Sermon Recap | Every Group Around the Pool

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Because of sin, we have three problems:

  1. Broken Creation (death, disease)

  2. Internal (Because we are sinners, we don’t trust God and we’ve built our lives around things other than Him)

  3. External (We have set ourselves up against God; He is rightly offended and opposed to us. He cannot let sin go undealt with and remain just)

What we need is reconciliation. We need for creation to be restored to its original design and we need to be reconciled to God. God’s response is to provide a way for us to be reconciled to him—first through Abraham and the Law and then, ultimately, through Jesus. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Jesus’ life was about reconciling all things back to God. (Colossians 1:19-22)

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
-2 Corinthians 5:14-20

As new creations in Christ, we are given new minds that want to learn about God and know Him and new desires that draw us to God and the things of God. This is what propels the church of God forward.

Be sure to listen to the sermon for a broad summary of how the Gospel spread from Jesus’ closest friends all the way to us in Columbia, SC!

So how does our church go about the ministry of reconciliation?

Midtown’s Philosophy of Ministry:

Gatherings and LifeGroups are our primary programs

The Bible calls us into:

  1. Knowledge

  2. Care

  3. Friendships

  4. Mission

A healthy church culture will embody each of these things which is why that’s our aim for LifeGroups.

Elements of LifeGroup time:

  1. Discuss the sermon

  2. Engage the heart

  3. Catch up on life

  4. Review the mission

According to feedback from LifeGroups, the area that we are the weakest in is mission so we are starting an initiative called “Every Group Around the Pool.” We want every LifeGroup gathered around the baptistery as someone they led to Christ gets baptized.

We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and we find ourselves in a long line of believers who have faithfully proclaimed and ministered and watch God bless it by saving and redeeming and reconciling men and women to himself.

Resource Round-up | Self-Absorption

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Over the past three weeks, we’ve been examining a fifth enemy to our spiritual health: self-absorption. We define self-absorption as being preoccupied with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns above God and others. We hope these additional resources will be helpful as you fight self-absorption in your life.

Video: Freed from Self-Absorption by John Piper

In this sermon excerpt, Pastor John Piper explains how the gospel frees us from being self-absorbed. Piper explains the phrase “omnivorous attentiveness” and how we can become more alive as we are more and more captivated both by the world around us and by God’s daily gifts.

Article: Rescued from the Sea of Self by Stacy Reaoch

The author discusses the dangers of being consumed with self, and how we can fight to be free from being sinfully inwardly focused. Reaoch looks to scripture and Jesus’ ultimate act of sacrifice on the cross to give us reminders and tools for fighting our self-absorption.

Article: The Self-Centered Christian

This piece helps us understand where self-absorption comes from, how it affects us, and how we will have to repent and overcome it to live the blessed life God has called us into. By submitting to God and asking the Holy Spirit to fill us with His love, we can then freely live for and serve others.

Article: Intimacy for the Avoidant by David Brooks

This opinion piece discusses how the ways we choose to use technology may be making us more self-focused and unhappy. Brooks goes into detail about how Internet and phone addiction have made deep friendships and connection more and more rare as we are encouraged to become “social multitaskers”.

Article: Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed by David Cain

Although this article is not spiritual, it sheds some helpful insight on how our established rhythms of work in the Western world can cause us to be more selfish and unintentional with the little free time we do have control over. Cain not only looks at how our world encourages a consumerist lifestyle in how we spend our money but also at how this mindset has changed how we spend our free time for or with others.

Article: How Technology is Killing Eye Contact by Carolyn Gregoire

This article looks at how our digital habits are affecting our ability and tendencies to make eye contact and be fully present with the people we are with. This is something worth paying attention to because in order to truly see, care for, and encourage the people in our lives, we have to be able to give them our full attention.

Sermon Recap | The Joy of a Life Not About You

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This week, we are taking one final look at the spiritual enemy of self-absorption as we learn how to be transformed into self-sacrificing people.

Self absorption: being preoccupied with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns above all else.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

- Philippians 2:1-2

The call on our life as a part of this church is to have one mind, which means we can disagree on so many preferences, because in the end, personal preferences don’t matter. We have a mission, goal, and focus as a church to take the Gospel to our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family members - together (Philippians 1:27).

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

- Philippians 2:3-4

Paul tells us to do nothing in a way that is self-serving, self-glorifying, self-seeking. If we constantly consider ourselves first, we will not be able to have the same mind or strive together for the glory of God in our community. We must remember that people don’t exist to serve us - we exist to serve others and put their needs before ours.

The Bible is really clear on this - to follow Jesus is to walk, live, and think in such a way that we are radically others-centered in the everyday workings of life.

And that’s why we want to end this entire series with one final Personal Liturgy challenge: to serve one person sacrificially each day.

Like everything else we’ve done in this Personal Liturgy series, this will take effort and work. But there is hope for living in the vision God has for His people:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

- Philippians 2:5-8

Jesus, the only one who deserved to be exalted, chose to humble Himself and be obedient to the Father. He took the form of a servant, giving up His rights and laying down His preferences, to go to the cross on our behalf. Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who was not self-absorbed, but rather, self-sacrificing.

Jesus looked in the face of all of our self-absorption and self-exaltation and He died for it. Jesus gave Himself away so that prideful, weary, conceited sinners like us could be brought back into relationship with God...but then He sends us back into the world to do the same for others.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

- Philippians 2:9-11

And now we lay down our self-absorption to see Jesus more and more exalted in our lives, in our church family, and in our city.

Sermon Recap | A Blueprint for Biblical Encouragement

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This week, we are continuing to learn more about our fifth and final spiritual enemy, self-absorption.

Self absorption: being preoccupied with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns above all else.

Last week, we touched on the freedom that is found in knowing that life is not about us, but about God’s glory and grace. When we live in this mindset, we aren’t let down or frustrated by others when they don’t live up to our expectations, and can instead serve others.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

·       Hebrews 10:19-25

The author of Hebrews uses Old Testament imagery in verses 19-22 to show us that Jesus became our priest and mediator in order for us to be reunited with God. Through Jesus, we can now “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

Verses 24-25 call us to encourage each other daily in order to stir up love and good works in one another. We are to sit down and put intentional thought towards how we will encourage.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

·       Hebrews 3:12-13

The ultimate goal of sin is to turn us away from God.  Hebrews 3 is a group command, not an individual command. It’s all of our jobs, as family, to make sure that none of us turn away from God.

The method by which we “take care” is to exhort or encourage one another. Through biblical encouragement, we can remind others of God’s presence and activity in their lives.

We are prone to either compliment others, or wait for grandiose reasons to encourage others. We are called to encourage one another daily - this means through the ordinary days of our ordinary lives! We are prone to either give compliments or wait for grandiose reasons to encourage others, but for it to be biblical encouragement, it has to help us hold fast to our hope and stir us to love and good deeds. Biblical encouragement will soften our heart towards God and prevent us from falling away from God.

Categories for Encouragement:

  1. “Here is how God has used you…”
  2. “Here is how I see God at work in you…”
  3. “Here is what God has promised you…”

In a culture where we tend to be sarcastic and self-protective, encouragement is radically countercultural - and all the more necessary. Our Personal Liturgy challenge for this week is to encourage someone every day. We are shifting the focus off of ourselves and taking an active part in our call against sin by encouraging and pointing others towards God.

Sermon Recap | Freedom from a Life-Long Temper Tantrum

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This week, we’re exploring our fifth and final spiritual enemy, self-absorption.

Self absorption: being preoccupied with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns above all else.

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

- John 12:23-33

Jesus uses the analogy of a seed to unpack a reality about how life works: A seed’s purpose is to produce fruit, but in order to accomplish this purpose, the seed has to die.

