Category Archives: Spiritual Health

The Envious Eye

envious eye by nirots

image courtesy of nirots / freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve been really discouraged and frustrated lately about being single. The older I get, the more it becomes a real threat that I won’t have a husband or family. I know God calls some people to singleness, but I have never felt that call on my life. In addition, the Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:9, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.” And believe me folks, especially in the last few months: I’ve been on FIRE, out of control, and more than a little ticked at God about the whole thing.

For Christmas, my bosses gave me some little hand lotions and a spa gift card. Now, I don’t use conventional hand lotions because of all the chemicals, but these were really nice sets of lotions and I wanted them to go to a good home. So I stopped by a few offices on my way through the building last Friday, eager to give out these little lotions to some friends and coworkers. At the last office, I stopped and gave the last few lotions to the two secretaries that I always chat with when I visit that office. They were excited to have such a nice, little gift and very thankful that I thought of them.

As the two secretaries were sampling the lotions, another girl—we will call her Gina—came out from her private office and asked what everyone was doing. One of the secretaries answered, “Oh, Michelle brought us some lotions.” Immediately, Gina began to make a big deal about how I didn’t bring her anything, and I should have shared with her and not just these two girls, ad nauseam. When I pointed out to her that I was the giver, and she did not get to dictate who I gave anything to, she got even more incensed. I also noted to her that I had given her really nice gifts in the past, and she replied that that was “a couple of years ago.” I also pointed out to her that she had acted in this way before when I gave something to someone else—she had come in and started taking things that I had purposed for someone else. She then stated that the person I had given those things to had WANTED to share them with everyone. At this point, the two secretaries were so undone at how Gina was acting that they offered up their lotions to her. Then she made a big deal of not accepting them because that wasn’t what I wanted. The whole situation was totally embarrassing for Gina, even if she didn’t realize it or think so.

As for me personally, I was livid, really. You see, I had given to Gina in the past, and I felt it was pretty crappy and ungrateful for her to interrupt a thoughtful moment with her incredibly selfish banter. I was mad mostly because Gina is a Christ follower, and that kind of nonsense makes believers look incredibly petty—it was trial size hand lotions, for crying out loud. As I was recalling the situation and my anger to my mother, I said, “My gosh, does Gina act this way when God gives someone else something that He doesn’t give her? Because that would explain a lot!”

A few hours later, as I was stewing and trying to pray about this matter, God nudged me about that particular comment. He said very clearly to me, “But Michelle, isn’t that how YOU think? Don’t you believe that I should give you a husband and kids? Don’t you look at other people and go, they have a husband and kids, why don’t I?”

And that hurt. Because (as always) He was absolutely right.

I tend to believe that I am not all that selfish, but it’s really not true. My selfishness comes out in different ways—in fact, I act towards God like Gina did to me. I may not do it over hand lotion, but recently, I’ve definitely been doing it over getting a new job, having my own place, moving to a warmer state, and having that elusive family/husband. And though the Lord has provided so much for me—both now and in the past, I tend to interrupt any kind of thanksgiving with my own selfish banter about what I want and need right now that He has not given me. Or what someone else has that I want. And when God gave me a brief glimpse into that, I was embarrassed—this time, for myself.

Matthew 20 begins with a parable about a vineyard owner who is searching for laborers to work his fields. He hires three sets of laborers at three different times during the day, and each group he agrees to pay a denarius. The other groups are not aware of what each is getting paid. So imagine the anger of the first and second group when the third group gets paid exactly what the first two are getting paid. The owner doesn’t want to hear their grumbling. He is basically like, “Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? So then take your money and go.” But then he says something that catches my eye and rifles through my heart like a shot: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15)

This is the point that I tried to relay to Gina, and it’s the point that God in turn relayed to me. Gina had an envious eye, but so do I—and maybe you do, too. Wanting something that God hasn’t decided to give me yet isn’t the sin. The sin is seeing God’s generosity in other people’s lives and being envious that those gifts haven’t been given to me. It’s okay for me to want to be married and have kids and to have my own place, etc.—as long as I don’t want those things more than I want Jesus, as long as wanting those things doesn’t become the focal point of my life, as long as those wants aren’t what compel me. Seeing others get what I think I deserve—that is the real sin. What I truly deserve is death. Anything I get beyond that is gravy!

