spiritual growth

Swimming Up a Waterfall

The other morning I was sitting out on my second-story porch for my quiet time. It is one of my favorite spots in the whole world. Below the porch is our little fish pond where both fish and frogs make their home. This provides much entertainment for our grandchildren.

That particular morning, as I sat on the porch alone, I took a moment to watch the fish, as they were doing something very curious. You can see from the photo below (which is a snapshot I took that morning), that the fish has its head into the waterfall. It looked like it was trying to go up the waterfall and then, discouraged, he would swim away. Only to come back again a few seconds later. This went on for quite some time.

I found out later from my knowledgeable husband that there is something about the oxygen at the bottom of the waterfall that the fish like and so they will congregate there. But, from my vantage point on the porch it really did look like the fish was trying to swim up the waterfall and failing every time.

It reminded me of my life as a Christian. We are all called to “swim up a waterfall” –or, in other words–do the impossible. We are to die to self and crucify the flesh and live only for Christ. This is as impossible–perhaps even more impossible–than swimming up a waterfall. And, yet, this is our calling as believers.

Mark 8:34 — And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Romans 6:6 — We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Ephesians 5:8 — or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

Galatians 5:16-17– But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

I Peter 2:11 —  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

So, we know that we are to leave our flesh and swim up the waterfall to holiness. This goes against our innately selfish nature which demands to be pleased and coddled. Our hearts demand we listen to our feelings and our minds work in creative ways to make excuses and to develop logical reasons why we can do what our flesh is demanding to do and still be guilt-free and “godly”.

But the Bible is very clear that we cannot do both. We cannot please self and God. We cannot love God and love the world. We cannot be obsessed with fulfilling our personal dreams of glory and fame while furthering God’s Kingdom. These things are mutually exclusive. They cannot be done at the same time.

There are only two kingdoms.

There is the Kingdom of Light. God is the light (I John 1:5) Jesus Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12) We have been rescued from darkness to light! (Colossians 1:13) Being rescued, we are now children of light (I Thessalonians 5:5). We are to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).

AND…

There is the Kingdom of Darkness. Satan is the head of this kingdom and the whole world lies in his power (I John 5:19). Natural man loves this kingdom (I John 3:19-21). Natural man is blind to the the light (Acts 26:18). As children of the light, we are to turn away from the darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and to never partner or commune with darkness and its children (2 Corinthians 6:14). This kingdom of darkness is represented by both the flesh and the world, which Satan uses to war against our souls and to keep mankind in darkness.

Every choice we make, every action we take, every thought we think, and every word we say furthers one of these kingdoms.

Now, with this in mind, let’s go back to our adventure of swimming up the waterfall. As children of light, swimming up the waterfall becomes possible. It is possible to live a righteous and holy life that is pleasing to God. Notice I didn’t say easy. It’s not easy.

But here are a few things to keep in mind as we strive to swim up the waterfall to holiness–

1. We must first make our way to the bottom of the waterfall.

We can’t be righteous without salvation. We can’t even get to the bottom of the waterfall without it. If we are not saved, we are unaware that the waterfall even exists. It is only when our eyes our opened, that we recognize which direction we are to go. And this direction is in complete opposition to the direction of the rest of the world. We will be mocked, viewed as odd, and may lose our reputation by going this direction. Remember, we can’t have the world and Jesus, too.

The old hymn puts it like this: Take the world but give me Jesus.

Too often, modern-day Christians would prefer to sing: Give the world and give me Jesus.

But it is simply not possible according to James 4:4. Swimming to the bottom of the waterfall means turning our backs on the world.

2. Not making efforts to swim up the waterfall indicates a serious problem.

Many are those who’ve said a prayer for salvation as fire insurance and they aren’t even making their way to the bottom of the waterfall. They are still swimming in the opposite direction with their worldly friends. They haven’t given up the things of this world and they are still focused on furthering their own kingdom. They are people who are living solely for themselves but think they are saved because they said a prayer. This person may very well be–and probably is– a false convert! (Matthew 7:21-23) I hate even saying this, because I know that describes so many that we all know and love. But we can’t mince words because their eternity is literally at stake. If you know someone who thinks they are a Christian but who is still swimming out in the pond, pray for them. Really pray for them.

3. We can’t do it alone.

As I watched the fish turn away again and again, I assumed he was just discouraged and tired. I found out later that he wasn’t, of course, but it was a great analogy for our own efforts to get up that waterfall. We try and try, using our methods and our self-discipline but we just don’t make it. That’s because we are trying to attempt it without the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to live a godly life without the Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is the only way to make possible a holy life that is pleasing to God.

4. We must discard distractions and secret sins.

So often, we get so frustrated that we aren’t making progress up that waterfall. But if we really examine our lives, we may understand just why that is…

We have either crowded our lives so full that we have no time at all to give any effort or intention to this calling of living a pure and holy life.

Or we are holding on to secret sins that we just aren’t willing to turn away from. It may be an unwillingness to give up a grudge against someone or a love for the world’s entertainment or style that causes us to compromise our purity. It may be laziness or gossip. But, oftentimes, if we are really struggling to make progress in our Christian life, there is some sin that we are nurturing and feeding and unwilling to give up.

