Committed to Christ: Six Steps to a Generous Life is a six-week stewardship program that presents giving as a lifelong journey in Christian discipleship.
This Adult Readings and Study Book is designed for use in the six-week small group study that undergirds the program, as well as by others participating in the program. After an introductory Sunday stressing the importance of commitment to Christ, the next six weeks are spent exploring six steps to a generous life:
- Bible Reading
- Financial Giving
With each step, readers are asked to assess prayerfully their own level of commitment and to consider increasing that commitment by one step.
Equal emphasis is placed on each of the six steps, clearly communicating that this program is not simply about money, but rather cultivating a thankful heart that will lead us to giving more than we can ever imagine.
“For a program that focuses on the totality of stewardship, there is none better.”
-Jim Polk, Senior Pastor, El Dorado First United Methodist Church, El Dorado AR
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Let Us Pray
At the age of eighteen I enrolled in Arkansas Tech University. During my first week on campus, a fellow classmate named Craig invited me to join the college choir. My immediate response was, "Oh no. You don't want me. I've never been in a choir." Craig insisted that I try the choir for just one month and would not let me decline the offer.
Something happened during that first month in the college choir. I discovered that if I stood close to Craig — my friend who could read music, my friend who knew when to start singing and when to stop, my friend who could hit the right note every time, my friend the voice major — if I stood close to Craig, then I could sing too!
Something like that happens in church. We are not all mature, deeply devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not all at the same place in that journey. We are not all at the same level of maturity. Some have an amazing prayer life. Others are well-seasoned volunteers with many blisters they received by serving in Jesus' name. Still others have discovered the joy of tithing and double-tithing their financial resources, generously supporting the Sunday offering in worship. By standing close to each other, we find inspiration, courage, and the guidance we need to begin the journey toward Christian maturity. Many of today's prayer warriors, at some point in life, began when their grandmother said, "Hold your hands like this. Close your eyes. Repeat after me: 'Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.'"
This week we begin our journey through Committed to Christ: Six Steps to a Generous Life. In the weeks ahead we will be invited, in a variety of ways, to take one new step in each of six areas of discipleship. We are invited to take these six steps, not to earn our salvation, but rather in response to the salvation we have already received. Today, the invitation is to grow one step in our prayer life.
To grow toward a deeply devoted prayer life, one must pray.
For the past twenty years, I have served as the secretary of the Annual Conference for the United Methodist churches in Arkansas. I have a staff of thirteen who help me during the conference by taking minutes, typing reports, perfecting budgets, insuring that parliamentary procedure is followed, setting up tables and chairs, recording the sessions, and live-streaming on the Internet. At the end of the 20 hours of business meetings, my staff produces a 700-page journal that accurately records all the proceedings and reports from 700 churches. To accomplish this task in three days takes a fair number of computers and electronic equipment.
The technical language used to describe computer capability can be overwhelming. A young sales associate at an electronics store recently said to me, "You've got to see the new computer. I just bought one myself. It's some machine. It has a 2.3 ghz quad-core Intel processor, L3 cache, four gigabites of memory, 8x Super Drive, FaceTime high-definition camera, seventeen-inch display, and stereo speakers with subwoofers. I mean, this is some machine." After this elaborate description I asked, "What are you going to do with that computer?" "Well," he said, "I type my class notes on it."
Today we have more computing power on our PCs than the Apollo astronauts had when they journeyed to the moon and back. And yet, in many homes these amazing tools are used simply to take notes. As followers of Christ, we have an unbelievable resource in prayer: we have the opportunity for a personal relationship with Christ that could transform our lives; we have the opportunity for joy and strength; and we have the invitation to a daily walk with God. And yet, what do we do with this great resource? Far too many of us only send God a short five-second note about once a week. We miss out on all the power of prayer.
During this program, the six steps will help you focus on your spiritual life. The first step is about prayer — how it can transform your life and what it really is all about. It is my hope that as we learn to pray, we can all grow in our own walks with Christ. It is my hope that wherever you are in your prayer life, you will "climb one step" in your life of prayer.
I've got a story for you that is not from the Bible.
Jesus and his twelve disciples were sitting down to eat. Jesus turned to Peter and asked, "Peter, would you say the prayer before we eat?" Everyone bowed his head and Peter prayed out loud:
O existential manifestation of the cosmic force, the ground of our being, and first principle of essential causality: Hear our supplication, O mighty One of the universe. Pour upon all who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, the continual dew of thy blessing, that it may please thee to comfort and relieve their several necessities, giving them a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful. Fulfill now the petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them, for the sake of him who ever-liveth to make intercession for us. Bless O Sovereign these thy gifts before us, that our bodies may be strengthened, in the name of him who made, by his one oblation, a full and sufficient sacrifice. Amen.
