Is There a Better Way to Disciple?

Is There a Better Way to Disciple?

When I was in college, I went through a very well-known discipleship program. I met with my discipler once a week and we went through these huge notebooks of information. We would check off lists and tasks. A friend of mine was my leader. There were a couple of issues I had with the program. One, I began to dread going every week. I hung out with my friend weekly, if not daily. I enjoyed spending time with him, except the discipleship time we spent together was BOR – ING! There was no life in it – just going through a notebook and to-do items. (Snoozer!)

  • Did I read the passages and answer the fill-in-the-blank questions?
  • Did I memorize the scripture for the week?
  • Did I witness to at least one person? (The answer was usually NO – since I was at a Christian university, who wasn’t a Christian? 🙂 ).

There were 3 of these notebooks you had to get through in order to complete the program. These were not your ordinary 2-inch binders either. They were ginormous, 5- or 6-inch beasts that would put a large-print KJV Study Bible to shame.

My second issue was that it really didn’t seem to make a difference in my life or the life of my friend. We hung out together all the time, yet, his faith didn’t really seem to grow much during our time together. It just felt like something we did, checked off, and moved on. More life and relationship growth happened outside of that time – not during it.

I never finished the program. I didn’t even get through the second mega-manual. In some ways, I felt like a failure. Honestly, though, there was more life in a prayer time that another friend and I shared twice a week. I found his faith and trust in the Lord inspiring, and our time together wasn’t dry at all. I even experienced a major healing during this time. That was the kind of faith I wanted (and still want) to pursue. Not a checklist-based faith, but a living faith that learns to listen to and hear the Lord’s voice. 

That’s why many so-called discipleship programs are flawed. They are based too much on what we do, and not enough on hearing from the Lord and following His lead. I’ve tried a number of programs and read about a few more. They may have had life at one point, but many seem ineffective in creating life-long followers of Jesus. The issue comes when we try and box up what the Lord wants to do through His Spirit and His people and put it into a system of checklists and principles. He’s a living God that wants a living relationship with His children.

 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

It is not the system or structure we use (or even the person leading us) that causes us to grow in the Lord, but it is the Lord Himself. So why do we settle for a system created by a person to help us grow in the Lord? How about we connect with the source of growth first? And then share what Father is doing in our lives to help each other mature in the Lord?

What kind of discipleship would that look like? One that seeks to encounter a living God and to live where every day is a new challenge of faith and listening and learning both from Father and from each other?

What is your experience with discipleship? What have been the most encouraging times helping you grow in your faith? What funny stories do you have about attempts at discipleship?

God Has Already Done It

God Has Already Done It

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,  “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

Last week, I told my son that I would take him skiing next month. He was really excited. My wife and daughter will be out of town on a mission trip during that time, and I thought it would be a great chance to do something fun together and have some “guy time.” Just yesterday, I asked if he was excited about going. He said, “Dad, I can’t wait. I wish it were February 17 all ready.” That definitely made my day!

From the moment I asked him, he has been looking forward to it. He knows that I will come through on my promise. Why? Because he knows me and knows that I wouldn’t go back on my word, unless it could not be helped. It also helps that I told him a firm date. Can you imagine if I had said, “Son, I’m going to take you skiing. I’m not going to tell you when, but one day, we will go.” How much harder would it be for him to trust me? He would probably keep asking me, “Dad, are we going this weekend? What about next weekend?”

When Abram was 75 years old, God made him a promise. Actually, it was more than a promise – the Bible calls it a covenant. It’s a binding agreement. Only God didn’t say when it would happen, only that it would happen.

And, like a good child, Abram asked God on more than one occasion, “When will you make good on your promise?” (My words, not Abram’s.) Abram even offered God some suggestions on how to make this thing work, since God was not timely (at least according to Abram.) Yet God persisted to tell him that the promise was coming.

That’s why I find the words in Genesis 17 so fascinating. God tells Abraham “for I HAVE MADE you a father of many nations.” (emphasis mine) At the time, Abram didn’t even have children. Sarai wasn’t even pregnant yet; however, God uses that phrase – “for I HAVE MADE”. In God’s mind, it’s as if He’s already done it.

