A Hidden Gem in the Christian Life

I hope you occasionally sit back and observe the ways of godly older people. I consider this somewhat of a pastime for myself. Imagine the wisdom you can obtain if you try to see life through their eyes. Their perspective is one of understanding.

If I could pick out one specific thing I’ve learned the most from this crowd, it’s this – balance.

Here are three specific aspects of balance I’ve learned from those older than I.

  1. Balance isn’t sexy. How many movies have you seen about a man who handles his finances well, lives modestly, balances work/home life, and lives with discernment? Not many, if any. It’s sad but true. The best way to live is the least glorified. Our culture values flashy displays of passion and excess much more than controlled living.
  2. Balance requires consistent discipline for years. Some of us are “fad” people (guilty!). We go in and out of seasons of spending, TV, books, exercise, and just about anything else that is fun at the start. But, there is a ton to be reaped when we sow for decades the same seed. It will certainly yield an abundant harvest.
  3. Balance trains us to be godly. Since balance takes discipline, it also incorporates many aspects of spiritual self-control. Learning self-discipline in all areas can have positive effects on our walk with Christ (example, consistently spending time with the Lord even with a busy schedule). Balance helps us to keep all things in their proper place in our Christian walks.

I pray that I will grow immensely in this area. I hope you join me in asking yourself how you might balance your life to show the whole character of Christ.

How Music Affects Emotions

I love music, and if you know me personally, you know this to be (probably annoyingly) true. I can spend countless hours on Spotify crafting the right playlist for the right mood. There is a powerful satisfaction in a song that resonates with your exact feelings or takes your emotions to a place you didn’t know you wanted to go.

I’ve often analyzed the concept of music’s power over our feelings in conversation and personal thought. Here are three observations about music and our emotions.

  1. Music helps our hearts emote (emoting is when we express what we feel). Like reading poetry, music puts into words those deep seeded stirrings that we struggle to properly express. It allows for honest realization of any particular emotion, and provides a safe and healthy outlet.
  2. Music helps us move beyond emotional handicap. Identifying feelings is important, but music’s purpose can come full circle when we pay close attention to our listening patterns. For example, sometimes I’ll find myself listening to a lot of melancholy music. I can then process through why I might be doing that and address any hindrances if I need to (there may not always be an unknown reason; i.e., sometimes sad music is just pleasant).
  3. Music soothes loneliness. It’s comforting to know that someone has experienced a similar heartbreak. On the other hand, you can be overjoyed when someone puts words to that “sunny Saturday afternoon windows down driving weather” kind of feeling. Either way, it’s a simple reminder that at our core, people are quite similar.

Music does so much more than those three things, but those are the first that came to mind as I sat down to write. I encourage you to ask yourself what music does for your emotions. I’ll bet you will be pleasantly surprised at your answer.

The Simplicity of Relationship with God

Sometimes we overthink our relationship with God. Have you ever heard of this routine?

Three chapters of Bible reading, ideally dispersed throughout Old and New Testaments, combined with a less-read portion of Bible. Follow that with two sermons from two different, favorite preachers (each 45 minutes or greater in length). Tier one of prayer (sedentary prayer, of course) – 30 minutes, tier two – 1 hour, expert – any amount greater than 2 hours. All of this must be followed by quality worship music in transit to obligatory location for the day, followed by superior moral living. Once this routine is complete (preferably before 8 am), then one has communed with God. 

That paragraph is laughable. Some of you might even be a little peeved. “That’s not how it works!” 

You’re right. It’s not, yet at times we still tell ourselves the ritual above is the true Christian walk. Although all of those things are wonderful routines (and I would highly recommend each one), they neglect the simple beauty of the way God has organized this whole relationship.

God has made the instructions simple enough for a child to walk with Him, yet rewarding enough for the deepest intellect.

Read and communion (with God through prayer and with His church). 

Are there complications along the way? Of course. Will our world push us to overcomplicate and search to no end for solutions? Indeed. Does suffering make life messy? Always. Is following Christ black and white? Nope.

But, God keeps the ground rules simple for us. He always meets us in the quiet place. Maybe you’re reading this and you have recently felt that your walk with the Lord has become unnaturally complicated – like you’re trying to accomplish it more than enjoy it. I wonder if the missing ingredient is the simplicity of fellowship with God…that we read his Word, and we talk to Him and his people (the church).

Don’t let over-active spirituality and box-checking take the place of personal investment in the Bible and prayer. Keep it simple. It’s refreshing.

3 Losses in the Absence of Prayer

I found myself doing a little reflection the other day while I was at work. “Is ____ a guy who probably prays a lot?” “I wonder how often ____ talks to God about his life?”

Then I asked the inventible question: “I wonder if people would say I am a man of prayer?” Sadly, I know how my time is dispersed throughout my daily routine, and I could certainly use more prayer.

Continuing on with my reflection, I considered what I lose by not being more committed to prayer. It’s important to remember that prayer is therapy for the Christian’s soul, not a boring obligation. Many of us suffer from numb and sterile prayer lives because we aren’t actually telling God what we are really thinking and feeling. The prideful pretense creates distance. We have to be honest with ourselves, and then with Him before we experience true conversation in prayer.

I want to throw out three quick thoughts on what we lose when we fail to pray.

