Every gift I received for Christmas set me up for a very disciplined new year.
I slouch. A lot. Especially when I am at my desk. It’s a problem I’ve wanted to eradicate for a long time. Husband to the rescue! He’s the best when it comes to buying me gifts that I want but would never purchase for myself. When I opened the small, jewelry shaped box under our tree, there sat a Bluetooth, posture tracking device. You place it on your back, and every time you slouch, it buzzes and reminds you to sit up straight. It sounds annoying, but I love it. I need that buzz to keep me from looking like Yoda in 50 years.
I also received a Bluetooth toothbrush. Try to say that five times fast. It coaches me every morning and night as I brush my teeth and lets me know if I’m missing any areas. I was shocked at how terrible I was at brushing my teeth. The first time it graded me I got a score of 56%. Ouch. But you’ll be happy to know, after just five days of coaching I’ve improved to 82%.
My stocking was nice and full thanks to a new water bottle with a timeline printed right on it that helps me track my hydration during the day. I know how much water I should have consumed every hour from 8 am – 5 pm. Twice as many potty breaks for me, but hey, it’s working! I’m consistently drinking water throughout the day instead of getting to the end of the evening and realizing I have way too much water to chug before bed.
If that wasn’t enough discipline, I ended up spending all of my Christmas cash to join a Barre 3 Workout Studio to challenge my body in a new way. I thrive on disciplines like these because I love measurable goals, accountability and improving my health. However, brushing up on my teeth brushing skills and joining a Barre 3 studio aren’t the kind of disciplines that matter heading into a new year.
As excited as I am about a new year and being the best me I can be, I can hear the Holy Spirit asking, “What do you have in mind when it comes to spiritual disciplines? What measurable goals are you setting? How will you keep yourself accountable? And how can you improve your spiritual health?”
As I pondered those questions, he showed me I already had the blueprint: The gifts under the tree I received to improve physically tied right into the areas I need to improve in spiritually.
1 Corinthians 16:13 Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith, be courageous, and be strong. (VOICE)
I yearn to stand tall in faith. My heart is filled with God-given dreams and desires along with promises he’s given me to back up each and everyone, but I know if I am not mindful I’ll start to slouch. Life is busy, and distractions loom in every corner of my mind making it easy for my posture to gradually go from standing tall in faith to hunching over in apathy. I don’t want this fresh fervor to see God’s will come to pass in 2019 to dissipate by spring, so I have written down what he’s revealed about his plans for me, my family, and our church in 2019 along with correlating scriptures. I’ve placed post-it note versions of his heart for me in places where I’ll see them often. My car, my planner, my bathroom mirror, my phone, and as bookmarks in my Bible. Just like I need my posture tracking device to buzz and remind me to stop slouching, I need those post-its to send a signal to me and remind me to stand tall in faith. When no one is watching, when everyone is watching, on the days when I feel like it, and on the days when I don’t. When I’m tired of standing tall and super uncomfortable- no matter what, I will stay alert and stand tall. I trust that as I put this spiritual discipline in place, I will see God go above and beyond all I can ask, think, or imagine.
I’ve been brushing my teeth all by myself for at least 28 years. Which means I’ve brushed my teeth close to 20,440 times and yet after all my experience I am still greatly benefiting from my Colgate Coach. That little app has taught me that just because I think I’m an expert at something doesn’t mean it’s true. The amount of improvement needed was a little embarrassing, but I know you’d agree- I would be a fool to have my Colgate Coach point out areas of my mouth that I’m missing and do nothing about it. What a waste. What’s the point of having a coach if you’re not going to take their advice?
This year, I want to lean into THE Coach like never before. I want to give him permission to show me when my heart is wrong, my motives aren’t pure, or my attitude needs adjusting. I don’t want to depend on him to lead me into fun and exciting things only, I want him to search my heart and show me if anything is displeasing to him.
Psalm 139:23-24 God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you. (TPT)
Just as I discipline myself to brush my teeth every morning and night, I will put a spiritual discipline in place by asking God to show me where I’ve missed it every morning and night. I’ll do this while I am brushing my teeth, because the Holy Spirit can talk to us anywhere, as long as we’re asking the right questions and desiring to hear his voice!