That’s how it is with God. If He promises it, it will come about. It might not be in my timing. It may not be the way I think it should be done. But God will do it. He’s probably already putting things in motion to make it happen.

God tells this to Abram after Sarai had given him her maidservant to provide him with a son. Even Sarai thought she knew what was best. They were getting old, after all.

Yet God’s intent was different. He didn’t need help. He didn’t need suggestions. And says as such.

“See, Abram? I’ve made up my mind already. I’ll bless your other son, but that’s not how I will bless you. I’m going to bless you through your wife. I’ve already done it. You are the father of many nations.” Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t make it any less true.

So what does that mean for you and me?

God has promised us eternal life in His son. This is more than simply going to heaven. Our eternal life begins now – part of that is knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ (see John 17:3).

Maybe you feel that God has promised you something specific – only you haven’t seen the promise fulfilled yet. Abram waited for over 24 years. (I hope you don’t have to wait that long.) 🙂

Even though the promise has not physically come to pass, in God’s mind it has already happened.

God’s word remains true…

…so we can rest.

…so we can trust.

…so we can stop worrying.

…so we can stop trying to do it on our own.

If you don’t know what God has promised, look in His word.

For I have made you…

..sons and daughters.

…heirs of a glorious inheritance.

…holy and righteous.

Many of God’s promises He has already accomplished through His son. Others will be fulfilled when Christ returns. Until then, we must learn to live in the promises of God that are for here and now. If you’re anything like my son, sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait. Especially on a promise.

Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

Shadow, Substance, and the Lego Vatican in Philadelphia

In recent days, the pope made a historic visit to the United States. One of his stops was Philadelphia, where a Catholic priest had built a replica of the Vatican out of Legos. If I took you to Philadelphia and showed you the Lego Vatican and said, “Look! It’s the Vatican.” You might reply by saying, “Well, it’s a model of the Vatican.”

“No, no, no! This is THE Vatican. See the courtyard and the columns? The dome, the piazza, and all the people? The nuns? And look – the Pope is here and he’s even waving to the people.” If I said that you would know that I was either delusional, lying, or maybe a bit of both.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a deep-dive of Colossians. I’ve taken a slow and Spirit-led (and also very non-linear) approach to studying this book. It has long been one of my favorite parts of the New Testament, and I am finding a vast richness and untold treasures as I have dug in and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal things to me.

One of the more significant passages in Colossians 2 has struck me recently:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

With the things of God, there is shadow and there is substance. These themes run throughout Scripture:

  • The temple was a shadow of the reality of heaven and eternal life (the presence of God in and around humanity).
  • The Old Testament high priests were a shadow of our great high priest, Jesus Christ.
  • The Sabbath is a shadow of our eternal rest found in the work that Jesus did on the cross.

There are many more, but I think you get the idea. Now, if this is unfamiliar to you, please bear with me and hopefully it will become more clear.

The Shadow Points to the Reality

The things of God which are a shadow point to the reality. The shadows themselves are not the true things; however, they are often mistaken for things which have true substance. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They took the things of God which were shadows and built a religion out of them. Their understanding was limited and much of what they saw was not the true reality.

Take healing on the Sabbath, for instance. It was forbidden by the Pharisees. Why? Because it was considered work, and God had told them that the Sabbath was a day of rest. There was to be no work. When Jesus came, he healed people on the Sabbath. Again, why? Because he understood the reality of the Sabbath (that it was a shadow of things to come). God is for His people and He is working to restore all things back to Himself (See Colossians 1:20).  This is just one way that Jesus demonstrated that truth.

As impressive as the Lego Vatican is (it does have a waving pope, by the way), it is not the real thing – it’s merely a representation of a greater reality. That’s what the shadows are as they relate to the things of God. The shadows are a representation of a much grander reality, and we must come to know the reality, or we will be left (like the Pharisees) holding up the obscure things as those with substance.