  1. Peace. Peace doesn’t come from all our affairs being in order. It comes from knowing that the God of all creation is watching over us. What better protection is there than to experience the care of the One who has all the resources we will ever need at His fingertips? Maybe we ought to start asking for more help…
  2. Security. Failing to talk to the Lord opens us up to forgetting Who is watching over us. It will naturally lead to fear. We begin to worry about all sorts of things when we haven’t heard the calming voice of the Father reminding us He always cares, is still watching over us, and is constantly working in our daily circumstances to demonstrate His affection.
  3. Purity. If we pray less, we sin more. If we sin more, we worry, act selfishly, and spiral downward in our relationship with God and others. Not to worry, though! God gives grace. We can experience it in prayer, and avoid the pitfalls, altogether, if we’re proactive.

God is so good to us. He is always there for us when we fail, reminding us that His grace covers our wrongs. Let’s pray more often not because we “have” to, but because we want to share our lives with our Father.

Are You Spoiled?

Spoiled or blessed, which of the two are we? Maybe we are both. In our nation, our culture of abundance, we wrestle to define the line between the two. Are you okay if God doesn’t give you what you want? Most of us should be honest and admit that our culture has not trained us for this possibility.

In order to tackle this issue within our hearts, we first need to be comfortable enough to admit we have a hard time not getting what we want. We are wired to obtain our desires. It’s part of what makes the American culture so blissful.

But, as I prepared my last sermon in Psalm 62, it became clear to me that many struggles within the Christian walk are byproducts of our will, as it rages against what God designs for us.

This challenges our philosophy on gratitude. For what are we grateful? Regarding people in our lives, you may be grateful for a friend’s sense of humor or your mother’s emotional intelligence.

As it pertains to Christ, what are we grateful for? Gratitude is not saying “thank you” when my wishes are granted. Gratitude is realizing He knows me well enough to give me not just what I need, but also what I didn’t know I wanted. My heart may yearn to be closer to Christ, but if I fail to examine myself deeply enough to determine the core of my longings, I will fail to act accordingly. In order to do so, I must walk through a personally unknown trail in order to experience the manifestation of my desires – to be with Him. These are paths of the heart only Christ knows. He holds the map to our private longings. We need his guidance on how to satisfy the depths of our own souls. 

The posture of our hearts will change what we feel about not getting what we want. First, we must come to realize what we truly desire is an unparalleled outpouring of emotional, physical, and spiritually intimacy with Christ. When we align our mentality with that truth, we will move from spoiled to grateful, for Christ is giving us that which we forgot we wanted – to experience more of Him (Ps 37:4).

Pastoring the Sufferer (Cont.)

This is the second post of a two part series that Pastor Brad Couick has shared with us. If you missed the first post, follow this link to read “Pastoring the Sufferer.” 

In my last post, I listed four truths about suffering that God has shown me. In this post, I want to discuss three ways I’m learning to pastor through seasons of suffering.

Grieve with your People. This basic concept does two things. First, it lets your people know you care, and second, it increases your love for your people. As a pastor, God gives you a special love for the flock He has called you to lead. What hurts them will hurt you. And if you don’t express that grief, it will lead to a hard heart that will damage the ministry God has called you to.

Pray with your People. Even if  their suffering may appear trivial to you, I can assure you it’s not just trivial to your people. Praying with them in person is great, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for it, praying with them over the phone works just as well. I’ve done this and received some of the most sincere “thanks” from one simple prayer.

Preach to your People. As a pastor, it’s your God-given assignment to deliver a specific message to a specific people for a specific time. I have found even in a small congregation of only 20-25 people, it’s difficult to speak to each person one-on-one and encourage them through their suffering. What better place to do this than the pulpit?

Inevitably, there are many more ways to pastor through seasons of suffering, and my list is by no means exhaustive, but these three ways have proven to be very effective in my life as a pastor of God’s people.

Pastoring the Sufferer

Today’s post is by Brad Couick. Brad is a dear friend of mine. He recently took a pastoring position in a town outside the Raleigh-Durham area. One of the many things Brad is learning as a new pastor is how to shepherd people through suffering. In this post Brad shares some thoughts on how to guide people through their darkest days based on the truth of God’s Word. He has titled his article, “What I’ve Learned About Pastoring Through Seasons of Suffering.” 

Note: This is part one of a two part series.

I’ve only been pastoring the church where I currently serve for five months, but our church has already gone through an immense amount of suffering. Our people have lost loved ones. Our people have experienced the suffering of wayward children. Additionally, many of our people are going through physical suffering. Through it all, God has shown me four truths about suffering.

Suffering is real. We live in a broken world, so suffering is one of the consequences of the fall. I realize this may seem like a no-brainer, but as a 25 year-old pastor serving a flock where the average age is 60-65 years old, suffering seems more real to me now than ever before.

Suffering is close. The last thing that our flesh wants is to be exposed to suffering. We try and avoid it all costs. But here’s the thing: Not all suffering can be avoided. Suffering is more real to me than ever before, because it’s closer to me than ever before.

Suffering hurts. Real people go through real suffering resulting in real pain. Just this past week, a dear old lady in our congregation came to me with tears in her eyes and grief in her voice and said, “Pray for my husband (who has terminal cancer), I’m not sure if he’s saved…”

Suffering is not always understandable. We would all like to know the why for suffering, but we may not always get the answer. I’ve encouraged our people to cling to Philippians 4:6-7 for peace when seeking to understand why we suffer. According to verse seven, peace comes not from understanding but from God, whose peace surpasses all understanding.

Seasons of suffering will come. They will come to the people in your church, and they will come to you. Even Jesus suffered, but He always looked to the Father for how to deal with suffering. As a pastor, it is our task to point people to Him. This is not easy by any means, especially during seasons of suffering, but it is what we’re called to do.