Why Spiritual Training is Necessary

You know those people who absolutely love running? Who can’t wait to lace up their shoes, hit the pavement, and usher forth that endorphin-saturated runner’s high?

That’s not me. I’m more of the cringe inwardly and outwardly type of gals who fights an internal battle every time I go for a jog. In fact, there are many times, if left on my own, I’ll, quite logically, talk myself out of going and into remaining in my PJs on the couch.

Running hurts. It’s hard. It takes time. It makes me sweat and distracts me from the truly important things like scrubbing floors and toilets.

At least, that’s what my comfort zone tries to tell me. But I’ve found, if I put off the physical training for any length of time, it isn’t long before I grow weak and lethargic and my days become marked by fatigue.

Let me explain. In 2011-2012, I got sick, had extreme difficulty digesting, and dropped a ton of weight. Nerve pain soon followed along with a second diagnosis—fibromyalgia. This chronic pain condition is hard to explain to those who don’t have it, but it’s much like having a body-wide toothache accompanied by muscle cramps. Basically, the nerve signals go haywire, acting as if someone turned on an electrical switch then walked away.

Running can, and often does, trigger a pretty intense pain response. There are times, many, when I’m literally brought to tears. There are times when, as I’m lacing up my shoes and thinking of the pain I’ll likely experience, I grow anxious and sick to my stomach.

So why do I do it? Why do I continue to subject myself to such torture?

Because I know that hour of pain is temporary but the benefits of pushing through last a lifetime. It’s about quality of life for me.

The same is true in regard to spiritual training. We tend to balk at the word “discipline,” because let’s face it, practicing godliness is hard. It takes conscious thought, continual practice, and determination. It’s so much easier to give in to our emotions and desires. To get swept up in godless chatter and meaningless speculations (1 Tim. 4:7, 1 Tim. 1:4), in gossiping and venting (1 Tim. 3:11), in feeding my pride and self-love (1 Tim. 2:9-10) instead of living as God desires.

And yet, we know where those behaviors lead; they aren’t pretty or effective. Rather, they’re destructive. They cause disunity, distrust, quarrels and fights, scheming, jealousy, and places us in direct opposition to God. (James 4).

Learning and practicing obedience, on the other hand, brings unity, peace, increased love, and a deeper fellowship with Christ. (John 15:14) The more we respond obediently to Christ, the more sensitive we become to His leading, and our godliness grows. The more we ignore Him or rebel against Him, the more hardened our hearts and more dulled our consciences become.

Training isn’t easy. Many times, we’ll have to say no to something pleasant in the moment, perhaps sleeping in, to say yes to something we know will help us long term, like developing a morning quiet time. But training is good. Healthy. Important. It helps protect us from deception and strengthens us to live godly, Christ-centered lives—lives filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith (1 Tim. 1:5).

Ultimately, this training is a process of learning to die to ourselves, moment by moment, so that God can live and love others through us. It’s a journey of moving past self-love in order to display agape love, because, as Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40, this forms the foundation of the entire Old Testament (which, back then, made up the complete Bible).

Spiritual training involves practicing disciplines like reading our Bibles daily, praying, fasting, taking time for silence and meditating on Christ and His word, meeting with other believers, serving others, and worshiping God through words and song. Which of these can you practice this week in order to grow stronger spiritually and closer to Christ?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion in our Bible study Facebook group. For those following along with the 1 Timothy study, today’s suggested Bible reading is Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 12.

You might also enjoy:

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Advertisements

Why is it, the moment we start to pray, our mind jumps to a thousand other things? Why does an hour in church service launch launch thoughts of our to-do list? These questions arose as I read my guest blogger’s post this morning. Fellow ACFW writer Sue Barr shares a comical yet thought-provoking analogy below, from a writer’s perspective. Enjoy, and happy Easter!

Spiritual Bunny Trails

By Sue Barr

Being that the Easter weekend is only a few days away, I thought I’d share a small story about bunnies. Plot Bunnies to be exact. Cute, fuzzy, totally adorable and can lead you down a merry path where you lose focus and ultimately don’t meet any of your goals. I know of which I speak.

