For the last forty years, my passion has focused on helping people experience Jesus daily. We all need to discover that Jesus is not just alive and interceding for us at the right hand of God, but he is also present with us now as our resurrected Lord, Savior, and friend.
Recognizing Jesus' presence and hearing his voice in our busy world and daily lives is not automatic. Sometimes, the Lord's nearness seems out of reach because of the brokenness of our world and the weariness of spirit we can feel. As a result of life's challenges, many in our Hearlight.org and VerseoftheDay.com families have asked how they can know Jesus and experience his presence in their daily lives. Others have requested that we suggest or provide reading plans to help them stay in the Scriptures each day of the year so they can better follow Jesus.
As we begin this New Year, we wanted to share with our readers four key ways that Jesus said we could experience his presence in our lives and provide us all a simple daily Bible reading plan to help us on our journey with the Lord, who is always with us!
Matthew wrote his Gospel for a variety of reasons. He roots one purpose of his Gospel in the name he alone uses for Jesus in the New Testament — it was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14). This unique name for Jesus is Immanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23). For years, I read this name as simply an introduction of who Matthew wanted us to have for Jesus throughout his ministry. For Matthew, Jesus is God in human form, walking among people.
Matthew isn't the only Gospel to emphasize Jesus as God in human flesh. John also emphasizes this point with his prologue (John 1:1-18), Thomas' confession at the end of the Gospel ("You are my Lord and my God" — John 20:28), and the seven "I Am" sayings in his Gospel (John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11-14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1-5) where Jesus identifies himself with YHWH, the covenant God of Israel revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:13-15).
The evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) want us to encounter Jesus through the Lord's teaching in their Gospels as we experience how he lived, how he treated people, and what he taught as God in human flesh. Our experience of Jesus is enhanced as we practice some simple disciplines as we read their Gospels (see the introduction to the reading plan below).
With these convictions, I re-read Matthew's Gospel, studying its structure in Greek and how Matthew arranged his story. I noticed that Matthew gives us four ways to experience Jesus in our lives as Jesus' disciples. Matthew shows us how Jesus will reveal himself to us as we practice them. Here are the four ways Matthew wants us to experience Jesus — and the last three are promises of Jesus to meet us in doing what is close to his heart:
Experiencing Jesus' presence in his earthly ministry through the Gospels — Matthew 1:23
As we read Jesus' story, we enter into the world of his teaching, ministry, and heart for people. This is where the reading plan below can be helpful as it focuses on experiencing Jesus' presence and listening for his voice more. More than data about Jesus, Matthew wants us to encounter him in the Gospel. Knowing the Scriptures is vital, but we don't worship them. We seek to know Jesus through those Scriptures. Matthew records Jesus as saying:
"Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" (Matthew 13:52).
John's shows Jesus making this point very clearly:
[Jesus said,] You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40).
Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures can make us wise to salvation, but only if our faith is focused on Jesus as the goal and center of those Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Paul stressed in his letters that our goal as disciples is to be formed into a Jesus-shaped disciple (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28-19). So, our Bible reading plans strive to help us know, experience, and be a living reminder of Jesus, our Lord, with whom we walk obediently daily. We seek to know the Jesus of the Gospels, the Lord who promises to be Immanuel to us!
Experiencing Jesus' presence by living in authentic community (family) with each other — Matthew 18:20
Many people read about two or three gathering together in Jesus' name to be what happens in church buildings. This is probably included in what Jesus meant, but it certainly isn't how the early church understood it, nor is it the context of Matthew 18. Jesus talked about this as forgiving sacrificially, "carefronting" those who wander away, bringing them back into fellowship, and so much more. We see this practiced in the early chapters of Acts, especially Acts 2:41-47, 4:32-37). This lovingly radical community is the foundation for the many "one another statements" in the New Testament which can only be practiced in a close-knit and smaller community that a big church gathering — download the one another sayings chart. As we are challenged to love each other in ways that are often too hard to do on our own, Jesus promises to meet us in this loving and sacrificial fellowship!
Experiencing Jesus' presence through compassionate care to the needy — Matthew 25:40
Jesus made clear that his ministry was to seek the lost, serve the broken, and save those imprisoned by their past as prophesied in the prophets (Mark 10:45; Luke 4:14-18). This meant he got involved in messy situations, helped "undeserving" people, associated with sinners, and sought out often forgotten people. Jesus' example here is crucial for us as we seek to be Jesus' bodily presence in the world as his disciples. As we follow his example, he promises us that we will meet him in those we serve!
Experiencing Jesus' presence through going into the world to make disciples of all peoples — Matthew 28:18-20
Unfortunately, many of us have been taught that the essence of evangelism and church member is to invite people to come to us and learn about Jesus with us. Jesus' command, however, was to make disciples (not simply make a decision about Jesus) by going to them where they are (not just inviting them to visit with us) and baptizing them (not merely asking them to do something privately on their own) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching these people to obey what Jesus said (not just know a bunch of Bible facts). As we live in this way as disciples of Jesus, he promises to be with us always and everywhere till this age ends, and we are joined with Jesus forever.
None of these four ways of experiencing Jesus is man-made or of human origin. They are rooted in the ministry and promises of Jesus. But the reward of seeking Jesus in these spiritual pursuits is that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us today, just as he was with the disciples of the first-century church! So please join me as we pursueJesus!
Bible Reading Plans to pursueJesus!
- Before you read your chapter for that day, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you hear what Jesus is saying.
- As you read your chapter, keep asking Jesus to use the Holy Spirit to answer three questions from your reading that day:
— What do you want me to KNOW from today's reading?
— How do you want me to feel about what I've read?
— What do you want me to do in response to today's reading?
- Once each week, get with a few other believers and share one insight from your walk with Jesus that week.
(Click on the links below for each reading plan to download it in PDF format for each year.)