Mostly, I need to make sure I am taking pains to pluck out the envious eye every time it surfaces and regrows in my life. Because when you have an envious eye, you’re not going to see anything the way it really is—you’re only going to see what you didn’t get or what you don’t have. And by doing so, you’ll miss out on the real blessings God is showering you with every single day.

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I Surrender

ID-10027894I haven’t purposefully been avoiding blogging or anything like that…I think I wrote a blog and let you know that I was just stepping back and trying to get my focus in the right place. I also needed to prioritize…and let me just tell you, when you plan to prioritize and put God in His rightful place in your life, stuff happens–and it’s not always good stuff.

The last two months, I have really found myself struggling–caught up in the “sins that so easily entangle.” After a solid six months of not daydreaming, there I was, caught up in my thoughts. I have no idea how it happened…I just know that I kept entertaining them until it was too late.

I’ve never been here to tell you that I have it all together, because obviously I don’t. But I am here to tell you that when you decide to surrender to the Spirit, you will be attacked–not just by Satan, but by your own flesh who “does the things you don’t want to do.” Paul was right. The Christian life is a struggle…but thank God for grace!

The issue with me, though, isn’t that I fell: the issue is that I feel like I fell harder than most. In truth, I didn’t. God sees my sins as no bigger or smaller than any other sins; I’m the one who has the issues seeing them for what they really are. And even worse, I am the one who has the problems forgiving, forgetting, and moving forward. I allow myself to stay down, to remain entangled, to stay distant from God during those times instead of accepting forgiveness that’s offered and moving forward. But the issue is bigger than just my sin: the issue is that I think I can conquer sin on my own.

I CAN’T.

I know that’s not a surprise, but it has been and remains a hard pill for me to swallow. If I can’t do anything to conquer my sin–if I can’t behave better, make covenants, control my circumstances, try to be the best possible me–then what can I do? I mean, I guess…

I CAN SURRENDER.

I don’t even know that I’m aware of what true surrender looks like, because I don’t know that I’ve truly ever surrendered my struggles to the Lord. But I do know that I want to explore what that looks like over the next few posts. I don’t know how frequent they will be, but I do know that I want to talk about it, because while I keep trying new things to keep me from sinning, I know that they are just stop gaps to the true surrender and acceptance of grace that I’m called to. I know it’s something we all struggle with, and I know it’s something we need to talk about more in the church. At some point, I have to recognize that I can’t do it–I can’t do ANYTHING, and that only God can. So starting today…I surrender.

================

I Surrender (Hillsong):

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
Desperate for You
Desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know You hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Simplicity

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

My space was shrinking. I moved from a two-bedroom house into an apartment in someone’s house, and I had about half the space I had in my previous place of residence. So I got a storage unit and put everything I couldn’t fit into the apartment into the storage unit. One year after living in the apartment, I realized something: I had not been to that storage unit even once during that year to get anything out. I had everything I needed in my apartment and then some. So I did what any convicted person would do: I opened up the storage unit to my friends. Anything they saw in there that they wanted or needed, they could take free of charge. Then I took what was left—about ten boxes—and headed to the dump. I threw the boxes into the trash compactor without even opening them to see their contents.

Spiritually healthy people practice simplicity in their lives. Why should we seek simplicity? Because simplicity will clarify your life in the following ways:

  • Simplicity refines our spirituality. The spiritual discipline of simplicity may not seem like a “spiritual” health issue at all, but the Bible says to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). “These things” refers to what we shall eat, drink, or wear (Matthew 6:31). Our simplicity is often centered on these earthly things—having a nice house, eating at nice restaurants, wearing designer clothes. And if we are worried about these earthly things, then we have little time to be concerned with heavenly things. The remedy is to simplify: to focus less on these things gives us more time to engage in our relationship with Christ and His people. Because if we simplify and seek God’s kingdom first, “these things” will take care of themselves. If you want to clarify your spiritual life, seek simplicity.
  • Simplicity refines our physical space. When I moved into the apartment from the house, though I had a smaller place, I had more space—because I had less junk. This meant I felt less anxious when it was time to clean, because I not only had less space to clean, but I had fewer trinkets to dust and furniture to vacuum around. I felt renewed—I had more than enough space to live! I was reminded that Jesus lived a simple life. In fact, He encouraged us to “not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The less “earthly treasures” I have, the less I worry about thieves, and the more room I have to store up treasures in heaven. Want to de-clutter your physical space? Seek to simplify.
  • Simplicity refines us emotionally. I did not open up the boxes before I threw them away because I knew that if I did, I would find some reason to keep most of the stuff. “Oh, he gave that to me in middle school…” The more stuff we have, the more emotional ties we have to that stuff! It is the reason we keep so much “stuff”—both physical and emotional—in our lives. In Matthew 6, Jesus continues, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:20). I realized when I let go of those boxes, I was letting go of many emotional ties—some good, some bad—that were holding on to me. I was emotionally purified in the process and freed to hold onto what God wanted me to hold onto. So where is your treasure—and your heart?

In our consumer-driven society, simplicity is one of the hardest spiritually healthy habits to practice. But I want to challenge each of you to begin practicing simplicity by changing how you think about things. For the next week, each time you make a non-food purchase, ask yourself, “Am I storing up treasures on earth or treasures in heaven with this purchase?” If you accept this simplicity challenge, then leave me a comment below to let me know how you did. Best of luck!

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Giving

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I had just been laid off at my job and I was searching for another one with very little luck. I was getting a small amount of unemployment and living off the little savings I had. I was still attending church and going to my small group, though, and one week, I found myself listening to the prayer requests of a young woman who wanted to attend an internship in another state. She had been accepted into the internship, but did not have the $350 to buy the one-way plane ticket to get there. As I listened and prayed during the group, I heard God say, “Give her the money for her plane ticket.” I opened my eyes wide and muttered, “I know you just didn’t say that, God.” But I heard it again, so I decided to wait a week to see if that was really what God wanted me to do—after all, I was unemployed and needed that money. But the feeling never went away, and the following week, I presented that young woman with the check for her plane ticket—with no strings attached.

Spiritually healthy people practice giving as a way of life. But although giving definitely includes financial resources, giving is not just about money. Here are three ways you can practice giving more in your life:

  • Give your money cheerfully. This is probably the hardest thing for people, because money is such a necessary commodity in our world. Whenever we earn some, we think it is “ours” and that we need to hold onto it, save it, or use it for our own good. It’s hard to write that check to the electric company, or the mortgage company, or (especially) the church—because we need that money for ourselves! But the Word says that God “loves a cheerful giver” and that we should give “not reluctantly or in response to pressure” (2 Corinthians 9:7). God wants us to give, but He also wants us to have the right attitude. When is the last time you gave away your money cheerfully?
  • Give your time abundantly. Time is another commodity we have a hard time giving away because like money, we want to spend time selfishly on ourselves. And while it is healthy to have some time to ourselves, we also have to give our time to the things that God tells us is important. Some people say time is the most precious of all our resources—because you cannot earn it back. But Christians know that our times are in the hands of the Almighty (Psalm 31:15). And if our time belongs to Him, then we should seek what He wants us to devote our time to instead of what we want. And we should give it abundantly to those people and causes! Where do you give your time abundantly?
  • Give your whole self lovingly. Giving yourself is more than just giving your time. I have spent plenty of time doing things for friends. I’ve worked it into my schedule and given it time; I may have even spent money on them. But I have only been there physically. I haven’t invested myself emotionally and spiritually; I haven’t laid down my life for my friends. If we are truly loving and giving people who want to be spiritually healthy, we have to lay down our lives—ourselves—for our friends (1 John 3:16). Jesus said there was no greater love, and that is the love we should strive to achieve. To do this, we have to be authentic and willing to be held accountable. When is the last time you laid down your life for someone else?

The young woman to whom I gave the plane ticket ended up staying in that state, and I love seeing how she continually gives back to the community there. It reminds me that I don’t give so that *I* can receive in return, I give so that others can receive and see the glory of God. So I encourage you to give—because none of it is really yours anyway. 🙂

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Prayer

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

“Pray continuously.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

When I was younger, this verse scared me to death. My mother would get up every morning and pray for an hour or so, and she would encourage me to do the same. I just couldn’t sit still that long, even as an adult. Plus, I wasn’t sure I could come up with enough words to say to God for a whole hour! And praying continuously throughout my day…well, I just didn’t think I could do that, either. Then one day recently, I realized that as I was going through my day, I was often stopping to whisper prayers to God, talking to Him while I was in the car or just doing things around the house, and listening for His still, small voice. And then it dawned on me: I had actually learned how to pray continuously.

