There are so many people, who could never be accurately summed up by a little sentence like the ones I’ve written. There are so many intricacies to everyone’s stories and personalities and feelings and plans. And such is the kingdom of God. Diverse. Intricate. Deep. Perhaps at first uncomfortable to me. . . but in all reality, the most beautiful thing you could imagine.
The past fourteen days have been a whirlwind. After weeks of training, preparing, and the early bird week, we headed back to Rutland on Thursday morning. Our first group was scheduled to arrive on Sunday! Even though we’d done everything possible to be ready, I was still nervous. It was time for our team to take complete ownership of a week of programming, at our own site!
Just as I expected, Sunday came quickly. I love Sundays here. Since we’re living in the church we attend, I get to listen to our organist practice while I do devos before church. She’s a sweet lady named Kristine, and I played piano with her for a service once. Our sanctuary is beautiful here, and the services are very traditional: never flippant or too casual. I’m always reminded of how awesome and glorious God is.
After church and some last-minute cleaning and cooking, the church groups arrived around 5:30 pm. We had two church groups come, with a total of around 45 people. Almost all the youth were in middle school, so it was a pretty energetic group. I noticed right away that there were a lot of sweet kids.
On Sundays, our schedule is different from the normal week. We all have dinner together, then we have a youth orientation where we introduce ourselves, play a game, talk about the community, and go over some rules. Then the youth make mail bags for our “Mountain Mail” system and hang them on the wall. We write notes to each other throughout the week, and it’s been really encouraging and fun! (Although we do have to tell them it’s not a dating service.)
After they’ve made their mail bags, we have the Gathering. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. We start with fun music and a game, then go through different elements designed to bring the group to a more reflective mood: Upta Uplifts (recognizing people for things they’ve done that day), worship (which I play piano for, and really enjoy), Yea Gods (telling about ways we’ve seen God working), Staff Stories (a staff member tells a story from their life), and a few other things. After the Gathering, the church groups meet while we have a staff meeting. Then we do last minute dishes, hard boil eggs, clean up, or anything else that needs to be done, and get to sleep.
After the first Sunday of programming, I was elated. It had gone almost perfectly, and the kids were all friendly and sweet. I almost couldn’t believe how smoothly it had gone!
Mondays through Thursdays at YouthWorks all have similar schedules. We have breakfast prep early in the morning (where a staff and a crew of youth cook together), then breakfast at 7:30. After everyone eats, we have building clean up and breakfast clean up, then half an hour of devos. We have little trip journals that guide the youth through different Bible readings and reflections about their days. Then at 9, everyone gathers together for service orientations, where we tell the groups more about where they’re going to serve for the day.
We have a lot of service partners, but here are a few examples:
-Mountain View/The Meadows/Rutland Health and Rehab: These are the three nursing homes/assisted living facilities I coordinate volunteers for. The serving at all three looks pretty similar, as the youth play games with the residents, go on room visits, help with activities, and get to know the residents. One of my favorite activities is at the Meadows, where everyone sits around a table and plays volleyball with flyswatters and a balloon!
I’ve seen many youth and adult leaders impacted deeply by volunteering at the nursing homes. Spending time with the residents freshens their perspectives, and on top of that, it’s always a genuinely great time. The residents have so many stories to share, and they’re so grateful and excited to spend time with us. If you can’t tell, these have been my favorite places to serve. I’ve had many sweet moments with the residents, and I look forward to getting to know them better over the summer. It’s a passion God has been showing me, and I’m excited to see where it brings me!
-Pine Hills Park: This is an extensive trail system right in Rutland. They have both hiking and mountain biking trails, and every single one has been built by volunteers. The park brings in tourism, which is great for Rutland. Shelley is the lady who coordinates and leads our volunteers, and she’s very dedicated to the park. The work there is hard, as the groups are building a new trail, but I’ve heard them say they enjoy seeing how much they can get done.
-Open Door Mission: This is a really great place, and serves Rutland in many ways. They have a soup kitchen, shelter, and thrift shop all in one building. They are committed to serving anyone and everyone: even if someone is lonely and wants company, they are invited to eat there and find companionship! The kids help in both the thrift shop and soup kitchen.
As I said, we have more partners than this list, and I’ll write about them later in the summer. We really are blessed with great relationships with the people in Rutland, and the opportunity to serve in diverse ways. Going to these service sites with our groups is my favorite part of the day. It’s a great time to get to know the kids better, while also watching them learn about service. It’s amazing to see their eyes opened to broader perspectives as they do things they never have before.
The service day lasts until about 3 (everyone eats bag lunches wherever they’re serving), then it’s time for showers. We have four different places where groups shower, and staff go to each for shower duty. The process takes quite a while, then everyone heads back to the church for dinner prep, dinner, and evening activity orientation.
