Sign-up to receive Kathy's FREE E-Newsletter or Weekly Blog Posts

Tag Archives | spiritual growth

Why Do You Read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? If you and I had coffee together and I asked you that question, how would you answer?

Why Do Americans Read the Bible?

A 2016 study by the Barna Group shows that about 1/3 of Americans read the Bible at least once a week. The same study also cites why people read the Bible. Here’s a quick rundown of the top answers:

  • Brings me closer to God (55%)
  • To receive comfort (16%)
  • To find direction or an answer to a problem (16%)
  • Because I am supposed to (6%)

Why do I Read the Bible?

As I write this blog, I’m thinking about how I would answer this question. I mean, honestly answer this question. And you know what? I think my answer would depend on the day. Absolutely I want to be closer to God. But, some days I do read it because I know I should. Other days I need some godly direction or an answer for a specific problem. And on tough days, I just need some comfort.

And you know what? I think all those reasons are legitimate. God’s Word does give comfort, offer direction, and have answers for life today. And yes, sometimes we really should read our Bibles when we don’t necessarily want to, because Christian life requires discipline and purpose. We must “train ourselves for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:7-8).

While all those reasons and more are wrapped up in why I read the Bible, there is another reason. One I desire to be my primary reason.

I want God’s Word to shape me. To refine me. To make me more like Jesus.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And as it does, all those other things will happen too. My intimacy with God will deepen and grow. His constant presence will comfort and guide me.

So, now it’s your turn. Why do you read the Bible? Maybe your current reason isn’t what you’d like it to be. Or maybe you don’t read the Bible regularly now. The best way to create a hunger for God’s Word to simply to begin to read it. Once you get a taste… (Psalm 34:8).

Why do you read the Bible?

If you’d like to begin to read the Bible but you aren’t sure how to get started, check out my free resources page. It is full of helps, including quiet time tips and Bible reading plans! 

Read More »

Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual Junk FoodYesterday, in the grocery store, I made some poor choices. The Super Bowl was my primary excuse. My husband’s requests ran a close second. But much of the junk food also happened to be my favorites.

Nothing required any preparation and met the requirement of having “plenty of snacks for all four quarters.” Chips. Hot wings. Jalapeno poppers. Ice cream. Popcorn. You know, football food.

Instead of buying real food and committing to the effort I know must accompany it, I bought frozen, pre-made, easy-to-fix, nutritionally lacking junk food. Sadly, the only benefit that kind of food can give is momentary pleasure.

As I loaded my selections on the checkout counter I thought about two things. First, I knew I would regret my “food” choices on Monday. And second, I thought about how often I make the same mistake with my spiritual health. I resist the effort it takes to feast on the nutritional meat of God’s Word and instead binge on spiritual junk food.

The author of Hebrews addressed a similar issue with his readers:

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT

These “Peter Pan” Christians didn’t want to grow up. Their diet of spiritual milk temporarily relieved their spiritual hunger. Contentedly skipping along on the surface of their faith, they took in the same basics over and over. They refused to put forth the disciplined effort that spiritual growth and maturity requires. They took the easy path instead of working to ingest the rich, healthy meat of God’s Word.

We often live the same way, filling the holes in our spirits with mere baby food, or even spiritual junk food. We play in the shallows and talk about how great the water is when we could – and should – be in over our heads.

Examples of Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual junk food sits eye level on the shelf. It’s easy to grab for a quick bite. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick devotional thoughts based on a small passage pulled out of its context
  • Visually pleasing memes with an inspiring, spiritual-light slogan
  • On-the-run prayers substituted for time on our knees

Characteristics of Spiritual Junk Food

While a few things on the spiritual fast-food menu can give some benefit – I enjoy a beautiful meme as much as the next person – they should be appetizers or snacks, not the basis for our spiritual diet. Evaluate your spiritual diet by reflecting on these characteristics of spiritual junk food:

  • Gives quick, but fleeting spiritual satisfaction
  • Lacks deep, real spiritual value
  • Provides a “feel good” spiritual high with no correction, challenge, or call to obedience

Our spiritual health requires preparation, hard work, discipline, and persistence. If we want to be spiritually mature, we must train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7-8). We can’t microwave spiritual growth.

How’s your basic spiritual diet? Is there some junk food in your diet you weren’t even aware of?

If you’d like to evaluate your discipleship check out this post.

Read More »

Discipleship Resources for 2017

Discipleship ResourcesDid your purposeful commitment to spiritual growth fall by the wayside some time during 2016? Maybe your time in God’s Word became sporadic. Maybe your prayer time dwindled. Well, there’s no better time to renew your commitment to discipleship and recommit to your time with God than the New Year. This post is chock full of discipleship resources, tips, and tools to help you get started and keep going all year.

