3 “Weights” God Uses to Develop Spiritual Muscles

I’m a runner, but in recent years, following the advice of “experts”, I’ve disciplined myself to include weight-training in my exercise program. I’ll admit, most days I don’t like it. I’d prefer running outside to lifting weights in a hot gym any day, but I can feel the positive results it brings when I discipline myself to do it. Developing and maintaining muscles, especially at my age, doesn’t happen simply by running. (And, BTW, that’s not my arm in the picture. Mine is much bigger 🙂 )

God has ways of developing our spiritual muscles. As with any muscle-building, it’s often a difficult journey to get the desired results. Sure, God builds us through prayer, Bible study and His presence in our life, but my faith building has not always been that pleasant of an experience.

As I’ve observed, God seems to use:

Tests – “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). In the past couple years, I’ve received numerous job opportunities. I believe God often gives us tremendous latitude in our career choices, preferring to concentrate His will more on who we are rather than what we do, but I think some of these opportunities may have been tests to see if I would follow my will or God’s will. Each of them caught my attention, but later, after wrestling through them with God, my discernment was they were not where God would best use me at the time.

I’ve often been guilty of doing things my way, only to regret them later. I’ve been tested many times and, when I surrender what I want to His will, I’ve eventually passed the test. It hasn’t always come immediately. I’m slow to obey sometimes, but when I’ve eventually yielded to Him, things turn out best. In those times, I always learn something about myself and my character as it relates to God.

Temptations – The Bible is clear that God does not tempt us (James 1:13), but God uses temptation to teach us about ourselves, about God, and that our dependence is to be on Him. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even Jesus was tempted. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) How much more you and me?

Temptations are all around us everyday. God strengthens our trust and obedience in Him as we learn to handle them in a God-honoring way. Thankfully, He always provides the strength in Christ to overcome temptations. “and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Trials – I’ve said many times, we are either in a trial, just coming out of a trial, or will soon be in a trial. I’m sure I heard someone else say that years ago, but I don’t remember who said it first. It certainly has proven true in my life. If it’s not our personal trial, it will be someone close to us. Some trials are bigger than others, but all are used of God for some divine purpose. “These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

Learning to allow suffering to draw us closer to Christ, rather than further away takes faith and discipline. We learn to rest in His care, even when the circumstances around us scream at us to turn to worry and fear. During trials we remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and the future He has planned for us. We allow trials to produce in us the hope found only in knowing Christ personally. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Do you want your faith to grow? Do you want to trust God more? Are you ready to have a hope that surpasses the darkness the world can bring? It may not always be a pleasant experience, there is some “weight-training” involved at times, but it will always be worth it.

How is God developing your spiritual muscles these days?

I’m not saying my list is exclusive. How else does God develop us spiritually?

When You Don’t Want to Get Out of Bed

Do you ever have days when you just don’t want to get out of bed?

I’m not talking about the days you wake up and wish you could hit the snooze button a few more times. I’m not referring to days when you didn’t get enough sleep because you stayed up too late watching David Letterman. Those days are normal. For some they happen everyday.

I’m talking about the days when you don’t want to get out of bed, because you don’t think you can face the world outside the covers. I’m talking about days when it hurts to think about facing life.

Do you ever have days like that?

Perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve had seasons where facing the day seems unbearable. It can last a day, a week, or months at a time. I’ve spoken about this before, but I went through a mini-depression a few years ago. My boys were leaving home, my father and Cheryl’s father died, and the stress of ministry was greater than ever. Some days it was all I could do to put on my pastor smile and keep going.

At times, the stress of life can cause a person to wish they didn’t have to face another day. In a world of constant changes, uncertainty, fear, trials and steady burnout, keeping your chin up and continuing to smile can often be a challenge. Has that ever been your story?

I wish we were better as a church and a society of realizing those times are natural, allowing people to be honest about them, and helping people through them rather than looking down on them because of their inner struggles. Even godly, people of extreme faith have times when they fell all is hopeless. (Read about Elijah and Paul for a couple of good Biblical examples.)

What do you do on days like that?

After years of experience, both personal and walking with others, here are a few suggestions for those times:

Get up and do something – No, you may not feel like it, but doing nothing during times of depression, mild or otherwise, almost never solves the problem. You may not be able to do what you need to do, and you certainly may need rest, but continuing a vegetative state of existence is not the right answer. Discipline yourself to get out of bed, be around people, and stay active.

