Bible Insights

Saul Squanders What God Gives Him

Even If God Sets Us Up for Success, We’ll Fail If We Don’t Obey Him

God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, ask for a king. This isn’t what God wants, but he gives them what they request. He gives them a king.

At God’s direction, Samuel anoints Saul as king, appointing him ruler over God’s people and their nation.

To prove this is God’s doing, Samuel makes three prophetic promises to confirm that God’s hand is in this. They all happen.

The final one is that the Holy Spirit will empower Saul, and he will prophesy. Then God will change him into a different person, presumably a person ready to lead well and keep them focused on God.

The Holy Spirit does indeed come upon Saul, he prophesies, and his heart changes. Samuel presents Saul to the people with the confirmation that there is no one like him in the entire nation.

This means Saul is unique and equipped to be king, Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:1, 6, 9, 24).

God gives Saul a promising start. He’s poised to lead well. But despite God’s provision. Saul squanders what God gave him.

Instead of trusting God and instead of doing what Samuel—Saul’s spiritual guide—tells him to do, he worries and grows impatient.

He ignores Samuel’s instructions, and even worse, he disobeys God’s law.

And it only takes a few chapters in 1 Samuel for this to occur. Saul repeatedly shows he’s not the man God wants as king. By the time we get to chapter 15, God has enough of the disobedient king.

God tells Samuel, “I’m distressed I made Saul king.

He’s not following me anymore and doesn’t do what I say” (1 Samuel 15:10-11). Later Samuel confronts Saul and tells him that because he rejected God’s words, that God rejects him as king (1 Samuel 15:23).

Though Saul had a great start as king and was positioned to be a great one, his lack of trust in God and disobedience causes his downfall. Despite what God gave him, Saul squanders God’s favor and doesn’t finish well.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 8-10, and today’s post is on 1 Samuel 10:1, 6, 9, 24.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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Visiting Churches

How It All Began: A Holy Spirit Prompting

An Introduction to 52 Churches

“Where do you go to church?”

Oh, how I dread that question.

It isn’t that I don’t go to church or am too embarrassed to answer. Instead, my frustration comes from the scowls I receive as I fumble through my reply. No matter what I say, I cause confusion.

This question about church attendance comes from clients at the local food pantry, where I volunteer. The pantry is a community effort started by local businesses, service organizations, and churches.

Now staffed mostly by church members, church attendance is a common topic of our patrons.

I serve as the point person for the clients. I explain our process, guide them through the paperwork, and match them with a volunteer to help them shop. As we move through these steps, we often chat.

This is when the awful question about where I go to church comes up.

The problem is that I don’t attend any of the churches that support the pantry. Instead, my wife, Candy, and I drive some fifteen miles to a church in another community.

Though I long to worship God in the community where we live, he has sent me to one further away and less convenient.

Sometimes I explain all this, but the clients’ eyes glaze over, either in boredom or bewilderment. Other times I only share the name of our church, but no one recognizes it.

Since it’s not a typical church name, they wonder if I’m kidding. Occasionally, I change the subject, but they don’t like that either.

Eventually, I realize they ask because they’re looking for a church.

Sure, some people are being polite, others feel obligated to ask—since nearly all our volunteers go to church, and a few want to label me based on my church affiliation. But most of them just want to find a spiritual community to plug into.

The pantry’s mandate is to serve residents of our local school district, which has ten churches within its borders. I don’t know a thing about some of them.

I know a little bit about each of the five churches involved with the pantry, but I don’t know enough to answer folks’ questions or direct them to the best match for their needs and background.

What if I visited all ten? Then I could better help clients who were looking for a church.

Yet, it isn’t that simple. What about churches just outside the school district? Should I consider nearby congregations too?

In addition to the ten within our school district, five more are a few miles to the southwest, twenty-one to the west, and scores more to the east.

A Lifelong Practice

All my life, I’ve gone to church. This has been a regular practice, pursued with dogged determination.

Yet, in considering the churches I’ve attended—first with my parents, next by myself, and then with my family—our church of choice was seldom the nearest one.

Why don’t we go to church where we live? This is a deep desire of my heart: to live, worship, and serve in the same community.

In addition to being practical in terms of time, effort, and cost, worshiping locally would also provide more opportunity to connect with and form a faith community in our geographic community, not somebody else’s.

Another perplexing question is wondering why each of our church-attending neighbors goes to a different one.

I long to worship God with my neighbors. Are the forms of our faith so different that we can’t go to church together? The answer should be “no,” but the evidence proves otherwise.

My hunch is that each possible church opportunity offers a fresh perspective of pursuing God or perhaps a different understanding of what it means to worship him.

If I can learn from each one, my comprehension of the God I love will grow and my understanding of worshiping him will be enhanced.

These reasons propel me forward, to undertake my unconventional faith journey of visiting different churches.

This isn’t the first time I wondered about the practices of other churches.

My grandmother went to a Baptist church. It was so different from the mainline one I attended that as a young child I thought she was a borderline heathen or perhaps part of a cult.

I was even more concerned about the girl next door, my only consistent friend for the first ten years of my life. She went with her family to a Roman Catholic parish and attended a parochial school.

Based on misinformation from people who didn’t understand Catholicism—or perhaps didn’t care to—I was convinced she was on her way to hell. She likely thought the same thing about me. I assumed I was on the side of right, and she, on the side of wrong.

The idea that we could both be right was beyond my comprehension. I even wondered how I might convert her to my church practices, not knowing we both looked to the same God, just in different ways.

When my family moved, my exposure to Catholics increased. In middle school art class, where the teacher had no clue what went on in her room, some classmates started arguing about Purgatory when we were supposed to be making art.

A group of us ditched our projects to debate the issue. We aligned our teams on opposite sides of a rectangular table. We stared at each other until I framed why we sat there glaring at each other. “Is there Purgatory?”

“Yes,” answered the other side of the table.

“No,” came the retort from my side.

No one said anything more. We each had our opinions, but we lacked support.

The debate ended without any discussion and without a winner. We slunk away from the table.

