What are "faith practices"? They are God-shaped activities that help us grow into a spiritually-healthy, genuine way of life. As the Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said, "Christianity cannot simply be a doctrine to be taught, but a life to be lived." "Faith practices" are found throughout Scripture, and are lived out by us in the world. For those who want to become a part of the way of life called “Christian,” these faith practices describe the kind of attitudes and actions that make up that life. They identify us as a people who walk with God.
The practice of prayer is the way we most intimately seek a living, breathing relationship with God. Prayer can be private or public, ritualized or conversational, silent or out loud, spoken or sung, simple or profound. Through prayer, God’s will is discerned and greater clarity is gained for our journey. Through prayer, God’s creative, redeeming, and healing power is directed. Jesus modeled the power and importance of embracing a prayerful posture toward all our moments of daily life. Throughout the Gospels, we read how Jesus “went up to a mountain to pray” or “knelt down and prayed” or “continued all night in prayer.” As Jesus prayed, he gained a clearer sense of who he was (his identity) and what he was to do (his mission). Whatever the opportunity or challenge, Jesus held it before the Father in prayer. This practice of prayer, both frequent and regular, both public and private, is key to our lives as followers of Jesus.
Worship is the practice of “stepping away” from the pattern and press of ordinary life to intentionally approach and love God. In doing so, a person of God gains a deeper understanding and experience of the majesty, mercy and mystery of God. In worship, we praise God for being God, we glorify God for being our God. And while it is true that we can “step away” at any point in our day to honor God in a whole variety of ways, we also know that our own participation in corporate worship within the context of a congregation is vital to our own well-being as a people of God. Regularly gathering together with other Christ-followers to receive both Word and Sacrament is central to the life of a faith-practicing Christian.
Studying / Reading
The habit of regularly reading the Bible, as well as other devotional books, is another way in which we practice loving and knowing God. This is done through personal Bible reading, through the intentional family devotions, in small groups, and through even larger gatherings. In our reading, meditating upon, and our study of Scripture, the living Word of God becomes alive and active in our own living. The words of Jesus, the teachings of the prophets and apostles, and the stories of God’s people reveal God’s heart and hope for the world and for each one of us. The Holy Spirit inspires us through Scripture to see ourselves as we are, and also as God would have us become. Through our reading of the Bible, we come to better understand how God works in the world, for the world, and through people like us.
When the prophet Micah told the people of his day and time how to practice faith, he told them to do justice and to love mercy (Micah 6:8). When Jesus was asked about ultimate matters, part of his response was “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Practicing justice and doing acts of mercy and service put our own flesh upon God’s love. Caring for others in Jesus’ name in active, tangible ways incarnates Christ’s presence and heart to others, it helps those we serve in places where they truly hurt and have need, and it is a witness to those who are watching from the sidelines about the real integrity and heart of Jesus’ followers. Jesus didn’t only address the spiritual needs of the people he met. His was a very real, hands-on ministry that addressed human needs for health, wholeness, and inclusion. Let this be our goal and practice to also serve as Jesus served.
Inherent to our journey of discipleship is the ongoing call to grow and mature in faith. Growth in faith happens as we are mentored, as well as when we mentor and encourage others. Christian education is the more formal way in which we are discipled in our faith, but supportive, mentoring relationships are just as necessary for the building of faith among us. Encouragement happens between more seasoned disciples and those who are still growing, between friends at similar points in their faith journeys, and between teachers and congregational leaders and students of the faith. In this process of exchange, it is not only the learner who grows, but also the one who leads and teaches. The maturing disciple knows he or she is never finished, that the path of discipleship continues to the day we exchange this life for the next.
Our own experience of God’s loving touch upon our lives is a gift that we, as Christ-followers, feel compelled to share with others. Our own words of witness and acts of genuine hospitality offered to friends, to relatives, and to neighbors create countless opportunities for the Holy Spirit to bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ and his Church. The biblical model for what we often call "evangelism" is actually rather simple, and it's always relational: friends bring friends to Jesus. “Come and see” are the operative words and have their roots in the Gospels (John 1:46) and in the stories of the early church. May our goal and practice be to also engage in such frequent faithful conversations, inviting others into that closer walk with God and into the life and mission of the church.
Giving Maturing disciples know that everything belongs to God, and that we are merely caretakers and managers of what we often call "our own". In response to God’s movement in our lives, and in thanksgiving for all that God places in our lives, we learn to give of ourselves and of what we have. We learn the amazing truth and wisdom that the more we give, the less we need; and the more we trust God to provide, indeed God does. God blesses us abundantly, and as growing disciples, we seek to continually find ways to unpack and use all those gifts for the sake of Jesus, and for the sake of the world. Knowing God has entrusted all of us with various abilities and resources, we ask, “How can we use these gifts to love God?” Thus we do not waste time striving to be rich in things, but to be rich in God.