Prayer is not meant to scare us, prayer is meant to invite us into deeper relationship with our God. If you want to be spiritually healthy, you must talk to the Giver of spiritual health! And here are three thoughts about prayer that have helped me to learn to pray continuously:

  • Prayer is talking to your Papa. Sometimes, my prayers are different, but mostly, I come to God as a little girl wanting to talk to her Papa. I think of when I want to have my mom’s undivided attention and I climb into her lap—yes, still, as a 37-year-old woman, I do that! I also do that in my head when I’m praying. I imagine that I’m climbing up into God’s lap and talking to Him about everything—my hopes, my fears, my failures, my successes. I confess, and I receive forgiveness there. I express my gratitude and I humble myself like a child. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Praying to my Papa in this way is how I live out this verse.
  • Prayer is talking to your Friend. Sometimes we think of God as a taskmaster waiting to punish us when we do something wrong. But Jesus tells us something different in God’s Word. In John 15:15, Jesus said, “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” A taskmaster has slaves, but we are not slaves—we are friends of God. Jesus confided in us what the Lord told Him, so we can be confident in talking to Him as a friend would. And just like our earthly friends, God can handle our anger and our doubt, He can share in our hurts, and He can laugh with us and enjoy our sense of humor. Even better, God is the greatest Friend who will never let us down!
  • Prayer is talking to your Creator. We have to remember that God is not only our Papa and our Friend, but He is also our Creator—and the Creator of the entire universe. I don’t call Him my “homie” but I bow before Him. I talk to Him as my Abba Papa and Friend, but I don’t disrespect Him or treat Him as a human being—because He is not! In Psalm 50:15, the Lord says, “And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” God can deliver me from evil, defeat darkness, help me be an overcomer, and speak things into existence. He can bless me beyond my wildest dreams and answer every one of my prayers, if it is in His will. As such, I will regard Him with awe and respect, because He deserves it.

Knowing these three things about prayer has made it easier for me to pray continually throughout my days. Every situation I encounter can be filtered to my Papa, my Friend, and/or my Creator, so I can go to the Throne before I go to the phone (Joyce Meyer). If you want to be spiritually healthy, try increasing your prayer life and communicating continuously with the God who will be there for you in every possible way!

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Worship

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

“I really didn’t enjoy worship today.” I used to say this all the time about the church services I attended, especially when I was younger. I believed that the only time I was to worship the Lord was on Sunday mornings, and the rest of the time was Michelle time. Even though I was a leader in my church, I lived my life as if I worshipped my friends, my job and money, and even my health more than I worshipped God. As I grew in my faith, I realized that worshipping God was more than just “enjoying” the service on Sunday mornings, more than just attending church for a few hours each week, and more than just singing songs to the Lord. Worship is meant to be more because it is not meant to be about me. Worship was meant to be about the Lord!

Worship is an important habit to develop if we want to be spiritually healthy. But it’s essential that we remember these three things about worship:

  • Where we spend the most time shows what or who we worship. This doesn’t meant that if you don’t live at the church, you don’t worship God or that those who work in the church worship God more. It simply means your priorities in life will point to what you truly worship. Is your priority working 100-hour weeks to give your family the best of everything, while neglecting them and your health? Then maybe you worship money. Do you spend a lot of time at the gym because you want to look good for everyone? Then perhaps you worship yourself. Spend all day on social media? You may worship others’ opinions. The Bible warns us constantly against idolatry (Luke 4:8), and it’s easier than ever to become entangled in it. So take an inventory of where you spend your time—what or who do you worship?
  • Worship is more than just singing. Sometimes, we think of worship as music and nothing more—especially if you are in any way musically inclined. But worship is far more than just music! Worship can be prayer, listening to a sermon, praising God in nature, serving others less fortunate than ourselves, and/or giving thanks. Everything we do can be seen as an act of worship if we live as if we are serving God instead of man (Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23). Worship is defined as showing reverence and adoration towards God, and we can do that simply by loving others. “I’ll bring you more than a song/ for a song in itself is not what you have required/ You search much deeper within/ through the way things appear/ You’re looking into my heart!” (Matt Redman, The Heart of Worship) So ask yourself: besides music, how do you worship God?
  • Worship should happen both corporately and privately. “Worship isn’t just for Sunday mornings!” I have seen that on church signs and heard it from the pulpit. But it’s true—worship consists of more than just attending a one-hour service on Sunday mornings. True worship of God extends beyond the church walls and into our private lives. We worship with others because we do not want to give up meeting together; we worship privately because we are to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15). Psalm 71:8 says, “My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.” The Psalmist isn’t just sitting around all day praising God; he is declaring the Lord’s splendor to others and by himself as he goes about his day. In the same way, we should challenge ourselves by asking: how can I worship God privately as well as publicly?

John 4:23 says, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” Being spiritually healthy involves worshiping the Lord as true worshipers—those who will worship Him with their time, with more than music, and in private and public.

Spiritually Healthy Habits: The Word

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

When I first got out of college, I got a job in a town about two hours away from my hometown.  There were very few people my age in this small town, and I was a brand new youth pastor waiting to see what God had in store for me. I was floundering for a few months, since I had no friends my age and knew very few Christians outside of my church. However, I was lucky to have some older women in the church who looked out for me and took me under their wing. One in particular knew that I needed to be grounded in the Word and invited me to a Bible study with her. I had been reading the Bible and memorizing verses for years, but I had never really studied the Bible in depth to see what it said. At this inductive Bible study, I fell in love with Scripture—and the need to study it became a serious part of my life.

The spiritually healthy habit of getting into Scripture is an important one! In my opinion, there are three ways to get into the Word, and all three should be practiced consistently:

  1. Get into the Word by reading it. This is the very first step to getting into the Word. The Bible is a love letter written by God to humanity. If you are in a relationship with God but not reading the Bible, it is like being in a relationship with a human being but not reading letters they write you. It’s quite simple: reading the Word—even just a little bit every day—helps you get to know your Creator and His desires for you! Jesus said that we should live by God’s Word as if it is food to sustain us (Matthew 4:4). If you haven’t been reading the Bible every day, you can start with a very simple plan, either by YouVersion or you can buy a hard copy and being to read a few verses or chapters each day. But the mandate is clear: to know God, we must read His Word.
  1. Get into the Word by studying it. Studying means taking the Word apart, comparing the Word to the Word. I don’t mean reading a book about the Bible, but studying the Word itself. What does the original Hebrew or Greek word mean? Where is this word or phrased used elsewhere in the Bible? And when you study the Word, do it with others for accountability! Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Scripture doesn’t just discern our own intentions and thoughts, it shows us God’s intentions and heart in comparison. When we study the living and active Word, we are learning more about ourselves and our God. In other words, to understand God, we must study His Word.
  1. Get into the Word by meditating on it. To meditate on something means to “think deeply, to focus one’s mind for a period of time.” This is where I fall short the most. Meditating on Scripture is difficult for me because it means taking the time to be totally silent and to turn a Scripture or passage over in my mind so I can absorb it. Lately, I try to practice it along with reading. The Psalms say that we should meditate on Scripture day and night (1:2; 119:97; 119:48). Why meditate? Because when we get silent, listen, and turn Scripture over in our minds, that is when we can clearly hear the voice of God, which tends to come in the quiet (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). That means that to hear God, we must meditate on His Word.

I hear many Christians complaining about knowing God, understanding God, and hearing God—and my first question is always, “Are you spending time in the Word?” We need to read, study, and meditate on the beautiful love letter that God has written us so we can become spiritually healthy! What one way will you choose to get into the Word today?

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Serving Others

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I serve the homeless every month with my church. I love doing this for many reasons, but I wasn’t always keen on serving others. I used to believe that serving others meant I could just serve my family, friends, and church community and call it a day. Or that it meant that I could just donate money or needed items and never have any kind of hands-on experience. Then I went on my first mission trip. I took a team of youth to Kentucky to fix up a shelter for women and children. “This will be easy,” I thought. We are just fixing up a house…anyone can do that. But I soon realized that our tasks consisted of more than just painting, gardening, and cleaning. We were to work alongside women and children who had lost everything—they were homeless and hurting, sometimes physically. At the week’s end, one woman showed her appreciation by giving me the boots right off her feet.