It bothered me that I couldn’t defend my unexamined position and that I learned nothing about Purgatory. How could Christians—who all claim to follow Jesus—hold such polarized opinions over the same faith?

The Same Team

I was a voracious reader, and my grandmother kept me supplied with a steady flow of books, all from a Baptist perspective.

This influenced me significantly during my formative years, causing me to wrestle greatly in attempting to reconcile a traditional Christian mindset with evangelical teaching.

Later, I discovered the Holy Spirit—the third part of the Trinity that mainline and conservative Christians downplay, sometimes even dismiss. I immersed myself in a pursuit of the charismatic.

We’re all on the same team, I lamented. Why can’t we get along?

This so vexed me that, years later, when it came time to select my dissertation topic I had no hesitation. I chose Christian unity.

My imperative need to learn why we were different and to advocate Christian harmony became even more urgent as I studied Jesus’s prayer in John 17, which he uttered just prior to his capture and execution.

With an agonizing death only hours away, Jesus took time to pray. His final request was that all his future followers would get along. He knew the impact of his sacrifice would be lessened if those who later professed to follow him lived in conflict with each other.

Now, with my dissertation complete, I have a theoretical understanding of the need for unity.

Despite that, I lack the practical knowledge of how the different streams of Protestants express their faith and worship God. And I’m completely ignorant about the rest of Christianity.

A Holy Spirit Prompting

As I wonder what to do with my idea of visiting area churches to better inform myself and help the food pantry clients, God prompts me to pursue a grander vision.

At his leading, I plan an unconventional faith journey, one of adventure and discovery: to learn what he would show me by visiting a different Christian church every Sunday for a year. I eventually call my sojourn “52 Churches.”

Oh, how this vision resonates with me. All my life I’ve yearned for more, spiritually. More from church, more from its community, and more from our common faith.

I’ve searched for answers, answers to impertinent questions I can sometimes barely articulate.

Yet something deep inside compels me to ask them, even though I confound others every time I do. A primal urge forces me to reach for this spiritual “more,” one I know to exist, as surely as I know my own name.

I dare to extend my arms toward God and have the audacity to expect him to reciprocate, perhaps even touching the tip of my outstretched fingers.

We’re content to drink Kool-Aid when God offers us wine. (This is an unlikely metaphor for me to use since I don’t drink alcohol—except for the occasional communion service that serves it.) Yes, there is more.

So much more. I’m desperate to discover it—and visiting fifty-two churches offers the potential to uncover more—or at least get me closer. This is something I must do. For me, this is no longer an option but a requirement.

My faith demands it. My spiritual sanity requires it.

This adventure earns the support of my wife and willing accomplice; my pastor, who encourages me to move forward; and my fellow elders who, after initial apprehension, support me, even anticipating what I will learn and share.

This isn’t a church-shopping romp, looking for a perfect faith community. Instead, I seek to broaden my understanding of God, church, and faith by experiencing different spiritual practices.

To do this, Candy and I will take a one-year sabbatical from our home church, intent on returning, armed with a greater understanding of how to better connect with the God we love, worship, and serve.

Yet I realize God might have other plans. He could tell us to join one of the churches we visit. He might instruct us to extend our quest or end it early.

He could fundamentally change our understanding of church and our role in it. Or perhaps things might work out as we plan, with us simply returning to our home church, one year later, better equipped to worship and serve.

Along the way, I suspect each church will show us a different approach to encountering God. I’m determined to learn what I can each week to increase my comprehension of him and enhance my worship.

I want to expand my understanding of our common faith, and I expect to boost my appreciation for the diversity of the local branches of Jesus’s church.

Whatever the outcome, I know God will teach us much, and I intend to come back well-armed with helpful information for the clients at the food pantry.

As I tell close friends about my plan—actually, it’s God’s plan—many resonate with it. This isn’t just a journey for me but for us all, albeit vicariously for most. This isn’t one man’s narcissistic pursuit.

It is an adventure for all who sense a need for more.

  • To those disenfranchised with church: This is a journey of hope and rediscovery. Don’t give up on church. God has a place in it for you. Yes, church can be messy at times, and the easy reaction is to give up.

    Maybe church left you disappointed, or her members hurt you beyond comprehension, but there are many people, at many churches, ready to offer love and extend acceptance.

    Don’t let a bad incident, or two, cause you to miss a lifetime of spiritual connection with others. I pray this book will call you back to Christian community.
  • To spiritual seekers: You have a place in God’s family. I’ll share fifty-two ways to expand your perspective. Diligently seek God as you explore churches, and you will find him. But don’t shop for a church as a consumer.

    Instead, travel as a pilgrim on a faith journey, seeking fellow sojourners to walk beside you. I pray the end of this story will mark the beginning of yours.
  • To the inquisitive: The church of Jesus is bigger, broader, and vaster than most of us have ever considered. Here, I share fifty-two reasons why, fifty-two variations of one theme.

    I pray you will begin to ask brave questions about church practices, explore fresh ways to worship God, and accept those who hold different understandings.
  • To church leaders: I offer a narrative to help you reach out more effectively, embrace more fully, and love more completely.

    You’re sure to catch glimpses of your church reflected on these pages, with anecdotes that will cause you to smile—and to groan—with each impression offering insight to those willing to accept it.

    May this book serve as your primer to celebrate what you do well and improve what you could do better. I pray this will mark a new beginning for your local branch of Jesus’s church.
  • To advocates of Christian unity: We’re part of the church Jesus began. It’s time everyone embraces this reality.

    I pray this account will encourage you to pursue greater unity in Jesus, to help churches in your area work together for God’s glory, so that everyone will know the Father, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:20–26).

    Another word for Christian unity is ecumenical: Of or relating to the worldwide Christian church.
52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

My Wife Joins Me on This Adventure

Candy compiles a list of churches within ten miles of our home. She initially identifies fifty-seven, but we keep discovering more. Our file eventually balloons to ninety churches located within a ten-mile drive.

Not on the list is our own church, an outlier congregation that is part of a small mainline denomination, even though many assume we’re nondenominational—because that’s how we act.