Or, perhaps, we haven’t yielded to God’s sovereignty in the happenings of our lives. We try to live a godly life, but, inside, we are angry and discontent and upset about how things are going. This makes it almost impossible to get up that waterfall because we don’t trust God. Instead, we are wary and disbelieving. This lack of faith stymies our Christian growth severely.

5. We will never reach perfection on this side of Heaven.

One of the things that makes this such a hard thing is that we will never reach perfection. We, like that fish, are always trying, always trying, but we will never arrive at the top. This can be discouraging and sometimes we may think: Why even try? So let’s unpack that a bit. Why is it important to keep trying to get up that waterfall?

First, we keep trying because we are told to do this (I Peter 1:15). To live a life of obedience to our wonderful Savior, we strive to live holy and pure lives.

Second, we keep trying because we do grow and change and bear much fruit, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Psalm 92:12-14). If we have been a Christian for more than a year, we can look back and see how we have grown and changed. This is very encouraging as we face new challenges and sins that discourage us. God is growing us to be more like Christ, be it ever so slowly.

Third, we keep trying because God uses our efforts to build His Heavenly Kingdom (Colossians 1:24-29). Our efforts to live a holy and pure life shine as a bright light in this dark world. We should look different in every way when compared with those around us. Remember, there are only two kingdoms: Light and Darkness. Children of light should never resemble children of darkness. This includes being loving and kind, but it also includes what we watch, how we dress, what we talk about, and every other little and big choice we make in our lives.

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So, my dear readers, keep swimming up that waterfall. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t try to do it alone because we are not alone! We have the Holy Spirit to strengthen, comfort, and guide us. May we cast off the things that distract and tempt us. May we intentionally live as children of the light, because that’s exactly what we are if we have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ alone!

 

The Nature of the Promises of God

When we consider the promises of God, we often go to the book of Psalms or consider the words of Jesus, Paul, and other biblical authors that provide strength and comfort to us. These are a balm to our soul during trials and uncertain days.

These days, so many false teachers rip verses out of context when it comes to God’s promises. I thought it might be helpful to take a brief look at what we know is true and what is not true as we consider God’s promises, no matter how big or small.

1. God’s promises are not physical in nature.

God’s promises do not have anything to do with our physical pleasure or ease of life.

When it says in Matthew 21:22–

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.

or in John 14:13–

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

we must realize that this cannot be implying that we will receive perfect health, material wealth, or a trouble-free life. While this is a popular false teaching, how can we know that this is not what these passages mean? Without digging too deep into theological waters, I’d say two things easily stand out–

First, we know this because of context. When these words are spoken by Jesus in Matthew they are referring to the spiritual realm. It has nothing to do with physical blessing. In John, Jesus is talking about having the strength and power to continue on as His witnesses after He leaves the earth. Context is always crucial but perhaps especially so when claiming a promise of God.

Second, we can know this because of what we read about godly men and women throughout scripture. Joseph was betrayed by family, Noah stood utterly alone, Jeremiah was mocked and persecuted, Stephen and John the Baptist were martyred, Paul was imprisoned, and John was exiled. We can move on into history where we see terrible persecution of Christians under Nero and the Catholic Church. And we can talk about the here and now, where we see people dedicated to serving Christ and building His spiritual Kingdom suffer innumerable physical hardships. We can and must conclude from this that God’s promises are not about our physical well-being.

In contract, God’s promises are spiritual in nature.

They are about our spiritual health, our wealth in heaven, and being effective witnesses for God here on earth.

2. God’s promises are not temporal in nature.

Temporal means relating to life in the world, as opposed to eternal life. While many of God’s promises do give us hope and peace right now, we can see that much of this hope and peace comes from us setting our eyes on the right thing. Colossians 3:1-2 says–

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

So when we read the promises of God, we must do so with an eternal perspective. We must view them through the filter of a mind set on things above. When we do this, so much of the concerns and worries of this life fall away. Richard Baxter, a Puritan author, talks about this better than I ever could. I’d like to share a portion of his writing here–

Unbelievers seek their happiness in the things of the world. Believers find their happiness in God. It is contrary to the nature of faith for a believer to seek peace in his earthly enjoyments. Our present pilgrimage is a prison, yet alas, we too commonly do this. By this we kill our comforts and then complain they are missing. It is folly to expect any stable peace or solid joy that does not come from Christ as the fountain. O that Christians would learn to live with one eye on Christ crucified and the other on His coming in glory! If everlasting joys were more in your thoughts, spiritual joys would abound more in your hearts. No wonder you are comfortless when heaven is forgotten. When Christians let fall their heavenly expectations but heighten their earthly desires, they are preparing themselves for fear and trouble. Who has met with a distressed, complaining soul, where either a low expectation of heavenly blessings, or too high a hope for joy on earth is not present? What keeps us under trouble is either we do not expect what God has promised, or we expect what He did not promise. We are grieved at crosses, losses, wrongs of our enemies, unkind dealings of our friends, sickness, or for contempt and scorn in the world. But who encouraged you to expect any better? Was it prosperity, riches, credit, and friends that God called for you to believe? Do you have any promises for these things in His Word? If you make a promise for yourself, and then your own promise deceives you, whom should you blame for that? We have less comfort in earthly things because we have too high an expectation from them. Alas, when will we learn from Scripture and providence to seek far more from God, and far less from the earth?

