A Battle Of The Mind

“We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” –  2 Corinthians 10:3-5.   

All of us fight battles — for some, it is the battle of the bulge; while for others, it is the battle of the wills with our children; others it is financial battles. Battles, small or large, can seem to be an everyday event, and in the case of the battle for our minds, it is. Every day, a deadly war between God and Satan is taking place on the battleground of your mind. In a culture that loves to distract and hinder us from our relationship with God, we need the truths of the gospel applied to our minds daily. 

First, we need to pay attention to what is going on in our mind. What are you hearing? What are you thinking? What are you believing?  We are constantly being informed by words and ideas, worldviews and philosophies. Our personal stories are filled with disappointment, brokenness, and pain. And our hearts and heads have been informed by lies, deceit, and accusations from the world and Satan. We cannot let any of those take root and become a stronghold for the devil in our minds.

It often starts with a wound we experience, a hurt or disappointment that makes our heart fertile ground for seeds of lies to be planted. On this foundation, the enemy then begins to build brick by brick, a wall of lies, inaccurate ideas about the person of God, erroneous interpretations of Scripture, and distorted perceptions of how God sees us and feels about us. 

It is much like a trickle of water going down a hill. After a while of steady rain, it carves out a crevice in the hill and it always goes the same path every time the water runs down the hill. Our thoughts work much the same way.  When we continually think about something it forms a “crevice” habit in our mind in both good and bad thoughts.  When they are bad thoughts they become strongholds and these strongholds are the reason we struggle with the same things. If a person keeps failing spiritually over and over again it is a stronghold. And once it is a stronghold, it is more difficult to deal with. 

Tomorrow: Truths that can demolish strongholds. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a constant battleground in your life? What do you constantly struggle with?
  2. What unhealthy habit or unhealthy thought pattern has a stronghold on you?

On Second Thought

“…We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” – Colossians 1:9-12.  

There is so much that can be extracted from Paul’s prayer in Colossians.  For example, there is the powerful prayer request to “give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.” That should be our goal every day that God would show us how to reflect the image of our Creator. The path to that end has alway been the challenge. But in many ways, that path starts and ends between the ears.

The Bible speaks often about the power of the mind and our thoughts. But sometimes we focus so much on actions that we miss the connection between thoughts and transformation. But that connection exists.  Our minds are powerful, and our thoughts shape who we are and will become. You change into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12:2 says, “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. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Changing the way you think changes your perspective which changes your actions. Because no matter how many times you read the Bible, if your mind doesn’t change, you will simply impose your thinking on the words you read. Change in your thinking is necessary. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV) says that in stronger words: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Taking your thoughts captive simply means gaining control over what you think about yourself and life. 

It is not easy to retrain your thoughts or to respond in new Christ-like ways. But as God empowers you to focus your mind on the right things, it will become easier. You can develop a new frame of reference, based on what is true, noble, right, pure, and praiseworthy.

Our goal is to bring our heart and our thoughts into line with Christ and to place every thought under the authority of Christ. The more we think of the Lord Jesus, the less we think of ourselves. The greater He is the central focus of our thoughts, the more we will have the mind of Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do our thoughts impact our actions?  
  2. What’s one change you could make this week to secure your mind more?

Life In Progress

“Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth.” – Rick Warren

Scripture describes the relationship people have with God as a walk: For example, Genesis 6:9 says, “This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” In 1 Peter 2:21, Jesus invites us to follow Him, to walk in His footsteps. In Galatians 5:16 (ESV) we are commanded to “walk by the Spirit.”  And in Ephesians 4:1 (NASB) we are asked to “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” When we stop to think about what’s required in order to physically walk, we can draw some parallels to the Christian life. It’s a process of making steady progress over time. 

Steady progress may not look flashy and draw a lot of attention because our culture wants everything faster, more efficient, and quicker. But slow and steady is the way to go. One quiet time after another. One worship encounter after another. One Bible study after another. One act of service or random act of kindness on top of another. Each one by itself may not seem life changing, but the cumulative effect produces life changing results. Spiritual progress is made through building and using spiritual disciplines. 

Take the Bible. The Bible is not a book to be speed read. Rather it is a book to be read slowly, meditatively, and thoughtfully. It is a book to be memorized. It is a book to be consumed in small daily portions. The steady and systematic reading and study of God’s word produces valuable insight, revelation, and transformation over time.  

