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The Heart of a Godly Man
Practical Disciplines for a Man's Spiritual Life
By E. Glenn Wagner
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1997 E. Glenn Wagner
All rights reserved.
Not A Spectator Sport
Why is it that we Christian men are often content to be saved, slip into church on Sunday, slump down, slumber, and slither out at the appointed time (whether the service is over or not)? Why are we so willing to be spectators in the kingdom and consign ourselves to a life of spiritual mediocrity?
Wouldn't it be more exciting to be in the middle of the action, placing ourselves in the center of God's work in this world? Yet most of us remain firmly planted on the sidelines. Why don't we get up and get involved?
Maybe it's because we have either a fear or a misunderstanding (or both) of what it takes to develop the heart of a godly man.
What does it take? Discipline.
Isn't it interesting that even the least-talented players on a team still want to get into the game? In high school, we had a guy on our basketball team who, while he was a great friend, just didn't have much ability. But Kevin always wanted to play. He loved the game. On one occasion, he was begging the coach to let him play.
Finally, with only a few minutes left, the coach motioned for Kevin to go in. Realizing this was his moment, he hurriedly pulled his warm-up jersey over his head. In his excitement, he didn't realize he had pulled off his shirt as well! Believe it or not, Kevin didn't know it and ran onto the court bare-chested.
In the church today, we don't have many Kevins running up and down the sidelines, begging the coach to put them in. Perhaps the reason is this issue of discipline.
Personally, I hate the word discipline. It's not a concept that fills me with warm fuzzies. Instead, it's a constant source of stress in my life.
Like most men I know, I do have areas of my life where I'm disciplined. In my work and ministry, for example, I have an entire chain of occupational disciplines linked together with no problem whatsoever. I live in the context of deadlines, agreements, meetings, and delivering what I promised. I can run my daily routine by a schedule and Day-Timer as well as the best of them. Advanced planning fits me like a well-tailored suit of clothes.
Yes, I'm well disciplined on the job. But then there's my personal life, which is quite another story. OK, I'm not a complete failure, but I do have two areas that embarrass me: physical exercise and getting projects done around the house.
I know all about the importance of caring for our bodies. My buddies are playing racquetball, working out at the gym, playing basketball during their lunch hours, or jogging nine miles before breakfast. I just can't seem to work up the personal discipline necessary to join in those activities. I tried jogging, but I noticed while running that I've never seen a jogger smiling. Why would I do something that makes people miserable? So I took up golf ... and I "ride" whenever possible.
Then there's the whole issue of working on projects around the house. Susan is so disciplined about making the Honey-do list; why can't I muster the discipline to complete the tasks? I don't know which is worse, never getting to projects or starting projects but never finishing. Either way, my track record on personal discipline leaves something to be desired.
I'm actually getting better in these areas. I'm slowly but steadily knocking items off that todo list, and I'm also doing a pretty good job of exercising in order to keep my weight down. But even when I'm making progress, discipline involves a struggle.
DISCIPLINE: NEGATIVE OR POSITIVE?
Discipline gets a negative rap a good deal of the time. In his book Personal Religious Disciplines, John Edward Gardner discusses the damage done by this sort of thinking:
If a spiritual discipline is employed primarily as a restricting and restraining factor in human behavior, it will not be helpful. Unfortunately discipline has often been interpreted in terms of correction and punishment. While these may be very appropriate by-products, they are little more. When the objective of discipline is primarily to purge the self, the most likely development is the creation of a spiritual void. Properly conceived discipline must be positive and creative. In order to produce wholesome benefits, it must provide for him who practices it a sense of gratification, satisfaction, and fascination.
That was a refreshing paragraph for me to read. Why do we men find the concept of discipline so intimidating, so threatening, so impossible to attain? Certainly Gardner is on target with his comments concerning our thinking of discipline as restraining and restricting. But that just adds to the feeling that being a man of God is out of my reach.
In terms of the disciplines of godliness, I can recall thinking as a teenager how impossible it would be for me to fulfill them. I decided at an early age that I could never become a preacher. I'm not spiritual enough, I concluded. The men I saw at the front of the church could preach circles around me, pray me into oblivion, and recite from memory the entire list of foreign missionaries whose pictures were hanging in the narthex.
ORDINARY MEN USED OF GOD
But the Scriptures give us a much different picture. Look more closely at the men of the Bible. They weren't perfect plaster statues on pedestals. They were real, live, flesh-andblood guys, complete with their shortcomings and imperfections. Yet they were used mightily of God.
