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
“The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.”
That gets my vote for the most eye-opening sentence I’ve read this year.
A few weeks ago, I was on my back on my bedroom floor, trying to catch my breath after a dreaded cardio workout, and trying to hear from God. I knew I only had a few minutes until my kid’s internal roosters cock-a-doodle-do’d and sent them down the long hall way from their bedrooms to mine. I held my phone in the air above my face while I read through a familiar chapter in Romans. A certain verse seemed to stand out from the rest. I swiped over to a commentary and that’s when I read those eye-opening words, “The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.” That got me off my back. I sat up, and the Holy Spirit started to unpack mountains of truth in the blink of an eye. His message was loud and clear:
Expand Your heart, daughter. Desire more.
The Holy Spirit is an extravagant gift giver. The focus of I Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts. The word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
Each of these gifts has a two-fold purpose–one: to glorify Jesus, and two: to strengthen and encourage other people.
We are told more than once in scripture to earnestly desire these gifts. In the words of Dwight K. Schrute, “Question…” How are you doing with that? Be completely honest with yourself. When was the last time you were craving, desiring, or aching to unwrap one of those gifts?
Some do not desire the gifts of the Spirit because they simply don’t understand them or have never heard that they should desire them. Maybe you’ve assumed these gifts are reserved for special people on a ministry staff. Others don’t desire the gifts because of selfishness. Most Christians spend more time working on a better “me” instead of looking to build others up.
Think about the purpose of the gifts again: to glorify Jesus and to strengthen and encourage other people. These gifts have little to do with the one who is told to desire them and much to do with others. I wonder if we would crave spiritual gifts in a greater way if they were for our personal gain. #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm
The call of this devotional is to expand the walls of our hearts with a desire for spiritual gifts, because when we make room in our elastic-lined hearts for the gifts of the Spirit, we will begin to operate in them. Our actions will begin to glorify Jesus and encourage others.
Let’s quickly look at each of the gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12 in order to create a deeper hunger in ourselves for them.
● Gift of Wisdom: The Holy Spirit working through us so we can hear and speak wise counsel, especially in an important situation.
● Gift of Knowledge: The unique ability to share knowledge that could only be revealed supernaturally and to know what is true.
● Gift of Faith: The ability to fully trust God in any situation.
● Gift of Healing: The Spirit working through us to pray for the sick and see them healed.
● Miraculous Powers: The Holy Spirit working through us to “override” the laws of nature and divinely intervene in situations.
● Gift of Prophecy: The Holy Spirit working through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way.
● Distinguishing Between the Spirits: The Holy Spirit working through us to recognize what is influencing people and to decipher what is of the Spirit and what is not.
● Gift of Tongues: A personal language of prayer given by God, so a believer can communicate with Him beyond the limits of their own knowledge and understanding.
● Gift of Interpretation: Allows tongues to benefit those, other than the one speaking in tongues, by interpreting the heavenly language into an earthly language.
Now, some of you may already be wondering which gifts you have or you’re trying to decide which gifts you want. I know they are in list form, but don’t look at this list like a sandwich bag at Which Wich where you get to decide which gifts sound good to you. That’s the Holy Spirit’s call. More important than knowing the name of the gift that’s at work through you, or choosing the one which suits you best, is the desire to be used by God however He sees fit.
Make your prayer be, “Lord I want to bring glory to Jesus today, and I want to strengthen and encourage others.” Let your desire for the gifts grow and expand the walls of your heart, and as you do that, you can expect that God will give you the desires of your heart. He will begin to use you, and you’ll begin to discover, pinpoint, and appreciate the gifts in operation in your life.
One gift we are told to especially desire is the gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 14:1). Let’s make that our focus this month.
Prophecy is simply allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way.
That’s one of my favorite phrases ever: naturally supernatural.
We often see the Holy Spirit as spooky, but He’s not. He wants to work supernaturally through what’s natural to you.
If it’s natural for you to text a friend, the Holy Spirit can supernaturally work through a text message. I get supernatural texts quite often. This morning a friend texted me to let me know she was praying for me and that God wanted me to know I was covered and loved. I had no idea, and my friend had no idea, that my afternoon would bring some very stressful things my way. The words in that text came back to my heart and comforted me. The Holy Spirit prophesied to me, through her, via text.
