Walking through the Dark Valleys…

In over 30 years of being a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals. I have prayed with families grieving the loss of someone dearly loved. I have held mourners as their sobs shook their entire bodies. I have spoken the final words at a graveside. This is, for me, an awesome responsibility and high privilege. It can also be a great and heavy weight.

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. This does not mean that Christians do not grieve. We do, most surely. Our tears are no less real. The sense of loss is no less painful. Separation, even though we know it is temporary, breaks our hearts and disrupts our lives in unimaginable ways. We grieve, but In our grief we are buoyed by hope and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

With all this heavy on my heart, I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. It gives me a space to clearly communicate my heart and mind. Admittedly, it also exposes me a bit. I never want to be fake or to pretend I am someone I am not, but I also understand that my church family and the community look to me to express my confidence in God’s love and sovereignty.

When I meet with people for counseling or comfort, I open my heart to share their burdens. I cannot carry their burdens for them, but I can come alongside and help shoulder some of the crushing weight for a time. Their burdens, at least in small part, become my burdens. I am called and compelled to take their hands and walk with them at least part way through their dark valleys. As I stand before my congregation each week, I look at the faces, and I know the burdens and hurts that many carry. And I share just a little piece of them.

Here comes my exposure, my confession –
Sometimes, it is overwhelming.
Sometimes, there are too many dark valleys in so short a period of time.
Sometimes, the little mound of burdens becomes a mountain.
Sometimes, I am filled with an intense sadness, and a well of tears pours out even from my dry eyes.
Sometimes, I simply want to curl up in a dark and quiet space and grieve over all the pain, all the loss, all the empty desks, chairs, beds, cribs, and arms.

I am not looking for pity, nor have I yield to depression. God is faithful. He enters into that dark place, into my grieving… and He whispers to me, “I am here. You are not alone. Death is not final. Loneliness is not forever. You don’t have to walk this valley or carry this burden alone. As you have held the hands of others and walked with them, let me walk with you now. Lean on me. Let me carry that burden for you.” And as I rise to my feet, with every step the weight becomes less and the darkness becomes light.

Peter’s words to Cornelius are my words today, “I, too, am a man” (Acts 10:26). If I have ever given you the impression that I am something more, I truly apologize. I am a fellow traveler with each of you through this life. We share alike in the joys and the pains of being human.

We grieve, but I know that our grief is tempered by hope. We hurt, but God binds up our wounds. The King of glory has promised to never leave us or turn His back on us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). And He has graciously filled our lives with His children who become His arms wrapped around us, His hands drying our tears, and His feet walking with us through the dark valleys. We are the body of Christ, and we are in this together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:6)

Before signing off, let me reiterate that this is not a cry for sympathy nor an invitation to a pity party. I’m okay. My Lord strengthens me moment by moment, and His people lift my up and minister to me, and He has given me a family that energizes and encourages me. What I am doing is taking the risk of opening up my emotions to you with the hope that it may somehow encourage you.

You don’t have to be a rock all the time. You don’t have to carry your burdens alone. You don’t have to act as if you are invulnerable to the pains and losses of life. You can be honest about your struggles. You can lean on those who love you. You can be real and vulnerable and weak, for that simply opens us up to find strength beyond measure, love overflowing, and peace that is beyond all understanding.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Leaving a Legacy…

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

I’ve contemplated what it means to leave a legacy a lot lately. In the span of eight days, I had three funerals and a wedding, so thinking about what really matters in life was often at the front of my mind.

In the funeral service of my dear brother Earl Smith, I shared some thoughts on what it looks like to be intentional about leaving a legacy for the generations to come. These observations were not limited to Earl’s life, but were certainly reflected in it. So, here they are:

Be faithful followers of Jesus, not just on Sunday, but every hour of every day.

Show integrity in your words and your deeds and let your word be your bond.

Take the Great Commandment and the Great Commission with equal seriousness.

Consistently read your Bible and persistently be in prayer.

Give love even when it isn’t returned.

Hold loosely to earthly treasures and live in expectation for a heavenly kingdom.

Teach your children and grandchildren to love Jesus just as you do.

May we learn from the lives of faithful men and women who live out their faith before our eyes, and may we be committed to living faith-filled lives in the eyes of those around us and in doing so both bring glory to God and leave a legacy worthy of following.

Don’t Be Like Beau…

My neighbors across the street have a dog named Beau who considers himself to be the watchdog for the neighborhood alerting us to strangers, mail carriers, other dogs out for a stroll, and various and sundry wildlife that catch his attention. Whenever I pull in my driveway and get out of the car, I thank him for his diligence.

