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.

Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

Practicing Righteousness

What is Righteousness?

Like faithfulness, many people struggle with the concept of righteousness. It’s a very churchy-sounding word, after all, and can seem overwhelming, even impossible. Because it feels impossible, many think “Why bother?”

I sometimes feel the weight of the seeming impossibility of righteousness. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to a right focus.

“Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he (Jesus) is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

Righteousness is a way of living, a way of imitating Jesus based on the divine, moral law given in the Bible. That at its core means we do what God says we should do and live how He wants us to live.

What’s more, practicing righteousness means show I am already considered righteous. This only inflames my inner conflict with righteousness because being righteous, by definition, means I am free from guilt and sin, that I am justified. I don’t feel that way a lot of the time.

Of course, the conflict I express comes when I attempt righteousness all on my own. Not possible. I know this both by my many failures and by what the Bible says of the matter.

Righteousness Exemplified

One activity that helped me better understand righteousness was reading about the first person ever called righteous in the Bible. There’s a good trivia question for you. Know who it is?

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time.” (Genesis 6:9)

Now, we know Noah wasn’t perfect, at least not of his own accord (Genesis 9:20-22). So what made him righteous… blameless?

If you read all of Genesis 6, you get a solid picture of why Noah found favor and why God considered Him righteous. Three reasons stand out that help me understand how to practice my own righteousness.

1. Noah refused to live according to the culture around him.

Noah was willing to stand out and did not succumb to the evil in the world around him. He alone kept God’s standards.

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart… But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

2. Noah had a relationship with God; he spent time with Him.

“Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)

Like his grandfather Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24), Noah spent time with God. Unlike his grandfather who eventually simply “was not, for God took him,” Noah had more that God wanted him to accomplish on earth.

3. Noah did what God asked him to do, even when doing so went against human logic.

Though it had never rained, God told Noah to build a boat and put animals in it. Noah’s response?

“Noah did according to all that God had commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)

Noah’s faith in God is obvious by his obedience.

This post is not a comprehensive study of Noah or of righteousness. The point of this post is to instead help each one of us take steps toward increased understanding of what righteousness looks like in a believer’s life.

Practicing Righteousness

To continue on that journey, spend time with God in His Word. Ask Him to help you walk in righteousness. Study the lives of the many other individuals in the Bible described as righteous, and consider doing a word study on righteousness itself.

The following truths will help you get started. Be sure to read through their accompanying Bible references.

  1. God is completely righteous. (Isaiah 45:21-24)
  2. We can’t be righteous on our own. (Isaiah 64:6)
  3. Human nature is the opposite of righteousness. (Romans 3:10-18)
  4. Righteousness is not attained by works. (Romans 4:18-25)
  5. Law following does not make us righteous. (Galatians 3:11-21)
  6. Righteousness protects the core of a person. (Ephesians 6:14)
  7. Righteousness comes through faith. (Philippians 3:9)
  8. Grow in righteousness by studying God’s words. (2 Timothy 3:16)
  9. Righteousness ought to characterize a believer’s life. (1 Peter 2:24)

Think about how these truths played out in Noah’s life and in the lives of others considered righteous. Realize that while we are declared righteousness, living it is not a one and done attainment but a continual way of living that flows out of a relationship with God as faith in Him grows.

In studying righteousness, or God’s faithfulness or any other topic in the Bible, always remember that we are on the road to perfection, to holiness. We journey that road through small steps that add up over time to make a huge difference. Keep taking those steps and following the path God has set before you.

What Does “God is Faithful” Actually Mean?

A God of Absolutes

Humans are not 100% faithful. We let down people we love, and we struggle being consistent with what we know is healthy. This is one reason we have a hard time believing God is always faithful. We’re not able to live out absolutes, so we struggle believing He can too.

Yet, the Bible says he is always faithful. Not just faithful some of the time and to some people.

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

“His is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

“For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

See the absolutes? ALL his ways. NO wrong. ALL generations.

The Purpose of His Faithfulness

Why does it matter to us if God is always faithful?

His faithfulness speaks to the core of His character. This means we can know for certain He’ll do what He says He’s going to do. We can know that the character we see Him display throughout the Bible, in Old Testament Stories and New Testament teachings, still remains active today.

“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” (Hebrews 6:17)

He hasn’t changed. He’s the same God we read about in the Bible. His purposes remain the same.

The Activity of His Faithfulness

While we can read about God’s faithfulness in the Bible, we may still struggle with knowing how His faithfulness works in our lives. Fortunately, the Bible gives us a lot of insight into the activity of God’s faithfulness.

