Lazy Christianity

wake_upContinued from here.

The reason that so many Christians are living in defeat is that they are spiritually lazy. Priscilla Shirer says that God does not place His blessings directly into our hands. Instead, He puts them in our reach. We must reach – stretch ourselves – to grab hold of them. Thus, numerous Christians are living in day-to-day defeat because they are unwilling to stretch themselves and develop the muscles needed to reach the blessings. How God’s heart must break to see our deliverance hanging overhead but never grasped because we refuse to engage in spiritual disciplines and awaken long enough to see the deliverance that is within our reach.

The enemy is happy to continue playing soft lullabies to lull us into a state of spiritual sleep. As long as we are asleep to the realities of the spiritual world, he need not fear God’s children. A sword left in its sheath does not provide protection.

So, stop being a lazy Christian and WAKE UP! God did not place you where you are to take a long nap. He placed you there to accomplish a Kingdom purpose, and you need to WAKE UP to do it! Wake yourself up by DOING WHAT GOD TELLS YOU TO DO.

In which area of your life are you struggling the most? What does the Bible say to do about it? Then DO IT!! Is your heart broken in two? God says to pray for the person you broke your heart and forgive him or her. As you do this, you’ll receive the healing you seek. Is your bank account empty? God says to tithe, and he will open the floodgates of heaven into your life.

The Bible is a weapon – a sword! – that empowers you to break free from all that ensnares you, but your sword isn’t going to do you any good while it’s sheathed. Pull it out. Meditate on God’s Word. Do what the Bible tells you to do, and WAKE UP!!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace playing a drum and yelling, “Wake up!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Clarity of Spiritual Awakening

exerciseContinued from here.

As long as we are interacting with the world using our physical senses, we are never going to act and react in a Christlike manner. We need to see our circumstances through a spiritual lens, and that is only going to happen if you are developing your spiritual muscles. This happens by engaging in spiritual disciplines, such as the seven fundamental practices. Following God requires discipline. As long as you live your life based upon what you feel, you will never be spiritually victorious because our feelings flow out of our thoughts. When our thoughts are aligned with God through engaging in spiritual disciplines, positive feelings flow out. Otherwise, our feelings are going to reflect the state of a mind that is not in alignment with God, resulting in negative feelings. Reacting to those negative feelings kicks off a downward spiral that can be challenging to stop.

You are not going to develop spiritual muscles by accident. Because we live in a fallen world and inhabit bodies controlled by our sinful nature, we have only two options: (1) engage in spiritual disciplines to align our thinking and behavior with God; or (2) choose not to engage in spiritual disciplines and allow our thinking and behavior to align with our sinful nature.

Think about the body of a disciplined athlete and contrast it with the body of a couch potato. The couch potato may wish and pray for an athlete’s physique, but he’s never going to get it by lounging on a couch. If he wants the toned body of an athlete, then he must discipline himself to do what an athlete does. An athlete also finds the temptation of lounging around on a couch appealing. However, he has decided that pushing through that desire and disciplining himself to build his muscles is worth the sacrifice.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Building Spiritual Muscles

barbellContinued from here.

The way to develop strong muscles is to first break them down. When I do bicep curls, I am breaking down the muscle in my biceps, and this process causes short-term physical discomfort. If I push myself particularly hard, I might feel soreness for a couple of days. As my bicep muscles build themselves back up, they grow back stronger than when they were broken down because they know more strength is needed to withstand the pressure that was previously placed upon them.

The same concept applies spiritually, assuming I chose to view the circumstances in my physical life as a spiritual workout. Using the example of developing patience, each time someone does something annoying, I have a choice – I can react using my physical nature by fighting back, or I can choose a spiritual reaction of meekness: bridling my kneejerk reaction and choosing to extend grace rather than anger.

My teenage son recently did something that annoyed me while driving (he has his learner’s permit), and I was tired, so my initial reaction flowed out of the physical realm. I saw the potential danger, particularly while he was behind the wheel, and did not react in a patient or kind way. He reacted to my physical response, and things could have spiraled out of control quickly. Thankfully, I have been exercising my muscles for patience for a long time, so I was able to rein in my reaction and not do the dance of one-upping each other in our anger. Instead, I was able to de-escalate the situation so that we were soon laughing and no longer angry. I even humbled myself to apologize for my crankiness and got a very rare hug from my son!

I would not have been able to react this way (particularly when tired) had I not been exercising the spiritual muscle of patience. In the moment, I needed to see a bigger picture. The conflict with my son really wasn’t about the words we were using. Spiritual unity is more important than “being right” and is a much more effective tool in redirecting behavior than seeking to dominate someone else using physical words.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Asleep

sleepContinued from here.

I spent decades of my life as a sleeping walking Christian. I went through the motions of Christianity – said my nightly prayers, read my Bible, went to church and Bible study, etc. However, I lived my life based on what I could see. I was asleep to the spiritual realities that affected the physical world around me.

For example, if I had a conflict with someone, I only saw the physical aspects of it. I saw my way as “right” and the other person’s way as “wrong.” I had physical tools I could use to attempt to manipulate the person or situation into bending to my will. I was asleep to the reality that personal conflict is a physical manifestation of a deeper spiritual issue.