The Substance Belongs to Christ

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Because Christ dwells within us, we have a vast wealth of resources at our disposal.  I have said before that although we have an inheritance of princes and princesses, we often live like spiritual paupers. That’s because we live by shadows and forget about the true substance. (The reality is that many Christians have been taught more about shadows than substance. It likely isn’t even your fault.)

The things which have substance are Christ’s alone. Colossians tells us that the great mystery of the ages is not just found in Christ, but it is Christ Himself. If that’s not enough, the mystery is also referred to as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Can there be a greater mystery? How Christ could dwell in us? It is almost unthinkable. But that is the greatest reality. Christ dwelling in His believers.

One of the most challenge things for me in my spiritual journey has been to sift through the shadows to find the true substance. It is a journey that God is hammering into me at this very moment, and it is one of my favorite times in all my years of following Christ.

Leave the shadows behind and follow what’s real. You will not regret it.

What other things can you think of that are mere “shadows” of things to come? What are you holding on to that’s merely a shadow of the truth? (Feel free to share in the comments below.)

What God Sees: Empty Shell or Beautiful Butterfly?

What God Sees: Empty Shell or Beautiful Butterfly?

I had to make a quick trip to Austin for work last week, and since it was last-minute and within driving distance, I decided to skip the flight and hit the road. Within the first hour and a half, I saw the first of a number of things that would not only catch my attention but begin one of two patterns that would continue throughout my eight hour drive (and, yes, that is driving distance in Texas!)

I noticed a large manufacturing plant that had shut down a few years back. It was now just an empty shell of a place. A number of buildings, both small and large, once bustling with people and movement, now sitting silent and motionless.

“What a shame,” I thought to myself. A waste of resources, space, and material. Who knows what will become of that place? It’s especially a shame because of the hundreds of men and women who struggled to find jobs after it had abruptly closed its doors, a number of whom I have met.

One man, Martin (name changed), told me how he had worked there since his teenage years (he was now well into his 60’s), didn’t have any degree or certification and wasn’t sure what he would do or even how he would pay his bills. The local Workforce organization was offering assistance to a lot of these individuals, including paying for education programs, and Martin was supposed to begin one of those in Amarillo, but he never started.

Driving by, I wondered what had happened to him.

As I continued my long drive, I saw a number of houses and buildings that had been abandoned over the years. Gaping holes where windows and curtains used to fill. Overgrown grass and weeds jutted through loose boards and cracked brick.

One town had even re-purposed a building and put up a sign on it welcoming people to their town.

But how do you resurrect something that’s dead and gone? Lifeless? Worthless?

And that’s when it hit me. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Because I want to share with you the other pattern that I began to notice.

I had been listening to a couple of podcasts as I was driving, and after turning them off, I just began to pray, “God, show me what you want me to see today.”

I started to notice butterflies. Lots of butterflies. I’ve driven a lot in my lifetime, and I have to say that I can’t remember a time when I’ve noticed more.

Most of them were flying right in front of my car (and no, no butterflies were harmed in the making of this post).

My daughter loves butterflies and so I thought of her and knew that she would love seeing all of them.

After a couple of hours, both the abandoned buildings and the number of butterflies stood out, so I knew God was trying to tell me something, but I just didn’t make the connection right away.

What could empty houses and abandoned buildings have to do with butterflies? You might already see the connection. I didn’t at first.

I thought about transformation, about metamorphosis. How a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, emerges from its cocoon and flies away. Only to leave what?

An empty shell!

That was the connection. The cocoon. What happens to it once the butterfly leaves?

It’s empty. Hollow. Lifeless.

What once held life is now motionless and silent. Abandoned.

That’s when God began making the connections.

When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we become a new creation. We’re the butterfly. At least that’s how God sees us in Christ.

Yet, so often, we still see ourselves as the empty shell. Ugly. Worthless. Barren.

Only those are not God’s thoughts toward us.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2)

What we’re seeing when we look at the empty shell is what Scripture refers to as the Old Man.