God told me to help start this church. He called me to go there. Despite aching to attend church closer to home, he hasn’t released me to do so.

To realize the most from our sojourn, we form a plan. We’ll visit those churches nearest our home first, picking them in order of driving distance.

Toward the end of our journey, we’ll choose other churches from the remaining list, visiting those most different from our norm. Making the list is the easy part.

Next, we set some guidelines. Each week, we’ll check their website, hoping to learn about them before our visit so we can more fully embrace our time there.

Still, knowing that websites are sometimes out-of-date, we’ll email or call to verify service times. (Candy faithfully handled this every week for the entire year.)

If there are multiple meetings, we’ll go to the later one, since second services, which usually have a higher attendance, possess more energy, and lack time constraints.

We’ll dress casually, as we normally do, for church. For me this means a T-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes in the summer and a casual shirt, jeans, and boots in the winter.

This is practical because my wardrobe best allows it. It will also help because casual attire is what a non-churched visitor would likely wear.

Though I don’t want to come off as an unchurched outsider, I’ll learn more if they don’t view me as a conformed insider.

We agree to go along with any visitor rituals, but we’ll do nothing to imply we might come back or consider joining their community. If they want to give us literature or welcome gifts, we’ll graciously accept them.

When asked why we’re visiting, we’ll be honest, saying we’re seeking to expand our understanding of worshiping God by visiting area churches—but we aren’t looking to join one.

Also, we’ll avoid showing up at the last minute, instead aiming to arrive ten minutes early. This will allow for possible pre-church interaction.

Afterward, we’ll look for opportunities to talk with people and will stay for any after-church activities—except Sunday school.

This is because the original purpose of Sunday school was to teach poor children how to read. By the time public schools took over this task, Sunday school had become an institution and continued as an expected requirement.

At most churches Sunday school is now little more than an obligatory expectation, where frustrated faculty seek to fill time that antsy children strive to avoid.

Too many Sunday school programs bore their students and effectively teach kids that faith is boring.

However, aside from Sunday school, as we visit churches, we’ll do our best to be open and approachable, interacting with others any way we can.

Perhaps most important, we’ll participate in their service to the degree we feel comfortable, while being careful not to push their boundaries.

For more exuberant expressions of worship this means we’ll have the freedom, but not the obligation, to follow their lead. For more reserved gatherings, we won’t do anything to alarm them with our behavior.

I’ll blog about our visits, but I won’t keep the dispassionate distance of a reporter. I’ll engage in the service and with their community.

Throughout our adventure, I will continue to participate in a twice-a-month, midweek gathering at our home church. It is a nurturing faith community where we encourage and challenge each other.

This will serve as my spiritual base during our sojourn and help keep me connected. I’ll also listen to our church’s sermon podcasts and attend elder meetings.

As friends pray for our journey, one asks that we make a positive impact on each church we visit. This surprises me. I strive to make a difference wherever I go, but I never considered it for 52 Churches.

I assumed we would receive, but I never considered how we might give. With an expanded perspective, our adventure becomes doubly exciting.

Talk is safe. Action is risky. It’s easy to consider a bold move in the indefinite future. But I need to pick a date, or this will never be anything more than an intriguing idea that never happens.

It’s the season of Lent, and our church is marching toward Easter. What if we start our journey after that? I share the timing with my wife.

I expect resistance—or perhaps, I hope for some—providing an excuse for delay. But she nods her agreement. My pastor and fellow elders also affirm the timing. Some are envious.

Candy and I celebrate Jesus’s resurrection with our home church. Then we slip away to begin our sojourn the following Sunday.

I expect this to be an amazing adventure, and I invite you to journey with us.

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

Only God Is Awesome

Discover Why God Should Inspire Our Awe

The word awesome is overused today, so much so that it’s almost cliché. When most people say awesome, what they mean is outstanding or really good. Yet slang aside, the primary definition of awesome is to inspire awe. Given this, in the strictest sense, only God is awesome.

Only God inspires us to be in awe of him. Only he is worthy of our awe. When we think of God—of who he is and what he does—only God is truly awesome.

Here are some of the awesome things about God that should inspire us to be in awe of him.

Our Awesome God Created Us

God’s awesomeness starts with his creation. Us, the world we live in, and the cosmos around us are unbelievably incredible. But we too often view his marvelousness as common, as a given.

God created us. He made our world, down to the most intricate detail. And he placed us in the vastness of space, which we struggle to comprehend.

Only an all-powerful God could do this. This should inspire our awe. In this way, only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Saved Us

God is perfect, and we are not. We mess up. We make mistakes. Our imperfectness—our sin—separates us from God. Jesus came to earth as a human sacrifice to make right our many wrongs. He died so we won’t have to. Jesus, as the Son of God, saves us.

Only an all-loving God could do this for us. Only God would. Only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Guides Us

When Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, he and Papa sent us the Holy Spirit. When we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us. The Holy Spirit reveals supernatural truth to us. The Holy Spirit offers us direction. All we need to do is listen and obey.

Through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us. Only our all-knowing God could do this for us. Only God is awesome.

Our Awesome God Wants a Relationship with Us

The God who created us, saved us, and guides us, wants to connect with us. He wants to be in community with us. He doesn’t want to observe us from a distance or watch us as we go about our daily lives. He wants to be in a relationship with us.

This is for both now, while we live here on earth, as well as after we die. And this will last for the rest of eternity.

Imagine that, the God who lives outside of time and space wants to spend time with us. And given all he’s done for us, we should want to spend time with him.

Thank you, awesome God, for who you are, what you’ve done, and what you are doing for us. We love you. Though we don’t deserve it, we approach you in awe, with expectation and thankful hearts.

Only you are truly awesome. May we never forget that.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Christian Living

4 Tips to Hear from God

Everyone Can Hear from God

People sometimes ask me how I hear from God, and I share with them about when I learned to do this. Yet there were some basic steps I already had in place before I started down this path. I don’t do these perfectly, but I do lean into them and pursue them.

Here are the four steps of how to hear from God, with each one building on the prior one.