God’s promises are not rooted in earthly hope but in eternal hope. If we have our eyes set on temporal things, then we will be most disappointed and believe that God has let us down. But if we recognize that God’s promises are not of this world, we will see miraculous answers to prayer and experience the peace and comfort we are promised.

3. God’s promises are not generally instant in nature.

In this current world where we want everything instantly, God’s promises take some hard work to mine from the scriptures. They are like special treasures that we find throughout the Word as we give our time to study it. Understanding and greater comfort come the more we dedicate ourselves to this study. It is only through personal prayer and Bible study that we are able to more fully understand.

The thing that is most tempting when we are faced with a trial or uncertainty is to turn to other, much less satisfying, ways to deal with all of the emotion and feelings that well up within us. We watch more TV, we shop, we eat more, or we immerse ourselves in a book or hobby. Anything to dull the pain and discomfort of our current circumstances.

And, while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing any of these things, it is important that we don’t do them in place of mining God’s Word for the rich promises He has given us in His Word.

It is easy to cast prayer and Bible study aside during trying times because we feel distracted and unfocused and it’s extra hard. But we must persevere. God is waiting patiently for us to turn to Him and will reward us mightily if we but just turn our eyes upon Him.

Another way God’s promises are not instant is in the timeline of how we experience them. When something happens that is terrible, most of us respond in shock. We question God, we question our faith. We are filled with doubts of God’s goodness and we wonder if we really believe all we said we believe.

It often takes time to sort through these feelings. We often fall into a ditch beside the proverbial narrow road and it takes some work (study of the Word) and time to pull ourselves up and out of that ditch. The more we practice, the quicker this will happen but we must give ourselves time to process and work through things. God will not let us down but our journey from fear and doubt back to the solid, narrow path rarely happens instantly. Trials give us precious insight into where our affections lie and what sins still beset us. We can’t be comforted until we have a true understanding of why we need comforted.

I also want to add that sometimes God provides instant comfort that is an incredible balm to our souls. Small mercies and unexpected tiny miracles dot our lives in such a way that we, His children, know without a doubt, He is real.

But, generally, God’s promises, rather than being instant, are uncovered as we give effort and time to study the Word, humbly and willingly examine our lives for sin and worldly affections, and then wait calmly on God to work in and through us.

Isaiah 40:31 says it so beautifully–

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

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And, so, as you look for God’s promises throughout the Word, I hope that you will remember these three things. They may not be what our flesh desires, but they are all we need to live a holy life that pleases God.

Perhaps this can all be summed up in this verse from Philippians 1:21–

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

May we filter all of God’s promises through this point of view that Paul expressed while writing this letter to the Philippians from his prison cell in Rome.

My dear friends, God’s promises are real. But we must view them as scripture teaches us to view them, rather than how a worldly, false church teaches us to view them.

God’s promises are far deeper and wider than simply life on this earth. They encompass all of eternity. He is with us, He will never forsake us, and He will protect us. And that you can count on!

 

 

Where’s Your Home?

Many of us are spending a lot of time at home right now. Some of you probably live in tiny apartments, others live in mansions. Some live in picturesque villages, others in cities. Some live on a farm in the country, others live in a development in the suburbs. But wherever we are, that is home to us.

Is home a safe place for you? Is it a happy place? If so, then the stay-at-home order isn’t as bad as it could be. Of course, if it’s not happy and, worse yet, if it’s not safe*, then this time stuck in our homes has been a great, great trial for you.

No matter what our view of our earthly home, as believers, we have the fantastic promise of a future home in heaven–

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus is preparing a home for us. Isn’t that just amazing when you stop and think about it?

I do like my home and I am so blessed to have a wonderful place to live and, more importantly, to share that place with people I love dearly. However, the events of the last few weeks have really put all of the physical blessings on a bit of a shaky level that they have never been on for me in my lifetime.

I have this house now, but will I have it in a year?

I have plenty to eat now, but will I have enough in six months?

I can go to the local hospital now, but will it still be around when I need it?

I can worship God freely now, but is that going to change soon?

The “What-Ifs” can eat us up alive if we aren’t careful. Articles of doom abound on social media and the scary thing is that many of them raise very valid questions. The ramifications of this all are still unknown and with each day of lock-down those ramifications grow exponentially.

The foundation of our materials blessings and innate freedoms has always been a very solid one here in the United States for most of us. There was no lack of food on our store shelves, no fear of businesses collapsing en masse, no threat of churches not being able to meet, not even the hint of a thought about being unable to visit our families…or shop, golf, and travel.

And then came the “pandemic” and the ensuing fear that closed the world.

