As a culture, we jump from one thing to the next. Although we have all heard of studies telling us to stop multitasking and to generally slow down and smell the roses – few of us do.
In fact, it’s not just common, but actually encouraged and a badge of honor to say how busy or tired you are – as if you’re doing something wrong if you’re not.
However, the way people try to fix this is just as damaging.
I’ve heard many people encourage others to “live in the moment” and to simply “follow their heart” and ignore all repercussions of the future and to simply live IN the present and live FOR the present.
And that is just as wrong.
We can’t simply go to the other extreme of not only living in the present but also living for the present without dire consequences.
But we also can’t continue through life at break-neck speed without suffering just as many consequences.
So here’s our solution. It’s not easy to do, but it really is this simple:
Live in the present.
Slow down, work with, and enjoy what’s in front of you right now.
Live for the future.
Keep in mind the overall trajectory of your life.
For the Christian, this is ultimately living out what Jesus meant when He said to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). We are called to live in the world, but not of this world (1 John 2:15-17).
Does your life right now reflect what you want to be “living for” or do you need to course correct?
Take inventory and start now
What is the future you’re living for?
Does your life reflect it? Does your calendar, hobbies, budget, lifestyle reflect what you want to be “living for”?
Are you living in the present?
Or are you constantly hurried in life? And not able to even enjoy the path you’re on?
The perfect example
It’s amazing to look at Jesus Who was “about His Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) and had “done everything the Father had given Him” (John 17:4) yet never seemed hurried or rushed.
Clearly He had a lot on His plate and He did many things, but He was never consumed and rushed and overwhelmed by them.
We too, can be about the work God has for us, We too, can complete all that God has given us to do, And without becoming stressed out, overworked, unable-to-stop-to-smell-the-roses people.
By His grace and transforming us to become more like Himself, We too can become like Jesus in this way.
As you reflect on how God would have you live in the now, and for the future differently, I thought this a perfect passage to read, reflect and pray that God would cause us to be a people who live in the moment and live for His Kingdom.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
I’m blown away by how much I’ve grown in the discipline of reading (for reference, I had read 4 books in 2018 and only 1 in 2017… I’ve been keeping a list of books I read for a while and it’s only recently gotten to the numbers it is now).
I’ve really enjoyed listening to these books on library audio apps like Overdrive and Hoopla, and it’s the only way I have been able to “read” as many as I have.
That said, I LOVE reading and learning so I thought I’d pass on my favorite books from this past year in case you would like to read any of them as well.
Please note, these aren’t in any particular order, though I put them into categories in case you’re looking for a specific type of book:
Judges For You by Tim Keller
Galatians For You by Tim Keller
Tim Keller has written a few books in a Bible study/commentary format that are very simple to read. He has a few, but the two I read are listed above. The one on the book of Judges is incredible and I think you should check it out if you’re even vaguely interested.
Experiencing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby // Such an incredible book to consider how God might want to work in you and through you.
Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko // An awesome book to get our eyes back on the truth of God’s Word. Heart-wrenching at times, but totally worth it.
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster // A very simple book that unearths spiritual disciplines in a way that most gloss over. If spiritual disciplines have ever been confusing or difficult, this is an amazing book.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence // a great book reminding us to slow down and simply be present with God wherever we are.
A Tale Of Three Kings by Gene Edwards // Simply showing the differences between King Saul, David and Absalom. A great book reminding us what it truly looks like to live a life (and lead a ministry) that reflects God’s heart even when it’s difficult.
Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields // A very in depth book from one of the most experienced youth pastors around and is definitely applicable to other areas of ministry as well.
Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer // We certainly don’t create simple things naturally, they have to be sought out. And this book helps you think through how to truly make ministry simple
The Mistborn series! I read the first trilogy and I just finished the first book in the second trilogy. It’s an incredible series. If you like fantasy like Lord of the Rings, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this.
Getting Things Done by David Allen // I’ve always been facinated by productivity books, blogs and podcasts and although I had read lots of people’s thoughts and applications of David Allen’s book, I finally got around to actually reading it! It’s a great book that you should definitely check out.
Do More Better by Tim Challies // This is the first productivity book I’ve ever read specifically from a Christian worldview/perspective on focusing specifically on what God has called you to do over other things and how that can be flushed out in a productive way.
