Personal Growth Plan

sapling-154734_1280Usually, by now, I have completed my personal growth goals and plans for the upcoming year. With my preparations for my mission trip to Mexico and Christmas activities (among other things0), I’m a little behind. I started writing out an annual plan for personal growth many years ago as a teenager, though back then, it was not nearly as formal and detailed. When I was a kid, my family sat around the table sometime toward the end of the year and talked about our plans for the upcoming year. We shared our goals with one another and some of our plans for accomplishing those goals. I eventually began writing these goals down and getting a little more specific with my plans. This eventually developed into my annual plan for personal growth.

I came to the realization that while growing old is automatic, growing up is not. For example, instead of being thirty-five years old, a person could be one-year-old thirty-five times. As a matter of fact, I’ve met a number of fifty plus year old people who still needed a pacifier. I have to confess that I rarely accomplish all of my goals, but because I give it a great deal of thought and write out my annual plan, I’m a lot closer to accomplishing my goals than I would be otherwise. Writing out my goals for personal growth not only helps me to know what to do to grow in six areas of my life, but it also helps me to know what NOT to do. For example, there are so many books out there to read (over a million new books are written each year), but not all of them are worth reading. I have many people suggest books to me. Some of the suggested books are excellent, while others may have been meaningful to the person, but it wouldn’t apply to my life and ministry very well. Planning my reading, which is part of my growth plan, helps me to be more intentional with what books to read. It also helps me to be more balanced in my reading.

I plan growth for six areas in my life: spiritual, family, physical, financial, leadership, and ministry. These are broad categories, and I fit a number of unique areas of growth under the various categories. For example, I want to grow as a writer, so I put that particular area of my life under “ministry.” Remember that this is a plan for personal growth. Even though I typically include various goals under each category, the idea is to create a plan that will help me to personally grow in that area. I will typically go into greater detail on general goals for various areas in a different place. For example, I have an Evernote notebook on my computer where I create detail plans and goals for my ministry through my church, my writing goals and plans, and other details of my life. A plan for personal growth is about growth. The key is to HAVE a plan for personal growth.

Under each broad category, I usually make a general statement of what I want to accomplish in that area and then make a list of books I want to read, people I want to hang out with, conferences I want to attend, or groups I want to join so that I will have personal growth in that particular area. I add some additional goals that may not fit so neatly into one of those smaller categories.

 

How do you plan to grow in 2017? Have you given it some thought? I encourage you to spend some time before the end of 2016 working on your plan for personal growth. When you finish your plan, share it with a few people in your life. When 2017 comes to a close, you may find that you didn’t accomplish everything, but you will accomplish a lot more because you have a plan. Someone once said, “He who aims at nothing hits it every time.” What will you aim at in 2017? Do you want to share some of your 2017 growth goals below?

Singing Anyone? Part 2

microphone-1209816_1920In my last blog, I asked the question: “What if I don’t want to sing?” It’s a valid question. We’ve all faced times where we had no song, but the problem is that God commands us throughout the Scripture to sing. I mentioned two causes for not wanting to sing. If you didn’t read my last blog, you may want to stop and read it now.

Whether we don’t sing because we think we can’t or because a sad circumstance has stolen our song, the solution is simple: sing anyway. God only wants a joyful noise, and we’ll find that singing may be God’s prescription to pull us out of the doldrums. It is amazing that while worship is directed to God, we benefit significantly. As we sing to God, he heals our hearts.

Another reason we are to sing has to do with people around us. You may think you’re doing the people around you a favor by not singing. Actually, you’re not. Colossians 3:16 commands us to sing to one another because our singing has mutual benefit: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Have you ever considered the idea that the person sitting next to you in worship is benefiting from your singing? Imagine a man beside you in worship next Sunday who may be struggling with a matter or a problem. He desperately needs help from God, and then he hears you singing with gusto and conviction about the faithfulness of God. Your song encouraged him with truth from God’s Word. Before long, he begins to join in with you in giving praise to God. This is one way Colossians 3:16 can be lived out in our lives. Though worship is for God, our singing can certainly bless others with spiritual encouragement. 

