A leader’s effectiveness in ministry is not so much measured on the basis of their skills or knowledge but by the depth of their spiritual vitality. The Bible is filled with examples of leaders’ failures, because they neglected to cultivate a deep, transforming relationship with God. King Saul is a classic example of how easily other things take priority in our lives. God tells King Saul: … “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, NLT)
Spiritual vitality must be cultivated through intentional spiritual disciplines that produce deep, living and transforming relationship with God.
In the past three years, I have been practicing four transformational spiritual disciplines that have revolutionized the quality of my relationship with God. These spiritual disciplines do not replace the traditional disciplines such as prayer, fasting, meditation, and submission. On the contrary, I have discovered that, when practicing these transformational disciplines, the motivation for and benefits of the other disciplines increase.
First, practice of the presence of God.
If it is true that God is omnipresent, meaning he is everywhere at the same time, we should always be able to perceive his presence in our lives. Unfortunately, this is not our reality. Neither was this the reality for the disciples.
One night, after Jesus had died and resurrected, there were two disciples on their way to a town called Emmaus. In Luke 24:13-35, we read that these disciples were so worried that, when Jesus himself approached them, walked with them, and talked with them, they did not recognize him. It was not until Jesus broke bread (a familiar act) that they realized who he was.
The truth is that we are only accustomed to recognizing the presence of God in familiar places and moments. The goal of practicing the presence of God is to learn to recognize God in all times and places. As I started recognizing God’s presence in my car when I drove, for example, his presence and the conversations I had with him became so real to me that sometimes I even missed my exit on the highway!
Second, recognize the lordship of God.
I have a high opinion of God’s sovereignty, because the Bible has hundreds of passages that speak of this concept. Even though the Book of Revelation describes Jesus as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 17:14), I still struggle with immediate obedience. I identify more with Jonah, who said no to God, and then after some struggles in his life, had to say yes. Jesus is not only my savior but also the Lord of lords. Therefore, he deserves to be obeyed.
It’s essential to remember God’s love when practicing this discipline. I had to recognize that Jesus already gave me proof of his love for me on the cross. Whenever he asks me to do something, then, he does it for my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Third, read and actually apply the Bible.
In ministry, pastors learn the art of using the Bible to speak to others. After all, that is their job. I remember a conversation I had with a pastor friend, who told me, "How I would love for the Bible to stop being my work instrument and become the instrument of my transformation!"
To begin applying the Bible, I asked four questions when reading the text:
What is God teaching me in this text?
What false teaching or thinking does it correct?
What area of my life does God want me to change through this text?
How does God want me to apply this Scripture to my life?
I am ashamed to admit it, but in the first week of practicing this discipline, I cried bitterly. I realized that the Bible had become a work instrument for me just as it had for my friend. I had not been letting it transform my life.
Fourth, learn to hear God in prayer.
Instead of merely talking to God in prayer, we must learn to listen to the heart of God. God speaks to us all the time, through his word, nature, people, and many other ways. Yet, Jesus had to admonish those who heard his words to "be careful how to hear" (Luke 8:18). Learning to hear is learning to meditate on his word, to discover the will of God, and to know how to pray in a way that conforms my heart to his will.
If you want to know more about these disciplines, I highly encourage you to read William A Beckham’s book 70: Jesus Expansion Strategy. Also Campo Londono, UBA’s Hispanic consultant has developed an organic training institute to help you practice these disciplines in the context of discipleship. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get dates and times of the next Organic Biblical Institute.