Five Key Spiritual Habits

habits

We are all busy, there are many things competing for our time and energy.  Leadership can be defined as having influence in someone elses life.  If you have faith in Jesus Christ you are also a spiritual leader, because now you are an ambassador for God.  The influence we have with people, whether it’s at work, home, school or church is often a reflection on what daily habits we have.

Jesus gave us a great example of things we can do to stay focused on the right things and keep the right perspective on life.  It’s easy to drift and be consumed by the day to day activities of life unless we develop these essential habits.  So here are five things we can observe in the life of Jesus that can contribute to our development of faith, character and leadership.

  • Solitude – This is a challenging behavior because it’s countercultural.  It is a rare and often unsettling feeling to stop doing and just be.  Solitude is being completely alone with God away from all human contact for extended periods of time. It is in these times of solitude that we can seek to refill our spiritual fuel tank, hear from God, think clearly and honestly.  It helps us make better decisions, work through grief and pain and strengthen our spirit and resolve.
    • Jesus spent 40 days alone in the desert.
    • Before he chose the 12 disciples he spent the entire night alone praying and thinking.
    • When a close friend John the Baptist was killed he went off in a boat by himself.
    • After a great ministry event of feeding the five thousand he went up into the hills by himself.
  • Prayer – How’s your prayer life?  Prayer is essential for our spiritual and emotional well-being. Regular connection with God through prayer is what sustained Jesus while he was here on earth.  For us as leaders it’s vital to be able to talk with God about anything and everything.  Prayer is the way in which we plug into God’s power, receive God’s comfort and encouragement, vent our frustrations and pain and intercede for other people.  Prayer helps prepare us for the day by focusing on God first.  Praying with people and for people is a powerful leadership principle.  Praying for your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, employees, small group, boss and other leaders is an effective way to lead and love people.  When prayer becomes a habit it becomes part of our DNA and normal way of life.
  • Bible – It’s the greatest resource known to mankind.  It’s more than a how-to manual for life, it’s an intimate love letter written to you from your Heavenly Father.  I’m currently reading through the New Testament in 60 days.  I’m on day 51 and I love it and look forward to it.  There are five practical ways you can cultivate this habit of getting into God’s Word.
    • Hearing God’s Word – That is why it’s important to go to church, to hear God’s Word and messages about how to listen and obey and put it into practice.  You can also listen to the Bible through great Bible Apps like YouVersion.  Have your spouse or friend read the Bible out loud to you, not only will you get into God’s Word it will build that relationship with your spouse or friend.
    • Reading God’s Word – There are so many great translations of the Bible that it’s much easier to read the Bible today.  I use my Bible App on my phone a lot.  There are great reading plans for all parts of the Bible.  Don’t take on too much but be consistent.  Reading the Bible daily or most days will help you lead better, even if you don’t understand everything at first.  Great leaders read a lot and the Bible should be at the top of the list.
    • Study God’s Word – This is more than just reading, this is examining and looking into the meaning and application of God’s Word.  This is great to do with other people in a small group, but we also need times when we dig in on our own.  Using a study Bible is helpful because there are study notes that explain what the Scriptures are saying.
    • Memorize God’s Word – When was the last time you memorized something?  A great way to go deeper in God’s Word is to memorize it.  Every year I lead a group of men and one of the things we do is memorize Scripture together.  Jesus used Scripture to fight against the devil and we can do the same.  When you memorize it you can recall it later when you need courage for the fight.
    • Meditate on God’s Word – Memorizing Scripture puts it into your head, while meditating puts it into your heart.  It’s focusing on a verse or several verses over a period of time.  Writing it down, reading it out loud, emphasizing different words, personalizing it by putting your name in the verse, praying the verse to God.  It’s praying while your focus on that Scripture and asking God to reveal what he wants you to know or do.
  • Trusting God – Jesus completely trusted God with absolutely everything.  In our culture we tend to only rely on or trust ourselves.  Trusting others and God is a struggle for most people.  Pride & fear fuel this lack of trust in our lives.  Many people have also been hurt or let down by important people in their lives so it’s hard to trust again.  Only in our relationship with God can we trust for complete unconditional love.  Because of God’s incredible, never changing love for us He is trustworthy.  When we understand who God is and how much He loves us it changes our perspective on life, ourselves and the world around us.
  • Intimate Community – Jesus had the 12 men that he spent significant time with.  But he also had 3 men that he was even closer and more intimate with.  It was his inner circle, the ones he did life with and passed on the leadership of the church to.  It’s vital for leaders to have soul-filling relationships with people where you can give and receive.  A safe place to share your heart, your struggles and your victories.  We need to be around people that know us well enough to tell us the truth, challenge us, question us and love us.