Each evening looks different, since our evening activities change every day. On Mondays we go to an indoor rock climbing gym, then Ben and Jerrys. The kids learn how to belay each other (which is scary, but not as scary as you’d think), and it’s a lot of fun! On Tuesday, we go to a place called the Vermont Farmers Food Center, which is linked to the Farmers Market. A man named Greg talks to our groups about food sustainability and the ways the farmers market helps people in Rutland get fresh produce. On Wednesday we go to a beautiful state park for pizza and games. Thursday is our community cookout, where we go to a park, grill food, and invite the community to have a free meal with us. Every evening activity is designed to get the group out into the community, have fun, relax, and have time to get to know each other better.
We also have the Gathering each night, then church group time and staff meeting. By the time everything is wrapped up for the day, it’s usually after 11 pm. The days are exhausting, but also very full of laughter, learning, and fun.
All in all, our first week was pretty perfect. It was great to get to know the kids and watch what God did in them over the week. When they left on Friday, our staff team headed to Walmart and Sams Club for our weekly shopping. (This is a day-long process). Then we had Saturday to rest and relax. We usually spend Saturdays sleeping, going out to eat, going to the farmers market, and doing whatever else we don’t have time to do during the week (did I mention sleeping?)!
Then on Sunday, we did it all over again! It was overwhelming to dive into another week after just one day of rest, but God gave me the strength and desire to meet the new kids and pour myself into every moment of the week, just like last I had before.
Schedule-wise, our second week was similar to our first. However, we had more high schoolers, so I found myself adjusting the ways I approached them, made conversation, and related to them. The first few days of the week were honestly quite rough, as we got to know the kids and coordinated everything. Many of the kids were from an affluent community in Connecticut, and had had very different upbringings than I had. Even though this made it difficult in the beginning, I found that God worked in some amazing ways that week. He shifted my perspective from frustration to patience and understanding. He showed the youth what service looks like, and opened their hearts to being servants. He brought unity between the church groups in a way I didn’t at all expect. I’m thankful to participate in these youths’ mission trip experiences, and see what God alone can do in their hearts.
I am definitely so glad I said yes to a YouthWorks summer. I’m learning a ton about God, service, myself, and others. God is opening my eyes to new perspectives constantly, and it’s great to watch as he does that in the youth who come to serve, too!
Tomorrow, my team and I leave for Boston to help a YouthWorks team there, then we have a month left of programming here in Rutland. It's all going so quickly, but I know He has so much more in store for the rest of the summer. I’ll keep you updated! Thank you for following along with my journey, and for all your thoughts and prayers!
I’m excited to finally share with you about the beginning of my YouthWorks summer! I’ve had so many new experiences, gone so many places, and made so many true friends that I can hardly believe it’s only been three weeks.
It all started on May 21st when I flew to Pittsburgh for five days of training, called RAMP. It was a busy week of tons of learning. We learned about YouthWorks’ values, how to work in the kitchen, how to do our specific roles, and lots of other things. The training leaders also modeled different aspects of a typical YW week, so we could experience them and know how they should look.
At RAMP, I also met my team of girls: Becca, Kortnei, and Mo. We became friends quickly, and I’m super thankful for them! We’ve had a lot of fun together while also being a powerful team. I’ve found that we are all very fit for the roles we are in, which is by God’s design, I’m sure.
After training, our team headed out in our old Grand Caravan (named Betty) and little blue car (named Little Blue) for Rutland, VT. We drove all day on Saturday, and had a great time talking and getting to know each other better.
We got to Rutland that evening. Rutland is a town of about 16,000 people. It’s very beautiful, with the Green Mountains surrounding it. Almost all the buildings and houses are charming and unique, since they are generally older than in the Midwest. We’re staying in an adorable red brick church (pictured). Although Rutland is a relatively small town, it does struggle with many big-town problems: poverty, homelessness, and drug use. We are serving here to assist the organizations that already exist to aid these problems.
Once we arrived in Rutland, we had about two weeks to set up everything we needed to have youth groups come and serve. It was a bigger task than I’d assumed it would be! We had a ton of things in storage that needed to be brought out, inventoried, cleaned, and organized. We also had a lot of cleaning to do in the church itself. Other than that, we had programming to practice, evening activities to visit, and also some down time to hang out in Rutland and with each other.
My favorite part of our prep weeks, though, was meeting with our service partners in Rutland. Because I’m the Community Service Coordinator, I get to connect with places like nursing homes, missions, and farms to learn about their needs and make sure the volunteers are filling those needs over the summer. It’s a big job, but I really love the partners I’ve met, and I’m excited to start serving them soon!
