5 Pillars of Christian Growth – Bonus
Disciplines of the Christian Life
Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord … For the Lord disciplines the one he loves … [during] the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
– Hebrews 12:5-6, 11 (ESV) –
Discipline is often tantamount to a curse word in our culture today. We run and hide and would rather eat broccoli than have discipline in our lives. But discipline is actually a GOOD thing. Without it, we won’t progress and grow properly. With it, we will accomplish more than we ever thought possible and will move forward faster than without it.
Throughout Christian history, “spiritual disciplines” have been offered as a way to be purposeful in our relationship with Jesus Christ, grow in maturity and depth, and experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Richard Foster, who wrote the classic Celebration of Discipline, says, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us. … By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”
Besides the five key pillars of Christian growth mentioned throughout the book,
- Worship Him – the pillar of daily living
- Study Him – the pillar of knowing Jesus
- Talk With Him – the pillar of constant intimacy
- Share Him – the pillar of giving what you have
- Grow In Him – the pillar of lifelong transformation
here are twelve essential disciplines to cultivate in your life through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Remember, all true discipline in the spiritual life flows from the work of the Spirit, not from our attempts to produce discipline in our own effort or ability. Nor is it a facade of spirituality we create to hide behind.
1. Be a Cow: Meditate on Truth
Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Throughout the Bible, we are taught to meditate on God’s Law (Joshua 1:8), on His works (Psalm 77:12), on His wonderful works (Psalm 119:27), on His precepts (Psalm 119:15), on His statutes (Psalm 119:48), on His Word (Psalm 119:148), on the glorious splendor of His majesty (Psalm 143:5), on His Name (Malachi 3:16), and on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8).
The Old Testament idea of meditate is to dwell upon, study, ponder, and bring to mind continually. The concept is that of a cow chewing its cud. When a cow eats (according to what I’ve been told), it chews, swallows, regurgitates, continues to chew … and repeats the process several times. In a sense, the same should be said of us with God’s Word, attributes, life, etc. We should continually think upon the grandness of Jesus Christ, His work upon the Cross, His saving and enabling power, and the depth of His Word. We, like a cow, should “chew” upon truth, swallow it, and then bring it back up to ponder and “chew” some more.
2. The Feast of a Fast
Biblically, fasting is not something we do to manipulate God. Rather, it means we temporarily refrain from something in order to use that time intentionally and/or grow in our focus and intimacy with Jesus. It is a way to remove the fog of our lives to seek and hear His wisdom.
In truth, when you engage in a fast and are intentional about seeking Christ, you find yourself feasting on that which is most important: Jesus Himself.
Our bodies have natural drives, food being one of them. When we fast from food, it gives us additional time in our day to seek Jesus (do you realize how much time we spend eating each day?), and each rumble of our tummies becomes a reminder to continue to press into Him.
For those intimated by the idea of a fast, remember that it doesn’t have to involve food. Though food is a great thing to fast from, doing so can be dangerous or unhealthy for some. As such (or in addition to fasting from food), giving up things we think we “can’t live without”—like movies, video games, entertainment, sports, magazines, pop culture, or specific types of food (e.g., sugar, soda, flour, etc.)—can be a great way to seek Jesus through fasting while continuing to eat.
There are several great books on fasting that you could check out for additional thoughts and tips, but one suggestion is that if you want to start a fast, start slow. Many people get excited and declare that they won’t eat for 40 days or will never touch sugar again … but I’ve found that skipping a single meal, taking a weekend away from entertainment, or going a week without sugar are all great ways to start, rather than committing to something and not following through. Then you can build to longer stretches of fasting.
If you’ve never tried fasting, I’d encourage you to do so. Christian history is full of people who were disciplined in fasting (some purposefully fasted once a week) and saw incredible growth in their spiritual lives because of it.
3. Live Simply
Look around your house. If you are like most people, it is full of “stuff.” Look at your calendar; no doubt it is full of busyness.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that we are to maintain “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (NASB). Jesus taught us in the Gospels to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Matthew 6:33).