Do the best you know how today – You may not be at 100%. You may only be 20% today. Okay, perhaps you only have 1% to give today. That’s okay. Give that. Do the best you can do today and don’t feel guilty about not doing all you normally would do. My guess is there’s probably something you can still do that will bring value to the people around you…yet another reason to get out of bed.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – This may mean professional help and don’t be ashamed of that. Most of us need professional counseling at some point in our life. But, also soak up energy from others for a season. It’s okay to need others. In fact, that’s one primary purpose of the body of Christ. We are to bear with one another during tougher times of life. Chances are you’ve been there for others when they needed help. Now let others be there for you. (Note: Relying on others should not be an excuse to ignore the other principles here. You still have personal responsibilities and ignoring them will not help you, but only enable you to continue in your current condition.)

Prepare and build – This is a time to practice healthy discipline, get consistent rest, exercise, eat healthfully, and prepare mentally and physically for a day when you feel better about your surroundings. Watch for the healing moments, the days when a smile comes easier and for the door of opportunities to open, which encourage you. Those are good days and you should be even more productive on those days. You’ll be able to celebrate your progress and, when repeated over time, it will help lift your spirits. God does heal when we submit our pain to Him. In these seasons, you’ll also learn to recognize the signs that a period like this is coming again. Store up that wisdom and experience to help others and yourself in other similar seasons of life.

Wait and listen – God will use these times of desperation to build you more into His heart and character. This should be a time of constant prayer, crying out to God for help. Many of the Psalms were written during times like this in the Psalmist’s life. Read a few of them. Don’t make drastic decisions during these days as you wait for God to speak clearly again.

Have you been there?

You may now want to read my post “God WILL Allow More Than You Can Bear“.

Have you ever wished you could stay in bed and not face another day? Are you there now?

What steps have you taken to heal from times like these? What or who helped you the most?

Share your story so it will help others.

Don’t Be Your Own Rock!

HE ONLY is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved. Psalm 62:2 KJV

If you are trying to be your own rock, WATCH OUT!

The forecast is calling for rough winds throughout the rest of the century up until…at least when Jesus returns.

I use several versions of the Bible, but for this verse I particularly like the King James Version. Notice carefully that the Psalmist is being gut honest with us. It says when God is my rock and my salvation, my defense, I shall not be greatly moved. Here’s the part not to skip…the Psalmist does not say he will not be moved, he says he shall not be greatly moved.

I can identify with the Psalmist.

Now I don’t know about you. Maybe you are much more righteous than I and you “never” experience movement in your Christian walk. Your trust is never affected by the changing times, the uncertainties of life, or the fear of the unknown. You simply trust Him every day. The winds and trials of life don’t sway you from a solid faith. There is no doubt in your heart. You have rock-solid faith everyday. Good job with that super faith.

But as for me, I still move.

No, I don’t want to move. I don’t want to waver in my faith. I know God can do immeasurably more than I can think or imagine. I want constant, powerful, unmovable faith.

Sometimes I still struggle a bit in my faith.

Okay, total transparency here…sometimes…depending on the day or the circumstances…sometimes I struggle a lot…

Thankfully though, I have found from steady experience that the more I grow in my relationship with Christ, the more I get to know Him, if I will consistently seek to make Him Lord of my life, even though the winds keep coming, they have far less impact on me.

My faith is stronger today than it was in years past. That’s probably good, because storms and times of testing seem only to get bigger as time passes. The good news, however, as my trust in Christ has grown…

I’m less likely to be GREATLY moved.

I bounce back to my faith in the Solid Rock of God quicker than I used to do. Over time and by experience, I’ve learned that when I allow Him to be the Rock, instead of me trying to be my own, or even relying on others for my strength…when I cast all my cares on the One who cares for me…I find I am much more powerful to meet the storms of life.

Be honest. Are you allowing Him to be your Rock, or are you trying to do things on your own?

Sometimes It’s Impossible to Breathe Normally

I travel frequently, so I’ve mostly tuned out the safety routines at the beginning of the flight. One line, however, always causes me to pause and think. Have you heard this before?

In case there is a loss in cabin pressure, yellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you. To secure, pull the mask towards you, secure the elastic strap to your head, and fasten it so it covers your mouth and nose. Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, please keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.

I’ve highlighted the part that causes me to reflect.

Breathe Normally.

Yea, right!