I hope these are habits that become a normal part of your life.  I encourage you to take small steps toward applying these habits into your daily, weekly and monthly routines.  If you do it will transform your leadership and your relationships.

 

Three Life Lessons

Israel, Jerusalem, holy city, former wall around the old town near Jaffa

One of my favorite books is found in the Bible in the Old Testament.  It’s the book of Nehemiah.  It’s a story about a man that led a movement to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, a city that had been destroyed and in ruins for many years.

The reason I like this story so much is because it demonstrates how much can be done when a person works hard and involves God.

Here are three simple life lessons from the story of Nehemiah, I hope you will take the time to read his story:

  1. The first step in any venture is to pray – The first thing Nehemiah did when he heard how terrible things were back home was to pray.  He talked to God and pleaded with God to help.  He also confessed sin for himself and his people, and he asked for specific help in having favor with his boss.  Prayer was his first response, Nehemiah knew that on his own he could not accomplish what God and he could do together.  When we face a challenge in life the first thing we need to do is talk to God, confess our sin, ask for his help and be specific in our requests.
  2. People under God’s direction can accomplish impossible tasks – Nehemiah was a talented leader but he knew he could not accomplish this huge task without the help of God and other people.  He put a plan together and asked for help from many different people.  He was able to keep the people focused on the most important things and not get distracted or paralyzed by fear.  He kept encouraging the people and praying for help, wisdom, protection and courage.  When you have a big vision and you include God on everything and you stay focused, amazing things can happen.  They rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
  3. There are two parts to real service for God: talking with Him and walking with Him – Serving God means including Him in every area of our lives.  It starts by talking with Him through prayer, this builds intimacy with God, a closeness that can only come from spending time together.  It also means walking our everyday lives with God.  Walking with God is simply including Him on the good and the bad in your life.  It’s continually acknowledging that He is in control and that we are seeking to do His will and not our own.  Walking with God is also asking for help when tempted, confessing when we mess up and getting back up and continuing on after we fail.

Nehemiah’s story is amazing and well worth reading.  Read it here – Nehemiah

Examining the Condition of Your Walls

 

One of my heroes is Nehemiah.  His story is found in the Bible and it’s loaded with leadership and spiritual principles. Nehemiah was a Jewish man living in Persia after the Persian empire had taken over Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish people.  Slowly over a 90 year period the Jewish people were traveling the 800 miles back to Jerusalem and were trying to rebuild that great city.

Nehemiah had an important and prestigious job as the cup bearer to the king.  He found out that the rebuilding process in Jerusalem was not going well and they were struggling to make it.  Mainly it was because the walls around the city had been torn down and that left them vulnerable to the people around them.  Nehemiah had a great concern about the walls of his beloved city.  The rest of the story is how he went about rebuilding the walls.

Here are some of my takeaways:

Wall rebuilding then…. Wall rebuilding now:

Ancient walls served many purposes. They offered Protection, Security, and reflected the strength of the people.

Likewise, today the walls of spiritual disciplines that we build around our lives are vital for our Protection and for building our relationship with God.

We need to examine the condition of our walls.

Are some gates open for the enemy to slip in?
Has neglect allowed a loose piece of stone or mortar to become a hole or a gap?
Have weeds of compromise overrun certain sections until those toppled walls have become a main entrance for sin?

