We Value What We Work For

moneyContinued from here.

Now, I do have the spiritual gift of administration, so organization comes easily to me. The Bible assures us that each Christian has been given at least one spiritual gift, so definitely enjoy the area or areas in which you get to do something effortlessly thanks to the Holy Spirit. But note how easy it can be to take that gift for granted. You don’t have to put any effort into that area, so it can be easy to become baffled why it’s a challenge for other people.

In contrast, any area for which you must work, which is going to be most areas, becomes an area that drives you repeatedly into God’s arms—or to connect back to the Vine —because you will otherwise fail. This grows your relationship with God and takes much effort—much repeated focus at you step out in obedience over and over again. As you progress in that area of your life, you have much to celebrate, and that progress has much value because you know all you sacrificed to achieve it.

As an example, I used to be a very stingy person and truly did not believe anyone ever tithed. Today, not only do I tithe, but I give generously above the tithe, and I actually feel really good about it. This did not happen overnight – it was a slow process that cost me a lot of pride. I began tithing solely out of obedience, and I begrudged every penny. I was certainly not a cheerful giver in any respect. Today, God will place on my heart to give a large sum to help someone in need, and I feel joyful about the opportunity to serve God in that way as well as to bless the other person. There’s no internal wrestling over this. All I have belongs to God, and it’s available for Him to distribute in any way He pleases. I know how much effort it took to get me from my starting point to where I am today, and I deeply value the freedom God has given me as I have removed money as an idol in my life. I value that my security comes from God, not from the amount of money I have in the bank.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace throwing money in the air. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

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Discipleship takes Effort

minerContinued from here.

Far too many Christians seem to want to receive the blessings of God without having to put in any effort beyond warming a pew on Sunday. Warming a pew hardly qualifies as denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus. Look at all Jesus did to follow God – it cost him everything! And then he gained everything.

I put a lot of effort into my relationship with God. I set aside the first hour of every day to spend in quiet time with Him – in prayer, Bible study, and praise & worship. I do this even when I am very sick or traveling. I do it even if I get to bed late and am short on sleep. That hour is sacred and is more important than anything else I do in a day. NOTHING is more important in my day because NOTHING is more important to me than God. He is my top priority.

It takes me an enormous amount of effort to continually defer my preferences to other people. I am very self-centered by nature as well as a recovering “control freak.” In my default setting, I much prefer the world to revolve around me – my needs and desires. Choosing to defer my preferences to others over and over takes a lot of effort because this does not come naturally to me in any way, shape, or form.

Neither do the spiritual disciplines come naturally to me. For example, prayer has always been a challenge for me. I have a difficult time staying focused as I pray, and I am uncomfortable praying aloud with other people listening to what I am saying to God. Nevertheless, in obedience to God, I have disciplined myself to extend my prayer time and have also learned how to extend my focus – not that I do this perfectly, but I have improved. I volunteer as a prayer intercessor at my church, praying for a full hour during a worship service, which is something I never thought I would be able to do. I am amused when people mistakenly believe that my obedience means I have a “gift” of prayer. My prayer life has developed through blood, sweat, and tears and has not come easily to me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a miner’s and using a pick on a pile of rocks. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Is the Journey Worth It?

I watched the movie New Life the other day, and one line deeply resonated with me. Early in the movie, Ben and Ava are having challenges with maintaining a long-distance romance. They have a fight about it and decide to take a break from the relationship. When Ben’s friend asks him why he is considering ending the relationship, Ben says that perhaps the relationship is not meant to be because it’s too hard. His friend replies that he really shouldn’t focus on whether it’s too hard. He needs to asks himself whether it’s worth it.

This comment resonated with me because that’s the same dynamic I see with many people, including myself, in their relationship with God. If you are looking for an easy life, then don’t become a Christian. Salvation is the only part of Christianity that’s easy. The rest – the sanctification process as you grow in discipleship – takes an enormous amount of effort. If my focus was only on doing what’s easy, I wouldn’t be a Christian. I’m not looking for easy – I’m looking for value.

Since I committed to being a disciple of Jesus and doing whatever God says to do, no matter what, God has led me to do some very hard things, such as forgiving my childhood abusers, humbling myself in my marriage, and submitting to authority, even when I disagree (such as obeying the speed limit when I drive). None of these changes have been easy for me. In fact, they would have been impossible for me without God’s intervention. However, they have been worth it.

Forgiving my childhood abusers is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it freed me from my bitterness. It released me from decades of emotional pain. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

Same story with humbling myself in my marriage. Slaying my pride and repeatedly deferring my preferences, especially in areas in which I believed I was “right,” was impossible for me without God’s intervention. Today, there’s no tension in my marriage. We enjoy each other’s company. We smile when we see each other. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of New LifeCourtesy Amazon.]

 

Engaging in Fasting

ill_do_itContinued from here.

If you have never engaged in any form of fasting, I strongly encourage you to try it. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, options for fasting are not limited to refraining from eating. What matters is that you are telling your body/sinful nature that it is no longer in charge by denying it something it wants and replacing that with a deeper connection with God. You will find that after a period of denying your sinful nature, your body will become less resistant to submitting to your spirit as you submit your spirit to God.

