40 Days of Discipline


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 15 – Fasting

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1 – 3)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Today is dedicated to Fasting.  I encourage you to sacrifice at least one meal and spend extra dedicated time focusing on God.  If you are considering a food fast, please take your health into account.

In today’s passage, the Holy Spirit provided very clear directions to the prophets and teachers while they were worshipping and fasting.  As we consider our roles in advancing God’s kingdom, we too need clarity. 

Fasting, of course, is not a bargaining chip to get what we want from God.  Instead, God has elected to use this Discipline as a means of changing our circumstances, and more importantly as a means of changing us. 

Please prayerfully read the passage above. During your time of fasting, ask God for increased clarity with regards to the ways He wants you to participate in the advancement of His kingdom.     

Requests:

  • Please don’t just sacrifice meals without dedicating time for worship and prayer.
  • Please consider sharing any relevant words of encouragement that come to your mind as you fast.
  • Finally, if you feel led, please share any thoughts on how God has called or is calling you to service.


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 14 – Fasting

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”  17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions. (Esther 4:15 – 17)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Today we turn our attention to the Discipline of Fasting.  Tomorrow we will hold our annual day of fasting for all who are able and willing to give up at least one meal and dedicate extra time to focusing on God. 

In the Old Testament book of Esther, the Jews are facing annihilation unless King Xerxes changes a decree he was advised to enact.  Mordecai, Queen Esther’s father by adoption, wants Queen Esther to use her influence with King Xerxes to cancel the decree.  Queen Esther is reluctant to approach the King without invitation because this could result in a death sentence for her.  Mordecai tells her she can’t remain silent and asks her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  A paraphrase of Mordecai’s question could be, if not you, then who?

Our passage for today picks the story up after Queen Esther concludes that she has to follow Mordecai’s instructions, and her response illustrates the importance of fasting.  There are lessons for us as we answer God’s call on our lives and confront inevitable challenges.

Please read the passage above and answer the question below.

Question

What were Esther’s challenges and why do you believe fasting was an appropriate response? 


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 13 – Prayer

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”  Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”  (Nehemiah 2:4 – 5)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

The results of the Prayer poll are in and 60% of you normally maintain an ongoing dialogue with God throughout the day, 20% of you normally follow a schedule and the remaining 20% didn’t think that any of the categories provided described their prayer habits.  I am very grateful for all the responses and my prayer is that wherever each of you are, you keep growing.

As we conclude our review of the Discipline of Prayer, Nehemiah provides a particular lesson that we can all benefit from. While working for God, how diligently do we “check-in” with Him?  Today’s passage demonstrates how much Nehemiah relied on God. 

If we reflect on the passage we studied yesterday, we will recall that Nehemiah literally had spent months praying about the wall before getting the chance to talk to King Artaxerxes. Despite spending all that time in preparatory prayer, when Nehemiah stands before the king and is asked “What is it you want?”, it is interesting what he does.  The Bible describes Nehemiah’s immediate action as follows: “Then I prayed to the God of heaven”.   What a powerful picture of faith and reliance.

Questions

  • Since God already knows what we need before we ask, why is Nehemiah’s approach to prayer important?
  • How does it make you feel to know that God is always available?


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 12 – Prayer

1The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.  “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’  10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”  I was cupbearer to the king.  (Nehemiah 1:1 – 11)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

The book of Nehemiah is rightly known for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.  It is also a great book of prayers and very relevant to our theme.  Nehemiah’s approach to prayer is inspiring and convicting.  Today’s passage captures Nehemiah’s prayer as he contemplates his role in God’s mission to rebuild the wall.  There are some key lessons in the prayer with regards to our communication with God when contemplating our call to action.

Please read the passage above and answer the question below.

 Question

What are the components of Nehemiah’s prayer that resonate with you as you think about your contribution to God’s kingdom?


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 11 – Prayer

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  (Psalm 25:4 – 5)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  (Proverbs 3:5 – 6)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Today we begin a 3-day review of the Discipline of Prayer.  God blessed us richly in our review of the disciplines of Bible Study and Spiritual Warfare last week and I am looking forward to more of the same this week.

Back in the 1960s (yes, I am dating myself), there was a popular TV series called Mission Impossible.  In each episode, a team of secret government agents known as the Impossible Missions (IM) Force would be sent on a daring mission.  They would get their orders from a mysterious government official known as the Secretary.  At the start of each episode, the lead agent would get instructions for the mission via an audio taped message, which would include the following statement:  “As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.  This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds.”  In other words, the IM Force were on their own.

It is comforting to know that when we sign up for God’s service, He doesn’t leave us on our own and He never disowns us.  And, unlike the Secretary, God wants to maintain communication throughout the mission. 