There is a freedom in simplicity when we remove distraction and focus instead on what must be preeminent in our lives: Jesus.
A lot has been said about simplicity (I’d encourage you to check out Richard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline and Donald Whitney’s book Simplify Your Spiritual Life), but a simple question will suffice: what can you remove or simplify in your life to help increase focus, time, and intimacy with Jesus Christ? Is anything worth holding on to that keeps you from gaining a greater relationship with the King of the universe?
4. An Attitude of Solitude
We live in a culture of hustle and bustle. From the moment we awake to the moment we lie down in bed at night, we are bombarded by thousands of advertisements, messages, and distractions. We carry around portable distraction devices (i.e., cell phones), get fidgety after thirty seconds of silence, and can’t stand being disconnected from social media.
The idea of solitude is not hiding away in the mountains; rather, it is a posture of soul. It is a contentment with, trust in, and surrender to the will and direction of God. It is an opportunity to quiet yourself, retune your focus, and reflect upon Jesus Christ.
Though time away to reflect, journal, think, pray, and worship is good (and necessary at times), we are called to have a calm soul and to have a mind focused upon the Savior amidst the noise of culture, a community of people, and the trials of life.
Extroverts, remember—this is good for you too!
5. A Double Confession
Confession is good for the soul. The truth is, confession contains a double blessing—it can encourage, challenge, and bless those who listen, and it strengthens our own faith as well.
There are two types of confession that are important to have in our lives:
1) The Confession of Sin
James 5:16 says to “confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Confessing our sins to one another causes the sin to come into the light and be exposed (see 1 John 1:5-7). Ephesians 5:11 says we are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” When we live in sin, it is often done in the dark (in secret). Confessing sin to other believers not only exposes and brings sin to light in our own lives, it does so in the lives of other believers as well.
At the discipleship training school I work at, we often have times of confession throughout a semester. When one student comes forward to confess sin, it has an amazing effect on the other students: God often uses the confession of one person to cause conviction and repentance in another.
In my study of revivals throughout history, an interesting trend shows up: the confession of sin often accompanies revival. When God moves, the Spirit brings conviction (see John 16:8), and people are compelled to bring to light that which was hidden in darkness.
2) The Confession of Truth and our Position
The second area of confession is that of truth and of our position in Christ. Not only should we confess our sins to one another, we should confess (declare) truth to each other.
It is powerful when Christians stand up and declare that their position is “in Christ” and that they have been “crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
When we hear the testimony of fellow believers and see the faithfulness of God in their lives, it strengthens and encourages our faith and causes us to grow and mature even more in Christ.
6. Grow with Leaps and Bounds
As we continue to build our lives around Jesus Christ, no doubt difficult circumstances and situations will arise. Being a Christian doesn’t make everything “happy go lucky”; actually, in a lot of ways it results in a more difficult life.
Paul was imprisoned, was chained, received beatings and lashes, underwent shipwrecks, was in perils, and experienced countless other difficulties (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Yet despite the hardships, Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, he wrote, “Rejoice always …” The word for “always” in the Greek actually means “always.” In other words, there should never be a moment in our lives in which we are not rejoicing!
The word “rejoice” has the idea of continually acting in joy. Despite the circumstance, joy is supposed to be the undercurrent of our lives. This doesn’t mean that we are always “happy” but that we have a buoyancy of soul and trust in our Savior. The concept, as my friend Eric Ludy would say, is that of a Cheerio in milk: utterly unsinkable. When you push a Cheerio down, it shoots back up to the top of the milk. So, too, are we in this world.
When we face difficulties and trials, we are to have joy. James 1:2-3 tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” When the world, other people, or circumstances push us down, our response should be to “leap” and spring forth with buoyancy, trusting in the faithfulness and surety of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, in Luke 6:22-23, says: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven …” Typically it is the difficult circumstances that cause our knees to grow weak, yet when we exercise the “leap for joy,” we increase our ability to face greater difficulties. We can face even the worst the world has to offer when we learn to rejoice in the face of trials, difficulties, and hardships.