What the devil tells us is that is who we still are. God sees so much more.

He sees a new creation because we ARE a new creation. The old is gone. It was crucified with Jesus.

So then why do I still struggle with…

Pride?

Lust?

Porn?

Anger?

Depression?

Self-hate?

Poor self-image?

Imagine a butterfly once emerging from the cocoon trying to re-enter it and live there. You would think the butterfly were a bit off.

That’s exactly what we do, though, in our Christian walk. We receive this new life in Christ only to try and live it out in the empty shell.

The other thing we do is to try and “earn” being a butterfly. It would be like this same butterfly going to sleep in the cocoon every night praying that he would become a butterfly the next day.

Of course, that illustration is ridiculous. If we could see that butterfly and talk to that butterfly (and they could understand us of course), we would tell that butterfly, “But you are a butterfly. You can’t change what you already are! There’s nothing you could do to make you any less of a butterfly or any more of a butterfly. Why are you praying to be a butterfly? You are a butterfly! Now get out of that cocoon and be a butterfly!”

Believer, are you beginning to see?

You are the new creation. You have been transformed. Morphed into a new creature.

So, start living as a butterfly. Believe that’s how God sees you because that is who you are.

Nothing you can do will make you more of a new creation, and nothing that you can do will make you less of a new creation.

Stop trying to live out of the cocoon.

Stop seeing yourself as the empty shell (that old self is dead and buried).

Stop praying to be a butterfly.

You are a butterfly.

You are not worthless and lifeless.

You have Life living inside of you.

Believe.

Have faith.

Be the butterfly.

Is God Really In Charge?

Is God Really In Charge?

I hear this saying quite often. In fact, I just saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook post where someone commented:

I know God is in charge. Some days I get human and get impatient.

Understandable, isn’t it? To know God is in charge but also to become impatient wondering what He is up to.

That statement got me to thinking. What does it mean for God to be “in charge” and what is my view of God in that regard?

When I think of the phrase, God is in charge, a picture not unlike a boss comes to mind. If you’re like me, you’ve had good bosses (that you would work for again in a heartbeat), and horrible bosses (who you couldn’t get away from fast enough.)

It conjures images of a task-oriented, directive, Type-A personality who sits aloof from his workers, barking out orders and people scrambling to do his bidding from his corner office, away from the cube-farm subordinates. [Now you also might have a better image of what I think of human authority and my rebellious nature. :)]

God is not aloof and distant.

The true character of God’s in-charge-ness is the epitome of a shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep. leaving the ninety-nine.  (Luke 15:1-7)

It is the story of the Creator of the Universe leaving his throne, descending into a world ravaged by sin and darkness, and ultimately showing us what it means to be human.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 5-11, ESV)

It’s the narrative of a Father who loved His children so desperately that He ultimately gave them the greatest gift of all.  Restored life with Him.

And, it’s the account of a God who not only worked to set the universe and His redemptive plan in motion but continues to work in and through and with His people to this day.

Our God is not just “in charge” but He is in-volved in every single aspect of your life, of my life, and in the lives of those around us.  Even when we can’t see it or know what He’s up to.  He is working.

He gives us life through His son and lives that life through us by His Spirit who indwells us. (see Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16

For God, this is what it means to be in charge.  Not far away on His throne on high, sending others to do his bidding, but actively working by His Spirit to move in your life, to grow you and shape you and mold you to His likeness, and to use you to bring others into the same kind of relationship with Him, all for His glory and His eternal purpose.

He is a God worth following to the ends of the earth.

When you hear the phrase, God is in charge (or say it), what does it mean to you?  What image comes to mind?  Share in the comments below!

My Accidental Writing Sabbatical

My Accidental Writing Sabbatical

I know that there have been some who have followed my blog posts for a while. As of November 2013, I took a break from blogging on this site.

It wasn’t really a planned thing. It just kind of happened. And, to be honest, it has been hard to get back into the swing of it.