A Place to Start

The following four posts/tools will help you figure out where you are spiritually and where God is leading you in the New Year.

  • Discipleship Evaluation Tool – honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas of 2015 can be great growth areas in 2016.
  • Spiritual Goals Worksheet – Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This tool walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education to help you set New Year goals.
  • Setting goals for spiritual growth – These five tips will help you set doable, personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year.
  • 3 Steps to Create a Hunger for the Bible – Do you long to hunger for God’s Word but right now your desire is limited?

General Discipleship Resources

The following posts each offer a collection of resources and tools to help you meet your goals.

Specific Discipleship Helps

This last group of resources focuses on a specific area of discipleship like quiet time, prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture Memory.

I hope these resources will help you meet your 2017 spiritual growth goals. I’d love to hear from you about how God is leading you to step out in the New Year!

Read More »

5 Reflection Questions for 2016

2016 ReflectionWith a new year just days away, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year just ending. But why bother to look back? Shouldn’t we forget the past and focus on what lies ahead? After all, we cannot change what has already happened. We can’t go back. We can only move forward. In fact, didn’t the apostle Paul tell us to forget what is behind? Here’s his words from his letter to the believers in Philippi:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul did not mean we should never reflect on the past. In fact, earlier in the chapter, he had done just that. (See Philippians 3:4-6 and check this post for more.) His point in verses 12-14 was that he refused to allow anything in his past to foster a false sense of “arrival.” Dwelling on past spiritual “accomplishments” would only lull him into inactivity. Instead, he committed to continue moving towards spiritual maturity with determination.

Reflecting on what God has done in our past can help us see His continued path for us. The clearer picture we have of what He has been doing, the better sense we can have of where He is taking us next.

5 Questions for Purposeful Reflection on 2016

  • What trials and difficulties has God brought me through this year that He may want to use to comfort and encourage someone else who will go through similar circumstances?
  • What learning or training experiences did God bring into my life that could be His preparation for future areas of ministry?
  • What new people have crossed my path in 2016 that God may want me to develop a relationship with?
  • What major life change or event occurred in 2016 that God may want to use as a crossroads for a new direction?
  • What has God taught me about Himself this year – Who He is and how He works – that needs to impact my relationship with Him and others?

My 2016 has been full of significant life events – some joyous and some painful. My husband Wayne and I have already done a lot of reflecting, talking, and praying about how it all impacts what God wants to do with us in 2017. Some major changes seem to be coming in the near future. (Stay tuned!)

I pray God will give you insight and wisdom as you take time to reflect on the past 12 months. May He also grant you clear direction for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

Read More »

5 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life

trialsDoes God care about the trials you endure in this life? Absolutely! God sees every detail of your life. He knows your every need and He cares deeply about each one.

However, as much as He cares about your physical needs and condition, He cares even more about your spiritual condition. His first desire and primary purpose is to transform His children into the image of Christ. (See Romans 8:29.) The spiritual and eternal take priority over the physical and temporary. But how does God do the work?

Let’s consider a physical analogy. If we want to strengthen our muscles we must add “stress.” When we lift a heavier load than our muscles have lifted before, a physical process begins to adapt the needed muscles to the new load. Without stress, our muscles are content with their current size and strength. Add stress, and our muscles begin to change to meet the need.

Our spiritual strength and character are similar. The difficulties of life “stress” our faith. Trials give our faith a work out like heavy loads work our muscles. As we faithfully endure, we grow spiritually stronger. Without difficulty, our faith tends to stagnate. Do you want stronger faith? You need stress.

Trials work our faith. Like using our muscles to carry heavier loads make them stronger, the trials of life give our faith a workout. God will use them to grow and develop our faith so we will be spiritually mature, not lacking anything!

Our gracious God never wastes a trial He permits to enter our lives. If we will cooperate, He will use every difficulty, heartache, and hardship for our good and His glory.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4, NIV

 5 Ways God Uses Trials in Our Lives

  1. God uses them to break our independence and foster our dependence on Him.
  2. God uses them to purify our faith and develop our moral character.
  3. God uses them to test, prove, and strengthen our faith in Him.
  4. God uses them to prepare us for His purposes.
  5. God works through them to prove Himself powerful, faithful, and reliable.

God is not finished with you yet. And He is definitely not finished with me. I know more difficulties lie ahead. Honestly, I wish God had chosen to work another way. But I will choose to trust His infinite wisdom and submit to His refining process. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste any trial or difficulty!

In what ways has God used trials and difficulties in your life to refine your faith and character? To make you more like Jesus!?