Seeds can self-protect, but this requires them to stay on a shelf, hidden and alone. If the seed remains alone, never producing fruit, is not and can not fulfill its intended purpose. Seeds are to be planted and spent. This is what Jesus is about to do by sacrificing Himself on the cross (John 12:32-33). He is about to die, and in doing so, He will produce much fruit. His death will birth much new life.

In verse 25, Jesus expounds on the seed analogy when He says, “whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life will keep it.” This is a warning against self-absorption. In focusing all our attention, time, energy, money on ourselves and our lives, we will lose our lives. We end up like a seed that stays on the shelf. And in doing so, we lose the purpose of our lives.

This hits right at the heart of what sin does to us. St. Augustine first used the Latin phrase, “incurvatus in se” to describe sin. It means curved inward on oneself. Sin causes us to bend inward and use physical and even spiritual goods for our own purposes. Sin even blinds us to the fact that we are bent inward and away from God.

And this inward, self-absorbed bent is what we observe when children throw tantrums. The tantrum is their form of protesting the fact that the universe isn’t about them. “I do not like that the universe is not custom-built to my specifications and preferences!”

Just because we grow up doesn't mean we accept the reality that life is not about us. Much of our frustration in life is caused by this. The more we operate as though the world is supposed to be built around us, the more we are going against the grain of how the world actually works. You will be perpetually frustrated with your job, annoyed with your spouse, disappointed by your friends and infuriated by your children if you believe that they all exist for you.

But the truth is: It’s not about you. Life is about God (John 12:28). Your work, marriage, kids, and friendships are not about you. They are about God. They exist to bring God glory. Other people don’t exist to serve you. Your job does not exist to serve you. Your LifeGroup does not exist to serve you. Your LifeGroup leader does not exist to serve you. God does not exist to serve you.

And in all of this, Jesus is actually fighting for our joy (John 15:11). Just like a seed that has to die, we can only find our life’s true purpose by dying. In refusing the temptation to be preoccupied with our own preferences and instead choosing to give ourselves away for God and others, we wind up being with Jesus (John 12:26).

Jesus is the greatest picture of the seed analogy: He gave Himself away for us. He died and was planted in the ground. And bursting forth from the ground He has brought an entire harvest of new life and fruit.

We believe the lie that we need to look out for ourselves. But the truth is, God has promised to look out for us (John 12:26). We have what we need in Christ. He is sufficient. We are free to spend our lives on the glory of God and the good of others. And when we do so, we can allow ourselves to be spent, bothered, and inconvenienced for other people.

So, this week in our Personal Liturgy challenge, we are fighting self-absorption by praying for another person in our lives for 10 minutes. Let’s use this challenge to shift the focus off ourselves and serve others instead.

Member Spotlight | Fighting Cynicism

Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week, we hear from Matthew Travis, a college senior and member of our Business Council, as he shares with us how his fight against cynicism looks like in light of the gospel.

How does cynicism show up in your life?

Cynicism shows up in my life when I focus on myself and my struggles, rather than on Jesus. This specifically looks like praying for something and then moving on with my day without being attentive to how God might be at work in my day. Then, when the prayer is answered, I think, “that probably would have happened anyway.”

A large part of it is also fear - I tend to shy away from things that scare me. I think I will be my best protector because I have my best interest in mind. In those moments, I fail to realize that the Lord loves me so much that He gave His only Son to redeem me into His own family. He loves me better than I ever could imagine, which means verses like Psalm 27:1 can reassure me that I can live fearless because the Lord is my God and my Protector.

A very real example of cynicism in me is in seeking to be in a relationship simply to avoid being single. Until recently, I had not been aware of how much weight I was giving to finding someone to date. I thought I had to take the situation into my own hands because God obviously didn’t want the best for me. So for years, I had so much anxiety about being single and knew that I was the one to blame, because the situation was, in my eyes, dependent on me. This is cynicism - not trusting that God is working in my life or believing that He has a beautiful, abundant plan for me.

Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?

I have seen growth in overcoming my sin of cynicism by being upfront and honest with people in my LifeGroup. It has been a huge relief to be able to go to the guys in my group and tell them how real this struggle is. They speak gospel-truth over me and reassure me that God is moving and working in my life and that He has not overlooked me.

Since starting to use the Personal Liturgy app back in January, I have begun to notice cynicism in my life. It has made me aware of how much I tend to doubt God’s presence in my life and His active movement in my circumstances. Without the app’s daily encouragement to think through my thoughts, emotions, and feelings towards God, I probably would not have noticed this sin in my life as something that needs to be addressed.

How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with cynicism?

Cynicism attempts to attack my identity in Christ and tries to tell me that the truth of the good news of Jesus does not apply to me. The gospel shows me that because of Immanuel, God is always with me and never leaves me or forsakes me. Jesus gave me the Holy Spirit when I became a believer and assures me that because of His love, I never have to be insecure ever again about whether or not He is active in my life. This is the confidence the gospel gives me.

What are practical steps or habits you practice to fight cynicism in your life? Have there been any scriptures, books or teachings/sermons that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with cynicism in your life?

Honestly, the best tool for me to fight cynicism in my life has been to turn to Scripture and read the truth about how the Lord loves me personally and how He will never leave me. He is faithful. When I am not faithful, He is still faithful. It’s beautiful to know that the Lord’s faithfulness is not dependent on me.

  • Hebrews 13:5-6 has really helped me. This references Psalm 118:6 which states that since the Lord is on my side, I have no fear. Hebrews 13:5-6 says that the Lord is not only on our side, He is our Helper!
  • Exodus 3:12 says that the Lord Himself will be with us.
  • Deuteronomy 31:8 says that the Lord Himself will be with us. He will go before us and not leave us nor forsake us.

One important characteristic about cynicism that has been hard for me to understand and grow in is that the presence of cynicism doesn’t depend on how much I know. Simply knowing Bible verses and being able to recite them is not enough. I am fighting to live in light of these verses, instead of just knowing them in my head. This takes active, pleading prayer to God for help to make these verses change the way I live in light of the gospel.

What encouragement would you offer to others in our church family as they seek to fight cynicism in their lives?

If you notice yourself leaning towards cynicism in your life when you think about God, I would strongly encourage you not to try to hide this from other people, or quite frankly, from yourself. Being open and honest with personal struggles is a healthy way to live life. I think it is really easy to say that doubting God is normal and everyone has those thoughts, when in reality, God desires for us to talk about those thoughts and believe in Him more and love Him more as a result of those conversations. Please don’t miss the beauty and the power of other believers encouraging you through your sin and struggles (Hebrews 3:12-13).

I would also say that there is joy in remembering that the Lord is sovereign over all things, including cynicism in your life, which means we can now approach every situation, no matter how hard, frustrating, or seemingly impossible they are, with hope. This hope in Jesus that He has conquered the grave and our sin allows us to fight cynicism in the grace that He has already provided for us. This is good news!

Sermon Recap | A Spirit-Filled Life

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This week, we’re going to dive into what it really means to hear from God’s Spirit. Some of us respond with cynicism to hearing from God’s Spirit because we’ve seen it go bad. We’ve seen people talking about what God told them to do in immature and not well-discipled ways. However, time and time again, the Bible talks about how we are to hear from God’s Spirit for teaching, guiding, and instructing (Ephesians 5:18, John 14:16-17, John 16:13, Galatians 5:24-25).

Some helpful context for hearing from God’s Spirit:

  • God is a speaking God. (Genesis 1:28-31, Genesis 8:15-17, Genesis 17:1-8)
  • Relationships are formed through communication.
  • God's Spirit is more focused on who you become than on what you do. (1 Thess 5:18, 1 Thess 4:3, 1 Peter 3:17, Romans 12:1)

“The Spirit of God’s main work is to shape us into being the kind of people God wants us to be, because when we become the kind of people God wants us to be, we will do the things God wants us to do.”