A couple of days ago as we stood out in their yard chatting, Lawson, an energy-infused soon-to-be five-year-old tossed a stick for Beau. Now, Beau loves to fetch a stick. This stick however took an unexpected trajectory that ended up on the roof of the porch.

Undeterred, Beau leaped onto the porch, head pointing straight up, trying to figure out how to get to the stick. He couldn’t see it, but he was smart enough to know where it was. He frantically jumped and searched and stretched, but to no avail. The stick was unreachable not matter how persistent Beau might be, and persistent he was.

I had to leave before Beau gave up his hopeless quest for his unseen prize, but I walked away thinking how much like Beau we can be. We long for things that are out of our grasp. We work and strain and fret over the unseen prize that we are convinced will somehow satisfy us. But that stick was just a chew toy. It had no nutritional value. It could not give him the calories or nutrients necessary for survival. He didn’t really need it, but he really, really wanted it.

As we consider our lives and those things that we strive after and fret over, do they have true and lasting value? Do they add anything to our lives that make it richer, better, and fuller? Are we spending all our efforts pursuing some elusive desire while ignoring the deepest desire of our souls?

We read in the Psalms – “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2) “My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.” (Psalm 63:1) “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25)

We are given to misplaced desires, chasing after things that won’t much matter in the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes calls is “chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah – “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13)

Beau’s a good dog, but in this case we shouldn’t be like Beau. Beau desperately wanted something that could not truly meet his needs and did everything within his power to get it. We are too often on that same pursuit.

Take some time today to think about the things you are longing for, those goals you are pursuing and pouring your life out for. It is not wrong to want things or to work toward goals, unless we are ignoring what is truly best. Will we end up with everything we’ve ever wanted but not that which we truly need? And worse, will we unintentionally teach our children and grandchildren to pursue that which cannot ultimately satisfy?

Remember the words of Jesus – “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

[All Scriptures is quoted from the English Standard Version]
[Image by @mockupgraphics]

Be Like Barnabas…

As we continued our study of Acts at Grace Fellowship, we spent some time today focusing on a man named Barnabas. His given name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas, which we are told means “son of encouragement.”

Here’s what we can learn about this man named Barnabas as we read through Acts:

Barnabas was an encourager.
Even without the nickname, his encouraging spirit is seen throughout the book of Acts.

Barnabas was generous and cared about his fellow believers.
In Acts 5, Barnabas sells a piece of property and brings all the proceeds to the Apostles to be used to help with the needy in the church. His care for those in need was more than lip service.

Barnabas was trustworthy.
The apostles trusted Barnabas’ judgment that Saul was not hostile, and they trusted his judgment in discerning what God was doing in the city of Antioch. They also trusted Barnabas enough to send him out as a missionary.

Barnabas had a good reputation.
In Acts 11, he is referred to as “a good man.” This doesn’t mean he never sinned. It means that he lived an admirable life – that he had a good character.

Barnabas was full of faith.
Barnabas was known for his faith. His trust in Jesus was evident to all. In every time and every place, Barnabas’ faith was in the “on” position. 

Barnabas was a willing servant.
Our greatest ability for the kingdom is our availability. Barnabas was always available when the Lord called. His eyes and his heart were wide open looking for opportunities God might send His way.

Barnabas was humble.
As you read through the book Acts, you may notice a shift. Barnabas and Saul go out as a missionary team, but Luke lists Barnabas’ name first – Barnabas and Saul. After chapter 13, it shifts. Barnabas is listed second. In spite of this, we see no jealousy or rivalry between them. Barnabas’ humility allows him to rejoice with the advancement of others.

Barnabas had a heart for the weak and the rejected. 
We see this first with Saul and later with John Mark. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin who had joined their missionary team early on but who had run home to mama. Paul didn’t want him to go with them on their next journey, but Barnabas insisted. It ended up with Paul and Barnabas amicably parting ways – Paul teaming up with Silas and Barnabas taking along John Mark.

To Barnabas, this young believer was worth the investment, in spite of his failure. He chose to take a chance and take John Mark under his wing. Was it worth it? You make the call. Consider what Paul (yes, that Saul) wrote toward the end of his life – Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Yep, that Mark is John Mark.

Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. His life was guided and controlled by the Spirit of God. Barnabas allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through Him. The Spirit’s fruit was on full display in his’ life.