Plot Bunny dropped a single line into my brain and then proceeded to hop around adding ideas, characters and exciting scenes. Soon I found myself scouring sites for character inspiration and the whole story consumed me. I lost a few days of precious writing time before the Lord gently reminded me of my current work in progress.

Ultimately, I believe I was allowed to run amok because God had a plan to link plot bunnies with the way we behave as children of God. Fitting, don’t you agree?

How often do we lose focus in our Christian lives? We become sidetracked by social activities within our church family as well as our blood families. Ever catch yourself thinking about where you’ll go for lunch after service when you should be praising God? Do you tune out the pastor as you quickly send/receive a text or peruse the church bulletin? Do you wonder if, or think about, or…the list is long.

Why is that?

In the big picture called Life, our loving Father asks very little of us and we sometimes struggle to spend a few precious minutes focusing on Him. The plot bunnies of life intrude and all they really do is take away our joy.

Then you will call upon Me and you will go and pray to Me and I shall heed you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13 One New Man Bible)

What a promise.

God does not lie, and this is a promise we can cling to. We will call. We will pray. Ergo, we will focus, and He shall heed us.

This Friday is Good Friday, when we reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. He laid down His life so we could stand before our Holy Father blameless and forgiven. Let’s focus our attention on what is true. Cast aside those plot bunnies which threaten to sidetrack us and steal our joy. Give God the Glory, for the things He has done. I love that hymn.

***

Sue Barr is a wife, mom, grandmother and a Christian fiction writer. She’s a member of ACFW as well as Romance Writers of America and their satellite chapter, Faith, Hope and Love. She writes small town contemporary romance as well as Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF).

Her latest release, Caroline, is first in the series Pride & Prejudice continued. Reviewers agree that although Caroline Bingley is a character we all love to hate, they reluctantly find themselves rooting for her throughout the book. Which is exactly why Sue penned this novel. God placed on her heart to write a story of redemptive love and healing of shattered dreams. Something He’s exceptionally good at.

Caroline:

Whatever happened to Caroline Bingley after her brother and unrequited love interest married a Bennet sister?

Caroline Bingley, beyond frustrated with her brother and Mr. Darcy both proposing to the Bennet sisters, dreads their upcoming nuptials. For three years her sole focus has been on attaining a marriage proposal from one Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, only to be foiled by a country miss with ‘fine eyes’. Adrift and not sure of her place in life, she meets the devastatingly handsome Lord Nathan, who equally vexes and intrigues her.

Lord Nathan Kerr, third in line to a Dukedom, had a well-earned reputation as a Rake. He cast all that and his noble title aside to become Mr. Darcy’s vicar in Kympton, finding contentment in leading his small flock and doing the Lord’s work. His plan for a quiet, country life is thrown into upheaval when he meets the fiery Miss Bingley. Can he reconcile his rising desire for the spoiled miss with how a vicar’s wife ‘should’ behave?

Buy the book HERE.

Visit Sue on her website and blog, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

You might also enjoy:

Taming ADD Prayers

Grabbing Hold of God Moments

And for those who like to follow the devotions on Wholly Loved, this week guest blogger Eileen Rife shared how we can find peace and fulfillment when our life-roles shift. You can read that HERE. (If you’d like Wholly Loved to come to you, email us at contact(at)whollyloved(dot)com, and visit our website to learn more.

 

 

Won’t Be Defined

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

What if we viewed ourselves through God’s eyes? Imagine the peace we’d have. And what if, maintaining that vision, we then zeroed in on what He was calling us to do, and pursued that with everything within us.

What might we accomplish?

This is something God has been encouraging me to do. If we’re Facebook friends, you likely read my post this morning with the quote from Real Women Leading With Proverbs 31 Values (an awesome book!). I’ll post the quote I pulled from the book here:

Speaking of influencers, the author said, “They are driven to do something that matters. They seek God for what His call is on their lives, and they are focused on what He created them to be.