We can also teach others through singing by intentionally singing about theological truths. I’ve taught children how to share the gospel by putting music to the “Roman Road to Salvation” scriptures. I learned about the Old Testament story of Israel’s great revival of 1 Samuel 7 because I sang the old hymn “Come Thou Fount.” I had to look up the “here I raise mine Ebenezer” part, and read a wonderful story about God working in the lives of his people. Singing can have great value in teaching us God’s Word.

What if I don’t want to sing? Sing anyway. It honors the Lord, and someone in your life needs to hear it. You will benefit greatly by lifting your spirit and by opening up your hearts to spiritual truths. Music is a wonderful gift from a loving God, so, tilt your head back and sing for the glory of God.

 

Be Transformed

One tree in field

Transformation! At my church, we have begun a fall spiritual growth campaign called “Transformed,” and I’m really excited about how God is going to use it in our lives. I’ve been thinking a good bit about how God is in the transformation business. It began with Adam and Eve and it continues today in me and you. He takes that which is bad or useless and transforms it into good and useful. One thing that strikes me about transformation is that while God is in the business of changing lives, it really depends upon our willingness to change. I stressed in the first two messages of this series that God is the One who does the transforming, not us, but we have to put ourselves in the place of transformation. This “positioning” requires several things I would like to share.

First, we must long for transformation. We must ask ourselves if we are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation is not easy. It is often times painful. When was the last time you lost a significant amount of weight? That’s transformation, and it’s not easy. We must be able to see ourselves as we really are and long for what could be.

Second, we must be willing to incorporate the steps necessary to bring about transformation in our lives. It’s possible that we know what to do to transform our marriage or our finances, but it’s also possible that we’re not really sure. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some principles that will help us with this process of change in my weekly sermon (you can listen to these messages online), and a number of books and resources are also available to help us with needed change in our lives. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to learn from others that God may place in your lives.

Third, we should set some goals in our lives for transformation. Based upon our reading, listening, prayer, and study, we should establish some S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed). I always encourage people to write out their goals. What are some goals you have in your life regarding spiritual transformation? What are some things you can do to place yourself in a position of transformation? For example, you could set goals to meet with God every day in Bible reading and prayer or attend worship at your church. What about transformation in your health or finances? What could you do to place yourself in a spot where God can bring transformation in your marriage, your family, or your career? Write out some goals. The series at SonRise will deal with transformation in the following areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, and vocational. Are you willing to set some goals in these areas and see what God can do through your life?

Communicating with God

communicationThere once was a time in my life when you wanted to communicate with someone, you could call them, and hope they were home. The invention of the answering machine was a marvel, and a caller could leave a message expecting a return phone call in a day or two. Even the pager was a great improvement, but the return phone call was still delayed at times. Today’s technology does open the door for instant access, but we all know that concept is not exactly accurate. The person you are calling may not be available, or his or her phone battery may have died. Voice mails can be left, but they may go unnoticed for a few days. I am so glad that in communicating with God, there is no delay. When we pray, we don’t have to leave a message and hope our Creator gets around to it in the next few days. Prayer is an instant line of communication with our Heavenly Father Who is waiting to hear from us. The prophet Jeremiah was reminded of God’s availability with this command from God found in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Do you see the command in this passage? God urges us, and commands us, to call out to Him through prayer. The promise of this passage is that He will answer and tell us things that we did not know. Our knowledge and understanding are limited but God’s is fathomless. Our perspective is fixed, but God’s is eternal. The SonRise Baptist Church family, of which I have the privilege of serving as pastor, is beginning a week of focused prayer. I invite anyone reading to join with us in calling out to God. Begin now making a list of things beyond your ability to either understand or resolve. Call to God. He will answer you and show you unimaginable things which you do not know.

Using Scripture in Prayer – Prayer Day 7

prayer5God tells us that His Word is useful. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” We have often thought of scripture being useful for teaching or correction, but how can scripture be used to equip us for the work of prayer? There are several ways.

Scripture reveals God to us

In order for our prayer life to be effective, we must have a growing relationship with God. As we consider the value of scripture in our prayer life, we must acknowledge its worth in helping us to get to know the Father. Through careful study of the scripture, we come to know His wonderful attributes which help us to know how to relate to Him. Also through this understanding, we know better how to praise Him. We can even use those very passages which teach us about God as the content of our prayer. This passage could easily find its way into our prayer of praise, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.”