Barnabas is a man whose life is worthy of our study and our emulation. Maybe Paul had Barnabas in mind when he wrote – encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

A Disciple Named Ananias…

This past Sunday, we continued our journey through the book of Acts. Our focus was on Acts 9:10-19, where a man named Ananias received a vision from God to go to a man named Saul, lay hands on him, pray for him, and be God’s agent through with this Saul would be made able to see and receive the Holy Spirit. Here is the text –

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:10-19, ESV)

Here are the takeaways provided on Sunday –

➤ We may not all be able to be a Paul, but we can be an Ananias.
Ananias is described as a “disciple at Damascus.” There is no title nor is there anything identifier except “disciple.” We may not believe we have that much to offer, especially when we compare ourselves to those giants of the faith, but we can all express the same characteristics that we see in Ananias – faith, availability, and faithfulness.

➤ God is looking for willing servants who are willing to say, “Here I am.” 
It has been said that our best ability is our availability. When Jesus called Ananias, he volunteered, “Here I am.” What he was asked to do was difficult. He had concerns. He had questions. But he gave his “yes” before he knew what Jesus was asking of him. May we show the same willingness to serve when we are called.

➤ When God calls us to do something difficult, trust that He is already aware of the difficulty and is preparing us to face it.
What Jesus asked Ananias to do sound a bit risky considering that Saul was out to get those who trusted in Jesus. Sometimes we may wonder if God knows what He’s getting us into, but, of course, He does. Not only does He know, He has prepared us for the moment and goes with us into it. If it is God’s will, then He can make a way for us.

➤ We dare not assume that anyone is out of the reach of God’s grace.
There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive it and no sinner so stained that God cannot cleanse them. Saul was likely the last person anyone expected to put his faith in Jesus, but that was precisely what happened. That person who seems so far from God is not beyond His reach.

➤ Not everyone’s salvation experience will be as dramatic as Saul’s, but we were all just as lost and blind as he was.
Saul’s conversion to Christ began as He encountered the risen Jesus in all His glory. This encounter left him confused over everything he had learned and been taught, and it left him physically blind. It was only when Ananias obeyed God and went to visit Saul and pray for him that Saul received his sight and the Holy Spirit. Your conversion may not be so dramatic, but that doesn’t mean it is any less real!

Anyone who is a child of God was once an enemy of God. Anyone who has new life in Jesus was once dead in their sins and trespasses. The angels’ rejoicing is no less over an 8 year old who comes to Jesus through the ministry of his godly family and church than over the 80 year old abusive drunk who surrenders to Jesus on a hospital bed.

➤ Being faithful to the Lord may come at a very high price.
Ananias took a risk going to Saul. It might have crossed my mind to put my hands around Saul’s neck than to lay hands on him and pray for him. Saul, who would later become Paul, certainly knew there was danger in following Jesus. And we have countless brothers and sisters in the faith who face daily hardship and persecution simply because they are faithful in following Jesus. Faithfulness may come at a very high price, but consider what they price may be for unfaithfulness.

Our adventure in Acts continues. If you are in Greensboro, Georgia and are looking for a church home, we’d love to have you visit us at Grace Fellowship. You can also find our services online at gracefellowship.ws and on our Facebook page.

Discerning God’s Leadership in Your Life…

I have had those occasions when the Lord prompted me to do something out of the ordinary and sometimes out of my comfort zone. Although I’ve never had an angel show up, nor have I had the Lord speak audibly to me, I have this inward tugging, something in my heart and mind perhaps to speak to someone, to serve someone, to be generous with someone, or just to pray for someone. That compulsion is almost irresistible. I say “almost irresistible” because I know that urging can be resisted. 

I’ve resisted that tugging more than once. My hesitance or outright resistance is usually because I have an internal battle going on in my brain. I ask myself is this God speaking, or is it just some internal impulse of my own making? I’ve discovered that if the internal wrestling match goes on long enough, the moment to act usually passes. I cannot count how many opportunities like that end up in my rear view mirror without any response on my part. 

Many of you know that struggle. You wonder if it the Holy Spirit pulling you or is it just your own thinking? How can you know? Well… I wish the answer was super easy and absolutely cut and dry. My experience has shown me that it’s not, however through the years I have found some basic guidelines that can help discern whether it might be God leading you. I wish I could give proper attribution to every writer or preacher who helped me form this list, but at least let me be honest enough to say that I didn’t come up with these on my own.

Read God’s Word. Meditate on its truth. Memorize it. Tuck it away. As you try to discern God’s leading, you’ll be surprised how the Holy Spirit brings to mind exactly what you need at exactly the right time.

Get God’s Word into your heart and mind.
Psalm 119 encourages us to hide God’s Word in our hearts as security to keep us from sinning. Hiding His Word within us does even more than that; it gives us a reserve from which we can pull wisdom, encouragement, correction, and truth. It is a storeroom from which we can draw guidance in a time of need, but if we haven’t put anything in what can we draw out?