Consider a few examples:
Paul: Before his conversion, he zealously persecuted God's people; afterward, he could experience the joy of the Lord while enduring the pain of imprisonment for his faith.
Job: His is the classic story of a regular guy who loved God and was put through trials beyond belief. He dared to question God, but he still said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15 KJV).
Nehemiah: He served in the house of a pagan king, yet God used him to lead the entire nation of Israel in rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem.
Gideon: At one point he was hiding in fear; then God called him to defeat Israels enemies and restore its freedom.
David: In weak moments, he could commit adultery and murder. Yet for most of his life he was a man after God's own heart.
Noah: Nothing seemed out of the ordinary about this man until the earth was flooded and the only way of rescue was the ark he had built in obedience to God's command.
Peter: Talk about an average guy! Here was a man who constantly struggled with his temper, with speaking without thinking (usually opening his mouth just long enough to take one foot out and put the other in), and with a variety of other common shortcomings. Yet he also became an apostle and the author of two books of the Bible.
On a recent trip to Russia, I met with a group of pastors, discussing men's ministry in the local church. During one of the meals, my interpreter asked if I had met "that pastor." He pointed to a short, slight, bearded man who had just entered the room. I replied that I hadn't. So he went on to tell me the man's story. The bearded man's son now pastors the church the father founded. But before the fall of communism, the man had spent twenty-four years imprisoned in Siberia.
The police had come to him one day to inform him that he must stop preaching. He listened carefully to what they had to say, but then he informed them that he must obey God rather than man. The next Sunday, he was in Siberia. He was released after eight years, again with orders not to preach. His reply was the same as before.
He preached the following Sunday, was immediately arrested, and was sentenced to another eight years in prison.
After his second release, he was once again cautioned against preaching. Again he replied that he must obey God. Again he preached. Again he was sent to Siberia.
This "small" (he was about 5'3") man had great passion and commitment. Today he's more than eighty years old and bent from the ravages of prison and age. But if you look into his eyes, you can see the fire that still burns in his soul. Such passion and commitment take the one the world calls "ordinary" or "insignificant" and make him great in the kingdom of God. Such were the passion and commitment of a prophet like Isaiah or an evangelist like Paul.
We need that same passion and commitment to the Lord in our daily lives.
At a church I once pastored, I brought in a guest speaker for a series of special meetings, and, like most guest speakers I know, he was passionate about his subject. In the midst of an emotional portion of his message (not to mention loud!), he asked the congregation a series of questions:
"Are Christians people of the Book?"
"Are Christians people of prayer?"
"Are Christians people of worship?"
"Are Christians people of fellowship?"
To all those questions, the congregation replied with hearty "Amens!" But he had an important point to make: "If these things are so, why do so many who say they are Christians live like non-Christians in these areas?"
We often suggest that a person is living like a non-Christian when he's doing certain things or committing particular sins. But this man was showing that, fundamentally, to live as a non-Christian is to neglect disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, worship, and fellowship—the resources God has provided to enable us to live godly lives.
The church needs Christians who are passionate about and committed to their faith and willing to get involved.
THE PASSION OF INVOLVEMENT
"I'm just not the kind of guy who likes to get involved" is a comment I hear regularly. It usually comes from a man who is trying to be honest. He doesn't see himself as an extroverted, high-energy, make-a-big-splash sort of guy. I appreciate his candor, but a closer look may reveal another side of this quiet brother.
The truth is, all of us are aggressive about many things. Do you relate to any of the following?
Politics. The mere mention of the word can set the shyest person off on a tirade about what's right or what's wrong in his country!
Vocation. Here's a great example of involvement. One of our goals as a man is to discover our vocational calling in life and then pursue it with vigor.
Sports. OK, it's a male cliché, but it really is true. I know guys who sit quietly in most other contexts, but put them in a stadium or in front of a television showing their favorite team in action and they nearly climb the walls with the excitement of being involved in the game, not to mention knowing much more than the coach about what their team should be doing.
Music. Want to know how to divide a room quickly? Ask people to clarify their personal tastes in music. This is especially dangerous in a Christian setting. I've seen churches split over the issue of "contemporary music" versus "traditional music." This topic generates plenty of energy passion, and conviction. I just wish it wasn't at the price of unity.
Spiritual growth. OK, I tried to sneak this one past you. Granted, this is not something we normally think of when we consider aggressive, active participation, but I hope I can change your point of view.
Sometimes God uses circumstances or even a tragedy to move us into involvement. On several occasions, I've had the privilege of ministering at St. James Church in Cape Town, South Africa. You may have heard of this great church and its pastor, the Rev. Frank Retief. It has had a powerful impact in South Africa and is known as a church that reaches beyond the barriers of race and culture.
