Our objective in drafting a Christian Life Plan is to cultivate self-control. In order to appreciate the importance of this exercise, we need to identify three spiritual dangers.
Men like to pretend that they are warhorses. We tell ourselves that self-control is a natural muscle that can be flexed at will and that develops coordination and stamina over time. Our problem with self-control, so we think, is not that we don’t have it, but that we choose not to use it. Like a warhorse, we are capable of showing self-restraint in difficult circumstances. We are men, not boys. We are soldiers, not recruits. So we think…
One of the greatest risks a man can take is to attempt the Christian life on his own. The deceitfulness of the heart by itself is a sufficient reason to walk close to others who are wise and faithful. Long ago Solomon recorded the proverb, ‘Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment’ (Proverbs 18:1). This wisdom is much needed today. A man who isolates himself is a man in danger…
By the time David was contemplating a night with Bathsheba his blood was already boiling. Lust had already mounted a siege against the conscience and was catapulting missiles against the will. What would have been the very best safety valve for David while he was pacing the decking of his palace? He should have had Abiathar the priest, or Nathan the prophet, or some other man of God walking with him. A good friend would have smacked him across the face and told him to recollect the life of Saul before dabbling in sin.
There is no guardrail more useful that a circle of spiritual friends. Hearing such words as ‘Don’t give up!’, ‘Where were you?’, ‘You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you,’ or ‘Fear not! God is with you,’ can be a cup of Gatorade on a hot day, refreshing the heart and supplying strength for yet another leg of the race.
Many a Christian man will step each day into a workplace in which he is the only person around him whose life goal is to know, serve, and delight in the lord Jesus Christ. He will feel like an exile in a foreign land, trying to maintain an identity that is threatened by the culture around him. In such arid conditions, the vitality of faith begins to evaporate, drop by drop, day by day. Zeal will cool; focus will relax; resolve will weaken.
Spiritual friendship requires shared consent regarding the desired temperature of discipleship. Different Christians have different interpretations of what it means to be a devout follower of Jesus. Some are happy to exist in a tepid, lukewarm state. Others feel the need to kick-start the burner whenever the boil drops to a simmer. Spiritual friendship is distinct from other Christian relationships because spiritual appetites must be in sync. Such friends not only share a sense of where they are going, but there is a pace, an earnestness, that all hope to maintain.
Yet, intentionality, by itself, is insufficient to produce spiritual friendship. The intent must be right. Spiritual friends are comrades who join together in pursuit of Christ. The following words of Paul are an apt description of the basic intent that drives one Christian to partner with another: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil. 3:11). Knowing Christ, obeying Christ, being conformed to Christ – these are the objectives pursued in spiritual friendship.
This naivety is why a lot of men do not invest in spiritual friendship. During comfortable phases of life, friendship feels like a luxury. ‘I can manage on my own’ is the unspoken conviction of men when skies are fair. But like the North Sea the conditions of life can change rapidly. A crisis strikes and suddenly men discover that no one knows them well enough to be of help.
Yet, more than resources, a man who can handle the Word has a simple method of study, a regular routine that he utilizes to ease the process of investigation. Having a method is useful for two reasons : (1) ensuring that adequate care is taken to discern the meaning of a text and (2) disciple-making. The end goal of every spiritual discipline is always something more than individual growth. The Great Commission is at stake. For Bible study, this means that we ought to develop a method not ony for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. =
We need to be compelled forward in Bible study by a gripping vision the man we might become. What will motivate us to consistently skip a show on Netflix or to set the alarm 30 minutes earlier on a Tuesday morning? The answer is a sense of mission, the belief that now is an irreplacable moment that will either advance me toward the horizon of glory or pull me back to the brim of mediocrity.
Most importantly, there is the danger of becoming content with a kindergarten understanding of the Bible because we know that, if needed, we can always rely upon our study Bible to bail us out in a moment of ignorance. Since all of the information is there (on the page), we don’t need it here (on our hearts). Therefore, we grow lax in Bible study because someone else has studied the Bible for us. Since they have already figured out the answers, we don’t need to do the math. With great relief, we can just jump to the answer key without needing to do any homework.
Bible study is like cardio. Every Christian man knows that both are important; most Christian men don’t do either. Guys, this is unacceptable, not regarding cardio, but Bible study. Peter tells us to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word like infants crave milk. God promises us in Psalm 1 that, if we meditate regularly on the word, we will be like mighty trees with deep roots and bountiful fruit. We can’t not do this. Bible study is the basic PT that keeps a Christian soldier fit and ready for action.
There are a lot of men who are hindered from Bible study, or dealing with sin, or evangelism, or prayer, for reasons that are similar to why I struggled to paint a house. They feel a nausea that is caused not by unwillingness, but uncertainty. They avoid the prayer closet because no one has taught them to pray. They keep the Bible closed because no one has taught them how to open it. Competence does not remove the hard work that is involved in discipleship. However, it can alleviate the paralysis that results from feeling inadequate. To keep a ball rolling, two things are needed: impetus from behind and an open path before. Competence may not create the motivation, or impetus, that is required to keep a disciple moving. However, competence goes a long way to clearing the road ahead so that a man feels able and unrestricted.
There are a lot of Christians who are equipped for the Christian life, but who are not competent. They have Bibles and other Bible study resources at home, but they do not know how to handle rightly the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). They attend church with spotless regularity. But they do not know how to participate meaningfully in corporate worship, how to listen well to a sermon, or how to stir up other Christians to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). The list could go on and on. The problem is not that Christians materially lack the stuff in their life that would promote growth. The problem is that they are unskilled in using, applying, or participating in the resources that are within arm’s reach.
How is it that Christians are able to comfort each other, to encourage each other, and to stir up one another to love and good works? The answer is, to a large degree, because we share the same perspective on life. Spiritual friends are friends who are traveling according to the same itinerary. The circumstances of each life might differ, but the overall pattern is the same. Clarity, which is another name for seeing this pattern, is a glue that binds the heart of one believer to that of another.
Imagine for a moment that Pilgrim’s Progress abruptly ended with Christian and Hopeful trapped in the net of the Flatterer. You turn the page and there is no more writing. The story concludes in a dark moment of bewilderment without any answers regarding whether or not the difficulties of the journey had ultimate purpose or whether the arguous road did in fact lead to a destination.
Motivationally, the Christian life is impossible without an eternal perspective. We will never forgo the praise of earthly men until we believe in the praise of a Heavenly Father. We will never relinquish temporary reward until we are convinced of eternal treasure. We will never submit to injustice until we believe in final justice. We will never sacrifice our bodies in painful service to God until we believe that God will resurrect our bodies to everlasting joy.
Once we appreciate the dangerous journey of faith, and the perils that inevitably will be encountered on route, a man will falter unless he is convinced that God has adequately resourced him for the road ahead. To step onto a battlefield without first taking stock of what weapons are at hand is foolishness. To enter into a dark and deceitful world unschooled in the armor of God is madness.