I’ve written a number of posts and tried to return, but none of them seemed to be worthy. Worthy of my audience. Worthy of God. Worthy of what I felt needed to be said. So I decided to stop and not start again until I knew it was time to return.

Another reason is that I went through a season of depression and doubt. For those of you who struggle with depression, you can probably understand. If you don’t deal with it, you probably know someone who does. And, hopefully, you too will understand.

Depression runs in my family, so I know those seasons will come. This season hit me harder than some, but not as hard as others that I’ve dealt with in the past. Again, if you’ve dealt with this kind of issue, you’ll know what I mean.

However, the most defining and important reason that I stopped blogging was that I have been through a season of pruning. And it’s been quite difficult to write during this time.

It’s been a very difficult process of Jesus stripping away everything that wasn’t of Him. When I say everything, I mean everything – even good things – things that could be labelled and considered ministry. Things that I didn’t want to give up – things that I both enjoyed and felt were “good” things.

For some things, I lost the desire (like blogging). For others, I heard the Lord say, “No.” Still others seemed to be more a matter of a slow pulling away.

During the last few months, I’ve been reading a lot. During the first part of this season, I even lost the desire to read. For those of you who know me well, you will know how unusual this is! 🙂 Typically, I will read several books at a time. For several months, I couldn’t bring myself to read much of anything.

I also wanted a new vision for the blog, a new focus. I felt like I needed a new direction and a new purpose. Since I’ve been in this season, I now feel like I’ve found and can commit to for the long haul. I’m sure there will be “tough” days of writing and moments of writer’s block, but with this new purpose, I pray that those times will be less and my commitment to both my readers and to this new vision will be greater.

That purpose (much like my life’s purpose) is to glorify Jesus Christ. And, so I want to begin writing about that journey. What I’ve learned and am learning. I want to bring you into the wonderful things that God has been showing me. i also want to share what I’m reading and have you comment and be part of the discussion.

I want to share insights and revelations with you about the things that Jesus is teaching and what he means, not only to me, but to all of us.

His life. His purpose.

His work on the cross. The blood he shed. His connection with the Father. The life we have (and can have) in Him. And, as Jesus is endless, so will be the topics for discussion.

The site name will change slightly – it will be Faith Brewing – I didn’t necessarily want the “s” at the end originally, but sometimes you take what you can get with domain names. Several months ago, the domain www.faithbrewing.com became available and I bought it.

Lastly, I want to begin a new phase of ministry. This is one big aspect of that. I feel that the Lord has gifted me with writing (more on that later – it’s something I never thought I would say), and also has gifted me with a ministry of teaching. And, I feel like this is to be my new format.

My desire is to create online courses and studies for my readers – in addition to providing resources and free material – things that you want to study more or know more. All of these will be centered on things that I have studied and learned over the years, as well as things that I am currently learning.

I pray that these things may bless you, but most of all lead you into an ever-deepening relationship and revelation of who Christ is. May your faith be strengthened and encouraged.

What’s next? Well, I’d like to hear from you. What do you want to study? What do you want to know of Jesus’ life, ministry, and purpose? What issues do you want me to address that you are struggling with spiritually?

Also, I have created a community on Facebook. If you would like to be a part of that community, click here and “like” the page. You will be notified of posts on your feed (hopefully – Facebook has been changing a lot.)

Lastly, if you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, click here. You will be notified of new posts, and also be notified when new studies or courses are available.

Thank you. And thank you for your patience. I pray that the Lord may bless you through this blog just as He has blessed me through the blogs and writings of others.

(If you’re interested in what I’ve been reading, check out the box on the sidebar, “What I’m Reading. I hope to do a post soon about the blogs and resources that have helped me in this season.)

Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving Feast

During this time of the year when we give thanks and tend to eat a little too much, I wanted to remind myself and all who read this blog about something that I have both experienced and have written about.  I have received several comments on this former post and wanted to have this be both the focus of my day and also encourage those who read this to have today be a celebration of family, friends, food (yes, it’s okay to indulge a little today), but most of all an acknowledgment of the One from whom all good blessings flow.  

