Training for Godliness: Preparing for the New Year

2021 is only a few days away. In the past few weeks, we have been discussing Paul’s admonition to the young pastor Timothy, “Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). We have examined various spiritual disciplines, those means the have been provided by our gracious God to help us be more like His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28-29).
These disciplines include the reading and studying of Scripture, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, and silence and solitude. One can easily see the discipline required to engage in each one of these. It is certainly not easy, nor is it left to spontaneity. It requires diligence in preparation as much as in execution.
My goal in this post is to encourage you to (if you have not already) make preparations for 2021. I will list out a few suggestions. This list will not be exhaustive. However, I hope it stirs your soul and gets your thinking juices flowing so that 2021 can be a year that you become more like Jesus.

Set Goals

The first thing you should do to prepare for spiritual growth in 2021 is to set goals. These goals should be practical. For example, if you are not regularly reading your Bible, you probably do not want your 2021 goal to be reading the Bible through three times. A more manageable goal would be to read through the New Testament.
In setting your goals, be holistic as possible. By this I mean to keep the goal in focus. Our goal in the spiritual disciplines is Christlikeness (or, godliness, as Paul puts it). Thus, your Scripture reading should aid you in that goal. You are not reading Scripture for Scripture’s sake. You are reading Scripture to be more like Jesus Christ.
If you are planning on fasting, then plan to fast to be more like Christ. If you are plan to have time in silence and solitude, then do so to be more like Jesus.
If you have not engaged in any spiritual discipline, then I would suggest starting one or two. Focus on those for the whole year, and then in 2022 (if the Lord wills), add another one.
These goals should be written down. Place them in your Bible for frequent access and reminding. Ask your spouse or close friend to keep you accountable. Share with others how the spiritual discipline is helping you conform to the image of Christ.
Finally, these goals should be adjustable. If, after two months, you find that the spiritual discipline is not furthering the work of God in your life, perhaps you need to evaluate it. There is a potential that you do not understand that particular practice, and so you may need to do some more reading and reflecting. Or, you may need someone to sit down with you and help you work through it. Either way, do not feel like your goal is in cement. It can (and should, depending on the case), be adjusted. We are not disciplining ourselves for disciplines’ sake, we are disciplining ourselves for Christ’s sake.

Be Faithful

As we consider the process of becoming more like Jesus, we need to realize that it requires faithfulness. That is, determine now to be as faithful as possible. Will there be failures? Of course! Will there be days (even weeks) where you do not want to engage in that discipline? Yes, you will.
Failure is a part of fallenness. We do not need to use this as an excuse, but we do want to acknowledge this. With that said, we must determine to be faithful. Make a commitment to follow the disciplines you have selected all year. If you hit a brief period where you fail, renew your commitment to practice them, and move on.

Hang On

The last encouragement I want to offer you is to hang on! If you commit to practicing the spiritual disciplines, and you make it your goal to be like Christ, you will grow. It is nothing something that should surprise you.
There is a paradoxical aspect of growing in holiness that we must remember. As we grow into the image of Christ more, we often realize how sinful we are. That is, the closer we get to God, the more of our wickedness we see. It is like entering a dark room. The absence of light prevents us from seeing anything on the floor or the walls. If we have a small candle we can see some trash on the floor. If we use a cell phone light, we may see more trash and a few bugs scattering away. If we turn on the LED lights, we can see all the filth. We see the trash, the roaches, and the rodents. Likewise, as we embrace the holiness of God in our daily lives, we will observe our wickedness.
It may move from outward, sinful actions to inward, sinful thoughts. This should not discourage us, rather, it should encourage us! We are growing in godliness, and as such more of the sin in our lives will be rooted out and replaced with the righteousness of Christ.
While 2020 has been a wild year, hopefully, you have grown in godliness. As we quickly approach 2021, we can being preparing for training in godliness now!


About the Author
Bobby completed a BA in Christian Education. He also earned a MDiv. from Luther Rice College & Seminary. He recently graduated with a MA in Biblical Counseling from Bob Jones University. He is a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors, awaiting advanced certification. He is also an Associate Member of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Training for Godliness: Serving

Training for Godliness: Serving

Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7, NIV). We have discussed several examples of this training in previous posts. Today, we are picking our gloves and dusting the equipment off in order to resume our training.

