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A Growing Deeper PracticeAll growth in the Christian life involves growth in the ways of prayer. The simplest definition of prayer is “talking with God.” While words are important, talking with God is, above all, a matter of the heart. Certain phrases help express the attitude of your heart: “Forgive me…” “Help me...” “Teach me…” “Show me your ways…” “Thank you…” These attitudes of the heart make for great prayers. Use phrases like these often as you work through these devotional ideas. Then, continue to use them as your day goes on. Christ will be with you.
Day 1: The Ostrich & the Elephant
Like the Sunday message, this week has you exploring the painful side of relationships. Remember the ostrich and the elephant. It doesn’t help to stick your head in the sand to ignore and avoid the obvious relationship problems you have. So, take a deep breath, remember those heart prayers (see the first paragraph) and trust God to be at work as you move through the spiritual exercises of this week.
Today you will read Romans 7:15-25. While this passage was not discussed during the Sunday morning message, it will help you understand the painful tensions inside you. On the one hand you want to do what is necessary to have great relationships, but then you turn around and do something stupid that hurts others (and hurts you as well). Why do we do this? This passage tells you why. There is something wrong inside you. It is the sinful nature. It is the sinful nature that has specific ways of being displayed in your life and your relationships.
Think About It: Take a few minutes and identify your worst relational habits. What are the relationship mistakes you tend to make? If you could make a few changes that would help your important relationships be much happier and healthier, what changes would you make ABOUT YOURSELF?
Try to remember this insight from Solzhenitsyn: Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human heart. This is true for everyone you will meet today. It is true for you.
Day 2: Life in the Spirit
Read James 4:1 and Galatians 5:13-26. The Galatians passage is a longer passage than what I used in the Sunday message. It gives more description of a life that is filled with God’s Spirit versus a life that is controlled by the power of sin. Think about the kinds of relationship you will have when you live by the Spirit versus the kinds of relationships you will have if you are controlled by the sin nature. There are times when we must plainly and clearly see just how bad things can be apart from God. And there are times when we must remember and be inspired by how good things can be with God.
Throughout the day ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Ask God to grow in you the fruit of the Spirit. Look for ways to put into practice the relational behaviors of love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. If you have a relationship that is a struggle, be proactive and diligent to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.
Day 3: Stopping...and Starting
I have quite a few friends who are in the recovery movement. You may be familiar with the 12 Step Program that is used in these recovery groups. Included in those steps toward recovery are the ideas of doing an honest moral inventory and having a willingness to make amends to those we have hurt.
Today, I’d like you to do that searching reflection about the wrongs you have done to others. We have all hurt people. We have all mistreated others. And even if we have done reasonably well at not hurting others, maybe we haven’t been as highly intentional about serving, helping, and loving those who needed our help.
If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always gotten. That’s rough grammar, but it is great truth. It is time to be highly intentional about making necessary changes. It is time to stop doing the stuff that hurts the people who are most important and start doing things that will help them.
Put It Into Practice: What is the single most important relationship you have where you want to be highly intentional and make a new effort to make it really, really good? What’s your plan to do that?
Day 4: Broken (& Bad)
Not only do we have a sin nature (something wrong and bad in us), but we are also broken. We are wounded. We hurt. We are fearful, insecure, and anxious. We find it hard to trust others. We find it hard to commit to others. We are afraid to love. We are afraid to be vulnerable. Love is risky (C.S. Lewis).
Today’s exercise will take a great deal of self-awareness, honesty, humility, and courage.
What are the ways in which you are broken? How do you hurt? Where are you needy? You should not have any shame or guilt about these things. Everyone is like this. Plus, you are deeply loved by God. Christ wants to take you farther along the road of healing and recovery.
There are two main ways God will take you on this journey of healing. First, as you grow deeper into friendship with Jesus through prayer, time in the Scriptures, and worship, your relationship with Christ will get stronger and you will experience more and more of his love. The second way is through people. You need people in your life. You need people who share biblical values and who are on the same journey of following and loving Christ.
Who are you doing life with? Who can you talk to about the real issues you deal with? Who accepts you as you are and yet also encourages you to go as far as you can? The church exists to be a place where we find and make friends like this and where we become such a friend for others. The church is a place where we are learning how to love (we are slowly getting better at the Great Commandments). That’s a very good thing!
Put It Into Practice: If you want more information about getting into a growth group and building some new relationships, contact our Director of Growth Groups, Ned Keene, at email@example.com. If you are interested in being a part of a women’s mid-size community (which includes small group discussions), contact Connie Milchling at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Day 5: Pay it Forward
Read John 10:10-16. I referred to a few of these verses in the message. You can read the larger passage if you are interested, but we will focus on verses 10-12. Not only is Jesus our Savior, who forgives us of our sins; not only is Jesus our Lord, who has the right to map out for us the kind of life we should lead; Jesus is also our MODEL. He shows us the way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
In John 10:10-16 Jesus shows us the way of the shepherd and the way of the thief. The way of the shepherd is to love, serve, help, heal, protect, take care of, provide for, and so on. The way of the thief is to steal, kill, destroy, harm, hurt, injure, damage (you could add a lot more words).
Everyone has had the great gift of having shepherds in their lives. And we have all met some thieves along the way. Reflect on those who have been the shepherds, used by God so you may experience a greater quality of life. Take a few moments and be thankful and grateful.
Do you know the very best thing you can do out of gratitude for the shepherds who have been there for you? Pay it forward. Turn around and be a shepherd for others. Help others who have been hurt by thieves. Find ways to love, serve, help, and heal the hurts of others. It is a beautiful way to live. It is the way of Jesus Christ. And from time to time, it might cost you a little something to really help others.
Keep your eyes open. Pray that God would lead you to people who could use a little love and help. Try to pay it forward to someone different every day.
Day 6: Be the Change!
Today we will look at getting ready for this coming Sunday when we look at how you can Be the Change! The Bible is critically realistic about what’s gone wrong, and the Bible is vitally optimistic about what God is dong to fix what’s gone wrong. You were introduced to a way of thinking about your levels of hope and your ability to deal with reality. Here is the chart:
As you think about your important relationships, which quadrant do you live in with regard to these various relationships? Remember, you may be in a different quadrant when it comes to different people. In particular, think about any family relationships and important work relationships that have some struggle and difficulty.
On Sunday, February 19, we are going to help you become hopeful and be ready to deal with relationship reality as one of God’s Agents of Change. More about this model on Sunday. See you then at Living Word!
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