Consistently spent time with God in prayer.
It is far easier to know God’s voice if you are familiar with it. This means that prayer is more than bringing our laundry list of needs and dumping them before God’s throne just before we dash out the door to start our day. It means we pause to listen for God. We ask for Him to lead us, then we wait for Him to do so.

Psalm 25:4 makes a simple request, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” Can we slow down enough to pray that prayer and to wait for God to answer?

Stay aware of the presence of God as you go through your day.
If you are a believer in Jesus, then He has promised to be with you always. There is never a time when you are truly alone, even when you feel that way. An awareness of God’s presence is not intended to be a threatening, guilt-inducing thing; rather it is a comforting sense of His presence and a promise of His guidance as we seek His will.

In John 16, Jesus tells His disciples something that startles them. He tells them that it is to their advantage that he go to the Father, because He would send the Holy Spirit to them. When Jesus was present with them, He might be near them one day but miles away the next. When the Father sent His Spirit to indwell them, it meant He would be with them at all times and everywhere. Jesus said, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12). He is still guiding His people today.

Have mature believers in your life who will give you wise and godly counsel.
Do you have someone or a small group of people who will speak truth into your life? If not, you need it! “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)

Give a handful of people full permission to correct your bad behavior and attitudes. Find people who love Jesus and love you and then be willing to seek their input on issues with which you’re struggling. This constant refinement will be like iron sharpening iron. There may be a few sparks, but you’ll all get sharper and wiser in the process.

Leave room for God to change your course.
God may lead you to a certain place or a particular ministry. That may be a fruitful and satisfying time, but He may not intend for you to remain there forever. In fact, God will often lead His children through many transitions. We may be exactly where God wants us at the moment, but we should always be open for God to call us to some other place or to some other ministry.

Sometimes these transitions are a welcomed change. At other times, these changes can be difficult to swallow, especially if we have having great success where we are or if His nudging is toward something that seems particularly challenging or out of our comfort zone. We must remember that Jesus’ call was to follow Him; the very phrase leads us to understand we must be ready to move when called.

Begin with what you know God has already revealed about what it means to follow Jesus.
We often struggle to know God’s specific will about some decision we face, but are we faithful to what we know He has already called us to?

There are some ways God is leading us that we already know –
We are to be faithful in prayer.
We are to be faithful to read God’s Word and meditate on it.
We are to be faithful to gather with other believers in worship.
We are to be faithful in serving others in Jesus’ name.
We are to be faithful in sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus.
We don’t have to ask God if He’s leading us in these directions. He has already made it clear! We simply need to do it!

It has been said that our greatest ability is our availability. If we make ourselves available, stay close to Jesus and His people, and are committed to go where He leads, we may find ourselves in unexpected places doing unexpected things, but we will find great joy in being there and doing that.

In Sunday’s message, I challenged our church members to give God a blank check. By that I meant, we give God our unconditional “yes” to whatever He calls us to do. Is it scary? It can be. But there is no place more important or more fulfilling than to be in the center of God’s will for your life.

Draw Near to God…

Reading from James this morning, I came across this familiar passage that is both comforting and challenging. Take a look at it.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10)

What first hit me was verse 8, where we are called to draw near to God with the assurance that He will draw near to us. No social-distancing here! Nearness to God can be the longing of our hearts – and it can be a longing fulfilled!

What hit me next was the attitude we should have when approaching God. It should ever be with a sense of entitlement or arrogance. We can only come into God’s presence because of His grace and mercy through His Son and our Savior Jesus! We are, instead, to come humbly and with a repentant heart.

To harbor unconfessed sin or to treat the hidden sin in our lives lightly is to minimize the sacrifice of Jesus for our sin. If you are a believer, your sin is forgiven in Jesus, but that does not mean it is no big deal. The Apostle Paul acknowledged that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. In other words, God’s grace is always greater than our sin – no matter how massive that stinking manure pile may be! But Paul goes on to say –

 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

God calls us to come near. God promises to come near to us. What a great privilege and comfort! But let us take the time to examine our lives. Do we have unconfessed sins? Do we harbor animosity toward someone? Are we infused with a critical spirit? Do we need to take the “log” out of our own eye so God can use us to minister to someone with a “speck” in theirs?

My hope for all of God’s people this day is that we will acknowledge our sin and the great cost of that sin, confess it, forsake it, and enjoy pure fellowship and intimacy with the Lord of all!

One Body – Many Members…

Paul uses the human body as an illustration of what the body of Christ is like. As the body is made up of different parts with each part performing a unique function, so it is with the church. Each member of the body is uniquely gifted by God to work alongside all the other parts of the body to help it function to its fullest ability.

