I heard today that this month is the 9th snowiest January of all time in our area and we're "digging out" again. While contemplating more shoveling, (I know, I should get a snow blower, but I like the exercise), I began to think about how we as Christians sometimes feel buried. The list of reasons is endless. Some are much more serious than others, but more often than not, they end up sending us into what's often called a spiritual rut.
What are our options when we get buried in a snowstorm? We can put it off until later, or hope it warms up quickly and melts. Those usually aren't good options in our area and it typically ends up making navigation of our walks and drives more difficult, including an occasional slip on the ice, or a car that drops off into the yard, or worse yet, a ditch. We can hope our neighbor with the snow blower comes over, or better yet, pray that he comes over. We can get out and clear our own drive, which for many, leads us to the drives of our neighbors. We can ask for help from a neighbor or friend, or call a snow removal service. Sometimes we have to know our limits and realize that the best way for us to get out of this snow emergency is by seeking assistance.
I had a hard time coming up with a topic for this entry and then realized that I was in a funk of my own, a real spiritual rut. When I came to that realization, it was obvious what I had to write about. So, how do we get out of these spiritual ruts? Believe it or not, shoveling snow was my inspiration! Here are a few options I came up with.
Option 1. Just ignore it and it will go away, especially when there's hot chocolate available and a warm fire. How about put it off and deal with it later, nothing like a good nap, right? These wouldn't be my recommended options of choice. We could easily end up flat on our back, sort of like slipping on unattended ice and now being engulfed by a problem that we could have rid our self of if we had acted. Worse yet, our procrastination could allow us to fall deeper into that rut, like a car falling off of a heavily snow covered drive.
Option 2. We can pray. Now why don't we think of that more often? Go to God in prayer and ask Him to send us whatever He knows is necessary to blow all that negativity right out of our lives, remove the massive drift of trials and tribulations that surround us and provide us with a clear and safe path.
Option 3. We can pick ourselves up by our snow boot straps, get our hands a little blistered and get to work getting ourselves out of that rut. One of the best ways I have found to do that is in service to others. It's sort of like clearing the drive of your neighbor after you finish yours. In service to another, we become less focused on our own problems and more focused on helping others and before you know it, your stepping out of what was once a deep, cavernous hole. In a world of quick fixes and instant gratification, this is probably the best option. Results are typically immediate!!
Option 4. We can ask for help from others, whether that be a friend, family member, minister or mentor. It's one of the hardest things for us to do as humans, ask for help, but in many instances, it can be the best way for us to clear that blizzard of difficulties holding us back from moving forward. We need others to help us find our way when we're blinded by the trials and tribulations that seem impossible to eradicate. And in many instances, those humbly and selflessly serving us in our time of need often benefit more from it than we do.
For the rest of our lives, there will always be storms, both inside and outside of us. How we deal with them and how we help others to deal with them will speak volumes to our faith, not only in Christ our Lord, but in each other.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Phil 4:6
I've been asked how I come up with a topic to write about, or where I get my ideas. I have a list of go to topics I developed, but many times they just come to me, or better put, I believe God places them on my heart. Today's topic came to me about two weeks before I started writing and I was very hesitant to tackle the subject.
I am a self proclaimed novice when it comes to A Prayer Filled Life and didn't feel very qualified writing about it. Then I looked at the next lesson in our Foundations course, which I am leading. It's titled "Building My Relationship With God Through Prayer". The day before I started writing this, I received an email titled "10 Tips For Praying As A Couple". And then this morning, as I was about to get started and was looking for some references, I realized the last two classes I lead in the Asbury Class were about prayer. After all of those "hints", I believe the next thought that came to me was, duh. You know that soft still voice you hear people talk about that got them to do something, obviously that doesn't always work well with me.
So after being hit over the head with a prayer hammer, guess what I'm going to write about today, you guessed it, prayer!!
When Vicky first asked me if I would like to do a blog on our church web site, I wasn't sure I wanted to do that. So what did I do, I prayed about it for quite some time. And in the midst of those prayers, I remembered another prayer I had prayed many times prior to her asking me about the blog and it went something like this, or at least a variation of this, "God, I want more. I want to do more. I don't exactly know what that more is or what it looks like, but I feel the need to do more".