You would think that someone who understands how important water is would make it a priority to drink it. But, couple a busy lifestyle with the fact that I am rarely thirsty, and somehow my knowledge of how critical water is to the human body vanishes. I am hoping my new hydration tracking bottle will help me be more mindful of my need for water and my need for Jesus.
John 7:37-38 Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (NIV)
This year I want to stay thirsty. I don’t want my busy lifestyle to drown out Jesus saying in a LOUD voice, “come to me and drink.” I want to continually, consistently, throughout the day, sit at the feet of Jesus. I know how crucial it is to my spiritual well-being. I don’t want my 30-minute quiet time every morning to be all she wrote. I want those rivers of living water flowing from within me. Each time I pick up my water bottle to hydrate my body, I will take a moment to tell Jesus, like David did, “my soul thirsts for you.”
Psalm 63:1 I thirst with the deepest longings to love you more, with cravings in my heart that can’t be described. Such yearning grips my soul for you, my God! (TPT)
Instead of consistently drinking from rivers that don’t refresh like Instagram or Netflix, I have measurable goals right there on my actual water bottle that will help me with this spiritual discipline of thirsting for and drinking in Jesus.
I start every day with exercise. I genuinely enjoy it. If I don’t exercise, I have a hard time getting going for the rest of the day. Endorphins are real! I’ve been exercising since high school, and I’ve been a member of a streaming workout community for the last seven years. I love my workout community, but I’ve been desiring a new challenge- something I could add on to what I am already doing. Enter Barre 3. I participated in a free, trial class and I was hooked. I didn’t think I would be able to finish the hour-long class after only ten minutes in. It was intense, but I loved pushing my fitness ceiling further. I was sore in places I have never been sore in- which means I was working muscles I have been neglecting to work. The once a week class is going to be the perfect challenging addition to my weekly routine.
Every morning after I exercise, I have my quiet time with the Lord. I genuinely enjoy it. I love reading my Bible, studying, seeking God, and worshipping. BUT I am desiring a new challenge- something I can add on to what I am already doing. I want to push my spiritual fitness ceiling further. I’ve never truly understood fasting until this year, and that’s what I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to adopt. Just as I am adding one workout class a week to my workout routine, I am going to add one day of fasting a week to my spiritual routine. Fasting is expected of New Testament believers, and it’s something I have been limiting to just one month out of the year. I’m looking forward to a year of greater connection with God.
My prayer for you this year ladies is that 2019 would be your most spiritually fit year to date! May you take this devotional to heart and find more of God than ever before as you live a disciplined life in HIM.
1 Timothy 4:7-9 Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. (MSG)
For small group questions to go along with this devotional, click below.
If you grew up eating animal crackers and drinking fruit juice at Sunday School, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize this classic song:
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord. Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, nod your head, turn around, sit down!”
By that last verse, you’ve pretty much done a 15-minute HIIT workout, but what’s this song even about?
Galatians 3:6-7 says, “You remember Abraham. Scripture tells us, ‘Abraham believed God and trusted in His promises, so God counted it to his favor as righteousness.’ Know this: people who trust in God are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.“
So, Father Abraham is not just a silly song that gets preschoolers to expound vast amounts of energy; it’s scriptural. We are sons and daughters of Abraham, but notice, it’s not our DNA that proves we are true sons and daughters of Abraham, it’s our belief. It’s us trusting that we are made right with God by grace through faith, fully buying into the fact that we can’t work our way to righteousness. Abraham was the first to walk this out, so naturally, he’s referred to as the father of our faith.
The grace message was a hard pill for the law-loving legalists of Jesus’s day to swallow. They wanted to be made right by keeping the law, and they desired to relate as sons of Abraham based on their genetics–their bloodline. So, they went around proudly singing, Father Abraham had many sons, and I am one of them, but it seems as if they forgot that Abraham had two sons.
Ishmael and Isaac.