As we start to tentatively open countries and economies back up, may we not fall too quickly back into our status quo.

May we remember that our home is not here. Oh, God has blessed many of us with wonderful, comfortable homes and we love them dearly. But our eternal home is where we need to keep our focus. This is the hope that we have and this is what we are to “set our minds” upon. Paul puts it like this in Colossians 3–

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

As believers, we are to seek the things that are above. In a life bustling with activities and material blessings and freedom, I all too soon forget that eternity is coming. But when all that came screeching to a halt and those things were taken away and threatened, it made me think. Really think.

Where does my hope lie? Do I really view myself as a pilgrim on this earth? What brings me joy? And peace?

And I had to come face to face with the fact that I was seeking earthly things, not heavenly ones. I wasn’t doing this purposely. I was reading God’s Word and studying it. But there is nothing like a pandemic to release our tight grip on this world just a bit more, is there?

Have you, too, felt your grip releasing on the things of this world? Have you, too, felt this bump out of status quo grow you in ways you didn’t even know you needed to grow?

I don’t want to go back to the “old me”. I want to remember the lessons in faith and trust that I have been learning these past eight or so weeks, whether we go back to normal or everything has changed forever.

Life is never easy. And we have all faced a myriad of different trials throughout our lives. I am not sure, however, that we can say that we have ever all faced the same trial together. But that is exactly what has happened these past few weeks. We are all dealing with empty store shelves, economic ramifications, being stuck at home, and all of the other dynamics that are part of this pandemic. It’s a strange time to be alive, but may we not waste it.

You may not need lessons in faith like me, but perhaps this has grown you as a spouse or parent. Perhaps your lessons were in areas of impatience or anger or time management.

In whatever we have grown these past few weeks, may we not slide back into the comfortable place we were before they occurred. Let’s keep taking the next step on that narrow path. God will never waste any experience in our life and that includes a world-wide pandemic!

 

 

*I have been deeply burdened specifically for women and children of abusive spouses during this time and cannot imagine how hard this forced home stay must be for you. If you are in this situation, I would like to pray for you specifically. Please email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} com or use the contact page here. No one else will see the email but me.

 

An Unmistakable Mirror

I think I’ve been over-using the word “unprecedented”. I’ve said it more times in the past two weeks than I’ve said it in my entire life. We are facing unprecedented times.

I find it extremely hard to function in my “normal” way currently. I find it hard to think about “normal” things. I find it hard to do “normal” activities.

That’s pretty much because it’s so not normal right now.

I generally try to write posts that are not closely connected to current events so that, no matter when they are read, they are applicable to one’s life.

However, it seems like a good time to break my own rule (I broke it last week, too) since we are all facing this virus and the government’s subsequent restrictions and mandates that have completely swept away our freedoms. Literally.

So there are all kinds of theories and opinions out there as to just what is going on, but no matter what is happening, there is one thing we do know: It IS happening and very few of us are unaffected by it all.

Whether we have had our lives grind to a halt or we have been overwhelmed with work duties because we work in an “essential life-sustaining” field, this has affected most all of us.

As I was reading John this morning, I was thinking about Peter and his promise to the Lord that he would never leave his side–

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:27)

In the very next verse, Jesus predicts that Peter would very surely deny that he even knew the Lord!

Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. (John 13:28)

If we read on, we find out that, yes, Peter most certainly did deny he knew the Lord, even though he loved him dearly.

This account always has a way of both disturbing and comforting me. If Peter, who was one of the great apostles, could be so cowardly, what can I expect from myself?? But, it’s also comforting. If Peter could do that awful thing and yet still go on to live and die for Christ as a martyr in the early church, then perhaps there is hope for all of us to be of use in God’s Kingdom.

What’s going on in these days is not really a situation like Peter’s, so you may be wondering where I am headed.

And I guess it’s here: We have a choice, just like Peter. We can make the intentional choice to do the right thing or we can very easily slide into the wrong thing. The wrong choice is always the easier choice in the moment. (It’s NEVER the easier choice regarding long-term consequences.) It was easier for Peter to deny Christ than to take the heat for knowing Him. It is easier for us to sin than to not sin.

A pandemic like this (or any other trial, for that matter) shows us our true selves in ways we’d probably rather not see. What has come rearing up in the past few weeks in my own heart has not been good. Anxiety and fear; discontentment; self-centeredness; self-pity; laziness; even gluttony are real challenges for many of us in this situation. With close quarters, tempers flare, selfishness abounds, and we may be easily irritated as we are unable to leave our homes. With the incredible stress and long hours so many of you are facing at work, things come to the surface about yourself that you’d probably rather not know. With our favorite activities and the abundance in our stores taken away, we are faced with who we really are.

 

When our normal ordinary life is stripped away, we see ourselves as we really are.

 

A trial like this is a giant mirror into the state of our soul.

So what do we do about it?

As believers, it is important that we examine our hearts using the Word and then let this be an opportunity to grow.

So easy to write.

So hard to do.

As we look into the mirror and examine our hearts in the midst of an unprecedented time of uncertainty and craziness throughout the entire world, may we trust God to do a real work in our lives and grow us up spiritually in a way we couldn’t have otherwise.

