What is Love?

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” – Ephesians 4:2.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has often been hailed as the greatest love story ever told. Two young lovers, in their desire to be with one another against the wishes of their feuding families, ultimately take their own lives, each unwilling to endure the cold, hopeless wasteland of a life without the other.

While it has brought tears to many eyes, the problem is that the story takes place over four days. It is hard to believe they could really get to know each other in four days. They marry the day after they meet, and two days later they are willing to kill themselves over the loss of a person who wasn’t even in the picture five days ago. The lines about love in Romeo and Juliet are beautiful: “With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls; for stony limits cannot hold love out,” for example. But did they really know what love is? Do we know what we are saying when we say, “but I love him/her?” 

The apostle Paul wrote a passage in a letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth that has come to be known as the “love chapter.” It provides an explanation of what true, godly love is at its core. Among other things, we are told: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud…Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, NLT).

Does that sound like what Romeo and Juliet had? By the biblical definition, what they felt wasn’t love. It was something else. What many  people are calling love isn’t love. Our culture has confused love with infatuation and sex with love.  In every media, it views love as something we fall into. Sometimes unexpectantly. Sometimes accidentally. But Biblical love is a conscious choice one makes—an action, not an accident. And it is a choice that takes time and effort.

After we’ve taken the time to get to know the other person, to understand his or her values, personality and character as objectively as possible, to seek and consider God’s guidance as well as input from trusted friends and family members, and after we’ve come before God to commit ourselves to that person for the rest of our days, then there is love and a foundation for marriage. 

So important is true, godly love that Jesus emphasized it as the defining characteristic of Christians everywhere: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define love as it pertains to marriage? What does love look like on a daily basis?
  2. How would you rate love in your marriage? How can you improve the love in your marriage?
  3. Read 1 John 4:7-21: What do those verses mean in marriage or in other relationships?
  4. What would you say are the five most important elements of a marriage relationship?  If you had to rank these elements, where on the list would you place love? Sex? What is the reasoning behind your ranking?
  5. Pray and ask God to help you love better in your marriages/relationships.

Real Intimacy Does Not Result From a Physical Act

“Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still.”  Robert Sternberg

I said in the message on Sunday that sex is more than just a physical act. And real intimacy is more than sex even though many people equate intimacy with sex.  The two have become somewhat synonymous in our culture. This is what results from people believing that sex is proof of love and intimacy. Many of us men require sex as proof of love and too many women have consented to sex in the hopes of love. And too many people view and use sex as a means of reducing our loneliness.  We all long for intimacy, and physical contact can appear as intimacy, at least for a moment. But the physical act of sex is not intimacy because the emotional and spiritual connection we seek with the other person will not be there. 

Real intimacy is not found through just a physical act. Jesus said, “and the two shall become one. . . ” and I believe He meant more than just the physical.  A married couple can share their bodies, but do they share their heart? Sex is a God created vehicle for physical expression between a husband and wife, but is not the source of intimacy. No matter how hard you try, no matter how often you try, if real emotional and spiritual intimacy does not exist before sex, it will not magically appear after sex.

Real intimacy can seem like the Abominable Snowman, you see the tracks, or the indications of its existence, but never the thing itself. That is because real intimacy is hard to achieve but it is worth the effort. Real intimacy makes us feel alive and connected like someone finally took the time to peer into the depths of our soul and really see us there. Real intimacy means we look outward without any expectations, or needs or wants. Because we can miss out on true intimacy when we predetermine what we think we should see when we examine our life, heart, personality and walk with God. If we focus on what he or she is not, we could easily miss what he or she is. When that happens, intimacy is undermined because intimacy flows out of feeling wholly accepted just the way we are.

Perhaps you are looking at your life and wondering how you can improve the intimacy in your marriage or in other relationships. This is necessary because I believe real intimacy also requires that we know ourselves.  Our spouse cannot see our fears, dreams, hopes and desires unless we let them in. I know that giving our spouse that type of access is not easy. It can be a risk, not to mention being uncomfortable exposing the deepest parts of ourselves. My advice is to do it slowly as you build trust with your spouse. 

And while you are on this journey don’t forget the importance of intimacy with God. God made us, He intimately knows us better than anyone can. With God, we can experience intimacy in an indescribable way. Intimacy with God through His Son Jesus has been the most rewarding and life-changing thing I have ever experienced.

