This year we aim to enrich our experience of growing as disciples of Jesus Christ by adding some new elements to our course, while also reshaping some of our existing patterns. We will continue to emphasise Bible Reading, Prayer and Growth Exercises, but with a new opportunity to engage with the work of influential Christian authors and thinkers.
During the month of January, we commence our bible reading in the book of Genesis– with additional readings from Job and Proverbs for those who wish to read every book of the Bible in full throughout the year. Navigation to the Bible Readings (and the whole site) is available at the top of this and every page.
In previous years our ‘Daily Devotional Videos’ have proven very useful as gateways into the text of the Bible, but perhaps they have also limited our engagement with the riches of God’s word: we might only have gone as far as they were able to take us in 10 minutes. This year, instead of ‘headlining’ our GrowingDisciples course as a daily publication, these video ‘snippets’ will now be embedded directly in our Bible Reading program, along with prompts for further reflection. We will still read through the whole Bible in a year, but our week-by-week Devotional material will be shaped around a different Christian book each month.
During the month of January our weekly devotional material is going to be based on J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. Please try to purchase a copy for yourself.
To begin our year of going deep with God, I encourage you to read the excerpt from Knowing Godavailable here.
Growing Disciples offers a step-by-step pathway towards Christian maturity, no matter whereabouts you are up to on your journey of following Jesus. This program is intended as a resource to help us develop in four key areas: bible reading, prayer, community, and practical exercises in growth. Since the days of the early church, Christians have found that each of these activities, together, are used by God to bring growth.
This course is a development of the St Andrew’s Roseville 2020Discipleship program, made available to fellow disciples wherever you may be. What’s new this year? A greater emphasis on both Prayer and Christian Community, with planned opportunities for us to share our insights and experiences (in person, circumstances permitting) as we read the broad sweep of the biblical narrative in a year. Having learned much from our first attempts, we hope to refine and nurture some more ‘growth exercises’ (commonly known as ‘spiritual disciplines’).
Our program of video Daily Devotionals will also see some development. Look out for these to re-launch in late January.
So, welcome to Growing Disciples. Please bookmark this site on your web browser or sign up for email up dates in the box below.
This ‘Growing Disciples’ program is a plan to help us follow Jesus in this way, as his disciples.
“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” So says a crusty old leadership tome on the back of my bookshelf. But the point is a good one, especially when we want to take our living for God seriously. The Lord Jesus has called us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. This is not something that happens casually or without intent. Our life of discipleship is something that we choose. We weigh up the cost, we count ourselves dead to our old life, and then we turn and follow.
Follow. Following means going somewhere. It is a journey. We leave behind somewhere, and we set our path to another place. Our destination. The graphic ‘hiking’ theme of this site reminds us of this truth.
Following also means that there is someone in front of us, someone who treads the path before us– a pioneer, our master. Jesus.
When we choose to be Jesus’ disciples, we embrace each of these truths. We have died to our old selves. We have turned our back on our former allegiances. And instead, we now go the way of Jesus our master.
Being Jesus’ disciples means more than merely doing what we’re told: it also means becoming. It means that we follow Jesus such that we are inwardly changed, such that we become like him. Disciples are transformed by Jesus.
This ‘Growing Disciples’ program is a plan to help us follow Jesus in this way, as his disciples. It seeks to have him change our lives through the course of this year. I look forward to your company as we follow Jesus throughout 2021.
For Centuries Christians have known the power of habits, patterns and structure for living well. The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley reflects some of this wisdom. The following excerpts (in italics) might be helpful for you to consider as you start to form up your own Regula Vitae.
Our lives are formed and governed by a myriad of habits and rituals– daily, weekly, annual– which lie unexamined beneath the surface of our lives. It’s just how we are: some habits are good and some are bad. “… the most alarming part of this is not our bad habits, which we tend to know about. It’s our collective assimilation, which is invisible to us. We have a common problem. By ignoring the ways habits shape us, we’ve assimilated to a hidden rule of life: the American rule of life. This rigorous program of habits forms us in all the anxiety, depression, consumerism, injustice, and vanity that are so typical in the contemporary American life.” (insert your own thoughts about what might constitute a contemporary Australian life!)
And so we would do well to intentionally craft our own Rule of Life.
“What’s a rule of life?” I now know that a “rule of life” is a term for a pattern of communal habits for formation. The most well-known rules of life were originally developed by church fathers and ancient monastics, such as St. Augustine or St. Benedict. But for thousands of years, spiritual communities have been using the frame of the rule of life as a mechanism of communal formation. Despite our understanding of the word “rule,” a “rule of life” is much less about obeying rules than it is about finding communal purpose. For example, while both St. Augustine’s and St. Benedict’s rule have all kinds of tiny habits that we might either consider too inane to matter or too strict to be appropriate, we should notice that both of them had the same goal in mind: love. Both were obsessed with taking the small patterns of life and organizing them towards the big goal of life: to love God and neighbour. St. Augustine’s rule began with this sentence: “Before all things, most dear brothers, we must love God and after Him our neighbor; for these are the principal commands which have been given to us.” St. Benedict’s rule opens declaring that it means to establish “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome,” but goes on to describe walking in God’s commandments as being in the “ineffable sweetness of love.” Both saw habits as the gears by which to direct life toward the purpose of love. In fact, the word rule is used because it comes from the Latin word regula, a word associated with a bar or trellis, the woodwork on which a plant grows. The idea is that we (like plants) are always growing and changing. But when there is no order, growth can take something that was supposed to produce fruit and turn it into a twisted vine of decay.
… Let us see that habits shape the heart. Let us stop fearing that limits are a threat to our freedom. Let us see that the right limitations are the way to the good life. Let us build a trellis for love to grow on. Let us craft a common rule of life for our time, one that will unite our heads and our habits, growing us into the lovers of God and neighbor we were created to be.
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a collection of stories from early Christian Egypt, tells a fascinating tale about structure and rhythms. Anthony of Egypt was a young man who went to live in the harsh desert regions east of the Nile with one simple yet daring goal in mind: to strip away every distraction this world had to offer so he could seek God with his whole heart. Anthony pursued life with God at a level of intensity most of us find difficult to imagine—a pursuit which led to incredible spiritual experiences: visions of Christ, battles with evil spirits, and divine revelations.
Anthony, though, became deeply discouraged, uncertain that all his efforts were really achieving anything. He was still deeply conscious of his sins, still (at times) felt far from God. He turned his anxiety into prayer: “Lord, I want to be made whole by your grace, but this discouragement will not leave me alone. What can I do? How can I be made whole?”
As he finished praying he opened the door of his cell and caught sight of an angel sitting outside patiently weaving reed baskets. After a while the angel set aside his work, stood up, and stretched out his hands to pray. Then when he had finished, he sat down and began weaving again. As Anthony watched from his doorway, the angel turned to him, smiled, and said, “Anthony, just do this—and then you will be made whole.”
To Anthony, the point was immediately clear. The angel did not bring another astounding experience, another revelation or vision. Instead, he modeled a rhythm of living. Work and pray. Work and pray. Just do this and do it this way, quietly and faithfully—and you will find the wholeness of life you seek.