The Bullet Journal by Ryder Carroll // The Bullet Journal is probably the most famed way of organizing a physical notebook and although I’m not interested in starting a physical notebook, I still got a lot of good takeaways when it comes to organizing information and keeping productive.
How to Win at College by Cal Newport // I thought this might be good for a youth pastor, such as myself, to read as potential suggestion for high schoolers and I also hoped he would have principles that could translate to the average adult’s life – and it does. It’s a great and simple book, though there is a section on finding your identity and such that I extremely disagree with. The areas focused on productivity, building key relationships, etc are great.
I hope that helps you find a book or two that will be useful for you to check out in this coming year!
Although that’s all the verses I wanted to cover, each verse ends with the same phrase that I wanted to point out (specifically the day after Christmas):
Emmanuel Shall Come
There is an incredible amount of prophecy surrounding how God was to come into our world as our Redeemer.
And in that prophecy, there’s a clear understanding that He will come through and for Israel, but that His work would then benefit and be for all people of all nations.
As the angel described:
“Good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
This repeated phrase reminds us to hold onto this hope throughout the song.
Rejoice! For Emmanuel will come. Rejoice! For Thou Lord of Might will come. Rejoice! For Thou Rod of Jesse will come. Rejoice! For Thou Key of David will come. Rejoice! For Thou Dayspring will come.
And He comes for the whole world.
Every nation, Every tribe, Every tongue, Every person.
Waiting On God
The prophecies of the coming Messiah were written long before Jesus came, and so the original hearers and readers had to be patient and wait expectantly.
We, similarly, have to wait on God as well.
Jesus has come, Jesus has paid the price for our sins, Jesus has given us His Spirit,
But our lives are still imperfect, Much of world around us is still broken and without Him.
We are in the “already” and “not yet”.
We are in the in-between of being fully justified, yet not in heaven with Jesus just yet.
And so we have to remind ourselves of the hope we have in Him.
So, as we are now in the day after Christmas, I encourage you to consider the waiting that led up to Christmas and the waiting we now have as Christians.
Jesus has come, But He is still redeeming this world.
And as we wait, we too can hope in Him, And continue to say, as they did waiting for His first arrival:
“Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come.”
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
This is Part 5 covering the Scriptural background for the lyrics of the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. You can read the earlier posts at these links: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.
The fifth verse of the song goes like this:
“Thou Dayspring” refers to the morning dawn. This verse is calling for the rising sun/Son to bring cheer to our hearts and to remove the darkness of night and death.
This idea of a “rising star” starts back in Numbers 24:17:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.”
God promised to bring light where there was once darkness from the light of Himself.
In fact, Jesus gives Himself later in Revelation 22:16
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
Jesus is this “dayspring,” this “dawn,” this “morning star” Who brings light into our darkness as we see in the book of John:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Paul continues this analogy of God bringing light into the darkness of our hearts and lives in 2 Corinthians 4:6:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
All this to day:
Jesus is our light, Jesus is Who breaks the darkness of night, Jesus dispersease the gloomy cloudy in our lives, Jesus removes the dark shadows of death,
Because Jesus brings light and life to all who receive Him.
I pray that if you don’t know Jesus, that you receieve His light into your life today, And if you already know Him, that you allow Him to infiltrate your life even fuller this Christmas, allowing His light to penetrate every part of your heart and life more fully and ever before.
As you consider these truths, here are more verses you can read and be encouraged by:
Isaiah 9:2, Luke 1:79, 1 Peter 2:9, Ephesians 5:8, John 8:12, Acts 26:18
This “Key of David” references the power that the Messiah will have to open doors that no one else may close and to shut doors that no one else may open.
This reference and prophecy comes from Isaiah 22:22:
“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
And then this prophecy is shown to be fulfilled in Jesus, later in Revelation 3:7:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”
And Open Wide Our Heavenly Home…
This “Key of David” does speak to Jesus’ power to open and close opportunities in every sense of the word, but it does point to specifically – and most importantly – how Jesus holds the keys of life and Death and Hades being the conqueror of them (Revelation 1:18).
Jesus’ power to open up heaven and shut out death forever is the culmination His sacrifice and resurrection. He holds the power to open up the doors of life for each of us, and to close the door leading to death.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus has opened up our permanent home and life in heaven, with Him.
He holds the Key of David that gives Him the power and right to do so.