1. Read the Bible

Anyone—everyone—can find the written word of God in Scripture. It’s waiting for us, and all we need to do is read it.

Though you could open the Bible only when you have a question you want answered, the better approach is that it should be regular, whether you have a question or not. I recommend daily.

Pick a time each day and commit to reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible. The amount of time isn’t as important as it is to be intentional and regular. Make it a habit.

Start small and build upon it. Here are my 7 Tips to Form a Bible Reading Habit. And here are some Bible reading plans to guide you.

Reading the Bible is the simplest way to hear from God. Anyone who can read can do it. For those who can’t read, there are many options to have the Bible read to you, such as on Bible Gateway. And if you don’t have a Bible, you can read that online too.

2. Do What the Bible Says

Reading Scripture, however, isn’t enough. It’s also critical to put into practice what we read. If we don’t do what the Bible says, what’s the point of reading it in the first place?

Reading the Bible puts information into our head. Obeying the Bible puts that information into action.

As we do what the Bible says, we grow closer to God, and we serve as an effective witness for Jesus to a world who needs him.

Doing steps one and two prepares us to move to step three. Though not everyone is able to excel at the next step, everyone can and should try. And they should keep trying until it works.

3. Listen for the Holy Spirit

Once we’re reading the Bible and obeying what God’s word tells us to do, we’re ready to move to the next step. Now we need to open ourselves up to hear from God. We need to listen.

Before you dismiss the idea of listening for the Holy Spirit, remember that if you follow Jesus, you already have the Holy Spirit within you. He’s not distant. He’s present and ready.

Most people want to start with this step. But if they’re hearing from God as they read his word and aren’t putting it into practice, why do they think he’d be interested in talking to them through the Holy Spirit?

In this way, reading and obeying God’s written word stands as a prerequisite for hearing God’s spoken word.

To hear from the Holy Spirit, we must first put ourselves in a posture of listening. This means removing the noise from our lives, the things that distract us. When we’re in the posture of listening and ready to receive, that’s when God is most likely to speak.

People who hear from God experience his voice in diverse ways.

After years of practice, I hear from God throughout the day. This usually happens with ease and quite quickly. But it wasn’t always that way. I had to work up to it.

Read my experience when I first learned to hear from God. Perhaps it will work for you too. But this isn’t the only way. So if this doesn’t produce results, explore other options to hear from God.

I often initiate the times when I hear from God, yet this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the Holy Spirit talks to me when I’m not seeking his input. He’ll tell me to do something or to say something.

4. Do What the Holy Spirit Says

When we hear from God, it’s critical to obey. We must do what he tells us to do. If we don’t—or won’t—what reason does he have to keep speaking?

Though some of the times when I ask the Holy Spirit for insight, it’s to help me understand a portion of Scripture or to direct my words as I struggle to write a challenging passage.

Sometimes I ask the divine to help me remember something I forgot or find something I’ve lost. He guides me in those situations too.

Yet other times I’ll ask what to do in a situation. Sometimes I don’t like the answer. It seems embarrassing or doesn’t make sense. Though I wish I could say I obey right away regardless of what I think about it, the truth is that I sometimes delay.

Though in most cases, my delay is temporary and becomes obedience, but other times I talk myself out of doing what God tells me to do. My logic results in disobedience. This dismays me, and with his help I’ll do better in the future.

I’m also painfully aware that if I disregard what the Holy Spirit tells me, he may stop talking to me. May this never be.


Follow these four steps to hear from God: read the Bible, obey the Bible, listen for the Holy Spirit, and obey the Holy Spirit.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Christian Living

Embracing the Five-Fold Ministry

Discover the Essentials for Effective Ministry

When we follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills us and gives us spiritual gifts. These are special abilities to help grow God’s Kingdom. The Bible talks about many of them, and here is a list of the key spiritual gifts.

Paul names five of these gifts in his letter to the Ephesians, which some people call the five-fold ministry. The roles of the five-fold ministry—as empowered by spiritual gifts—are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

The purpose of these positions are to equip people to build up the body of Christ (that is, Jesus’s church) to become united in faith, better know Jesus, and reach spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Here are the roles in the five-fold ministry:


Apostles are the spiritual visionaries who lead the way to advance the Kingdom of God. But they are more than leaders. They are supernaturally empowered to see opportunities others miss. They move forward under Holy Spirit power to grow Jesus’s church.

Jesus exemplifies apostleship, as well as all parts of the five-fold ministry. The Bible also identifies his disciples as apostles. And Paul proclaims himself as one also.


Though prophets are ministers, not all ministers are prophets. A prophet does more than proclaim the word of God to others. A prophet has a deep connection with God, discerns his heart and spiritual truth, and proclaims it to others.

Prophets are empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak supernatural insight (1 Corinthians 14:29-30 and 2 Peter 1:20-21).

We also must be aware of false prophets and watch out for them (1 John 4:1)

The Old Testament is full of prophets, but their role did not cease or change when Jesus came to earth. Prophets still exist today, and Paul makes it clear we need prophets for effective ministry. Jesus exemplifies a prophet.


An evangelist tells others about Jesus. Though we all can—and should—do this, evangelists are equipped to do so more effectively. They have winsome personalities, and they’re able to connect with people and bring about meaningful—and life-saving—spiritual conversations.

The Bible mentions two evangelists by name: Phillip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5). Though not called an evangelist, John the Baptist functioned in this role and Jesus modeled it, just as he does with all the other roles in the five-fold ministry.


Next, we have pastors, also called shepherds, as in shepherds of a flock. We should not assume this role of pastor is the same as minister. A pastor—a shepherd—cares for those in their congregation, as in their flock, which are those under their care.

Both Timothy and Titus function in the role of pastor, as appointed by Paul. They serve as shepherds for the flocks assigned to them.

Jesus exemplifies being a shepherd, both now and for eternity (Revelation 7:17). He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16). Even better, Jesus is the great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20) and Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).


The final function in our list of roles in the five-fold ministry is teacher. The teacher effectively communicates the truth about Jesus and knowledge of God to others.