We live in a self-indulgent society, but we cannot allow the culture around us to drive our actions. Fasting is biblical and should be practiced, at least from time to time, by those who claim to be disciples of Christ. Jesus said that to be a disciple of Christ, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. So, what are you denying yourself? If your answer is nothing, you need to take an honest assessment of your life to determine whether you are truly a disciple of Jesus. Denying oneself is a requirement of discipleship.

While I will probably never look forward to seasons of fasting, I have grown to appreciate the value of this spiritual discipline and feel blessed to have this tool in my toolbox to help me get back on track when I find that I have loss spiritual ground. I accomplished (really God accomplished) more in one day of fasting than in the prior weeks of willpower and good intentions. God honors our actions of fasting and will work with us to help us get in alignment with Him.

Some forms of fasting, such as from words, are easier to do in solitude, so consider withdrawing from your life for a day as you engage in fasting. Adding the discipline of solitude to fasting can help supercharge the transition from your body/sinful nature being in charge to your spirit being in charge as you align with God. Give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her hips saying, “I’ll do it!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Fasting that Does Not Involve Food

shhContinued from here.

I was surprised to learn from Dallas Willard that fasting is not limited to food. An example he gave is fasting from words. Let’s say you struggle with “potty mouth” and that no matter how much willpower you use, you simply cannot help cussing people out when you become angry. Or let’s say you struggle with gossip. You have the best of intentions of controlling your tongue, but you simply cannot help yourself when the opportunity arises to pass along information that you know should be kept private. Willard’s advice is to fast from words!

The same principle of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus applies to this form of fasting. Set aside a full day to spend in solitude, and do not permit yourself to speak. For one full day, tell your tongue that it is not in charge: tongue submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. A day of fasting from words invites God to realign your tongue so that it learns it is the tail, not the head. After engaging in this spiritual discipline, you will find it easier to control your tongue because your spirit is directing the tongue, not the other way around.

Fasting can apply to other areas of your life as well, such as fasting from secular television programming or music. The idea is to temporarily deny yourself something that indulges your body/sinful nature so you can, instead, honor God. You can apply different forms of fasting to any area of your life in which you wrestle with self-control. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about regarding married couples depriving one another of their bodies for a time by mutual consent. Note that this denying of oneself is not done in a vacuum – the behavior is replaced by prayer.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Shhhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

My Personal Experience with Fasting

garbage_canContinued from here.

God has led me to fast a handful of times over the years, always when I was struggling with the misalignment of my body/flesh/sinful nature trying to be in charge. Most recently, this became an issue for me after being sick for 26 days in December 2017, when my cold transitioned over to an antibacterial-resistant sinus infection that took two rounds of antibiotics and a round of Prednisone to clear up. I engaged in as many spiritual disciplines as I could, but between the physical illness and the holidays, I attended church less, I served less, and I engaged less in meaningful praise and worship time.

I’m not beating myself up over any of this – it was simply my reality. When I am physically ill, some of the spiritual disciplines will be much more difficult for me to engage in, and some simply have to be put on hold, such as not attending church services when I am contagious. Regardless of how or why I got there, the end result was that I was much more “full of myself” after recovering from the illness. I found it much more difficult to be humble, and this was affecting my interpersonal relationships. I have found over the years that the more humble I am, the easier it is to be in personal relationships with prideful people. Conversely, when I am filled with pride myself, those same relationships can feel intolerable because both parties are filled with pride, leaving little room for God. I knew what the problem was, but lots of prayer and the best of intentions was not beating back my sinful nature. I was disappointed in myself for the lost ground, and feeling sorry for myself only fed my sinful nature. Thus, God called me to fast and accomplished in one day what I had been unable to do after weeks of prayer and good intentions.

For me, fasting is going on a liquid diet. I’ll buy a six-pack of Ensure, and I’ll drink an Ensure shake for each meal. Whenever my stomach growls, I’ll pray to God and remind myself that body submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. By the next morning, I felt like I had awakened from a deep sleep. It was simply easier for me to stay focused on God instead of myself after a day of fasting.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking out of a garbage can. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Value of Fasting

Continued from here.

When I would read about fasting in the Bible, I saw it as people trying to communicate to God that they really, really, really wanted Him to intervene. They would pray, fast, and put on sackcloth and ashes. To me, this seemed like the child who says she will hold her breath until her face turns blue until the parent gives in. That’s not at all what fasting is about!

Dallas Willard is the one who taught me the value of fasting, such as in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Fasting is a tool we can use to get our spirit, soul, and body correctly aligned. God designed us so that the body obeys the soul/spirit, which obeys God. That’s not how humans naturally live since the Fall, though. Instead, we let our bodies drive the train. Our bodies desire to consume something, and we allow our bodies to drive our emotions. We believe our emotions over God and indulge our bodies, which leads to sin or separation from God.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that reverses this process and teaches the body that it is not in charge. When we fast, we tell our bodies that they are the tail, not the head. In other words, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The body learns that it is not in control – that it must submit to the soul/spirit, which is submitting to God. As we choose to deny our bodies and follow Christ, our emotions change allegiance, reflecting our soul/spirit’s alignment with God rather than our body’s whims.

Paul struggled mightily with the battle between his body/flesh and his spirit. His sinful nature would lead him to do things that his spirit did not want to do. That’s the same battle that rages inside of all of us, and it’s a battle over which part of ourselves is in charge: our bodies or our spirits? Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps teach the body that it is no longer in charge.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Courtesy Amazon.]