So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
James 1:21 GNT
You gave me a soul, Lord. You gave me a life. Now show me how to live it. How do we go about living this life before us? Where do we go from here?
So the Christian commitment comes. Faith in Christ descends like a dove from heaven. A transcendent power and presence begins to dwell among us. The journey ahead takes shape. I had been going in one direction, now that direction changes. I ask God where to go, what to do... where does he want me?
Being a Christian is definitely about holding and pursuing a certain mindset. It's about embracing a different way of life. That way is described in great detail in the books of the Bible, especially in the letters of the New Testament. It can be challenging though. We wonder how to translate the words on the pages into practical application.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name -Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)
For me it begins with a mindset, and I have to pursue that mindset everyday. It doesn't just happen. I have to chase after it. Prayer becomes absolutely vital to building on that mindset. And of course that makes sense. Through prayer we access the power of God to spur changes within us.
God dealt with the sin in my life. That was a huge part of the positive transitions in my life and mindset. I've had to come to believe again and again that God can and will help me to overcome sins in my life. He grants victory when I put in the daily footwork.
The primary work of Jesus Christ, God, is the legal absolution of my sins. He legally absolves me from my sins, like I am in a court room, with a list of my crimes being displayed to the judge. Then enters Jesus Christ, who says to the judge that he will suffer the consequences of those sins instead of me.
Yet just as important is that I am a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I have been born again (John 3:1-8). God has declared me "not guilty" in Jesus Christ, innocent, and now gifted with eternal life. Though my body will die, my spirit will live forever. Continuing forward, I'm asked to participate in a new plan for my remaining life on Earth though. Many Christians seem to forget this part. They think they are saved, and then they go do whatever they want. Not so.
God asks me to become a servant of his kingdom and his plan on Earth. He asks me to participate in my own sanctification, or the process of growing out of past sinful patterns. That is a gradual process for most, taking our entire lives.
God asks me to serve others, to become the servant of all. In my past I was a servant of myself. I did what I wanted, I did what felt good, and I pursued my own goals in life. Now I look to meet the needs of others. I look to love and serve those around me. What does that look like? I think it means inviting people to relationship with Jesus Christ. I think it means volunteering and serving in ministries. I think it means donating money to charity. I think it means praying for others. A big part of that process begins with prayer.
Part of my daily walk with God is praying once in the morning and once at night. I also try to pray an "Our Father" at the mid-point in the day. Three times a day seems reasonable, that's how Daniel did it (Daniel 6:10).
I had to watch closely for the messages I was receiving in my life. Certain movies I stopped watching, certain music fell off my playlist. I actually got rid of my television set altogether. Too many ads. Too many sexual commercials, beer ads, tempting food ads, that is a literal assault on my senses, and it triggers a lot of my sinful desires. And of course so, that's how they make money.
I stopped spending time in certain places around town. I began to back away from friends that were a bad influence on me. A tough one was beginning to reform my sexual conduct. Many, many Christian men struggle with that area of conduct. It definitely needs to be addressed. Masturbation, pornography, pre-marital sex... All of those need to be removed.
I changed a lot of the messages I was receiving in my life, I didn't just shut off all those sources and replace them with nothing. I started listening to Christian radio, going to multiple Bible studies, church events, services, and filled my social media feeds with encouraging Christian posts. The old mindset had to be challenged at every turn, and replaced with the new.
I was also a cigarette smoker. And I had to deal with that issue as well. A friend suggested a plan of sorts. He said set a date 90 days from now. Everyday from now until then pray once a day for God to remove the compulsion to smoke from you. Then on the date, quit. I did that, in conjunction with calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW. I read some free material they sent me. I used their website. I even went to a few Nicotine Anonymous 12 step meetings to learn more about freedom from that addiction. I also used a nicotine patch for the first two weeks. In short, I accessed God's power in conjunction with my footwork. I took practical actions to encourage the desired outcome. And it worked. I haven't had to smoke a cancer stick in almost two years now. Praise God!
One powerful tool for growing in my spirituality is through reading books. I love reading. I love audiobooks too. I put them on my mp3 player and listen while driving or working out. I tend to look for books to help deal with issues in my life, or just books by Christian leaders that inspire me. I've learned a ton and it's very enjoyable. Some of the most powerful books were from authors like C.S. Lewis, Neil Anderson, Minirth & Meier, Stephen Arterburn, Larry Crabb, Bill Wilson, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and G.K. Chesterton. But I would suggest exploring Christianbook.com or smile.Amazon.com searching topics that perhaps you struggle with or need guidance in.
But the biggest change was a small, yet massive adjustment of attitude.
I had treated God like a wishing well, or an errand boy at times. "Give me this" "I want this." "Lord heal my friend." "Lord give me this job." "Lord make a leader." And I liked to add conditions, and special agreements to my prayers. The issue was it was almost right. I was praying a lot. I was asking for good things. The goals I were pursuing were certainly reasonable. But there was a fundamental flaw: I was trying to get God on board with what I was doing. Whoops. That isn't how it works.
My job is to get on board with what God is doing. That tweak can change a lot.
