Summary: 2nd in a series on Christian Growth
Reba McEntire is one of the most successful entertainers in country music. One of the reasons for her success is a basic philosophy which motivates her. She says, "One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you’re never as good as you could be. There’s always room for improvement." That is also the philosophy of effective Christians. The reason they are more effective than other Christians is their recognition that they are never as good as they can be. Because of that, they are committed to continual improvement in their Christian lives.
How can we make improvements in our lives as Christians? There are two basic answers to that question.
Improvements in our lives can be made by FORCES ON THE OUTSIDE.
Sometimes, for example, the Lord uses people to shape our lives. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Either by their example or by their encouragement, other people can be instruments of growth for us.
At other times the Lord uses circumstances to develop us. Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God."
God uses both good and bad circumstances to shape our lives.
Improvements in our lives can also be made by HABITS ON THE INSIDE.
This is the idea captured in our text. Writing to young Timothy, Paul said, "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness." Godliness is the ultimate goal of spiritual growth. Discipline is the method by which we reach this goal.
In his remarkable book entitled The Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino wrote, "In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference between their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure." We are shaped by our habits.
That is also true of the Christian life. If we want to grow as Christians, we must not only understand the models for growth. We must also institute in our lives the habits of growth. As our text expresses it, we must "Discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness."
So what are these holy habits that will enable us to grow as Christians? Two habits are the foundation for spiritual growth. We will deal with these two in this message.
The first holy habit that leads to spiritual growth is the study of God’s Word.
Nothing can replace this. Without this discipline, we will not be a growing Christian. What do I mean by Bible Study? I mean the regular, consistent, daily intake of God’s Word into our lives.
But how do we study this Bible? Most Christians want to study God’s Word but they are not sure how to go about it. Every person is different, so each must determine this for himself. Nevertheless, some basic suggestions can be made.
Key # 1 is to SET ASIDE A TIME.
If we only study God’s Word when we feel like it, our study will be inconsistent and inadequate. The first step in systematic Bible Study is to discipline ourselves to a specific time. If possible, it needs to be the same time each day. Usually, it is best not to do it just before we go to bed because we probably will not remember as much when we’re sleepy. If we would spend only 15 minutes each day, we could read through the Bible in a year’s time.
Key # 2 is to DEVELOP A PLAN.
Some people simply read through the Bible. The problem with this approach is that it is easy to get bogged down in some of the more detailed and difficult parts of the text. We have other options.
Bible study guides are available at most religious bookstores. These provide plans for study. Concentrating on one book at a time is an effective method of study. Another approach is to read three chapters in the Old Testament and three chapters in the New Testament each day. It is more important that we have a plan than what our plan is.
Key # 3 is to THINK ABOUT WHAT WE’VE READ.
A group of Christians at Berea were singled out for praise by Luke in the book of Acts. Then he explained why they were worthy of praise: "For they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
We not only need to read God’s Word. We also need to meditate on it until its meaning becomes clear to us. We can do that memorizing Scripture. We can do that by writing down a key verse and carrying it with us. We can do that by recording key verses and replaying them as we drive around. Our study must include both reading and meditation.