- J.D. Greear

In answering the questions, “how do we hear from God’s Spirit?”, 1 Thessalonians gives us our guardrails to not fall into the two extremes as we explore the different ways we can hear from God’s Spirit.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

- 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

Paul tells us not to fall into the pit of quenching the Spirit or despising the idea of hearing from God. And He also tells us to test everything and not fall into the pit of believing every passing whim and message we think God is telling us.

Five ways to hear from God’s Spirit:

1. Through God’s Word

God’s Spirit is the one who inspired the writing of Scripture. God cannot and will not contradict Himself. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 16:13)

Here’s what this means for us:

  • We should open our Bibles and expect to hear from God’s Spirit.
  • We should not blame the Spirit for disobedience to God’s Word.
  • We should test any message from God’s Spirit by the message of God’s Word.

2. Through the church

In Acts 13:2, we see the church in Antioch is gathered together, worshiping, when the Holy Spirit speaks. In Galatians 2, we read that Paul, after 14 years of ministry, is prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem and submit what he was teaching to the leaders of the church.

In our lives, it is really helpful for us to submit what we’re hearing from the Lord to the church because the church is a body of believers with God’s Spirit as well!  (Ephesians 5:21)

3. In our giftings

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

- 1 Corinthians 12:7

God has given the church different gifts to be used for His kingdom and our good. We can learn what God is saying to us by looking at what God has put in us. Part of how we receive God’s Spirit is through the gifts He puts in us.

To begin to discern what your gifts are, look for the intersection of these three categories:

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  • Affinity - what we are passionate or care about. This is something God has given us a heart for.
  • Ability - what we are good at. Some of us have natural giftings and skills that can align with the Spirit’s giftings.
  • Affirmation - what other people see and call out in us. God’s Spirit can speak through other people to show us our giftings.

4. Through our circumstances

But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me...

- 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

God in His sovereignty can use our circumstances to open some doors and close others as He guides us through life. We don’t have to panic about whether or not we have missed out from hearing from God, because He has us where we need to be in order to be on mission for Him.

5. Impressions of God’s Spirit on our spirit

This final way of hearing from the Spirit can make people uncomfortable or nervous because we’ve seen it get weird. We’ve seen it mishandled. However, we cannot write it off, because it’s evidenced in Scripture.

In Acts 20:22-23, we read that Paul was impressed by the Spirit to go to the Jerusalem, even though the Spirit showed him that he would face imprisonment and hurt. In Galatians 2:1-2 and Acts 16:9-10, we see how mission and evangelism is brought about by specific messages and visions from God’s Spirit In our cynicism, we are prone to look at and write all this off as, “Well that was Paul and Acts! It doesn’t apply to us.” However, over and over again, Paul calls us to follow Jesus the way he does (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 3:7+9)

It’s important to note that Paul and the early church heard from God sometimes, but not every day. So we shouldn’t assume hearing from God’s Spirit every day, But if we wait and listen, we will likely hear Him speak at times in our lives. Sometimes He will convict us of sin. Sometimes He will remind us of the truth of the gospel and God’s great love for us. Sometimes He will prompt us to pray for those who are hurting. Sometimes He will help us see how to love and engage those who are far from Jesus. In all these ways and others, God’s Spirit  desires to speak to us and we will be wise to listen humbly.

Conclusion:

If and when we think we hear something from Him, we should submit it to God’s Word and God’s people. We should ask if it aligns with our gifting and our circumstance. And lastly, we should make sure it’s in line with God’s clearly revealed will to grow our holiness and to grow His kingdom.

Sermon Recap | Why "Parakletos" Should Be Your Favorite Word

This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we continued to explore our fourth enemy to our spiritual health: cynicism. Our working definition of cynicism is a posture of skepticism that leads you to doubt God’s presence and activity in your life.

Beginning in chapter 13 of John, we see Jesus’ dialogue with the disciples as they eat the Last Supper together. Jesus knows that He is going to die soon, and takes the time to prepare and encourage the disciples, who don’t yet understand why Jesus has to die and what that means in the grand scheme of things.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

- John 14:18-20

In verse 18, Jesus speaks to the core of their struggle. He says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” Ultimately, the disciples are wondering if they are going to be left alone. This same idea forms the foundation for all of our cynicism. The nagging question of, “Is God going to be there for me? Is He reliable? Is He going to leave me?”

But Jesus offers hope that He will not leave them as orphans. He promises the disciples that He will come to them. And He offers this for us as well.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

- John 14:16-17

Here, Jesus introduces a new idea to the disciples. He says He will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to them, to dwell with them, and be in them. This is the context in which He says “I will not leave you as orphans.” The supernatural Spirit of God is going to come and miraculously dwell in them. The Spirit will be their ongoing connection to Jesus.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a “Helper”, but this translation doesn’t concisely capture what Jesus is describing. The Greek word here is "paraklētos." It literally means "called in aid." It comes from para- ‘alongside’ + klētos (from kalein ‘to call’).

It’s a contrast word to the English word parasite. The word parasite is the combination of the words “alongside” and “eat”. It’s something that is stuck to us to take from us and steal our life and energy. Parakletos is the exact opposite. It’s something that is called permanently to our side to help us, and to give to us energy, resources, life, and power that we don’t have.

Despite Jesus wonderful promise, the disciples are still confused and upset. So Jesus continues to press:.

But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

- John 16:6-8

These verses are actually very corrective for us.
We think everything in life would be better if Jesus was just here beside us. We could fight sin better and love God better and our faith would be so much stronger if Jesus was here in the flesh with us.

What Jesus says though is that the Spirit inside of us is even better than Jesus beside us.

To understand this better, look no further than the very disciples Jesus was talking to. Peter, who said he would lay down his life for Jesus — within 12 hours would deny Jesus three times (even curse Him!), acting out of complete fear. However, after being filled with the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, Peter is a completely different person. He gets dragged in front of the king and boldly says, "Kill me if you want, but I will never stop preaching the gospel."

The Spirit inside Peter was more fruitful and powerful in Peter's life than Jesus beside him.

The difference is amazing, but it doesn’t stop there. Looking at the other disciples, we also see a night and day difference after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes. There is a supernatural boldness and power that was not there before. Doubt, fear, and timidity turn into confident hope and joy.

Our cynicism does not all look the same, but at the root of it all is this: “Is God really present? Does He care?...About me? Can He really do anything to help me? Is He trustworthy? Is He doing anything?”

The cross and resurrection answer those questions with a resounding “Yes!” But another word answers those questions with a resounding “Yes,” and that word is parakletos. Our Helper. The Spirit of the living God, sent to live in us.

Here is what this means for us, if we are Christians filled by the same Holy Spirit:

  • When we doubt, we are not alone.
  • When we feel distant from God, we are not alone.
  • We don’t repent of sin alone.
  • We don’t obey God alone.
  • We don’t read the Bible alone.
  • We don’t pray alone.
  • We don’t rejoice alone.
  • We don’t live on mission alone.
  • We don’t battle Satan’s accusations alone.
  • We don’t sleep alone. We don’t drive alone. We don’t eat alone. We don’t work alone. We don’t battle nightmares alone. We don’t daydream alone.

We are never alone.

This is the God we need. This is the God who puts cynicism to death. He is the supernatural, constant help we all need. God’s Spirit is always with us, and that’s even better than if Jesus were sitting beside us.

Resource Round-up | Cynicism

This week we began examining the fourth enemy to our spiritual health: cynicism. We are defining cynicism as a posture of skepticism that leads us to doubt God’s presence and activity in our lives. We hope these additional resources will be helpful as you fight cynicism in your life.

Video: Are You Cynical About Prayer? by Paul Miller

In this quick two-minute video, Paul Miller (author of A Praying Life) explains how an undercurrent of cynicism in our culture negatively affects our prayer lives.