  1. His faithfulness is not dependent upon our faithfulness. (Romans 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13) No, we’re not always faithful. He remains faithful to His promises, though, regardless of how many times we fail to do so.
  2. His faithfulness gives us confident hope. (Hebrews 10:23) Because God is faithful, the hope we rely on — that found in the death and resurrection of Jesus — and all the promises that come with that hope, is sure. No matter what else may crumble in our lives, that hope remains.
  3. His faithfulness is abounding. (Psalm 86:15) Not only is God slow to get angry, love and faithfulness are in abundant supply. In other words, there is no end to them. We cannot use them up.
  4. His faithfulness is the foundation for all He does. (Psalm 33:4) All that he has done and will do flows out of His faithfulness. In other words, every act of God is reliable, dependable, consistent and loyal. He does not stray from who He is. Ever.
  5. His faithfulness guarantees our forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) When we regularly confess and repent, God always forgives. He also gives us a clean slate. Every time.
  6. His faithfulness means fellowship. (1 Corinthians 1:9) God’s faithfulness is fulfilled in Christ. Because of Christ, we can have fellowship with God. If you’re unsure of where to go for any reason, if you doubt God’s faithfulness, look to Christ.
  7. His faithfulness provides the antidote to temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Temptation is inevitable, but God promises a way to bear it. Always.
  8. His faithfulness protects us. (2 Thessalonians 3:3) God promises both strength and protection from Satan. Because God is faithful, we know this and all of His promises are true. (Not sure Satan is real? Consider that underestimating him may be exactly what he wants.)

On one level, God’s faithfulness doesn’t make sense. After all, why would He remain reliable, dependable, consistent and loyal when we’re not? Think of it this way. When you are faithful to someone even when they are not faithful to you, why? The answer, likely, is because you love them.

Faithfulness Because of Love

If we in our imperfection can love enough for any semblance of faithfulness in our lives, so much more will God love enough for perfect faithfulness. We may not fully understand or comprehend it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

To better grasp the truth of God’s faithfulness, saturate yourself with Scripture. Learn God’s promises. As you become more aware of what He says and how His faithfulness is present in your life, your hope will grow. Your ability to forgive and withstand temptation will increase too. Why? Because He is faithful and keeps His promises.

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

Study to Stay Steady

How to Identify Counterfeits

Do a quick internet search for “how to identify counterfeits” and one fact becomes abundantly clear… there a lot of counterfeits out there.

  1. Money
  2. Food
  3. Textbooks
  4. Bags
  5. Watches
  6. Cameras

Counterfeits are usually a much lower quality and don’t last as long as the authentic item, and they simply do not live up to the value of the original item over the long term.

When you want to purchase an authentic item, awareness of counterfeits is important along with a good knowledge of the original. You could also learn different anti-counterfeit measures unique to each item.

All approaches for identifying counterfeits stem from the original product. In other words, the ability to identify a counterfeit is based on knowledge of the authentic.

This holds true in religion too. Counterfeits continually work to distract and pull people away from the authentic doctrine found in the Bible. I don’t know if I could tell a difference between a genuine designer bag and a knockoff, and I’m not sure I care all that much. I do know, however, that I want the truth on which I base my eternity to be authentic.

Discerning False Doctrine

Early church leaders wanted to be sure of the same thing. They wanted people to be aware of the existence of fake Gospels — of false doctrine — so they could base their lives and their eternities on the truth of the Gospel of Christ alone. As a result, the church leaders taught about the difference between counterfeits and the authentic gospel frequently.

What Paul and the other apostles taught those in the early church about false doctrine holds true for us still today. Let’s look at a few of those points to help us discern the real Gospel from any of the many fakes rampant still today. Notice that the approach stems from knowledge of the authentic Gospel of Christ as taught in the Bible.

Any teaching and any person sincerely professing true doctrine — that found in the Bible will consistently do the following:

  1. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. (1 John 4:2)
  2. Bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16)
  3. Have words and actions that complement each other & Scripture. (Titus 1:16)
  4. Are consistent in what they preach and practice. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
  5. Only preach Christ crucified. (Galatians 1:8-9)

Together — along with the activity of the Holy Spirit — these points help believers know false doctrine when they see and hear it. Yet, knowing doesn’t always keep deception at bay. Without a systematic and consistent approach to studying doctrine, even the most dedicated Christian can (and has) fallen prey to false doctrine that goes against what the Bible teaches.

Study to Stay Steady

Talk to people who were once dedicated to living the Bible and the Gospel it teaches and who have since fallen away from that lifestyle and their beliefs, and you’ll find at least one consistent thread within every case… a neglect of Bible study.