Jesus lifted his head, looked at Peter, and asked, "Say what?"
It's a shame, isn't it, how complicated and difficult we've made prayer. It's gotten lost in all kinds of theological technicalities, liturgical formalities, and religious language. It's no wonder today that so many people don't know how to make heads or tails out of prayer. We are surrounded by people who want to have a wonderful relationship with God. But sometimes when they turn to the church and say, "Teach us to pray," they get a response that does not feed their spiritual hunger at all.
Adam Hamilton put it this way: "God offers us an ocean, and we choose a puddle instead." God invites you and me to go deep. God offers to give us the depth of his presence in our lives, the depth of a life filled with joy, and the depth of power and strength in the midst of adversity. Jesus knew those depths. He lived in an ocean of constant communion with God.
Most of us choose not to go deep but to live in the shallow end of life. We choose the puddle instead of the ocean.
Now it's confession time: Some pastors say they pray two hours every day. I cannot imagine doing that. I'm tempted to tell them, "Get busy! Stop goofing off!" I confess that I don't have any slacks that are worn out at the knees from prayer.
My prayer life consists of about fifteen minutes each day. As I drive to work in the morning, I pray that God will help me use my time wisely. When I am responding to a telephone call or standing by a hospital bed, I pray that God will give me the right words to say. Before I go to sleep at night, I review in my mind the prayer cards from last Sunday's offering plate, along with the personal and private concerns I have heard, and I lift those concerns up to God. In all, it's perhaps fifteen minutes a day.
There are times, however, when I step out of the puddle and into the ocean. Sometimes in the evening, around nine o'clock, after my last appointment has ended, I walk into the darkened sanctuary. The only illumination in the room is from the cross on the altar, reflecting the golden lights from the parking lot, and the faint glow of the stained glass windows. I kneel by the altar or sit in the front row. I often find my eyes are filled with tears. Some of the tears are for my own sin and shortcomings. Some of the tears come when I read the prayer cards from Sunday morning, where members have poured out their hearts. In the midst of my tears I sense that God is crying too — that God hears these prayers for broken marriages, broken hopes, broken bodies, and broken dreams. There in the night I'm in the ocean, surrounded by the presence of God.
I have an invitation for you. Move from the puddle to the ocean. Allow God to hold you, and mold you, and empower you.
Committed to Christ begins by inviting you to make a commitment to grow at least one step this year in your prayer life. The program begins with prayer, because if you're going to have a personal relationship with the Lord it is going to begin with prayer.
The words of Jesus in Matthew go right to the heart of what prayer is all about:
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites! They love to stand up and pray in the houses of worship and on the street corners, so that everyone will see them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. (Matthew 6:5–8a GNT)
Let those words soak in a minute: "When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words ..."
Jesus is teaching that prayer is a very natural and simple thing to do — as natural and simple as talking with your best friend, or eating or sleeping or breathing. Prayer is not a complicated and difficult thing to do at all.
I wonder if that is a message you need to hear this morning: that prayer is as simple and natural as talking to a friend. I wonder what kind of a difference that truth might make in your life.
Richard Foster, in his book on prayer, puts it this way:
What I am trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer. So we are brought to the most basic, the most primary form of prayer: Simple Prayer. ... Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health.
And then pay attention to these last few words:
Simple Prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving and compassionate Father. There is no pretense in Simple Prayer. We do not pretend to be more holy, more pure, or more saintly than we actually are. We do not try to conceal our conflicting and contradictory motives from God — or ourselves. And in this posture we pour out our heart to the God who is greater than our heart and who knows all things.
Do you understand what this means? You can have a prayer life too. Whoever you are, however simple and unsophisticated you think you might be, however "out of touch" you might feel when it comes to religious things, this could be the beginning of an absolutely wonderful life for you. You don't have to carry the burdens of your work, family, health, and finances all by yourself anymore. God would love to help you deal with them on a daily basis. God would love to open up for you closed doors and dead-end roads, leading you in a way that is full of promise and joy.
You don't need to lie awake at night, worrying about all your problems. God would love to take that load off your shoulders and let you get a good night's rest, resulting in a peaceful life.
It's a shame that so many of us go it alone in life, isn't it? It's a shame that we try to handle everything all by ourselves. Even if we struggle and fret and worry and get upset, our Lord is close by and more than anything would love to help us, if we would just give the Lord a chance.