May we come out of this strange, unprecedented time stronger, purer, and holier than when it started!

 

 

Some Thoughts on the Current Events

I can’t even think of any word but “crazy” to describe what is going on in the world right now. I am not sure this word even fully expresses what we are all feeling. It’s funny how you can play out and worry about all sorts of scenarios and never even dream up the one that actually happens. Coronavirus and “social distancing” was just not anything I had ever even considered.

Not that this is that bad. The percentage of people actually getting sick is low and the death toll is even lower. Us “younger folk” are just a little bit sheltered. Especially in America. We haven’t lived through the Spanish flu, the polio outbreak, or the wars of last century. While 911 is more recent and did affect us, it didn’t really affect the majority of us personally. And look up the Black Death in the middle ages. This is when it pays to know a bit of history. Really helps to keep things in perspective!

So I guess we all realize that (for most of us, anyway) it could be so much worse. But perhaps the real question is: Will it get worse?

And this is probably making us all a little unsettled and nervous. We are facing empty store shelves, keeping our school kids occupied, lack of Christian fellowship due to closing churches, and giant questions about how this will affect our economy (and, closer to home, our own jobs and income).

We are so independent, particularly those of us Christians that live in westernized nations. We’ve had so little opportunity to rely on the Lord.

So here we go. For all of us, this will prove to be a test: Do we really believe what we say believe?

Do we really trust God to provide? To carry us through the challenges this event offers to us? Do we know, without a doubt, that He will carry us through whatever is to come?

And how do we prepare for what is to come? What can we do to prepare for any trial–whether it’s across the world or just a trial I am facing alone?

Yes, these are important questions.

I read an article recently that talked about how unprepared people were for this latest turn of events. So few people stock emergency items or even a decent amount of food in their homes. The author mentioned how his grandmother was always ready for an emergency, with rows of canned goods on her shelves. They would store food and other items to prepare for any unexpected emergency–whether it would be a snowstorm or a war.

But somehow, as materialism and wealth grew in this country and there was always an over-abundance of goods on our store shelves, we grew lazy and short-sighted.

I was thinking about this in light of our spiritual preparedness. I have always loved Psalm 1 where it talks about the tree growing by the river. A strong, healthy tree has deep roots going way down into the soil. You can’t see the roots but when the winds blows that tree is prepared for it and will stand strong through any storm.

I want to be like that tree–totally prepared for any storm! I want to be ready to weather any unexpected turn of events, whether it be a world crisis or anything else.

Psalm 1 gives us insight into what it takes to become like that tree–

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the [a]ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he [b]meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the [c]rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

From this we can find two basic things we can do to grow deep roots of faith that will prepare us for any storm–

1. Remove ourselves from the influence of the ungodly and the company of sinners.

2. Meditate on the Word.

In a nutshell: Eliminate worldliness and all its influences and fill our mind with God’s Word.

Remove as much of the darkness as possible from our lives so that we can fully walk in the Light!

None of us know what trials will befall us, but we can be ready for any trial if we are walking close to God and basking in His light. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or that we never question. It just means that we can rest in the Lord. That we experience peace and joy, despite the trials. That we can think outside of ourselves and remember that we aren’t the only ones facing uncertain, troublesome times.

I don’t really have this down quite yet myself. But I have watched godly Christians around me. I am also drawing on the many biographies I’ve read of strong Christians. I know this is true. God is so faithful.

And so I continue to strive to grow and deepen my roots. I encourage you to do the same.

Because storms will come and storms will go. May we be like the strong tree that stands strong and gives hope in the midst of any storm that arises!

 

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in Yah, the Lord, is [b]everlasting strength.

Isaiah 26:3-4

 

 

 

On Knowing God’s Will

There are so many books, blog posts, and sermons about finding God’s will. Every Christian seems to be searching for God’s will for their lives. How can we know what His will is? Why doesn’t He just tell us?

This thing of God’s will remains a bit of a mystery to those of us who long to follow biblical principles. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently. It all started with a bit of commentary I read by Henry Morris–

“This could be read: ‘If any man sincerely wants to do His will, he shall know…’ Thus the first prerequisite to ascertaining God’s leading in some matter, or the truth about some doctrinal question, is a genuine willingness to believe the truth and to follow God’s will before they are made known, even if the answer goes against one’s preference.”

I am not sure why but this really struck me.

When we think of God’s will, we always think about the big decisions in life: Who do I marry? Which job should I take? Should I buy this house?

But isn’t knowing God’s will so much more than just these occasional big decisions?

A little later on that day, I was just sitting down to eat lunch when my husband came in, making a request of me. My flesh wanted to quip a smart remark and tell him to wait. But, suddenly, the thought came to me: What is God’s will in this situation? 

I knew what His will was. It was that I treat my husband kindly and do what he asked.

Throughout the rest of the week, time and time again, I was faced with these seemingly unimportant situations and this same thought would come to me: What is God’s will for my life right now?