Book: A Praying Life by Paul Miller

In his book, Miller goes in heavily on cynicism as a hindrance to our prayer lives. He has a lot of insight into how we identify cynicism and overcome it through trusting Jesus.

Article: Putting Off Cynicism by Paul Maxwell

This article defines cynicism and looks at some of its biggest hidden dangers. Maxwell identifies the five components of cynicism (including its connection to apathy) and then offers five things that Christ provides to help the cynic.

Book: Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves

During this portion of the series, we will be covering how the Holy Spirit battles our cynicism by continually pointing us to trust and put our hope in Jesus. This book provides a wonderfully compelling vision of God as Trinity and how He works in our lives. Reeves calls us out of our cynicism and invites us to delight in God and in knowing Him.

Article: Warm Yourself at the Fires of Meditation by David Mathis

David Mathis makes the case for how meditating on God and His Word is a central means of grace and healing in the Christian life.

Sermon Series: “Crisis of Faith

If in the midst of your cynicism you find yourself wrestling with tough questions and doubts, we recommend checking out this sermon series by Midtown. This series takes a look at six questions or issues that hinder people from following or trusting Jesus. For more resources on these topics, check out the blogs posted for this series here.

Article: The Sin in Our Cynicism by Jonathan Parnell

This piece looks at the sinful roots that often lie underneath our cynical attitudes towards God and others. Parnell argues that cynicism is a problem, and more than that, it is sin. He challenges readers to fight cynicism by beginning to see things as they are—as God has told us they are in His Word.

Sermon Recap | The Doubting Thomas in All of Us

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This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we began exploring our fourth enemy to our spiritual health: cynicism. This enemy is one of the hardest to point out because we sometimes conflate being cynical with being grown-up, rational Americans and because we don’t have a great working definition or understanding of what cynicism is on a day-to-day basis.

Cynicism - a posture of skepticism that leads you to doubt God’s presence and activity in your life.

3 Symptoms of Cynicism:

  1. Doubt/Distrust: When we’ve been burned or hurt, we don’t want to feel that again, so we self-protect. We start to believe everything and everyone has an angle and begin questioning people’s motives. We start to doubt God and distrust Him. Our faith gets doubted constantly while our doubts and cynicism go unchecked.
  2. Distance: We grow distant from God and people, specifically people who don’t join us in cynicism. If intimacy requires trust, then cynicism is distrust. It holds people at arm’s length and doesn’t expect God to show up in our lives.
  3. Disenchantment: Hope, belief, trust, love, intimacy, and life with a supernatural God are all very enchanting things. They are things that brighten our eyes and fill our spirit and fill us with wonder. Cynicism looks at these and rolls its eyes at it because cynicism makes us disenchanted.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

- John 20:19-22, 24-25

When Jesus died, so did Thomas’ spiritual hopes and Thomas’ reputation. To say Thomas was devastated is not enough. He felt distraught and abandoned. At best, he’ll be mocked for following Jesus, the fraud. At worst, he’ll be tracked down and killed.

That’s the weight of indescribable disappointment and hurt packed in the words: “I will never believe.

The Doubting Thomas in All of Us

Sometimes, like Thomas, disappointment and wounds are at the heart of our cynicism. Cynicism becomes our defense mechanism. Cynicism grows in the wounds caused by life not going how we hoped.

But cynicism is more than just disappointment and hurt. The truth is, there’s a bit of a doubting Thomas in all of us.

  • For some of us, cynicism starts every morning when we don’t see the need to carve out time with Jesus and then stumble into our day godlessly, without prayer or any acknowledgment of God’s presence and power in our lives.
  • For others, cynicism shows in us when we attribute something amazing to circumstance or nature, rather than to prayer and God’s hand.
  • Cynicism shows up in our spiritual growth when we don’t see the growth we desire, believe that we will never change, and so we stop putting forth the effort.
  • It can show up in our relationships with others. When we see sin or weakness in someone and God’s Spirit prompts us to encourage, correct, or rebuke, cynicism creeps in and tells us that conversation will go badly or that it won’t be worth it.
  • Cynicism can creep into the mission. We can get really excited about the mission and want to invite people to church or LifeGroup, but when cynicism speaks up, we deflate and convince ourselves they won’t come, so it won’t be worth asking. Cynicism neuters courage and obedience.
  • Ultimately, cynicism affects our view of God. We start to see God more as a distant watchmaker in the sky, than as a Father who cares and is involved in the details of our life.

It’s all cynicism. We don’t actually trust God is exactly who He says He is and we don’t actually believe He’s going to do what He says He’s going to do.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

- John 20:26-31

As Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds, Thomas’ wounds are healed. His cynicism and distrust are shattered. The prophecy in Isaiah 53, that by Jesus’ wounds we would be healed, comes true for Thomas right here.

In the middle of this incredible, powerful moment with Thomas, Jesus stops, and thinks about us. He stops and thinks about all of us who would never get to see Him in the resurrected flesh, and He says, “Blessed are those who don’t see but still believe.”

Jesus extends to us the same offer He extended to Thomas: to look at His wounds and believe. He invites us to believe that Jesus, the Son of God died in our place. He calls us to believe He rose from the grave. He calls us to believe that in the midst of our frustration and doubt, God sees us, hears our every word muttered in cynical angst, and loves us anyway.

Reading the Bible brings us back into the enchanted, supernatural world that God created. It was written so we could encounter the living God, the Maker of heavens and the earth, and the God who sustains our every breath. Time and time again, we get to see God showing up over and over again, bringing life and hope to all kinds of different people and sinners. We get to see the miraculous work of Jesus dying on the cross for us and saving us!

Here’s what this means for us:

  1. God pursues the disenchanted and the cynical. The Bible is proof - the spread of this book around the globe is proof! God is coming after us. We have God’s supernatural revelation of Himself to us right here.
  2. We fight cynicism by being in God’s Word. If the purpose of Scripture is for us to believe in Jesus and we find ourselves wrestling with cynicism, we should be spending more time in His Word.

This is God’s plan to crush your disbelief and cynicism. The Bible is God’s plan to re-enchant you to the unthinkable grace found in reality. God’s Word never returns void.

Personal Liturgy Challenge

Our challenge for this week is to meditate on Scripture for at least 15 minutes per day. Passages and questions will be provided for us to pray through as we meditate on God’s Word.

Sermon Recap | Pray Like Jesus - Part 3

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This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we continued to explore the spiritual practice of prayer as a tool to fight self-reliance. We focused on the communal aspect of prayer and the power of praying together.

When looking at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, it’s easy to miss that the prayer is filled with communal language. We are family, which means when we pray to our Father, we pray for all of our needs, we ask for forgiveness for our sins as a community and culture, and we pray for help against temptation for one another.

Part of why Jesus teaches us to pray communally is because He knows we will never become the beautiful, supernatural, life-giving community He intends...until we learn to pray together. And the first four chapters of Acts give us a beautiful picture of how right Jesus was:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

As the early church is devoted to prayer, incredible things start to happen: the church taking care of everyone’s needs, people interweaving their lives together, and God adding new believers into their community. We see a second and equally beautiful picture in Acts 4:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35

We again see an example of a Jesus-centered family on mission. This type of church may seem a bit out of reach for us, but what happens in between these two beautiful pictures gives us the clue to how this kind of community can come to be.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.

Acts 3:1-9

We see from this passage that Peter and John and the early church community are consistently praying together day by day. In that context of prayer, God shows them an incredible opportunity for God’s might to be displayed. God opens their eyes to a kingdom opportunity right in front of them, through prayer.

However, after this amazing moment, Peter and John get arrested and thrown in jail for healing in Jesus’ name. After a long, unjust trial with no basis, the two are let go and immediately go to their friends’ house where they start to ... pray:

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:23-31

They start their prayer by acknowledging who God is. They bring all their problems to God, interpreting them through the lens of Scripture and through the lens of God’s sovereignty. Then, they ask God to help them keep speaking God’s Word with boldness. Peter and John just got thrown in jail, and they pray for boldness, not safety.