Last Thursday, we left Rutland to help a different YouthWorks site, in Warrensburg, NY. Since they have a week of youth coming before we do, we call it “early bird.” They’re in the Adirondack Mountains, which is another beautiful place. We’ve been here for the past five days, and it’s been fun to spend time with the other staff! We went shopping at Sam’s Club and Walmart for the week of programming, which was a huge job in itself. We also got to hike a mountain right behind the church we’re staying at in Warrensburg.
Then, on Sunday (just three days ago), a group of youth came for the first week of programming! I was a bit nervous, because I haven’t had experience working with middle school and high school students. Honestly, my only experience was actually being in middle school and high school, which wasn’t my favorite thing ever. However, the church group that came this week is very small, with only 16 people. I’ve gotten to talk to almost everyone, and have a great time serving alongside them this week. We’ve worked outdoors every day, helping with a lot of landscaping and gardening in the community. We’ve also had fun with cooking, hanging out, doing devos, going to outdoor activities, and having the Gathering every night.
I’m amazed at how God has worked in me to allow me to connect with these kids and have a great time with them. I see how He’s fulfilling my prayers (that started way back when I was still taking finals) to be passionate about youth. I’m excited to see what He will do with the rest of the summer!
Through all these long days and craziness, I can definitely see God’s hand working. I am constantly learning new things about myself, others, service, and the Lord. The major themes have been faithfulness in the small things, and being content in any situation. I’m finding that ministry is comprised of millions of small details that can feel simultaneously insignificant and overwhelming. Through this, God has taught me to serve humbly and persevere through tasks I simply don’t like, because He holds the bigger picture. He knows the final impact.
Although this post may have made my summer sound pretty perfect, I would like prayer for a few things. These days are incredibly long, and I need strength and energy to stay on top of everything. I keep praying that God would help me to want to do all that is required of me. You can also pray that I can focus on Him throughout every day. It’s weird, but even though my job is ministry this summer, it’s easy to just do it as a job and forget about the power, motivator, and reason behind it all: Jesus. Pray for the perseverance of me and my teammates! We will be getting our first week of youth participants this Sunday (June 17th), but also need to set up a lot more at the church to be ready for them. Pray also for the community of Rutland, the youth and leaders who will come, and all the service we’ll be able to do!
Thank you for reading this rather long update, for being in my life, and for your prayers! Overall, I am so glad that I’m doing a YouthWorks summer, and joyful about what God’s already done through it. It is my prayer that he receives great glory from this summer in Rutland and beyond!
Our lives are full. We work hard, learn new things, spend time with people, and work on our character. But why? What’s the motivation behind all that we do? It’s a tricky question, but using a passage in John and a few reflective questions, this post will help you evaluate what your end goal is.
In John 3, Jesus and John are separately baptizing people near the Jordan. It just so happens that many people are going to Jesus instead of John, and John’s disciples start worrying. They come to John and say, “Look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” Let’s jump into the passage here:
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.
John’s response to his disciples’ worrying must have taken them by surprise, because it was full of joy. In a moment that he could’ve felt jealousy or even anger, he was instead totally taken over by his awe of Jesus. Selfishness didn’t stand a chance. The points he made are powerful!
1. Everything is a gift from heaven: When the disciples first bring their 'problem' to John's attention, John begins by responding that 'a person can receive only what is given them from heaven'. John knows that any good thing he has is a gift. He doesn’t feel entitled to a certain status.
2. The bridegroom’s friend: John compares himself to a groom’s best man on his wedding day. He’s simply an assistant, there to help the groom and share in his joy. Have you ever seen a best man try to steal the show at a wedding ceremony? Hopefully not. It would be pretty cringe-worthy! The attention is obviously supposed to be focused on the bride and groom. John places himself in this servant role: a friend who is filled with joy at simply Jesus’ presence.
3. “He must become greater; I must become less.” John won’t be satisfied until every bit of attention and glory is shifted off himself and onto Jesus.
4. Jesus is above all: While Jesus is sent straight from God, John is an earthly creature: from the earth, belonging to the earth, and speaking as one from the earth. John doesn’t let selfishness or pride block him from this obvious reality. Could there be any competition? John places Jesus on the pedestal, and accepts his own servant status.
This perspective is powerful! When I compare myself to Jesus, why would I ever want glory for what I do? In fact, how could I stand it, knowing that people are focusing on me instead of Jesus? I am simply his servant, his attendant, and his friend who loves him more deeply than I could love any ego boost.
So, let’s think. In all the good we do, in all the self-improvement we strive for, in all the bad things we avoid, what’s the end goal? To become a better, more-liked person? Or to showcase Jesus in our lives, to constantly set him in front of others?