Scripture contains prayers

Scripture is also valuable in our prayer life because he contains specific prayers to God that can become our own expressions. As we read the prayers of the saints of old, we not only see a model of communication with the Heavenly Father, but we can even say those very word back to God. An example of this would be where David confessed his sin to God in Psalm 51. As we deal with a particular sin in our life, we could use the very words of David to seek God’s grace and mercy through repentance. One could even use Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi as they intercede for their brothers and sisters (Philippians 1:9-11).

Scripture can stimulate

As we read the scripture, we are stimulated to think the thoughts of God. As we think these thoughts, we many times need to express ourselves to the Lord in response. One might could read Psalm 23 and then express himself to God by saying, “Lord, you are my Shepherd and I have no need. It is as if you make me to lie down in green pastures as you provide my daily provisions. You lead me beside the still waters as you bring refreshment to my soul and peace to my troubled mind.” This same passage could be used in intercession: “Lord, I pray that you would help ________ to come to understand what it means to relate to you as Shepherd. Help him to realize that as he submits to your leadership and guidance that he will have no need. I pray that you will allow him to see that apart from your provisions he will never lie down in green pastures or find the peace in his life of still waters.”

Regardless of the application, scripture is very useful in many areas of our life, including our prayer life. As you journey together with God through His Word, allow Him to stimulate you in discovering new ways to make His Word profitable in your life.

Confidence in Prayer – Day 6

prayer4Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have all your prayers answered? I know that God answers all of our prayers with either yes, no, or wait, but what if we knew how to pray in such a way that God’s answer was always yes? This is actually possible, and God tells us how to do it in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” Did you see the last phrase of this verse? It says, “we know that we have what we asked of him.” Prior to that it says, “whatever we ask.” God is clearly telling us that it is possible to pray in such a way that God always responds positively to what we ask for.

God actually sets the first part of this passage up by saying that we can pray with confidence knowing that God will answer. This sounds like New Testament praying. It is reminiscent of Jesus calling Lazarus from the grave or Peter saying to the lame man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” How can you have that kind of confidence in your prayer life? I do not like putting prayer into a formula, because it is a relationship, but there is a formula suggested here in this verse. God says that we must first ask according to His will. The first step of effective praying is to determine the will of God about a matter. Our first prayer then should be to ask God how to pray about a certain issue and then go about seeking to determine His will regarding our request. This will lead us into searching the Scripture, seeking advice from godly friends, and spending time in quiet meditation and prayer. Once we have discerned God’s will about a matter, then we can pray about it and “know we have what we asked of Him.” Let’s not be so quick to read off our prayer list to God. It would do us well to apply God’s revealed truth, the Bible, to our prayer life before we ever ask of God. When we know the will of God, our confidence in prayer rises, and we will see God acting to accomplish His will on earth.

A Life of Prayer

prayer2Prayer is a life and not just an event. I have learned in my Christian walk how naturally it is for me to fall into a pattern of compartmentalization. By that I mean that I create small compartments through which I live my life. I can have the pastor compartment, the husband compartment, the father compartment, etc. While these categories are quite harmless and acceptable, I can also create the Christian compartment and the secular compartment. I can even create compartments of activities such as one for Bible reading and one for prayer. Here’s the problem. My spiritual life cannot just be a compartment. For that matter, spiritual disciplines cannot just fall into a neat category. Prayer cannot just be an activity I perform, and when I am done, I fold it up and put it away until it’s time to pull it out again. I do not have a spiritual life; I am a spiritual life. Everything about my journey with God defines my being.

 

Prayer is one of those things that can so easily be compartmentalized, but God says it should be synonymous with the life we live. Consider the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” These three words make up a very strong and informative imperative. We are commanded by the God of the universe to pray without stopping. This means that prayer is not just a thing we do. It is the life we live. We are to communicate with God 24/7. Okay, it may be a little hard to communicate with God in our sleep, but I suppose it is possible . The point is that we should wake up with a prayer on our lips. Our conversation with God should continue throughout our entire day, and then we close our eyes with the final words of our prayer for the day on our hearts. This means that we talk with God about everything in our lives. Here is the awesome thing: God is interested. He wants you to talk with Him about every little detail of your life. Imagine how incredible it would be if we really did pray without ceasing. Here’s the thing. When you are praying without ceasing, you cannot worry. I think it is impossible to pray and worry at the same time. When you pray without ceasing, you cannot hold a grudge, have a lustful thought, or say ugly words. You can’t cheat on your income taxes, watch a movie that doesn’t honor the Lord, or slander your neighbor if you are constantly talking to the Lord. Do you realize how amazing it would be if you started your day with “Our Father” and ended it with “Amen?”