The early church prayed for strength to keep doing what God had called them to. And they asked God to keep doing what only He can do: healing people, performing signs and wonders...all in the name of Jesus.

In the end, we have to recognize that the church is supposed to be supernatural! God didn’t institute the church to be a big, happy get together of nice, polite moral people. Instead, God calls the church to show off to the world what life with God is like. We cannot be a part of God’s miraculous kingdom work here on earth without prayer.

The church is supposed to be a place where things are happening daily and the only explanation is “Yeah, I don’t know. God did it.” Unexplainable things are supposed to be happening in our midst - things that require gospel explanation and point to the mighty handiwork of our God.

In LifeGroup this week, we will practically apply this call to communal prayer, and lift our voices together to God, like the early church did in Acts 4:23. There are normal hesitations to participating in group prayer, but we hope this will be a good, gospel encouragement to join our voices together to our Father:

“Grace means we aren't saved by our prayers. Jesus’ perfect prayer life has been substituted for ours. We stand before God now counted as perfect pray-ers of perfect prayers. And grace means we accept each other freely. We give room for weaknesses and struggles. We help each other grow and learn out of kindness and acceptance. We don't need to impress God or each other.
You are already loved. You are already righteous in God’s sight. You will not be judged by God or by us as to the quality of your prayers. There is nothing to fear."

Member Spotlight | Fighting Self-Reliance

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Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week, we hear from Midtown Lexington’s Vision and Teaching Pastor Michael Bailey as he shares with us how the spiritual discipline of prayer actively guards him in the fight against self-reliance.

How does self-reliance show up in your life?

You could say that self-reliance is often my default mode of operation. For example, when something breaks in the house or on my old F-150, I find no greater pleasure than being able to avoid calling the repairman and doing it myself. It’s probably fine for me to be self-reliant in those ways, but this mentality often bleeds over into my spiritual life, too.

The most common symptom of my spiritual self-reliance is prayerlessness. I think, “Oh, I don’t need to pray for this. I just need to figure out the solution. In general, my first response to problems is to plan instead of pray. This only increases with particularly stressful seasons. Instead of turning to God with my anxieties, I just aim to keep my head down and work my way through it. I would never say that I don’t feel like I need God, but my actions tell a different story.

Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?

On my own, stress was always a prompt to problem-solve before anything else. While I still problem-solve, I’m fighting to see feelings of stress as prompts to ask God for help and guidance before I try to just fix things. Stress is becoming a reminder to me that God is God and I am not.

How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with self-reliance?

I’ve learned to see that self-reliance, in many respects, has its roots directly in the Fall of man. Life ruled by self was mankind’s original sin and subsequently lays at the root of all sin. The gospel directs my attention to the reality that attempting to do life on my own is precisely the thing Jesus came to die for. It’s not merely a personality wiring or a work ethic malfunction, but a sin - and at the heart of all sin - that required the cross.

What are practical steps or habits you practice to fight self-reliance in your life?

I’m type-A. So, if I don’t have structure, it doesn’t happen. To fight self-dependency, I created a “prayer spreadsheet” where I periodically list the things I need or want to see God do. I track the date that I prayed for it and the date God provided an answer. It might sound tedious, but this process has been such a help:

For one, the task of writing down my prayers reminds me I ultimately need God’s Spirit to do the heavy lifting regardless of how confident I feel in my abilities to accomplish things. It forces me, even for just a few brief moments, to confess to God my need for Him to act.

Secondly, it gives me a practical medium to actually turn over to God the big things that stress me out. Before, I’d believe theoretically that I needed to “hand things over to God”, but never really had a framework for how to actually do that. Sitting down and typing out my prayers has become the tangible way to say to God, “Okay, this thing? I need you here. And this problem? I can’t solve it without Your guidance.”  

Lastly, it puts God’s faithfulness front and center. When He answers my prayers, I can’t avoid it. I can’t simply write it off to coincidence or what would have happened regardless. It’s a one-to-one relationship. I prayed and He acted. I can still remember the first time I checked off a prayer that God answered. I thought, “Wow…He really did it!” And the more of those prayers that get checked off, the more I’m encouraged to trust in God’s abilities over my own.

Have there been any scriptures that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with self-reliance?

Yes, specifically Psalm 127:1-2 which says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

What encouragement would you offer to others in our church family as they seek to fight self-reliance in their lives?

I’d assume that for many of us who struggle with self-reliance, we don’t really consider it to be a sinful issue. We take pride in our work and our abilities to accomplish. The dark underbelly of our position though, is that it often leads us to feeling like the weight of our world is consistently on our own shoulders. So, my biggest encouragement to others would be to realize that it isn’t. He’s powerful enough to handle what you think you’ve got to do on your own.

Sermon Recap | Pray Like Jesus - Part 2

This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we continued to explore the spiritual practice of prayer as a tool to fight self-reliance. We primarily focused on one of the biggest hindrances to and realities of prayer: disappointment.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

- Matthew 7:7-11

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

- Luke 18:1-8

In each of these passages, God’s goodness is the prompt to pray. Jesus shows us that His Goodness makes us want to pray and be persistent in our asking, seeking, and knocking. He is our good, heavenly Father, and we are to go to Him like children, incessantly asking for things.

Our confidence in God’s goodness is part of the foundation on which we build our prayer life.

Which means that if our confidence in God’s goodness wavers, there are going to be problems.

This is why disappointment is such a big deal. When we pray consistently for something good and God doesn’t grant our prayers - it can feel like a cosmic betrayal. We can end up feeling angry, hurt, confused, and like God owed us.

In these moments of disappointment, we’re all asking: Is God good? Does He really love us? Should we really trust Him?

So the critical question becomes, on what basis does God prove His goodness to us? And do we get to decide that basis or does God get to decide?

The Bible answers these questions definitively:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

- Romans 5:8

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

- 1 John 3:16

God is not on trial. We are not the judge. Our job is not to keep coming up with standards and judging God by them. We know what love is, — we know what goodness is — based on what God has done for us through the cross. In the cross, He has accomplished an eternal salvation for us and His goodness towards us is no longer on trial.

However, we functionally live as though the jury is still out on God. We feel a weight of disappointment when things do not go our way. Oftentimes, that disappointment gets directed towards God, rather than filtered through the cross.

When we don’t filter our disappointments through the cross, we begin to lower our expectations and requests. We don’t want to get our hopes up when we pray because we don't want to get hurt again. But as Christians, we are called to hope - not guard against hope!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

1 Peter 1:3

The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

- Psalm 147:11

Jesus, in both Matthew 7 and Luke 18 is in effect, saying, “Get your hopes up! Go to God trusting in His goodness. Expect God to care and respond.”

So what do we do with our disappointment and how do we remain hopeful? We confess, repent, and pray to God about our disappointment. The following questions are to help us process our disappointments and our view of God’s goodness. Boldly and incessantly pray to our good, heavenly Father.

  1. In what ways are you disappointed with God?
  2. In what ways are you most tempted to measure God's goodness outside of the cross?
  3. What do you need/want God to do?

 

Adapted from Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey. Called “death of a dream.”

O Christ, in whom the final fulfillment of all hope is held secure,

I bring to you now the weathered fragments of my former dreams,
the broken pieces of my expectations. 
What I wanted has not come to pass.
I invested my hopes in desires that returned only sorrow and frustration.

In my head I know that you are sovereign even over this -
over my tears, my confusion, and my disappointment.
But I still feel, in this moment, as if I have been abandoned,
as if you do not care that these hopes have collapsed.

