Information without application becomes stagnation. If you’re ready to stop merely agreeing with the Bible and start putting it into practice, here are four steps in the right direction:
1). Get in the Word everyday.
That should be self-explanatory, and we all would say this is important, but less than half of us actually read our Bibles once a week, much less everyday. If you’ve never really read the Bible before start with the book of John. It’s the fourth book of the New Testament, you can find it in your Table of Contents. It tells the story of the life of Jesus. Read a chapter a day. That will take you three weeks. When you’re finished, you can keep going to the next book, the book of Acts, which will take you a month to finish. When you’re done with that, look on the Bible app and follow one of the hundreds of Bible reading plans out there. It all starts with getting in the Word everyday. The instructional manual to your life is right there. You just have to pick it up and start reading.
2). Always leave the Bible with a next step.
This is critical, and this is where the classical Sunday School approach can do more harm than good. Growing up for me, Sunday School was all about information transfer. I went to Sunday School to learn more about the Bible, which in and of itself isn’t bad, but it can’t be the final goal. Remember what Jesus said, it’s not enough to merely hear the Word of God, we have to put it into practice. And that’s why the phrase ‘next step’ is so important to this blog. When you read the Bible, don’t just ask “What does God want me to know?” You need to also ask “What does God want me to do?” Before you put your Bible down, you need to have a next step. How will what you just read change your day, in a big way or small way?
3). Study the Bible in community.
Remember what we say all the time? We do life together. Why is that important? Because most of what the Bible tells you to do has to do with how you interact with other people. When you study the Bible in community, you not only learn it together, you can live it together. That’s why small groups are so important: it’s a laboratory for you to start living out what you’re learning, and it’s a built in accountability group. If you don’t have someone holding your feet to the fire, you won’t follow through with what you want to do. You have to be in an environment where you can study the Bible in community.
4). Celebrate the small wins.
As much as you’d prefer to take a shortcut and magically become a super Christian overnight, that’s not how it works. Spiritual growth happens one small decision at a time. And you need to celebrate those small decisions with others. If you’re trying to lose weight, what’s the one thing you crave to hear from someone more than anyone else: “Have you lost weight?” It might be only six ounces, but by Jesus I am losing weight!!!!
If you never read your Bible and you read it two times this week, celebrate that. If you have a problem with cursing and if you can make it an afternoon without losing it, celebrate that. If you struggle with an addiction and go a day without that addiction, celebrate it. Celebrate the small wins, and celebrate them with community. Have other Christians in your life that you can celebrate with. If you see someone really trying and they’re making progress, let them know.
If you’ve ever felt like God is distant or hidden, or maybe your pursuit of God is one big game of hide-and-seek (and God is a really good hider), here are five common reasons why it’s hard for us to find God:
1. We live too fast. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness is the very opposite of how our culture is designed to operate. We create more technology so that we can work faster, do more, not miss out on anything. When the God of the universe chose to speak to the prophet Elijah, he did so through a still small voice, a gentle whisper. For most of us, me included, I think God speaks to us constantly, we’re just moving too fast to hear Him.
2. We live too self-focused. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” For us, that means that we say we love God and that He’s our first priority, but in reality He’s not. The reason many of us seek God is not because we’re concerned with His Kingdom, but ours. Many folks seek God merely because we want him to give us stuff, help us do good on our test, protect us, keep us safe, bless us with money. That’s not seeking God’s kingdom first. That’s asking God to bless our kingdom. It doesn’t work like that.
3. We live too sinfully. Ancient Israel had this problem, and God spelled it out for them in black and white. They complained because it seemed like God had gone silent, he had abandoned them. Here was God’s answer: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2 Sin separates us from God. One of the biggest reasons we feel separated from God is because of unconfessed and unrepentant sin in our lives.
4. We live too lazily. Some of us are like my kids. Please make me feel better about my parenting and let me know that your kids have done this. If you’re a parent you know that for young kids, just getting everyone dressed and out the door to go anywhere is a big chore. It’s an accomplishment. The one thing that frustrates me to no end is when my wife and I tell our older two to get their shoes on so we can go. Without fail, one of them will be on the couch, and they’re watching tv or playing their iPod, and they’ll call out to mom, “Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” They haven’t gotten up, they haven’t moved, but they’ve already decided they can’t find their shoes. Am I the only person to live through this? Here’s the point: How many of us have showed up to church one time, you tried praying for three days, and then you declared, “I can’t find God!”