This makes the prayer in our passage from Psalm 25 and the promise from Proverbs 3 very potent.  Like David, we can and should communicate with God every step of the way and like Solomon we can be confident that as we trust God, He will direct us.  “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear.  All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!” (from the hymn, “What a Friend we have in Jesus”).

Question

Even though God is willing and ready to guide us, we often forget to maintain communication with Him.  From your experience, what are some of the reasons why we don’t stay in communication?


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 10 – Review

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  (Psalm 119:105)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Today is dedicated to reviewing what we have learned over the past five days.  This is a good time to catch up on the commentaries if you haven’t had a chance to read them all. 

What can you apply to your life from the discussions related to Bible Study and Spiritual Warfare?

Suggestion

  • Please share any thoughts from your review that you believe others could benefit from. 


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 9 – Spiritual Warfare

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

For those among us who are not sports fans, let me apologize at the outset for the sports analogies in this post.  I am blaming this on the Apostle Paul 😊. 

One of the sad outcomes of Spiritual warfare is unfruitful labour on the part of Christians.  As we saw yesterday, the devil doesn’t want to see believers win.  In our passage for today, the Apostle Paul offers a winning approach that is not always popular – self-discipline. 

We do not know exactly which games Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 9, but from historical records we know a lot about the games at the time of Paul’s writing.  Here is what one of the dignitaries of the day had to say about the games:  “If you have worked hard enough to render yourself worthy of going to Olympia, if you have not been idle or ill-disciplined, then go with confidence; but those who have not trained in this fashion, let them go where they will.” It appears that training hard and being disciplined was a part of the sports culture during Paul’s era.

This provides some context for Paul’s passionate statements and highlights the importance of self-discipline for success in spiritual warfare.  I must emphasize that being disciplined does not mean that you rely on your own strength.  Reliance on God is essential, and we also have our part to play.    

Please read the passage above and consider the question below.

Question

What is Paul’s motivation for being so disciplined and why is his motivation important?


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 8 – Spiritual Warfare

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1 – 3)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Yesterday’s commentaries related to the Discipline of Bible Study provided some superb testimonies.  I strongly encourage you to read them if you haven’t done so yet. Thank you very much to all who shared!

Today we turn our attention to the Discipline of Spiritual Warfare.   When we decide to work in God’s army the one thing we can be assured of is opposition.  Here are just a few Biblical examples:

  • Moses opposed by Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8)
  • Nehemiah opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah (Nehemiah 4)
  • Jesus opposed by Satan (Matthew 4:1 – 11)
  • The Apostle Paul opposed by Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18)

Sometimes spiritual warfare doesn’t show up as an external adversary.  There are also internal battles that have the potential to blow us off course.  The story of Jonah in our passage for the day is a good case in point.  God issued clear instructions to Jonah.  Yet, instead of heading to Nineveh as God instructed, Jonah heads to Tarshish, which is thousands of miles away from Nineveh.

Please read the passage above and consider the question below.

Question

What are some key pitfalls (external or internal) we should be mindful of that run counter to God’s direction?


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 7 – Bible Study

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23 – 24)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

The survey results are in from our Bible study poll.  70% of our respondents consistently participate in Bible studies, 20% rarely participate and 10% occasionally participate.  Thanks for the honest feedback!  Let’s all prayerfully consider how we can learn from each other to improve – all for God’s glory.

As we conclude our consideration of the Discipline of Bible Study, let’s focus on an important but sometimes overlooked role that Bible study plays.  Most of us will have encountered individuals who are excellent at accomplishing tasks but the way they get things done leaves a lot to be desired.  Examples exist in our work environment, in public life and yes, even in the church.  We are likely guilty ourselves at times. 

God is not only concerned about what gets done but how things get done.  His standards for the way we must execute our tasks for Him are very high, and Bible study keeps us in tune with His standards.

Request

Can you share a circumstance where your awareness of God’s standards impacted your attitude in carrying out a challenging task? 


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40 Days of Discipline: Day 6 – Bible Study

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Theme:  If not You, then Who?

Yesterday, we explored how important Bible study is to us getting direction from God even if we don’t get direction for specific tasks.  Today we will turn our attention to the topic of diligence in study.  While frequency of Bible Study is crucial, what also matters is how we study.  We don’t all have to be seminary students, but we can all be diligent in our study. 

Have you ever wanted to know what path to choose and hoped that you could just open the Bible and find the answer?  This can be characterized as the “direction without diligence” approach, which is consistent with our microwave society.  I know I have been guilty of this approach. 

Of course, God can and does provide direction in a variety of manners, but our passage for today recommends the “boring” path of diligence.  How often do we miss out on God’s marching orders because we are not being diligent in Bible study? 

Please read the passage above and consider the question below.

Questions:

  • Do you study the Bible diligently (pray, take notes, review, seek help, put into practice, etc.)?
  • What are some of your most effective Bible Study practices?