5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

The Joy of Discovery

“There is no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek)

I love to know stuff. Not the stuff of gossip, the nitty-gritty, intimate details of people’s lives, but interesting facts and stories within science, technology, medicine, history, space exploration, etc.. Really, almost any topic.

Making Connections

Making connections. Being inspired. Finding practical application. All motivate me to learn, discover, observe and explore.

Above all, though, I love making connections between that which comes from man’s discoveries and what Scripture tells us about God. Specifically, I’m drawn to those connections that help me better understand and apply God’s Word to everyday life.

And it’s not just non-fiction that does this. Fiction helps make connections and discover application just as much and in some ways more so than non-fiction. The best fiction comes saturated with truth, whether the infused truth is from science or medicine or history or human behavior. Then it proceeds to help me better understand life this side of Heaven and even into eternity itself.

Even fantasy fiction (think Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) makes worthwhile connections. Though the truth it’s filled with — morality, bravery, connection, selflessness — is set in a completely made-up world, it still inspires me and elevates my knowledge.

Drawn By Discovery

I’m drawn by the discovery of the unknown. Great stories. Knowledge and information I didn’t have before. Inspiration. Motivation.

Discovery of the unknown so often means finding what I need in a way that makes me want to be better and do more. And, ultimately, it’s a gain that draws me to understanding more of and drawing me closer to my Creator.

Frustrating, But Worth It

Trivia fits well within my thirst to know stuff. On the one hand, I love trivia, at least when I know the answers. Trivia most of the time, however, frustrates me because it seems to point out what I don’t know well more than it shows what I do know. If I think about it too much, I actually get discouraged by how little I really know based on all there is to know.

Bible study does the same. The more I study it, the more I realize I don’t know, and that sometimes frustrates me. At the same time, pushing through that lack of knowing reaps rewards beyond what I could imagine. Every time.

Where I instead try to focus, rather than on how much I don’t know, is on the joy of discovery. I try to keep my intent on moving toward the time when nothing is hidden or not understood anymore.

“For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].” (1 Corinthians 13:12AMP)

Social Connection… Not Easy But Best

Because introversion is a dominant part of my personality, I used to believe I did not need much social interaction. In fact, I once bragged I could go days without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family.

Gradually, I realized that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. What changed my mind? Three insights.

Introverted ≠ Anti-Social

After reading a lot about introverted personalities, and helping others learn How to Interact with an Introvert, I realized there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. Unfortunately, I had bought into many of those misconceptions and turned them into excuses for living fully in my introversion.

First, just because so much is happening inside an introvert, as opposed to extraverts whose activity is much more visible, does not mean introverts don’t need to interact externally too. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one or small group social interaction instead of large groups, but they do need interaction.

Also, the interaction introverts do have, and it is usually less than extraverts, tends to involve less small talk and to instead focus on more in-depth interactions. And after any social interaction, introverts need to recharge with alone time. That’s where we get our energy. Extraverts seem energized by the interaction itself.

Being alone is much easier for me than engaging in social interaction. But as my kids would tell me if they heard me say that, “Easier isn’t always better.”

In fact, most people are some combination of extravert and introvert, known as ambivert. This means that the vast majority of us need some level of alone time and some level of social interaction. It’s just different for everyone.

I finally realized I was taking the easier route, and it wasn’t better. I was often lonely, and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life.

Social Interaction = Healthier Aging

The second insight came inadvertently. In an attempt to put more variety into my reading selections, I subscribe to a few different RSS feeds. One article sent me on an unexpected quest.

Let the “Black Mirror” References Fly: Britain Has a Ministry for Loneliness

The article initially caught my attention because I wondered what “Black Mirror” was. (In the article, Black Mirror refers to a show on Netflix.) I finished the article and forgot about this reference, instead focusing on how a country’s government would allocate funding toward making sure people are less lonely.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, or carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts or experiences with.” (British Prime Minister Theresa May)

The brief article also provided these, to me, startling research findings:

  • Approximately 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.
  • People with social connection have 50% lower risk of dying early.
  • Studies suggest that isolation and living alone impact a person’s risk for early death.
  • Loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Additional research on my part showed these findings are accurate. The Brits were on to something, and I wanted in. After all, one of my life goals is to age gracefully, and now I saw that a healthy social life was a major key for that to happen.

God Encourages Fellowship

Even in my regular Bible studies over the years, I somehow managed to neglect the importance God places on fellowship. By no means does that mean a lack of awareness on my part. I knew what Scripture said about fellowship, but I foolishly thought that my minimal interactions fulfilled what God wanted.