Every year, Northpoint Church in Atlanta holds a two-day event for church leaders called the Drive Conference. It is designed to inspire, equip, and refuel church leaders for the road ahead. As good as those conferences are, no one single event can sustain us for long, let alone forever. That is true of our individual lives as well. No program or study will ever suffice to give us all we need. God can use events like Drive. God can and has used programs and special studies. But those things will not have the impact on our lives as the slow and steady diet of private devotions, small group participation, and weekly corporate worship. Those are the things that God will use to make slow and steady progress in your life.

Words like faithfulness, steadfastness, perseverance, endurance, and  persistence remind us that the Christian life is an endurance event, not a 100 year dash.  Regardless of what season of life we are in, or how long we have been walking with God, we can make progress by learning as we go and continually drawing strength from the resources God gives us as we work to be the person we want to be in 5 years. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define process in your spiritual life? 
  2. What can you do this week to make slow and steady progress in your walk with God? 

Weapons Of Mass Distraction

“My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel.” ― Proverbs 5:1 

People have had trouble staying focused throughout history and today is no exception. In fact, it has grown exponentially worse. We quickly become bored and conditioned to distraction in our life and that is true of our spiritual life as well. Distractions cram our ability to listen and think carefully, to be still, to pray, and to meditate. Distractions shift our attention from something of greater importance to something of lesser importance. 

With all the distractions around us, we can struggle to find a deep, satisfying relationship with God. We lose Him in the myriad of things that cloud our minds. We all have the best intentions. We are excited about God, but we all fall victim to the distractions of this world. When we are distracted we have a diminished ability to think deeply about God, to truly know Him as He is, and to grow more like Him. It is harder and harder to stop long enough to study the scriptures. We struggle with the attention needed to find quality time for God. Where prayer used to be the first activity of the day, we now begin our daily routine by checking our e-mail or checking our Facebook page. 

We are also constantly in danger of becoming superficial in our relationship with God. We are often content with skimming the surface, rather than putting in the time and effort necessary for a more satisfying and intimate relationship with Him.

Okay…there are distractions in your life. Now what? You cannot eliminate all the distractions in life, but what you can do is to focus on Jesus. What are His priorities?  Is the distraction taking you away from time with Him? If we are easily overloaded, overburdened with the busyness of life, stop hitting the fast forward button. Rather hit the pause button and spend time in God’s presence. 

Our goal is the same, to not be distracted by anything that pulls us away from what’s supremely important—knowing Christ. God calls us to a life where distractions fade and His voice becomes the One we listen to first and foremost. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What kind of distractions do you have in your life? Do you surround yourself with distractions intentionally or unintentionally? 
  2. Does your schedule, time, and life look like that of a person who wants to spiritually grow? 
  3. What are some things in your daily life you could change to eliminate some of the distractions?   

Spiritual Growth

I have written to you who are God’s children because you know the Father. I have written to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning. I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong. God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one.“– 1 John 2:14. 

As Christians, we recognize that maturity is the goal of discipleship. While that is the stated goal, reaching the goal is not all that easy. Working toward the goal inevitably surfaces our shortcomings, in essence, our immaturity. So how do we grow in maturity to become the person we want to be in 5 years? 

In the 1 John passage above, John says “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” In that line John revealed one of the secrets to spiritual growth: the Word of God abiding in him.  There are numerous things that can and do prevent maturity because they divert the attention of the believer from the very thing that will bring it about; knowledge of the word of God. I am not talking only about Bible study. That in and of itself is not enough. In the 1st John passage, John says, ”God’s word lives.” It is deeper than reading the word. Maturity is where the word takes hold of us. It “lives”, it penetrates the heart and controls the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12)    

The prophet Jeremiah understood the importance of making God’s Word part of his life by digesting and assimilating every morsel. “When I discovered your words, I devoured them.They are my joy and my heart’s delight…” (Jeremiah 15:16). Peter writes, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment.” (2 Peter 2:2). The spiritual milk that Peter is talking about is God’s word. And the more we feed on it, the more we will grow. 

So how can we get the Word of God more involved in our lives? There are many ways to do this and all of us should be involved in more than one: Quiet time (Just a few minutes each day in the Word and prayer can help us make that personal connection with God), Bible reading, Bible study, and attending a church where you will hear the word preached.  

When we became Christians, it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of God’s work in us. As a result, our constant goal should be to grow more into the plans and purposes God has for us. There are always new levels of faith, and growth that can help us mature in our relationship with God. The goal is to reach new levels over the next five years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If your goal is to grow spiritually over the next five years, where do you start? 
  2. Where do you want to be spiritually in 5 years?  