Serving others goes is a tricky subject in Christianity, because it entails so many different things we could do! However, here are three things that serving others should do for us if we want to truly reap its benefits:

  • Serving others should stretch us. Serving our family, our friends, and even people we don’t like is definitely a call that God puts on our lives. We should seek to serve everyone. Serving others should make us uncomfortable. It should put us in positions that we haven’t normally been in, because then we rely on Christ instead of our own strength! I could easily claim that I go home and serve my family by helping my disabled uncle. But that is comfortable to me, even though it’s a pain. What makes me uncomfortable is going to the homeless shelter, traveling to a foreign country to teach God’s Word to persecuted believers, and serving in prison ministries. But those are the exact things we are called to do. Jesus says in Matthew 25:35-45 that when we stretch ourselves to serve others, we are actually serving Him and growing in Christ-likeness.
  • Serving others should humble us. There are few things more humbling than to accept the gift of the shoes off of a homeless person’s feet. I had thought that I was going to serve others and show them God’s love; but in fact, I was the one who was served and shown the true love of God. It reminded me of the story of the widow’s offering that Jesus noted in Mark 12:41-44. I had gone to Kentucky believing I was giving out of my wealth, believing that my offering of time and talents was pleasing to God—and they were. But this woman at the shelter, much like the Biblical widow, joyously gave to me out of her poverty, insisting that I take one of the few possessions she had. I have never felt so small in light of God’s love. But that is what serving others should do for us.
  • Serving others should change us. The stretching, the humbling, the discomfort—those are the things that truly change us by decreasing the amount of “us” in us and increasing the amount of Christ in us. So while serving others shouldn’t ever be about us, in many ways is IS about us. It’s about changing our perspective, challenging our ideals, and choosing to trust God. If God’s goal is to remove us (not improve us), then serving others is one of the best ways to achieve that. Jesus put Himself in the servant’s position and encouraged us to do the same to increase the power of the Lord in our lives (Mark 9; John 13; Matthew 23). When we are decreasing self, we give God more room to work and move through us. And nothing could change us more than increasing the power of the Lord in our lives!

If you want to see lasting change happen in your life, practice the spiritually healthy habit of serving others. Get yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place where you truly have to depend on the Lord’s strength and power! You won’t regret it!

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Fasting

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

“I just can’t fast from food!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this—and before last year, it was all coming from my own mouth! So I tried to fast from other things: Internet, Facebook, television, hockey, gossip, judging others…you name it, when my church (or some other church) did a fast, I was all over it. However, I never felt spiritually better afterward…I always just felt like it was 21 days without television or hockey or whatever. And I couldn’t wait to get back to whatever I fasted from. Then last summer, I decided to do a real fast—from food. So I did a Daniel Fast, a modified fast that allows you to have certain foods but give up anything that is considered “choice food” (Daniel 10:2-3).  Quite honestly, it meant a lot of cooking and discipline on my part, but I completed it—and loved it.

Fasting is a great spiritually healthy habit to practice for those who are ready to try it. Everyone knows that fasting is about denying yourself, but here are three other things that fasting is about:

  • Fasting is about God. Because the definition of fasting talks about denying ourselves, we may think fasting is about us! But it’s not—fasting is about the Lord. We don’t fast so that we can say, “Hey, look at me! I’m so spiritual!” We fast so that God can say, “Hey, look at Me!” And for once, we can hear Him clearly without the distractions that crowd out His voice. Some pray every time they feel a hunger pang; others spend extra time in prayer. For me, it is a combination of both while really designating time to hear the Lord. I try to make my fast about God—how He can increase in my life, how to be more like Christ, how to decrease myself. I don’t focus on the lack of food—but instead on every Word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
  • Fasting is about FOOD. The very definition of fasting means to abstain from food. That’s the real issue with why people don’t fast these days, isn’t it? Because food is everything to us—especially to those of us in first world countries. We fight about food, we watch TV shows about food, and 50% of commercials are about food. Food is an important commodity for all of us, which makes it extremely difficult to give up—even in small portions. And yet at the same time, it is one of the things we waste the most. But to follow God, He asks us to surrender those things that are most important to us—and that includes food. And while it is not wrong to fast from news or gossip or judging others, Jesus set the example for us with fasting: He went without all of those things AND food.
  • Fasting is about self-control. Another excuse I hear about fasting is people say they just don’t “have the discipline to fast.” This simply means they lack motivation to just do it! Once during a church-wide fast, a friend told me that he was fasting from breakfast until midnight every day, but noted he would just stay up until midnight every day so that he could eat. He admitted this was defeating the purpose of the fast, but he couldn’t exercise the self-control to go to bed hungry. I know how hard this is! But Galatians 5:23 lists one of the fruits of the Spirit as self-control, and the verses following that note that we are to crucify the desires of the flesh. These desires include more than just lust and envy, but greed for everything—including food. How much self-control do you have when it comes to food?

Fasting from food is an important spiritual discipline that allows us to decrease so that God can increase in our lives. To be spiritually healthy people, we should fast as an act of self-control and worship that allows God to speak into our lives and make us more like Christ. I challenge you to try fasting from food—and watch your spiritual health soar!

You can read my past series on fasting here, here, here, and here.

Spiritually Healthy Habits: Meeting Together

spirit health by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

A couple of years ago, I was disgruntled with church in general. I wasn’t mad at anyone, and I had just finished up an incredible Bible study in a neighboring town. However, I couldn’t really find a church where I felt comfortable, so I just stopped going. In the process, I also stopped hanging out with my Christian friends. I started hanging with a non-Christian coworker and doing things that I knew weren’t right: drinking more, hanging with her friends while ignoring mine, flirting with married men. I was in a downward spiral. And then, before I knew it, I was dating a married man. Luckily, I told one of my Christian friends what I was doing (without remorse, sadly), and she gathered some prayer warriors to intercede for me. Within a couple of months, the relationship had fallen apart and I was back in church, repentant.

Meeting together with other Christians is an important piece to being spiritually healthy! Here are three benefits of consistently meeting together with other Christians:

  • Meeting together with other Christians keeps us honest. It’s so important to meet with other Christians so that honesty remains an integral part of our lives. Other Christians can be a spiritual thermostat in the midst of your thermometer moments. That simply means that when your feelings or emotions are rising or plummeting (thermometer), other Christians who know the Word can keep you grounded (thermostat). Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) tried to hide their sin, but the truth eventually came to light because they were in fellowship with other believers. In my case, had I been hanging out with my Christian friends during that time, they would have told me from the beginning to stop flirting with and hanging around with married men. They would have been praying for me specifically for purity in all areas. They would have reminded me of God’s truths amidst the world’s lies.
  • Meeting together with other Christians makes us more Christ-like. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Real friends will sharpen you. I found that I was dulling down as a Christian when I spent time with my non-Christian friend. I didn’t feel challenged to be a better Christian; in fact, I hardly ever spoke about God around her. I had to ask myself if I was being a good friend to her, because I wasn’t even challenging her beliefs or ideas. However, in contrast, when I hang around with my Christian friends, most of the time, I am challenged by them in all my attitudes and actions. They are not asking me to be more like them, they are challenging me to be more like Jesus. And as a Christian, nothing makes me better than being more like Jesus in every way.
  • Meeting together with other Christians gives us encouragement. We all need encouragement in our lives, and for Christians, our encouragement comes from many places—but rarely does it come from the world. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.” As the world gets crazier, we need to be reminded and encouraged of many things: Jesus’ peace, the eventual return of the Savior, the end of suffering, a final victory. In addition, sometimes we simply need encouragement about our true purpose and calling and how our current situations are defining that. While the world can encourage us in some ways, our Christian brothers and sisters can reassure us in all of those ways—because they know Jesus. Christians can inspire each other because the Truth has already set us free.

If you are out of Christian fellowship right now, I’d like to urge you to return to your church or small group. There’s nothing the devil loves more than to separate us from God, and one way he does that is by separating us from each other. You can begin practicing spiritually healthy habits, but you can’t do it alone—so start by meeting together with some Christians this week!