But will we seek Him? Will we desire this new Home above our current one? Will we seek His Kingdom first, rather than our own?
He holds the keys, He’s opened the door, And He offers it to us.
Let’s remember the great gift of life and a new citizenship in heaven that awaits for us because of what Jesus did by coming to earth this Christmas season.
Here are a couple verses for you to read, reflect on and I pray you’re blessed by them.
Jesus isn’t often refereed to as the “rod of Jesse,” but the reference comes from Isaiah 11:1–2 and is referenced by Paul in Romans 15:12.
The idea is that someone will come from Jesse, being a descendant of Jesse, and this person will save “His own” from “Satan’s tyranny,” from hell and the grave.
Although Satan isn’t the all-powerful god he would like us to believe he is, he does have great power over the earth since the fall and is even described as the king and ruler of this world in its fallen state.
However, part of Jesus’ coming is to bring about the release of “prisoners” subjected to sin and death brought about by the deception of Satan.
“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
Victory o’er the grave
Every year I live, I experience more death from those around me. However, through the Gospel of Jesus, death has a very different position in my life.
What use to be considered “the end” is now really just the transition from this life and into the next.
Death is still difficult, painful and sad, as we weren’t originally created to experience it, but it no longer has the final word which causes the situation to be felt very differently.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13
Paul is explaining the Gospel resurrection to the church of Thessalonica about how believing in the life to come with Jesus causes us to grieve differently than people who believe that death is truly the end.
And this conquering of death’s finishing work is exactly what Jesus came to do.
The prophet Hosea wrote this about how we will one day relate to death:
“I [God] shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.”
This verse is quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 as Paul explains that this conquering of death has be completed through the Gospel.
That we no longer fear death because we know that eternal life meets us on the other side – and this also causes a new outlook of death as we look at those we love who have already made that journey.
What brings all of these ideas to a close is how Jesus ultimately will one-day handle death:
“Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
One day, Jesus will return and not just make death a simple passing between now and eternity – but He will remove it altogether.
Jesus will essentially kill death.
He’s already removed it’s sting by taking away it’s final word, And one day He will put it in the lake of fire to remove it completely from our lives.
Like I mentioned before, each verse in this song brings us to an “already but not yet” situation.
Jesus has started the process of redemption, Removing death’s sting, But redemption is still in process, Death still exists.
And so, as we celebrate the good work God has already done, We’re also called to remember and mourn the state the world is still in.
But we mourn in hope. We mourn in expectation.
That God has started the work, And that He will complete it.
In our youth group, we looked into the Scriptural background on various Christmas songs including this one, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and I enjoyed looking at the Scripture so much that I thought I’d share it here.
As a note, the pattern this song follows is that it pulls out a specific name of God, and the character/position it implies, and then applies that name of God to our lives and how He relates to us.
This song brings an incredible tension between our active and living hope in God and the reality that we still live in a sinful, broken world. Jesus has brought us hope for eternity, and even hope in our lives today, but He also calls us to look towards the future when sin and death are completely removed.
Below is the first verse in the song:
Emmanuel (God With Us)
“Emmanuel” is probably the most famous name of God to be used in the Christmas season and comes from two verses, one is prophecy and the other is the fulfillment of that propehcy:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23
This “Emmanuel,” this “God with us” is God drawing near to a world that has become captive to sin and, consequently, exiled from the kingdom of God.
“And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:26
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Additional verses: Isaiah 35:10, John 8:34, Acts 8:23, Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:8
The Blessing of Emmanuel
The beautiful reality of “Emmanuel” is that When we were captives and dead in our sin, When we were far from God, When there was nothing we could do…
God drew near to us. God took action.
One of the most famous Christmas prophecy’s is Isaiah 9:6 which begins with,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”
God gave His Son.
We had nothing to offer, Nothing to give, Nothing to contribute.
But God did.
To get “God with you” you can’t earn, deserve, purchase, or do anything on your own.
It’s simply a gift God gives.
Will you receive God’s gift of nearness this Christmas season?
Lately, I’ve been asked a lot about resources for studying the Bible and thought I’d put a collection of my favorites here. These are specifically for people who are not familiar with studying the Bible and need help both with general context of Scriptures and while also wanting to learn how to study for themselves.
