What is the best way to grow spiritually as a Christian?
CHARLES: I feel like the temptation is to find some exotic answer, but the two pillars of the Christian faith are prayer and the ministry of the Word. If you were to ask me about Christian ministry, I would say the same thing: prayer and Scripture intake.
Psalm 1 comes to my mind. The psalmist begins the Psalms by offering you a blessed life, and that blessed life is rooted in the Word of God: “One who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night” (Ps. 1:2).
Prayer is one of the neglected resources of the Christian life. In Hebrews 4, we are told that we have, in the Lord Jesus Christ, a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. He is not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. He has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. And because of our high priest and His finished work, we can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:14–16).
I don’t think we understand the remarkable privilege that prayer is. It is not some burdensome duty to obey; it is a wonderful privilege to enjoy. Prayer brings its rewards because God answers prayer, but communion with God in prayer, in thanksgiving, in confession, and in intercession also brings its own reward.
Prayer alongside the Word of God that is a lamp to our feet and a light for our pathway (Ps. 119:105) are the fundamental means. Anything else would be the things you add on, to supplement, to build on, to develop, but the core has to start with prayer and Scripture.
BINGHAM: How would you encourage someone who comes to you and says, “I’m struggling to pray,” or “I’m struggling in trying to be faithful in reading the Scriptures,” knowing that those two things are so vital? How would you speak to them?
CHARLES: I think there ought to be an awkwardness or a struggle to this. I am nervous when people talk too comfortably about prayer, as if it is similar to the conversation you and I are having here. There should be this sense that we are having an audience with the living God. The struggle is a healthy thing because it reflects the significance of prayer and Scripture that the world, the flesh, and the devil come against these fundamental things.
We can read social media and get lost in it for an extended period of time but get bored when we start reading a chapter from the Bible. We could talk to our friends about our problem for an hour but get sleepy on the second line in the Lord’s Prayer. There is a spiritual warfare because the enemy of our souls would have us come against him with puny weapons rather than the power of God’s Word and the power of prayer.
One of the reasons that prayer and Scripture intake are a struggle is because these are spiritual disciplines. If you have not been in the gym, you don’t just go to the gym and pick up the biggest weights. It is as you are in the gym day in and day out, regularly doing the reps, that muscle develops and strength grows. It seems like a crude answer, but some people find it hard to pray because we don’t pray, and we find it hard to read the Bible because we don’t read the Bible. Prayer and Scripture intake are acquired tastes. An appetite is developed for the Word of God the more you feed on it.
First Peter 2 says something interesting. It says, “Lay aside all malice and deceit, envy, hypocrisy, and slander. As newborn infants, crave the pure spiritual milk of the Word that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1). But he first says that there are things you need to get rid of as well, which suggests that if my heart’s attitude toward the Word of God is not what it should be, it will ruin my appetite for the Word and toward prayer.
Another key to overcoming those struggles is the simple prayer of Psalm 19:14, to keep asking God, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.”
This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with H.B. Charles Jr. and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.