Like an athlete, we work hard to grow in our likeness to Christ. One of the ways in which we can train ourselves for godliness is to serve. Donald Whitney writes this about serving,

“The ministry of serving may be as public as preaching or teaching, but more often it will be as sequestered as nursery duty. It may be as visible as singing a solo, but usually it will be as unnoticed as operating the sound equipment to amplify the solo. Serving may be as appreciated as a good testimony in a worship service, but typically it’s as thankless as washing dishes after a church social. Most service, even that which seems the most glamorous, is like an iceberg. Only the eye of God ever sees the larger, hidden part of it.”[1]

I do not know about you, but when I read that paragraph, I could immediately recognize the deep truth of what Whitney is saying. In fact, I would argue that most service in the church is the kind that most do not observe and for which most will receive little earthly recognition. But this is precisely why it requires discipline.

We enjoy being in the spotlight. We love being recognized for our hard work, our contribution, our giving, or our talents. Too often we mimic the Pharisees more than we do our Savior. It is of these types of people that Jesus speaks, “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven….When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward!” (Matthew 6:1, 5, NET) Jesus warned us against such showy service. Instead, we should follow His example. Consider the Son of God, the Creator of everything, Who donned a towel and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). Jesus tells His disciples, “For I have given you an example—you should do just as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NET). This is the example, or the pattern, that we should serve in humility as He has done.

“Train yourself to be godly,” wrote Paul to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7, NIV). The question is, How do we train through service? Whitney provides two points worthy of our consideration. First, he writes “EVERY CHRISTIAN IS EXPECTED TO SERVE.”[2] Whitney then offers several “motivations” for which the Christian should be encouraged to serve.[3] The truth is, Scripture commands believers to serve. It is not always glamorous, and in many cases is less. However, this does not excuse the Christian from giving his or her time in service to God. This discipline mimics our Lord and Savior.

The second aspect of service involves spiritual gifts. In passages such as Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and chapter 14, as well as 1 Peter 4:11, we read about the various equipping of Christians by the Holy Spirit for His service. Our gifts are to be used in the life and health of the Church. Paul writes to the church of Ephesus, “As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16, NET). Did you catch that? Builds itself up in love, but that only occurs when “each one does its part.” The question is, Are you training yourself for godliness through service?

Far too often Christians attend church for what they can get out of it. This ought not to be so, my brothers and sisters! We should attend church to be feed by the nourishment of the Word, no doubt. But we should attend church equally to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I end this post with the challenging words of Whitney, “The Lord Jesus was always the servant, the servant of all, the servant of servants, the Servant…If we are to be like Christ, we must discipline ourselves to serve as Jesus served.”[4]


[1] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 116.

[2] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 117, emphasis original.

[3] Ibid., 118-123.

[4] Ibid., 129.


Training for Godliness: Worship

Training for Godliness: Worship

Worship is a common word in churches, but it is one of those words that every seems to know but cannot define. When we consider the importance of worship, it is vital that we understand and practice it. Unfortunately, we often confuse worship with an experience. We attend a great service of music and we think that was worship. Or, we think lights and smoke and flashy shows provides a worship experience. But is this worship?

As Ken Boa defines it, “To worship is to be fully occupied with the attributes of God—the majesty, beauty, and goodness of his person, powers, and perfections.”[1]

To worship, then, is to focus on God in all His glory. Worship is not defined by a particular style of music or a place. Worship is a response of the heart to the wonders of the Triune God.

As we consider Training for Godliness, we cannot leave our worship. We were made to worship. However, due to the Fall, our focus of worship has shifted from God to many other things, including ourselves. We need to train ourselves to worship rightly. We must be aware of the dangers of worshipping God in vain.[2]

In his book, Whitney provides several helpful ways that we can train ourselves for godliness in worship. First, Whitney writes, “Worship is…focusing on and responding to God.”[3] Our focus must never be on ourselves, our comforts, our thoughts, or fame. When we worship God, individually or corporately, He must be our focus. When we sing in church, we sing for His glory. When we give, we give to His glory. When we listen to His Word preached, we receive it gladly. Our focus must always be on Him. Whitney discusses the glory of God by stating, “If you could see God at this moment, you would so utterly understand how worthy He is of worship that you would instinctively fall on your face and worship Him.”[4]

Another way that we train ourselves for godliness through worship is, as Whitney remarks, to “Worship…in spirit and truth.”[5] That is how Jesus instructs the Samaritan woman to worship God in John 4:24. This is missing in our churches today. “To worship God in spirit is to worship from the inside out. It means to be sincere in our acts of worship. No matter how spiritual the song you are singing, no matter how poetic the prayer you are praying, if it isn’t sincere then it isn’t worship, it’s hypocrisy,” Don Whitney bitingly quips.[6] When we engage in worship, do we do so sincerely? Or, are our thoughts on other things, such as lunch, the game, the grocery list, etc.? If we are to progress in Christlikeness, we must worship in spirit and truth. While we worship sincerely, we must also worship in truth. That means that our worship should find its place squarely in God’s written Word, the Bible. Therefore, while there is great freedom of expression, worship should reflect the same fundamental principles found in the Scriptures.