This is a tough issue though, because it’s hard to discern our true motives. How can you really know if you’re seeking your own glory instead of God’s? Prayer is crucial.
It’s also helpful to ask yourself the following questions, because they make the concepts less abstract. Take a minute to think about your answer to each one, using specific examples from your life.
How’d you do? Please don’t be too hard on yourself. We all tend to focus on our reputations, but Jesus has graciously provided a better way for us. I hope this has been a joyful reminder to you! Jesus is above all, and it’s a privilege to live our lives to draw attention him. Let’s keep this end goal in mind as we live our day-to-day lives.
As this semester ends and the summer gets closer, I thought I’d update you all on what I’ll be doing this summer. I also have a few things to share that God had been showing me as I prepare!
This summer I’ll be on staff with Youth Works: an organization that conducts mission trips around the U.S. for junior high and senior high students. I’ll be living somewhere in the eastern US with a small staff team (I’ll find out the exact community and my team on May 1st!).
Students and their adult leaders will come to do volunteer work one week at a time in groups of about 70 people. I will be the team's Community Service Coordinator, which will have many responsibilities as I build relationships with the community, plan service opportunities for the youth, organize them into service teams, conduct orientations, and plan and facilitate meals, activities, and programming for the youth.
The process of getting this job began last October when I found out about Youth Works. Ever since living at home and working a retail job last summer, I knew I wanted the summer of 2018 to be different and challenging. As I read about staff positions with Youth Works, I was surprised by how meaningful and exciting the job sounded.
The application process was long and daunting though. In all honesty, I didn’t think I could get the job. I decided to simply apply, pray about it, and see what would happen. My thought was that if God wanted me to do it, he would get me through the tough process. Amazingly, after an application and a few interviews, they offered me the job! I accepted it, then life went on as normal.
Recently, I bought a plane ticket and started online training. This has made it feel a whole lot more real. It was easy to apply in October and accept the job in November, but preparing a month before I actually go? It’s been an experience, to say the least.
As I learn the nitty-gritty details of a typical week, I feel excited- but mostly exhausted! My days will be very full and challenging. I’ve struggled with serious feelings of inadequacy as I think about everything I’ll need to do. However, God has used this to powerfully remind me of who he is and what he is capable of! This situation has intensified every truth he’s shown me, and I’d love to share some of it with you!
God guarantees his faithfulness. God is faithful. I’ve known that forever. But this promise, this steady character trait of his, has become more meaningful to me as I think about moving to a random city all on my own. Has it ever hit you how huge it is that God promises to never leave us? It doesn’t matter how unfamiliar or scary the place is. It doesn’t matter if you go there kicking and screaming. It’s a promise from our Father.
When I get all in a tizzy thinking about this summer, I forget that God will literally be with me. Somehow, I forget that leaving the familiar doesn’t mean that I’m going out on my own. I read a verse a few weeks ago that spoke straight to my heart and my deepest fears in this area:
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
Oh, how that lifts a weight off my heart! God knows that I am blind, that I am so badly in need of his leading. He sees my every worry, but he also sees the road ahead of me in striking clarity. He has it all planned! He will not forsake me.
God can change our passions. To be honest, I am not naturally passionate about or ‘gifted’ for everything I’ll be doing this summer. Working with teenagers and having such a leadership-based, up-front job aren’t things that I’m comfortable with. So, after realizing that my job is very full of those two things, I started praying for something strange: that God would change my desires and passions. I’m asking that he’d show me the beauty and potential in working with teenagers and how I can impact them. I’m also asking that he’d give me a genuine excitement for the things He will do this summer! And surprisingly? It’s worked!
My first reaction to having doubts about this job was to sweep them under the rug. I didn’t want to admit to God that I was having second thoughts. I wanted to be brave and strong. But that’s all quite silly, because He knows better than anyone what my true thoughts are. When I simply approached him in prayer, laid it all out before him, and asked him to help me, he’s started something far bigger than I thought was possible!
I encourage you to do the same: no matter what it’s about. Putting on a brave face and trying to go at it alone is never, never a good idea. God can shape our passions and use us where we aren’t most naturally inclined to go, as long as we’re honest with him.
I am absolutely dependent on God. This has been the overarching theme of my past few weeks. Looking forward to this job with all its pieces and challenges has reminded me of my weakness and my tendency to worry! It’s easy to forget my desperate need for God when I feel like I have a handle on my life, but this situation has reminded me of it in full force.
So, that’s where I’m at right now! I have a few weeks of school to finish up, then I’ll be heading east at the end of May. There, I’ll complete a week of training in Pittsburgh before moving to my community with my team.