There are many more resources than I’ll specifically suggest here. In fact, there are some that are on my Bible Resources and Discipleship Resources pages that I’ll mention here, while there are still others on those pages that I won’t – so go check them out.
The YouVersion Bible App
This Bible App is awesome. They have reading plans, tons of devotionals and you can also simply read the Bible.
“The Bible Project” is one of the coolest YouTube channels I’ve seen. They tell the overarching story and purpose of each book of the Bible in an incredibly visual way. They also have other Bible topics available.
Here are links to their Old Testament and New Testament overview playlists and the general channel.
“Through The Word” is an ongoing project to have every chapter of the Bible explained simply and clearly. They have multiple different teachers to break down each chapter of the Bible into 9 minute explanations. On the app, you can listen to the passage read aloud or to the teaching on the exact chapter. This is an incredible resource and great way to start looking at a chapter of the Bible with fresh eyes or to understand it for the first time.
There are many different methods that people have created to share the Gospel, but one of my favorites is called the “3 Circles” which was created by the North American Mission Board.
I’ve actually dedicated a page on my blog just to their video series and mobile apps. You can check out the whole training at this link and you can find more resources on their website at lifeonmissionbook.com.
Greg Laurie “Start To Follow” and Bible Study Guides
Greg Laurie is a Christian evangelist who puts on crusades all throughout the United States. Since he and his team interact with so many new believers, they’ve put together awesome resources for new believers.
Their first resource is called “Start To Follow”. It’s a small booklet that walks a new believer through some of the basics of being a Christian. It answers questions like why do we read the Bible, why do we go to church, etc. You can buy the book at this link or download the PDF at this link.
Their second resource is a 14 part Bible study where it guides you through different topics such as “salvation,” “the power of the Holy Spirit,” “prayer,” “trials” and more. These study guides are 2 pages and help the reader to follow through scripture to find the answers to the questions in the study as they discover what God has to say about these topics. You can download a PDF of the whole 14 part series at this link.
Blue Letter Bible Website And App
Before you start investing in buying commentaries or books to study the Bible, I cannot recommend Blue Letter Bible enough. They have a website and mobile apps and are full of tons of resources.
These free tool includes complex word searches, original Greek and Hebrew definitions, related verses and a ton of awesome commentaries. My personal favorite they offer is David Guzik and I definitely suggest that you check it out as you study the Bible. Here are links to Blue Letter Bible
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
My wife and I celebrated 9 years of marriage this past Thursday. And today, we’re blessed to be able to have a night getaway at an AirBNB in a nearby town while family takes care of our two boys.
And as I reflect on our relationship together, I am so thankful that Alesha is in my life. We have been through so many life stages and ups and downs together, and I can’t imagine where my life would be right now had she not been part of all of it.
I’ve been asked by many people how we make our marriage work.
Our marriage is not perfect by any means, but I can truly say that, by the grace of God, I think we have one of the best marriages I know of.
When I’ve been asked by others, there have been many different things I point to and have suggested to help a rocky relationship or to help avoid future hardship.
But there is one thing that stands out above the rest:
I am so thankful that my wife and I have chosen to put Jesus first in our lives and marriage.
I’m not saying we’re perfect in any means, but here’s how it has played out in our marriage:
When we decide life priorities… we have the same baseline of putting Jesus and His Kingdom first When we have difficult life decisions to make… we pray to Jesus and ask for guidance and wisdom When we argue, have misunderstandings or get upset at each other… we turn to Jesus to give us the grace to repent and forgive and work through things together When one of us is going through a hard time… we are able to love and support each other with the grace Jesus provides When we go through difficult external situations that press down on us… we both separately and together trust in Jesus to get us through
Through the ups and downs of life, Through the internal struggles between us, And the external issues around us, We are able to turn to Jesus together, And He holds us both close to Him, Individually and together.
As I mentioned above, there are many relationship “tips and tricks” that we’ve picked up from others over the years, but the baseline of our marriage is founded on Jesus – and that has made all the difference.
Whether you’re married, engaged, dating or single; Jesus is the One Who promises to be with you through every storm of life, To guide you in the bright of day and the darkness of night, And I cannot emphasize enough how having Him in your life and in your relationships will make all the difference.
Our lives and our marriage is not perfect, But our God is, And He is our foundation for both.