If I’m on an airplane, and oxygen masks are necessary, I’ll not be breathing normally. I may still be breathing, but it won’t be normal. I’ll be breathing heavily…very heavily…if at all. I’ll be gasping for air even if the supply of air is plenty.

It’s a great reminder to me. In times of tremendous stress or pressure, I shouldn’t expect to feel normal. I shouldn’t expect to feel completely natural when life makes no sense. I can’t breathe normally, because nothing is normal about life as I currently know it.

What should I do during times like this?

Find my center of gravity – I have to find my grounding again. When life is in chaos, it’s important to cling to what makes sense. Obviously, my relationship with Christ is premier here. The more I can base my life on truth, the more naturally I can breathe.

Surround myself with the right people – Let’s face it; some people are encouragers and some are not. When you’re having trouble breathing anyway, why surround yourself with people who suck the life out of you? Find people who encourage and build you up and cling to them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; even professional help if needed.

Look for small wins – Even on the darkest days of life, there’s probably something you can celebrate. Look for the moments, experiences and memories you can praise. Try something again and rejoice in the minor victories. The road to further success begins with small steps taken repeatedly can consistently.

What do you do when you can’t breathe normally?

I’ve written about airplane oxygen masks before, and applied this script to leadership. Read that post HERE.

Don’t Discount God because of Circumstances

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. Genesis 21:1

It made no sense.

Sarah was too old.

Everyone was laughing.

They had tried to “help God out”.

But, God did as God promised to do.

In spite of the circumstance.

In spite of the irrationality of the situation.

In spite of those who said it couldn’t be done.

In spite of how long it seemed to be taking.

Sarah delivered a son, even in her very old age.

Don’t discount God because of your circumstances.

God is going to do what God chooses to do. He keeps His promises.

Where in your life are you waiting for God?

Having to Walk by Faith Lately?

We walk by faith, not by sight… (2 Corinthians 5:7)

That’s why…

  • You can’t always understand the ways of God…
  • You can’t always find your way in this world…
  • You often seem confused by the circumstances of your life…
  • You seldom seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle…
  • You struggle to make sense of life at times…

Because you walk by faith, not by sight.

You know what faith is…

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is a substance. It’s not faith in you…it’s faith in God, not in your understanding or your abilities…but in God’s understanding, God’s abilities.

And, remember…

Without faith it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6)

Having to walk by faith lately?

If so, you are on the right track to finding His pleasure.

By the way, you may want to read a previous post, 10 Tips to Understanding Faith HERE.

Reflection on the Poem “Footprints”

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. Psalm 77:19

...through the darkest days of my life…..where were you God…..I only saw one set of footprints in the sand…..where were you God….those were the times, my child, when I carried you…….

You are familiar with the “Footprints” poem that has been commercialized onto plates, pictures, ties, refrigerator magnets, bookmarks, etc, etc, etc. I once thought it was overused. In fact, I wondered where the Biblical reference for it was. I knew it was sound doctrinally, because I had experienced it so many times in my life, but I didn’t have a reference to back it up until I read this verse years ago.

Of course, the opening Bible verse refers to the famous march through the middle of the waters by that powerful leader we know as Moses. (I wrote more about that time HERE.)

Can you imagine how the Israelites must have felt? They had escaped the years of slavery and persecution to head for what they thought was a chance at real freedom and along came the Pharoah’s finest, ready to put them on the chopping block. Needless to say they were slightly disappointed. Moses summoned God, who told them to go through the center of the sea.

Yea, right! Yet, as strange as that may have sounded at the time, the people enter the “water” on dry ground! I know, it doesn’t make sense, but that is what happened. Read it for yourself if you don’t believe me.  (Exodus 14)

Did they see the footprints of God? No! Did they doubt who parted the water? Did they question who dried up the dirt? Well, let me ask you, could you have done it? Neither could they!

They knew that God was being God….again!

Has He ever been God in your life? Can you explain it? Did you see His footprints? But if you submit yourself to God and allow God to do His work in your life, make no mistake about it, you will clearly know He is God and there is no other!

Read the poem footprints again. You probably have it on a coffee mug somewhere. Then recall the many times that He has taken you through the waters. Thank Him for carrying you all the way…though His footprints may not be seen!

He is a mighty God!

Being Still Doesn’t Mean Doing Nothing

I hear people use this verse for the wrong application:

Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I’ve heard well meaning people use it as an indicator that, because we are on the winning team, we will never face another battle. Not true.

Here’s something you need to understand about this verse, before you try to live it.