My hope and prayer through this series on the Song of Solomon is that you will first experience the joy that comes from having an intimate relationship with God and that out of that love you have experienced with Him, that you will find intimacy with a special someone that you can share this journey of life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define intimacy? Do you see intimacy as a physical act?
  2. In your mind, have you achieved real intimacy?
  3. What steps can you take this week to improve intimacy with your spouse?
  4. What steps can you take this week to improve intimacy with God?
  5. Pray and ask God to heighten your intimacy with Him and with your spouse.

Let’s Talk About Sex

“[About sex]: If we’re not intentional about pursuing God’s best for our marriages, and grasping the tremendous role intimacy plays in that relationship, what was intended to be deeply enjoyed – a passionate, life-giving love affair… alight with laughter, fiercely protected, and drenched in freedom – becomes a stuffy, awkward thing to be endured.”  – Joy McMillan

In the 1998 movie Pleasantville, Tobey Maguire plays a modern-day teenager fascinated with late-1950s America, he sees through the miracle of Pleasantville television black and white re-runs. The high school kids of Pleasantville are as bright as their smiles; the basketball team never loses because they never miss a shot. Houses, cars, and groceries are cheap. Dates are fun and wholesome; chivalry is alive and well; marriages are cherished and healthy. But then color changes Pleasantville. It is as if color makes the people of Pleasantville see who they really are.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable and challenging to talk about sex because people are not used to hearing this subject talked about at church. I think in the Christian world, there are so many people who are uneasy about sex and sexuality. But, if we want to know who we really are, we need to talk about relevant issues facing people and marriages today. We need to talk about sex and by talking about it provide greater honesty about what drives men and women sexually.

Why? Because our culture is throwing all these cues, all words, all these pictures of what sex is to our children, to couples to spouses, to husbands and wives, and it is often contrary to God’s design. It’s not working out well for marriages. Somewhere, somehow, Christians are being viewed as living life in dull, blah black and white existence. We are born, lived, married, multiplied, and died. The end. As just one example, Christians are left out of the “fun sex” loop? Then we read the Song of Solomon and exit from blahville by the end of Chapter 1.

Church might be the last place people would expect to talk about sex, but I believe pastoral teaching and preaching about marriage is necessary for proclaiming the whole counsel of God. We should not be silent about something God has not been silent about at all. Sex and marriage are not taboo subjects. God is pro sex, pro marriage and pro joy. 

Marriage is a subject close to my heart. The fact is that marriage is hard. If you’re married, you know what I mean. If you’re single, you’ll probably know sooner or later. We need to be encouraging married couples to keep working on their marriages, even when it’s difficult. We need to remind people about the purpose of marriage so they don’t lose sight.

Talking about sex can be awkward. It is easy to become tongue-tied at the mere mention of anything sexual. The only way we are going to become more comfortable talking about sex is to actually talk about it. The reality is that sex has become such a mainstream part of wider culture, you can hardly go through a day without being bombarded with sexual messages. Television commercials are sexualized, magazine covers are right at eye level as you go through the checkout line at the grocery story, and catalogs that come in the mail are sexier than they once were. We have to be talking about sex or we give culture permission to override what God teaches about sex, love and intimacy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are we talking about this subject too much? Or too little?
  2. Do you regularly talk with your spouse about the physical aspect of your marriage?
  3. What would you say are the five most important elements of a marriage relationship?  If you had to rank these elements, where on the list would you place sex?  Why did you rank sex the way you did?
  4. What are your individual assumptions and expectations with regard to the sexual side of marriage?  How do they compare with your spouse’s?
  5. Have there been shifting “seasons” in your sexual relationship? What can you do to change that?

Dating Sounds Boring For Christians

“… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10.

“Marty, I enjoyed the message on dating, but I have a question. There is one thing missing from all you outlined on Sunday – fun. It seems like the date would involve keeping track of all the don’ts like –  don’t have sex until you are married; don’t be tempted, etc. So here’s an observation. Christianity can sound like a rule book, which when followed, would make dating pretty mundane regardless of what season I am in.”   

