Tis the season for whipping ourselves into shape. Christmas is over. And now folks are turning over a new leaf and making tall claims on how they will better themselves in the coming year. We are determined to be more disciplined; physically, spiritually, relationally. Kudos to that. Not to be a pessimist but I think we all have about as much chance of maintaining our goals for 12 months as I have of winning the billion dollar Powerball tonight. We can all dream but sooner or later it gets real.
Discipline is great. Self-discipline is admirable. Imposed discipline is easier. Would that we all had a personal drill sergeant screaming in our ear to keep at it, whatever it is. But generally we are left to our own motivational techniques.
We are launching small groups again with my new book this week and I was thinking about this as I was checking out the early church in Acts. I just can’t get past the untold story of how they organized, developed, and discipled the hoards of new believers depicted in Acts 2. Why in tarnation couldn’t Peter or Luke or SOMEBODY have left us a blueprint of how this all went down? I have a ton of questions to ask them when I get to heaven and it no longer matters. But down here this is all we get.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Peter (aka Billy Graham) preaches a big message and his altar call brings 3000 people to faith. Yes, the early church was a mega church. Deal with it. But holy smoke, how do you deal with and disciple 3000 new believers effectively?
Apparently in small groups. Because unless everyone owned stadiums, the only way they ate together in homes was to break into small groups. And here is the key strategy:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
I am convinced small groups boil down to these four essentials. You can add in a lot of extra malarkey but groups are healthy when we devote ourselves to nothing less than these four things:
- There must be engaging teaching. Without substance, a social group disguised as a small group will morph into something else or fritter away. People need to be spiritually fed.
- Fellowship must happen. Fellowship is the result of people finding something in common across chronological or socio-economic lines. We can build community when we discover what we have in common.
- After years of small group experiences, I am also convinced that food is not an option. Doesn’t have to be Olive Garden breadsticks but that will probably work. Food is integral to the group experience. Sharing a meal develops a level of intimacy unparalleled by any other activity.
- And without prayer, we lose a vital element of what it means to carry each other’s burdens. When we share our load and each of us takes those concerns to Jesus, community is built.
But here’s the “whapahh” factor.
Notice, it does not say they disciplined themselves to these four essential traits of a healthy small group. Nope, they were “devoted.”
Here is the point.
Whether we are determined to better ourselves or grow the church, our track record will be largely influenced by whether we are disciplined or devoted.
Discipline requires some level of “whapahh!” We need a personal cracking of the whip in our ear – from ourselves, our pastors, our personal trainers, our financial planners, whatever. Where we lack the interest, loyalty, or conviction to do more, we need a healthy dose of “whapahh!”
But no one needs a “whapahh!” for devotion. Devotion comes from the heart. You don’t whip that into action.
Devotion emanates from love.
Devotion exudes loyalty.
Devotion escalates from strength of feeling.
On the other hand,
Discipline makes you sweat.
Discipline makes you proud that you met your goal.
Discipline indicates you gained control over something.
Devotion however, involves no strain at all on our system.
Devotion is not driven by achievement.
Devotion has no ulterior motive.
It just is. Desire drives devotion.
We can discipline ourselves to a lot of great stuff and we may need to, when devotion cannot be mustered. But I enjoy the things I am devoted to, a lot more than the things I discipline myself to.
So as I think about this next year. I am making a list and checking it twice. My list is personal to me but I will share it for the sake of perhaps inspiring you to make your own.
- daily Jesus time – reading, worship, prayer, journaling
- reading 2 books a month
- giving – increasing our tithes and offerings
- fasting – once a month
- weekly date night
- availability to children and grandchildren
- regular social time with peers
- regular one on one with a trusted friend
- writing two Bible studies/books this year
- empowering and encouraging those who serve with me
- faithfully delivering the messages God gives me
- blogging at least once a month
- Eating clean
- walking an hour 3 – 5 times a week with my very large puppy
- scheduling the recommended medical procedures for folks over 50. Grr.
Lofty as my list may be, I know this. I will carry out best those things that I am devoted to. Some of these come very easy to me. Date-night and Jesus-time are like breathing. Little effort – high reward.
But others still represent discipline and I will struggle to carry them out. I’ll need a little “whapahh” in my ear. But perhaps as I see the results of fruitful labor, the discipline will turn to devotion.