4 Steps to Accomplish Spiritual Goals

 

Delight

 

We’re all unfinished people. You. Me. We. We’re people who are becoming.

So I embrace this perennial season of hope and resolutions. I love how every one of us can begin a new chapter with our lives. We can end bad habits and begin new ones.

We can change. God can modify who we are.

I once thought God left this sanctifying work up to me. Like a fool, I behaved like I could alter my core spiritual DNA.

So I analyzed and scrutinized myself, and set out trying to fix what was broken.

If I came up short on love, I played the girl who loves like an actor. And during those years I smiled, a lot. But one day I realized this faux love wasn’t the agape I thought it was.

So I asked the God who defines himself as love to show me what loving people really looked like. He did.

I learned that I can’t accomplish anything apart from God. The spiritual growth we try and drum up in the flesh ends up looking like a Play-Doh “Gumby,” when God wants to create in us something akin to Michelangelo’s David.

If you’re New Year’s resolution is spiritual growth—Bible reading or prayer, don’t try to accomplish it on your own.

  • Start with God, and commit this goal to him only. Don’t make it about you. Make it about worship, not work.

 

  • Know that God can do in a year what it could take us 30 decades to do on our own. He’s that kind of Person, and he loves to do miracles for those who believe.

 

  • Just ask. “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” (James 4:2 NLT).

 

  • And keep asking. If you’re hoping for spiritual growth, it’s the will of God. Let’s take Jesus’ advice this year:

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 NLT).

I would love to hear from you. What are you in the process of becoming?

I’m in the process of becoming a worshipper and not a worrier. I’m also learning the daily habit of writing. Life tastes sweeter when I string words together on a page.

What about you?

 

How to Kick the Worry Habit

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

I did something crazy last month—I decided to start my annual health kick one month early. Cutting sugar from my diet was my health decision du jour.

I passed up holiday cookie exchanges and even pumpkin cheesecake, a minor miracle in itself. I kicked my sweets habit pretty quickly. In a week or so the cravings vanished.

I lost a few pounds, but what I learned about worry and how it relates to sugar addiction proved more important.

A 2013 study showed Oreos more addictive than heroine or cocaine. I’ve never experimented with drugs, but I do have a 30-year sugar addiction.

Maybe I should blame Little Debbie snacks in my lunchbox, but I once lived for that sugary fix. It satisfied in the moment, but gut-punched me with a new craving once the sugar wore off.

While driving one morning, I saw the similarity between sugar addiction and the destructive habit of worry. If I give in to the temptation to fret in one area of my life, it’s not long before fretting becomes an hourly fixation.

I wondered if I could stop the cycle of worry the same way I had broken the sugar cycle?

While my car engine idled at a stoplight, I imagined Jesus sitting in the passenger seat. Somehow the holiday hustle that prods the joy right out of my heart began to cease.

Backseat arguments over toys couldn’t invade my peace. In that moment, I shared exhaustion with him. I somehow knew Jesus sat beside me sharing in my anxieties and daily frustrations.

He sat with me. Or maybe better said, I sat with him, united with him.

This picture of him wanting to be with me during all my unlovely moments changed my mood and allowed his love to flow through me.

I’ve enjoyed Brother-Lawrence style prayer before. Practicing the presence of God while peeling potatoes or cleaning my house has never been difficult.

The real challenge is dwelling with the Lord during the chaos.

How do I unite my worried mind to Peace in the middle of toddler tantrums? These days, friends, I don’t have Brother Lawrence’s solitude or a quiet monastery to hide away in seeking God.

But I do have Someone to run to. Or better said, I have Someone who runs to me.

When I stopped consuming sugar this month, I marveled at how much better food tasted. Vegetables opened on my palate in a new way. Sweet red peppers tasted like candy.

New flavors and nuances in coffee and wine popped on my taste buds. I couldn’t believe what I had missed.

The same rings true when we stop the cycle of worry. Life opens up as a feast for us to enjoy. When fear addles our minds, we miss the opportunity to see God everywhere.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words sum up the reality of abiding in Christ.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

As the new year begins, would you consider joining me to break the cycle of fear and worry in your life? Would you consider focusing your attention in a new way upon Christ and his finished work?

I’m looking forward to posting more about this journey. I hope you join me as we “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” And if I could sing on key, I would belt the rest of that old song to you.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

The Real Work of Rest

 

Photo by Seabimarium via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Seabimarium via Creative Commons Flickr

Rest has always eluded me. I’m an achiever, a veritable list maker. If I can pen a goal on paper with the hope of crossing it off, I know I can make it happen.