Fear Less

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” –  Isaiah 41:10.   

Fear is a strong motivator and very difficult to resist. We allow it to paralyze us when we know we should act, to work us into a frenzy when we know we should remain calm; it causes us to stretch the truth, to dictate relationships and to guide our interactions with each other. Fear can drive us to do things that we otherwise would not do. As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we deal with fear? How are we to respond to fears in our past? In our present? And how can we prepare for fears we have yet to face?

Jesus knew that we would be afraid. That is why we read “fear not” over and over again in the Bible. God knows that we alone cannot overcome our fears. Fortunately His love and grace enable us to conquer our fears. The good news is God does not want us living in fear. 

If we are going to do and be all that God intended, then we have to decide to silence the negative voices of fear and instead listen to and speak the truth of God’s Word.  The devil will try to fan your fears with “what if you fail?  What if you embarrass yourself?” In those times, concentrate on the promises and reassurance of God. Remember His power, love, presence and trustworthiness. Remember His faithfulness.  The reality is that Christ is with us and He is at work in and through us. He is on our side, protecting us always.

Jesus asks us to turn our fear over to Him.  Replace that fear with the love, power and sound mind that He did gives us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) His presence is the answer to our fear.  Fight fear with a faithful, indescribable God.

The only way to deal with fear is to face it head-on before it takes over your life. Trust that God is for us and if God is for us what do we have to fear?  “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What fears do you have in your life today? 
  2. What can we do this week to give those fears to God?  

Parable of the Sower

“Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. – Mark 4:1-3. 

Unfortunately, it seems that many of the stories told by Jesus (the parables) have lost their power to surprise and inspire us. One reason is that they often include images and anecdotes from everyday life that are significantly unrelated to most of our day-to-day lives. After all, how many of us have any first-hand experience with sowing seeds in a field and understand what goes into cultivating a fruitful harvest? Another reason is familiarity: With the stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed is among the best-known of these stories of Jesus. 

To understand the parable of the sower you need to understand the farming techniques of the days of Jesus. In our western civilization we prepare the soil prior to planting the seeds. In the times of Jesus they spread the seed before the soil is prepared. That is why Jesus gives four types of soil that the seed falls on. In this parable, Jesus does not tell the sower to judge the soil or decide what soil is ready for planting and what soil is not ready. He says that the sower sows the seed. It is not our job to judge, discern, or decide what soil is ready for a seed to be planted. It is our job to sow the seeds regardless of soil condition.

Isaiah 55:10-11 adds some insight into this parable: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” Isaiah reminds us that God’s word produces fruit and always achieves the end for which he sent it. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that, “the word of God is alive and powerful” (4:12). God scatters the seed whether we’re ready, paying attention, or willing to receive the seed at all. This is part of God’s gracious self-giving. God is always speaking to us and the seed is always being sown. 

God continually sows the seeds of His Kingdom today. It falls on all kinds of “soil.” It is up to each of us to look at our heart, and determine what type of soil we are and whether we allow that seed to put down root and begin to change your life today and five years from now.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the “soil” of your heart and soul at this time in your life? 
  2. What can you do this week to fertilize the soil of your hearts? 

Idle Rest

“Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.” – Mark 4:38-39.  

Our lives have gotten so cluttered up with things we think we “should” do, we can’t figure out what we were meant to do. Getting our evening to morning priorities right is the only way to ensure we stay healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. Jesus Himself set boundaries around His time as we see in Mark 4. The passage goes on to say: “Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:40-41)

This story is well-known to most Christians, but think about the scenario for a second. Jesus sees the crowd and knows there is work to be done. He knows people need to be healed, demons need to be cast out, and lessons need to be taught. But yet Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat, and once there, He falls asleep. Yes, the needs of the people are urgent, and their pleading for healing must have been compelling, but Jesus knows that He needs to stop and rest. If even the Son of God needs to stop and rest with all that is going on around Him, and with all of the important things He has to do, don’t you think we need rest, too?

While Jesus needed to stop and rest He was never idle. He packed his life full of more activity than was possible to record. Read through the Gospel of Mark and you will see that the word “immediately” appears some 40 times.  Mark 1:29: “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” Mark 1:12: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Jesus was always on the move from one activity to another. 