Ladies, let’s desire the gifts. Let’s desire to glorify Jesus and encourage and strengthen others: our spouses, children, friends, our small group, co-workers, people we serve with at church, whoever the Lord brings to our attention. Let’s not make this a “part” of our everyday lives, segregated and compartmentalized, rather, let this be who we are: glorying Jesus and encouraging others.
For a free small group study guide to go along with this article click here.
On Sunday, we’ll celebrate Easter and the fact that our Savior conquered the grave, is alive and seated in Heaven, bridging the gap between our Father and us. But there’s no Easter if there’s no Good Friday, and I suppose that’s why such a dark day can be called good.
On the original Good Friday, Jesus shared a very vulnerable moment with His closest friends in the Garden of Gethsemane. He told them His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death and asked them to keep watch as He went a little deeper into the garden to get on His knees and seek His Father’s face.
The amount of pressure Jesus was facing that night is something we can’t fully wrap our minds around. The cross was near. He knew that very soon He would have to submit Himself to the punishment of sin. He would have to taste death for all mankind. The loneliness of the grave and the horror of hell surrounded Him and pressed Him on every side. It was not well with His soul. His soul was crushed with grief, His heart ready to break.
Luke’s gospel tells us that as Jesus was in agony, and earnestly praying, His sweat turned into great drops of blood falling upon the ground. I’m sure as the weight of the world quite literally pressed in on Him, it was even hard to breathe.
Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus experienced this tremendous pressing, means the place where olive oil is pressed. Olive oil was a hot commodity, used primarily for keeping lamps fueled. If I need some olive oil, I just head to Target, rarely, if ever, stopping to think about the process of how the oil came to be, but there is a process. It’s changed since Jesus walked the earth. In His day, olives were gathered in rough sacks and stacked on top of one another. A beam was lowered onto the stack and increasing weight was added to the end of the beam to press oil from the olives. The more pressure, the more oil would drip.
Gethsemane had seen pressing before. It had seen olives burst under pressure and drip, but it had never seen a man pressed like this, pressed to the point of dripping blood, sweat, and tears.
There’s a beautiful picture in all of this I want you to see. Hebrews 1:9 tells us God anointed Jesus with the oil of gladness or the everlasting joy of the Holy Spirit. That night in the garden, as Jesus was pressed like an olive, the oil of gladness dripped from His brow. The more pressure, the more oil–and Jesus was under the greatest amount of pressure in the history of the world. His drip would turn into a pour. On the cross He would pour out His blood to wash away our sins and then He would pour out His Spirit, the oil that we need to keep our lamps burning until He returns or calls us home.
God has called you to be the light of the world. A lamp lighting the way for your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else God brings across your path, but without that pure pressed oil of gladness, you can’t fulfill your purpose. You will not only lose your way, but you won’t be able to help anyone else find his or her way.
Proverbs 31:18 says of the virtuous woman, her lamp goes not out, but it burns on continually through the night. It burns on through trouble, privation, and sorrow.
If we are going to burn bright without burning out, we have to get a revelation of how much we need that oil of gladness, how much we need the Holy Spirit whom Jesus poured out for us.
Romans 12:11 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
Notice the verse says, keep yourselves fueled and aflame. I can’t keep your lamp burning for you, and you can’t keep mine burning for me. So how do we keep ourselves running on the Oil of Gladness? We simply invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill our lives Every. Single. Day. We head to the garden, and we receive what has already been pressed out for us.
When you are tired of fighting, when you feel as though the demands placed on you exceed the resources available to you, when trouble, privation, and sorrow come your way, if your lamp is fueled by the oil of gladness, your lamp will not go out.
This weekend as we celebrate Easter and remember Good Friday, know that Jesus was pressed for you, and because He was full of The Spirit and anointed with Gladness that is what poured out of Him. As you receive that same anointing by grace through faith, as you fuel yourself with the Holy Spirit, when you find yourself pressed, realize the same will pour out of you.
I am the mom who cries when her babies get shots at the doctor’s office, and yeah, I’m also the mom who gets her kids vaccinated. (Insert shocked emoji face here!) I hope we can still be friends.