You know the old saying, be careful what you pray for. I asked for more and there it was, right in front of me. Just when I was in a nice comfy spot in my faith, actually, complacent might be a better description, God, in His time, decides to answer my first prayer as well. I think I should have specified "more"!! I didn't mean that much more. Geez!! For many, that might not be a big thing to pray about, but for me it was. It meant putting my feelings and faith out there for more people to read than I was comfortable with.
So what's the lesson here? Only pray for the big things in life?? Actually, I believe it be the exact opposite.
Pray about everything, big or small. I know it sounds odd, but in doing so, my prayer life became much more active and regular than ever before. I found from my own personal experience that if I only prayed for the big things, whatever they were, I ran into some long prayer dry spells. That might not be true for you, but it was for me. And though this is truly a work in progress in my life, with prayer dry spells or ruts still occurring, they are now much less frequent. We have often discussed in Sunday school and bible study about how foolish it seems taking things we feel are trivial, nominal or not truly prayer worthy to God, but it's not. He wants us to! He tells us to!! And that is why I started this entry with the passage from Philippians.
So here's my challenge to each of you. Take it all to God. He can handle it, whether life shattering or minuscule. And in doing so, there is no way that your prayer life won't be fuller, it has to be. Think of all the things going on in your life right now. If you took them all to God in prayer, there is no way you won't be praying more often.
Your prayer doesn't have to be in some formal type of format or wording. Just talk to God. He knows what's on your heart. Take it all to Him, whether good or not so good, whether for your own request, or on behalf of another. He's waiting right now to hear from you. He's waiting right now for you to reach out to Him.
Go ahead, give it a try. Take it all to Him in prayer.
Let me know how it goes in the comments below.
I Can Read the Bible
I have a saying that applies to many things in life and faith. It goes like this,
'It's better to start small than not at all.'
This is so true when it comes to reading the bible. I remember one of the first times I tried reading The Book. I started right at the beginning and was bored stiff in about 15 minutes (sorry I said that Lord). Every time I ever tried to start reading, it was at or near the beginning of the Bible.
For me, that was a horrible place to start. The chapters just became a jumbled combination of meaningless words and I just couldn't relate, especially to some of the stories, laws, lists and rules. It made me walk away every time and I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't happened to some of you.
Well, if you look back at my previous post titled "I Can't Read the Bible", you'll see that the first book I ever read was Philippians, which is in the New Testament (NT). Now what I am about to say is coming from someone that really struggled with reading the bible and who finally found a way to make it a part of his life.
Try starting in the NT. That statement comes with a disclaimer. I am in no way telling you not to read the Old Testament (OT), because it is all God's word and I have to tell you that I have started to venture more into the OT and it's getting better. I loved the book of Job and Genesis and Exodus were much easier to follow.
Get a version that's easy to read, or has more modern wording. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is what I started in and is what I read most at home. I really like it. Others which are easier to read include the Good News Bible (GNB), which is my phone's bible app, (you have to get a bible app., they're awesome), the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT) and The Message, which has the most up to date language I've read, is way different from "your parents bible" and is my bedside bible of choice, just to change things up. These versions are much more palatable, I believe, especially for someone new to The Book, or someone like me that struggled to get through one chapter. Getting back to my point of starting small.
Read some of Paul's letters, many of which are only a few chapters and maybe just a chapter or two at first. Don't be surprised if after a few ventures into Paul's letters, you start reading more than a chapter or two. His words are so inspiring, encouraging, heartwarming and at times, challenging. On a quick sidebar, if you want challenging, read the book of James, which is another short book that I have read countless times.
Any way, getting back to Paul's words. They truly spoke to me in a way that I've never experienced. I was enjoying his letters so much, I actually took my bible to my mechanics garage one day and read Romans (which by the way, might be my fave book) while my car was being repaired. I also planned ahead of time to read Hebrews on my flight to Florida a few weeks ago. If I was told some day I'd be doing stuff like that, I would have laughed right in your face, but I believe that's what the word of God does to us. It changes us in a way we never expected, in a way we never saw coming and in a way that can turn things upside down, in an amazingly good way.