Any Christian, no matter how long they’ve been a believer, must study to stay steady. They must maintain a consistent habit of Bible study throughout their lifetime in order to avoid wandering away from the true Gospel.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Ephesians 4:14)

Diligence in studying Scripture is key to the maturity of faith. It’s crucial for steadiness and for staying focused on the authentic Gospel. If you think you can avoid false doctrine by willpower alone, you’re deceiving yourself. Only by knowing the authentic Gospel as taught in Scripture can a person remain steady in Godly character and growing in faith.

For more on this topic, read What is false doctrine? Found at GotQuestions.org.

Secret Service Christians

U.S. Secret Service

Created in 1865 by Abraham Lincoln on the day of his death to suppress counterfeit currency, the United States Secret Service now has a two-fold mission.

“Today the Secret Service is mandated by Congress to carry out the integrated missions of protection and investigations.” (United States Secret Service)

More specifically, Secret Service agents protect our “nation’s leaders and the financial and critical infrastructure of the United States.” They do this with a worldwide staff of about 7,000 employees.

Secret Service agents try to do their jobs in an inconspicuous way. In fact, they prefer to go unnoticed since being noticed usually means something went wrong.

Yet, spotting an agent isn’t too difficult since their unique objectives and activities means they won’t exactly fit in. Think of it like being able to spot security personnel at a concert. Because much of the time they don’t act like those in the crowd, they stand apart from it.

In some aspects, being a Christian should be like being a Secret Service agent. One of those involves being inconspicuous in some key ways.

Secret Service Christians

Jesus actually tells us to be secret service Christians in three specific areas… giving, praying and fasting (Matthew 6). He begins this teaching by telling us to check our motives.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

By no means are we to hide our faith. In fact, Scripture tells us to always be ready to share the reason for our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and to continually glorify God (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). At the same time, our efforts in these areas are not to be for the purpose of recognition from men. Our focus, instead, should be on our “Father who is in the secret place” (Matthew6:4, 6 & 18)

When we are secret service Christians with our giving, praying and fasting, like the United States Secret Service agents we too will stand apart from the crowd not necessarily because of our specific activity but because of the way in which we do it. Also like Secret Service agents, the focus will ultimately remain on the object of our service.

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Knowing God, Part 2

In “Knowing God, Part 1,” we discussed the need all people have to know and value themselves and to be important to others. We also looked at how only God can fulfill that need and how only He fully knows us. Let’s now explore the journey we get to take toward knowing God.

God is Knowable

God knows each one of us intimately. He formed us and planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He gave us purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). All of that is truly astounding, but there’s more.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God is unfathomable, beyond measure, infinite and unending. At the same time, He is also knowable and approachable.

“I too… do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17)

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Even though God is far too big for us to fully know Him, He invites us to journey toward knowing Him more. He also tells us how to do it. Even more astounding, He actually reciprocates our efforts.

How to Know God

Our faith lives revolve around an increasing knowledge of God. And while it truly is impossible to fully know Him, every day is an opportunity to know Him more than we did the day before. We don’t have to figure out how to do that either. God tells us.

Jesus is the only way to know God.

Any other proposed path to God is preposterous and leads to eternal destruction.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Only after we admit our sin, believe Jesus died to save us from that sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior can we begin the journey of knowing God.

Scripture is God’s word and His revelation of Himself to us.

A love for God’s Word is essential in knowing God. The Bible tells us who God is and what He desires of us, what He promises and what His will is. In that, it tells us how to know Him.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is Jesus Christ. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)

Reading the Bible fully and regularly is essential for knowing God. It’s akin to how we know our spouse or best friend by spending time with them. Scripture is our training manual for living how God desires. It does this both through clear instruction and through the examples given in the stories about how He interacted with His people.

Obedience shows we know God and leads us to knowing Him more.

Obedience is also crucial to our knowing God better and better. In fact, obedience is proof that we know God and at the same time leads us to knowing Him more.

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought to Himself walk as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:4-6)

The more we know God, the better able we are to do what He desires. At the same time, when we act in obedience without understanding, out of that flows knowing God more too. In other words, knowledge and understanding of God both fuels and results from our obedience.

All Worthwhile Knowing

The only times I’m ever satisfied with knowing and being known are when that knowledge flows out of knowing God. My marriage and friendships only bring real satisfaction when they exist based on what God desires. When my life’s focus remains on knowing God first and foremost, all other knowing gains tremendous value, purpose and motivation.

  • The only way good works have meaning is by knowing God and doing what He desires (Ephesians 2:10).
  • The only way I can consistently be light and salt in this dark work is through obedience to what God wants (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • The only way to truly love others, regardless of their attitudes, actions and words, is to first love God (Matthew 22).

Knowing God motivates us to live for His desires rather than our own. Knowing Him changes our want to; it changes our focus. Knowing God is the only way to meet the need we all have to know and be known.

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.