And I suddenly realized something: I was faced with knowing exactly what God’s will was time and time again and made a choice not to do His will because I didn’t prefer it. My flesh didn’t like it or it was just too hard and so I made a choice to not follow God’s will.

Here are some ways we choose not to follow God’s will each and every day, even though we know exactly what His will is–

We respond unkindly, even though we know that God’s will for our lives is to be kind to others. (Ephesians 4:32)

We don’t take the time to listen to someone because we are busy doing something that could easily wait, even though we know God wants us to put others ahead of self. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We choose to waste time staring at our devices or the TV instead of doing something productive, even though we know God doesn’t want us to waste time. (Ephesians 5:16-17)

We choose to ignore prayer and Bible reading rather than make it a priority, even though God makes it clear that we need to know His Word and spend time with Him. (Matthew 6:33; John 15:5)

See what I mean? I could give so many more examples. I am sure you probably could, too.

We don’t speak up about Christ because we are afraid of what others will think. We don’t discipline our kids because we want them to like us. We don’t love others because they are mean and unkind to us. We don’t test and compare the things a teacher or author are saying against scripture because what they say makes us feel good. These things are clearly shown in scripture to be God’s will and yet we choose not to do them.

And I can’t help but think that we if we don’t prefer to actively pursue God’s will in these things, then why would we choose to obey the Lord in the big ones?

We are given a thousand opportunities to follow God’s revealed will every single day of our lives. And yet we so often choose not to do so. As I reflected on this, I realized that we often relegate these little choices to “personality” (Oh, I get angry, that’s just who I am or I don’t really like to read so I don’t need to read the Bible) OR we believe them to be insignificant–as if somehow they don’t really matter with so much other more important stuff going on in life.

But then I am reminded of this verse from Luke 16:10:

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

I believe the principle of this verse applies to multiple situations, including today’s topic.

How important it is that we are faithful in following God’s will in the little things, so that we have a heart and mind prepared for following His will in the big things.

Sometimes we do not want to follow God’s will. This is when we must train ourselves to do so, anyway. We must raise ourselves above our unreliable, treacherous feelings and make the right choice.

So, you see, as life generally goes, we already know what God’s will is. We just don’t really want to follow it. Oh, we do in theory but when it comes to actually putting our desires into action, we so often fail.

Perhaps this is the beginning of knowing God’s will: Actively doing what we already know to be His will. Doing so will make us much more likely to follow His will when those big decisions come along. We will have trained ourselves to be ready and willing to obey, no matter which way God directs and no matter what we prefer.

 

 

Twelve Things I’d Change if I Could Live my Life Over

Oftentimes, we evaluate our lives as we approach the end of the year. We examine our life in regards to health, career, education. We consider our bank accounts and we reflect on our relationships. We ask: What could we do better next year?

The most important questions we can ever ask ourselves as we evaluate our past year are: Do I look more like Christ? and Did I learn any spiritual lessons? After all, these are the only things of lasting and eternal value.

Education, good jobs, making money, and beautiful homes are nice, but they aren’t the heart of a Christian’s life. Popularity, fame, and 100,000 Instagram or Facebook followers may be very gratifying but it’s not what really matters in life.

So now is a good time to ask: What are my top priorities for the new year?

As you consider this, I compiled a list of a few things that I’d love to go back and change if I could live my life over. Some are major and some are not-so-major. Other than the first two (which I consider, by far, the most important), they are not in any particular order. As I evaluate my life, these are the things I’d love to do differently. This list is not exhaustive and I know that there are some that are just not coming to mind right now.

If we have a priority to walk with God and to teach our families to walk with God in the upcoming year, then I hope this list encourages you and gives you some practical ideas of how to get started–

1. Be more faithful in reading and studying Bible; memorize passages. God’s Word is transforming. We need the Bible in order to know and love God. It is our guidebook, showing us how to live. It is our mirror, convicting us of sin. And yet, I hindered my walk for years by being satisfied with shallow devotionals instead of actually reading the Bible. And yes! Memorize! I just started this last year and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference this has made in my walk with the Lord. Oh, why didn’t I do this earlier….??

2. Be much more diligent to have my kids learn and study and memorize God’s Word. God’s Word was always the authority in our home, but, oh, how I wish I would have been so much more faithful in having my kids in the Word and memorizing it in a much more systematic way. This is the only thing that will carry them through the trials that come to us all and the only way they can stand under the persecution they can expect to receive as Christians.

3. Put my distractions aside and play more with my kids. The laundry, the dishes, the household work, the phone call, the tv show–they could have waited. Not that I never played with them. But, looking back now, I realize now just how fast the time goes and I wish I would have spent even more time with them.

I am so very glad I didn’t have the temptation of looking at my phone when I had kids. I feel rather bad for those of you who have smartphones and tablets at your fingertips, tempting you to check on them and then pulling you in at all moments of the day. I encourage you to put them in a room far away and focus on your kids! Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t.