And yet I know this is not so.
You are the sovereign of my sorrow.
You apprehend a wider sweep with wiser eyes than mine.
My history bears the fingerprints of grace.
You were always faithful,
though I could not always trace quick evidence of your presence in my pain,
yet did you remain at work.

So let me remain tender now, to how you would teach me.
My disappointments reveal so much about my own agenda for my life,
and the ways I quietly demand that it should play out:
free of conflict, free of pain, free of want.

Your bigger purpose has always been for my greatest good,
that I would be fashioned into a more fit vessel for the indwelling of your Spirit,
and molded into a more compassionate emissary of your coming Kingdom.
And you, in love, will use all means to shape my heart into those perfect forms.

So let this disappointment do its work.
Let me listen to its holy whisper,
that I might embrace the better dreams you dream
for me, and for your people,
and for your kingdom, and for your creation.
Let me join myself to these,
investing all hope that will never come undone
or betray those who place their trust in it.
Teach me to hope, O Lord,
always and only in you.

You are the King of my collapse.
You answer not what I demand,
but what I do not even know to ask.
Here in the ruins of my wrecked expectation,
let me make this best confession:

Not my dreams, O Lord,
not my dreams,
but yours, be done.
Amen.

Resource Round-up | Self-Reliance

This week we began examining the third enemy to our spiritual health: self-reliance. We defined self-reliance as living our day-to-day lives depending primarily on our own strengths and resources and we looked at how we fight to grow our dependence on God through prayer. We hope these additional resources will be beneficial as you fight self-reliance in your own life.

Book: A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller

In his book, Miller lays out a pattern for living in relationship with God and includes helpful habits and approaches to prayer that enable us to fight against self-reliance and return to a childlike faith.

Video: “We Can Do Nothing” by John Piper

In this short, 3-minute video, John Piper provides a metaphor for how we can glorify God by appropriately depending on Him to do things we are unable to accomplish. Coming out of John 15, Piper reminds viewers that prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have to fight against self-reliance because it is the turning away of ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide what we need.

Article:Christian Life Beyond the Quiet Time” by Jared C. Wilson

Wilson examines what it means to “be filled by the Spirit” and the connection between not just cultivating a daily “quiet time” but a quiet life that intentionally and diligently focuses on the finished work of Christ in our everyday, ordinary lives.

Article:A Simple Way to Pray Every Day “ by Nick Aufenkamp

In this helpful article, Aufenkamp summarizes some of Martin Luther’s advice on why and how to use the Lord’s Prayer as a structure for daily prayer. The article also has some nice tie-ins to fighting distraction as well as self-reliance.

Video: “Teach Us to Pray” by John Piper

Breaking down each phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, Piper gives an example for how The Lord’s Prayer is a helpful model for our prayer lives.

Book: Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Framed around one ordinary day, this book explores daily life through the lens of liturgy, small practices and habits that form us. Warren sets out to show that every area of our lives is designed for communion and engagement with God. We’d especially recommend checking out Chapter 4: “Losing Keys” as it’s particularly relevant to fighting against a daily mindset of self-reliance.

Article:Three Ways to Fight Prayerlessness” by Aaron Armstrong

In this short article, Armstrong gives three simple, but not often heeded, steps for fighting against prayerlessness in our lives.

Sermon Series: “Pray”

Check out this 3-part sermon series from the Midtown Archives called “Pray” which looks at what prayer is and how to practice it well.

Sermon Series: “Luke”

During our study through the book of Luke, we dove into the topic of prayer on two occasions. You can check out those sermons: “Persisting in Prayer” and “War-Time Prayer” here.

Sermon Recap | Pray Like Jesus - Part 1

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This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we began to look at the third enemy of our spiritual health, self-reliance.

Self-reliance: living our day-to-day lives depending primarily on our own strength and resources.  

Compared to the other enemies we’ve looked at so far in this series, apathy and distraction, self-reliance is a bit harder to identify and fight in our lives.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:1-3

Jesus says to live life in His kingdom, we must be poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit means we do not expect to make it through a normal day outside of the mercy and help of God and others. It means our need is not circumstantial, but rather, perpetual. Being poor in spirit means recognizing that we don’t have what it takes to help or save ourselves.

Those who are “rich in spirit” never need help, even in life’s crazy circumstances. They have enough resources to take care of themselves no matter what happens.

However, we are more “middle class in spirit”. When we inevitably come face to face with our own inability to change something and our own weakness, we pray. But on our normal days, we try to handle things on our own with no view of our need for God’s help.

Our culture, both secular and Christian, believes that we can handle anything that comes our way if we put our mind to it. We think that God will never give us more than we can handle, but that is not the case. This leads to people never asking for help and feeling crushed whenever they are forced to face their weakness. The truth is God will never give us more than He can handle. We need to acknowledge our weakness and need for God’s help in our lives.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5:6

How do we fight against self-reliance?

How do we fight to grow our dependence on God so that over time we experience more of His strength, power, and victory in our lives? The answer is, prayer. Prayer is meant to be an admission of our need, a reminder of our weakness, and an invitation for God to show off in our lives.

Prayer and self-reliance are inversely related.

When self-reliance is high, prayer is negligible. When we know we are in trouble and need help, prayer is flowing. We can use this to our advantage - we can use intentional prayer to decrease our self-reliance.

In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus gives us a tool to help us cultivate and walk in our poverty of spirit - the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is teaching us how to depend on God through prayer and reject reliance on ourselves through this prayer. This prayer is short enough to memorize and use as a helpful daily reminder of our dependence on God.

The Lord’s Prayer as a Daily Prayer Guide:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

Being poor in spirit starts with acknowledging that God is God and we are not. He is capable of answering prayers - we are not. We are to reset our mind on God’s worthiness to be prayed to.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Pray that more and more people would submit to Him as their King.  Pray that the earth would look more and more like heaven does and that God would powerfully work to reverse everything that has gone wrong in the earth because of sin.  

Give us today our daily bread.

Asking God for daily bread means asking Him to provide for us physically, but also in every other arena of life - spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. This is again acknowledging our utter dependence on the Lord and asking for Him to provide.

And forgive us our debts,

This is a prompt for confession and a request for forgiveness. This is a chance for us to accept the gospel for our day and confess any outer, behavioral level ways we’ve sinned against God, as well as any inner, hidden ways our hearts have turned from Jesus.

As we also have forgiven our debtors.

If the gospel is true for us, then it’s true for others as well. If God’s grace is sufficient to free us from the debt we owed Him, then that same grace will release the debts of those who’ve sinned against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

This is a chance for us to pray for protection and deliverance; to be honest about any areas we feel especially weak, tempted or attacked in right now. Acknowledge that you need God to help you with those things.

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Let’s fight our self-reliance by incorporating the Lord’s prayer into our regular lives as a daily prayer guide. Even on our normal days with the regular frustrations and mundane tasks, let us become people who daily confess our need for a Savior and look to God in prayer to do the work that only He can do.

Taking a Break From Social Media: One Member’s Reflections

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Stephen Bateman has been a member at Midtown since 2008. He has served on our production team, creative team, and helped create the Personal Liturgy app. The following are his reflections on fasting from social media.

In October 2017, I made a rather awkward public announcement and turned off the social media and news faucet. While social media falls inside the “it depends” category that we talked about in week 2, I knew that for me it tends to beg for my attention, shape my thoughts, and affect my friendships. So after a good deal of thought, I decided to walk away entirely.

Over the past several months, I've experienced more of a mental shift than I expected. The following is a summary of my experience.

I needed to acknowledge the addiction.

Social media addiction works because of biology. I'm no biologist, but I'm told that our brains have two systems that work together to get rewards – the dopamine and opioid systems. The dopamine system is built to tell your brain that you want food, shelter, sex, relationship, etc. Seeking those things releases dopamine. Once you actually get the reward, your opioid system is triggered, telling your body that you've had enough.

