Taking the Next Step in Spiritual Growth (aka: Was the Apostle Paul a Hottie?)

I think I’m developing a little crush on the Apostle Paul.

(just kidding!)

But really, I am so grateful for Paul’s willingless to obey. His faith. His dedication to writing letters to other believers. I’m pretty positive if I was sitting in prison I’d be feeling sorry for myself rather than writing letters to encourage, call out, and build up the church.

Right now I’m reading Hebrews. Hebrews 10 and 11 were exactly what I needed to hear today. Paul wrote about the basics of what we need to be doing and how we should be living:

  • Drawing near to God
  • Holding unswervingly to Him
  • Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds
  • Putting my faith in action

I don’t know if Paul meant these to be sequential steps, but if so, I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve spent the past four years committed to reading through the Bible (almost) every day. I’ve read through the Bible three times and this year I’ve been doing a deep dive in the Gospels and Paul’s letters; but now I ready for more.

In addition to reading and studying the Bible and praying daily (Drawing near to God), I want to jump into the other three simultaneously:

Holding unswervingly to God: this is where I think practicing spiritual disciplines like solitude and silence, memorization and meditation, and fasting come into play. This article does a great job explaining how to incorporate these spiritual disciplines into our Christian walk.

Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds: Community and accountability. I long for this. Not just friends. But a small tribe of women who are on fire for Jesus. I’ve heard many times that people are the “average” of the five people they surround themselves with. I don’t know if this is true, but I want to find five women who are at a similar place I am spiritually – and ideally a few who are more spiritually mature – who will push me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. And even though I’m not old (mid-40’s is the new 30’s, right?), I want to find younger women who I can encourage and spur toward good deeds.

Putting my faith in action: I know my primary mission field: the three beautiful people who live in my house. I need to be working my mission field everyday. Secondarily, I also believe God is calling me to be active in encouraging other women to spend time with Jesus every day and to be active in loving and supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies. I know my purpose. I know what God is calling me to. Now is the time to step forward in faith and take action on living out my purpose.

It is time to put Paul’s instructions to the early church into practice and go deeper in my walk with Jesus, taking each step in submission and obedience to Him.

P.S. Paul, thanks for writing these letters. Don’t worry, I don’t really have a crush on you. That was a joke. But, I can’t wait to meet you someday.

Learning to Forgive

Forgiving isn’t always easy, but there are steps and resources to help us turn our offenders and hurts over to Jesus.

A few years ago, I was having coffee with a friend. We were having a casual conversation about something from my past when I felt myself on the verge of tears. She gently prodded as to why I was still so upset when I claimed to have forgiven him.  The more I reflected on it; I realized that even though I thought I had forgiven this man, I hadn’t. The pain and anger were still there, just buried.

God forgave us, and we are commanded to forgive: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

When my friend left coffee, she handed me a booklet from an organization called Fresh Start for All Nations. Going through this booklet, I discovered some essential truths about forgiveness:

  • I need to release the hurt to God. (Psalm 55:22-23)
  • I need to seek peace and leave their punishment to God. This also means I don’t gossip about the person or put them down. (Romans 12:16-21)
  • I need to pray for the person who hurt me. (Matthew 5:44)

Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing. It is a continual process, especially for the big hurts, and involves lots of prayer and reflection. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said to forgive seventy-seven times. For some of the people who have hurt me deeply, it has taken many months of prayer, repentance, and thanksgiving until I have been able to release them to God.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25-27,31-32 ESV)

I am grateful to my friend, who pushed me a little bit and asked me the hard questions, so I’ll ask you the same: Who has rejected you? Have you been violated or abused? What family members, friends, or acquaintances have said or done things that still sting?

And just like she told me to do, I’ll suggest you do the same, make a list of those names and ask God to show you others. Then take them to Jesus and start your journey toward forgiving them and replacing the hurt with peace.

Being Content with a Boring Life

Am I the only one who feels inadequate? I want a life of significance. I want to do big things, but I never feel like I’m doing enough. I’m not a missionary overseas. I don’t volunteer every week or make huge donations. Realistically, I haven’t impacted that many lives.

I feel pressure to do more. I remember being a high schooler in youth group hearing speakers that would encourage us to go out and change the world. I had big dreams and goals, but now I’m just a mom who can’t even keep up with the laundry.

