Weight Training

Weight training makes you stronger, but too much weight can injure you. Even carrying a weight you’re strong enough to lift can injure you if you carry it for too long.

Also, it’s not always what you carry that is too much weight. It’s often how you carry it that causes problems. Anyone who exercises much knows how important form is for preventing injury.

When we think of our spiritual lives, we understand that carrying weight we shouldn’t involves carrying negative things like unforgiveness and worry. We can’t forget, though, that a weight can also be any distraction that keeps us from obedience and hearing from God.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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.” (Hebrews 12:1)

This verse speaks to perseverance, both our own and the examples of the many who have gone before us. It also speaks to getting rid of that which weighs us down and hinders our ability to persevere.

Throwing off a weight can mean putting it down and moving forward without it. But that’s not always what it means. It can also mean increasing our fitness, so a weight is no longer a hindrance.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” (C.S. Lewis)

 “You will find that it is necessary to let things go simply because they are heavy.” (C. JoyBell C.)

Sometimes, yes, you need to completely put down anything that keeps you from running the race God has marked out for you. Put it down and never pick it up again.

At the same time, realize that sometimes you need to get stronger, so you can carry the weight. As you do, it will eventually not be an entanglement. How? Check out these verses about spiritual growth to go deeper on this topic.

Transition in Change

Transition vs. Change

Though often used as synonyms, transition and change are not the same.

  • Change is situational.
  • Transition is psychological & requires “inner reorientation.”
  • Change is inevitable; transition is not.
  • We have to go through change.
  • We do not have to transition.

In other words, to quote William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

“Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

To further our understanding of the difference between change and transition, let’s look at a couple of examples from Scripture.

Example 1: The Israelites changed, but they didn’t transition. They wandered around the desert for 40 years because they refused to transition. They even expressed a desire to go back to captivity, to the way things were. (See Numbers 13 & 14)

What might this resistance to transition look like today?

  • Trying to control everyone and everything
  • Struggling with depression
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Hurting others
  • Feeling stuck

Example 2: The Apostle Paul changed AND transitioned. He also showed us that doing so is learned; it’s a process.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul went from being a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of the Gospel. Within his writings throughout the New Testament, we discover a man who not only changed because of an encounter with Christ but who also continually transitioned well from that point forward.

The process involves small steps taken over time that add up to make a big difference. In other words, it’s about living a life of making progress toward perfection. Transitioning within change is a required part of that process.

Refining & Pruning

God wants to both change & transition us. He is the author of this process.

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

When something is refined, it becomes a purified precious metal. When something is pruned, it produces a more plentiful crop. For us, this is a painful process but one necessary for growth, which comes only through transition.

A Transitioning Mindset

If you think you’re ready for change, you may be right. The real question is, are you ready to transition? No matter how ready I thought I was (e.g., empty nest), I was always wrong about what it would mean to transition and how ready I thought I was to do so.

What I’ve realized, though, is that if we we’re always ready and perfectly prepared for change, how would we learn trust God? We wouldn’t need the refining and pruning process where we learn contentment regardless of circumstances if we could prepare ourselves for growth on our own. In other words, the painful process of transitioning in change is the process required for growth.

We can, however, establish a transitioning mindset that at least minimizes our resistance to the work of transition God wants us to do in our lives. It leads us to a place of least resistance. We create a transitioning mindset when we take on the perspective of Job.

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Scripture expresses this same sentiment in other ways, the most well-known being Proverbs 16:9.

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

Healthy Change involves learning contentment and establishing our stability on Christ and all that he has done for us. This requires that we learn to transition (progress) as we are pruned and refined through all that life brings our way.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Go ahead! Be stubborn!

Bad Stubborn

Most of the time, stubbornness is seen as bad. It seems self-serving, whether a front for pride or a display of arrogance.

Unwilling to change.
Can’t admit when wrong.
Refuse to see another way.

I’ve been stubborn to the point of hurting others. My stubbornness has also resulted in missed opportunity and delayed growth.

Maybe you can relate.

Good Stubborn

There are times when stubbornness is good. Though it’s still somewhat frustrating to others, it’s easier to understand and appreciate.

Refusal to give up.
Pushing through.
Making it to the end despite pain.

God tells Ezekiel to be stubborn in this way. More accurately, God makes Ezekiel stubborn.