Many people have the perception that religion is nothing more than a bunch of old, stuffy people pushing their moral views on a younger, more enlightened generation. They view faith as a tradition, not something that will change your life. As a result, everything in the Christian world is viewed as boring.

Many people have told me that before they were saved, the idea of going to church put them to sleep. On a surface level, it seems that non-Christians are having more fun because they have so many more dating options because some of those options are sin to the Christian.

But that is the point: We have different priorities and standards. The things many people look at as fun may not be good or right if we are following Jesus. Some of those fun things can damage our relationship with Jesus. As a result, the so–called “fun” often ends up not being fun at all. If we as Christians didn’t understand the big picture reasons behind why we do what we do, many of us would have a different perspective on dating and relationships. We would be a lot more fun at least in the world’s eyes.

I don’t think Christians are boring. Nor do I think they have to undergo a fun and personality bypass when they become Christians. That is not what God intended at all.  The Christian life can be exciting if you are doing it right. Yes, there will be trials and downtimes, but that doesn’t mean that there will not be fun times, and that includes dating.  We all know Christians that have a whole lot of fun and that can include dating. It’s not like you have to just sit there and hum Gregorian chants when you are on a date. 

Christians have cheesy introduction lines just like everyone else: “Now I know why Solomon had 700 wives… He never met you!” Or “Is your name Faith? Cause you’re the substance of things I’ve hoped for.” Christians go to the movies, out to dinner, take classes together, etc. They laugh and cry, share stories and connect just like everybody else. There are just some rules of conduct that God set forth in His word that He expects us to obey. 

Dating can be confusing, exciting, difficult and really fun all at the same time. But it’s time to change the subculture of fear we as Christians have sometimes created around it. It’s time to stop worrying about dating and see it as an opportunity for connection and growth. It’s time to take the pressure off of “finding the one” and instead learn to glorify The One through every interaction that we have with those around us—dating included. And don’t forget the fun. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. If real life were like a romantic comedy or an action thriller, what percent of your life would be exciting?
  2. If your main goal in life were to have fun, what would you do with your time right now? What do you think God wants you do with your time right now? Why do you think He wants you to do that?
  3. Are you willing to be bored for God and others if that’s what you need to do to love them well?
  4. Is there anything you need to accept about life? What can you thank God for in this situation?

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14.

Dating can bring closeness that goes beyond simple companionship. Sharing time and yourself with a boyfriend or girlfriend involves that person becoming a major part of your life. Little by little, you start to define yourself in terms of this relationship. There is a closeness and dare you say, warm and fuzzy love is in the air. You start talking about marriage and that’s when things go south.

The person you want to spend the rest of your life with is not sure they are ready to get married. They’re not sure they are willing to commit themselves to joining with you for the rest of your lives. They also are not sure they buy into your concept of sacrifice and selflessness in marriage or the roles and duties of husband and wife. They read Ephesians 5:22-31 and to be kind, freaked out.  So what do you do now?

You risked your heart. You shared your life. You bought the gifts, made the memories, and dreamed your dreams together — and it hit a pretty big snag. Do you continue anyway or do you break it off and risk being back at square one and lonely. 

Every situation is different and I would not presume to know the answer to that question in every occurrence. I also know that no one begins dating someone hoping to break it off someday. The wiring in most of us has us longing for a lasting relationship that culminates in marriage. We’re looking, sometimes it feels frantically, for love, for affection and security and companionship and commitment and intimacy and help. After all, God seems to want most of us to be married.  For example, Proverbs 18:22 tells us, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” 

This doesn’t mean every dating relationship should end in marriage. It is better to suffer the hurt of a breakup than to get married to a person who is not right for you. 

Knowing and embracing God’s design for marriage and dating will help us take healthy next steps in our pursuit of marriage.  I hope you realize that God has never abandoned you, and he will never abandon you.  There’s no circumstance facing you that He’s not engineering to give you deep and durable life and freedom and joy. He loves our lasting joy in Him much more than He loves our temporary comfort today.

God does know what you need, and He’s never too slow to provide it. One way God provides for us through breakups is by making it clear — by whatever means and for whatever reason — this relationship was not His plan for our marriage. 