On the night of July 25, 1993, during the evening service, the door next to the stage burst open just as a duet was finishing its ministry in song. A man stood in the doorway in dark clothing, with an R4 automatic weapon in his hands. People were stunned. Was this a drama presentation? Was this man merely a late arriver? Unfortunately, the gunman began spraying bullets across the congregation. The injured screamed and cried out for help. Others dove for cover.
Next, the gunman tossed a grenade that had been taped to a can of nails into the congregation. The explosion sent nails and shrapnel everywhere. Fifty-three people were wounded. A young man lost his life as he covered his two friends to protect them. A young mother of three children was also killed.
Whenever I have the honor of being at St. James, I'm overwhelmed with what God has done through that tragedy. For example, Pastor Retief told me the story of one black man who had been sitting near the front when the attack occurred. As people dove for the floor, he was inadvertently pushed into the aisle. While seeking cover, he felt something hit his back, and he felt his right leg go numb. He said, "That's OK, God. I'll serve You with one leg!" Then he felt something hit his back a second time. This time his left leg went numb. His response? "That's OK, God. I'll serve You with no legs!"
This man sat down in the front pew at the service I was in. He has permanent physical and emotional damage, yet one thing is still true—he is not on the sidelines. He's committed to being a player on the field for the cause of Christ.
What is the common factor arching over all these issues? It's passion. It's the feeling inside us that moves us from the couch to the field. We can be that aggressive, that passionate about spiritual growth, too. It's not too much to ask. God can make it happen.
WARNING: POSSIBLE DANGER AHEAD
A young man was walking home late one night and decided to take a shortcut through a cemetery. In the darkness, he stumbled into an open grave. He yelled for help until his voice grew faint with the strain. No matter how loudly he screamed, no one was there to help him.
He tried climbing out of the grave, but it was too deep a hole. His arms and legs grew weak from exhaustion. Completely worn out, he eventually decided to sit in a corner of the grave, waiting until the cemetery workers showed up in the morning.
A short time later, another guy who had wanted to take a shortcut fell into the same open grave. Just like the first guy, he began screaming for help and trying with all his might—yet without success—to climb out of the grave.
Suddenly, the second guy heard a voice from one of the dark corners of the grave tell him, "You can't get out of here!"
But he did!
It's all about motivation.
Unfortunately, it's possible to be motivated to do the right thing and yet use the wrong method. That's apparently what was happening in the churches in the region known as Galatia in New Testament times. The apostle Paul had to write them in order to correct their methodology. They had adopted a method that has come to be known today as Galatianism.
Simply put, Galatianism is the mistaken belief that we can grow in godliness through legalism—that is, through following a set of rules ("the law"). We can take the good things, the tools and resources of the spiritual disciplines, and bind ourselves into a system of works and law-keeping. As Paul instructed the Galatian believers, however, we don't pursue the spiritual disciplines and growth in godliness through our own efforts, but through the empowerment of God's grace.
Are we law keepers or grace keepers? That's a question worth addressing, because in the long run, it's grace that produces motivation to godly living. The central passage in Galatians that speaks to this issue is at the end of the second chapter:
I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:20-21 NASB)
This passage teaches us four motivating truths about grace.
1. The position we have in Christ. The concept in verse 20 that "I have been crucified with Christ" is extremely important for us to grasp. In the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, the phrase is in the perfect tense, signifying something that happened in the past and continues to have an effect in the present. When we refer to things in the English past tense, it just means something that happened back in time. But the Greek perfect tense in this phrase points to the fact that we were crucified with Christ back at the cross, and we are still, right now, crucified with Christ. Nothing has changed.
The phrase "crucified with" is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to the thieves who were hung with Jesus. What a beautiful illustration, because positionally, in God's eyes, we were there at the cross of Christ, just like those thieves! We have all been, at one moment in time, crucified with Christ. When He died on the cross, we all died there with Him. His death has already been accomplished for all of us. We need to believe that this is our position before God.
In the book of Romans, Paul said it another way: "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:6-7 NIV).
We are freed from sin. Freed means to be justified, declared righteous. Paul was saying that since we're dead, we won't be slaves to sin anymore. We have been delivered from its power. It's powerless in our lives. Do you believe it? It's true, you know. The position we have that we must understand is that we've been crucified with Christ.
Excerpted from The Heart of a Godly Man by E. Glenn Wagner. Copyright © 1997 E. Glenn Wagner. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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