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.

Lessons learned from Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary had been waiting 30 years. Thirty years earlier, an angel had come to her and told her that as a virgin, she would miraculously conceive God’s son. She was to name him Jesus and he would be given the throne of King David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word be fulfilled.”

Mary most likely experienced ridicule as an unwed, pregnant teen. Her fiance almost left her. She gave birth in a barn and then had to move multiple times to escape a king who wanted to kill her baby. She had experiences that she knew pointed to Jesus’ destiny, and she stored those things up in her heart.

I wonder what Mary experienced spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I wonder what she thought when Jesus followed Joseph’s footsteps in becoming a carpenter. Did she worry she had misunderstood something the angel had told her? Did she doubt? Was she relieved that his ministry hadn’t started, thinking about Simeon’s prophesy that a “sword would pierce her soul” or was she anxious for Jesus to show the world who he was?

After 30 years of waiting, things were starting to happen. First, Jesus was baptized by the son of one of Mary’s relatives, John, and God spoke from heaven during the baptism. Then, a few of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus, and Jesus recruited a few more followers. The wheels were starting in motion.

Then there was a wedding. Mary and Jesus and his disciples attended. Mary noticed that they had run out of wine, and she saw the chance for Jesus to shine.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:3-5

Even though it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time, he obeyed his mother and turned the water into wine, performing his first miracle.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:6-11

What lessons can I learn from this story?

  1. God is in Control: God had a plan for Jesus that had been in the works since the beginning of time. God had a plan for Mary. Jesus knew when his ministry should start and how. He knew the time and place. God also has a plan for my children, and He sees the bigger picture. One of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend and it is eating me up, but God sees the bigger picture. Maybe there is something my daughter should be learning from this tough situation she is going through. Maybe there is something I should be learning. Maybe this is an opportunity and a blessing, rather than a curse. He loves my kids even more than I love them. So much he sent His son to come to earth, to be born to a virgin, and die for me and my kids. God has it under control. My job is to trust Him.
  2. It isn’t my job to try to “fix” everything for my children: I’m really struggling with this one right now. As I’m mentioned, one of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend, and I want to jump in and fix everything. I hate seeing her hurting. But in reality, I can’t. I can’t control her friends. I can’t control her friends’ parents. And God never calls me to smooth the road for my kids or open doors for them or fix things for them. God commands me to train them up in the way they should go, to discipline them, and to teach them about Him. God’s commands should be my first concerns when it comes to parenting.
  3. Be Patient: God isn’t finished with me or my kids yet. Mary waited 30 years for her son’s ministry to begin. I imagine these were 30 years of praying and pondering, but being human, probably also doubting and wrestling with all the emotions that mothers feel. God knows the perfect timing. My job is to keep loving, keep praying, keep obeying. And to wait on Him.
  4. God is bigger than my mistakes as a mom: Jesus clearly stated that it wasn’t yet his time to begin his ministry, but in obedience to Mary, he started his ministry. No, it wasn’t the right time. Maybe there was another “start” that would have better, but God worked it out. Mary’s mistake as a mom didn’t derail Jesus’ ministry. It didn’t make God abandon His plan. God is bigger than my mess ups as a mom. He’s bigger than my sins, and temper tantrums, and poor timing and poor parenting. Regardless of what Mary did or didn’t do, Jesus still fulfilled his mission and died to save us.

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.

Making the Bold Ask

Most of my adult life I’ve done fundraising in some capacity. I’ve raised money for charities and political campaigns. I’ve asked for all kinds of donations: from cars to vacation packages to table sponsorships to multi-million dollar grants. While I know that most people hate asking for money, personally I’d much rather ask for money for a charity or political campaign than to ask for something for myself.

I struggle with clearly asking for what I want or need in professional settings, friendships, close intimate relationships.

The same is true for my prayer life.

I have no problem reciting a list of needs to God, especially when the needs are for other people. I struggle a little more when I am asking for things for myself – wisdom, to be a good wife and mom, to be disciplined in my walk with him – but I also know God says to ask for those and wants me to do them.

But I spend very little time having any really deep conversations with God about the desires of my heart. My personal battles. The temptations I struggle with. The wars I feel like I keep losing. The ugly stuff.

In Luke 18, Jesus gave two examples of people petitioning God for what they wanted.