And that leads me to a question that the Holy Spirit has asked me several times over the past 21 days: Who is your momma?
God promised that Abraham and Sarah, who were childless and beyond their child-bearing years, would give birth to a son. But instead of patiently waiting to see the promise fulfilled, they took matters into their own hands. They decided to do things their way instead of God’s way. They stepped out of God’s will, and Sarah had Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar. Sarah’s faith was in Hagar’s ability to conceive and bear children, instead of in the promise God gave her. Of course, Hagar became pregnant and Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, took his first breath nine months later.
From the moment Hagar saw the two pink lines on her First Response test, trouble ensued. I can’t imagine the drama in that household. Hagar thought she was better than Sarah. Sarah was abusive toward Hagar. And Abraham was caught in the middle of it all.
Thirteen years later God tells Abraham that Sarah is going to have a baby, and THIS baby, not Ishmael, will be the son of promise. The son born of Sarah would be the one through which God established His covenant, and a year later Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Father Abraham now had two sons who were 14 years apart. And just as there was conflict between Hagar and Sarah, there was conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. In Genesis 21 Abraham threw a big party to celebrate Isaac being weaned, and during the festivities, Ishmael began to mock his baby brother. Sarah catches wind of this and here’s what happens next:
Genesis 21:10-12 So she [Sarah] turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.
As a mother, my heart hurt for Ishmael when I read this. It seemed so ruthless of Sarah and Abraham, and it didn’t seem to line up with the character of God. How could they just send this single mother and her teenage son out into the wilderness? I mean I get it, mama bear comes out when someone messes with your baby, but this punishment seemed too harsh.
I wasn’t able to move past it even though I knew if I studied it out I would fall behind on my Bible reading plan. My heart wasn’t satisfied with the mama bear excuse, so I started to dig, and God began to unpack truths that I know I’ll never forget. I hope you’ll stick with me a little while longer so He can do the same for you.
Galatians 4 is where I found all the answers my heart was hungry for. In verses 21-31 Paul contrasts Abraham’s two sons.
Ishmael was born of a slave in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. Isaac was born of a free woman and was God’s own fulfillment of His promise. Isaac was conceived by grace through faith. Ishmael was conceived according to the flesh.
Ishmael represents legalism and our human attempts to attain righteousness. Isaac represents the gospel, the good news that Jesus made a way for you and me to experience the miracle of salvation.
When I began to see that Ishmael embodied our flesh, our unbelief, and us putting our will before God’s will, sending him packing didn’t seem so harsh anymore. My heart no longer went out to him.
You see, spirit and flesh, unbelief and faith, human effort and the miraculous, law and grace, they just don’t mesh. They can’t abide together peacefully and in the same ruthless way that Ishmael was sent away, we must send away our flesh, our unbelief, and our endeavor to complete our Christian duty checklists to get on God’s good side.
Friends, we are sons and daughters of promise and we’ve got to stop feeling for our flesh!
Galatians 4:31 So then, believers, we [who are born again—reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose] are not children of a slave woman [the natural], but of the free woman [the supernatural].
We are free! We have been given supernatural power over sin. We have authority over our mind, will, and emotions. We are the sons and daughters to which God has left a rich inheritance, and it’s time we start living in it! It’s time to be ruthless with our old man, our sinful nature, in the same way Sarah was ruthless with Ishmael.
This is the time of year when most Christians are wrapping up a fast of some sort. Maybe you’ve been fasting social media, coffee, bread, complaining, sugar, frivolous spending, or secular music. You’ve denied your flesh. And perhaps you’re like me, and you’d admit that a few times during your fast you felt sorry for yourself in the same way that I felt sorry for Ishmael at first glance. Maybe in those moments of sympathizing with your flesh you even gave in and snuck a Starbucks on a super stressful day, only then to feel guilty for the next 24 hours. We’ve all been there. Or maybe you’ve been perfect on your fast, but you can’t wait for it to be over so you can get back to giving your flesh whatever it wants whenever it wants it. That’s not the kind of freedom God’s called us to walk in.