What does Jeremiah say? “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14 God promises that we will find Him when we seek him, but many of us don’t want to put the effort in. We’re too lazy. Remember, the God we’re talking about is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He is all-powerful. He is all-knowing. He is not our servant, supposed to come at our beck and call. Let’s not forget the Master and who’s the servant in this relationship. Some of us get lazy and treat God like a servant and then we get mad when he doesn’t come the first time we call.
5. We neglect the Holy Spirit. Right before Jesus left this earth, he told his disciples as plain as day, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” John 14:16-17
God the Father is too marvelous, too holy, too majestic for us. He warns humans in the Old Testament that want to see him, that if they saw him, they would die. God the Son, Jesus Christ, lived on this earth for 33 years, died, was buried, and was resurrected on the third day. For the billions of us who didn’t live back in first century Palestine, we missed out on seeing God in the flesh. But we have God the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus himself said that the Holy Spirit is the primary way that God will communicate and relate to believers after Jesus ascended back into heaven. We live in the age of the Holy Spirit.
So does it surprise anyone that if you grew up like I did in a denomination and a religious tradition that neglected the person and work of the Holy Spirit, that you might have problems connecting with God? You put all those reasons together, and I’m guilty of all five, then it shouldn’t surprise us at all that we feel like God is hidden from us.
Twenty years ago a book came out by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways that continue to have an impact on my spiritual life today. The basic idea is that just as God created each of us differently, there are different ways that we can connect to God the best. We’re not cookie cutters. Which was incredible news to me as a young Christian, because I could never get into sitting perfectly still and praying for long periods of time (Ascetics). My mind wandered too easily. I did discover that by walking outside among God’s nature (naturalist), I felt closer to him then at any other time. Once I discovered and leaned into my sacred pathway, my relationship with God went to a much deeper level. Here are Gary Thomas’ nine sacred pathways:
- Naturalists — love God best outdoors. These people worship in the midst of God’s creation. They celebrate His majesty and discover spiritual truths through nature
- Sensates — love God through their senses. These people worship through sensual experiences — sights (like art), sounds (music), smells, and more
- Traditionalists — love God through religious ritual and symbols. These people worship through traditions and sacraments of the Church. They believe structure, repetition, and rigidity, like weekly liturgy, leads to deeper understanding of God and faith
- Ascetics — love God in solitude and simplicity. These people worship through prayer and quiet time, and the absence of all outside noise and distraction
- Activists — love God through confrontation, fighting for godly principles and values. They worship through their dedication to and participation in God’s truth about social and evangelistic causes
- Caregivers — love God by serving others, and worship by giving of themselves. They may nurse the sick and disabled, “adopt” a prisoner, donate time at a shelter, etc.
- Enthusiasts — love God through mystery and celebration. These people worship with outward displays of passion and enthusiasm. They love God with gusto!
- Contemplatives — love God through adoration. These people worship by their attentiveness, deep love, and intimacy. They have an active prayer life
- Intellectuals — love God with their mind and their hearts are opened up to a new attentiveness when they understand something new about God. These people worship through intense study, apologetics, and intellectual pursuits of their faith.
QUESTION: What’s your sacred pathway?
Every few months we hold a special service of dedication for new parents who seek to raise their children in the Lord. At each service I share the same three truths, three essential reminders for parents of young children:
1. The best gift you can give your children is a healthy marriage. More than a good education, more than strong athletic opportunities, more than exposure to the arts, the best gift you can give your children is a healthy and vibrant marriage. Study after study has shown that kids raised in healthy homes have a much better chance to be successful at almost everything in life. Put God first, then your spouse, then your kids. Those priorities are the best gift you could ever give your children.
2. The best way to ensure your children have a vibrant relationship with Jesus when they move out of the house is to have one of your own. As a youth pastor for ten years, I was constantly asked how to ensure that kids still followed Jesus when they went off to college. More than having them in church, more than simply teaching them Bible knowledge, the key is to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus yourself. You can’t fake it. An authentic relationship with Jesus is more caught then taught.
3. The most potent weapon you have in your arsenal is time. Time makes everything that matters matter more. Parents have years and years to give small doses of the most important things to their children over time. Love over time gives a child a sense of worth. Words over time gives a child a sense of direction. Stories over time gives a child a sense of perspective. Fun over time gives a child a sense of deep connection. Community over time gives a child a sense of belonging.
If you have young children in the house, you have time, years and years that parents of older children wish they could get back. Make the most of it!