When Self-Help Isn’t About Self

wordAll Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Scripture is about God, not us. What God wants to say about Himself to you is more important than telling you what to do. We often look at God’s Word as a self-help book. We use the concordance to look up key words so that we can cull through all the verses that include the one word that describes our situation or what we think we need (or need to get rid of).

God can speak to us through His Word in any way He chooses, so even when we’re looking for something specific that we don’t need, He can pour into us in ways we don’t expect. We can’t wait to seek Him until we think we’ve figured out how to seek Him. Our need for understanding or perfection will paralyze us. We need to seek Him the best we can.

So, am I contradicting myself by saying we shouldn’t go to God’s Word with certain intents but we should go to God’s Word with any intent? I’m just saying God, in His sovereignty, is able to work through our intents, even when ill-willed or misguided. However, that doesn’t give us the excuse to neglect the purity of our intent.

God wants us to seek Him. He wants us to know Him. He wants our humility, and when we seek Him only for the answers we think we need for ourselves, we aren’t humble. We will always wrestle with our selfishness. I’ve actually grown to appreciate the need for such wrestling, because it’s not a one-time choice. It requires continual yielding, recognizing who I am in relationship with God. He is God. I am not. I am His.

And His Word is a gift. Get to know Him through His Word.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Confessions of an Insufficient Pray-er

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I feel insufficient in my prayer life.

I’ve definitely grown in recent years, but I still have so much to learn…and apply. Prayer is one of those areas that I believe there will always be “more” that is possible.

I’m learning a lot from prayer warriors in my life, and one of the lessons has surprised me: even those people I most respect as prayer warriors recognize insufficiencies in their prayer lives. Well, perhaps that’s a misrepresentation. They’re not really insufficiencies, because it’s our very need to approach God and give everything, mainly ourselves, to him through prayer that acknowledges that we are sufficient in our insufficiencies when we take them to God. When we are humble in God’s presence, we are bold in his. When we are weak in God’s presence, we are strong in his. When we take everything within us–including our foolishness, questions, doubts, pride, excuses, fears, and so much more–to him in prayer, we are trusting him to sift through everything and reveal what needs to be tossed aside, what needs to be replaced, and what needs to be enhanced.

Prayer isn’t about perfection. It’s about willingness.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to classify myself as a prayer warrior, because I’ll always see a way that I can and should grow. That’s not to say I’ll get down on myself about it or let it paralyze me into not praying as I want to and know I can and should. Seeing my weaknesses doesn’t have to be a bad thing, because acknowledging my weaknesses can simply be an invitation to let God work in and through them. They’re a reminder he’s God and I’m not.

Weaknesses in my prayer life–or any other area of life–are reminders of opportunities to let God work.

So, I might not be a prayer warrior, but I am a prayer-warrior-in-training. And in order to train, I have to rely on someone who knows a lot more about it than I do. There are certainly people around me whom I respect and who pour into and challenge me, but the best trainer for me is God. He’s the one that knows more about prayer than anyone else, and he knows more about me than anyone else. In order for me to grow and learn from what God wants to teach me as a prayer-warrior-in-training, I have to listen, and that requires…prayer!

It’s time to train!

Fit Faith: Flexibility: Location, Location, Location

There’s something to be said about consistency. However, the reality is things will never be exactly the same. It’s important to infuse some flexibility into consistency. Doing something the same every single time has limited benefits. Trying new stretches or exercises will quickly reveal weaknesses even if you’re strong in your areas of consistent workout. Trying something new gives you a fresh perspective. You never know when you’ll find something new you’ll enjoy. You never know when you won’t like something new but gain an appreciation for your routine.

I travel often, but not consistently. I enjoy the adventure of traveling and meeting new people in new places, but travel disrupts my fitness routine. I don’t travel regularly enough to have an established routine while travelling. The closest I come to an established fitness routine while travelling is a determination to work out in some way. The details of the workout differ.

If there’s a safe place to walk outside, and the weather is decent, it’s my preference. I get to enjoy being outside and exploring a new location. However, that option usually doesn’t exist. My second option is the treadmill in the hotel fitness room. Depending on my available hours and those of the fitness room, that doesn’t work all the time either. If I foresee a problem finding a time and location to work out, I put an exercise DVD in my laptop case to use in the hotel room.

I’ve been creative. I’ve worked out with friends in the hallway outside the main convention room late at night. I’ve circled the hotel, going up the stairs on one side of the building and down the escalator on the other. I bought a one-week pass to gym. There have been a few times I haven’t been able to find the time or opportunity to exercise, but it’s not for lack of trying! The flexibility has almost become a challenge. How can I creatively find a time and location to work out in an unfamiliar location?

It’s equally important to infuse flexibility into consistency in all things spiritual. There’s definitely something to be said for routine. When we consistently work prayer, study, and service into our lives, we grow, but we have to be authentic about it. Being consistent doesn’t presume spiritual growth. You can be consistently stubborn, self-centered, and wrong! What’s critical in consistency is the desire to seek and know God.

We can get into such regimented routines that we don’t stop to process and savor the journey. Infusing some flexibility can help.

Consider how flexible you are. If you have a designated time for prayer every day, what happens when your routine is interrupted, either predictably or unexpectedly? Do you excuse the change as a valid reason for shifting priorities? How much effort goes into rearranging your schedule to accommodate the change?

If you miss your prayer time, assess the remainder of your day as early as you can find the first possible time to shift your prayer time into. If you know your schedule will be altered ahead of time, you have time to plan.

When you miss a small group meeting, perhaps two, do you rationalize you’re too far behind and decide not to return? You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. We should strive to establish solid, healthy routines, so we can grow spiritually. However, we need to be realistic. Missing one or two studies, prayer times, or worship services doesn’t mean we can’t be consistent. We need to widen our perspective and see the larger picture.

We’re going to be consistent at something. Would you prefer to be consistent in your discipline or lack of it?