Trust Him to provide for you each day whether you get married or not. If you do get married, know that He will bring the person you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever broke up with somebody? What was the experience like?
  2. When did you set your dating standards? How well have you stuck to them?
  3. Why is it important to know what God thinks about dating?
  4. How can we know when it is time to break off a relationship? What are some valid reasons for breaking off the relationship?

In Season

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Timing is everything. There is a great deal of truth to this common phrase. For example, timing is often critical when dealing with people. You don’t ask for a raise when the business is losing money. You don’t ask someone to cover for you when you didn’t cover for them last. Timing is important in cooking. That beautiful steak you bought was left on the grill too long and now it is like shoe leather. And one last example, timing is important in finance. When you buy a stock and when you sell a stock is the difference between making money and losing money on your investment. Selling the stock at the right time is critical. And as I talked about on Sunday, timing is important for your dating life.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, Solomon tells us that life is really a matter of timing, for timing is everything. It is hard to argue with that since we have calendars and schedules and clocks with us wherever we go. What would we do without our smart phones? Timing is everything. If there is a season, a time for everything, how do we apply that to dating? Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is not about how we view the various seasons of life, but how we view God in the various seasons of life. In Sunday’s message I talked about three seasons.

The Season of Perfection: We’ve been groomed by society to look for the “perfect man” or the “perfect woman.” Reality shows portray groups of contestants vying for the heart of one person believing they are the “perfect” person. In this season we believe the person may be perfect, and why not. The person pursued me, and I couldn’t wait to enter into a relationship with him or her. This is where parents or the person in the relationship must exercise caution to make sure it is not just a temporary euphoria. We can slow the process down by limiting the time the couple spends together, not getting ahead of yourself or the relationship by saying “I love you” prematurely and by limiting the opportunities for temptation. 

The Season of Preparation: This is the area where we do the due diligence on the relationship. This is where we assess what we want and what we expect in a relationship. This is where we establish our deal breakers. This is where we get a handle on what’s happening and evaluate where you are headed as a couple. And we need to do all of this introspection through the lens of biblical standards. These are high standards and we need key people in our lives actively involved to help us meet those standards as best we can.

The Season of Purity: This season is pretty self-explanatory. Sex was designed to be a deep bonding experience between a husband and wife. So if you’re going to develop a healthy dating relationship and make a wise decision about getting married or not getting married, you’re going to have to draw away from this obsession with the sexual part of the relationship for the season of dating. This is the area where we should not compromise.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How important is timing in the seasons of life?
  2. Did you think the person you were dating was perfect? Why or why not?
  3. How important is preparation before marriage? What did you do to prepare for your future relationships?
  4. How did/do you deal with temptation in dating and relationships?

Out Of Date

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”- 2 Timothy 2:22

This devotional is aimed at men. We work hard to identify, date and pursue a woman we want to spend the rest of our life with. But once we get married all that effort can easily be forgotten. It is almost like our master plan is to first, identify a woman you wish to date. Second, get the girl to date and to like you back. Third, so impress the girl as you date so she will agree to marry you. Fourth get married. Fifth, relax. Sixth, get into a routine of kids, work, bills and stress with the girl you married.   

The man who dated, wooed, and passionately pursued the woman of his dreams transforms into the husband who shares a home, bills, and rearing children, complete with all the associated problems with those things with his wife. Dating provides the opportunity to get to really know your future spouse, to talk and bond, share dreams and aspirations for the future etc.  But why does that stop when we get married?  What we really want is a marriage that feels like a mission, a journey that moves towards something beautiful, fulfilling and God centered. Kind of like the way dating felt.

It makes you wonder why we stop dating when we get married.  Maybe it is because men don’t know how to date their wives. They did it before, but they’ve forgotten how, or they’re trying but it just doesn’t seem to be working. But here’s the bottom line.  I believe marriage benefits from dating. It is an opportunity to be alone with your wife and give her your full attention. Prove to her that she is more important than your career and schedule. I read a quote that I think has real value to those who are married as well as those who are considering getting married: Date night is food for your marriage.

Married couples that have regular date nights tell me they are important to oneness in their marriage. They made a point to get out, just the two of them; they talked, shared, and it made a difference in their marriage. If we waited until there was spare time, it just wouldn’t happen. They told me there are a lot of things out there to do, if we, as couples, are intentional, creative, and committed. Even those who have been married for years love their date nights, they look forward to them and treasure them.