When my oldest son Gus was three, I took him to the dentist for a checkup and found out he had eight cavities. Yep, eight. I promise, I take good care of my children, I just had no idea that a preschooler was not ready to wield a toothbrush on his own. #FirstKidProbs. He took the brunt of all our first-time parenting faux pas, but by the grace of God he’s turning out just fine. And you’ll be happy to know my second and third child are filling free. When Gus went back to get his mouth filled with silver, I asked my husband to take off work for the appointment so I didn’t have to see my little buddy all gassed up for dental surgery. I would have been a blubbering mess.
I love the scene in the movie Storks where the little pink-haired baby starts to cry while Tulip, the woman in charge of delivering the pink-haired baby, tries to ignore her. The film cuts to a sequence of caring mommas throughout history protecting their babies all while REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” plays in the background. It cuts back to Tulip whose maternal instincts kick in and she can’t take it anymore. She MUST comfort the crying pink-haired baby!
Mothers do not like to see their children in pain, physically or emotionally. It’s part of our genetic makeup! God could not watch as Jesus hung on the cross. He had to turn His face away.
Like the women in the Storks sequence who were literally shielding their babies, we do our best to shield our kids from anything that might cause their hearts to ache.
Last October I got a fun little surprise in the form of two pink lines. I was pregnant! We had just packed away the crib and decided to wait another three or four years for the final installment of Blount children, so I was shocked, but thrilled at the same time. I love being pregnant, and I love newborns, and I knew our kid’s excitement would be through the roof when we shared our news with them. I took two blood tests to confirm and the doctor said my levels looked great and that he would see me in nine weeks. I was already showing, and I knew I couldn’t wait nine more weeks to tell our friends and family, so about two weeks after we found out, I planned a big scavenger hunt that ended with a little video where we told the kids a new baby would be joining our family in June!
I have NEVER seen joy hit my kids like that before, and you should know they are very happy kids who have had a very happy, Disneyland-filled life. But this was something they had been asking for and praying for and thinking about for a while. Our oldest cried genuine tears of joy. Our middle jumped up and down and squealed for a good five minutes straight. And our youngest just kept hugging everyone because she knew we were all so happy. It’s a moment I’ll never forget even though I totally blew it and did not hit the record button on my phone to capture it all on video.
The new baby was all my kids could talk about. The papers they brought home from school had drawings and notes on the back of them about their new brother, since they had already decided it was going to be a boy. They had to say good morning and good night to my puffy tummy. And they prayed sincere prayers, asking God to help the baby grow big and strong and healthy.
Three days of celebrating came to an abrupt halt after I miscarried. As shocked as I was to find out I was pregnant, I was even more shocked to miscarry. My third pregnancy ended when I had to deliver our son stillborn, and after that I prayed and believed and trusted God that I would never lose another baby again. And I was convinced I wouldn’t. But I did.
Of course I was heartbroken over the loss of life, but the thing that hurt the most was knowing that I was going to have to tell my kids. There was no way around this. I would have to watch their hearts break.
I was so mad at myself. Why? Why didn’t I follow the pregnancy announcement protocol? Why didn’t I wait longer to tell the kids? I could have saved them. I could have shielded them. I could have kept them in their bubble.
I’ll never forget sitting in my kitchen the afternoon of the miscarriage, sorting out Bingo cards for a Halloween party at my kid’s school that I was in charge of hosting later that day, my eyes blurry from all the tears. I knew that in just a few short hours, after school was over, we were going to have to sit the kids down and let them know that life isn’t perfect. As I punched out Charlie Brown bingo markers and beat myself up for seemingly jumping the gun with the pregnancy announcement, the Holy Spirit came and does what the Holy Spirit was sent to do. He comforted me with these words, “You can’t always shield your kids from heartache, but you can show them how to overcome.”
In other words, what’s done is done. You can’t protect them from this one, but you can use this situation to help them see that the greater One lives in them, and because of that, they can find victory in the midst of a terrible loss.
After I painfully smiled my way through the class party and got the kid’s home from school, we sat them down in the living room and broke the news. They wept and moaned and cried for what felt like an eternity. Josh and I cried with them and held them and let them cry until they were ready to talk. They were so confused. How could this happen? Why did this happen? I didn’t feel equipped to answer those questions, because honestly I didn’t know how and why it happened, and I still don’t. It still doesn’t make sense. But in that moment we told them what we DID know: God is faithful, no matter what. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. God will heal our broken hearts. God will turn this sad story into a happy one.