“Make it happen,” became the theme of my late teens and early twenties when I attended a discipleship training program where this statement was mantra. We had more than 100 students, who like me, were eager to know God and receive ministry training.

Like an army, we received marching orders from leaders along with those three words. And we accomplished huge tasks for the church, but the real work of union with Christ and rest in Christ was lost on us. 

We worked 15-hour days building the Halloween attraction, “House of Horrors,” which would pull thousands through a hell house designed to preach the gospel. The intention was good, but the tactics pandered to people’s fear of death and only hinted at the crux of the gospel–utter connectedness to a loving God.

We worked for the church like we were working to keep ourselves out of hell—hard and with pure devotion. We—or at least I—approached chapel and daily quiet times with the same make-it-happen attitude.

It’s laughable now. I really thought a relationship with Christ could be initiated and maintained by me. I might actually laugh if I didn’t see so many people chasing that rabbit down the same hole that left me physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted.

I must have really believed I could sanctify myself. I had little concept of grace or biblical rest, nor an inkling that I might have a gaping need for both.

When I think about my time spent in Master’s Commission, I see the same heart the older son had in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal. I worked for God like a slave serving a master, not a dearly loved child.

And when love isn’t the core of your theology fear will be.

Until I read Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, I had little understanding of God’s grace beyond the theological.

Ten years later, grace still boggles my mind, and I have a daily need to preach the gospel to myself. If I don’t, my default posture of trying to earn God’s love always returns.

Even after a decade of living in grace, I still prefer a spiritual do-do list that doesn’t include much rest. I want to work at prayer and Bible study, but I’m learning true understanding takes place in restful meditation.

Union with Christ doesn’t happen when we’re on the go all the time.

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Vladimer Shioshvili via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones via Creative Commons Flickr

Photo by Donnie Ray Jones via Creative Commons Flickr

More and more I notice how truth sneaks into my heart best when I go for a walk or lie down to put the kids to a nap. It’s during these times the metaphors of the Bible make the most sense to me.

It’s at the park with my sons that I see how we’re all just children that God constantly picks up and dusts off.

If you’re in need of rest for your spiritual life, hear the words of Christ today. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS” (Matthew 11:28-29).

On Float Tanks and Biblical Meditation

By Jon Roig via Creative Commons Flickr view photo here http://www.flickr.com/photos/runnr_az/5840856909/in/photolist-7UVMq1-6vWW9Z-hVoeu-9U8WRx-9U8Vgt-e65zwD-pmHn7g

By Jon Roig via Creative Commons Flickr view page here

I hadn’t really understood the appeal of a deprivation tank until I crawled into a small hiding hole on the playground the other day.

I let the peace take me as I stayed tucked inside the enclosure longer than what’s probably socially acceptable.

Maybe it’s taken me the chaos of the last year to appreciate the longing to hide myself away in total serenity.

And I only just realized people are floating inside those coffin-like tanks. Apparently, it’s a big thing.

High-end “float spas” are sprouting up as folks clamor to pay mucho dinero for the opportunity to unwind in total sensory deprivation.

The goal is to float your cares away. Proponents say it’s a meditation tool.

Maybe I’m a sucker for fads, but where do I sign up?

In an isolation tank no phone incessantly beeps. There are no pressing emails to return. I could easily float an hour by in one. What about you?

I’ve tried locking myself away in the pantry but my kids always find me and usually accuse me of sneaking chocolate. (Guilty).

The playground and the seriously cool fad have me thinking about biblical meditation.

I’m not talking about the Eastern or mystical kinds of meditation. In today’s harried world I understand the temptation to empty our minds. And most of us need to unplug more.

 But when I say biblical meditation I’m thinking more about the quiet filling our minds with God’s truth until joy spills into our lives.

Something along the lines of this, “Meditate in your own hearts upon your bed, and be still. Selah” (Psalms 4:4).

“Of the glorious majesty of your honor, of your wondrous works, I will meditate,” (Psalms 145:5).

“I remember my music in the night, with my heart I meditate, and my spirit doth search diligently” (Psalms 77:6).

The Bible’s filled with the idea of meditation. But few people I know do this. The biblical sense of the word has grown a little stale.

Mention “meditate” at a Bible study and you could get some sideways looks. Newer Bible translations don’t even bother using the word, choosing to use “think” instead.

So, I want to know what you all think. What does meditation mean to you?

From what I can gather Christian meditation doesn’t get much attention as far as spiritual disciplines go. I can barely find a recent book involving the practice that doesn’t have the word “Yoga” in the title.

I think there’s something to this ancient practice. Do you?