They do this clearly and avoid confusion to help people better know God, move forward on their faith journey, and challenge them toward a more God-honoring lifestyle.

The New Testament contains many teachers, with Jesus being the best of them all. Some ministers are teachers but not all are. Just as we should look out for false prophets, we must guard against false teachers (2 Peter 2:1).

As we grow in our faith and increase our knowledge of what it means to follow Jesus, we should all move into the role of teacher (Hebrews 5:12), while knowing that it carries a higher accountability (James 3:1). Yet some receive teaching as a spiritual gift, a supernatural anointing.


While all who follow Jesus have spiritual gifts, not all are gifted for the five-fold ministry. The key is to use whatever spiritual gifts God gives us to grow his Kingdom.

When it comes to ministry, it occurs most effectively when each role in the five-fold ministry is present. This is not to imply ministry can’t occur without all five positions, only that it best happens when all five positions are filled.

Though one person can accomplish all functions in the five-fold ministry, just as Jesus modeled, few people possess all five. Usually, people in ministry excel in one or two areas of the five-fold ministry.

For example, my area of giftedness in the five-fold ministry is teaching. God has called me to teach others through my writing. He has gifted me to do so, and I work on developing this skill. Doing so fills me with joy and gives me life. It energizes me.

I also enjoy the role of shepherd, but I need to exercise caution because it will drain me if I don’t take care of myself.

Though there have been brief times when I have functioned as an apostle and prophet, I don’t do those with as much confidence or realize as much impact. The fifth area in the five-fold ministry is evangelist. This is not a role I excel at and struggle with.

The Next Step

Learn the roles of the five-fold ministry and be strategic to maximize impact.

If you are in ministry, which of the five-fold roles do you fill? In what areas do you struggle with or fall short? Who can you invite to work with you to produce better results?

If you are not in formal ministry, how can you come alongside your ministry leaders and staff to support them in one of these five-fold ministry functions?

And if your giftedness is not in one of these five areas, how can you offer the spiritual gift that you do have to further God’s Kingdom?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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Christian Living

Do You Have a Crisis of Faith?

Discover 3 Tips of What to Do If Question Your Faith

I hear people who have a crisis of faith, who question what they believe. It pains me to see the struggle they’re going through. Yet I’ve never been sure how to help them, except to encourage them to press forward and not give up. This is because I never questioned my faith.

I have, however, questioned church practices. I’ve done this often for most of my life. And I see a connection between the two.

I Question the Church

I was a young teenager when I got my hands on a New Testament copy of the Living Bible. I poured through it. I read the entire thing. Then I read it again.

When I was fourteen, I devoted my summer vacation to reading the Old and New Testament of the Living Bible. It only took an hour a day, and I had plenty of time.

What I saw in this easy-to-understand version of the Bible bore little similarity to what I saw practiced at church each Sunday morning. Yes, there were common elements, but that was it. Mostly what I saw was a significant disconnect.

That’s when I began to question the church. I became so disillusioned with it, I nearly gave up—at least with the organized, institutional church. To this day, decades later, I’m still disillusioned and remain critical.

Yet I still attend—in hope to one day experience church as it was practiced in the Bible—and as Jesus modeled for his followers.

This lifetime of questioning church occurs throughout my blog posts and in many of my books. And it’s the focus of my book Jesus’s Broken Church.

But what’s the connection with me questioning the church and other people questioning their faith?

Do You Question Your Faith?

A common trait I’ve seen in people who question their beliefs—who face a crisis of faith—is that they’re mad at God because of what they’ve been taught about him, not because of who he is.

Their perception of God is skewed because of preachers and teachers who have misrepresented our Heavenly Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit to them.

These folks teach with passion and conviction, but too often they’re spouting a manmade doctrine that runs counter to biblical truth. If you’re questioning your faith, first take a step back and question what you’ve been taught about God before you get angry at him.

Here are three tips if you find yourself having a crisis of faith:

1. Question What You’ve Been Taught

The first step is to examine your perception of God. Perhaps it’s wrong. For most people it is. Though many hold minor misconceptions, others make assumptions about God that are seriously flawed.

Though in some cases this may be due to their own faulty logic of making God into who they want him to be, usually it’s because others—both trained clergy in untrained peers—have led them astray.

God loves us. This is true.

But this doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles in life. In fact, we will. Jesus says so (John 16:33). The evil one will assault us (John 17:15). We will face persecution (Matthew 5:10-12).

And because God loves us, we will receive his discipline, just as parents lovingly discipline their children so they can grow and mature. So it is with Father God and us, his children (Hebrews 12:5-7).

2. Seek Biblical Truth

Just as I’ve cited these four passages that teach us the truth about God, faith, and living for him, the Bible is packed full of more of these truths.

To learn about God, we need to read the book that teaches us about him.

Don’t rely on what our culture says about God because they don’t know him. They are dangerous guides, just like the many ministers who misrepresent God’s true nature.

The true source for reliable information about God is the Bible. We will do well to read it, study it, and meditate on it. As we do our understanding of who God is and our relationship with him will change—for the better.

3. Ask for Holy Spirit Insight

It’s hard, however, to read and study the Bible in isolation. We can do this with others, with iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). As King Solomon wrote, two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Yet the Holy Spirit is an even better resource to help us understand Scripture. The Holy Spirit is a reliable guide who will teach us (John 14:26). This begins with prayer (James 1:5).

Move Forward

If you find yourself questioning your faith, first question what you’ve been taught about God. Then seek the Bible for real answers, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide you and reveal truth to you.

As you reform your understanding of God, you’ll grow closer to him. And you will see your crisis of faith dim. This will take time, but it will be worth the effort.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Bible Insights

Celebrate Ascension Day

Jesus Must Return to Heaven before the Holy Spirit Can Come

Ascension Day occurs forty days after Resurrection Sunday (more commonly called Easter). Here is some background.

Jesus comes to earth as a man to save us. He dies on the cross as a sacrificial sin offering, dying in our place. On Easter Jesus rises from the dead. He spends forty days with his friends and followers to prove he is alive.