If your walls are in need of repair lets take a look at some principles from Nehemiah.

First: Develop a genuine concern for the condition of the walls.

Is it a burden on your heart? We must have a genuine concern for the condition of our spiritual lives.  If spiritual growth is not important it will take a back seat to all the more important stuff in our lives.  The spiritual walls we have in our lives keep us focused on the best things and growing in our trust of God.

Second: Express direct prayer for guidance and protection.

Nehemiah started 800 miles away in prayer before the Lord. Prayer tends to be an afterthought many times. It should be the first thing we do. Get into the habit of acting on your burdens only after you have given them a firm foundation in prayer.  Prayer is a privilege and God is available at all times.  We have access to the only one that controls everything.

Third: Face the situation honestly and with determination until the task is finished.

If we are upfront and honest about a problem we usually can get more of a commitment from the people around us. An honest appraisal of your own spiritual walls will help you stay determined to fill the gaps.  We all know were we tend to struggle and where we are allowing things to influence us in a negative way.  If your unsure then ask the people that are closest to you for honest feedback.

Fourth: Recognize that we cannot correct the condition alone.

No amount of experience can overcome sin’s power to crumble our walls. It is only when we are willing to live in dependence on God that we have the power to fix and build the spiritual walls we need for survival.  If we are serious about making changes in our spiritual lives then allowing other people to speak into our lives is vital.  Pray for someone that can hold you accountable by asking tough questions and then pray for courage to be open and honest.

Breezes instead of wind gusts usually knock us down. We get lulled into neglecting our walls.  We drift from God and allow other things to take priority in our lives.  Slowly we stray away and can find ourselves lost, stuck or alone.

Pray for God’s help in recognizing those subtle breezes in your life that are causing you to drift into moral compromises.

What area of your spiritual wall needs repairs or strengthened?

Are you faithful in all areas of your life? At work, At home, At play?

Take some time soon to think about the condition of your own walls and then follow Nehemiahs example and rebuild them as needed.

Surprised & Inspired

 

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God has a way of surprising and inspiring us in the most unexpected ways.  I am on a weekend retreat for men that run Radical Mentoring Groups.  I’ve done three of these groups and love it each time I do a group.  I’m meeting up with over 100 other men that are doing these types of groups across the country.  We are gathering in Cleveland GA, which is north of Atlanta near the mountains.

When I arrived I discovered that I had some extra time before the retreat started, so I decided to drive up into the mountains and do some sight seeing.  I found a park area and decided to do a little hiking.  The weather was sunny and near 50 degree’s.  For people in GA that’s really cold but for me it was perfect.  I was the only one at the park and had the trails to myself.

I decided to do some running and got my heart rate up as I climbed up to an amazing waterfall.  I then turned around and headed back another way and found a second waterfall.  As I was there I started talking to God and asked him why I was here and had this extra time.  Then it hit me hard – God was telling me he loved me!  As I stood in the middle of this amazing wooded area I was struck by God’s goodness and was humbled at the gift he gave me of free time to just enjoy his creation and talk with him.  The sense of how much he loved me stopped me in my tracks.

I asked him what else he wanted to tell me and I heard some simple things, here they are:

  • Love your wife and treat her well – You can do better
  • Mentor and invest more time in the young men you have influence with
  • Talk to me more often and find time to listen

So that’s the start of this retreat, I can’t wait for the rest of the weekend.  I am anticipating that God has something more for me this weekend.

Unexpected Words From God

don't_eat

Last week I attended a Night of Worship at the Dover campus of NewPointe Community Church.  I am a pastor at one of the other campuses, so it was nice for me to just be a regular guy attending and worshiping.  I have to admit I went to see if I could get some ideas on how to make our worship event better the following week.  As I got there and walked in I connected with a few people I know, but was pretty anonymous and slipped into a seat about a third of the way up.  As the music started I sang, prayed and even raised my hands throughout the evening.  I was also critiquing some of what was happening, making note of things I would do differently and things that I liked.