“But see, I have made you hard and stubborn too – as tough as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as a rock. So don’t be afraid of them, or fear their sullen, angry looks, even though they are such rebels.” (Ezekiel 3:8-9, TLB)

In order for Ezekiel to overcome fear and say what God wanted him to say, Ezekiel needed to be stubborn. Before this stubbornness took effect, though, God had one requirement of Ezekiel.

“Then he added: “Son of dust, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first; listen to them carefully for yourself. Then, afterward, go to your people in exile, and whether or not they will listen, tell them: ‘This is what the Lord God says!’” (Ezekiel 3:10-111, TLB)

Godly Stubbornness

We can take some valuable lessons about stubbornness from this account.

  1. Be stubborn in fulfilling the purposes God sets before you.
  2. Fill yourself with God’s words to help keep you stubborn.
  3. Obey God’s words in your stubbornness.

Then, without fear, stubbornly pursue God’s will.

Paying Attention

Ever been told to “pay attention”? Ever tell someone else to “pay attention”? We can all probably answer “yes” to both of these questions.

Every wonder why we so often struggle to pay attention? If pressed to give a short answer, I would say, “comfort and distraction.”

Distraction probably makes sense to most. We struggle paying attention often because we have so much other stuff vying for our focus.

Comfort, though? For me, yes. Often, actually.

Too Comfortable?

A significant, often overlooked, danger to/enemy of our attention is comfort. Comfort with the world and with our own level of growth.

When we get too comfortable, we let our guards down. As a result, things (habits, activities, people, etc.) get into our lives – and become distractions – that shouldn’t. We then begin to pay attention to those distractions and make them our focus.

If you’re struggling to visualize this happening, read through the book of Judges. It’s filled with examples of how God’s people got comfortable and failed to pay attention over and over and over again.

Do An Assessment

To avoid the damage that can happen when you fail to pay attention, take time to assess your own attentiveness to the things of God regularly. The following questions can help:

  1. Do I regularly read and meditate on Scripture? Am I dwelling on it or rushing through?
  2. Are my prayer times forced and obligatory?
  3. How are my reactions? Am I quick to rush to conclusions? Do I make decisions based on far too many assumptions rather than taking time to get the facts?
  4. Is my attitude like a roller coaster?
  5. Am I always in a hurry? Do I constantly push others to step up the pace too?

Let the Holy Spirit show you where you need to make adjustments. Let God guide you to a place of focused attention that propels your productivity for Him.

Life of Trees

In Spring 2018, I decided to read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I still remember the “Why?” looks my family gave me when they found out what I was reading. Essentially, they thought the topic would be boring and could not imagine why I would choose it.

Though not the most exciting read, and in no way encouraging my hope of the existence of Ents or Narnian foliage, realizing how trees communicate was fascinating. Learning about the life of trees, especially why some are so resilient, renewed and deepened my appreciation for how nature shows God’s glory.

Be Like Trees

Learning more about trees also increased my understanding of where the Bible references trees. It gave me depth of understanding about how trees illustrate how we are to grow spiritually. For example, we are to…

  1. Thrive like the olive tree, which can live 500 years even when neglected because its root system allows it to get water quickly. (Psalm 52:8)
  2. Flourish like a palm tree that sheds leaves on purpose before a storm to make it less top heavy and therefore less affected by the force of the wind. (Psalm 92:12)
  3. Grow quickly like the cedar and in a wide range of climates with roots often as deep as the tree’s height. (Psalm 92:12)

How can we be like trees in our spiritual lives?

We can thrive like olive trees by continually seeking living water (John 4:10) and by trusting in God’s love. We can flourish like palm trees by letting go of what weighs us down during life’s storms (Hebrews 12:1). And, we can grow like cedars by establishing deep roots in the fertile soil of God’s word (Luke 8:1-15).

Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.

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.

Give In To The Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee.

These foods and drinks make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower.

Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still often find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say we crave certain foods because they offer comfort by bringing back positive memories, calming us in some way or somehow helping relieve stress.  Other experts believe food cravings indicate some sort of vitamin deficiency or chemical imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

Regardless of their source, we all understand the power cravings hold over us. We also understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only benefits us, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

A Craving for God’s Word

A craving for God’s word exists in a desire for growth that, when fed, shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to crave God’s word.

As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop an increasing passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to joy, something that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time like you do morning coffee.

Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise like it is for chocolate.

What about expressing love to the family of God like we do for our favorite desserts?

What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known.

God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can correct any imbalance.

Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change, and as choices change, lives change.

When this transformation takes place, a new person emerges. That person focuses on building up and encouraging others, pursues love, mercy and grace, and seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. This life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because it takes only once…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.