While writing this section, Tim, a good friend of mine, made a great statement about rejoicing amidst hardships. He said “we should be motivated to rejoice because in physical pain we know that one day we will have resurrected, immortal, incorruptible bodies—the pain won’t be forever. We can rejoice in persecution because we know that our reward is great in heaven (see Luke 6:22-23). We can rejoice in any number of difficulties because we know that God is working them all for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).”
So next time a problem arises in your life, stop complaining and start leaping.
7. The Rest of God
Quite interestingly, we were created with the need for rest. Each day our bodies need sleep. Studies have shown that those who participate in a reasonable level of recreation and “fun” become more productive in their work. And surprisingly, Adam’s first full day on earth was a day of rest.
In the Ten Commandments, God commands His people to “observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work …” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Later, in the New Testament, Jesus declares, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
Obviously, we are called to rest, but many of us fall into the very trap that Jesus warned against: letting rest become the focus instead of God Himself. Sabbath becomes our primary rather than the rest it brings and the opportunity to press into Jesus it provides.
Just One Day?
It’s funny that people argue whether we are to keep Sabbath on Saturday (the typical Jewish Sabbath) or Sunday (the day of rest and celebration for most Christians) and whether Sabbath includes a full 24 hours or just sun up to sun down. Despite the various arguments, it at least seems clear that every day is the Lord’s. In the Old Testament, giving was defined as a tithe (10%), but in the New Testament, Jesus elevates the concept and says that everything we have is His. Giving is not the mere 10% we reluctantly let go of; rather, it is where 100% of all we have is at God’s disposal. We are merely stewards of what He gives. Wouldn’t that make sense with rest as well?
We don’t live six days for ourselves and give God one day—every day is the Lord’s. Every day should be focused upon Jesus Christ, living in the rest, confidence, and life He provides. Living in “rest” doesn’t mean we do nothing and become lazy; rather, it is the concept of “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Each day is spent resting in His faithfulness and focusing upon His Person, living not out of my own strength but in dependence upon and surrender to Him.
Sabbath wasn’t intended to be legalistic; it was meant to be a blessing and to be an opportunity every day to build our lives around Jesus Christ.
8. Unity in Community
The gathering of believers and the edifying of one another are important aspects of building our lives around Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls the Church His “bride”: the one He wants a deep and close relationship with. Though He is interested in individuals and values each person, it is the collective whole of the Church that He calls “bride.”
But being in community with others is difficult. Relationships are not always easy, and that quickly becomes apparent when you put a bunch of people—even Christians—together. This is one of the reasons Paul spends so much time talking about the unity of believers. In Ephesians 4, Paul says to walk “with utmost humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3). He later continues and says that God gave leadership to the Church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …” (4:12-13, emphasis added).
This same theme of unity and edification continues throughout Paul’s other writings:
- “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19)
- “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
In Philippians 2:1-8, Paul discusses the mind of Christ. He commands us in verse 5 to have Jesus’ mind and goes on to describe how Jesus lived. But before that, in verses 2-4, Paul describes what Jesus’ mind looks like lived out in the Church: “… fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4).
What does the “one mind” of the Church look like? It looks like the mind of Jesus. The mind and attitude of Christ does nothing through selfish ambition or conceit; in humility, it esteems others better than itself. This is clearly seen throughout the life of Jesus, culminating upon the Cross. Jesus wasn’t looking out for His own interests, He wasn’t concerned about His reputation, He wasn’t in it for Himself. He had one thing on His mind: serving and rescuing people.
The life of Jesus was continually about rolling up His sleeves and serving, ministering, healing, forgiving, and restoring those around Him. What should the Church look like? The life of Jesus.
We, the Church, are the Body of Christ, and the actions of this Body should align with the actions He did in His literal body when He walked the earth (see 1 John 2:6).
Sure, relationships are difficult, and Church is sometimes challenging. But one of the ways we can grow, mature, and build our lives around Jesus Christ is to do so in a community of believers that will edify us, encourage us, hold us accountable, and press us onward and upward in the high calling of Jesus Christ. As Psalm 34:3 declares: “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His Name together.”