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  (James 1:17, NIV)

Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lost Art of Feasting

Several years ago, when I was on staff at a church, I went to a pastor’s retreat hosted by some friends of ours. It was one of the best retreats I’ve ever been to.  It was relaxing.  It was fun.  And I can’t even begin to describe the food.  It was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life.  And that wasn’t all.

The place was magnificent…it sat on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon in Claude, Texas.  I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is a 5-star resort in a one-horse town.  They had just finished remodeling the rooms, and they did an outstanding job.  The main building, as well as the two wings of rooms sat on the rim of the canyon, looking down into the river-worn land.  The patio off of the main house faced east, so if you got up early in the morning, you could watch the deer eat out of the feeder as the sun rose over the canyon.  What a perfect setting to relax and drink in the goodness of God.

I had been reading a book by Mark Buchanan at the time, The Rest of God
, which talks about the loss of the Sabbath in the Christian’s life and how to get it back.  It was something that I’d become familiar with. Being on staff at a mega-church doesn’t always afford a minister a Sabbath rest.  While I wasn’t the senior pastor, I did have duties on Sunday morning, and even though we got our 2 days off every week (and our senior pastor did encourage us to rest and take our Sabbath), it was still hard to truly enjoy one as a day of rest.

One of the chapters in Buchanan’s book talked about feasting, and during the next few days at the retreat, I discovered what has been lost among our food-centric society, the art of feasting.  Because we have such an abundance of food, we rarely “feast” anymore in what I would consider the true sense of the word.  We gorge ourselves, feeding ourselves until we’re sick, and stuff ourselves with food that is really bad for us much of the time.  I wouldn’t qualify that as “feasting”.  I’d call that overeating at best, gluttony at its worst.

When our nation and world were more agrarian in nature, people would eat well or not depending on how the harvest was for that year.  People knew times that were lean and times that were abundant.  When times were lean, you ate what you had and when you could.  But when times were abundant, it was time to celebrate!  You could only store so much food, and it would only last for so long.  That’s when you feasted.  You celebrated the plenty that was in the storehouse.  You celebrated the food.  But part of the feasting was that you didn’t celebrate alone. You feasted with family and friends…neighbors and co-laborers.  Feasting was part of the community.  You worked together for the harvest, you endured the trials of the season together, and you celebrated it together as well.

That’s what happened at this pastor’s retreat.  There was another pastor there with his wife, my wife and I, and the host couple.  We talked about what God was doing in our lives.  We shared a meal together.  We laughed.  We shared our struggles.  We ate.  We  talked about challenges that God had brought us through and that we were in the midst of.  We told stories of our lives. We laughed harder.  We ate more.  Did I mention that we ate?  A LOT?!

These are things (even years later) I remember about the retreat:

I remember connecting with my wife and with other people on a deep level.

I remember laughing until my sides hurt and tears were streaming down my face.

I remember the joy of the fellowship with other believers.

I remember intense moments of sharing over common struggles and concerns.

I remember how good the food was and how I enjoyed not only it, but the company with which it was shared.

I remember praying together, not just over a meal, but over our lives and the blessings that came out of those prayers and shared moments together.

I remember the sunrises and the atmosphere of a place dripping with the presence of God.

I never felt guilty for eating so much.  (I did mention that we ate a lot, right?  And that the food was incredible?!)  There was an abundance of food, but there was also something that went beyond eating.  There was fellowship and connection.  There was a sense of God’s presence among us.  There was a common bond and an enjoyment of each other, the time we shared together, and the food that we ate. It may have been one of the few times in my life that I would label the time we spent together, not just as eating, but we were celebrating those few days together, feasting at the table of the Lord.

Wouldn’t it be great if church were like that?  What if that is exactly what church is meant to be?  (Acts 2:42-47)

Rebels, Romans, Refugees, and Real Life

He walked into my office.  I’d seen him before.  He was interested in taking a class at the college where I work, and I had looked over his records to see if he had everything he needed to start the class in a couple of months.  He was back asking more details about the class, how he wanted to better himself, and before I knew it, we were off topic.  He was telling me about how he had come to America five years earlier. He and his wife came from the Congo in Africa.