It sounds like I am suggesting that we both rest and run at full speed. What I am suggesting is that we follow Jesus’ example and set boundaries on our time, in order to get the rest we need, but also to live full lives. In order to do both we need to again follow Jesus’ example and do what we are meant to do rather than what we are supposed to do.  We usually will not burn out doing the right things. We burn out because of what you don’t do. We don’t say no to unimportant things so we can concentrate on the important things in our lives. We can work all day and all evening doing what God calls us to do, but in order to keep doing that we need both rest and the time to connect with Him on a regular basis.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is is possible to rest and be productive in the same day? 
  2. What can you do this week to connect to find a better balance between the two? 

Time Management

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” – Romans 13:11. 

Whether we assign a dollar value to it or not, time is valuable to us. Think about it: How much of your time do you spend stressed about not having enough time to do what you need to do. We all want to get better at time management. There are lots of different ways to help us better manage our time – you can download apps, adjust your sleep time, create lists, etc. 

Some people have the mistaken idea that time management is all about cramming more stuff into an already overloaded schedule. But that is not good time management. Good time management is all about finding the right balance in all the different areas of life. When thinking of how we view time and time management, we should start with Jesus. 

Jesus uniquely maintained a balance between worship, prayer, family, friends, work and rest. Jesus regularly spent time in prayer and in studying the Scriptures. After a long evening of healing that extended after sunset we read that,  Mark 1:35 (ESV) says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” The more Jesus worked, the more He prayed. He recognized the need to spend time communing with God to refresh Himself.  Similarly He was immersed in the Word of God – so much so that when the Devil challenged Him in the wilderness, He answered using three passages from Deuteronomy.

Jesus fulfilled everything He set out to do, but the top priority is found in Luke 4:43.. After a busy day of healing and casting out demons, people pressed Him to stay, But He said, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” Jesus also put a high priority on people. He spent a disproportionate amount of time with those who would carry on His ministry. Even so,  Jesus made time for individuals. In the midst of Jesus’ busy ministry, he did not let the urgent crowd out the important. The Gospel encounters are made up of a string of accounts of individuals whom Jesus paused with. He did not pause with everyone; He spoke only to one Samaritan at the well, only one rich young ruler, only one tax collector, but He found time for these individuals. As Christians, we should be managing our time because it is not ours. Just as we should think of our possessions and money as on loan to us from God, so is our time.

We also need to remember that our time is limited. We have been given a certain amount of time here on earth for our lifetime. When we rightly view all time as belonging to God, then we see how we fill that time in a different light. Remember that no one gets it all done, we only have to do the things God wants us to do—no more and no less.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If your time belongs to God, ask yourself these two questions: (1) What will be the result of this activity in five years? (2) What will be the result of this activity in eternity?

Jump In The Deep End

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” –  Luke 5:4

As Christians we are longing for a deeper and more meaningful Christian life. We sense that the answer is found with God and that the Holy Spirit has placed that passion within every Christian to know God and grow spiritually. But how does the Christian dive deeper into spiritual things?

The Christian faith is not boring, mundane, or safe. It is the greatest adventure any human being can ever experience. It demands all you have and are, and then it demands more. It demands that we be all in. The gospel costs us nothing. We can’t earn it or buy it. The gospel is a free gift because of God’s grace. But while it doesn’t cost anything, it demands everything.  

That’s where we get stuck. We get stuck in a spiritual no man’s land.  Most people struggle with total commitment. Yes, we have good intentions. And yes, for the most part we want to be “all in” at least until the reality of being all in sets in. Then we are not so sure. We have so many moving parts in life that we worry about what to let go and what to hold on to tightly. So there are parts of our lives that we are still trying to control. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer.  It’s not true.  The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer.   

No one has ever sacrificed anything for God.  You always get back more than you gave up.  The eternal reward always outweighs the earthy sacrifice.  At the end of the day, our greatest regret will be whatever we didn’t give back to God.

Being “all in” for Jesus is turning to Him again and again, not just in difficult times but in good times too because connecting with Him remains the first priority in our life.  Being all in is trusting His Word and promises more than life itself. It is willing to take risks for our faith—for Him—and step out to represent Him to those around us.   

It may take longer than five years to learn to turn to Jesus consistently from our heart and not just in our head.  It’s a process, similar to a toddler learning to walk. It is one step at a time. And when all those steps are completed you can find yourself all in and in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the idea of being “all in” for Jesus mean to you?  
  2. What can we do this week to begin the process of becoming the you, you want to be in 5 years?