Jani: Hello, everyone and welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund. We’re going through a series on discipleship. I hope you’re finding it helpful so far. If you’ve just tuned in, that’s all right. Go ahead and give us a try today and see if you might want to join in and learn more about what discipleship looks like and how you can disciple other women.
Inroads to Intimacy
Jani: Today, I want to talk about inroads into intimacy. You might remember from our last podcast how we talked about the importance of our commitment to each other. If you’re going to be in a discipleship group, you need to have commitment to each other. Commitment builds trust and it helps us to be open and vulnerable with each other. It helps each member of the group to move forward together as we walk through the year. If we are committed to each other in our group, it will help us love one another as Jesus has loved us and commanded us to, in turn, love each other selflessly, serving one another with an unconditional love that feels personal and intimate.
The First Step: Getting To Know Each Other
Jani: Now, how do we do this? How do we fulfill this commitment as we seek to obey Christ? Well, I don’t think it’s very easy to really love someone else in a personal way until we get to know her. Week by week you meet to share, to learn, to exhort, and pray and worship together. Well, one way to start getting to know each other is by giving your group a look into your own life. And that’s how I’d like to start my discipleship groups each year.
Use a “Life Graph”
Jani: I suggest you do this by presenting a visual, carefully thought through, autobiographical sketch of your life, particularly describing your spiritual highs and lows. You can do this in any number of creative ways. I suggest too to my group, I call them a “life graph” where you just tape several file folders together, draw a straight line long it and highlight on there different important dates in your life putting pictures or different things you can tape on there. A life graph is one way.
Use a “Biography Basket”
Jani: A biography basket is another way. I like to use that. It’s a basket where you collect several mementos to describe your life. Now each week, I’d like one or two of you to prepare your life story to share with your group. Your leader will set aside 15 minutes for you to share. And then your group will follow with roughly five minutes to ask questions and pray over you, thanking God for your life. I suggest at least for me, it’s been helpful to set a timer for 15 minutes before someone starts to share, and that helps every member stay on schedule.
How To Prepare Your Story
Jani: Now to prepare yours, sit down with a pad of paper or at your computer and list out the most significant experiences of your life so far, both the highs and the lows. Begin with your early childhood and family members. Include other events such as when or how you came to faith in Christ, things you loved as a child, sports or hobbies you enjoyed throughout your school years, college experiences. If you’re married, how did you meet your husband? What different jobs have you held? Maybe details about any children you might have and people whom God has used in your life.
Jani: After you’ve listed out your highs and lows, place these dates on your timeline and add photos to help your new friends visualize your life so far. Or gather into a basket photos and symbolic items from around your home to help illustrate your life story. Share as deeply as you’re able at this point in your group. If you are meeting with children or youth, adapt this to help them share meaningful events and their young lives.
Jani: Over the next few weeks, I plan on using 20 to 40 minutes per meeting for one to two members to share their life stories. Each member, again remember, will have 15 minutes to share, followed by five minutes for questions and comments and prayers of thanksgiving for this member as well as petitions for a fruitful year in the group. We’ve again found it helpful to set a timer while someone shares in order to keep the meeting on pace.
Jani’s Biography Basket
Jani: Now, I’ll share my biography basket in order to help you understand this assignment a little bit better. If you are in my group, I’d ask someone to set a timer for 15 minutes before I begin. So I’ll just keep an eye on my clock here. I won’t share the whole 15 minutes because it’s hard to keep you interested without visuals, but I’ll just hit some of my highlights so you can see what it could be like.
Jani: I would begin by saying I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was the third of four children. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I was born in 1950. My dad traveled for DuPont. He was a chemical engineer. And he was also in the Naval Reserves. So he was gone one weekend a month along with travel during the week. He really wasn’t home very often.
Jani: My mom believed that she should take us children to the local church. So she did. She brought us there each Sunday for Sunday School and that’s where I became a Christian. In fact, over the course of 11 years, all six of my family members became Christians at that church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Lake Harriet Baptist Church. We’re so grateful for it.
Jani: As a child, I loved sports. I loved being outside and I loved reading. If you were here, I’d show you some of my favorite children’s books. I have Misty of Chincoteague, and the Bobbsey Twins here. And I also have my very first Bible, my red covered King James Bible that my church gave me. I went to Wheaton College outside of Chicago in Wheaton, Illinois, and met Ray there. We dated for three and a half years and then married in 1971 and went to Dallas Seminary where the Lord grabbed my husband’s mind in a very meaningful way and Ray began to love the ancient Semitic languages.