And so, out of all the things I am thankful for about my wife, I am most thankful that she has given her life to Jesus, And has determined to love Him with all her life.
And so in a world where divorce and unhappy marriages are the norm, I am so thankful for God’s grace giving us 9 amazing years of marriage, And I look forward to every day I get to spend with my wife until death do us part.
And even then, death won’t truly end our lives together, as we will both be in heaven enjoying and worshiping Jesus together and with all who trust in His name.
For all eternity, just like we’ve been practicing here on earth.
“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
After we are saved through grace by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8), God desires for us to continue to grow in godliness (Titus 2:11-14), which includes growing in stability of belief and faith (Ephesians 4:13-14).
Is your faith, hope, love, mind and overall life tossed around by circumstances, other beliefs and things that go against God’s Word?
God desires better for you, And He promises to help you.
Here Are 3 Things You Can Do To Root Yourself Firm In Jesus
Study/Learn God’s Word
The most important thing you can do is to discover more of Who God is and what He says by studying His Word, the Bible.
As you get to know the Bible more, you begin to filter life’s situations and other ideas by what the Bible says, which can help you from being “tossed to and fro” by things and people around you.
Take, for example, the 4 G’s that Tim Chester writes about in his book “You Can Change”.
God is great – so we don’t have to be in control. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves.
These truths are rooted in God’s Word and can apply directly to our lives and change the way we respond to external situations and internal dialogues in a way that aligns with God’s will.
Below is one of my favorite Peanut comics that illustrates this concept well:
By having a good grasp on what God says about Himself, ourselves and the lives we live, you will be less likely to be swayed in life’s circumstances and ideas that you hear.
If you need help in studying God’s Word, I’ve written many posts on how do study the Bible, including this two part series you can check out here: part 1 and part 2
Apply God’s Word
As important as it is to know God’s Word, it’s nothing if you don’t apply it.
This includes obeying Jesus (John 14:15-17) And also, and more importantly, embracing Him (John 15:5).
As we apply God’s Word, we draw nearer to Him and bind our hearts and lives to Him as our stability in times of trial.
One thing I want to note is that applying God’s Word isn’t simply doing better and trying harder but also relying on God’s Spirit for the grace to have God live through your life as we’re reminded in Philippians 2:13.
Live In Christian Community For Encouragement And Accountability
It’s been said that you can can a Christian alone, but you can’t live the Christian life alone.
Here’s what that means:
Your salvation is a completely individual act between you and Jesus, But the act of living life as a Christian requires other Christians to be in your life.
Christian community is extremely important. Jesus ordained it so that we would be an important source of encouragement and accountability to each other, in order to help each other run our race of faith with endurance and continue on the straight and narrow as we follow Jesus together.
A few months ago, our church took a weekend retreat together which caused me to write a post titled “Being Still Before God” which was a reflection on how we need to slow down and take time to be before God.
But a few months later, it’s already become warped again.
Shelter in place orders have been set, And we’ve increased on online activity and time before screened devices to fill the void of personal connection, And I think many of us have (ironically) experienced less “stillness” than before.
Although we’re physically limiting ourselves, many of us are filling our minds, thoughts and hearts with busyness, news reports, social media, and anything else we can do to try to keep from cabin fever.
And in the midst of it, we’ve filled every bit of silence we had left.
A couple books I’ve read recently (both spiritual and non-spiritual books) all pointed to the importance of silence in our lives.
Of quieting our hearts and minds to be still and present in the moment.
For the Christian, that means resting in God. Trusting Him for the past that haunts us, Trusting Him for our current situations that plague us, And trusting Him for our futures that we’re always trying so hard to plan and prepare for.
So I wanted to re-encourage you to slow down and be still.
Be quiet, Be calm, Focus solely on God, And listen.
I personally find it helpful to meditate on scripture when trying to slow down, so below are some of the ones that came to mind when thinking about this topic. I pray you have a good few minutes of calming quiet as you rest in the midst of everyday chaotic life.
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
1st Peter 5:7
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
We live in a society that values movement. Things always need to be going up and to the right. They need to be faster, better, bigger, more important, more expensive.
But God doesn’t value the same things we do. Often, it’s like He’s not playing the same “game” at all.
God has a wholly different view of life.
As I quote often from Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This plays out in a lot of ways, but one in particular has been on my heart for a while and I’ve wanted to share it:
And during that time we’ve had some really cool opportunities come up… but they didn’t feel quite right.