During this time, he tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for a special gift—the Holy Spirit—that Papa will send (Acts 1:4). Jesus must leave before the Holy Spirit can come.

Jesus gives his parting instructions to his disciples and commissions them to be his witnesses throughout the entire world. He has completed all he came to earth to do (Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s time for him to leave. It’s time for him to return to his Father in heaven.

After his parting words, he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). We celebrate this on Ascension Day.

Ascension Day falls on Thursday every year. It is forty days after Easter. Since Easter is on a different day each year, so is Ascension Day.

Out of convenience many churches acknowledge Jesus’s returned to heaven on the following Sunday. They call this Ascension Sunday, even though Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven on the first day of the week. It actually occurred three days earlier.

Ascension Day is critical.

This is because Jesus had to return to heaven before his followers—and we—could receive the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus leaving, the Holy Spirit couldn’t have come, and Pentecost couldn’t have occurred.

Though the disciples will no longer have Jesus live with them, they will have the Holy Spirit live in them.

May we worship Jesus for what he did when he died in our place for the wrong things we have done.

May we embrace the Holy Spirit for what he is doing in our lives today.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

5 New Testament Ideas for Church

Discover What the Bible Teaches About Meeting Together

While considering a better New Testament approach to church, we talked about the three key perspectives that Jesus changed: meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

Then we looked at ten more New Testament practices: relying on the Holy Spirit, worship, prayer, fasting, community, eating together, caring for our people, valuing one another, helping others, and informal leadership.

Now we’ll look at five more tangible ideas of church and meeting together from the pages of the New Testament.

1. The Acts 2 Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus are hanging out. This is the first church. What do they do?

Luke records their activities:

  • They learn about Jesus. Think of this as a new believer’s class. Remember, they’re mostly all new to their faith in Jesus. This is teaching.
  • They spend time with each other. This is fellowship.
  • They share meals. This is community.
  • They pray. This is connecting with God.
  • They meet every day at the temple were people outside their group are. This is outreach.
  • They also meet in homes. This is fellowship.
  • They share all their possessions. This is generosity.
  • They praise God. This is worship.

As a result, more people join them every day. This is what the early church does and how God blesses them (Acts 2:42–47).

What significant is what they don’t do. There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the early church in Acts 2 gives us much to contemplate when we consider how our church should function today.

2. The Acts 4 Example

As the book of Acts unfolds with its historical narrative of the early church, Luke notes two more characteristics of that church: unity and sharing everything (Acts 4:32).

First, the church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with his prayer that they would be one then, just as we would be one today. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it.

Unity describes what everyone of us should pursue and what every church should be. Jesus yearns for us to be united. Over the centuries Jesus’s followers in his church have done a poor job living in unity, as one.

Second, no one claims their possessions as their own. This isn’t a mine-versus-yours mentality. Everything is ours. They have a group perspective and act in the community’s best interest. They do it out of love for each other. They share everything they have. Not some, not half, but all.

This example is hard for many in our first-world churches to follow today, though not as much for congregations in developing countries. Regardless, while we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, this isn’t a command. Later Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional (Acts 5:4).

From Acts 4 we see an example of unity and generosity. This complete generosity, however, is a practice that happens at this snapshot of time for the early church. We will do well to consider how we can apply it today.

3. Paul’s Perspective

Now let’s look at a third passage. In it, Paul instructs the church in Corinth of how their meetings should proceed (1 Corinthians 14:26–31). While Paul writes to the Corinthian church, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow his directives as well today.

Paul opens by saying “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian community gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.

This removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. During a typical church service today a few people lead, while most people watch.

This means that only some are active during the service, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.

Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place.

Sing a Song

First, when we meet, we should sing a hymn or share a song. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song.

Anyone can do that. Our singing could also mean—it probably means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads.

Teach a Lesson

Second, the same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more.

We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. Everyone who’s present can do this.

All we need is a willingness to share something God taught us or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.

Share a Revelation

Third, the idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He can do this through what we read or things we see. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight.

Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share our insights with those gathered.

Speak in Tongues

The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity. Speaking in tongues is the first of these two items. The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth how to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our church community.

But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27). This implies speaking in tongues is not a requirement. But he does give guidelines for when people do speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27–30). We will do well to follow Paul’s words.

Interpret the Tongue

Fifth, after someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it (1 Corinthians 14:28). After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church? (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).

The Holy Spirit’s Role

These five items require no preparation, just a willingness to notice the direction of God’s Spirit. This means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this, we will encounter times of silence as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people today. But listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is central to the gatherings of the early church.

Paul says everything we do at our meetings must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. This means not doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities.

Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for the common good of Jesus’s church. This will best advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

4. Don’t Forget Meeting Together

Note that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church, says when you come together, not if you come together. This reminds us that gathering with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not optional (1 Corinthians 14:26).

The book of Hebrews confirms this idea of regular interaction when it warns to not give up meeting together. We do this to encourage others to better love and help each other (Hebrews 10:24–25).

This idea of coming together, of meeting with others, can occur on Sunday morning, or it can happen at any other day or time. The Bible doesn’t tell us when to meet. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over time.

Though many people interpret this instruction to not give up meeting together as a command to attend church, it isn’t. Not really. While meeting together can include going to church on Sunday, it should encompass much more.

It’s a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. Jesus says anywhere two or three people gather in his name—that is, they get together and place their focus on him—he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

Here are some ideas of how and where we can meet in Jesus’s name.


Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to connect with others and include Jesus when we eat. But do we make the most of these opportunities?

Coffee Shop

People often meet at coffee shops to hang out. If we include God in our meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, we assemble in his name.


Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If we both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together which includes him? It should.


What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet with others in his name.

Small Groups

Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection and draws us to God. But this doesn’t need to be the result of a formal small group program in our church.

We can make our own small group whenever we wish, meeting in the name of Jesus.


Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. I list it last because it might be the least important. This is because when we go to church, we usually do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

People tend to skip that part. The reason we are to meet is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this at our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of going to church, they’re quick to miss that the reason is to provide encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then we might as well stay home.