Jani: My life was very different. I was teaching in an inner city. And it was a new culture for me, a new city and a new man. He was involved in youth ministry and I began discipling high school girls, but I had many tears in those first few years. I miscarried our first baby, I was tired, I was trying to get to know Ray, and understand him better. So my symbols for this time are an apple for teaching and a box of tissue for my tears.
Jani: Our first church was Peninsula Bible Church, in Palo Alto, California, where Ray was one of 12 pastors on staff. He was very busy. He was working on a second Master’s at UC Berkeley in Hebrew and he was employed full time at church. And he taught Greek two nights a week from 6pm to 10pm. So you can imagine how busy he was. I don’t know how we had found time to do this. But we had three children in less than three years while we were there. So my symbol for that, that I would show my small group is a bib, a very worn out bib.
Jani: I stayed at home and I began teaching women then, and I continued discipling student wives. Then Ray wanted to earn a doctorate. So we moved to Scotland for four years. This was very formative for our family. It’s a new culture, a new way of looking at the church and Christianity. Our focus became more of our family. We also had our fourth child there, Gavin, and I have some symbols from that time in our life, I would show you but we had great financial struggles there. We had invested every penny we had to go with a Christian investor who went belly up, and we returned from Scotland with a doctorate and 35 cents in her pocket. Our kids were nine, eight, almost seven and two years old. And we went to Eugene, Oregon to plant the first PCA church in all of Oregon.
Jani: To help financially I tutored students and I taught piano. And we really struggled there financially. We lived week to week with whatever the offering was. But the unusual thing is I had always loved horses. And somehow, it’s a long story, but the Lord gave us a horse through a friend. And our daughter Krista, we had three boys and one girl, our daughter, Krista, I loved riding Apple. And we would pay for Apple’s feed and board there at the stable by letting our trainer use Apple with other people for lessons. So we had a great time. I won my first and only blue ribbon in equestrian competition there. It was in a class of parents and there were only two people who entered this class. And the other contestant also got a blue ribbon. So don’t be too impressed with my riding ability. But oh how we love that.
Jani: After four years in Oregon planting this church, the Lord called Ray to Libertyville, Illinois to Trinity Seminary, Trinity is actually in Deerfield. But we ended up living in Libertyville for nine years. I needed to go back to work. I taught school, second grade for eight of those years and it was a wonderful family time. Precious family time. We had dinners and birthday parties. We only had one car and that helped. Ray would have to drop us all off before he went to teach at the seminary and pick us all up on his way home. But oh how we love those years.
Jani: I got my master’s degree there. And I thought maybe I would teach until I retired. I was still ministering among student wives at the seminary. I was speaking at times and I was discipling. Our kids were thriving, three went off to college. And Gavin our youngest was in eighth grade. But churches kept calling Ray as he went around to preach. And as his books started being published, eventually, we said yes to First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. It was a, it is an historic church. And Ray was very happy there. I had my first overseas conference in Japan and I continued to teach women and disciple.
Jani: Our three older kids were graduating college and they were falling in love and getting married. In fact, the three older children all married within 14 months of each other. The two boys within three weeks of each other Oh, those were busy, expensive, but wonderful years. My first book came out, Fearlessly Feminine, while we were there.
Jani: We were taken care of and loved much by that church. But Ray felt they needed fresh strength to lead them. He was deeply tired and felt the Lord was calling him to another ministry and Christ Presbyterian Church here in Nashville called Ray in 2004. We were there for three years pastoring. We had our first grandchild. Ray continued to write and work on Bible translation. He helped with the ESV and the New Living Bible. He did Psalms and Isaiah. My second book came out on the 10 commandments. I was teaching women and discipling. We thought we’d stay there until we retired.
Jani: But in January 2007, things grew very hard. I won’t take a lot of time on the podcast to explain but it’s part of my story. Ray’s dad was very ill with pulmonary fibrosis. He was near death and his mother was recovering from cancer surgery. This was in January of 2007. I was up in Canada, where our oldest son Eric was a professor of Old Testament and his wife Aaron was having a very difficult pregnancy. So I went up to help. And as it turned out, without going into details, Ray was put out of the church. He was fired. Ray’s dad died within a few months and we didn’t know what to do.