I am not talking about break the bank, fancy, wear a tux, rent a limo kind of date, although there is nothing wrong with that. What I am talking about is a once-a-week date with your spouse to communicate with each other and to connect emotionally. I’m reminded of what Solomon said to his bride in Song of Solomon: “The fig tree ripens its figs,and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song of Solomon 2:13-14).

Dates are important for every couple, no matter what stage of family life you are in. If date nights are not part of your schedule, consider talking to your spouse to say you miss dating and want to connect again on that emotional level.  Intentional sharing and meaningful time together are a must for a successful marriage and an example for the kids to follow.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever feel that you’re simply too busy to share enjoyable and meaningful time together as husband and wife?  What would it take to enable you to spend enjoyable time together on a more regular basis?  Babysitters?  Schedule readjustments?  A different approach to balancing work and family life?
  2. What one thing can you commit yourself to do this week in an effort to free up more time to spend with your spouse?
  3. How often do you sit down as a couple simply to talk to one another?  Do you set time aside specifically for this purpose?  Why or why not?
  4. Do you have regular date nights? If not, why not? If so, what can you do to keep them from becoming “routine” and “boring”?
  5. What are your most passionate interests as individuals?  What do you enjoy doing most?  How would your spouse answer these questions?  How can you use this knowledge to plan more meaningful times together?

A Culture Shock

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:19.

Romans 12: 2 tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” The challenge is disengaging from the culture we live in. Let’s think about dating and relationships for moment.

For better or for worse? Really? With so many mixed messages in our culture that speak to the contrary, it is no wonder that young people don’t think of dating as the means of finding a spouse. Do we really, at a young age, grasp the definition of a commitment for life? We live in a throwaway culture. If it doesn’t click, discard it and move on. We get distracted so easily. 

It is hard for young people to stay focused on what really matters when they are dealing with so much coming at them that while acceptable in society is diametrically opposed to their Christian values and beliefs. The culture can easily become the norm rather than the exception. Those that are dating or contemplating marriage need to realize that it is a spiritual matter. Choosing your future spouse is more than just picking someone you’re compatible with. It’s a faith-filled journey of both joy and pain, but it’s through that journey that God reveals the very person that was created for each of us to fulfill his ultimate purpose for our lives.

By being open to God’s will in all aspects of dating, one can grow in our faith as God helps to shape the relationship. When searching for a spouse, it is essential to be open to God’s will and center one’s life around Christ. When you date with marriage in mind, you are, from the start, shaping a relationship that is built on character—a relationship that helps you to be a Godly partner. After all, it’s got to be much deeper, because we’re talking about for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

A question for all the married people out there: what would you do different if you were dating today? How is the culture different today? Would you make different choices? Would you listen to family and friends who offer advice?  Would you be more purposeful about dating? Would you make more mature decisions? 

We might consider what we can do to help young adults to discover and understand the real purpose of dating. We can help them make wiser choices. We can talk with them about decisions and commitments.  We can help them with questions about their faith in Jesus Christ and in dating and marriage. We can keep them from making the mistakes that so many young people have made before them. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think is (or was) the best part of dating?  What do you think is (or was) the hardest part of dating?   
  2. How does our culture impact the dating experience? How does your relationship with God impact your dating experience?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 15:33: Do you believe this verse includes dating? Why or why not?
  4. Read Song of Solomon 2:7: What does this verse mean to you?
  5. Discuss the idea of a mentor’s role in dating/relationship? Have you been impacted by the example of others?

We Love Best By Loving God First

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” – Psalm 63:1-8.

Boy…it has been one of those days. As Christians, we also have a lot of “those” days, but we also have days that are like all the rest of the days. Normal or typical days if you will. But what do those days look like? Maybe something like this: The alarm wakes us up, we shuffle into the kitchen for coffee and while it is cooling a bit, we check our email. A partial smile crosses our face as we hear our wife hit the snooze button. The kids start to stir and knowing the chaos that is imminent, we utter a one minute prayer that hopefully covers all the bases. We mentally commit to God that we will have a quiet time tomorrow. 