 

Give it a try. Continuous prayer changes things, and the biggest thing it will change is you. Go ahead. Start praying and don’t stop. God is anticipating your conversation.

Prayer and Fasting – Day 2

Fasting

When I was a boy, I was taught that prayer is simply communication with God. It is amazing that God invites us to an intimate, personal relationship whereby He is available to us at any time in any place. We can enter His throne room for a personal conversation just through bowing our hearts in prayer. This sounds quite simple, yet sometimes real prayer can be a challenge. Sometimes the challenge comes from our own making, and at other times, it is the result of spiritual warfare. Satan oftentimes creates hindrances to meaningful prayer in our lives. Overcoming distractions is important as we seek to connect with God, and one discipline to help us deal with these distractions is fasting.

When many people hear the word fasting, images come to their minds of strange people who live weird and extreme lives. Donald Whitney stated, “Fasting is the most feared and misunderstood of all the Spiritual Disciplines…and yet it’s mentioned in Scripture more times than even something as important as baptism” (Spiritual Disciplines). Fasting is typically connected to refraining from eating food, but it can relate to many other things as well. You can fast from food, television, internet, or any other practice that has created interference in your spiritual life. Fasting should not just be refraining from something, but it should also include replacing something. For example, instead of eating a meal, you could spend that time in Bible reading and prayer. Fasting is an intentional clearing away of time in our lives to give focused attention to God.

Jesus seemed to indicate that fasting should be normal for those who follow Him. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus began sharing some thoughts on fasting with these words, “When you fast…” He did not say, “If you fast,” but rather “When…” It seems as if Jesus was saying that fasting should be a part of our spiritual experience, and when we practice fasting, we should do so for the purpose of seeking God and not seeking attention from others. If you have never fasted from eating before, here are a few suggestions that will help your experience to be meaningful:

  • Calendar your fast so that you can make sure your experience will provide the meaningful spiritual encounter with God you desire. This means you choose a time when you have the most opportunity for focused prayer and Bible reading.
  • If you have never fasted before, start small. You could begin by just skipping one meal and using the meal time for prayer. You can slowly move to skipping additional meals.
  • During your time of fasting, increase your Bible reading and prayer time.
  • Gather additional resources that will help your fasting time be meaningful such as devotional books and worship music.
  • Keep a pad or computer available where you can write/type your thoughts during your time of focused prayer. As you sense God leading and speaking to you through His Word, make some notes of things you might do to follow up on these spiritual insights. You can use this as a spiritual journal of your experience so that you will have your thoughts on paper and be able to go back and prayerfully review your time with God.
  • You can also use this pad to make notes of other things that come to your mind that otherwise might be distracting to your prayer time. I find that my mind races with things that are distracting, and I have discovered that if I write these ideas down, I can free my mind of the thought knowing that I have made a note to which I will return at the conclusion of my fast. Satan will inundate your mind with distractions, so this method has helped me to free my mind of these interruptions.
  • While you should not publicize your plans for fasting, involve someone who is close to you for the purpose of encouragement and support. This could be a family member. If you have children, use this as a teaching opportunity to help your children see the value of planning times of focused prayer in their lives.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Fasting is a time of physical cleansing as well, so water will be a valuable resource.
  • Establish goals for your fast before you begin. Write your goals down and plan things you will do during your fast to accomplish your goals.
  • Consider reading some resources on fasting and prayer, like The Power of Prayer and Fasting by Ronnie Floyd or The Transforming Power of Prayer and Fasting by Bill Bright.
  • Share your experience with some close, Christian friends afterward as a testimony of God working in your life and to encourage others to practice this life-changing discipline.

Prayer and fasting is life-changing, and I believe you will find your personal relationship with Christ deepens as you seek Him during this focused experience. Do you know of any additional thoughts that will help us practice this discipline? Share them below. Tomorrow, I will write about one of the least practiced prayers in the church: the prayer of praise.