Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My top 10 list for how to be a strong Christian

There are a million books, blog posts, articles, sermons, and opinions on how to deepen your faith. I'm sure there is nothing new under the sun to write about on this topic. I don't claim to be a know-it-all or expert by any means, but what I do have is experience and eye witness accounts. As a parent of young children I am constantly bringing to memory the positive (and negative) examples in my life to help shape my parenting, marriage, and personal relationship with Jesus. It is a never ending struggle to bend my will to His and put away my flesh in order to walk in the Spirit day by day.

I see my children. I look into their eyes. I watch them grow and learn and play. What kind of people do I want them to grow up to be like? What kind of person do I need to be in order to raise them in the Lord? What kind of example am I showing them in my own thoughts and actions? What kind of wife do I want to be in order to honor and build up my husband so that he can be the kind of man God has called him to be? How can I live my life in order to usher the presence of God into our home and hearts? How can I help my husband and children stand before God in eternity in order for them to hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servants!"?

The truth is, my friends, that I can hinder my family from knowing the Lord. Ultimately, it IS their decision to follow Christ. Everyone has a free will and can choose to love and serve the Lord or not. But I certainly have a huge impact on those around me daily and can be a help or a hindrance to their walk with Christ.

I do not take this lightly.

Not one bit.

There are bullet points that I've tucked away inside my head over the years that cover the areas I feel are necessary for building one's faith daily. If we aren't growing, we are withering. If we aren't moving, we're falling backward. If we aren't swimming against the current, we are being swept away in the wrong direction. Following Jesus is an active action. If we aren't being molded into His image on a constant basis, then we are being changed and formed by this world.

Here are the things that I feel are extremely important to growing deeper in my relationship with Jesus and chipping away at my flesh and selfishness.

1. Read the Bible on a regular basis.

No matter how many times I've read the Bible, each time I read a book or verse for the second, third, or twentieth time, it comes alive to me in a different way. Life has mountaintops and valleys, seasons that change, ups and downs, so a scripture that hit me one way yesterday may really impact me a different way today because of something I am going through. If I am not regularly reading the Bible, I lose focus on what's important in life and the outside voices of this world start to shape my thinking. If you were going to put a bike together, wouldn't you read the instructions? Instructions help us piece together the parts that the maker created. Wouldn't the creator of that item know the best way to put those pieces together? In the same way, our Heavenly Creator gives us the Bible, the instruction manual for life, to help us navigate this world and our relationship with Him. Would you go on a road trip without a map or GPS? Why would we want to navigate our way throughout this earthly life without the map God has given us in the scriptures? He created us. He created everything. He knows all, sees all, is above all things. He is definitely the One I want guiding my every day life.

2. Pray and commune with God always.

Some people are afraid or confused on how to pray to God. Some people may think you need to use frilly, religious sounding words to pray. Some people may think you need to yell or speak in a different tone in order to pray. Some people think you need to recite a certain paragraph in order to pray. I think God just wants us to talk to Him like we would a good friend. Sometimes we may get excited when we talk to friends or are passionate about a subject, so we get louder and more earnest in our tones. And that's ok. Sometimes we speak softly and use few words with tears streaming down our face when talking to a friend about a difficult subject. And that's ok. Whatever we do, the point is to communicate with God. Imagine you are on a walk with Jesus next to you, or out to coffee together, or bowing down before Him on His throne. Do whatever it takes to help you talk to Him with honesty, respect, and transparency. If you are a writer it may help you to journal your prayers (me). If you are musical it may help you to sing your prayers (me too!). He already knows your thoughts anyway. He longs to commune with you. Just open up your heart and let it all spill out.

3. Join a church.

Many people, if not all, have been hurt at one point or another by a friend or acquaintance at church. This is nothing new under the sun. Don't let that keep you from trying again. If you were in an argument with a sibling, does that mean you would write off your other siblings and parents as well? Why do we write off church altogether just because one (or a few) people in it hurt us? Church can be an amazing support through all seasons of life. When we open up our hearts about our struggles, prayer requests, and need for guidance, we open the door for so many good things to come our way. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There will always be something difficult about your church, but that is because no church is perfect. If you found the perfect church, it automatically became imperfect the minute you stepped into it. We are all sinners in need of grace and forgiveness. We all mess up from time to time. The Bible urges us to not give up meeting together as believers. We are not islands. God created us and wired us to need community. As iron sharpens iron, we can sharpen each other and help keep each other accountable.

4. Grow in your faith Monday through Saturday, not just Sunday.

If you are counting on your pastor to feed you on Sundays only, then you won't get very far in your faith. Sundays should be a springboard that propels you into a deeper walk with Christ throughout the week. What you do with your week is up to you. It is not up to your pastor to help you live your daily walk for Christ. Consider Sunday just a pep talk and Monday through Saturday is the real battle.

