What is the greatest need that the church has? I believe that our greatest need is to draw closer to God. This is always our greatest need.
Well then, how do we do it? In our own history, and in the history of Christianity as a whole, two practices stand out as key elements of spiritual growth: prayer and Bible study. Fasting and meditation have also been important, for they support prayer and study.
Here's a simple way to look at prayer: It shows that we need help and that we consider God the best source of the help we need. In this way our requests give God glory and show him as great and worthy. As we put all significant aspects of life in our prayers, we acknowledge that God is the center of our lives. Related article: Prayer: a cry for help
What do we value?
What's most important in your life? The contrast Jesus made between God and Mammon may offer a helpful illustration. "No one can serve two masters," Jesus said. "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matt. 6:24). Jesus is talking about what we serve, or worship. Some people serve money, he says, but we are to serve God.
What did Jesus mean, to serve money? People often think that money works the other way around, that money exists to serve us, and that we do not "serve" money. But Jesus said that people do serve money — and if we understand how people serve money, we may also come to see one of the ways we are to serve God.
People serve money by saying that it has power. They see money as a source of security, as a source of things they want and need. They work to obtain money, they treasure it, and by their actions they say it is worthy of time and attention. They see money as the key to "the good life," as essential for a quality life-style, as a protector of their future happiness.
But God is the real source of our security, the real source of the things we need for a quality life and happiness. Money will eventually fail us, no matter how much or little we have. It simply cannot give us the eternal goods that God can.
Money has only a temporary power. It lasts only as long as society continues to value it. If people don't want your money, then it is worthless. Like an ancient idol, it has eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear. It promises power but cannot guarantee it. Money is not wrong in itself, but it is wrong to trust in it, or to act as if it has more power than it really has. We need to see beyond it, beyond the temporary nature of this life and this society, and see God as the ultimate source of the things we need and want. In the final analysis, money is to serve him and should be used to glorify him.
How much do we value God? How much time do we use for him, to seek him? How thoroughly is our life-style changed by seeing God as the key to a quality life, the key to real security? Do we treasure him? As John Piper says, God is most praised when he is most prized. When we believe and behave in a way that shows we really value God, then he is praised and given glory. This is one of the ways we serve him, by looking to him as our Provider and Protector, the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Admitting our need
Prayer is an expression of our dependence on God. It is important that we live each day looking at life in this way, in seeing life in relation to God. Each day we need to know that everything good comes from God, whether directly or indirectly. We need to know that all future good also comes from God. It is he who gives us being and gives purpose to our lives; he wants to direct our steps for his eternal purpose and our eternal happiness. The temporary things of this world are being used by him for his eternal plan.
Obviously, we cannot see all the things that God can see. We cannot see the future with the clarity he sees with. We cannot see all the consequences of the things we do or of the things that other people do to us. So as God works in our lives, we need faith in him, in his power, in his goodness, in the certainty of him working all things (even pain and suffering) for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). This requires faith, and faith is one of the key elements of the relationship we need with God.
Prayer is an expression of faith, of reliance on God. Prayer was a constant part of Jesus' life, and a prominent part of the pattern of worship in the early church.
Our need for Scripture
Scripture was also an important part of Jesus' life. We don't know exactly when or how he studied, but it is clear that he knew Scripture well, and that he considered it the ultimate authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Jesus used Scripture as his primary weapon against the temptations of Satan. "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Jesus had high regard for every part of the written Word.
We need more than respect for Scripture — we need Scripture! God caused these books to be written for our instruction and inspiration. They help us know God's love for us, the salvation he gives us in Jesus Christ, and the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. To a certain extent, we can know these things through personal experience, and we should, but we also need Scripture as an impartial check upon our experiences, a standard by which our feelings may be evaluated.
Our attitude toward Scripture is a reflection of our attitude toward God. When we love and value God, we also come to have a greater love and desire for the writings he has inspired for us. Just as we hunger and thirst for God, we desire to learn from him in his word.
But there are many verses that are puzzling, difficult to understand or difficult to apply to our lives thousands of years and thousands of miles removed from the original setting. And we know well that there is much that has been misused, much that continues to be misused. Bible study has sometimes been the foundation of heresy as well as a foundation of truth and faith!
So this should make us cautious — but it should not make us give up altogether. There is much within Scripture that we can understand, and those are the parts we need to focus on. When we are applying the clear verses (such as those commanding humility), we will be better equipped to approach the not-so-clear. But the not-so-clear parts are still there, perhaps to remind us that there is much that we don't know.
Some Christians are put off by Bible study because they imagine that it requires a lot more work that it really does. Perhaps we suffer from the impression that every time we sit down to study we must have three translations, a concordance and a commentary or an encyclopedia, and we must do an exhaustive doctrinal study. That kind of research has its place, but it's certainly not the only approach to learning from God's Word.
A helpful habit
Many Christians find it helpful to get into a daily habit of simply reading the Bible. They may read one or two chapters, think about them, and pray about them. As they proceed through the Bible, they read a wide variety of subjects — something about God one day, something about faith the next, then perhaps something about what God wants us to do. The important thing is to form a good habit, to set ourselves before God in a humble, teachable, obedient frame of mind as we open his Word and let it speak to us.
Devotional literature is often helpful. The Life Application Bible, for example, asks relevant questions about each passage of Scripture. Daily devotionals such as My Utmost for His Highest often get Christians to thinking in a much deeper way than we would on our own. There are many other valuable helps. Those who like to write their thoughts down may find it helpful to keep a simple private journal of their thoughts and reflections as they read the Bible.
The point in all these things is not to trust in our self-discipline, but to trust in God. Our discipline, our habit, is simply a method of submitting to him. People who go day by day without any prayer or study are missing out on the wonderful blessing of being nurtured, encouraged, comforted and transformed as they spend time alone with God.
God is honored when we seek him, when we look to him for guidance in life, when we put all our requests before him, when we trust his power and wisdom in our lives. God is worshiped not just when we give him our material things — he is also worshiped when we give him our requests and ask him our questions. He is worshiped when we spend time with him, centering ourselves on him, letting him straighten out our thinking, forgive our sins, calm our fears and anger, settle our anxiety and renew our courage to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
We have a constant need to draw closer to God — and he has given us wonderful means by which we can do it — primarily through prayer and Bible study. There is no greater joy and no better way to become all God wants us to be than to learn to be alone with God, letting him change us from the inside out.
God bless you, friends. Help each other come to know the joy of being in God's presence. Help one another see that prayer and Bible study are not just chores to "do" so we can fulfill our "duty." Rather, they are a way of letting God conform us to the image of Christ as we "hang out" with him.