He said he didn’t always understand why he went through hard times, but he understood that everything has a purpose.  He spoke with a soft voice, and I saw a quiet confidence in his eyes. He spoke with conviction and resolve.

This man that sat in my office the other day could have been hardened by circumstances.  He could have easily lost his faith and rejected God, Christianity, and whatever hope he clung to during those years in the Congo.  He told me of seeing dead bodies lying on the ground, chests gaping open, guts hanging out.  I couldn’t imagine something like that.  I’ve seen things on film and video games, but I cannot comprehend seeing those things in real life and living to tell about it.

I’ve been struggling recently with what God is up to in my life.  I wasn’t sure I was where I needed to be and not sure which direction to pursue next.  There are a number of options, but I want to choose the best one and go where God is leading me.  As I sat listening to this man, I knew.  I knew that I was supposed to be sitting in that office listening to this humble man pour out his heart about life and hurt, about pain and suffering, and about hope and love.  How can a person love after seeing something like that, I wondered.  I think his point was, how can a person NOT love after an experience like that?

“Mr. Will,” he said in his unique accent, “we have to love.  I don’t know why everything happens, but I know it is for a purpose.  I have to love from here, ” he said, pointing to his heart. “It is because of Christ.”

We may not always understand our circumstance, but once in a while, someone comes along and gives you a little bit (or a lot) of perspective.  Indeed, it is because of Christ.  I have been reading through Romans and Watchman Nee’s book, The Normal Christian Life (which is his commentary on Romans).  In this book, he says that God has a unique purpose for each of our lives.  We are either generals or gatekeepers, and we must be satisfied with our position.  If God has called us to the position of a gatekeeper, we should not be frustrated that we are not a general.  If we are a general, then we must be content with our position and not wish that we were a gatekeeper.  The goal is to submit ourselves wholly to Christ and let Him use us as He will and for His specific purpose.

For now, God has me as a gatekeeper, and yet I wish I were a general.  However, I cannot add anything to my life by that wish.  I can only pray and submit myself to God and be content with where He has me.  Someday, my position may change, and I need to be prepared if He so calls.  Then again, He may have me as a gatekeeper the rest of my life, and I need to be okay with that too.

One of my aims in life is to love, serve, and encourage others.  The other day I was loved and encouraged by a man I barely knew.   He talked so naturally about his faith that it lifted my spirit and made my heart soar.  God may have him as a gatekeeper now, too, but that day, in my life and in my spiritual journey, he was a general.

7 Prayers for Strength in Times of Need

Before we talk about the prayers for strength, let’s talk about what God says about our strength in the Bible.  This discussion will help to frame the verses that I will list here and help the reader understand what kind of strength it is that as Christians we need to pray for.

 

As Christians, we have the Spirit of God living in us (Romans 8:11); therefore, we have access to the greatest power in the universe, the strength of God Himself.  God doesn’t want to make us stronger – He wants to be our strength.  Paul said that he would boast in His weakness so that the strength of God would be evident in His life and God would get the glory!  That is the kind of strength I want to encourage you to pray for.  Not that God would make you stronger, but that God’s strength, by His Spirit, would work in you.

This is a list of verses from both the Old and New Testaments that we will adapt into prayers.  It is powerful to pray through the Scriptures.  They are not only a guide to show us Jesus, but they can also be effective prayers as we learn to intercede by them.

Prayers for Strength

1.  This first prayer comes from the Old Testament, from the prophet, Isaiah.  It is a prayer for provision in time of need and strength in time of weakness.

Isaiah 58:11  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Prayer: Lord, guide me always.  Satisfy my needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen my frame.  Make me a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Amen.

2.  This next prayer comes from Exodus 15:2-3.  It is a declaration and proclamation of the strength in our God, which can be used as praise or as a reminder of where our strength comes from in a tough season.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.”