I’d really appreciate prayer as I prepare to go, and throughout the summer as well, as I’ll be given many opportunities to work hard and depend on God! I won’t be able to write every week, but I do plan to post throughout the summer to keep you updated on how it’s going. Thank you for reading, for your prayers, and for being a part of my life!
As Easter comes near, there is much focus placed on Jesus’ resurrection and the victory it claimed. Today, though, I’d like to focus on the scene of his death. Even these heart-wrenching moments hold heavy, glorious meaning, and I’d love to share some of it with you! Let’s start by reading in the book of Matthew.
Two rebels were crucified with [Jesus], one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. -Matthew 27:38-44
This is the most evil moment in history. The blameless, humble, holy Son of God has been beaten and literally torn apart for hours, then nailed to a cross. Suspended by the iron spikes in his wrists and ankles, he suffers the slowest, most agonizing and humiliating death the Romans could dream up. He is being tortured and crucified at the hands of the very humanity he came to save and the evil he came to destroy.
Insults roar and swarm the air. Jesus’ mockers are relentless and many. Commoners passing by, priests, elders, and both criminals beside Jesus join in. I cannot imagine the humiliation and pain he suffered: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Death rejoices, giddy at the prospect of Jesus’ imminent defeat. A festering crowd of demons lean in, watching the scene with sickly glee. Angels turn their tear-stained faces away, burdened with grief.
The jeers of these demons are about to be stupefied, though. Let’s turn our focus to the thieves dying beside Jesus.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with [Jesus] to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left . . .
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
-Luke 23:32-33, 39-43
These are quite the guys. They’ve committed crimes deemed worthy of death on a cross, and just moments earlier we saw them “heaping insults” on Jesus. They are criminals, thieves, and outright mockers of Jesus Christ.
However, as one thief’s death and final damnation to Hell inch nearer, everything changes in the breath of just four sentences. By some grace of God or swift perspective-change, this man’s eyes are thrown open to realize humbleness in the presence of God, his own sinfulness, Jesus’ innocence, and Jesus’ power to save his soul.
And in that very moment, Jesus saves him. Although this man has quite a few things going against him, his simple confession of faith saves him instantaneously. His eternity is transformed.
What a picture of pure grace! There is absolutely nothing this criminal could have done to earn his salvation. He was literally nailed to a cross: bleeding, dying, and utterly helpless. Unable to move any limb. Unable to even take a full breath. He hadn’t been baptized. He didn’t build up enough good works to ‘earn’ heaven. He probably hadn’t studied God’s Word or Jesus’ teachings at all. Faith alone saved him.
God’s wisdom alone placed this perfect gospel-portrayal at such a profound moment in history. This thief stands out to me as one of the first people to be saved by Jesus’ death. His story screams of God’s grace for even the most reprehensible sinners!
We miss the true message, though, if we don’t realize that we are just as helpless to save ourselves as this thief. His situation forced him to see himself truthfully, but his is the same story as yours and mine. We are all hopelessly careening towards hell without Jesus’ intervention.
All this man could do was to confess his faith. And that’s all he needed to do. How could there be any pride or smug self-sufficiency left in him? In his most hopeless moment, he humbled himself further and cried for Jesus’ help. I pray that we’d be blessed with this perspective of our salvation.
There’s another profound truth to this story: Even in the dismal territory of Jesus’ death, life staked a victory. I can imagine the sly grins and smacking lips of evil being suddenly sobered as they watch this man’s soul be saved: a man they were surely readying to usher into hell! Jesus' power and victory shuns even death in its greatest moments of euphoria.
Three days later, Jesus would rise from the dead: shattering the power of death, satan, and sin once and for all. On that day, salvation became a free gift to all who believe. The thief’s confession of faith on the cross is now an example of the freely-given love and grace poured out by Jesus.
Have a blessed Easter as you celebrate these wonderful truths!
Find my post from last Easter here: The New Way to God.
What matters more: what you do or who you are?
My default is to focus on the doing things of life. What are my plans for the weekend? What will I get done today? Who will I spend time with? What will I cook for supper? And for the most part, this works. It’s life, and it’s good and joyful.
The problem is, task-focused living can become spiritually stagnant. When I focus on the tasks in a day instead of the type of person I’m becoming, I forget that the way I live matters. For example, a day full of selfishness can feel successful if I’ve completed my to-do list: even if I missed opportunities to serve others or pray.
We must pay attention to how well we’re reflecting Christ: because when we don’t, we subconsciously assume we’re doing fine. We sure notice others’ slip-ups and flaws, but avoid turning the searching eye to our own hearts.