I recently read in the New Testament that Paul said the Christians in Thessalonica should “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV)

I keep waiting for God to reveal to me this incredible purpose He has for my life. Social media doesn’t help when I see other people doing things that seem so much more important. I read books about making a radical difference. I listen to podcasts about people selling everything to serve the poor.

But maybe, that isn’t where God is calling me. Maybe I’m “just” supposed to live a quiet, ordinary life. Perhaps my mission field isn’t another country or even another zip code. My missionary work might be with my own children.

This morning I read Paul once again, writing to another church and encouraging them to live a peaceful and quiet life of godliness and holiness.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

I need to be content if God is “just” calling me to live a holy life and serve the people in my house and neighborhood. And honestly, it is easier for me to volunteer at a food pantry and hand out food to strangers than to be kind, patient, and loving while serving dinner to my children who are complaining because they hate what I made.

God told Joshua, repeatedly, to be “strong and courageous” when Joshua was taking over the leadership of the nation of Israel. Those words get me excited, and I imagine some adventurous calling that takes strength and courage. But if I drill down into what God is saying, He’s also telling Joshua to be strong when it comes to memorizing God’s word and meditating on it. He’s telling Joshua to be courageous when it comes to obeying God. (Joshua 1:6-9 NIV)

Right now, God is calling me to be bold in reading the Bible. He’s telling me to be content with my role as Mom. God is asking me to be courageous in serving, respecting, and submitting to my husband (and believe me, some days, that takes a lot of courage). He’s calling me to love my neighbors. He’s asking me to pray.

I have a quiet, peaceful life, which is right where God wants me. Maybe someday the call will change. But for now, I need to fold the laundry when I don’t feel like it and be patient with my children when they complain about my cooking. I need to be content and joyfully live my ordinary, and sometimes boring, beautiful life.

Jesus Loves Me

Sometime between the washing his disciples’s feet at the Passover meal, and his arrest later that evening, Jesus looked up to heaven and had a conversation with his Father. John recorded the loving prayer in John 17. If you ever doubt the enormity of Jesus’ love for you, read this prayer he prayed while knowing he soon be tortured and killed.

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

John 17:1-3

Jesus knew the was close to death, and he prayed for God to be glorified and that we might have eternal life.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus, John 17:11

Jesus prayed for the protection and unity of believers.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Jesus, John 17:13

Jesus prayed for us to have joy.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

Jesus, John 17:15

Jesus prayed for our protection from Satan.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus, John 17:17-19

Jesus prayed for us to be sanctified, which means that we will become more like God.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus, John 17:20-23

Jesus wasn’t just praying for the disciples that were with him at that time. He was praying for the believers that would follow. He was praying for you. He was praying for me. And he wanted us to have unity with God, with him, and with each other.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus, John 17:24

Jesus wants us to be with him. Wow. The creator of the universe wants to be with me and show me his glory. What an immense love. I understand Jesus having compassion for his creation. I can even wrap my mind about Jesus being willing to die to save us. But here Jesus takes it even further: he wants me to be with him. Jesus wants to spend time with me. He doesn’t just love me in a paternal way; he likes me. He prays for me. He wants the best for me.

And as he prayed below, Jesus wants me me to know that I am loved:

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.

Jesus, John 17:25-26

Feeding My Soul

I am not a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body.

Unknown, random quote, most likely on a beach gif

I saw this quote recently while scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. I don’t remember who posted it. I think it was a fashion or travel blogger. Someone whose blog isn’t focused on faith and for all I know they were talking about yoga rather than God . . . but still, it stuck with me.

Today I read John 4, which has a theme of nourishment and physical and spiritual sustenance, which took me back to this quote and made me question the effort I put into making sure my soul is fed versus my physical body.

I am not a “foodie.” Theoretically, I’d like to be, but realistically I don’t like to cook or bake. I don’t like grocery shopping. I am a picky eater. If I go to a great restaurant, I usually get the most conservative, bland item on the menu. Eating grilled chicken is out of my comfort zone. But I try not to eat too much processed food. I try to drink enough water. I’m trying to eat more greens. I know that eating good, healthy, clean foods is better for me. I know there is a correlation between the health of my cells and the food I ingest. I am conscious of this correlation, and I know that if I am disciplined and selective about what I eat, I will have better physical health.