But the dopamine system has a problem. The shut-off valve sometimes gets stuck on "open.” This is why it's easier to snack on potato chips than broccoli and also why it feels good to get a text message or an email. The brain's reward system forgets to tell the "wanting" system that it has had enough. Scientists have compared the effect of social media use on your brain to the effects of gambling and illegal drugs, in the sense that they both short-circuit your reward system to keep you wanting more.

My first step to breaking social media addiction was acknowledging that it's an addiction. Quitting wasn't easy.

Facebook wanted me back.

Facebook knows. They knew when I quit. They tried to cajole me. They sent an email saying "they miss me" (they don't.). People started to send me messages. They posted on my wall for the first time in five years. I'm not 100% sure that Facebook mounts a "please come back" campaign through friends, but it sure felt like it.

To put it bluntly, Facebook was selling my time for several hundred dollars over the course of my life. They planned on keeping me addicted while delivering little of lasting value.

Peace came with Do Not Disturb.

I turned off all email and phone notifications. I am still working towards keeping “Do Not Disturb” on, but the peace and quiet are transformative. I have a short list of phone applications which are allowed to ping me: Groupme and text messages. I want to pull information instead of having information pushed at me. There's no reason for Yelp or BedBath&Beyond.com to have the privilege of my immediate attention. By pulling most of my information, I'm reducing the number of dopamine hits I get through the day, cooling my reward system over time.

I needed to start with a trial period.

Leaving forever is sad. Leaving for three weeks is vacation. I started by punting social media for a trial period to see how it felt. After three weeks, I had a ton more headspace to think and learn. I evaluated what social media was providing and found that I was having few meaningful, one-on-one interactions with friends. Rather, I spent most of my time scrolling through videos of dudes falling off trampolines.

I see leaving social media as a first step, not the last step.

The temptation to live an edited life is constantly looming. I want you to think I'm happy and funny and a little goofy and politically-savvy and sensitive and wise and good at cooking. But sometimes I'm just a mess. The good news of the gospel is that the God of the Universe has seen me chase sinful desires and He chooses to display His glory in me by giving His grace as a gift, while I was sinning. 

I believe that leaving social media can create some more room to live in community and pursue the Lord. But leaving social media, by itself, won't do much. We need a positive vision for the kind of life we want to live. A life filled with meaningful interactions between real friends. A life of surprise, joy, sorrow, suffering, fear, love, and hope. A life of learning more about who God is and learning more about who He made us to be.

I read the book "Deep Work" by Cal Newport last year. Several of the ideas included here are inspired by his work. That book had a very positive influence on the quality of my work and focus.

Member Spotlight | Fighting Distraction

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Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted by and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week we interviewed two different missionary members: Sammie Mogabgab and Patrick Coker. Sammie is a member of Midtown Downtown and for the past two years has worked in College Ministry through our Residency program. Patrick has been a part of Midtown since 2007. He and his family now call Midtown Lexington home. Patrick works at Colonial Life as a Senior Motions Designer concepting and creating marketing videos. 

How does distraction most often show up in your life? 

Patrick: It doesn't have to show up; I seek it out. I have a big sinful tendency to look for an escape (a root idol of comfort) and that usually shows in watching TV shows and media consumption. If I have had a hard day, I subconsciously race to the end of my day to get my "reward" of watching Netflix until I get sleepy. I also subconsciously look at Twitter a lot. Whenever there is some downtime, my first thought is usually to pull out my phone.

Sammie: One major thing I get distracted by often is 'improving myself' in a vain way. I could be on Facebook or Instagram for two minutes, but I get off of social media and I immediately feel worse about myself. I see someone who is prettier or who has cooler clothes or something more spiritually profound to say and I have a list of things I need to do to be more like that. Eventually, I get exhausted by the ways I 'need' to be better and instead of leading me to the gospel, I'm led to more distraction because I need to do something to feel better.
 
Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?

Sammie: Something that the Spirit has been impressing upon me is that I cannot simultaneously be seeking to look prettier, have better clothes, and be more impressive to my followers and be moving towards the Spirit. So I am in large part off of social media. I don't have the apps on my phone and the websites are actually blocked. 

Another victory is that I’m becoming increasingly aware that my thoughts are connected to what I'm seeing. Now when the hyper-critical thoughts pop up in my mind and I start to feel overwhelmed, I stop and realize, “I felt fine about myself 10 minutes ago and the only things that has changed is that I saw this girl's really cool Instagram, hmm.” There is now no stronghold in the voice that's telling me that I'm not good enough and hopefully the slippery slope ends there.

Patrick: When I first get home, I put my phone somewhere out of my reach. My kids have started noticing my phone use habits so I’ve started making a conscious effort to not have it on me when they are awake. I’ve recently even switched back to reading a paper Bible because I realized that when I was reading my Bible App on my phone, to my kids, it looked no different than when I was playing a game or checking Twitter. 
 
Media consumption remains a daily battle. I still usually watch something before I fall asleep but I have to make a decision to not “check out” while I do. On a good night, I choose conversation and prayer over media consumption. 
 
Are there any habits that you’ve established to help fight distraction in your life? 

Sammie: I stay off social media the majority of the time. This just takes away the temptation to find people or things to compare myself to. I've also realized that being alone in nature is a really helpful way to fight distraction. When I get distracted, my eyes are down and I am hyper-focused on myself. When I am in nature, my eyes are up and I am reminded of the glory of God. Another helpful habit I’ve established is going on walks by myself to pray. My thoughts often lead me to want to distract myself by doing something but when I'm on a walk, there's not much else I can do but talk with my Father.

Patrick: One simple approach for me is just to ask people how they are doing. There is always somebody hurting and usually something I can do, whether that’s stopping to pray for that person or meeting a physical need. When I take small steps to consciously make life not about me, it stirs in me a desire to play and seek people out and care for them physically and emotionally. 

How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with distraction? 

Patrick: Because of the way Jesus loves me, I do not have to be a slave to my comfort idol. As I remember what Jesus has done for me and as I look to Him first, I have the strength to now run towards the things that are hard; I can hurt with the hurting or take on part of someone's pain. 

Sammie: When I am tempted to distract myself, I am ultimately seeking to make myself feel better—to deal on my own with the fact that I’m not okay. The gospel reminds me that while it’s true that I’m not okay, no efforts on my own can fix the soul-level reality that I’m broken. Now, while I’m still aware of my depravity, I can rest knowing Christ has been victorious over sin. I have assurance that I have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and now get to be in relationship with the Father because of what He has done. So when those feelings of inadequacy creep in, I don't have to distract myself and numb myself, but they can actually serve as a reminder to give thanks to the Lord that the gospel is true!

Have there been any scriptures, books or teachings that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with distraction?

Sammie: Isaiah 55:1-3

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without
price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David."

The book Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer has been an incredible gift in fighting distraction. When I am distracted, I am not finding God to be all that interesting or inspiring. The Knowledge of the Holy goes through the attributes of God and it has led me into worship over and over again. 

Patrick: Weirdly, it was a Midtown sermon on suffering (Luke: Jesus and Suffering). There was a part of it about voluntarily suffering alongside people and why we do that. It didn't deal with distraction specifically, but it made me realize, "your problem is not your problem - it's our problem."  And that sobering realization helps me fight distraction, by focusing on what's real. 

Sermon Recap | Redeeming the Time

This week in our Personal Liturgy series and focus on distraction, we looked at busyness distraction. Throughout the past three weeks, we’ve defined distraction as: the inability to focus on God because of lesser things. 

Busyness Distraction is: the inability to focus on God because our lives are overfilled.

Types of Busyness:

  1. Some “busyness” is just life responsibilities. 
  2. There is a category for “good busy” that acknowledges the hard things and responsibilities in life that we have to carry.
  3. Some busyness is self-induced. There is another category of busyness that we bring upon ourselves by building our lives in a careless and disorderly way.