The wife gets a peck on the cheek as we walk out the door. By 8:30 a.m. we are at the office and offer a second prayer that the boss will be happy with our work or better yet be out of the office today. The day is filled with meetings, deadlines, side conversation and numbers. At least we had a moment to check out our likes on Facebook. Leaving the office you remember that you need to stop and get a loaf of French bread for dinner.

Sound familiar?

It has happened to all of us. Our hope and plan is to have a certain hierarchy: God first, family second, work third. But the reality is that priorities will tell us what or who is lord of our lives. Where are we investing most of our time, money, and energy? Which relationships and activities do you devote yourself to every day? Where do you currently place God in your list of priorities? In Sunday’s message I talked about how real intimacy comes when Jesus Christ is at the center of your life. We all want a rich and rewarding experience with the Lord on typical days and “one of those days.”  David gives a vivid description of his passion for God in the verses at the top of this article. But it won’t happen automatically or accidentally. Human relationships are not instantaneous; they must be cultivated over time. In the same way, spiritual unity with God must be pursued over time.

The first step in our quest for intimacy with the Lord is getting to know Him—who He is, what He does, how He thinks, and what He desires. Even though God is invisible, a close relationship with Him is grown the same way human friendships are—through time spent together, communication, breaking down barriers, and shared interests. We will never achieve closeness with the Lord unless we invest time and effort in getting to know Him. A neglected relationship simply won’t grow. 

No one can have an intimate relationship with God and remain unchanged. Our experiences with Him teach us that He is faithful and can be trusted. And before long, time spent with Him becomes the best part of each day. Instead of watching the clock, we’ll want to stay longer because His presence is better than anything else.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel the presence of God on a daily basis?
  2. How can we invest daily in connecting to God?
  3. What role does energy play in our relationship with God? What about sacrifice? Trust?
  4. Read John 14:23: What does that verse say to you about intimacy with God?
  5. Read Philippians 3:7-14: What was Paul’s greatest pursuit in life? How satisfied was he with his relationship with Christ?
  6. Pray and ask God to help you make Him the center of your life.

Working Out On The Inside

“Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you – if you find my beloved, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.” – Song of Solomon 5:8.

More and more people have issues with photoshopped images to eliminate flaws. Digital altering of the body has no limits. Wrinkles and pounds can disappear. Flaws are masked. It does make people look more attractive. But it is not real and more importantly it can be harmful. Our desire to be attractive and to match up to unrealistic body types has led to eating disorders and other emotional problems. And it has led to surgeries. More than 11 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed by board-certified plastic surgeons, and other doctors in the United States, totaling more than 12 billion dollars.   

The Bible has a different perspective. Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”  We are created in the image of God, and God doesn’t make inferior things. Like a snowflake, every person is unique. No two are the same. God sees you as a masterpiece; the question is why don’t we. When you look in the mirror and sigh and wonder why (name) couldn’t be different or better or thinner, take a second and remember Psalm 139:14. 

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The world focuses on the outside appearance. But God focuses on what people look like on the inside. So the question is if we are going to work on being attractive, do we spend more time and effort on the outside or the inside? There’s nothing wrong with selecting a nice outfit, or doing our hair, or even exercising to look good. We need to find a balance. We need to spend more time working out to become more attractive on the inside. 

In a letter to his young assistant Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote: “ …train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7). The Apostle compared physical fitness with spiritual fitness. “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8).  For spiritual growth, nothing can take the place of prayer–simply spending time with God, thanking him for his gifts to you, praising him, asking for guidance, admitting your sins and asking forgiveness and help.

1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  1 Timothy 4:16 adds, “…Keep a close watch on yourself.” From time to time, ask yourself how you are doing spiritually, and –take the steps necessary to continue growing.

Try this. Schedule your spiritual training just as you would an appointment at work or a date night with your spouse or an outing with the kids. If you don’t feel you are getting the results you desire, you may need to work a little harder on your spiritual training. Remember that prayer is a very important part of staying “spiritually fit”.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you happy with the amount of spiritual growth in your life? Why or why not?
  2. What person has most encouraged you in your spiritual growth?
  3. What event/activity/season of life caused your spiritual life to grow the most?
  4. At what period of your life would you describe as the time when you were closest to God?
  5. What changes would you have to make in your life now in order to grow more spiritually?
  6. Pray and ask God for His help in making you attractive on the inside.