In John 4, Jesus talked about physical and spiritual nourishment:

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

John 4:7-15

Our souls need nourishment just as much as our physical bodies. The “living water” that Jesus offers is salvation. By believing in him, our soul is quenched (see: John 7:37-38). A relationship with God is the only “drink” that offers life to our souls. Without Jesus, our souls will always be thirsty, seeking something to sooth it.

Jesus also talked about nourishment that comes from obedience to God:

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

John 4:31-34

Throughout John 4 there are also several references to Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, which foreshadows the last supper when instead of turning water into wine, Jesus had the disciples drink wine that represented his blood, which he would shed for our sins.

From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed, my body sends my brain messages about what it needs. My stomach reminds me it is time to eat. My caffeine addiction tells me to make coffee. Sometimes I get a headache from too much of a substance or not enough of another. Sometimes I get shaky or have trouble consecrating. I hear these messages, and I usually know what they mean. If not, a quick visit to WebMD will give me a clue.

I am not just a body with a soul. I am a soul with a body. I need to tune into what my soul is telling me and make sure it is being fed.

  • Am I losing my temper? I need more time reading the Bible.
  • Am I anxious? I need more time in prayer.
  • Am I lusting? I need to practice obedience.
  • Am I coveting? I need to serve others.
  • Is my soul tired? I need to rest in Jesus.

Making sure my soul is fed with the Bible, prayer, and spiritual disciplines is just as important as making sure my stomach is fed.

Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Jesus, John 6:26-27,32-33,35

Worry Getting in the Way

Today’s #DailyBibleReading (Luke 21) spoke to my heart, especially about not letting worry get in the way of focusing on Jesus and hearing his word.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.

Jesus, Luke 21:34

And earlier in the chapter, Jesus talked to the disciples about the persecution that they would face and he said they should make up their minds beforehand not to worry:

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.

Jesus, Luke 21:14

Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts get weighed down by the anxieties of life and also to make up their minds not to worry. Right now I’m struggling with some worry. I can feel it physically in my shoulders and stomach. It isn’t even anything terrible that I am facing. I am re-branding my company and designing a new website and marketing materials. All good stuff. Exciting stuff. But what if the latest effort fails? What if I can’t find new customers? What if my current customers don’t like the new brand? What if I can’t live up to what I’m selling?

Personal insecurities and worries start to creep in. My mind starts going through scenarios. Trying to be proactive, I begin to strategize for every possible option, including failure. And then my time spent with Jesus in the Bible starts to suffer as my mind wanders. My prayer life starts to become rushed and unfocused. I snap at my kids and husband.

Jesus said not to let my heart get weighed down by the anxiety of life. It is a mental exercise. I need to make up my mind not to worry. I need to give it to Jesus.

A few weeks ago I read in Luke 8 about having my soul be “good soil.” Again, Jesus talked about letting God’s word penetrate my heart and not letting the worry of life get in the way.

This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Jesus, Luke 8:11-15

When my mind starts to wander into worry, I need to stop it. I need to take the worry off my hook and put it on Jesus. Look to him. Pray. Focus on him. And be careful not to let the worries of life get in the way of my walk with God.

How to Talk about Jesus with Unbelievers

How should we respond to people who are questioning our faith? How should we bring the truth of the Bible into everyday conversations? How should we talk to unbelievers and share the gospel message?

In Luke 20, Jesus was always prepared to give an answer to the questions he was given by the Pharisees and Sadducees. They tried repeatedly to trick him with their questions, but every time he came back with an answer that stopped them in their tracks. Jesus frequently used scripture to answer those who questioned him (Luke 20:17; 41-43).

We are commanded to always be prepared to give an answer, but to do it with gentleness and respect.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ‘ 1 Peter 3:14-16

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6

Lessons Learned on How to Talk to Unbelievers About Jesus

  1. Know the Bible. Read it every day. Memorize it.
  2. Know my own personal testimony. Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I have my hope in Jesus? Take time to write out my personal testimony with examples of how my life has been changed.
  3. Do not be afraid to discuss Jesus or share my faith.
  4. Speak and act with gentleness and respect.
  5. Revere God. Submit to Him. Don’t let my personal pride, fears, or anger get in the way of sharing in a loving way.
  6. Pray. Pray for opportunities to share about Jesus. Prayer for strength, peace, wisdom, and clear-speaking when those opportunities arise. 
  7. Make sure my behavior matches what I say. Don’t be a Pharisee who talks a good talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
  8. Look for opportunities to share and make the most of the opportunities in front of me.
  9. Be full of grace and love.