Prayer: Lord, You are my strength and my defense.  You are my salvation.  You are my God, and I will praise You.  You are my Father, and I will lift You up.  Lord, You are a warrior, and the Lord is Your name!

3.  This next prayer that comes from the book of Ephesians is an effectual prayer and pertains to spiritual warfare.  The verses that follow tell us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, so this is always a good prayer to have memorized.

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  Ephesians 6:10-11

Prayer: Lord, help me to be strong in You and in Your mighty power.  May I put on your armor so that I can take my stand against the devil and his schemes. 

4. & 5. Psalm 118 contains 2 prayers, one for strength (or combine into a longer prayer) and also a prayer of rejoicing.  Many of the Psalms were prayers in the form of song.  David and Solomon wrote most of the Psalms.

First prayer (for strength) Psalm 118:5-9

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in humans.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes

Prayer: Lord, I am hard pressed and crying out to you!  You have brought me into a spacious place.  You, Lord, are with me, and I will not be afraid!  What can man do to me?  You are with me and you are my helper.  I will look in triumph on those who are against me.  It is better to take refuge in you that to trust in man.  It is better to trust in You than to trust in princes.  I will trust in You, Lord!  Amen. 

Second prayer (of praise) Psalm 118: 14-15

The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.

Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”

Prayer: Lord, you are my strength and my defense.  You are my salvation.  Your hand, Lord, is valiant and has done mighty things!  Shouts of joy and victory will resound in my house and my heart!

6.  This next prayer is adapted from another Psalm.  I would encourage you to read the whole chapter (it’s short but a wonderful reminder of the power and glory of God). We will focus on the last 2 verses of the chapter.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.  Psalm 29:10-11

Prayer:  Lord, You are enthroned over the flood.  You are the Lord who is enthroned as King forever!  Lord, give strength to Your people.  Lord, bless your people with peace.  

7.  Our final prayer is a prayer of serving.  If you find yourself weary in serving, Galatians 6:9 tells us not to lose heart in doing good.  This prayer taken from 1 Peter 4 is a great prayer to voice when you become fatigued in serving.  Remember, we do not serve out of our own strength, but only in the strength that God can provide so that only He can receive the glory.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4: 10-11

Prayer: Lord, let me use my gift to serve others as a faithful steward of your grace. When I speak, let them be Your words.  When I serve, let me do so with the strength that only You can provide, so that in everything you might be praised through Jesus Christ.  To You be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

My prayer is that these are helpful for you and that you will find both encouragement and they will be a reminder of our source of strength.  There are many more prayers in the Bible that deal with strength.  God must have known we would need many of them.  If you need more feel free to go to www.biblegateway.com and do a search for “strength”.

What other prayers of strength do you use that are helpful for you?  What scriptures help you in times of need?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

Image credit: daynamore / 123RF Stock Photo

5 Secrets to a Great Marriage

5 Secrets to a Great Marriage

My wife and I have been married for 12 years.  We both think we have a really good marriage.  We love each other and have 2 wonderful kids.  We have our share of difficulties, but we’ve learned some secrets along the way – secrets that have kept our marriage thriving and our family moving in the right direction.  If you want to have a strong marriage, then follow these secrets and grow your way to a better marriage.

Secret #1 – Build A Solid Foundation

My wife and I started with 2 solid foundations.  Our first commitment is to Jesus Christ, and this commitment shapes everything that we do and say.  This commitment supersedes our commitment to each other.  This is our most important foundation.

Our second foundation is one of friendship. We not only love each other, we really like each other!  Before we started dating, we were friends.  We started hanging out together as friends several months before we entered into a dating relationship.  We did fun things together and enjoyed a lot of the same activities.  This gave us a strong “liking” for each other before all those pesky emotions got in the way (kidding hon!).  Seriously though, this foundation of friendship is key for any marriage.  You need to like each other as well as love each other.

What foundations do you have in your marriage?  If your foundations feel shaky, what are some things you could do to begin to rebuild them?

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