Jani: We took three or four months to pray and heal and talk to the Lord and each other, talk to a counselor, we really sought the Lord. And after several months of interaction with a small group of people who continued to ask us to be their pastor, and told us they wanted us to come and plant a church with them here in Nashville, they would support us, we decided that yes, we would. And so on Easter Sunday of 2008, that was the first public service of what is now Immanuel Church, Nashville, where we served until 2019.
Jani: Ray had always told the church when he was 70, he would step down and turn it over to a younger man. The elders knew that and started preparing for it five years before Ray turned 70. And in 2019, Ray stepped down and turn the church over to TJ Tims who’s our pastor. We love him. He’s doing such a fabulous job.
Jani: Since then, after taking a year off, Immanueal has asked Ray to come back part time as Pastor to Pastors and freed us to serve other churches. We also serve through our own ministry called Renewal Ministries. That is the ministry that you hear referenced with the podcast. And that frees us to write, to disciple, to travel, to speak, and to do this podcast.
Jani: Now, that would be my biography basket, I would be showing various symbols from around my home, pictures of the children, my blue ribbon, things like that. And then, if you were in my group, you’d have a chance to ask me questions. And then I would ask you to pray for me. That’s what I want you to do something like that. Didn’t you get to know me a little bit more? It’d be better if you could see the visuals. But do you get the idea? Oh, I, I hope you do. Because I’m going to ask you all to do that together.
Worship Within Teaching
Jani: Now, let’s move on to the worship part of our time together. I’d like to combine our worship and keep it very short because our time is running out here. I’d like to combine our worship in this lesson with our teaching, I’d like to talk a little bit about friendship. If you have time after you listen to the podcast in your group, talk about friends that you’ve had. Have you had a best friend? Have you had any hard or disappointing friendships? Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?
Jani: Listen to this first verse of an old hymn I love by Jay Wilbert Chapman.
Jesus, what a friend for sinners. Jesus lover of my soul. Friends may fail me foes assail me. He, my savior, makes me whole. Hallelujah, what a Savior. Hallelujah, what a friend. Saving, helping keeping, loving, He is with me to the end.Jay Wilbert Chapman
Jani: I will fail each one of you in this podcast series. Every year I fail at things in my discipleship group. You will fail each other in your group. You will want and need more from me than I am able to give you but there is a friend who will never fail you. And he is who we want to keep looking at, leaning on week to week as we gather together.
Jani: Listen to these two verses that talk about the friendship of the Lord.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him and He makes known to them his covenant.Psalm 25:14
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.John 15:15
Jani: Did you get that phrase? God makes known and Jesus has made known to us? Jesus befriends us by making his ways and his words known to us. The only way to know Jesus is through friendship with him, which he offers to all who, Psalm 25:14 says, fear him, revere him, rejoicing in his ways in his words.
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
Jani: Do you know the hymn What A Friend We Have In Jesus? This was written by Joseph Scriven. He died years ago in 1886. He was a wealthy educated Irishman. On the night before his wedding, his fiance drowned. Soon after this tragedy, he changed his lifestyle and moved to Port Hope, Canada, where he became known as the Good Samaritan of Port Hope. When his mother became ill, back in Ireland, he wrote a comforting letter to her in closing the words of a newly written poem to remind her of her never failing heavenly friend and these are the words to our beloved hymn, What A Friend We Have In Jesus.
What a friend we have in Jesus all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful? Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness. Take it to the Lord in prayer.Joseph Scriven in “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”
Jani: I’d like you to pause this podcast right now. And take some time worshiping God through prayer. by praising him for his friendship with you. As you pray, think about how Jesus has befriended you and thank him for it. If you’re leading a group, you close it in prayer, and then turn the podcast back on.
Accountability and Prayer Requests
Jani: Well, we’ll end the podcast today with accountability, and then sharing your prayer requests. Your assignment for this coming week is to pray for each other. And then also choose a date when you will share your life story with your group. Make sure each of you has a date where you know you’ll be on to share your life story. And if you’re leading a group, I would ask you to do it first. Do it next week, leader.
Jani: And now for sharing in prayer. I want you to answer this question around your group. Where are you in your life today? What is occupying your heart, your calendar, your email inbox, your bank account, your mind? How can we pray for you? I want you to go around the group sharing your requests and then close by praying together. If sharing has used up all your time, then exchange names to pray for one another during the week. And may God restore your soul. God who is our friend, may he restore you as you seek to love others in your group as he has loved you. God bless you.