God’s desire, though, is to see us being constantly transformed to live more like Christ:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
-Romans 8:29, emphasis added
But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
-1 John 2:5-6
“God is far more interested in what you are than in what you do. We are human beings, not human doings.” – Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life.
(See also Eph. 5:1-2, 1 Peter 2:21, and 2 Cor. 3:18)
As you can probably tell, I’ve been hit over the head with this concept lately. It’s filled my journal and prayers for the past week. I just can’t stop thinking about it: Honestly, do I live a Christ-like life? Or am I too selfish and busy to bother? Here are a few things (selected from a seriously extensive list) that God has shown me I need to work on:
Even that is quite an exhausting lineup. Doesn’t it overwhelm you to think of the things you want to change? Thank goodness for God’s Spirit in us and grace for us!
We also have the Bible, which is full of commands, examples of Godly men and women, and the words and life of Jesus. His commands don’t exist to exasperate or annoy us, but to show us the best life he designed from the very beginning. He created us, and knows what’s most fulfilling, effective, and healthy for us. Living like Christ turns out to be a marvelous blessing!
At this point, you could be thinking a few things. Maybe you know something specific you want to change about how you live. Maybe you’re intimidated by the thought of truly inspecting your heart. Or maybe you don’t think there’s much you need to change.
No matter where you’re at, know that God desires to shape and change every Christian throughout their entire life. It is his joy when his children look increasingly like him!
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” -John 15:1-2
I encourage you to ask God how he wants to change you. Try your hardest to be totally honest and open with him. Don’t attempt to guard any corner of your heart, desires, or motivations: he already knows it all anyways.
If you’re having trouble pinpointing what he wants to tell you, read the Bible. Journal about it. Read about Jesus’ life of love, selflessness, service, and obedience to God. Pray about it consistently. I’ve been focusing on and praying about this for a week, and he’s continued to give me new things to put into action.
The main idea is to make sure you’re intentional about it. We don’t become Christlike by living on autopilot. Righteous living is simply not human nature. This means that we have to rely on God power and equipping, and also put in the effort necessary to make changes. Honesty and accountability with close Christian friends is also helpful.
It’s at this point that I feel we need a reminder: We do not work on ourselves to gain value, prove ourselves, or earn salvation. This is not simply self-improvement, and Jesus already gave his life that we could be saved.
Instead, we do this to follow the original blueprints of humanity as God’s image. We live for him as an enthusiastic response to his offer of a better way, for his glory in us. And ultimately, we look forward to the day we’re united with our Savior and finally become perfected images of him!
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
-1 John 3:2-3
Set your heart on this heavenly day as you strive to live your earthly days like Christ. I'm right there beside you!
It’s 12:45 am. I shift in my bed once again and sigh, pulling twisted sheets over my shoulder. I have a long day tomorrow, and lots to get done. But this realization is only an intermission in the stream of worries that have seized my mind for the past hours: worries about my upcoming summer job. My future. Grad school. And oh yes, all the details, too.
I am a worrier. I don’t say that flippantly. For years, I’ve overanalyzed situations, tortured my mind with possibilities and assumptions, and expected the worst.
I’ve found it to be such a frustrating problem! While I know that worrying is pointless and harmful, it feels impossible to stop. When there’s a perceived problem on the horizon of my life, my mind’s eye loves to linger. What if I don’t think through all the details? What if something goes wrong? Oh, what can I do?! I feebly try to plan my way out of pain.
Recently, though, I studied Jesus’ teaching about worry in Luke 12. Here, he has just finished talking to a man whose primary concern was his family’s inheritance. Jesus told the parable of the rich fool to show that greed in this life leads to poverty in eternity.
He then turns to his disciples and warns them about worry. Could this mean that there’s a link between selfish greed and worry? Hang onto that thought as you read the passage! His words are incredibly powerful, and have largely shifted my perspective about worry in three ways.
1. Worry ignores God’s provision and promises.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! -Luke 12:22-28
After reading that, doesn’t worry seem illogical? God takes care of the birds and wildflowers. How much more will he take care of those he calls his children? Those he sacrificed his son’s life for?
Worrying requires us to squeeze our eyes shut to God’s history of provision for us and his promises to us. It’s no wonder that our heads start spinning when we think that way!
2. Worry is self-focused.
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. -Luke 12:29-30
Think of the most recent thing you worried about. In all those fateful scenarios you played out in your head, whose safety was at stake? Whose pride? Whose comfort, money, future, health, or happiness? Most likely, it was your own.
It’s exactly what I’ve found in myself. I’m most prone to worry about things in my life going downhill. I know we worry about our loved ones too, but it’s usually the exception to the rule: and even then, we worry about how we’ll be affected!