Focus. Unwavering. Obedient. Surrendered.

Todays post, by a sweet sister in Christ who is pursuing God’s call with everything within her, shares her journey from the beginning of a dream to full pursuit.

GIVE-AWAY ALERT! As a special bonus, Jessica is giving away 3 of her albums. Winners will be randomly selected from the comments and shipping is only available to those living in the continental US.

But first, I want to announce last week’s give-away winner. Jennifer Hallmark, congrats! You won a copy of Cherie Burbach’s latest release, 100 Simple Ways to Have More Friends. I’ll message you shortly to chat about getting that to you.

Won’t Be Defined by Singer/Songwriter Jessica Angelique

“I won’t be defined by what other say. I won’t be confined. They won’t get in the way of God’s love and His perfect plan. I won’t be defined in His strength I’ll stand. I won’t be defined.”

-from the title track “Won’t Be Defined” on 14-year-old Jessica Angelique’s album “Won’t be Defined.”

When I was a young girl there was this inner joy inside of me that made me happy. I never could imagine my life without God. I always remember believing in God. In the years before I started school I had no trouble being defined by God and not what others said about me, even through challenges I faced.

I have an eye condition called Duane’s Syndrome and I have trouble seeing and reading. The good news is that it’s hardly noticed, but I still struggle even today to read, but I am overcoming it.

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

My first few years of school were challenging. I was in Dual Language spending half the day speaking English and the other half speaking Spanish. Halfway through third grade I went to a different school without Dual Language. At my new school, I was bullied at the young age of nine and I had no friends, no hope. I felt alone like an outcast. I was being me, and that wasn’t accepted.

In school you’re supposed to like sports and dance, but I loved to sing and instead took piano and guitar lessons.

When I went into fourth grade I moved schools again because of the extreme bullying. I left the school so I would never have to see that bully again.

I was the new kid again. I felt excluded, but not as bad as at the other school.

When I started middle school in fifth grade, it got a lot easier and I made friends. I felt like the same kid I was before I started school, remembering I’m defined by God and not by what others say. A huge bJessica Angeliqueurden was lifted. I did not have a care in the world– except math class.

I’ve always loved music and singing. When I was very young I would sing songs at the top of my lungs and my brother would scream at me to shut up, but I never did. I always knew I wanted to be a singer, like every other girl in my class. Instead of just daydreaming, I decided to do something about it.

I started doing talent shows and playing for family and friends. Participating in a national talent competition gave me the inspiration to do this for the rest of my life. One day I attended a Christian concert featuring Moriah Peters. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a Christian singer. I started in the Christian music field and I don’t think I could do anything else.

I was encouraged to write songs and then wrote enough to make an album. My dream became a reality. Your dream can too with God’s guidance and with the help of those who nudge you in the right direction.

If I didn’t know God, my life would be hopeless. I’ve just started, and I have a lot more to do to make a difference and inspire people to be defined by God, not by what others say. My goal is to inspire one person at a time, follow God, and see where He takes me.

Like Brandon Heath sings, “He’s not finished with me yet.”

Jessica Vogt_021
14 year old, Jessica Angelique has a God-given gift beyond her years to write music that helps others going through doubts and insecurities, inspiring people to love Jesus and love themselves.
Through her own struggles with bullying she wrote the title track to her debut album,”Won’t Be Defined,” telling the story of a young girl learning that God defines us, not what others say. It’s a story every Mom will want their daughter to embrace.

Visit her online HERE.

Let’s talk about this! First, for those of you who joined me at Reality Church’s Women’s Connection Weekend last weekend, hopefully,  you’ve been prayerfully asking livingbygracepic.jpGod to help you do as Jessica encourages, which is to allow God and God alone to define us. (For those who weren’t able to come, I may be posting all three main sessions online. I’ll let you know…)

In what ways have you allowed others to define you? What inner lies are you clinging to, regarding your identity, and what Scripture can you meditate on and pray to center your heart and mind in God’s truth? Are you pursuing God’s call on your life, and if so how? If not, what’s holding you back? Share your comments here below or on Living by Grace on Facebook.