One possible spiritual cause of conflict in a relationship is spiritual attack. For example, let’s say I prayed for God to help me develop more patience. Suddenly, I find cranky people all around me who seem to believe I am the best receptacle for their emotional discomfort. While a person is speaking words that cause a rise of frustration in me, the actual cause of the person speaking those words is taking place in the spiritual realm. The enemy sees that I am seeking to transform into Christ’s image in this area, so he stirs the pot, pulling strings to get people around me to find me annoying and behave negatively toward me.

Meanwhile, God knows that the only way for His child to develop patience is to be placed into situations requiring it. So, he stands back and permits the enemy to stir the pot, giving the child the opportunity to develop this truth. I firmly believe that the reason God allows spiritual attack into our lives is so we can only find relief through transforming into Christ’s image. He allows the discomfort to help shape us into who we need to be. As we make the transformation, the physical world loses its power, and we are able to walk victoriously in situations that once challenged us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sleeping on the letters “ZZZZZ.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritual Awakening

Priscilla Shirer has written a 90-day devotional entitled Awaken: 90 Days with the God who Speaks, which includes spiritual reflections that come to her as she goes about her day-to-day life. The title “Awaken” is appropriate for these reflections because each time something in the physical world teaches us something about our spiritual journey, we are gradually awakening to the truth of God.

The Bible uses the term “sleep” for someone who is lulled into believing that the physical world is all there is. By contrast, those who are “awake” view the physical world through the lens of the spiritual:

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
‘Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’ ~ Eph. 5:13-14

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. ~ 1 Thes. 5:6-10

The theme of being “awake” versus “asleep” is woven into scripture, and it’s not talking about physical sleep. Thus, you and I might be sleepwalking through our lives, lulled into believing that what we can see and touch is all there is. What does it mean to be awake versus asleep spiritually? That’s the focus of the blog this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Awaken: 90 Days with the God who Speaks. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Go Out and Do Something Small

do_itContinued from here.

One of my favorite lines from Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small, is…

Add up the small things and watch them grow bigger. The God who does all things makes oceans from rivers.”

Each small act of kindness matters, and it has a ripple effect that changes the world. Nothing is too small to matter. Wilson’s song includes several examples of small things that change the world:

  • Singing songs about God to a child
  • Spending time with your family
  • Pastoring a tiny church
  • Visiting a widow
  • Dancing with someone with special needs

Note what all of these examples have in common – they involve investing in PEOPLE. Each example involves seeing someone else’s needs and doing SOMETHING – no matter how small – to meet that need.

One of the greatest losses in our culture is the gift of time. We live at a frenetic pace (me included) that leaves little room to invest in spending time with other people. We have replaced quality one-on-one time with social media and try to convince ourselves that having 1,000 friends on Facebook means we are loved. Nothing can replace the gift of your time – of sitting down with someone, making eye contact, and listening to whatever is on their hearts. That’s one reason I am such a strong proponent of small group ministry. Meeting together weekly, even for one hour, and LISTENING to one another meets people’s needs for love and support in a way that social media cannot.

I encourage you not to let this topic be something you read and agree with but do nothing about. Instead, start praying for God to change your heart and open your eyes to the needs around you. Ask Him to show you who you can bless today, and when you feel his tugging, follow His lead. No act is too small. Even a simple smile might be the connection someone needs to build hope and not give in to the siren song of suicide. You never know what small act of kindness can profoundly change someone’s life and, by extension, the world.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering you on against the backdrop of the words “DO IT” written repeatedly. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Shifting Your Focus Outward instead of Inward

fruitContinued from here.

As I mentioned when I launched this topic, the other end of the spectrum that keeps many Christians from “dreaming small” is spiritual immaturity, and I was the queen of this role. Many people believed that I was spiritually mature because I had read the Bible cover-to-cover twice, had memorized many Bible verses, and was extremely knowledgeable about what the Bible said. However, I wasn’t DOING most of what the Bible says to do, which is a telltale sign of spiritual immaturity. Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, and my “tree” was filled with bitterness, worry, and self-pity. I was far too self-absorbed to notice the needs of the people around me.

If you are a spiritually-mature Christian, then the world around you should be changing in positive ways. It’s not about what you say or do – it’s about who you are. As you transform into the image of Christ, you notice things that you didn’t notice before, and you are drawn toward extending love and grace toward others out of the overflow of the love and grace that God has blessed you with. So, “dreaming small” happens organically out the overflow of your relationship with God.

On her television show Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer advises Christians to pray for God to show them who they can bless today. Another prayer I like is for God to change my heart to align with His. I am so naturally selfish, as we all are, and I know that without God’s intervention, I will never make an unselfish decision. I am incapable of thinking about anyone else’s comfort other than my own in my natural self. However, as God has transformed my heart through extending me love and grace, He has empowered me to stop making myself the central focus of my life and, instead, look for ways to be a blessing to others. After all, we are blessed to be a blessing (Gen. 12:2).

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and leaning against a giant peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Be Faithful in the Little Things in Preparation for the Big Things

Continued from here.