Then God did something unexpected.  I don’t remember the exact time during the service or what song we were singing, but I heard God say “Don’t Eat!”  I have to admit I was a little startled and confused.  I asked God if that was from Him and if I heard him right.  I heard it again “Don’t Eat!”  That same morning in the church service I sat in on at my campus our senior pastor had mentioned the idea of Fasting as a spiritual discipline.  I have fasted before with other people and by myself.  I have given up TV, sports, coffee, food, meat and movies.  Yet this time was different because God was telling me not to eat.

So I didn’t eat any food for the next three days.  Each day I talked to God and when I asked if I could eat I heard “not yet”.  During those three days, I was hungry and even felt some hunger pains.  Yet each time I thought about being hungry I immediately connected with God and talked to Him.  I felt such an inner peace and strength that seemed to get stronger each day.  This three day fast reminded me how much I take food for granted.  I don’t have to wonder where or when my next meal will come from.  I can eat anytime I want and eat anything I want.  Yet I am not all that grateful for what I have.

It’s the same way spiritually.  God is with us all the time, we can talk to him anytime and ask for anything.  Yet too often we take that for granted and only turn to him when things go wrong or we need something.  Those three days of eating reminded me that I need God 24/7.  That when I am connected to him the temptations are less powerful, the way I respond to things is much better and I make better decisions.

Psalm 63:1 says “God you are my God.  I search for you.  I thirst for you like someone in a dry, empty land where there is no water.”  When I read that I had to admit that I do not pursue God like I would pursue water if I had none.  Am I really hungry for God, desperate to know him more and more?

Jesus said this in Mathew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

When push comes to shove, what is most important to me?  What takes priority?

God doesn’t need people to evangelize the earth, do missions projects or give away millions of dollars.  He looks for people who will worship him in spirit and truth.  Not just on Sunday mornings or whenever our day of rest is.  God wants people who will worship him in the way they live.  God made us to worship and every day we worship something.

When I hunger and thirst for God and seek him with all my heart, I get a glimpse of how much he loves me.  As I grow, I understand a little bit better the depth of that love.  God’s love for me never changes, yet as I change and grow, I get a clearer perspective of God, the world around me and the people in it.

That all came as a result of hearing two words from God and then obeying him.  What would happen if we would listen to God all the time and really trust him with everything?  What would happen if we did what he told us to do?  What if we would follow his commands and live our lives fully surrendered to him?

On Thursday morning I woke up and knew I could eat again.  The granola with Almond milk tasted better than ever before.  I was grateful for the food I had in the house and once again my mind turned to God and his provision and care for me.   I had a good day with my wife and got some time to rest and relax.

Then on Saturday something happened that I almost missed.  It’s easy to just write things off as weird or a coincidence. I was bored and was flipping through the television, looking to escape into a movie or something entertaining before the Buckeyes came on that evening.  We all know that there are lots of unwholesome things on television and I can get drawn into movies or shows that have too much sex, violence and bad language in them them.  As I was searching, the smoke detector in the room beside be would beep from time to time.  I thought that was odd, but dismissed it because I figured it just needed new batteries.  I ended up watching a movie that was not the best choice.

I told my wife afterward about the smoke detector and as I was telling her I realized the smoke detector is hard wired and does not use batteries.  It has not beeped since then.  Then it hit me, was God warning me, trying to get my attention and help me avoid temptations.  Then this verse came to my mind in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 

I wish I had that power I felt when I was fasting all the time.  If only I had paid closer attention to that warning, I could have fed my mind with something much better.  I don’t always turn to God even when he is right in front of me.  I guess that is the human side of us, yet God’s love never changes and he sees me as his beloved son even when I miss the way he gives me to escape temptations.

I am excited about what God is doing in me and who he wants me to become.  The more I seek him and hunger after him the more he can use me to impact and influence other people.  The more I listen and pay attention and then obey what he is telling me the more fruitful my life will become.  We are all in process and when we allow God to drive and we trust him amazing things can happen.