel by living moment-by-moment in Christ by the Spirit for the glory of the Father (the gospel dynamic). And then unleash that power in your living through the gospel practices of renew, gather, and engage. This is walking the gospel path. This is life as it ought to be.

In the next article, I will talk about the result of the gospel dynamics unleashed in the gospel practices – gospel awakened people. But for now begin to be intentional about living the gospel through the practices of renewing, gathering, and engaging.

References and Resources:

  • One Voice, Volume 13:1 2023 begins the Life As It Ought to Be series
  • For more information on the SOS Journey contact the author at denniscahill@pm.me.
  • A paper copy of the M’Cheyne guide called “Read the Bible in a Year” can be ordered at banneroftruth.org.
  • Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971)
  • Timothy G. Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul’s transformed vision for ministry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2021)
  • Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson, B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, (Washington: Salem Books, 2021)

article by Dennis Cahill, retired BFC Pastor. You can reach Dennis at denniscahill@pm.me with any questions or comments.

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