For nearly 30 years, my wife and I have been blessed to be involved in financial giving through NCF and a private family foundation. Many Christian ministries have received financial support as the result of how God has blessed us.
But as wonderful as it has been to be able to give financial resources for God’s work, I believe that what I’ve learned, and what I’m giving now is at least equal to what came before. Here’s the story of how disciplined pursuit of discipleship resulted in my giving more as a disciple of Christ.
Becoming a Christian is easy because God does all of the heavy lifting. All that we need to do is accept the free gift of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But does it follow that being a Christian is easy?
I was in my late 30s before I became a Christian. This was in spite of having attended church all of my life. Whether it was a matter of my simply not listening or whether the gospel was not presented, I do not know for certain. What I do know is that the gospel was not presented in a way that was attractive enough to make me want to be a Christian.
Even after becoming a Christian, I struggled with the idea of discipleship, mainly because I had no idea what being a disciple looked like. Again, was it a matter of not listening, or was discipleship not presented? I don’t know. But I do know that growing closer to God requires spending time with him in prayer, worship, and devotion. I knew that early on, but I also knew that the discipline for that to happen was not part of my Christianity. A friend suggested journaling as a way to get closer to God. I tried that and managed to do it two days in a row. The next entry was six months later.
A friend suggested journaling as a way to get closer to God. I tried that and managed to do it two days in a row. The next entry was six months later.
My pastor had written a book on how to develop a time with God. One of his suggestions was to read the 15th chapter of John each day for a month, praying about what God was telling me about the vine and branches chapter. “I can do that,” I thought. I actually did it for two weeks straight.
Then I started to write about what God was teaching me. That was the beginning of my learning the discipline of daily journaling that I’ve now practiced daily for almost a quarter of a century.
Proceeding on from the 15th chapter of John, I made my way through the New Testament, and, at the same time, started at Genesis in the Old Testament. While I was proceeding through the Bible, knowing that something profound was happening in a deeper relationship with God, I did not know why. It wasn’t until I got to James 4:8 that the answer jumped off of the page: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
That is what it says, and I can say without a doubt that was what was happening. As I chose to draw near to God, he responded. And it proceeds into an ever-deepening relationship. I draw closer, he responds; I draw closer, he responds. On and on it goes!
Reading and journaling about a chapter in the Old and New Testaments each day took me through the Bible several times. Then, after a few years at that rate, a friend shared with me some insight from the letters of Madam Jeanne Guyon, a French noblewoman and poet. Her writings led me to the question, “What’s the hurry?”
So I slowed down and now read only one, two, or a few verses each day, rather than zooming through an entire chapter. Now, I do not leave a verse until I am confident I have drawn from it all there is to draw. Some verses actually get several days of journaling.
Drawing ever closer to God through the discipline he develops cannot but lead a person to a deeper faith walk that leads to being who and to doing what God intends. This includes every area of a person’s being, especially in the area of giving what God has given.
Through the finished work of Christ on the cross, I was given life eternally with God, when it is time. Through his resurrection, I was given a new life in Christ that I am to live on this side of eternity. Included in the eternal life on this side of eternity that Jesus talked about in John 17:3, is that I can pursue knowing God the Father and Jesus his Son. But that takes the desire and the discipline to pursue knowing what God has for me to be and to do on this side of eternity in giving what I have been given.
If I want to be Jesus’ disciple ….
Jesus talked a lot about discipleship. What did he say? First of all, it is optional. Jesus said “if’ I want to be His disciple. He did not say, “You must be my disciple.” However, there are certain necessary steps in becoming and being a disciple. All of those steps are rooted in discipline. For me, the discipline of journaling leads me directly into discipleship. In turn, discipleship leads me to give what I have been given.
Of the many things Jesus said about being a disciple, the three I like best were described to me by a friend as “The Jesus Three-Step” – deny self, take up cross (Matthew 16:24), and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Those three steps take discipline. They don’t just happen without choosing for them to happen.
It’s crucial that denying self be the first step. Without that, the other two steps will not occur. Deny self. Get self out of the way so I can focus on God, not me. The second step of taking up my cross is the step of doing what and being who God intends me to be (after I have gotten myself out of his way). That step includes the implicit requirement of taking up the cross, regardless of the cost. The third step is following. Implicit in following is that it occurs wherever God is leading.
None of this discipline will happen without me first being open to what God has for me to hear. For me, this occurs through the discipline of journaling prayers, worship, and devotion. It is writing to God, being silent to hear his response, recording what he says, and acting upon it.
How discipline led to another form of giving
After 20-plus years of the discipline of journaling, I believe God clearly showed me the next step He wanted me to take on giving what he gives. I say it that way because there is no other explanation. I did not intend to do it on my own. Even if I did, I am not capable on my own of doing what he has shown me to do.
In the fall of 2018, I was led to write what I thought was going to be a one-time devotional about a man who becomes a Christian. He doesn’t know what to do after his conversion, so he goes to the train station to get on a train to Glory. The stationmaster tells him that is not what it is all about, but that he is to leave the train station, give away “tickets” to Glory, and tell people what the ticket means for this side of eternity. When he expresses concern about missing the train, the stationmaster responds that he will know when it is time to come back to get on the train. In the meantime, he is to have the discipline of telling people about what discipleship on this side of eternity is all about.
After finishing what I thought was the one-time devotional, I had the opportunity to read it to a Bible study group. With encouragement from that group to write more, I did so. I was further encouraged to start an online daily devotional. That devotional focuses on the discipline of being a disciple walking the road from conversion towards transformation. It is walking towards being a more mature Christian, of doing something on this side of eternity because of the assurance of my salvation in eternity.
That online devotional began in January 2019. As of this writing, I have been able to write more than 400 separate daily devotionals for publication online. And I now have email subscribers who receive it daily – around the world!
Through years of giving financial resources for God’s work, my family and I have always been grateful for God’s allowing us to be involved in giving what he has given us. But, without any doubt, I can say that what I am doing now in giving to all who read what God has taught me through the devotionals is greater reward than I have ever experienced before. I hope that my online journal and what God has given me through it will allow me to give even more to others.
It is a fact that a person cannot be transformed until converted, but helping others go from conversion to transformation is the passion God has given me. That transformation is my aim. I am convinced that the gift of helping with transformation will result in additional gifts for the kingdom in whatever way God is leading those who choose to be disciplined in following wherever he leads.
Read more from the Waiting for the Train blog.