I remember clearly the day my father died. He lay on his deathbed in the hospital. Dad knew, Mom knew, the family knew, and the doctors knew that my father would never leave the hospital. The day finally came when Dad was unable to move, smile, or talk. However, he could see, and I could tell by the expression in his eyes that he was aware of me and understood what I was saying.
My mother stepped out of the room for a quick trip to the cafeteria. I knelt by my father's bed and held his hand. Dad and I stared into each other's eyes, and I told him my memories of so many things we had done together. I talked about camping trips, fishing trips, projects we had worked on together when I was growing up, and the way he forgave me when I totaled the family car (twice). I talked about the church building committee we both served on and about how beautiful the worship room would be when the stained glass windows were installed. I told Dad that I loved him. I recited aloud Scriptures that I had memorized, including John 3:16, Romans 8:28, Psalm 23, and John 14.
Holding Dad's hand, looking into his eyes, I prayed out loud:
Dear Jesus, thank you for my Daddy. Thank you for making him such a good father. Thank you for his love, forgiveness, and wisdom. Thank you for his baptism and for forgiving his sins. Thank you for making a home for him in heaven. Lord, as Dad lies here with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven, give him such peace inside that you are in control. Guide him on his journey from earth to heaven. Thank you, Jesus, for never leaving my Daddy alone. Amen.
With tears in my eyes, I reminded my father not to be afraid. I told him that we would be okay. I told him that surely his mother and father were standing at the gates of heaven, waiting anxiously for him. I even suggested that his childhood pet, a little Boston terrier, surely must be standing by their side. I said, "I love you, Dad." My mother returned to the room, kissed him, held his hand, and said, "I love you."
Dad knew we were both there. It wasn't long before his breathing began to slow down. Ten, then seven, then five breaths a minute. Then three breaths, and then he was still.
How different the day of my father's death would have been if I did not believe in prayer. Do you have a prayer life that gives you strength in tough times?
We continue in Matthew 6, where Jesus gives an example of prayer. It's the prayer we have come to call the Lord's Prayer. The form most of us use today is:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
In this prayer there are sixty-seven words. Do you know how many of those words have just one syllable? Fifty! Isn't it interesting that when Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to use one-syllable words?
Prayer, according to Jesus, does not have to be fancy, sophisticated, or impressive. Do you know why? Because God is down-to-earth, loving, and personable, and he wants to have that kind of relationship with you and me. God cares about you!
A few years ago a group of about a dozen young people visited the church where I was pastor. They were members of a youth group from a church that we had helped start in Russia. They came to visit, along with their pastor. As the Russian young people interacted with our local youth group, there were some awkward moments. Then someone found a basketball. Within minutes, Russians and Americans were shooting hoops in our fellowship hall. It was amazing; you couldn't tell "them" from "us."
The mayor stopped by and presented each Russian youth with a T-shirt from the city. As we all stood holding hands in a prayer circle, I remembered what I had thought of Russians growing up. They were the enemy. When I had lived in Houston, Texas, during the Cuban missile crisis, we had nuclear bomb drills. The teacher would have us hide under our school desks, practicing what we would do if the Russian missiles were launched from Cuba. Years later, watching the youth playing basketball together, it dawned on me that even back in the 1960s, praying the "Our Father" included these Russian youth, too. Perhaps, before my eyes, I was seeing God's answer to my parents' nightly prayer for peace.
Have you ever had friends who talked to you only when they wanted something, who acted as if you didn't exist the rest of the time, who warmed up to you when they needed to borrow your class notes or your lawn mower or your money?
Many of us seem to treat God like that. We believe, but we ignore God most of the time. All that changes when we need something and suddenly we pray as if we were close friends of the Lord. These types of prayers are empty, stagnant, lifeless, and stale.
How can we, if we pray so rarely, expect to have a vibrant, thriving relationship with the Lord? As weak as we are — so prone to wander away from God and so prone to distraction — we should be on our knees twenty-three hours a day, just to find the strength to be faithful that one remaining hour of the day.
Excerpted from "Committed To Christ Adult Readings and Study Book"
Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Cheesy Giving? Ed Stetzer,
An Invitation to Follow Christ,
Accepting Christ as Lord and Savior,
Scott J. Jones,
1. Let Us Pray,
Prayer Made Easy Olu Brown,
2. Reading the Bible Daily,
God's Measuring Stick James W. Moore,
3. Let Us Go to the House of the Lord,
Faithful Worship Attendance Rick Bezet,
4. You Shall Be My Witnesses,
An Invitation Bob Pierson,
5. Financial Giving,
You Tithe But ... J. Clif Christopher,
6. Hands-on Service in Jesus' Name,
A Man Named Ernie Minerva G. Carcaño,