The other day, I learned of some negative, unwarranted, and inaccurate comments spoken about someone I care deeply for. And the more I thought about the injustice of the situation, the more upset I became. So I turned to God in prayer, asking Him to take away my negative emotions–emotions that were souring my stomach and causing my muscles to clench–and to replace these emotions with love, joy, peace, and patience–with grace.

But no matter how hard and long I prayed, my frustration refused to still.

Until I prayed for the “offender.” The moment I spoke the first words of blessing and intercession, peace flooded through me. And while I was yet praying, the words Jesus spoke as He hung on the cross came to mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Father forgive them, because they don’t realize what they are doing. Because apart from You, they are incapable of doing better.

Because once, I, too, was just like them, full of anger, of bitterness, of malice. As the oft quote phrase goes, “But by the grace of God, there goes I.”

Ephesians 2:1-3a “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil–the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature” (NLT).

Let’s talk about this. When dealing with others, especially those who may be difficult to love, it’s easy to keep our focus on the surface–the words and actions–losing sight of the root–the spiritual condition that is in desperate need of a Savior. It helps when we pause to remember, we–each one of us–were once like them, giving in to our sinful natures and selfish desires. In fact, if not for God’s grace, that is exactly where we would be, slipping further and further into selfishness and isolation. But God handed us a rope–a life vest–in His Son, and now He longs for us to do the same, to be instruments of His life-giving, life-transforming grace. But we can’t point the hurting to God if we’re too busy dwelling on their faults. Instead, we need to keep our eyes ever on the Savior, their Creator, who loves them to their very core. Loved them so much, in fact, He surrendered His life to save them and draw them to Himself.

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I’ve heard people say religion is about control, and although I’ve always thought that was an absurd statement, perhaps it holds a nugget of truth. The more I learn about myself, God, and the Bible, I realize it’s not so much a question of control but instead, of who’s controlling you. Because there’s no neutral ground. A battle’s being waged and you’re on one side or the other.

According to the Bible, we’re either controlled by our sinful nature or God. If you’re controlled by God, He’ll lead you into goodness, joy, peace, patience, self-control–in reality, freedom. Freedom to rise above your circumstances, tapping into the joy bubbling within–a joy that’s unhindered by the day-to-day.

If you’re controlled by your sinful nature, you may think you’re calling the shots, but most often, you’re held captive by your emotions and your emotions are held captive by your circumstances. Chances are your days are dominated by anger, fear, moments of hopelessness and lack of fulfillment. That’s not freedom. That’s bondage of the worst kind–the kind of bondage that leads to destroyed relationships, isolation, and death.  Read more.

I’m a runner, although I’m not as diligent as I used to be. In fact, I haven’t “trained” in quite a while. As a result, my times have gotten increasingly worse. Most things in my life, when left to themselves, decline. Even my spiritual life. If I’m not careful, it can be easy to live the Christian life on autopilot: Read my Bible, check. Pray, check. Go to church, check. But living on autopilot leads to stagnation.

Last night my sister told me about her plans to run a half-marathon. She’s just had a baby, and at age 38 is having a tough time regaining the strength and endurance she had before pregnancy. Left alone, with no motivation–with no goal in sight–isn’t cutting it. Excuses come too readily. To fight this backward progression, she and her husband have made plans to run numerous races in the spring.  She’s hoping her goals followed by clear deadlines will overcome her apathetic tendencies. And likely it will. (No, I won’t be joining her. I’m rather content with my comfortable stroll, thank you very much.)

I believe the same is true in our spiritual lives. If we want to grow, we need a goal, and an accountability partner. Someone who will stand by us. Someone who will do life with us.

At least I do. Maybe I’ve got a bit more Adam than most, but my first choice will always be the path of least resistance. Show me an uphill climb and I’ll search for the ski lift.

Which is why I’ve found a mentor. She’s an older lady at our church–an empty nester if you will–who’s willing to share her experiential knowledge with me. This relationship will be intentional, characterized by goals, expectations and a clear plan of action. This woman will be focused on my growth. Kind of sounds selfish, I know, but it’s also biblical. (Titus 2:3-5)

Philipians 3: 12-17

“12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

As I read this passage this morning, verse twelve reminded me of my need for  continual progress. It also reminded me Who’s standing beside me. Christ took hold of me. Christ died for me, and He’s given me everything I need to live a holy life. But just like athletes who practice drills to hone their skills, my growth will be much more significant if I approach it with intentionality. How do you increase an appetite? You feed it. (Think dark chocolate here.) How do you get rid of one? You starve it. So, intentional living is about continually feeding the spiritual man while starving the carnal man so that your godly appetite can increase while your sinful nature decreases.

Paul set his life as an example to other believers, then told other believers to unite as they sought to follow him.

Do you have a mentor? Someone who’s willing to come along side you, point out those sinful flaws that most will never see? Someone who will help you overcome your natural tendency toward stagnation as the two of you link arm in arm in a steady march toward the goal. Think you don’t have time? We’re all busy. But the tide pulling in the other direction is too strong not to find an ally along the way.

So how do you find a mentor? Watch the ladies in your church. It won’t take long to find a “Paul”–a mature believer who sets an example for others in how she lives. Then approach her. I know, kind of scary. But what’s the worst thing that can happen? So she says no. Then ask someone else.