I started journaling during and after I read certain books and still do so now, or I just write directly in my bible. Many times before I read, I ask God for His guidance and that He might reveal to me whatever it is that He wants me to see. Just be careful with that prayer. It has been a real eye opener at times and extremely challenging as well, but it has also brought me to some of the most peaceful and joyful times of my life.
God's word changed me in a way I have a hard time describing or even putting into words and it most definitely changed the way I live my life, though I still have my own personal struggles.
I ask that you give this a try. And if you need some support, talk with someone you know who regularly reads the bible, or your minister, or you can write back to me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you and all correspondence will be kept in confidence. You can also comment on this post or any others right here on this site. I am praying right now for any of you that are going to try this and will be placing you on my personal prayer list.
I hope that His word will truly reach out and grab you, touch your heart, pull you in and never let you go!!
Question of the Day: Where will you start?
Here are seven reasons I came up with for not reading the bible.
The Short Version. I have to backtrack and give you the shortened Christian time table of my life. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools for 12 years and for the most part, hardly ever missed church. Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that I am in no way bashing the Catholic church. In fact, being raised Catholic was what kept me out of trouble, for the most part, into my early 20's, not to mention an amazing Mother and four loving sisters. My early church upbringing and my family taught me right from wrong in the most basic and important of ways, as well as things like compassion, humility and loving others. They were also my moral compass.
Any way, looking back now some 25 plus years later, I realized that the bible was never a focal part of any portion of my life. Whether that was in church, in my schooling, or at home. I fault nobody for that, I think that's just the way it was and it really wasn't a big deal to me. Then Wendy brought me to our church in 1986. And though I attended adult Sunday School, taught 4th and 5th grade Sunday School with Wendy for years and even adult classes on and off, I was still a non-bible reader. I really only read the bible when I needed to lead a lesson, but otherwise, I just didn't read it. That's sort of embarrassing to say, but I want you to know exactly where I was in my life at that time and let you know that if any of you are in a similar place, it's possible to change your situation. That is, if you desire to make that change.
How did I become a bible reader? How do I now write about something I never wanted to read? Well, I'm going to try to tell you my story in an extremely condensed version.
I will be 52 in July and up until I was nearly 48, I was still standing pat with my I don't read the bible attitude. Then one day I was in the church office and saw some Upper Room devotional booklets. I don't know why I grabbed one, but I did. When I got home, I found a bible with about six inches of dust on it (just joking) and placed it on the nightstand next to my bed with the Upper Room booklet. That night I read the devotional and the bible passage that went with it and I don't remember it doing anything for me, but since it only took a few minutes, I did it the next night and continued to stay with it.
Then a few weeks later, the devotional passage for that day was from the 4th chapter of Philippians. After I read it, I just felt different inside. It's hard to explain, but it made me want more. I went back and read the entire book of Philippians, which is by no means an amazing task, due to it being only four chapters, but for me it was a huge step, as I actually read my first book EVER in the bible in one sitting, from start to finish.
From then on, I was hooked. I actually was reading two different devotionals a night and eventually read other short books of the bible as well. Then I realized that almost everything I was reading was a letter from Paul. His words were the words that finally reached out and touched me. I could understand the bible for the first time. Granted, not all of it. Not nearly all of it, but some of it. It was an extremely liberating feeling and one that truly lit a fire inside me.
I have never looked back since. I still have difficulty with the OT, but instead of using that as an excuse to not read the bible, I stayed with things that related more to me and it worked. There's a lot more to the story, including bible study group and lengthy bible conversations with some friends, but that's for another day.
So now what? Do I go into a long dissertation about reading the bible? Do I tell you how wrong I was and how wrong you are if you don't start reading? Do I come off sounding holier than thou? No way!!!! I want you to come to The Book, not make you run away from it, therefore, I am going to lay something out that worked for me and ask that you give it a whirl. If it doesn't work, that's OK, it won't require much time or effort and in the meantime, reading a few bible passages can't hurt, right? That's all for now. I'll be posting my follow up soon titled, "I Can Read the Bible".