We stayed in our living room for hours that night and talked about heaven and the hope we have in Jesus, and what I thought would be one of the worst nights of my life ended up being one of the best, because that night I got to see that my children’s faith in God was immovable, even in the midst of a storm. Their eight and five-year-old hearts held tightly to the promises of God. The Jesus they have always sung about and read about and talked about became even more real to them that October night.
John 16:33 says, “Here on earth we (me, you, my kids, your kids) will have many trials and sorrows.” But then it encourages us with this, “take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world.”
When our kids are faced with real-life challenges, our tendency is to shield them from as much pain as possible. We don’t want them to ever have to experience hurt feelings, rejection, not making a sports team, the death of someone they love, disappointment, or anything else that would cause their little hearts to hurt, but sometimes we shield them from too much and they grow up never getting a chance to fully lean on God.
Psalm 103 tells us to lean not on our own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. You can’t expect to ever stop leaning on your own understanding if you live in a world where everything makes sense, and I fear that’s the kind of world we try to create for our children.
But what if we let them face some challenges? What if we stop trying to shield them from every single thing and start giving them opportunities to put their trust in the Lord? I think we would raise the fiercest generation of sons and daughters the world has ever seen. A generation who knows how to get back up when they get knocked down. A generation whose faith in God is real, tested, and unshakable. A generation who knows where to turn when the wind and waves come. A generation full of sure-footed, steady-handed, battle-worthy conquerors.
The last thing my eight-year-old said to me that night as I tucked him into bed was, “Mom, this has been the saddest day of my life…but I will never stop trusting God.”
If there are no rough roads to walk, no mountains to climb, and no battles to fight, our children miss out on the God of John chapter 16, the God who has overcome the world.
Mommas, love, protect, and defend your children, but when the Spirit leads you to, lower that heavy shield so God can display His glory in the lives of your children.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
We’ve all heard those four words before, either while watching reruns of COPS or on the other end of the phone after you’ve dialed for help. I’ve never had to dial those three numbers, but I’ve known them by heart as long as I can remember, and I’ve made it a point to make sure my kids know them, too.
But the National Emergency Number Association hasn’t always existed. In fact, there were ninety-two long years between the first ever phone call made by Alexander Graham Bell and the first ever phone call made to 9-1-1. Prior to 1968, if you wanted to report an emergency, you had to dial your local precinct.
Everything changed after 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was murdered while she was on her way to her New York City apartment after a late-night bartending shift. A few weeks after Kitty’s tragic and senseless death, The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses heard Kitty’s screams for help, screams that went on for 30 minutes, yet help never arrived. The number of bystanders has since been disputed, but the fact that several people failed to respond remains.
Where was the breakdown? Why didn’t Kitty’s neighbors get out of bed and pick up the phone to call the police upon hearing her horrific screams? Some claim they did. Some reported they didn’t want to get involved. Some figured someone else would make the call. Some took cues from the other neighbors they observed doing nothing and decided to do nothing as well.
Kitty’s complacent neighbors showcased the need for a central response center, which brought about the 9-1-1 emergency call system we know today.
When I heard Kitty’s story my heart was filled with conviction. I found myself recalling moments when I had acted like her New York City neighbors: hearing cries for help, either through a friend’s Facebook post or a barista’s sad disposition, but ignoring the cries because I didn’t have time to get involved, or I was counting on the fact that someone else would step in. Thinking thoughts like, “Well someday I can respond, but right now I don’t have the programs or infrastructure in place, so it’s just not the right time.”
I repented and asked the Lord to help me change my casual bystander mindset, and He led me to a very familiar passage of scripture and helped me read it with a fresh pair of eyes. Aren’t you thankful for a gracious God who sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and for the Word that is always transforming us into a more accurate image of Christ?
In Luke 10, a religious scholar asks Jesus what to do to receive eternal life. He wasn’t asking how to become immortal. Everyone is born an eternal being; after leaving the earth we either live forever in heaven or forever in hell. What this man is asking is how to receive life that comes from God, an above-and-beyond kind of life that you can live in right now!
Jesus answers the scholar with a question, “How do you interpret the law?” His response became one of the most well-known scriptures in the entire Bible.
Luke 10:27 “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
What did Jesus think of this answer? Let’s keep reading.