The first (Luke 18:1-8) was a parable about a widow who kept coming to a judge with her plea for justice against an adversary. He finally gave in because of her persistence.

The second (Luke 18:35-43) was a blind beggar who came to Jesus and asked for mercy. Jesus asked him specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him, and he told Jesus he wanted to see. Because of his faith, Jesus healed him.

But what if the blind beggar didn’t just ask for his physical eyes to be healed. What if he asked for salvation and for eyes to see both physically and spiritually? Jesus asked the man specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him and the man could have asked for anything.

Do I do the same thing? Am I shortchanging myself by not being bold and thinking big when I come before the Maker of the Universe?

Lessons Learned about Prayer in Luke 18:

  • BE BOLD!
  • Keep asking God over and over. Don’t give up on my prayers.
  • Cry out to God day and night.
  • Ask with faith.
  • Don’t just ask for the minimum. Think big.

 

 

 

Take Up Your Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16:24-25 

#DailyBibleReading

#BibleReadingPlan

Four Questions to Ask When Studying the Bible

1. What does this passage mean?

2. What should I be thankful for?

3. Does this passage shine a light on any sin in my life?

4. How is the Holy Spirit leading me to pray after reading these verses?

Based on Martin’s Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray.

 

Tapping into God’s Power

In today’s #DailyBibleReading, I read in 2 Kings about Elijah and Elisha and the amazing power of God that filled them and fought their battles for them. In 2 Kings 1, the king kept sending out men to confront Elijah and each time they arrived Elijah would say: “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then, poof, fire came down and consumed the king’s men.

Then a while later two pretty amazing things happened through another prophet, Elisha:

  1. The water of the city was contaminated and people were complaining to Elisha about it. He through a little salt in the water and, poof, the water was clean.
  2. Elisha finishes with the water and starts heading out of town, and some boys start heckling him about his bald head. Elisha cursed the boys and out of the woods come a couple of angry mama bears, and they tore the boys apart. Pretty gruesome. It makes me wonder if Elisha fully knew the power he was tapped into. Did he realize just cursing at some mean kids would unleash the fury of nature? I wonder if he was in shock as these bears came barreling down the hill?

Then in my #BibleReadingPlan, I moved into Matthew 10, and Jesus called his 12 disciples and gave them access to God’s power. He gave them the power to cast out demons, raise the dead, and heal diseases. Can you imagine what they felt like? Just think: you’ve been in awe of watching Jesus do these things and then he turns to you, and he says,”OK, now it is your turn. I’m giving you my powers.”

The power also came with a warning – Jesus told the disciples that they needed to be wise because once this power was unleashed, they were also going to have enemies. And these enemies weren’t just 10-year-old boys teasing them about their hair or lack of it, these enemies would be grown men – men in power – who would beat them and drag them to court and try to kill them.

I love what Jesus tells them next – when they were in court, facing an angry crowd and death – they were to be peaceful and still. God would give them the words. The spirit of God would speak through their mouths. It reminds me of a passage from a few days ago in 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 when Judah was going into battle and God said:

  • Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.
  • Tomorrow go down against them.
  • You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.

Can you imagine being a disciple and being told you were going to have access to this kind of power, but that access to that power also came with a whole lot of responsibility? These were just ordinary guys who had been living their ordinary lives and Jesus called them to follow Him. They followed and experienced unbelievable things. It had to be surreal. And then even more surreal when he turned to this group of men and said, OK, now it’s your turn to have access to this amazing power. I think I’d be in shock and probably scared to death.

But the crazy, amazing, hard-to-believe thing is this . . . I do have access to that power.

Maybe God isn’t calling me to raise anyone from the dead, but he is calling me to be loving. To be kind. To be patient. To have self-control. To flee from temptation. To honor my husband. To share the gospel. And while those things might seem minuscule compared to casing out a demon, I can’t do them by myself. I can only do them by tapping into God’s power by daily reading my Bible, praying, and meditating on His word.

Pretty amazing. This God who called Elijah, Elisha, Matthew, Peter, and John also called me. Ordinary me. Just a mom and wife in middle America.

Some days He might be calling me to go into active battle.

Some days He might be calling me to stand calm and trust Him in the middle of a storm.

Every day, He is calling me to follow Him.