4. Be more diligent to keep an eternal perspective in all things but especially when it pertained to raising my kids When we are in the midst of parenting, we are often concerned about two things–will my kid still like me if I do or don’t allow this? And will their friends still like them if we don’t allow this? But neither of those matter. It’s so much more important that our children love and serve the Lord than that they fit in with the in-crowd–this one fact changes so many decisions we make as parents! Sure, they may be mad at us or even scream at us, but standing firm pays off in the long run. For the most part we stood firm on God’s Word in our family and we were often ostracized because of it, but as I reflect on our parenting years, I do regret some of the decisions we made based on peer pressure. (Let me add here, that there is also the opposite–where we make far too many {unnecessary} rules that have nothing to do with scripture. Please don’t do that. It breeds rebellion. If you have a rule, make sure it has a scriptural principle behind it and that your kids know what that principle is.)

5. Be much more careful in what I set before my eyes and listen to with my ears; I was always fairly careful, but even things I would have considered “innocent” I can see now were promoting infidelity or bad language or lying. They were full of human wisdom or showing an ungodly model of a family (just how many sitcoms can make Dad look like a complete idiot?!?). I would work harder earlier in my life to eliminate all forms of entertainment that do not glorify God. I know some of you may think I am “over the top” but entertainment changes us. We are fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter but it most certainly does. I still have so far to go in this area, but I do feel like a different person since I have eliminated quite a bit of what is worldly entertainment from my life. But that’s a topic for another day…

6. Be kinder to my husband; I think I am especially cognizant of this because of losing my sister-in-law this past year. I’m sure my brother would only love to have her there, irritating him in whatever way she may have done so. It is always hardest to be kind and loving with the ones that we live with. I really want to be more intentional in nurturing my marriage this coming year.

7. Have far more grace for others; I didn’t have a lot of grace for others as a young person. I am so very thankful that God has brought situations and people into my life that have wrought a great change in this area. But I sure do wish I would have recognized way earlier in life that “but for the grace of God, go I”.

8. Let the minor offenses go; This is another change God has made in my life due to people and situations. I had to intentionally forgive and choose not to hold a grudge–many times without the other person even knowing that they hurt me. Eventually it became natural (at least much of the time), but it took me too long. Life is so much more enjoyable if we stop being so easily offended.

9. Speak the truth of God’s Word with lots of love and kindness. I never had too much trouble speaking the truth, but the love and kindness part would sometimes take a backseat. I hope that I have made progress in this, although I am sure I sometimes still fail. Those of us who passionately love and defend the truth can often struggle with the love side of things. Would I have done more for God’s Kingdom if I would have changed my tone or said things differently as a younger person? Only God knows. In this, I am so very thankful for God’s forgiveness and mercy.

10. Think of others more often. I was SO selfish as a young person. Looking back, I am dismayed and distraught seeing it. I still can tend to be that way and I have to literally fight against my flesh and do what is right. Sometimes I win that battle and sometimes I don’t. But I truly want to be a blessing by thoughtful words and kind deeds–rather than a burden through sarcasm, human opinions about things that are not scriptural, and selfish acts. This is certainly an area in progress and I sure do wish I was much further along in this one!

Along with this, I wish I would have shared the Gospel so much more freely, without worrying what people think! I am so self-centered that I am {still} often more concerned with what people think about me than I am with someone’s eternal destiny!

11. Recognize that my parents are people who have feelings and need support. I am so dismayed when I consider how selfish I was as a teen and twenty-something. When I was getting married, my grandma was in the hospital. And then she passed away two weeks before I had my first child. I was so wrapped up in my life that I was not there for my mom. Oh, how I regret this! If you are blessed to have parents, realize now that they are people, too. That their life is not solely comprised of you and your world. Oh, how I wish I would have understood this sooner.

12. Waste far less time worrying about what “could happen”. Worry and anxiety are a prison. They destroy the present and do nothing to change the future. And yet, how many of us find ourselves in that prison, held tightly by their chains? This is a battle in many of our lives but we must fight it instead of cave into it. We are, in essence, saying we do not trust in God. And therein lies the issue. Oh, how I wish I would have wasted far less time in this useless and faith-sapping activity.

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So there’s the list. Not that I have arrived. Some of these continue to be quite the challenge for me. One of them I thought I conquered and then, years later, it came back with a vengeance (#12, if you want to know!)

Most, if not all, of these things are changed by intentional choices with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this over the course of the past few months.

Some of the things above have changed over the course of my lifetime, simply from growing in Christ. It has sometimes been two steps forward and one step back, but, gradually, over time, they got so much better. Not perfect but better. But even these things came from changing a small habit or behavior. Making a conscientious choice to sit down with God’s Word in the morning or to mentally turn away from the negative thoughts when someone says something hurtful or to choose to offer grace when someone does something I just can’t understand. Although sometimes still a challenge, it is far more natural now to respond correctly. But it wasn’t always the case. I had to intentionally make a choice.

It is hard to improve anything without intentionally choosing to do so. Before you think I am all caught up in man’s wisdom and the “I can do anything I set my mind to”, I want to stop right here.

I am not saying that lasting change can be had without the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that becoming more Christ-like isn’t just going to happen one day without any work from us at all.