The Holy Spirit used the above insights about introversion and loneliness combined with reintroducing me to what God’s Word says about fellowship to redirect the social focus of my life.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There are many additional Scripture advocating for the connection we are to have to one another as Christians and to the benefits gained from that fellowship. So, really no surprise to find out that we are physically tied to the benefits of connection with others too.

What finalized the need to shore up my social life is how I finally really saw Jesus’ own interactons during his 3-year ministry.

  • Jesus took time to be alone while also making time with others a priority.
  • He never showed annoyance at those wanting his attention as he was walking from one place to another or as he was speaking to crowds.
  • He spent a great deal of time with his small group, his disciples.

Jesus’ examples combined with the many other references to fellowship in Scripture make me simply unable to deny the importance of social interaction for my own life any longer.

Be More Social!

Likely, I’ll always struggle with social interaction to some extent. Yet, I feel I will struggle less so now that I understand how intertwined it is with our physical and spiritual health.

One of my current goals is to “Be more social!” I realize this goal is much less than what experts recommend for goal setting. It’s not specific or measurable. Yet, I’ve still made progress with it. That progress comes because of the motivation, the “Why?” that pushes me onward.

Ultimately, the “Why?” is to finally live in obedience in this area of my life. It also involves knowing that God encourages social interaction because He knows it makes this race of life better for everyone, much like running with a friend increases our endurance. Having research back up the benefits of social interaction is akin to God putting an exclamation point on my goal.

Social interaction is not easy for me. But, it is important, crucial actually. So, I push toward this goal every day, letting my “Why?” lead me ever on to the best way over the easy one.

Instauration

God Speaks to Us

God speaks to us in unique and varied ways. The Bible provides many examples of this.

Beyond Scripture, the lives of many Christians today hold testimony of how God still speaks to each one of us. Mine included.

One way God speaks to me regularly is through the variety of items I read, from books and periodicals to blog posts and news stories. He makes connections between the ideas in those and the truths in His Word as well as with the activity of my life.

What follows is an example of how this happens. This is meant not as a prescription for how God speaks to a person but as a way to expand your ideas of how God may be working in your life.

“Cool Words”

My mom and I have looked for interesting words ever since she talked me into playing Scrabble with her when I was six years old by allowing me to use a dictionary to find words. This started a lifelong connection we have to “cool words,” a connection my mom and I still share and that I also now pursue on my own.

Toward the end of December 2017, my Dictionary.com app presented the word instauration. The word caught my attention and was deemed “cool” for two reasons.

  1. It fits nicely with goal setting.
  2. It has an intriguing root.

Goal Setting

My family sets goals together around the end/beginning of each year. We don’t create family goals, though my husband’s and my goals often overlap, but we do talk about what we want to achieve or change in the coming year.

I also have Life Themes that have integrated into my life over the years. Those help in assessing the previous year and in narrowing my focus for the coming one.

In addition, I also sometimes choose a single word to focus on for the coming year. This is known as the One Word 365 approach. It provides yet another way for me to consider how I want to grow in the year to come.

Instauration

The word “instauration” pulled all of these goal-setting approaches together for me.

I love that the word combines four words into one, words that integrate well with most goal-setting efforts. I also liked that it has the same word source as the word “store” and “restaurant,” both of which help us renew, restore, renovate and repair, because now I have continual reminders of the word in my everyday life.

And while those are interesting connections, they are not what really brought this word into an intense light for me. What did is a one that led to focus again on my Identity in Christ.

The Greek root for the word instauration is “stauros.” Stauros was used when referring to an upright stake for a foundation. And now we’ve arrived at the really cool part. But first, a Bible verse, to which I’ll explain the connection momentarily.

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:39-40)

The cool part? The word used in this Scripture for cross is the stauros that eventually led to the word instauration. In other words, this concept of renewal, restoration, renovation and repair — instauration — has its roots in the cross of Jesus.

When I learned the root of instauration along side its current-day meaning, I realized the connection the Holy Spirit was making for me between my goals and my identity having its foundation in Christ.

Accepted, Secure & Significant

If I’m not careful, I start to let what others think about me (or what I think they think) define who I am. I also let comparisons direct my attitude, actions and words. This leads to my goals becoming self-centered attempts at making myself into something of value.