9. Empty Your Pockets and Give Abundantly
In Ephesians 4:28, Paul admonishes believers by saying: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”
What astounds me about this verse is that a Christian is to always have something to give. Whether it be our time, our money, or our lives, the Christian life is not meant for us to hoard but to give away freely.
When you look at the life of Jesus, you see that He was constantly serving and pouring His life out. Yes, He snuck away to the mountains to pray, and we find Him dozing in a boat after a long day of ministry. But the tenor of His life was to continually give Himself away.
What if we had a giving attitude? What if we didn’t hold things with tight fists but willingly gave what we had to others? What if we realized that it is more blessed to give than to receive? What if our greatest joy came not in how much we could obtain but in how much we gave away?
Money isn’t evil; having possessions and going on vacations aren’t sinful. But as we’ve discussed, we are merely stewards—100% of what we have is to be at God’s disposal, for His use and purposes. When we spend money, the question we should ask is, “Is this how God wants me to use His money?”
I once heard a simple but powerful concept regarding how to spend money:
- Splurge on the sacred (spend money on the things God deems important)
- Skimp on the secular (be frugal on things needed for everyday living and function)
- Starve the profane (don’t spend any money on the things that are contrary to the Kingdom of God)
Remember, in every action, we represent the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’ve heard it said countless times that the worst customers at restaurants are the Sunday afternoon crowd as they leave church and go out to lunch. Most often they are rude and tip horribly (if at all). But remember, you are a reflection of Jesus to your world. If an opportunity to tip arises, tip well. Don’t be cheap, rude, or thrifty for the sake of keeping a few extra dollars in your pocket. In fact, if two amounts come to mind, always tip the higher amount—not only will you feel great the rest of the day, it is a reflection of heaven and of the life of Christ, who always goes “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (see Ephesians 3:20-21).
Do you want to build your life around Jesus Christ? Empty your pockets and give abundantly. Give your time, energy, resources, money, and life for the purpose and glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
10. Ask Great Questions
This may seem a bit odd, but asking great questions can grow and deepen our Christian life. It comes down to thinking—and good thinking requires great questions.
When we ask questions, it causes our minds to seek answers—in short, we think. One of the most profitable and enriching things I do is think. I sit in a chair with pen and paper and ponder a topic, a question, a Scripture passage, or something I’m facing. I make notes, ask countless questions, and try to think deeply.
One of the best ways to grow and mature is to change what goes into our minds and what we think about. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
1. Find a place to think. One of my mentors has a “thinking chair.” It is his place to go and think. When you have a place you consistently go to think, it helps your mind get into “focus mode” much faster, allowing you to think quicker, deeper, and better.
2. Write it down. None of our minds can hold every great idea that we have. If you’re like me, you’ll quickly forget something if you don’t write it down. When we think, it is important to have pen and paper (or computer) ready to capture our thoughts. Though I love technology, I recommend pen and paper, as it is less distracting than a screen full of dings, beeps, and notices.
3. Have something to think about. Rather than showing up with nothing to think about, have a topic to mull over. I often have a Scripture passage I want to think through, a question I need to answer, or a topic I want to flesh out. Regardless, you will discover that the best use of this time is when you start with a purposeful direction.
4. Ask questions. Take a topic, problem, passage, or whatever you want to think about and begin to ask yourself questions. In your mind, walk around the issue and see if you can poke at it from a variety of directions. How would someone else see, understand, or respond to the topic? Great questions will help lead you to great thinking. But the end goal isn’t mere head knowledge—it’s a changed life. How does each topic, passage, question, or difficulty of life change how we live? Application is important!
Here are some sample questions to ask that will help get you started …
Ask Questions of Scripture
- Ask the basic observation questions: What? Why? When? How? Where? Who?
- Are there any keywords that are important?
- What is the context of the passage I’m studying?
- Is something being repeated?
- Are there commands or warnings?
- Are there any comparisons or contrasts?