Worry is a result of selfishness: that disastrous disease we can’t quite get enough of. It’s a result of our hearts being set on the wrong things.
For example, why do I worry about my future so much? Because my heart is set on it. I’ve set it up as what I need to be truly fulfilled. The thought of having a husband, a tidy home, beautiful children, and a job I love is so attractive to me that I become desperate when I realize it might not all work out perfectly.
Worldly plans, concepts, and possessions cannot handle the pressure of fulfilling us, but we keep trying to force it to work. Then, when we detect a crack in our reasoning or a flaw in our plan, we worry ourselves sick over fixing it.
[Self-centered expectations of life + the knowledge that worldly things will never fulfil them = worry]
3. Worry is cured with an outward focus.
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Luke 12:29-34
God knows what we need, and he’s just as tuned into our physical and emotional needs as our spiritual needs. I tend to forget that and assume that I have to take care of those aspects of life myself. In this passage, though, Jesus lovingly reminds us that we don’t have to worry about any of our needs.
Our lives’ primary focus is to be on our Father’s kingdom. How? We are told to invite others into it, invest in it, and set our hearts on it. We are also told to live generously: outside the fear of not having enough. This frees us to build up treasures in heaven that will last!
This is a fascinating way to dissipate worry. The more we focus on and give ourselves to eternal things, the less obsessed we will be with the details and troubles of our own existences. This perspective shift is hard and painful for sure, but we will not know true peace or contentment without it.
The most worry-filled moments in my life are the most selfish and inward-focused. But the most joyful, soul-filling moments are the most generous and outward-focused!
Is constant prayer possible? I’ve always thought it sounded kind of weird, like something a regular person couldn’t do. But it also confused me that it’s a command in the Bible: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” -1 Th. 5:16-18 It’s God’s will for us. Doesn’t that mean we should all be doing it? (Find more verses about continual prayer at the end of this post!)
I hope you’ve been following along the past two weeks as we’ve talked about the importance of our ordinary days and the truth about prayer, because this week, we’re putting those two concepts together!
First, I want you to know that I’ve been learning a lot about continual prayer lately, but I’m far from perfecting it. To be honest, I’m far from actually practicing it. However, the handful of days I have dedicated to prayer have been powerful. So, wherever you’re at with prayer right now, read this post as an invitation to take the next step. I have faith that God delights in and honors every decision that brings us closer to him.
So, what is constant prayer? It’s the act of staying aware of and connected to God all day long through continual conversation with him. Tell him everything. Turn everything into a prayer! Thank him for specific things in your day. Tell him what you’re doing in any given moment. Pray for people as they come into your mind. Ask God for help with something. Tell him why you love him. Even simply acknowledge his presence. Remember him! It’s that simple.
I’ve found that saying twenty short prayers throughout a day is more helpful for remembering God than one long prayer at the beginning of the day. (I, of course, am not putting a limit on our prayers. It’s best to do both!) Constant prayer brings both a Godly perspective and God himself into every situation throughout our days!
Approaching God in response to every situation has been powerful and eye-opening for me in the past few weeks. Here’s what I’ve found about prayer's power in the following common emotions:
When I’m stressed or angry:
Let’s get the ugly stuff out there right away. This semester, there have been many flustered, stressed drives from class to work. There have been many nights eaten away by my fear of the future. There have been conflicts and frustrations with people fueled by my selfishness. Many dramatic breakdowns in my peace. And so goes life.
The single hardest thing to do in these situations is to pray. Seriously. Think of the most recent time you willingly indulged in some good ole, fit-throwing self-pity. Did you feel like approaching God? Probably not, because prayer is humbling and sobering. It forces us to evaluate ourselves in the presence of holiness and the perspective of eternity. Usually, I realize that my problem isn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was!
But not every problem in life is caused by bad attitude. Real, deep pain and conflict exist. Prayer is the best approach here too, though, because it lets us ask for divine help! When we hand over our problems to God, we recognize that someone with far more power than we can comprehend is in control (Eph. 3:20-21). It gives us solid ground to stand on once again.
When I’m feeling neutral/apathetic:
This is the state we spend most of our days in. Neutral-ness. Routine and familiarity tend to reduce our minds to comfort and indifference. Here’s the antidote I’ve found: I look around, think a bit, then thank God for everything immediately surrounding me: the ability to have a job when I’m working. Light when it’s dark outside. Nutrition and taste when I’m eating. Legs when I’m walking up stairs. Warmth when I’m inside. Friends when I see them on social media. Even fingers when I’m typing! When I give it a bit of thought, I realize that literally everything is a gift undeserved.
You can do this, too! In fact, do it right now. Pause, look around, and find three blessings you usually don't notice. Thank God for them one by one, then decide to thank him throughout the rest of your day.