5. Actively seek ways to share your faith as much as possible.

There have been times when I have become apathetic about sharing my faith. I get in a rut and don't "feel like" looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus with people who may not know Him. I always end up feeling remorseful for those times and ask Jesus to give me a renewed passion to start again. I like to consider it like an action movie or a spy movie. I am on a secret mission from the Lord and there are people in store for whom He wants me to make a difference. I know that sounds cheesy, but seriously, I love it. The cashier at the grocery store, the mom at the playground, the friend you just got back in touch with over facebook, the uncle you ran into at the family reunion, the neighborhood kids who come to your house to play, the coworker who is struggling in life. The possibilities are endless. I know it's scary. I've been there. I am there. It's hard to have someone say, "No thank you, I don't want you to pray for me," or, "Can we please stop talking about this religious stuff?" I've heard it all, believe me. It stings and feels like a punch to the gut when that happens. Jesus Himself had people push Him away and tell him to stop talking. But at least you tried! Who knows what seeds you are sewing each and every time you try. Maybe someone else along the journey will come along to water those seeds, or maybe you will be the one to see the harvest. My father was invited to church many times and never went, until the one day he finally said yes. What if that friend had stopped inviting him because he felt embarrassed my dad never came? I am so thankful that friend didn't quit!

6. Read books on faith related subjects, listen to sermons, find Christian articles and blogs online, go to conferences, join that Bible study, just do whatever it takes to learn and grow spiritually.

In this day and age, we have zero excuse for not growing in our faith. Millions of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ have limited access to these things, and yet we have them at our fingertips at any given moment. I do feel that we will be held accountable to the Lord in heaven for how we used these things to grow in our faith. I have a Bible app on my phone that can read the Bible aloud when I am getting ready for the day (curling my hair, eating breakfast, washing dishes, etc...) and I love hearing the spoken word because it touches my heart in a different way than reading it. I have found many blogs that I regularly follow because they offer deep and powerful advice to help me dig deeper spiritually. I meet together once a month during the school year with other homeschool moms who want to encourage each other spiritually and with raising our children. I also have joined several online groups where we encourage each other in the Lord. One of my groups meets online to chat face to face once a month and I am so thankful for those amazing women of God. I often buy audio books so I can listen to them while doing household chores since I don't have as much time to sit and read an actual hard copy these days. SuperDan watches sermons regularly to improve his preaching skills and finds new and relevant topics to speak about. He is also pursuing His master's degree in Christian leadership and is regularly reading books, writing papers, and is in constant dialogue with fellow students about the topics they are studying. The possibilities are endless. No excuses. Do whatever it takes to grow spiritually.

7. Surround yourself with a strong inner circle to cheer you on in this spiritual race.

We all have three kinds of people in our lives. People we are reaching out to help, people who are alongside us to walk through life together, and people we look up to and aspire to be like. Make sure that you aren't filling all your time with constantly helping others and forgetting to feed your own soul. We all need people to encourage us and challenge us. Even Jesus had a close inner circle of friends to share His life with. If He, the Son of God, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Most High God needed an inner circle of friends, why should we be immune to this need? He gave us the example to follow. There's nothing quite like walking away from time spent with this type of dear friend who will listen intently to your worries and heartaches, speak life into your soul, then send you off filled to the brim and overflowing with grace and love. Find these people. Hold them close and never let them go.

8. Obey God's commands.

God knew what He was talking about when He gave them. It's not a joke and it's not a suggestion. The word of God is powerful and it punches us in the gut like no other. If the Holy Spirit is convicting you on an issue in your life, please listen to Him. He will not force His way into your life and demand change. He gives you a choice. Listen to His leadings. Don't harden you heart or else it will become more difficult to discern His voice over time. Yours sins aren't just affecting you. They affect everyone around you. Give those areas of your life over to God and ask Him to help you overcome. Seek counsel with your pastor or a trusted Godly friend to help you navigate your way through the tough areas of sin that are difficult to give up. Sin can feel good for a little while, but in the end it eats us alive and destroys us.

9. Avoid gossip

I know it's considered completely normal and justifiable by the world's standards. But God's people should have nothing to do with gossip. If you wouldn't say something in front of someone, then why do it behind their back? Encourage your family and friends to keep gossip out of the conversation. If need be, walk away, change the subject, or kindly share that conversation has gone in a direction you feel is wrong. It's hard. I know. I've been the one gossiping and had someone confront me, and believe me, that stung. I've been the one to confront others to stop gossiping and I was mortified to do it. I've been the one gossiped about and it brought a flood of tears and painful memories. Let's choose today to keep gossip out of our lives and hearts. Choose not to tear down the reputation of someone else. Choose today to keep your mouth closed even if you have the juicy details. Chose to speak life, not death, over others.

10. Be willing to say, "I'm sorry," and to change whenever necessary. Be humble.

I hope that I am the type of person that is constantly assessing my life and willing to change if something is off. I want to be a learner. I want to be mold-able and tender. If I have believed or thought the wrong way on a subject for years and years, I want to be teachable. Do you really think that you, one single person on this planet, know everything? Of all the billions of people and thousands of years that have come before you, you really think you have every single thing figured out? I seriously doubt it. It just breaks my heart when God's people approach life as if they have every single answer and are the supreme know-it-alls in every subject. I do believe the only person who holds this title is Jesus. Let us be humble and approachable, people of God. The world will notice it, I guarantee you.

My prayer is that all of you, my friends, would be shaped into the image of Jesus day after day after day, until the moment you see His wonderful face. I pray you desire to grow in the Lord and will pursue Him no matter what the cost or sacrifice.

Romans 15:1-13

"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,  so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.  For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed  and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.’ Again, it says, ‘Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.’ And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.’ And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

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