Read More »

3 Spiritual Benefits of Need

NeedIf we had our choice, most of us would choose abundance over need. We would rather have more than enough money to pay our bills. We would rather not go hungry.

Yet God’s Word actually warns us about the dangers of having plenty. Too much money, food, and possessions fool us into relying on ourselves. Material abundance fosters pride and self-sufficiency. “Plenty” leaves us spiritually bereft.

Are you in a time of physical need? Maybe you’re struggling with a health issue or job loss. Maybe some unexpected expenses has drained your bank account. God not only sees your need, He cares deeply. He longs to meet your physical needs.

Yet, the Bible also teaches God works through times of physical need to benefit us, to grow us spiritually. As much as God cares about our physical condition, He cares much more about our spiritual condition. Our physical condition is temporary. Our spiritual condition involves matters of eternity.

When the children of Israel were poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses warned them about the danger of their future material abundance (Deuteronomy 8:1-20). He reminded them of the spiritual benefit gained by wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. God used their time of physical need to foster great spiritual growth.

The same can be true for us. If we allow Him, God can work in our lives during times of material need in ways not possible during times of plenty.

3 Spiritual Benefits of Physical Need

  1. Humility – Pride is a root that sprouts an abundance of other sinful attitudes and behaviors. In times of physical need God can open our eyes to truth. We don’t possess anything He has not provided. Even our ability to work comes from Him (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
  2. Dependence – When we realize God provides everything in our lives we will begin to lean on Him, to rely on Him every minute. Our illusion of self-sufficiency is shattered.
  3. Growth – As we lean on God more and more, our faith is tested and proved. As we learn more about God’s character and ways, He develops spiritual boldness and we willingly take new steps of faith never considered before.

Are you in need today? Don’t waste this time! Ask God to grow you spiritually and teach you to depend on Him every minute. Times of material need can be glorious times of spiritual plenty.

If you have physical need now or have in the past, what spiritual benefit did you experience?

Read More »

Are you a Stunted Shrub or a Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17We’ve lived in the West Texas desert. Twice. Not much can grow there. Even the small, stunted mesquite shrubs quickly become tumbleweeds in a windstorm. But here in southeast Texas the foliage thrives. It’s green around here pretty much twelve months of the year. Something is growing and blooming all the time. The plants have what they need – sun, warmth, and plenty of water.

I’ve seen plenty of stunted shrubs and fruitful trees. Such a stark contrast. In fact, God uses this contrast in the book of Jeremiah. God does that a lot in Scripture; He gives us word pictures to help us better understand spiritual truths.

The first chapter of Psalms has been my favorite for a long time – the man who mediates on the law of the LORD is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1:1-3). But recently, the comparison God gives us in Jeremiah 17 between a stunted shrub and a fruitful tree really impacted me.

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8, NLT

Which are you? Stunted Shrub or Fruitful Tree?

Jeremiah 17

How does one get to be a “stunted shrub?” You turn away from God and trust in humans. And the results are not pretty. Stunted shrubs are cursed. They have no growth and no hope for the future.

How does one get to be a “fruitful tree?” You trust in the Lord and put your hope in Him alone. The results are far much better. This person will be blessed and secure in difficult circumstances. She will stay healthy and grow, producing “fruit” that lasts.

I would much rather be a fruitful tree! How about you?

What can you do today to put your trust and hope in God?

Read More »

4 Tips for Staying Spiritually Fit this Summer

Tips for spiritual fitness this summerSummer is almost here! For many of us, that means a break from the usual routines of school, work, and other responsibilities. We sleep in, take time off to be with family, and even get away on vacations and long weekends. Life seems to slow. Regular weekly activities – like sports, lessons, and Bible study groups – go on hiatus until fall.

All of this is great for our families, our bodies, and our human relationships. But unfortunately, the change of pace often throws even the most disciplined among us off kilter spiritually.

Because of the weird schedule, regular Bible study and quite time sometime get set aside. Even church attendance gets spotty due to travel. But rather than feeling guilty or giving up altogether, let’s work with the season instead.

4 Tips to Stay Spiritually Fit this Summer

The following 4 tips include lots of great resources to help you take advantage of the summer schedule and keep spiritually fit:

  1. Summer Bible Reading Plan – Use a plan that’s short-term and gives you some breathing room!
  2. Family Devotions – Since you’ll probably be getting away with your family this summer, make good use of that time together. Download this 7-Day Family Devotional Guide to use on that next road trip or family vacation. The guide includes a Scripture passage to read, very brief commentary, and 3-4 discussion questions to get the family talking!
  3. Online Bible study and community – Many of you participate in Bible study groups throughout the fall and spring, but most of these groups don’t meet during the summer. Rather than neglecting Bible study until September, make use of one of the these great online opportunities.
  4. Podcasts – Many churches make their pastor’s sermons available for listening through the church website. If your church doesn’t, you can listen to many great preachers and teachers from wherever your summer travels happen to take you. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Summer doesn’t have to mean a spiritual setback! Just temporarily change the way you do things. I would love to hear how you and your family incorporate spiritual disciplines into your summer schedule.