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” Looking for a loophole, he [the scholar] asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus then shared the story of the good Samaritan.
A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was attacked by robbers and left for dead. Luckily, witnesses would roll up on the scene: a priest and a Levite. These men would surely help, right? Nope.
It’s so strikingly similar to the story of Kitty Genovese. Only this story has a happy ending.
Luke 10:33 A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.”
The Samaritan felt compassion for the bloody and beaten man. The scripture says his heart went out to him. How many times do we encounter people on our paths and send our hearts out to them, but stop there? We feel compassion, empathy, sadness, anger, disgust, pity, “all the feels,” if you will, while forgetting that all the feels in the world, without a sacrificial response, don’t amount to anything.
We have to take care of the people God places in our lives in the same way we take care of ourselves. We sacrifice to make sure dinner is on the table for our families. We sacrifice to make sure our kids have incredible birthday parties. We sacrifice to make sure we have a roof over our heads and clothes on our back. But what are we sacrificing for our neighbor?
I know sometimes the world seems hopeless, and it’s easier to keep your head down and just make sure that you and yours are happy and healthy, but Jesus says if we want to step into eternal living right now, we have to move from bystanders to first responders.
Let’s not wait for someone else to make the call. Let’s not roll over and hope someone else steps in. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears. Ask Him for a genuine concern for the ones in plain sight—a concern for both their social and spiritual needs—and then be ready to respond. It could be a phone call, providing a warm coat to someone who is cold, an offer to babysit for a friend, bringing flowers to the gal who does your nails, a home-cooked meal for someone going through a hard time, asking someone if you can pray for them, a hand-written note, spending time at a nursing home or a homeless shelter, or buying lunch for the man carrying the card-board sign on the corner. God’s not asking you to start a global ministry; He’s simply asking you to love Him and love people. Don’t overcomplicate it; see a need and fill the need.
Love wins, but only when we respond.
A visionary is someone with a strong vision of the future. It seems like a title reserved for a select few: people like Walt Disney, George Lucas, Brian Houston, Steve Jobs, or Nelson Mandela. But I believe every born again believer can live in such a way that “visionary” will come up at some point during their eulogy.
God was a visionary. He envisioned the sky with its clouds, moon, stars, and sun. He envisioned the sea with its white waves, jellyfish, and coral. He envisioned the giraffe with its giant spots, extra-long eyelashes and black tongue. And He envisioned you.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
Before you took your first breath, God had a strong vision for your future. He is a visionary, and because His very Spirit lives in you, you are a visionary.
Don’t scoff. Quit inwardly rolling your eyes. I know you may not feel like a visionary, but if that’s the case, it’s only because you’ve never identified with that part of your spiritual DNA. You were created to have a strong vision of your future, the good hope-filled future that God has prepared for you.
Last October Josh and I were headed to Birmingham, Alabama for a very anticipated ministry conference and three days with no kids (Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?). When we arrived at the airport we found that our flight had been cancelled. Insert devastated emoji face here. We couldn’t get a flight out until the next day, which just wouldn’t have worked. It was drive 10 hours, or don’t go at all. We decided to drive it. We rented the cheapest car we could find and took off. A few minutes into the trip Josh discovered the car did not have a cruise control feature. He was a good sport about it, but I know driving 10 hours without being able to set the cruise control and just…you know…cruise, made the trip more work for him.
Cruise control on a 10-hour road trip is a good, good thing. It’s so easy to pick a speed, pick a lane, get comfortable, and set off to your destination, but visionaries understand that if you want the future to look different, you have to do something different.
If you want 2017 to be more fulfilling than 2016, than you’ll have to turn cruise control off. You’ll have to be okay with uncomfortable. You’ll have to desire different. If you keep on keeping on like you kept on last year, you’ll repeat the same year.
What would 2017 look like if you spent time seeking God and asking Him to reveal His vision for you to you? Remember, He said every stage of our lives was laid out in front of Him before our “birth” days!
He has envisioned what your relationship with Him looks like this year. He has envisioned your marriage. He has envisioned your career, your savings account, your friendships, your family life, your influence, your health, your mornings, your lunch breaks, your world. He’s envisioned it all, now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to kick into visionary mode. It’s your turn to dream about what God has planned for you this year.
Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”
I believe God is calling you to “run with it,” but before you can run with it, you must take time to understand what “it” is. Sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and let God start to reveal His vision for you to you. Make it plain, easy to understand, create a timeline, think through practical steps that will make the vision become a reality. Write those steps down, and then read what you wrote and read it often. Keep it in front of your eyes, and then you can run with it and live out the life God has envisioned for you.
You are a visionary.
I’ll just come right out and say it. I’m not a fan of talking on the phone. I used to like it. I liked it so much that when I lived at my parent’s house they got me my own phone line so I wasn’t always tying up theirs or making it impossible for the dial-up modem to connect to the Internet. But that was before I owned a cell phone. More importantly that was before I owned an iPhone.
My dislike for talking on the phone came when I got one of those bad boys. It was just so much simpler to text than it was to talk; especially with a 2-year-old running around. Now, I have three children at home and I rarely answer my phone. I’ll answer a text pretty quickly, but if you call me, you’ll have to wait until the baby goes down for a nap and the big kids are being entertained by a monkey and the man with the yellow hat before I call you back.
Since I communicate so much via text messaging I’ve come to appreciate Auto Correct. This is a handy software feature that automatically replaces a word or suggests an alternate word, if the word you type does not appear in the built-in dictionary on your phone.
For instance, if I had too much soy sauce with my sushi, and my extra-puffy fingers accidentally text, “I kovr sushi,” Auto Correct knows that kovr is not a word and what I meant was, “I Iove sushi,” and automatically changes kovr to love—so smart!
Your phone will also train itself to recognize certain words that are not in its dictionary, if you text them often enough. When I first had my daughter, Beau, her name was not in my dictionary, and Auto Correct was always trying to change it to something else. But after I declined the word replacement suggestion enough times it learned that Beau was what I was actually wanting to text. It even learned to automatically capitalize it.
I was texting my husband the other day and watching all the words I mistyped transform into the words I meant to type and I thought to myself, we need Auto Correct on more than just our phones, we need it in our minds.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you started to have a wrong thought, your mind would auto correct and replace that thought with a right one? Imagine what kind of effect that could have on your life. If you are thinking right, you are talking right, making right decisions, producing the right kind of fruit, attracting the right kind of relationships. All would be right in your world if you could only program your mind with an Auto Correct feature.
I’ve got good news. You can. You don’t have to hire a computer programmer or a brain surgeon. You don’t have to pay a fortune. You don’t have to take special vitamins or eat a certain diet or be a part of Mensa. All you need is a Bible.
II Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The Word of God, when mediated upon, has the power to auto correct your thoughts. When you study and memorize scripture you are downloading information into your mind and spirit that will override and correct any wrong information you’ve been programmed with, so you can be equipped to do all that God put you on this planet to do.
You may have programmed yourself to think that stress is a normal part of life and something that you just have to deal with. You may even start certain days proclaiming, “This is going to be a stressful day!” But if you study the Word you’ll see that that way of thinking is wrong. The Bible says not to worry about anything. The Bible says Jesus came to make our burdens light. The Bible says Jesus is the Prince Of Peace. If you make those truths a part of your life, they will auto correct your thoughts when you begin to feel stressed or overwhelmed. They will change your proclamation from, “This is going to be a stressful day,” into “This is the day the Lord has made. He’s going to carry my burdens! He’s going to command peace over my day. He’s going to lead me beside still waters. He’s going to calm my storms.”
You may have programmed yourself to think that your dream is too big. You find yourself doubting the call God has placed on your life or trying to figure out how you can make it happen in your own strength. But if you study God’s Word, and the lives of men like Noah and David, you’ll reprogram yourself to correct those thoughts with things like, “My God is faithful! He who started a good work will finish it. He makes all things work together for my good. His ways are better than my ways!”
We all live in the same fallen world and we have all been programmed with thoughts that do not line up with the Word of God, but we can train our minds to replace those thoughts—to correct those thoughts—by filling our inner dictionary with promises and principles from God’s Word.
It may not happen overnight. Just like it took several times of me declining whatever word my phone suggested, when I typed Beau’s name. It may take you several times of declining whatever wrong thoughts pop into your mind first, but eventually if you keep putting the Word of God in your spirit, it will stick. God’s Word will be the first suggestion that pops up in every area of your life. Truth will override everything else and all will be right with you.
Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (II Tim 3:17, MSG)