I'm very good at defaulting back to my old mindset, of trying to manipulate events into my favor. Left to my own devices I am a fundamentally selfish human being. Most of us are. And when I try to manipulate events and they don't go my way, I get angry. And upset. Even depressed. What helps in those moments is whispering: "Thy will be done, not mine."
I've got to learn continuous surrender to God's will for my life. I've still got a lot of rebellion floating around in my soul. I've always been a defiant type. In fact I still am quite defiant. The defiance is just aimed in a new direction. Instead of defiance toward society, work, responsibility, now my defiance is toward sin, the ways of the world, and the schemes of the evil one. In so doing, I abide (remain) in the will of God.
It's all about God's will (Ephesians 5:17). He's the one running this show called Earth. He's the CEO, I'm the desk clerk. He's the General, I'm the foot-soldier. My emotions flow much better, in serenity, when I recognize God's sovereignty over everything. It doesn't take long: Thy will be done.
Philippians 2:14-15 (NIV) Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
I believe that a sorely neglected part of the Christian life is the act of confession. The Bible says "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16a ESV). Confession to God in prayer is vital (Proverb 28:13). But so is confession to one another (Acts 19:18).
Why confess? We as humans tend to lock things inside ourselves. I know I did, and often still do. Those hurts, pains, and troubles can eat us up inside. They rot and fester and eventually we become bitter and broken. I've found it extremely useful to journal about past issues. I write things down that I've never really processed, things from the past, and share them with a trusted friend. It has a way of clearing out wreckage from the past. It opens me up to the sunlight of the presence of Jesus Christ. We all have past pains and traumas, have you considered buying a notebook and pen, and writing out some of those pains in total honesty? It can be a very powerful healing experience. Ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your mind and soul of past sorrows.
Ever forget to love your neighbors? I have. I tended to resent society in the past. Sometimes I catch myself falling into that mindset. I have to keep alert to make sure I'm obeying the central command of Jesus Christ: love others as I have loved you (John 15:12). I'm a flawed human, I can very quickly become contemptuous, nit-picking the flaws of others, resenting their shortcomings, or downright loathing them. Instead I try to remind myself, love them. Just let yourself feel love and affection for those around you. Let it flow out. I think sometimes we're afraid to love, because we've been hurt or we've been rejected. God calls us to love them anyway. Love is definitely an emotion, it's a warm response inside us. But it doesn't end there, it continues in actions and warm, kind words spoken.
This life can be ugly. It can be very difficult. We see death and struggle around us on a daily basis. We hear the news, and it never seems to be good. We see people working long hours for little pay. We see people trapped in addictions, depression, or diseases that they can't break from. We encounter these struggles ourselves and often on days it's just too much. We feel broken down.
We're thirsty for righteousness, for hope, and we're fed a mouth full of dirt. Someone kicks us while we're down. Then kicks us again. It does happen, it certainly does. One bad thing happens, then two more pile on top. (Why does it always happen in threes?) Yet life can also be so beautiful. Hope sneaks in at the last moment. When we think we can't go on another day, and all sides are closing in... a sudden faith fills us, and we survive. God appears in the time fog, and reassures us. Angels come in the shadows of brokenness and tend our wounds.
Sins overwhelm us and we feel God could never love one of such intense sins. Then Jesus reminds us, "You are mine. I have overcome the world. I forgive you, I love you." Like little white flowers dotting the bushes on the sun swept trail ahead, God pours out grace and mercy, mercy after grace, forgiving us, accepting us, tending to us, changing us, and loving us with an everlasting love.
We reflect then, in the shadow of the valley, asking ourselves, with tears in our eyes, "How is it that He is so good, always?" It's at those moments when our breath is taken away by His presence, by his response to our turmoil that we know that God is for us, He loves us, and his ways are entirely exceeding of what we could imagine. Jesus Christ gives us joy.
9 I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. 14 And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another.
18 “If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘Slaves are not greater than their master.’ If people persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the one who sent me.
-John 15:9-21 (GNT)
As with all things, we grow and learn and step slowly into the mindset of Jesus Christ. Through practice, dedication, and dogged determination our spiritual muscles bulge and grow. We learn how to be human, truly human, as we were meant to be. We gain freedom from selfishness, and learn to love and connect with others, which is such a deep desire within all of us. We get to become who we were always meant to be. Slowly but surely, day in and day out, doing good and loving mercy. It isn't easy. But he helps us. We learn to love, we learn to be of service to those who are struggling around us and there are many.
In the final analysis, as far as happiness and fulfillment in life goes, I've learned in my brief stint in the Christian faith one penultimate truth: You have never truly lived until you've served someone who can do nothing for you in return. Serving those struggling is one of the greatest blessings you can receive, paradoxically. It's at those moments when the very Spirit of God awakens feelings in my soul of warmth, connection, serenity, and love. A temporary fire is struck in the very core of my being, a prelude, a sneak peek at what the future joy of eternal life with the blessed Jesus Christ will be like, in the next world. The very answer to the deepest yearning of my soul...
Lord, teach us how to live as you lived. Teach us love and service. Grant us the mindset of Jesus Christ. In Jesus name, Amen.
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