    Let’s share now! How do you stay spiritually fit during the summer months?

Read More »

7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

mature christianWould you describe yourself as a mature Christian? Honestly, that term feels sort of subjective. What one person considers mature, another might not.

However, the Bible does give us some guidelines for spiritual maturity. First, God calls us to spiritual maturity:

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:13, NIV

The Greek word translated as “mature” in Ephesians 4:13 is teleios. It means to be “complete, perfect, brought to end, of full age.” Spiritual maturity is God’s goal for us.

Next, our maturity is so important to God, He allows trials into our lives to grow our faith:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

If our maturity is this important to God, perhaps we should take it more seriously. But how can we know if we’re growing spiritually? What does a mature Christian look like?

7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

The Bible gives us many marks of a growing believer, like perseverance and spiritual fruit, but the Bible specifically mentions the following 7 characteristics in conjunction with the Greek word teleios:

  1. Recognizes the difference between right and wrong then does what is right (Hebrews 5:14)
  2. Not easily swayed by false teaching (Ephesians 4:13-16) – So grounded in the truth of God’s Word, she quickly recognizes falsehood.
  3. Rooted in love (Ephesians 4:13-16) – Our words and actions flow from love for our fellow believers.
  4. Serves the church (Ephesians 4:13-16) – A Christian cannot grow to her full potential apart from a vital connection to a local church. She must find her place of mutual service and encouragement.
  5. Lives with an eternal perspective (Philippians 3:13-15) – The reality of the spiritual and eternal drives her life. She purposefully strives to continual spiritual growth because she knows this life is temporary.
  6. Controls her tongue (James 3:2) – If a Christian has good control of her speech, you know she is on a path to maturity!
  7. Reflects God’s character to the world (Matthew 5:48) – God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity in order to reflect the character of Jesus to a watching world.

So how are you doing? What area do you struggle in the most? Why?

Want to be purposeful in your spiritual growth? You may find this post helpful.

Read More »

A Scary Prayer

Ps 13923-24Some years ago, I attended a three-day conference for Christian speakers. We learned things like various techniques and presentation styles, how to do outlines,  and how to engage your audience. We also practiced. Every afternoon they divided us up and each of us spoke briefly to our groups. We evaluated each other on delivery, personality, body language, and more.

The final day was our most important presentation. This time our group leader would evaluate each of us. The founder of the organization would also be popping into various groups at different times.

I wasn’t overly nervous, but when my turn came, SHE walked in the room and sat down. My speaking ability would be evaluated by my peers, my group leader, and the very experienced founder of the organization.

I felt exposed and vulnerable. What would SHE think? What flaw would she spot? What weakness would she discern?

As it turned out, she was very encouraging and helpful. But of course she couldn’t see everything about me. She didn’t know my insecurities.

What about you? Have you ever been evaluated? Maybe it was in a speech class, piano recital, or a yearly job performance review. We’ve all faced an evaluation at some point.

But I dare say we rarely ask for it. We don’t usually initiate the scrutiny.

But that’s exactly what the psalmist David did. And it wasn’t just some other lowly human he invited to take a really close look. Nope. David asked God Almighty, the One who knows all and sees all, to thoroughly examine his heart and mind.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

That sounds super scary to me. I mean, I know God knows it all already, but to purposefully make myself so incredibly vulnerable… That’s like one of those dreams where you walk into a room full of people only to discover you wore your birthday suit.

But here’s the thing. God is totally faithful. Completely trustworthy. He wants only the best for us. He desires for us to grow into our full potential so we can be useful and effective for His good purposes.

That requires spiritual refinement, transformation, and growth. It requires getting rid of all the junk and replacing it with Jesus.

This prayer, modeled by David, expresses a willingness to be laid completely bare before the Father. To invite His examination and scrutiny of our inner self. Every thought in our minds. Every inclination of our hearts. Every motivation. Every passion.

But we are going to trust anyone with our lives, with ourselves, shouldn’t be God? He already knows us better than we know ourselves. Let’s allow Him to have His way. Scary, yes. But also glorious and miraculous. Search me O’ God.

Have you ever prayed this prayer? Does the thought scare you a little?

 

Read More »