When I’m happy:
Thank God that there is so much good in life! There’s good news, outside air, hobbies, the feeling of a job well done, meals with family, closeness to God, special people. . . truly, there are so many wholly good moments in our days!
Prayer in these moments focuses everything on God instead of just how we feel. Praise him for his goodness! Look for his face, personality, and purpose in the joy you’re experiencing. This focuses everything outward instead of inward, and it's also a great exercise in thankfulness.
Constant prayer: this is how we bring Jesus into every moment of our lives, and live to his glory. This is how we abide in him and keep our minds on him. This is how we bring God glory and joy, and it’s how we can transform the shakable with the unshakable!
Try it. Start now, say a prayer—and don’t say amen.
More verses about continual prayer:
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
-Psalm 88:1, ESV
What’s something that matters a lot to you? Maybe it’s your job, family, or a hobby. Now, considering that, do you usually do ‘just enough to get by’ with it? Or do you find so much joy and importance in it that you devote more of yourself to it than you ‘have to?’
Now, switching our focus, how important is prayer in your life? How often do you talk to God? Lately, I’ve been convicted that my morning prayers alone aren’t enough. Because my belief in God is a relationship and not simply a self-serving program, it invites and requires more of me than ‘just enough to get by.’
Last week, I wrote about the importance of ordinary days. You can read it HERE. Together, we discovered that we can transform the shakable, worldly things in our lives with the unshakable things of God. I also gave us the sweet, much-needed reminder that God is not bored with our everyday lives: He finds great beauty and purpose in them.
Now, we’ll be going deeper into the most significant way we can capture the importance of the ordinary: prayer. This week we’ll study four aspects of prayer, and next week we’ll focus on constant prayer. Let’s start with the first aspect:
#1: Prayer is our DUTY.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. -Psalm 10:4
God is completely worthy of our steady focus and praise. We are to humble ourselves by dwelling in his presence, not just setting meeting times with him throughout our weeks. Are we doing a good job of giving him “the glory due his name?” That’s a tough question. How could we ever fulfil that lofty calling? The verse clarifies: “bring an offering and come into his courts.” His desire is simple: to have us approach him, come to him.
#2: Prayer is GOD’S JOY and HEAVEN’S FRAGRANCE.
Just a warning, the two passages we’re about to read might give you goosebumps and an overwhelming, humbling desire to pray. When I was first studying them, they blew my mind. So, let’s jump in! First, Hebrews 7:25:
[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
-Hebrews 7:25, emphasis added
Ever since Jesus died on earth to allow us to come to God, he has been actively interceding for us before God in heaven. His advocacy for us continues beyond the cross! He shields us from condemnation, instead inviting us into relationship (Ro. 8:34). God hears every single one of our prayers because of Jesus!
Jesus died to save us, and he lives to intercede for us. How humbling! Our prayers are not individual, casual acts. They are offerings, actively received in heaven because a great price has been paid. Now let’s look at a passage that describes heaven in more detail:
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
-Revelation 7:6-8, emphasis added
In this royal, strange, worshipful scene I can’t fully comprehend, one thing is sure: Prayer is the fragrance, the sweet aroma, of heaven. Picture it: the elders and creatures of heaven are falling at Jesus’ feet right now, offering him our prayers! Chew on that for a moment. Read it again. Let it sink in.
Our prayers, no matter how unimpressive they seem, are impacting heaven. Studying this has given me a deeper, more thankful perspective. In heaven, prayer is no offhand ritual. It is vastly important, celebrated, desired, and welcomed as fragrant offering.
#3: Prayer is OUR JOY, too.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
-1 Chronicles 16:10-11
After learning about prayer’s role in heaven, it’s safe to assume that you’re feeling compelled to pray. The verses you just read deepen this desire with a well-worded reminder that seeking God is a joyful act for us, too! Prayer is not simply a duty, but a gift: something we’re allowed to do. Let’s not let our excitement be dullened by time or familiarity. The ability to enter God’s presence is always, always a joyous gift we could never earn and should never disregard.
#4: Prayer is POWER for us and others.
Prayer is direct communication with God, so it’s not a surprise that it holds vast power: the power of forgiveness, wisdom, healing, heart change, supplication, connection with God, a correct perspective, and the gift of peace- to name a few. This passage from Ephesians showcases quite a few of these. As you read, try to pick out specific things prayer can do.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
I hope that studying these four aspects of prayer has been powerful for you—I know it has been for me! Prayer is our duty, God’s joy, heaven’s fragrance, our joy, and power for us and others.
Next week, come back to read about the necessity of continual prayer, along with a few practical tips.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Look forward to new posts every Monday morning!