Connecting instauration with my goals helped me more fully realize that my value — my identity — comes from Christ alone. What others think or how I think I compare do not define me. A Secure Identity is my reality because it is based on Christ alone.

Because my Identity is in Christ, even if I achieve none of my goals — or all of them — I am accepted, secure and significant.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, because my identity is in Him, I am accepted, secure and significant.

Even while I am continually renewed, restored, renovated and repaired this side of Heaven, I am already accepted, secure and significant.

As I assess my goals throughout this year and as I think about how instauration plays into them, I am continually reminded about my identity in Christ too. I am also reminded that I have a Secure Identity that no Identity Crisis can undo or take away.

That is my hope for you as well. Let your identity in Christ define and shape every part of your life. If you do, no matter what happens, you can always know you too are accepted, secure and significant.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Are You Strong Enough to Admit You are Weak?

What is weakness?

Dictionary.com defines weakness as…

“Lack of strength, firmness, vigor or the like; feebleness.”

“An inadequate or defective quality, as in a person’s character; slight fault or defect.”

While I understand these official definitions, I better connect with the following one:

“Any limitation you can’t change by yourself.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

I like the third definition of weakness because it gives hope. For me, the official definitions give too much of a discarded sense to the idea of weakness. Sure, weaknesses limit, but they also afford the possibility for improvement.

Improving Through Weaknesses

The best way to improve through weaknesses is by admitting they existConsidering my own weaknesses, while not pleasant to acknowledge within and then admit outwardly, takes me down a path of self-evaluation. This path, one we all must take if we expect to grow, also requires that we recognize how automatic our weaknesses seem to operate in our lives until we directly address them.

Walking With a Limp

Jacob walked with a limp, and it served as a reminder of His encounter with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) that served to keep him humble.

Both Jacob and Paul moved forward in spite of their weaknesses. They did so by depending on God for strength, which Paul helps us better understand with these words…

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So, now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As with Jacob and Paul, our weaknesses can remind us of our dependence on God and can counteract the dangerous state of independence. In fact, the power of God will increasingly dominate your life the more you acknowledge your weaknesses and let Him be glorified as you limp through life.

Weaknesses Provide Opportunity

Our weaknesses can motivate us to keep in daily contact with God as we learn to rely on Him to overcome our limitations. Ministry opportunities also increase when we become aware of our weaknesses and allow God to use them. Weaknesses connect us with others who have similar weaknesses, and together we get to learn to let God use our weaknesses for His glory.

Weaknesses Promote Fellowship

As we become more aware of our weaknesses, we also become more aware of those who can partner with us. God works through others in amazing ways, including through balancing each other through strengths and weaknesses.

Being strong enough to admit you are weak means admitting the existence of your weaknesses. It means understanding that these weaknesses will not go away, that we really don’t want them to, and that only the power of God can turn them into great triumphs.

Knowing God, Part 1

6 Degrees of Separation

Know anyone famous? Want to know anyone famous? According to the theory “6 degrees of separation”…

“All living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other.”

That means, the famous person you want to meet is only six steps — or degrees — away from you. So, Harrison Ford or John Travolta (or whoever it is you want to meet) are connected through five or less other people. Not sure you buy into the theory?

Consider this…

I met a guy in the grocery store a while back who is friends with Harrison Ford. Had I been able to get the guy’s name and number, you would be connected to Harrison Ford through just two people.

Here’s another example. I worked with a guy years ago who is friends with John Travolta. Had John’s number in his cell phone. So, that means you are connected to John Travolta through just two people.

Don’t take my word for it, though, the theory actually has scientific merit too.

“Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people, and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on, the math shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected to 7.26 billion people — more than are alive on earth today.” (Are We Really All Connected by Just Six Degrees of Separation?)

Experiments have been carried out to give the theory even more credence. Not only that, but the shoot-off game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” provided additional scientific data to strengthen the theory.

Who You Know Matters

Let’s personalize this a bit. When someone wants to find a job today, how valuable is it that they know someone at the company where they’re applying? Almost all of my own work right now exists as the result of knowing someone, not of me actively seeking the work. Even in the Bible we see that who you know matters. Consider Moses and Daniel as examples of this.

Who we know matters. It matters to us in a variety of ways from personal and professional to satisfying a need within us to connect with people who make us feel important.

A Need to Be Known

All people have a need to know and value themselves and to be important to others. Psychologists call this the Relational Value/Social Influence need. Being known is important to us because of how it connects with our individual experiences, private thoughts and public image. This knowing has a tremendous impact on our character structure and well being.

Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage makes a poignant statement about the power of this need.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is… a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This statement is even more profound when we remember that Scripture uses marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Those of us in Christian marriages understand the value of that relationship for better understanding how our relationship with Christ is to exist.

Yet, no matter how good our marriages or any other relationships are, we never have 100% knowledge in them. We aren’t fully known, and we don’t fully know others. The fact is that any knowing outside of God never fully satisfies.

Everyone desires to know and be known because God created us for relationship. More specifically, he created us for relationship with Him.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

And as our creator, only he can know us fully. In fact, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Knows Us Intimately

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” (Attributed to Socrates)

As Christians, we believe that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). However, we can still agree that knowing yourself does bring a depth of wisdom essential for living life in a successful way.

Psychologists say that knowing yourself brings the following benefits:

  • Happiness.
  • Less inner conflict.
  • Better decision making.
  • Self control.
  • Resistance to social pressure.
  • Tolerance and understanding of others.
  • Vitality and pleasure.

Yet, we can’t even know all there is to know about ourselves. The Johari Window illustrates this truth well.

Only God can truly know all there is to know about each one of us. And He can do this because, well, He did create us after all.

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance. And in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

God created us. He knew us before we had physical form and even orchestrated the days of our lives before one of them began. He knows us intimately. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to knowing ourselves better is to know God better.

Next week we’ll explore exactly how we can know God.

Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems odd. After all, stones are hard, dead and cold, and not alive. Builders use stones, sure, but that connection to our spiritual lives is difficult to grasp.

Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience). They were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. So, his original readers understood this analogy at a deeper level since they were unable to even go to the temple because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Peter’s words presented a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple provided a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. Then Christ came replaced this system.

Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make that shift in thinking. They could go from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices became unnecessary.

Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones creating the temple building. They held an immense reverence for the temple building itself as well as an understanding for what Peter’s analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way.

“The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.”

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to our Christian walk.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value. They give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. This happens as we realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we instead offer what we have…

“…with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

Note: This post was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

Successful Transitions

Essential Transitions

In writing, transitions help establish logical connections between sentences, paragraphs and ideas. They go a long way in helping create a piece of writing that flows. Unfortunately, many writers neglect spending much time on transitions.

“Often, writers work on scenes but neglect transitions.” (10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style)

Transitions in our lives really aren’t much different from transitions in writing. They help us handle change by connecting one area of life to another. Transitions help us move along and make progress rather than living a stuck life. They serve to create a unified whole.

When I relate how scenes in a story work as related to life, I think of the seasons of life and how I expect or picture them to play out. Those scenes get my focus, and I often forget that my mind, body and spirit need time to adjust from one season to the next.

Without proper transitions, I resist the change that comes with every new season even when it’s expected. When embraced, transitions help me adjust as life’s seasons move from one into another. They help me learn and grow within and through the change.

Transitions do this by drawing me into the wisdom necessary to navigate the progression of life’s changing seasons. They increasingly connect me with God and His plans for every season of my life.

Successful Transitions

Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann describes change and transition as a process where we go from being orientated where we feel secure to being disoriented and in a state of insecurity. As we successfully transition and let Jesus anchor us and give us meaning, we become secure again and find a state of new orientation.

Successful transitions require that we take steps to get and stay anchored in Christ even as the change around us makes the seas of life choppy and overwhelming. Those include…

  1. Waiting. Letting God work out the details and orchestrate the transition.
  2. Praying. Talking out struggles with God and listening for His wisdom.
  3. Focusing. Reading about hope as detailed in Scripture.
  4. Praising. Staying thankful and grateful regardless of surrounding circumstances.
  5. Preparing. Waiting in the activity God gives us to do during the transition.

Transition can be thought of as a state of progress toward perfection. We won’t be perfect until heaven, but the seasons of change in our lives are the path in our journey toward that final destination.

Neglecting Transitions

A life of forward progress requires that we realize change is inevitable and the key to growing through it lies within the transitions. Neglecting the transitions in our lives usually means a resistance to change, which exists because transitions are often difficult and uncomfortable.

Neglecting transitions skips over that which is necessary for us to connect with God and to embrace the changing seasons as He has made them. Without transitions, we find ourselves overwhelmed by change. Eventually, if we fail to transition, we end up living life like we’re drowning in a sea of change that’s is swallowing us up. And at some point, we’ve simply given up trying to swim.

That’s no way to live. What’s more, we’re not meant to live that way. God has a better way.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)