 

Living With Focus

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

There’s nothing more frustrating than looking back on a busy, tiring day and realizing you’ve accomplished nothing. Or at least, nothing of value. Or to embark on a task, perhaps seven or eight times in a day, only to be distracted, seven or eight times.

We all have those days, right? Times when our lack of focus, lack of prioritizing, eats up our productivity. But we mustn’t let those times of distraction and futility, of wasted effort, become a norm.

We all have countless opportunities set before us each day, sometimes even great opportunities, eternally impacting opportunities, but that doesn’t mean each one is for us. God has carved out a unique path for each one of us. He’s created us, gifted us, molded and equipped us, to fill a very specific role.

I love how Ephesians 2:10 puts it: “For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago” (NLT).

We are God’s masterpiece! That word grabs me every time. As does the ending of the verse, “He planned for us long ago.”

It reminds me that God has a plan, a very good and very specific plan, for my life. My role is to discover that plan and follow it ps37v23to24jpgwith everything within me, resisting the constant pull to be everything to everyone. Rather, I am to give everything–my time, energy, thoughts, and actions–to the Son.

Proverbs 4:25-27 says “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on that safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil” (NLT).

This verse speaks of determined focus, of perseverance, of intentionality. Of zeroing in on whatever it is Christ is calling me to do each day. Which implies taking the time to discover what He’s calling me to do. Which in turn implies taking the time to prayerfully read His Word each morning.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What about you? What is God calling you to do today? Raise your children or grandchildren to love and honor Christ? Reveal Christ’s love and grace in your work place? Serve in a church ministry with excellence? Are you doing that with focus, perseverance, and intentionality? Are you giving your whole self to that task, or have you allowed nonessentials to leave you divided? What time-sappers have you allowed in your day that hinder your effectiveness? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

We can’t do it all. Each day, we’re going to have to let something go. Let’s let those things go intentionally so that we can “fix our eyes on what lies before us.”

For all the mommas of little ones out there, my friend (and the marketing manager of New Hope Publishers) has a series I know you’ll find encouraging and inspiring. You can read about that here.

You might also be interested in:

Are the Little Things Really Little? 

In the Little Things

Called and Accountable by Henry T. Blackaby and Norman C. Blackaby

Before I go, I wanted to announce the winners of last week’s give away! Maryann, congrats! You won a copy of the Shepherd’s Song! I’ll be contacting you shortly to chat about the best way to get that novel to you. And, there’s still time to enter the drawing to receive a copy of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s book Praying Upside Down. You can do so here.

Before I go, I wanted to invite you listen to a radio interview I did Tuesday. You can do so here:

I also encourage you to sign up for my (really, our, as I and the Faith, Friends, and Chocolate gals put it out together) free quarterly newsletter, which is packed with great stuff–a serial story, short stories, recipes, devotions, and more!


Receive our fiction, recipes, and updates each quarter by email

* indicates required
Email Address * 
First Name 
Last Name 

 

God Doesn’t Need Pew Warmers

Have you ever been tempted to cry out, “But I don’t have enough time!”?

443789_frustratedWe live in a chaotic, distracting world, and when running in circles, scrambling to keep our feet from tripping over our laces–or the mounds of other shoes strewn throughout the house, it’s easy to buy into the lie that there’s just not enough of us to go around.

But I believe, if we’re honest, if we prayerfully evaluate our time–our schedules–we’ll find it’s less about how much time we have and more about how we use the time we’ve been given.

Join me at Takin’ it to the Streets as I prayerfully consider what God would have me do this day. Because if you belong to Christ–if you’ve been redeemed by His death and resurrection–He has a glorious plan for you this day. And every day you spend here on earth.

Chasing Rainbows–Part 2

I wonder if one of the reasons we find rainbows so beautiful is because they are most often seen in the midst of a storm. How brightly their colors 745971_rainbow_in_the_clouds_2shine set  in a background of gray! Whether that gray comes from storm clouds or an extended absence of sun.