We’re the sons and daughters born into freedom not so we can cave to our sinful desires, but so that we use our authority to send those sinful desires heartlessly into the wilderness, far away from the path on which God has set our feet. Sin has no hold on us.
During my fast this year the Holy Spirit revealed so much to me about my heritage. He helped me to see that when I’m tempted to feel compassion for my flesh, unbelief, and the pull to connect to God through works instead of through grace, that somewhere in my spiritual makeup is the power to say NO.
I am not called to make sure my flesh and my spirit live peaceably with one another. I’m not called to a life of comfort, temporary gratification or short-lived escapes from the world around me. I’m called to live a life of ruthlessly denying my flesh, so my spirit reigns the roost.
I want to experience more of the supernatural and less of reruns on Netflix. I want to experience more of the presence of God and less of the same-sounding top 40 songs. I want to experience more of the lasting comfort of God and less of the fleeting comfort of chocolate, caffeine, and long baths. I want to experience more joy and gratitude and less mood swings and complaining.
Whenever we send our flesh and unbelief away into the wilderness, our spiritual senses become more elevated. We can taste and see and hear and feel God all around, not because we’re working some formula, but because it’s part of our inheritance as sons and daughters of promise.
As you head into a new month and close out your time of fasting, continue to remind yourself that Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham, and you are one of them. You’re the one who represents the gospel and the freedom that Christ set you free to walk in.
Don’t catch feels for your flesh, be like your spiritual momma, and stand up for your spirit!
The American Hospital Association recommends healthcare providers use the following terminology when describing the condition of a patient. Undetermined: The patient hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Stable: The patient’s vital signs are normal, and even though they might be in pain, recovery is favorable. Serious: The patient is very ill, and vital signs may be unstable. Critical: The patient has unstable vitals that are not normal, and could be unconscious. Indicators for recovery are unfavorable.
No one ever wants to hear that a loved one is in critical condition. Those two words carry an awful amount of weight with them. Weight that sends you to your knees, begging God to intercede–to do something–to miraculously change the condition of the person whose life in on the line.
We live in a day and age where we have been conditioned to be critical, and because of this, there are far too many Christians walking around with spiritual condition health charts stamped: critical. Their vitals are not normal. They aren’t showing signs of joy, freedom, peace, and victory like they should be. Many of them are completely unconscious, painfully unaware that they suck life out of people with their steady stream of negativity. And unless things drastically improve, a full recovery is not looking good.
The old adage, “everyone’s a critic,” is truer today than it’s ever been. With just a few taps here and a few clicks there, we can let everyone know what we think about the new restaurant in town or the movie we saw over the weekend. We no longer need Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs; thanks to Facebook we’ve got millions of thumbs to communicate what we do or don’t like. There’s a whole entertainment industry built around judges who get paid millions to sit back and criticize performers. Hear me, I am a huge fan of apps like Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp. I’m an avid Facebook user, and I watch reality TV talent shows too, but if we aren’t careful, the judgmental nature of the culture in which we live can affect our view finder, causing us to focus on the worst instead of the best.
I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this. Sunday mornings are game day for me. My husband and I pastor a two-year-old church plant. We’ve put our heart and soul into this thing. It’s not just a hobby or something we do for fun, it’s our family’s mission. Every week we have amazing church services. There are people everywhere, worship is so good it makes you want to literally never stop singing, we have the best volunteers in the world, ministry is happening on every level. But even among all the good, my critical eye can spot something that could be better and sometimes instead of going home praising God for all He did, I find myself consumed with the one thing that wasn’t perfectly executed.
If you are like me, I want you to know that being able to spot things that could be better is not a bad thing. It’s actually a really great gift God has placed in you, and if stewarded well can be used to improve your sphere of influence. But, if the bad is all you seem to focus on, you will lose your ability to enjoy life, and that doesn’t sit well with the One who came so that you might have AND ENJOY life.
I have known a few professional fault finders in my day. They don’t get paid in cash to look for shortcomings in every person or situation they have ever encountered, instead, they get paid with the temporary gratification of feeling a little bit better about themselves when they criticize others. They tirelessly read into everyone’s every word and endlessly examine everything with intent to find dirt so that it makes them appear a little shinier.