They were great opportunities, And I’m sure God would have used them, But we felt like God was telling us to wait.
Which brings me to a common misunderstanding:
Just because there’s a great opportunity doesn’t mean God wants you to take it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue things on the basis that they’re “too good to be true” or that “God doesn’t want you to be happy” but that we tend to go too far the other direction and assume that because there’s an opportunity, that God wants you to take it.
And that’s simply not true.
The best example I see in scripture is when you compare two separate God-ordained “jailbreaks”.
Here’s the first one:
“But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
It’s very clear. The apostles were (wrongly) in jail and an angel broke them out and they left the jail.
But check out what happens in a similar situation 11 chapters later:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”
In this situation, it seems just as clear: God is breaking Paul and Silas out of jail.
They were wrongly in jail, The “precedent” in the Christian community is if God does a miracle to let you out of jail; you leave and go preach the Gospel.
But they don’t. They stay in the jail.
And as we see from reading this passage: that was the right choice.
When To Stay, When To Go
You might be wondering why Paul and Silas decided to stay.
Maybe it was because Paul realized that the jailer would be faced with the death penalty for loosing the prisoners, but I think it’s for a different reason.
I think it’s because they know God didn’t tell them to.
In the first example, it says that the angel led them out of jail, But in the second, it only says the doors were opened and the bonds were unfastened.
Maybe, for you, that would be enough to believe God wanted you to step out, But it wasn’t for Paul and Silas, And God knew that.
God was providing this situation for Paul and Silas, Not to the other apostles, And not to you and me.
I believe that if God wanted Paul and Silas to escape, that He would have made that clear in a way Paul and Silas would receive it, so long as they were willing to seek and hear from Him.
God isn’t trying to play games to get us to guess His will, even though it can sometimes feel like that, and I believe that had He wanted Paul and Silas to leave, He could have directed in a way they would have understood and followed – just like He did with the other apostles.
Following Jesus In The Difficult Decisions
There have been many books written and sermons preached on this subject, so here are just a few thoughts:
1. God desires your faith to be put in Him, not a system or program. So be ready to have to trust that God is working and to follow where you believe He is leading you.
2. Your desire to please God and love God is far more important than making perfect decisions, so don’t be afraid of making the “wrong” decision. If you’ve prayed about the situation, asked for help/input from those around you in the process and are truly desiring to please God, He loves us and knows our limitations and imperfections and sometimes simply wants to have us choose between different good options.
3. Consider waiting. If you don’t have to make a decision, sometimes it’s ok to wait. Sometimes we have an external deadline that we have to make a decision by, but other-times our deadlines are arbitrary and are unhelpful in God’s timeline.
4. Stay connected to Jesus. In the second example, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. They were spiritually sensitive to Him and worshiping Him, and so when an opportunity came their way, they knew what to do.
There’s certainly no formula on knowing when to wait and when to go, or which direction to go.
But here’s what we do know:
It’s ok to wait, and it’s ok to “pass up” an opportunity. We need to stay connected to Jesus to know His will. We need to stay connected to each-other as God’s intended Church for godly counsel.
And most importantly: We know that God is God and we are not, And that He promises to guide us, And that we please Him by following in faith and love in response to the love He has first shown us.
Living the Christian life and sacrificial living in Christian community is just that: a sacrifice, and it takes intentionality to live the life God has called us to live. In light of online church services becoming the norm, I think many of the things God has called us to do as a church when we gather will become naturally more difficult and even easy to stop altogether.
Below are a list of things I see as potential struggles that will affect every Christian, and therefore, every church. They’re not judgement calls, but simply an acknowledgment of how online services make the communal aspects of Christianity more difficult (so that we can be aware of them) with some practical things you can do to continue living in Christian community as we’ve been called to do.
As a final note before the list, I’m not saying that God can’t work through online services, but I am saying that I believe having online church has more drawbacks than have been acknowledged from what I’ve seen online and we need to be aware of some specific problems that they will cause and be ready to proactively fight again them in our personal lives and churches as a whole.
So, as we are required to have online services for a while, there are a few key things I think we need to be aware of:
Consumerism Christianity Could Easily Become The Norm
I’ve actually seen many posts and articles claiming that online church services will help eliminate “Consumerism Christianity” (where you simply attend a service, walk away, and don’t serve, give, or participate in any sacrificial way). However, I think we need to be on guard against consumerism Christianity becoming even more normal than it already is.