When our daughter was young, she loved searching for rainbows, and she often found them–streaming through clouds, hidden in puddles of oil, or created by sprinkler spray. It amused me the places she’d find bits of color. All because she chose to focus on the blessings rather than the spills and clouds.

Last spring, during a particularly stressful time, our family decided to spend the day at the Plaza in Kansas City. We were in the process of moving, which required hours of meeting with realtors, roofers, tilers, painters … And as my husband spent the work week in Omaha, where we planned to move, most of this fell on my slightly ill-equipped shoulders. (I even learned to spackle!)

Needless to say, by the time Saturday evening came, I was tired, hungry, and ready to go home. (Plus I had some writing deadlines to meet.) But God had other plans, plans that hit us dead on, moments before we were to merge on the freeway.

39917_tire_in_the_grassLooking back, it was quite comical–and maybe even a bit miraculous. As we were driving toward the freeway, a tire came flying straight at us. Yes, a tire! It hit us with enough force to crumple our front end and jerk our  car to the right. Then it ricocheted through the air, over the sidewalk, before landing in someone’s lawn. The car it flew off of sputtered, it’s now bald axis scraping against the pavement.

My husband pulled to the side of the road, stunned, and the young man without his front tire did the same.

I still marvel at what might have happened if the accident occurred on the freeway, as both of us merged in 70 mile per hour traffic. A hidden blessing. A life-saving miracle.

Long story short, but as we waited for the police to come, I grew increasingly impatient. (And no, I didn’t pause to think that God might have just saved our life and perhaps the lives of many others by preventing us and the loose-tire driver from entering the freeway.) It didn’t help that I had to use the restroom. But it was cold out, and the nearest possible restroom was down the road a ways.

And so, like any selfish, privileged brat, I began to feed my impatience until it grew to irritation. Our sweet daughter, also tired and hungry, noticed.

“Are you okay, Mom?”

I glanced behind me at her furrowed brow and slight frown, and it was like God shown a flashlight in my heart. By fuming, I was modeling the opposite of what I wanted to train in our daughter. And, if not careful, I could sour our evening, our weekend.

The choice was mine. Would I focus on the gloom or search for the hidden rainbow?

With God’s help, I chose the latter, and opted to head for that bathroom some distance away. It was at a fast food restaurant. I invited my daughter to join me. It was cold, and I was still hungry, but as we walked, giggles soon emerged. Silliness that can only come from the expression of a teenage heart.

What began as an inconvenience had turned into a chance to connect. And I almost missed it.

When my friend, Iris, was dying of brain cancer, we talked about miracles. Frustrated that God hadn’t healed her, I wondered aloud if God performed miracles as often today as He did in Bible times. Her response. “I believe He performs miracles all the time, but we’re so focused on seeing big miracles that we miss the little things He does every day, like showing us shooting stars.” (To understand her shooting star reference, read “When God Lights Up the Sky.”

You might also enjoy:

Making Lemonade

Each day, no matter how dreary our day or circumstances, I believe God sprinkles His blessings–His rainbows–around us, inviting us to grab hold of the blessing. The choice is ours. But let us never forget, others are watching, and our actions speak much louder than our words. They reveal the depths of our love, of our trust, of our surrender.

I’ll leave you with two verses:

Psalm 71:1 “My life is an example to many because You have been my strength and protection” (NLT).  (Can you say this? Notice, it’s not about your strength or determination, but your surrender–your reliance on God for strength and perfection. Kinda simplifies things, no?)

Matthew 3:8 “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (This reminds me, my life is to “prove” the power of the gospel. How can I do that? By living a radically transformed life. And how can I live transformed? By drawing near to God, staying connected to Him, daily reading His Word, the Bible, and putting into practice what He shows me. How are you living a transformed, divinely-empowered life?)

Let’s talk about this:

Share a time when you’ve chosen to focus on God’s blessings despite an inconvenient or perhaps even painful circumstance. What was the result? Or, perhaps share the latter–a time when you allowed minor inconvenience steal your joy.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.