5. What Jesus Says

Let’s return our discussion to Jesus.

Recall that after Jesus rises from the dead, he tells his followers to stay in Jerusalem, waiting for a surprise Father God has planned for them: the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon them and give them supernatural power (Acts 1:4–5).

They wait, and the Holy Spirit shows up (Acts 2:1–4). Amazing things happen, and the number of Jesus’s followers explodes (Acts 2:41).

They wait in Jerusalem as instructed, and they receive the gift of Holy Spirit power as promised. But after all that, they remain in Jerusalem.

Instead they’re supposed to spread out and share Jesus’s good news around the world. He told them to do that too (Matthew 28:19–20). But they don’t. They stay put.

They don’t realize that God’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay there forever. Sometimes what God tells us to do is only for a season.

Then there’s something else for us to do. But if we don’t make that transition, we end up being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing.

Instead of staying in Jerusalem—something they’re used to and comfortable with—their mission is to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20).

How well are we doing at going into the world and making disciples today? Are we staying put in our church—what we’re used to doing and where we’re comfortable—or are we looking outside of our church to do what Jesus said to do?

I suspect you know the answer.

Make Disciples

Today’s church falls short of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus. They care for their own to the peril of others. Many churches ignore outsiders completely, sometimes even shunning them.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God.

Most churches do the meeting together part, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or “in truth” as Jesus said to do (John 4:23–24).

Yet few churches look outside their walls to go into their community—let alone the world—to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to enter our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we’re supposed to leave our Sunday sanctuary to take this Jesus-mandated work to them. We can’t do that in a church building on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

If we want to make disciples, we need to go out and find them. This brings us to the second part.

Go into the World

There is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service so they can be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and receives a positive reception from their community.

These were both service initiatives, not outright evangelism. But the best—and easiest—way to talk to people about Jesus is to first serve them in his name.

Every church should make a positive impact on their community. They do this best by entering it. Yet so few do. They’re too focused on meeting together and worshiping instead of going out into the world to make disciples.


We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts.

  1. Follow the early church’s example to learn about Jesus, pursue fellowship and community, pray and worship, meet daily in public and in homes, and practice kindness.
  2. Pursue unity and generosity.
  3. Be ready to rely on the Holy Spirit to sing, teach, share a revelation, speak in tongues, and interpret a tongue.
  4. Refresh our idea of what meeting together means.
  5. Balance our inward efforts on church meetings and worship with an outward focus on going into the world to make disciples.

Pick one change to make and then pursue it.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Christian Living

Look for SPACE When You Study Scripture

Discover How the SPACE Bible Study Method Can Inform Your Life

I often encourage people to study the Bible. But we shouldn’t read Scripture to amass knowledge to stuff into our brain.

The primary value is to let the Bible’s words inform our journey and reform our life. Therefore, we need to apply the words of the Bible to our reality.

But there’s no one right Bible study method or ideal approach. The key is to pick what works for you. The one you will actually use is the best one for you. Here is one suggestion on how to do that.

An amazing tool (I don’t know who came up with it, but it’s not me) is the SPACE method of Bible study. This is a handy acronym that we can apply to about every verse in the Bible. As you read a verse look for SPACE:

S is for Sin: Is there a sin we should confess? Or a sin to guard against?

P is for Promise: Does this passage share a promise we can claim?

A is for Assurance: Does this give us an assurance we can hold?

C is for Command: Did we read a command that God wants us to obey?

E is for Example: Is there an example we should follow? Or one to avoid?

Applying the SPACE Bible Study Method

Here are some examples of using the SPACE Bible study method.

As you look at these examples, you may like how I’ve applied it or question some of my notations. But that’s the beauty of the SPACE Bible study method.

We can use it to make it personal, to let the Holy Spirit speak to us for what we need to hear today. Tomorrow may carry different insights. But all can speak to us, encourage us, and help us grow in our faith.

Learn more about reading and studying the Bible with my Bible Reading Tip Sheet.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Christian Living

10 More New Testament Practices, Part 1

Consider the Example of the Early Church and Then Follow It

We’ve already talked about the three main ways Jesus changed our perspectives for following him when he fulfilled the Old Testament prophets. The early church applied this by meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

As Jesus’s priests they minister to those in the church, tell others about Jesus, and worship him.

That’s a great foundation for how our church today should function, but there’s more. Consider these New Testament practices that we will do well to follow today.

1. Holy Spirit Power and Direction

The Old Testament focuses on God the Father and looks forward to the coming Messiah, Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus shows up as a central figure in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Then the Holy Spirit takes over for the rest of the New Testament, amplifying what Jesus set in motion.

Even so, Jesus is the central figure of the Bible—with God the Father pointing to him and God the Holy Spirit building on what he accomplished. Aside from being the key figure in the Bible, many say Jesus is the most important person in all of history. I agree.

Jesus does all his work on earth in about three years. He spends that time teaching his disciples and preparing them to take over when he returns to heaven.

Despite this, however, they aren’t fully ready to assume their critical role when he is ready to leave Earth. Instead, Jesus tells them to wait, wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit power is the missing element they need before they move forward and advance the kingdom of God. In this, the Holy Spirit plays a leading role. He’s prominent in the book of Acts, guiding the early church and empowering its members.

The book of Acts mentions the Holy Spirit fifty-five times, with close to a hundred references. It’s clear that the Holy Spirit acts in Jesus’s place to lead his church.

In one instance, Jesus’s followers debate a theological issue about circumcision for new converts. After they reach a consensus, they write that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Listing the Holy Spirit first suggests he took a lead role and the people aligned with his perspective. I wonder how often we do just the opposite, where we decide and then try to manufacture Holy Spirit support.

Another time, as the church worships and fasts, the Holy Spirit tells them to send out Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2). The Holy Spirit also speaks to Philip (Acts 8:29), Peter (Acts 10:19), Agabus (Acts 11:28), and Paul (Acts 20:22).

But the Holy Spirit isn’t just in the book of Acts. He appears in nearly every book of the New Testament, including Revelation.