I have also known some people who aren’t negative toward others, but they’ll be the first and fastest to point out their own flaws. They don’t want to give anyone else a chance to criticize them, so in an effort to protect their heart, they criticize themselves.
Neither of those kinds of people could be described as joyful because when we spend our days criticizing ourselves and others, or focusing solely on the negative, we negate the cross. We make null the above-and-beyond life that Jesus wants for us here on earth, as it will be in heaven.
So how do we overcome? How do we condition our hearts to see and celebrate God’s goodness instead of being negative?
First, we have to recognize that having a critical spirit is a critical situation. We have to see that it’s hurtful to God, ourselves, and others, and we must earnestly desire change.
You are probably familiar with Luke 6:37, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” But let’s look at in The Message paraphrase:
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.
This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command from Jesus Himself. Don’t criticize people. Don’t dig for dirt, dig for gold. Don’t waste your time judging every human’s words, actions, or motives, unless you want your every word, action, and motive to be judged.
In Matthew 14, Mary pours out a very expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head, and the disciples jumped all over her.
Matthew 14:8-9 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
I love Jesus’ response in verse 10, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”
Maybe the disciples criticized Mary because they were jealous. I’m sure the fact that she was able to bless Jesus with such an extravagant gift and they couldn’t made them feel like they were in competition with her. If you find yourself criticizing others, there may be some jealousy issues that need dealt with. Or maybe they genuinely thought she was being wasteful. So what if they did. It was not their place to judge her intentions, and Jesus wasn’t about to let them slide. This is a serious issue to Him, and it should be to us as well.
Secondly, we have to repent.
Repenting is more than saying you’re sorry or asking God to forgive you. True repentance is when you realize that what you are doing is sin, and then you turn away from it. It’s proving that you’ve had a change of heart.
Matthew 3:8 So produce fruit that is consistent with repentance [demonstrating new behavior that proves a change of heart, and a conscious decision to turn away from sin].
How are you going to demonstrate that your critical condition has changed? What’s your plan for producing fruit that is consistent with a repentant heart? If we don’t have a plan in place, I’m afraid we’ll fall right back into our negative ways. Your plan may look different from the plan of the person sitting next to you, but here’s one thing both plans must have in place: allow your Creator to create again.
Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
If your heart is full of negative thoughts toward yourself, others, or just life in general, then it’s going to be difficult keeping criticism from coming out of your mouth every time you open it.
So how do you change what’s in your heart? There are several typical Christian devotional answers that apply here. Read your Bible more, pray more, fast more, go to church more, serve more, give more, more, more, more and while more of these things are always a great idea, I believe in order to overcome a critical spirit, we need more than more, we need new.
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me.
Create and Renew. We need to ask God, like David did, to create in us a new heart that would be, “firm in the purposes of virtue; that would not yield to temptation; that would carry out holy resolutions; that would be steadfast in the service of God” (Barnes 88). We need to ask God to renew a right spirit in us, because even though we are new creations in Christ, wrong spirits still like to hang around.
You can’t change on your own. You can’t, in your own strength, go from a glass-half-empty person to a glass-half-full person. You can’t go from always seeing flaws to always noticing God’s goodness. You can’t create a new heart for yourself. But thankfully, you have a connection. The Connection! You can walk boldly into the throne room and ask Him to create in you a clean heart and to renew a right spirit inside you, and what you thought might take weeks, months, or even a lifetime to overcome, He will change in a moment. Instead of reading and praying to try to run off negativity, you’ll be reading and praying because your clean heart desires to be full of His Word and your right Spirit desires constant communion with Him.
Let’s not be okay with a chart that reads critical. Instead, let God take the places of our hearts that have been tarnished by negativity and allow Him to make them new again. Let’s get our joy, peace, freedom, and victory levels steady again so we can be living testimonies of his goodness.
For a free small group study guide to go along with this article, click here.
Barnes, Albert. Notes, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, on the Book of Psalms. Vol. 2, Harper, 1869