I recall reading a long time ago that when some people asked the late John Stott how he maintained his faithfulness to Christ and his calling, he replied, “daily Bible study and prayer”. I think I remember correctly. For many of us in the evangelical tradition, Bible study and prayer were the two basic spiritual disciplines that helped us abide in Christ, thereby growing and serving (John 15:1–17). In a recent chat with my friend Rob Loane of VantagePoint3, we felt it was time to add one more item to this list of fundamental spiritual disciplines — spiritual friendship.
Jesus calls us to abide in Him (John 15:4); to remain connected to Him. In Him we find life and are empowered to bear fruit that lasts (John 15:16). We must bear in mind that basic spiritual disciplines help us to relationally connect with God.
So we commit ourselves to the study of the Bible. The Emmaus Road passage (Luke 24:13–35) reminds us that the study of the written Word must help us connect with the Living Word. As Jesus and the two disciples journeyed together, Jesus pointed out to them where the Word spoke about Him (Luke 24:27). Studying the written Word must lead to an encounter with the Living Word. It must help us abide in Him.
As for prayer, we are taught about the centrality of prayer by Jesus’ own example (Mark 1:35–39; Luke 6:12–16). It is clear from the Gospels that in prayer Jesus communes with His Father (John 17:1–5). The model prayer He leaves us shows us how we can follow Him by leading us to pray to our Father in heaven (Matt. 6:5–13). We note that we are to pray to “our” Father and not just to “my” Father, a hint that normal Christian life is a life lived in community.
Hence, we come to what we believe to be the third component of basic spiritual disciplines — spiritual friendship. The importance of relationships has been included in previous formulations of the spiritual life, usually as fellowship or community. We would like to suggest the term friendship. As followers of Jesus we are spiritual siblings, brothers and sisters. But friendship spells out how we are meant to relate to one another. Jesus defines for us the heart of friendship — the willingness to give our lives for our friends (John 15:13). He loves us as friends and expects that we love each other as He loves us (John 15:12–15).
Verses like “accept one another as Christ has accepted you” (Rom. 15:7) remind us that we channel Christ to each other. Christ accepts us and we experience that because our friends in Christ accept us. Therefore, following Jesus in the company of friends is another key way we abide in Christ.
As we look ahead to another year, we remember we are called to shine as lights in a dark world (Phil. 2:15). We can do that only as we abide in Christ. And we abide in Christ as we commit ourselves to these three spiritual disciplines:
- Bible study;
- Prayer; and
- Spiritual friendship.