“We ought to begin our quiet time with the heartfelt prayer, ‘Lord, You must enable me to worship You and commune with You today. Without You my mind is dead and my heart is stone.'” (Jerry Bridges, True Fellowship, 41)
Facing a difficult month where the flesh seemed to pull at me from all directions, I needed something pointed, something that with spiritual intensity could help re-set my sights on the most important things in life. It’s no shock to me that the first place I turned was to Jerry Bridges, the most down-to-earth, plain-Jane, thought-provoking Christian writer the Church has seen in a long time. If you’ve never read him, pick up any of his books; you won’t be disappointed.
The purpose of this particular book is “Christian fellowship”—not simply the social activities we usually associate with church functions, for “fellowship [koinonia] as it is described for us in the Bible, is so much more than Christian social activity.” (15) Instead, Bridges takes his readers on a journey through the New Testament and every usage of this Greek word, translated sometimes as “fellowship,” and others as “sharing” or “partnership” or other such words, depending on the translation. He divulges that biblical fellowship starts first with our relationship to Christ, and then stems to our innate relationships with all believers everywhere, both in our objective union as members of the same Body, and in our subjective communion (or fellowship) as people who are to be genuinely interested in the welfare of our fellow-members (26). As Bridges states early on: “If we are to regain the New Testament concept of fellowship, we must learn to get beyond the temporal issues of the day and begin to share with each other on a level that will enhance our spiritual relationships with one another and with God.” (20)
Knowing exactly what I needed at the time (a renewed understanding of the gravity of fleshly living and a return to a passionate relationship with Christ), I was overjoyed to see that Bridges’ earliest chapters deal with exactly these issues, for only when my vertical relationship with God is healthy can my horizontal relationships regain the strength they’re meant to have. As a result of internalizing the truths he brings out in Chapters 2-3 (“Union with God” and “Communion with God”), I’ve already seen much improvement in how I relate to my fellow believers, most specifically my wife, because I’ve gotten that better understanding of Vine-branch relationship with Christ. I couldn’t thank Bridges enough for such help.
Two specific points stood out to me in my time of need, both his section on “Four ways to live” (p.35-40) and his section on beginning the day with “intense organized prayer” (p.49). Regarding the “Four ways to live,” the first three ways a Christian can live are these: 1) living life under my own power (which may result in apparent success, but will always lack the fruit of the Spirit); 2) going to the opposite extreme by living life expecting Jesus to do it all, since apart from Him, I can do nothing; and 3) praying “Lord, help me,” because I believe I can live much of this life on my own, but I still need His help to finish a job or to complete a task more perfectly. Now, admittedly, haven’t you tried those first two way at times? And then, after finding them wanting, haven’t you settled perpetually on that third way? What a difficult life we unwittingly lead, when we try to meet our Savior half-way like this! For the fourth way is the true plan Christ has for us, and that is abiding in Christ as John 15:5 teaches, by praying “Lord, enable me” instead of simply “Lord, help me.” To all appearances, it will seem that I’m doing everything in my life on my own, because I am! But only because Christ has given me all the strength to do it (Phil 4:13).
Regarding Bridges’ section on morning prayer, he writes: “Intense, organized prayer alone with God in the morning prepares us to breathe those quick, silent prayers that are needed so often throughout the day” (49), and what a revitalizing thought this has been for me! No wonder I find it hard to converse with God at odd times throughout the day. No wonder “pray without ceasing” seems like a near-impossible attitude to live with all day long. Unless my morning prayers are intentional and organized, my prayers throughout the day have no hope of being anything more than sporadic. This is nothing new—after all, David stated the same long ago (Psalm 5:3) and Jesus Himself has been our example (Mark 1:35)—but it sure has been a refreshing reminder for me.
Many other little nuggets in this book have helped me reset my sights on the most important things in life, but I’ll let you find them out yourself. Again, you can find such refreshment in anything that Jerry Bridges has published through NavPress (i.e. The Practice of Godliness, The Discipline of Grace, The Chase, The Gospel for Real Life, Respectable Sins), and I encourage you to check him out.