For Jesus’s church, the Holy Spirit is in charge. He leads their meetings and directs all that they do. This is the first of our New Testament practices to follow.

2. Worship

We’ve already talked a lot about worship. The appropriate worship of God is a central tenet of our faith. The Old Testament mentions worship in 179 verses. The New Testament continues this theme with seventy-five more.

Many come from the Gospels as well as Acts. The book of Revelation mentions worship more than any New Testament book and comes in second overall, just behind Deuteronomy.

This makes it clear that worshiping God is in our history, our present, and our eternal future. Worship is the second of our New Testament practices,

In the most profound verse about worship, John reminds us that God is spirit. Therefore, those who worship him must worship him in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

But what exactly is this verse telling us? There are two elements: Spirit and truth.

First, we have the Spirit, with a capital S. This means Holy Spirit. To fully worship, we must worship through the Holy Spirit. He will direct our worship and guide us. We must follow his lead and do what he says.

Though we often think of our worship as a physical act, there must also be a spiritual element to it. And the spiritual aspect is the more important one.

Second, we must worship God in truth. This means our worship must be honest, pure. To worship God in truth suggests integrity.

This means that we don’t make a show of our worship to impress others or gain their attention. That makes for disingenuous worship and doesn’t honor God. It doesn’t matter what others think of our worship, it only matters what God thinks.

The opposite of not making our worship a display for other people is holding back our worship for fear of what others may think or say. We must feel free to worship God as the Holy Spirit leads us.

This is how we worship God in Spirit and truth.

3. Prayer

In addition to worship occurring throughout the Bible, we also have prayer. Half of the books in the Old Testament talk about prayer, and most of the books in the New Testament address the subject. Prayer is the third of our New Testament practices.

James writes that the prayers from a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). Paul tells us to pray in all situations (Ephesians 6:18) and confirms that everyone should pray (1 Timothy 2:1).

The book of Revelation gives us some insight into our prayers. Three times John connects prayers with incense, which God receives from his people. First, we see golden bowls of incense which represent our prayers (Revelation 5:8).

Then we have an angel who offers the incense and our prayers before God’s throne (Revelation 8:3). And last, we see the smoke of the incense mingling with our prayers, rising to God (Revelation 8:4).

Whether we use incense or not in our spiritual practices, these passages in Revelation gives us a powerful image of how God receives the prayers of his people.

When it comes to praying, however, many people think of the Lord’s Prayer. Though a better label might be the Disciple’s Prayer. This is because Jesus gives the prayer to his disciples as an example of how the pray. It is their prayer, not his.

The Lord’s Prayer—sometimes called the Our Father, after its opening line—occurs twice in the Bible. People are familiar with Matthew’s version, with many having memorized it and with some churches reciting it as part of their worship practices (Matthew 6:19-13).

The version in Luke is far less familiar. It’s shorter and more concise (Luke 11:1-4).

Neither of these prayers are for us to memorize or recite as much as a model to follow. Here’s an interpretation of how we can apply it to inform our prayers.

  • We open the prayer by reverencing God.
  • Then we ask that his kingdom will come—implicitly with us helping to advance it—and that we will accomplish God’s will here on earth.
  • In the one personal, tangible request, we ask for our daily bread. That is, we ask God to provide for us each day what we need to live. It may be food or something else that’s essential.
  • Then we pray that God will forgive us, just as we forgive others. And if we withhold our forgiveness this implicitly allows God to withhold it from us. Hopefully neither will happen.
  • We end with a request that God will steer us away from temptation and give us victory over Satan’s attacks.
  • And some versions of the Bible tack on one more phrase. In this we celebrate his kingdom, his power, and his eternal glory.

But this is just one example of how the pray. The key is that prayer is an essential part of our faith journey and another of our New Testament practices.

4. Fasting

Another concept that occurs throughout the Bible is fasting. To fast is to go without food for a time. This isn’t an act of mortification to abase ourselves before God or try to gain his attention.

Instead it’s to focus our thoughts on God, seeking to better connect with him and align our thinking with his. When fasting, one recommendation is to take the time normally spent eating and use it to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit.

There are two key teachings in the Bible about fasting.

When Jesus instructs the people in his epic message that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about this practice. He says “When you fast . . .” Not “If you fast . . . ” (Matthew 6:16-17).

From Jesus’s perspective, fasting is not an optional activity but an expectation.

Second, Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2). He serves as an example to us all. Since he fasted, is there any reason why we shouldn’t?

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t require that his disciples fast, but this is a short-term reprieve because he is with them. He adds that once he leaves, it’s time to resume fasting (Luke 5:33-35). Since he has returned to heaven and is no longer here on earth, it’s again a time for us to fast.

Fasting is the fourth of our New Testament practices. Jesus wants us to fast, and so we should.

5. Community

The early church also spends a lot of time with each other. This isn’t a once-a-week meeting for an hour or two. It may be an everyday occurrence (Acts 2:46, Acts 6:1, and Hebrews 3:13).

They don’t live their faith in isolation. They need each other. They thrive on community.

Just as the godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit function as one, so too do Jesus’s followers (John 17:20-21, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 John 1:3). Through mutual support they edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

This is how they grow in faith, with iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It’s two—or more—people traveling down the road together, keeping each other on the right path and headed in the right direction. It’s picking up another when they stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Living in community is the fifth of our New Testament practices. It is central to who they are and what they do. Without the encouragement and support of each other, they’ll certainly falter in their faith. Together they are better.

Together they can remain focused on Jesus and all he calls them to become. Community is key in making this happen. Think of this as true biblical fellowship (Acts 2:42 and 1 John 1:3-7).

What do they do when they hang out? They spend time in prayer (Acts 1:14, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, and James 5:16). They worship (Acts 13:2 and Romans 12:1). They also sing (Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16, and James 5:13).

The more established disciples of Jesus teach the newer followers about the basics of faith. Think of this as a new members class (Acts 2:42). And we’ve already covered how they share their material blessings with each other and listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Come back next week to learn five more things the early church did, five more New Testament practices.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.