The verse doesn’t mean you don’t have an assignment. It doesn’t mean the assignment you have won’t be difficult. It doesn’t mean doing nothing.

Consider the next verse:

Exodus 15:15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

In other words…get going! Do what you’re supposed to do! Don’t stand there in fear…MOVE ON!

The Israelites were going to cross the sea. It would be something they had never done before. Have you ever walked through a wall of water, on ground that used to be the bottom of the sea?

Seriously, have you?

The Israelites were going to have to trust God that God would part the waters and dry up the land. Keep in mind, this command was given before the sea had even started to separate. They had to believe that the water would divide. They then had to believe the wall of water wouldn’t drop and fish wouldn’t fall on their head as they drown. They had to believe that crossing the sea was a better option than surrendering to the Egyptians. It wasn’t doing nothing. It was walking by faith.

The verse, then, means that if you are moving at the direction of God…if you are following His plan for your life…if you are being obedient…you don’t have to fear the outcome. You don’t have to worry about the provision of God for your journey. You don’t have to wonder if God will do as God said He will do. He’s got your back! He’s got the ultimate victory. You can rest in Him. You can be still!

Being still doesn’t mean doing nothing!

Have you been “standing still” when you need to be moving?

Quit making excuses and act on what you know God has called you to do! 

The Command: Do Not Be Afraid

I command you…be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

As I read the Scripture, I see little room for the follower of Christ to be afraid (except for the fear of God).

Perplexed; yes. Confused; sometimes. Overwhelmed; often. Angry; when necessary. Distressed; possibly.

Yes, I fully agree, just the fact that the command is there does not mean we will always follow it. Quite the contrary; I have been afraid many times. I fight the worry battle like all the rest. Wasn’t it David, the man after God’s own heart, who said that “when I am afraid, I will trust in you”? Sounds like he may have struggled with fear also.

Still, the Bible is consistent, and it consistently reminds us not to allow fear to captivate our lives. Obviously, when God first gave this command to Joshua, being an all knowing God, He knew that Joshua was about to encounter some pretty scary days. No doubt the enemies of Joshua had ample opportunity to attempt to make him squirm.

Today God knows there will be times that cause fear to be our primary emotion. He sees the trouble before it comes. It was He who MADE the disciples get into the boat and face the raging sea. It is He who allows the storms in our lives to come.

God knows there is plenty in life to make us afraid. Still, the challenge remains, and the command remains to not be afraid! And, in those moments, God know we will need to rely on His strength being perfect when our strength is none.

How are you doing these days obeying the command of God to not be afraid?

Call on the Lord today and ask Him to help you overcome your fears!

Getting Gut Honest with God

I love the story in Judges 6 where God called Gideon to save the Israelites from the land of Midian. Gideon was the weakest of his clan from the weakest clan, yet God chose to use him for a powerful leadership role for God’s people. You might read the story again HERE.

Consider a small part of Gideon’s conversation with angel of the Lord:

(I’ve embellished the story a bit to illustrate the way I view the story. My embellishment is in parenthesis.)

“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”

“Well, please sir…(I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but) if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? …

…And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us…”

Imagine the scene. An angel shows up, which was usually a pretty scary part of the story, but instead of reacting in surprise, Gideon respectfully questions where God has been lately. He’s not disrespectful, but he is gut honest with the concerns he has with God.

Do you ever wonder where God is when life seems to be falling apart?

Do you ever question God’s involvement when He seems to be nowhere around?

Do you ever think things may never improve?

Gideon had those type questions, and he didn’t cover them up with phony praise, he let his concerns be known.

Yet God’s angel didn’t curse Gideon. Instead, God used Gideon, in spite of his doubts and fears.

“The Lord said to him, but I will be with you…” Judges 6:16 God simply pointed Gideon back to the faith he originally had in Him. That was not the end of Gideon’s fear or questioning, but it was the beginning of his journey back to complete faith.

Perhaps instead of continuing in our own doubts and fears, you and I should get gut honest with God. Maybe we should tell Him how we really feel. I’m not suggesting we become flippant towards a Holy God. That’s never a good idea. I’m suggesting we be honest with the God who already knows our heart and allow Him to restore our faith and strengthen us for the journey ahead. That often begins when we become real with God with who we are, who we are not, and who He is.

God uses people who are willing to humbly surrender their insufficiencies; their doubts and fears, to His sufficiency.

By the way, He knows your heart because He made your heart.

How are you at being honest with God?