Galatians 5:24-25 says this:

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We have to crucify our flesh. It’s an action on our part. In this verse and earlier in that chapter we can also see that we are to walk in the Spirit (v. 16) Again, it’s intentional action on our part.

Life is like a quickly fading flower. Those of you who are young will blink and find yourselves where I am. You, too, will look back over your life and wonder how in the world you ever got here so incredibly fast. Live intentionally now so that your “things I’d change” list is shorter than mine!

(For those of you who have lived as long or longer than I have–what would you change? Your comments on this may help a younger reader. We are all different and have different struggles, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this.)

 

 

Three Mortal Enemies of Spiritual Growth

This year has been incredibly busy. Part of the fall-out of that busyness is that my Bible study and prayer life really took a nosedive. When I did have a spare minute, I was just too tired to think. While I did continue reading for the G4L Bible Challenge, I found it challenging to fit in and I also found my reading to be more of a duty than an enjoyment. It saddens me to admit this but it is the truth.

As I was contemplating these past months, I was thinking about how much my busy schedule negatively affected my spiritual growth. As I was thinking about this, a few other things that stunt our spiritual growth also came to mind.

Let’s talk about them.

Busyness

In many ways being busy has become synonymous with living a productive life. Where I live with our German roots, there are many who feel guilty even sitting down for a few moments because that signifies laziness. And so just sitting and reading the Bible would make them feel like they aren’t accomplishing something productive. And then there are those that have no conviction that sitting is lazy but they are so wrapped up in work, lessons, sports, and the gym that when they have a minute to sit, they are simply exhausted.

Sometimes we can’t help our busyness and we have to endure for a season, understanding that God has grace for us during these times. It could be a new baby or needing to be a caretaker for an elderly parent. It could be a special project at work or school. These are occasional things that take us out of our routine and may, for a time, slow down our spiritual growth.

But there are those times that we can help our busyness. Times when we fill our schedules with the superfluous and unimportant. Times when we follow the crowd by putting Johnny and Suzie in every single activity or sign up for classes or activities that are not beneficial to our spiritual well-being. Most of these things aren’t wrong, in and of themselves, but when they keep us from God’s Word, this creates a problem.

If we feel overwhelmed and too busy, then we need to take an honest look at our schedule and contemplate if there is something we can eliminate or at least put off temporarily to give us more margin in our lives.

If we say that we believe prayer and studying God’s Word is the most important priority of our lives, then we must show this by our actions. If we are too busy to study the Word and pray, then we are too busy.

 

Pride

I have often pondered how someone can say they are reading the Bible and yet have no transformation whatsoever? How can someone have regular devotions or be in the Word and yet remain utterly unchanged? I’ve come to realize that it is pride that causes this. If we approach God’s Word with a lack of humility then our spiritual growth won’t only be slowed, it will be halted completely.

Why is this? Well, a prideful heart believes it knows most of life’s answers before even approaching the Word. A prideful heart has no interest in hearing suggestions from a different source other than one’s own mind. A prideful heart always thinks it knows better.

Why does this make a difference in our spiritual growth? We can turn to James 4:6 where we read that God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

A humble heart is a heart ready to receive God’s Word as its final authority. In contrast, a prideful heart is not. This is the root of many of the false doctrines that abound today–prideful hearts that twist the scriptures to their own agendas.

 

Worldliness

Worldliness is a death knell to spiritual growth. I John 2:15 and James 4:4 couldn’t make it any clearer–we can love the world or we can love God. But we can’t love both.

God is opening my eyes to this more and more. When I was in my 20s, I was listening to a heavy rock song (yes, I used to enjoy this back in the day.) As I listened, God convicted my heart. The music made me angry. In fact, I’d purposefully play this type of music when I was angry because it would fuel my anger and make me feel better. This was the beginning of my journey in understanding that what we put in our minds affects us. It either moves us towards the Lord or it moves us towards the world. It can never do both.

As I started to gradually and intentionally work to remove worldliness from my life (which has been a lifelong process and I still continue to work on), I have personally experienced a renewed desire for Bible study, a reawakened sense of what pleases God, and a complete change in my desires. Only by the grace of God can any of us intentionally choose to remove worldly things from our lives.

Movies, books, and music that promote sexual immorality, sorcery, bad language, blasphemy, and all sorts of evil; Going to bars or dances; Dressing immodestly in order to be like the world and follow the trends; Gossiping and passing rumors; Gambling; Addictions (to any thing–including food); Materialism and always wanting the latest and greatest…

All of these things kill our desire for God.

All of these things, without exception, move us towards the world and away from God.

 

Do you struggle with any of the above? Is there any change you can make this week to set your spiritual growth on a better path? Many of these things sneak up on us while we aren’t even paying attention. I know that has been the case with me on many occasions. All three of these mortal enemies have worked their way into my life at one time or another. And, honestly, they still do. While we live in the flesh, we are forever susceptible to these enemies and we must stay on guard.

I hope this post will encourage you to examine your life and to start making changes that will boost your spiritual growth. Let’s choose to spiritually flourish in a world that is so lackadaisical and status quo!

 

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