Even more, we are members of one another or, as the New International Version puts it, “each member belongs to all the others.” This statement can profoundly affect the way we see our place in the church. We are not just individuals who gather for worship or discipleship or service. We are interdependent. We need each other and we belong together.

God’s design is that we bring our distinctiveness and our giftedness together, and like a human body function as one under the leadership of the head, that is, Jesus. In this way we can make the greatest impact for the kingdom of God.

God did not give us all the same spiritual gifts and natural talents, and this was intentional. As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth – 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:17-20)

Whatever your gifts are, whatever your talents, whatever skills you have developed, they make you unique and uniquely able to make a difference for the kingdom of God – BUT when combine with the uniqueness of other believers, the impact is multiplied incredibly. Let’s be the body!

By the Grace Given to Me…

The Apostle Paul was gifted man. As a Pharisee, he strove to be the best Pharisee possible in an effort to stand head and shoulders above the rest. As a Christian, he poured his talents and energies into spreading the good news of Jesus, planting churches, shaping church leaders, and encouraging believers. He was an impressive man, but he tried not to be overly impressed with himself.

One of the greatest dangers for a believer is pride. Pride puff us up. Pride trips us up. Pride will eventually take us down. So, as Paul writes to the church in Rome, he warns them not to become overly enthralled with themselves – with their spiritual gifts, natural talents, or well-honed skills. Everything they possessed was by the grace of God – EVERYTHING. The same is true for us!

He says that they were to think of themselves with “sober judgment.” As C.S. Lewis wrote in his insightful book Mere Christianity, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” We are to see ourselves as we truly are with our strengths and weakness, our successes and our failures, our good days and bad ones. We are not to become depressed over our faults or impressed with our achievements. Having a sober judgment of ourselves means making a sound judgment, a right judgment.

I wake up every day grateful. I am grateful for the gift of another day. I am grateful for the gift of my family. I am grateful for my calling to shepherd God’s people. I am grateful for the things God has accomplished through me. I am grateful for the encouragers God has place around me. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to put my feet on other continents to share the message of Jesus. I am grateful for ALL OF IT comes as a gift from God.

Paul would write to the church in Corinth, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Let us all have the Spirit-given wisdom to say the same.

Be Transformed…

Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday in Romans 12:2. Yesterday, we focused on Paul’s warning not to be conformed to this world. Today, we look at the positive alternative to that – transformation.

The word “transformed” comes from the Greek metamorphoo. If that word looks familiar, it should. That’s were our word metamorphosis comes from, and it gives us a good image of transformation. At just the right time, the caterpillar slinks along a limb, finds a good spot, and forms a cocoon. The caterpillar stays in that cocoon approximately 21 days, then emerges as a butterfly. It is transformed, and the transformation is beautiful.

For the Christian, this kind of transformation includes our external behaviors, but it is far more than surface deep. It is a change to the very kind of person we are. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), so we know that an immediate change takes place the day a person trusts in Jesus Christ. The Bible pictures this as a darkness-to-light, death-to-life change. But there is an ongoing change that happens to us as our minds are being renewed by the Spirit of God.

In other words, we are not simply changing from the world’s to-do list to Jesus to-do list, instead we are allowing the Spirit of God to change us from the inside out. This happens, Paul says, by the renewal of your mind.

This is too important to overlook! When we were dead in our sins, our minds were dead to the things of God. In other words, the problem with our minds is not simply that we do not have enough information to make good decisions. The problem is that an unredeemed mind is corrupted. It is bent toward rebellion and away from God. Paul wrote in Romans 1:28, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.”

Even when we have a genuine conversion to Christ, we still have these deep ruts in our thinking, ruts we often fall back into. It is intensely frustrating for a believer who wants to align his life with the will of God, but struggles with old habits. We long to be free of the shackles of sinful behaviors and the guilt and shame that accompany them.

If transformation comes from the renewal of our minds, how, then, are our minds renewed? Renewal of our minds is not something obtained by force of will. Renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We must be utterly dependent upon God’s power and not our own. Many great accomplishments have been done by humankind by the sheer force of will, but not the renewal of the mind!

If this renewal is a God thing, then an ever-growing intimacy with God is our answer. The nearer we draw to the heart and mind of God, the more we will be able to discern and discover His will, and the more willing we will be to pursue that will with all our hearts. This is why the disciplines of daily prayer and Bible reading are so very important. This is why a connection with a body of believers who can challenge you and hold you accountable is so important. This is why listening to Christ-honoring music and reading the works of godly men and women are so important. Our transformation is supercharged by the renewal of our minds as our thinking begins to line up with the heart and will of God Himself.