We also must worship because, as Whitney reminds us, “Worship is…expected both publicly and privately.”[7] In our highly individualized society, we often thing worship as personal. It is mine. While that is not untrue, it is only half true. God created humanity as a community, first through Adam and Eve and then the rest of humanity. In the context of worship, the author of Hebrews encourages us with these words,

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”[8]

We are to worship both individually and corporately. We gather together to worship Him. We see a glimpse into the future in Revelation 21-22, where all the chosen people of God will worship Him for eternity. We are to mirror that in the here and now. This, in turn, produces growth in godliness.

Whitney ends with these words, “Worship is…a discipline to be cultivated.”[9] As with the other spiritual disciplines, it takes time and practice (not that worship can be something we practice in the sense of practicing for football, but something in which we habitually engage). Whitney demonstrates this by writing, “Focusing on the world more than on the Lord makes us more worldly than Godly. But if we would be Godly, we must focus on God. Godliness requires disciplined worship.”[10]

Remember Paul’s words to the young Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness.”[11]


[1] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 86.

[2] See Matthew 15:8-9.

[3] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 86.

[4] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 87.

[5] Ibid., 89.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 92.

[8] Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV.

[9] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 94.

[10] Ibid., 95.

[11] 1 Timothy 4:7, ESV.

Worship is essential in growing in godliness!

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3 Ways to Exercise Yourself to Godliness

It has been a while since my last posting. Life and ministry have a way of overrunning us if we let it! With that said, I have been reading Charles Bridges The Christian Ministry, printed by the Banner of Truth Trust.

It has been an amazing book. I should underline what does not speak to me as this may save me some ink! Seriously though, the book has been incredibly fruitful.

One thing that Bridges discusses that is of vital importance is the reading of Scripture as it relates to godliness. Though lengthy, I want to provide his paragraph for your digestion.

“’Exercise thyself unto godliness’—was one of the wise rules of the Apostle to his beloved son, for the course of his Ministry; a rule, which bears with most important application to the noviciate. Its connection with the rule of study in the succeeding context is worthy of remark. ‘Giving attendance to reading,’ without active energy, would form a most incomplete and inefficient ministry. The want of exercise is as hurtful to the spiritual as to the bodily system; nor will ‘reading’ communicate any benefit, except its results are operative in Christian activity. Equally important is the combination with prayer. In fact, study, prayer, and exercise, may be said to form the minister. Study stores the mind, prayer infuses a divine influence, exercise carries out the resources into effective agency.” (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 63-64)

Christians should read the Bible, and many often do. However, how we read is more important than simply reading. How many of us are guilty of reading a passage in the morning and completely forgetting what we read by lunch? Are we truly exercising ourselves to godliness? Are we giving ourselves a good workout toward Christ-likeness?

What are some ways we can combat this? How can we exercise ourselves to godliness?

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH ACTIVE READING

First, by being active in our reading. When we read we can ask questions, like:

  • Who is this passage talking about?
  • What is going on?
  • What is being said?
  • What does this passage teach me about God?

The questions could go on and on. Active reading can also take the shape of diagramming the verses. It can be jotting the main points down in the margin of the Bible or in a separate journal. Though the method may vary, the point is to be active.

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH DIGESTION OF WHAT YOU ARE READING

In his book, Changed Into His Image, Dr. Jim Berg discusses the MAP method for meditating on Scripture. The “P” is “Personalize the passage.” (Jim Berg, Changed Into His Image, 298-299)

He goes on to write,

“Plan concrete changes in your life that are consistent with your understanding of the passage. Such plans would include schedules, steps, and details.” (Berg, Changed, 299)

Exercising yourself to godliness includes putting what you read into practice. When you read verses about praying, you change your habits of prayer to reflect what the Scriptures are teaching.

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH CONSISTENCY

The analogy Mr. Bridges uses is one of physical exercise. The human body responds to exercise. When someone lifts weights, they tear down their muscles. During the healing process, the muscles become stronger in order to lift the weight effectively. Through continued weightlifting, the individual develops stronger muscles. He can now lift weights he was unable to do so previously.

If, however, he skips a few months, the weightlifter returns to square one. In a similar way (though not precisely), we need to exercise ourselves continually. We must consistently read, meditate, and apply Scripture in order to grow in godliness.

HOW ARE YOU DOING?

So, how are you doing? Are you exercising yourself to godliness? Are you actively reading God’s Word? Are you digesting what you are reading? Are you doing so consistently?