I previously mentioned a statement from Tony Evans’ book, Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, which I’ll repeat again here. When people newly out of seminary ask Pastor Evans how to become a pastor of a megachurch, he advises them to go preach in a prison. His point is that God entrusts us with smaller tasks to prepare us for larger tasks, and we need to prove ourselves faithful in the small things before God will entrust us with bigger ones.

Jesus said the same thing with his parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-15). His point in the parable was this:

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” ~ Luke 15:10

God may have placed a big vision on your heart. I can relate because He has placed a big one on mine as well. However, He has also made it clear that the timing for that big vision is not now. He has placed me exactly where I need to be to develop the skills now that I will need to accomplish the bigger vision later, and He previously placed me exactly where I needed to be to develop the skills needed for where I am now.

I did not start out as the executive director of a statewide prison ministry with 40 active small group ministries across the state. I started out leading a small group of about 10 women through a Disciple Bible Study through my home church. After three years of that study, I started leading other types of Bible studies (mostly Beth Moore) through my church. When I went through a season of rebellion in an area of my life, the number of attendees dwindled to five. When I got back on track and became are more trustworthy leader, the number grew to over 30. God gave me years of practice in administering small groups through my church in preparation for serving as an executive director for a statewide prison ministry, and what I’m learning now is preparing me for an even bigger assignment for which only God knows the timing. Be faithful in the small things, and God will lead you to bigger assignments.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Tony Evans’ Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

How My Life was Changed by a Small Act of Kindness

bible_coverContinued from here.

In his song, Dream Small, Josh Wilson says that “these simple moments change the world.” Here’s my own testimony of the truth of that statement…

While I had been a Christian for decades, I was emotionally-wounded, spiritually immature, and self-absorbed in my pain. One Sunday morning, I had a pity party in which I cried out to God, “Can you show me evidence that even one person on this planet gives a #$%& about me?” (I had a potty-mouth back then.) I then left for Sunday School. When I arrived, a woman from my class handed me the Bible cover in the photograph, said she saw it in a Christian bookstore, and thought I might like it. She had no idea that this one simple action would change the world, beginning by changing me.

Receiving that Bible cover shortly after my prayer opened my eyes that I was loved and valued, not only by this woman but also by God. This prepared my heart to accept God’s invitation to seek Him with my whole heart during the first hour of each day in quiet time. After filling me to overflowing with His love for months, God led me to forgive my childhood abusers, which forever changed my heart toward “the guilty,” who I now see as “the wounded” in need of God’s healing. That change was needed to prepare my heart for becoming the executive director of a statewide prison ministry – an area of ministry I had repeatedly said I would never do.

This ministry has been active in prisons for years, and the vision has always been to expand this ministry outside the prisons to those returning to society upon release. However, the leaders were unsure what that model should look like. God placed a vision on my heart to take the same meeting format used in the prisons and offer it in a church building, and the Board of Directors approved launching a pilot of this vision. That pilot will launch next week with 16 volunteers from multiple denominations with different colored skin and will be open to anyone with a criminal record – no exceptions. (Some post-incarceration ministries exclude people convicted of murder, sex offenses, or gang-related crimes.) Each attendee who comes to know Christ through this ministry will not only be changed individually, but that change will impact his or her family, friends, and community, including people who might otherwise have been victimized by future crimes. God brought all of this about through one simple act of buying a Bible cover.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of Grace’s Bible cover. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

 

Dream Small

Lately, I have been meditating on Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small.

He packs a lot of punch into this short song, and it’s a lesson the Church needs to learn: our small acts of kindness matter. Some Christians err on the side of dismissing the value of small acts because they are chasing the bigger ones. They want to be the next Billy Graham or Beth Moore, but they don’t appreciate that God likely started both out doing small things that added up to big things. In his book Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, Tony Evans says that when people fresh out of seminary ask him what they need to do to pastor a megachurch like his, he tells them to go minister in a prison, which surprises them. Ministering in a prison is not going to get someone the name recognition to be invited to pastor a megachurch. However, it’s exactly where God can teach a new pastor through small things how to prepare for bigger things.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum, where I languished for decades: I was too focused on what I wanted God and other people to do FOR ME to think about what small acts of kindness I could be doing for them. That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity because the heart of Christianity is humility – focusing on God and other people while removing the focus from yourself. I was such an emotionally-wounded Christian that I couldn’t remove my focus from myself long enough to see the many needs of the people around me, many of which were small needs that I could have easily met had I not been so self-focused.

This week, we are going to focus on the value of “dreaming small,” as Josh Wilson puts it, which is what Jesus did. As an example, his small act of publicly acknowledging the Samaritan woman led the many Samaritans to become believers (John 1:1-42). Simply speaking publicly to this woman was a small act on Jesus’ part, but it had a profound effect on her – a woman who was publicly disgraced and shunned by her community. A small act of kindness by Jesus led to the salvation of many in the same community that shunned the woman. As Josh Wilson says, “five loaves and two fish can feed them all, so dream small.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Link to Josh Wilson’s video, Dream Small. Courtesy YouTube.]