As Christmas gets closer and closer, stress levels for many get higher and higher. The list of things that stress people out at this time of the year are mind boggling, therefore, I am not about to list them because our minds tend to get "boggled" enough just with every day stuff. However, I am going to touch on one of the "biggies" and that is, what in the world am I going to buy for _____________? You fill in the person's name.
Well, I am going to relieve some of that holiday stress and give your bank account a break all at the same time. I have the perfect gift to give someone this year and it's extremely inexpensive. Sit down and write a letter to someone that has played an important part in shaping any aspect of your life. Maybe it's someone that influenced you to succeed in your chosen profession. Maybe it's someone that turned your life around when you were younger and made you realize you were special, you did matter and you could do anything. It might be your parents, or your significant other, or even that person who caused you to truly see the light and opened up your eyes to all that God and Jesus want to give to you. It could be anyone and be pertinent to anything in your life. I am positive that almost everyone of you already has someone in mind as you read this. This is a practice I started a few years ago and though it is most definitely a work in process, I continue to try to improve. In fact, when I spoke in church a few weeks ago, that was sort of a little thank you letter to so many of you in the church that helped bring me to where I am today in my faith. Except I didn't get to send it to you, I had to read it out loud. Send yours for now and just trust me on that.
I'm going to tell you a short (hopefully) story and in doing so, it will end up being one of my letters to someone. As I wrote this, I started thinking about the many who brought me along in my faith, well maybe brought isn't the correct word, it was more like pulled, dragged and pushed. It's easy to remember those most recent, especially as I get older and my memory gets worse by the minute. What I really did was look back. I thought of my Mom first, then my sisters, followed up by my upbringing in the Catholic church, but when I got into my late teens and early 20's, I started drifting away, even though I still attended church, which was really about all I did. I could honestly say that at times, I walked around with a little chip on my shoulder and had that "the whole world has it out for me" mentality. I wasn't always like that, but definitely had my days. I could be a little bit of a hard?ss (hope I can sort of say that word in a church blog). Around that time is when I met Wendy. Always happy, never in a bad mood and pretty much liked everyone. As we started dating and into our married life, she corrected me often, as a "good wife" does. Many of the things she let up on, as did I with her, as we began to figure each other out, but one thing she never let up on was those times when I acted like a tough guy, or a hard?ss, or give it any name you want. She was relentless, always telling me I was wrong when I acted like that, even though I didn't think I was and continually doing it until one day I must have finally heard her. That is when I started to change. And as I write this, I now realize that she was the one!!!! The one who really softened up my hardened heart The one who did the prep work. The one who got me ready for that next step. It's exactly what we as Christians are supposed to do. When you see that opportunity. When you hear that call, you have to respond. We have to be always on the ready. We don't know when that opportunity may come, but if we aren't ready, we'll miss it. In life, there will be some who are behind us and some who are ahead of us. Wendy didn't leave me behind, she reached back and pulled me ahead with her until I figured it out and readied me for that next step in my walk. So there's my story and my first letter. I can honestly say that Wendy has never heard that and won't until she reads this post.
So there you go. You now know something bad and good about me and I also gave you an idea of how this letter thing works. Don't wait until tomorrow, or next week, or after Christmas, do it now. I promise you that you won't regret it and the person that will receive the letter will be blessed. It's the season of celebrating the greatest gift any of us will ever receive, Jesus!! And I can't think of a better way of doing so than to reach out to someone and tell them how much they mean to you and how thankful you are to have them in your life.
I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the most spiritually prosperous New Years ever!!
I read something today in a daily email I receive from a Christian web site. It talked of 5 Things That Cause Us To Drift Spiritually. (You can read the entire article HERE)
I have experienced every single one of the things mentioned in that article. #2 really hit home, especially when I look back at the crazy life Wendy and I lived when our kids were at home and "overly active". I also have experienced the other four as well, many times over. One common thread I noticed was this, when things go from bad to worse, don't turn away from God, but run - no sprint - towards Him and don't stop until you get to Him. And once there, do everything in your power to stay there as long as you can!! The better I can get at that, the better things will be in all aspects of my life, whether things are going good or not so good.
Have a great rest of the week. You will be in my prayers.
Dave is the Discipleship Czar at Girard 1st. His unofficial title was given because of his love for Christ, and his consistent encouragement for people in their spiritual walk.