Paul addresses this type of busyness in Ephesians 5:15-17. 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

- Ephesians 5:15-17

We are called to walk with intentionality and take stock of the way we’re living. Paul is warning us against walking through life in a careless way: always busy, always distracted, rushing from one thing to the next.

When Paul says, “because the days are evil”, he is reminding us we don’t live in a neutral world. This means we don’t naturally or accidentally drift towards the vibrant, flourishing life that God wants for us - we have to actively fight for it and choose it wisely.

The translation, “make the best use of the time”, can also be translated “redeem the time. Paul actually uses the same Greek word for how Jesus redeems us - purchasing us out of slavery to sin. Then he takes that same word and tells us to rescue our time, to buy it back from slavery.

To do so, to redeem our time, we need to understand what the will of the Lord is.

Jesus was absolutely clear on God’s will for his life and as a result, he was freed up to say no to lots of good things that weren’t His things. (Examples - John 6:15, Luke 8, Mark 1:28, Luke 4:42-43, 5:15-16, etc.)

This is a big implication of Ephesians 5. If we don’t know what God’s will for our life is, we’ll never know when to say ‘no’. Saying no is good, but we also need to know what to say yes to. And that requires understanding God’s will for our lives:

What is God’s Will For Us

There are some non-negotiables for all Christians (Luke 10:27). God has called us to:

  • A Jesus-centered life.
  • Love Jesus’ family.
  • Love those who aren’t a part of Jesus’ family (yet).

In addition, there are personal non-negotiables:

  • Are you married? God’s called you to love your spouse and take care of him/her as a privilege, not a burden, to encourage them with sacrificial love as a little picture of Jesus’ love for them.
  • Do you have kids? God’s called you to take care of them, providing for them, protecting them and shepherding them to do everything you can to help them see God’s love for them in Jesus. 
  • Other family members to take care of (elderly)?

On the other hand, there are some personal negotiables that should be coming after our non-negotiables:

  • Where are you going to work and live? 
  • What hobbies and other pursuits are you interested in?
    • How might you use your God-given passions and specific interests to serve back into God’s call on your life to be Jesus-centered family on mission?

Questions to ponder and pray over this week:

  • What has God created your life for?
  • What are your rhythms and intentional ways to get up with God?
  • Who are your people? Who has God given you to love?
  • What do you need to say no to? Where is the tyranny of the urgent keeping you from making the best use of your time? 

None of this is about salvation. None of this is about convincing God to love us. All of this is about the privilege of stepping into God’s invitation to walk in a focussed awareness of His presence and purpose in our lives. We are never better than when we are well aware of God’s presence and purpose in our lives. 

Resource Round-up | Distraction

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“The mind will always take on an order conforming to that upon which it concentrates.”

– Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline

This past week, we began examining the second enemy to our spiritual health: Distraction. We defined distraction as the inability to focus on God and others because our attention is taken by less important things. As a church, through our “Personal Liturgy” challenges, we are taking daily steps to fight distraction in our lives. We specifically looked at the ways our technology addictions are preventing us from focusing on God and the people He has placed in our lives. Here are a few additional resources we’d recommend if you’d like to dig deeper into the topic of technology distraction.  

Book: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch

Drawing on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, Crouch shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. Drawing from his own family’s experience and fight to put technology in its proper place, Crouch offers much guidance for families (and individuals) seeking to reclaim their real life in a world of devices. 

Article: Ruling Over Screens Crouching at our Door by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

In this article, Wilbert shares she and her husband’s approach and practical steps for putting screens in their proper place. 

Book: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Drawing from the insights of numerous thinkers, published studies, and his own research, Reinke identifies twelve ways our smartphones have changed us—for good and bad. Reinke looks at the positive sides of technology and how God uses it to advance His purposes, while also looking at the potentially harmful effects overuse can have. 

Article: I Used to Be a Human Being by Andrew Sullivan

Written from a non-Christian perspective, this article is a jarring piece on what the pace of distractions in modern life does to us. After 15 years of being addicted to the internet and social media, Sullivan reflects on his decision and journey to “quit the web and live in reality.”

Article: 6 Wrong Reasons to Check Your Phone in the Morning by Tony Reinke

Senior Writer for desiringgod.com and author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, writes a helpful piece examining why our mornings matter for the quality of our days and spiritual health. In collaboration with John Piper, the article contains insight into the unhealthy ways we can turn to our phones. 

Article: How Giving up TV for a Month Changed my Brain and my Life by Stephanie Vozza

Written from a non-Christian perspective, Vozza recounts what happened after going cold-turkey on TV. She thought it would be easy, and it wasn’t. But the end result surprised her greatly. 

Resource: Time Well Spent

Tristan Harris, a former product manager at Google, has started a non-profit to help people be more proactive about the way technology invades their lives. This site has lots of information and ideas, with the basic premise that we can’t expect tech companies to change and make their products less addicting, so we have to be the ones to change how we interact with them. His Ted Talk on the topic as well as various news clips and articles can all be found on this site. 

Sermon Recap | Be Still and Know that I Am God

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This week’s Personal Liturgy challenge may be the hardest one yet. So to equip and prepare ourselves for this challenge, we turn to Psalm 46. 

Verse 1 of the Psalm describes God as our refuge. Whenever we encounter chaos in our daily lives, He is firm, solid, secure, and unmovable. He’s a very present help, not a distant aloof god who cannot be concerned with our everyday troubles of life. Because God is our refuge, strength, and help, we do not have to fear when our world falls apart and we’re overwhelmed with the broken situations around us. 

The psalmist introduces the idea of God as our fortress in verse 7. The Hebrew word for fortress = “misgab”, and it literally means “high place, secure height, or retreat.” 

Instead of being on the ground encircled by our problems and fears, we can go up to the fortress of God and look down at them. Because God is our fortress, not only do we get safety, security, and rest from the chaos, but we also get perspective, wisdom, and clarity. 

The psalmist hits the peak of this song in verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.” The whole idea of a fortress is that if we are in it, we can catch a breath and be still and not worry about our life. 

But for it to be our fortress, we have to go there. Otherwise it’s just a rock. If we’re not going to God’s misgab, God is still a fortress, but He’s not our fortress.

The Spiritual Discipline of Solitude

Throughout Christian history, this idea has been described as the spiritual discipline of solitude. 

Solitude - getting away from everything that distracts us to focus on God. 

We see this stillness modeled throughout the life of Jesus. He consistently gets away to be still before His father. Frequently the Scriptures tell us, “He withdrew and went out to a lonely place.” 

Another way to say this would be that Jesus had a hidden life. Not a hidden life of sin or frivolous things, but a hidden life marked by practices that helped Him commune with his Father. When He went away, He came back strengthened. 

He meditated on scripture and practiced the disciplines of prayer, feasting, fasting, and serving. And Jesus is both our Savior (He walked with the Father perfectly and paid for all our failure to seek God above all else) as well as our example. He calls us to follow Him and do the things He did. (1 John 2:6)

“I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it. And so it is for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor… they are the stuff of everyday, basic Christianity—unimpressively mundane, but spectacularly potent by the Spirit.“

- David Mathis, Habits of Grace

Practicing the spiritual disciplines and developing a life where we incorporate them into our daily liturgies is flipping the switch. We can’t guarantee that electricity and growth are going to come, but we can flip the switch over and over and wait expectantly for it to come. 

This week, our daily challenge is to spend 30 minutes alone with God each day in an effort to be still and know that He is God. 

Tips for Practicing Solitude

  1. Pick a place and time.

  2. Start by reading the Bible.

  3. Pray.

As we fight for our solitude and time alone with God, let’s not get upset over our distraction or inattention, but go to God, our fortress.