 

How Stillness Leads Us to Worship

 

Photo by Jimmy Brown via Creative Commons

Photo by Jimmy Brown via Creative Commons

I feel the space heater warm my nose while I tug the blanket ever closer. Today, cold air is the price I pay for half an hour of stillness.

I sneak away to the part of our house where the thermostat reads 60. I lay open my Bible along with my anxious mind and discouraged mama heart.

It’s worth the frigid toes—this rendezvous with Jesus.

And always in these moments I ask myself why I don’t purpose this quiet more.

Most days Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know I am God,” feels like an accusation. I want to be still and know. So I work harder to create rest time, but rest never comes.

But always when I work from a posture of rest, I’m amazed at what I accomplish.

There’s a type of prayer we yell in frustration. And another we whisper to ourselves, but the best prayer of all is the prayer when we stop to listen.

Photo via Creative Commons

Photo via Creative Commons

Photo by Vinoth Chandar via Creative Commons

Photo by Vinoth Chandar via Creative Commons

This God of ours longs to speak life to us. He pines to abide in us—to spill his life out of us.

It’s easiest to listen in the stillness, and I seem to only find these tranquil places out of desperation.

When my heart breaks, I come. When fears ransack, I seek out this solitude. “Here I am,” I whisper Isaiah’s ancient words. “Send me.”

So much of my time I spend searching for my calling “out there somewhere” I can never seem to reach. All the while taking for granted this greater calling that’s much closer to home.

Stillness helps me embrace motherhood, to rest into this calling of diapers and dishes. The practice of quiet grounds me with God’s purposes for me in the present.

Waiting on God helps give birth to the fruit of the Spirit in me. Show me a home that can function without love, joy and peace?

I’m learning to rest in this calling of motherhood. I’m learning to look past the work and the exhaustion of a job that never ends, because in the serving I catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

You know the one that appears sideways to us turned-around sinners? The one where the humble are exalted and the foolish teach the wise.

In the bowing low of motherhood I see how we’re most alive when we’re dead to self. I see how the real work is not in the doing, but in the quietness of believing.

Do you remember what Jesus told the over-zealous disciples who were eager to find out how to do the “greater works?”

“Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:29 NLT).

Stillness can give birth to a beautiful belief.

And when we purpose to listen somehow we carry the stillness with us back into our chaos.

Bench photo credit

Grass photo credit

Rain photo credit

When Darkness Dims Your View of God

Photo by Harriet Moar-Smith via Creative Commons

Photo by Harriet Moar-Smith via Creative Commons

“Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:12 NIV).

I’m always at my worst when facing grieving people. I usually dash in the other direction after I fail to find something meaningful to say.

So, instead of talking I pray. Since my last post about losing our baby, I find myself sorting through stories of grieving families. My story of daring God to show me 1,000 ways He turned around the tragedy touched some people.

And what I heard back touched me.

I spent the first part of Thanksgiving morning weeping for a guy named Thomas that I will probably never meet. After losing a 5-month old baby two years ago, he still feels the sting.

Today my heart is heavy for Kristi whose baby was born sleeping at 39 weeks.

If you follow my blog you know I, too, am walking through a bit of darkness now. That’s why remembering my college humanities course—and what I learned about dark spaces on a canvas brings me so much comfort.

In this class I became obsessed with Chiaroscuro art.

I studied painters like Caravaggio and George de La Tour and went through a Noir film stage. But it was the paintings I loved best.

I relished the contrast between light and darkness. I loved the way shadows gave way to light. The highlighted scenes seemed to jump right off the dim backdrop.

Painting by de la Tour via Creative Commons

Painting by de la Tour via Creative Commons

At length I studied these works and always focused my eyes on the light.

In this season where God is painting dark hues on the canvas of my life, I’m trying to remember the purpose of darkness. Our dark moments serve as a backdrop for the glory of God.

How else would we know God’s magnificence if we had nothing to compare it to? Earlier this week, I penned these words in my journal.

In our darkness, we have an opportunity to see the light, to gaze at it. We have an opportunity to keep step with the Prince of Light when we, ourselves, cannot see. Darkness, too, is a gift in that sense.

How beautiful of God to use light to describe Himself. He created light in the beginning. With only a word he commanded light to be.

He created the world in darkness. When it was formless and void and darkness hung over the deep waters, it was there where God hovered over the surface, right there within the darkness (Gen 1: 1-2).

In the midst of His creating in us, sometimes darkness remains. Sometimes God’s spirit in us must dwell in seeming darkness, but God always comes and says, “Let there be light.”

May God be your light today in the middle of your darkness.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” ― Og Mandino