- Is there a list that’s given?
- What is the tone of the passage?
- Is this an Old Testament quote (if reading the New Testament)?
- Is this concept found in the New Testament (if reading the Old)?
- Is the grammar important in this passage?
- Is there any historical, cultural, or other background context I should know about?
- What is the main verb (action), and who is the subject doing the action?
Ask Questions of Books
- What is the key theme and concept of this chapter, section, book?
- What important phrases, quotes, or concepts should I remember?
- What key insights did I learn?
- What is the personal application for my life—how is this book going to change my thinking or living?
Ask Questions of Others
Here is a list of questions that John Maxwell, a leadership expert, often asks people he meets with:
- What is the greatest lesson you have learned? By asking this question I seek their wisdom.
- What are you learning now? This question allows me to benefit from their passion.
- How has failure shaped your life? This question gives insight into their attitude.
- Who do you know whom I should know? This allows me to engage with their network.
- What have you read that I should read? This question directs my personal growth.
- What have you done that I should do? This helps me seek new experiences.
- How can I add value to you? This shows my gratitude and desire to add value to them.
Other great questions:
- What are you studying/learning in God’s Word?
- How have you seen God answer prayer in your life?
- What is one key area you know God wants to deepen or develop in your life this year?
- How do you define success?
- What values guide your decisions?
- What is your most effective daily habit and why?
- What positive thing do you see in me that I need to focus on developing?
- What obstacles do you see in my life that are preventing me from moving forward?
- What is the greatest need for the Church today?
- How can I pray for you?
- Is there anything practical I can do to serve you?
Ask Questions of Ourselves
In the 1700s, a group of Christians at Oxford University (England)—including John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others—met together often for encouragement and edification. As a way to examine their lives and focus, they asked themselves a series of questions daily:
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am a better person than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all acts or words, or do I exaggerate?
- Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence? Can I be trusted?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Did the Bible live in me today?
- Do I give it time to speak to me each day?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to somebody else with the object of trying to win that person for Christ?
- Am I making contacts with other people and using them for the Master’s Glory?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
- Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Do I insist upon doing something for which my conscience is uneasy?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life? Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- Am I proud?
- Do I thank God I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?
- Is there anybody whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
- Do I grumble or complain constantly?
- Is Christ real to me?
If you want to know the priorities of people’s lives, look at what they talk about, how they spend money, and how they spend time. Those three things will tell you a lot about a person.
How we use time reveals where our priorities, focus, and intention are given. If we desire to grow and mature in the Christian life, time management is key.
In truth, there is no such thing as “time management,” as we cannot manage time. We are all given the same amount of time: 1440 minutes a day or 168 hours a week. No single person gets more or less time, so we really can’t “manage” it. The key is not time management but priority management—to what priorities am I going to give my time?
We may claim,
- I don’t have time to study the Bible.
- I don’t have a lot of time to spend with my kids.
- My schedule is packed; I can’t fit in anything else.
But the truth is, we make time for our priorities. When we value spending time with our spouse, we make time for it. When we value entertainment, we somehow find time to watch the latest movie. When we value growth and maturity, we spend time in activities that cultivate them. When we value Jesus, we find time for Him.
This tells us that if you examine your life and haven’t spent much (or any) time cultivating intimacy with Jesus, it is not a time issue but a priorities/values issue.
If you want greater growth, relationship, and intimacy with Jesus and truly desire to build your life around Him, it must become a priority in your life. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Schedule what’s most important first
What gets scheduled gets done. If you want more time with the kids, put it on the schedule. If you desire to spend more time reading God’s Word, block it out on the calendar. Schedule the most important things first so that everything else has to fit around it. The old illustration is the jar with rocks, gravel, and sand. When you put the big rocks in first (that which is most important), the less important stuff (gravel) can still fit in around the big rocks. When the less important stuff fits, what is left over (sand) will fill in the gaps. However, when you put the gravel or sand in first, you find that the big rocks won’t fit anymore. Schedule what is most important first—that which you want to cultivate, grow, and protect—and allow everything else to fit around the “big rocks.”