For years, pastors have warned against not just sitting in the congregation and trying to have church just be a place where you “consume” sermons and worship but one where you build community, serve, give, and exercise spiritual gifts… but in the context of online church, these natural problems will only be magnified.
It will be so much easier to simply watch services over the next 3 or so months without coming in contact with another church member or feeling obligated to do anything but spend an hour or so once a week watching a service.
And if too many previously active Christians suddenly fall into the routine of “Consumer Christianity,” this could become a massive problem once in-person services become possible again.
Online Church Can More Easily Become About “Me”
This issue is a specific off-shoot of “Consumer Christianity” where it will become very common for many Christians to stop attending the online services of their home church whenever it doesn’t fit what they like or “need” in the moment and go to other online churches. This type of online “church hopping” will also contribute to consumer Christianity specifically in the context of thinking of church as what it can do for you, instead of a body of believers you are to engage with and be a part of.
This “all about me” is easy to fall into when all church attendance options are online, because at that point there’s no other people to be serving or considering and so it’s easy to forget that you’re part of something larger than yourself and your tv; thus leading to focusing inward towards ourselves instead of upward towards Jesus.
We (As Christians) Naturally Lose Some Of Our Greatest Witness When We Gather Online Rather Than In Person
When Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” in John 13:35, He was making it clear that being in a community of believers gives a greater Gospel Witness than being separate believers. As we have online services and are social distancing from everyone, including other believers, a lot of this witness will naturally not be present unless intentionally sought after.
Spiritual Disciplines And Accountability Could Easily Fall Away
One of the greatest aspects of gathering together is the realization that we all have problems and sin and that we’re to engage with each other to promote godliness and forgiveness in and towards each other.
We’re not meant to simply listen to sermons and sing songs, we are meant to be engaged with each other and with God, to be filled with His Spirit for the work of the ministry both inwardly towards other believers and outwardly towards the world.
But when we are online only, a lot of this will naturally stop happening, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
The Solution (What You And I Can Do About It)
I don’t write all of this to say that churches should still have in person services, but more to bring awareness of some of the natural problems that will come from only offering online services. Below are a few things I encourage every Christian to do during this time to help fight against the problems that online services create.
Find Ways To Serve In Your Church From A Distance
As I wrote about in my post “8 Ways You Can Live Out Your Faith In Jesus Even When You’re Stuck At Home” a great way to remember that you’re to be part of the church and not a spectator is to find ways to serve. I wrote more ideas in that post, but I encourage you to reach out to your church leadership and find where the needs are. It might be shopping for at risk families in the church, or joining the prayer team, or something else entirely.
Continue To Give And Support Your Church And Others Around You
Even in the midst of the pandemic, God desires us to put our trust in Him in all areas of our life, including our finances. By giving to your church and others in need, you will continue to put your faith in God as the first priority of your life rather than your comfort or security.
Purposefully Connect With A Few Other Christians
This is a lot easier if you already had a community or home group that you were part of before everything went online, but you can still reach out to a few people to be in online community with even if you didn’t have something beforehand.
Regardless, find a way to be intentionally connected with a group of Christians. This may be through a weekly online call, or an app like Marco Polo, the important thing is that you have a group of people you can be real with and live life with.
This group should be a place where you confess sin, ask for prayer, encourage each other with things God is teaching you, and are held accountable for the things God has put on your heart to do.
Be Intentionally In God’s Word And In Prayer
This isn’t something that’s unique to a time of social distancing and online church, but it’s something that I feel necessary to mention because it is of upmost importance to the Christian life.
We get to know God and hear from in His Word and one of the most powerful ways we engage with Him is through prayer. The importance of being in God’s Word and prayer cannot be overstated.
If you need help in these two areas, here are a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:
God has redeemed us from the burden of sin and death, its earned reward, and He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to live a new life that reflects Himself.
A massive part of this is living in community with Him and His Church (other Christians), so in the midst of social distancing, I encourage you to not simply watch online services, but to find ways to live out the Christian life by seeking God daily, serving others in any way you can and finding Christian community that will uplift you in prayer, encouragement and accountability and for whom you can do the same.