2. Guard the schedule
It’s not enough to merely schedule something and not do it, nor is it a good idea to replace what’s scheduled with other urgent things that come up. The key is to guard the schedule. When you make your schedule for the week and someone asks for time that is already scheduled, tell them that you have a prior commitment. You don’t need to explain yourself or divulge what commitment it is—you are busy with the things that you predetermined are most important.
Need more help?
If you need help with “priority management,” there are several great books available. Please note that I don’t agree with everything written in the following books (which contain both Christian and classic business ideas), but these are some of the works that have been most helpful to me in this area:
- What’s Best Next (Matt Perman)
- Do More Better (Tim Challies)
- Getting Things Done (David Allen)
- 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management (Kevin Kruse)
- Essentialism (Greg McKeown)
- The One Thing (Gary Keller)
- The 12 Week Year (Brian Moran)
- Eat That Frog (Brian Tracy)
- The Effective Executive (Peter Drucker)
- The Power of Full Engagement (Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)
12. Play Volleyball and learn to Serve
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took a towel, wrapped it around Himself, stooped down, and washed the feet of His disciples: a humiliating act reserved for the lowest of servants. If the King of all kings humbled Himself and served, how much more should we give ourselves to the same?
This life of service wasn’t one momentary incident; it was the normal attitude and lifestyle of Jesus every day.
When you look at the life of Jesus, you find that He never once thought about Himself selfishly. You might be able to argue that in Gethsemane Jesus was focused inward, but even there you find He was still focused on bringing salvation to the world.
The life Jesus lived was constantly focused on others. He continually met the needs of others around Him. Even His prayer times alone on the mountains were for the purpose of being poured out in ministry. Likewise Jesus encouraged the mourning women while being led away to the crucifixion, He prayed for His murderers while on the cross, and even then He was looking out for His mother (see Luke 23:27-31, 34 and John 19:25-27).
Jesus never focused inward; He never reasoned from the basis of how His actions might affect Himself. Instead, Jesus constantly rolled up His sleeves, washed feet, bled, suffered, and died in order to meet the needs of the people around Him. In essence, what the cross symbolized is what He lived every day.
When Jesus declared, “Take no thought for your life,” in Matthew 6:25 and Luke 12:22, it wasn’t a cute phrase to stick on your refrigerator—it’s actually the life we are called to live.
Think back again to Paul’s command in Philippians 2:5 for us to have the “mind of Christ.” The word “mind” in Greek means more than how one thinks; it is the attitude, lifestyle, and essence of how one lives. I am to have the lifestyle of Jesus.
What was His lifestyle, His mind, His attitude?
It was the cross. Paul continues in Philippians 2:6-8 and says that Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Jesus was God from eternity, yet He made Himself of no reputation, taking the life of a servant, coming as a man, and living a life of humility and obedience, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus lived a lifestyle of the cross.
Yes, the cross was an incredible and world-transforming event that took place on one day in history, but the tone and lifestyle of Jesus was a demonstration of the cross every day: bleeding, suffering, and dying to meet the needs of the world.
This ties back to what Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4 (just before he commands us to have the mind of Christ). “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
What is this? It’s the lifestyle of the cross.
Do I live for myself or do I live for others? When problems arise, is my first thought how it affects me or how I can serve and meet a need? Do I run toward comfort and ease, or do I seek the low places and desire to pour out my life? Am I willing to be a vessel (tool) in the hand of God for Him to win the world, or do I prefer to check in at the church building once a week?
These are all questions that get at our selfishness. But we are not called to live for ourselves; we are called to live for others. We are not to turn inward; we are to turn outward.
I am called to the cross—I am to find my salvation, forgiveness, and life in the death of Jesus. His death has become my death. His cross is my cross. And His life of serving others has become mine.
If I desire to build my life around Jesus, I must allow Him to shape His life in me—which means that He will transform my life from being inward focused to others focused. Will I allow Him to use my hands, feet, and mouth to declare the Gospel, meet the needs of the world, and serve those around me?