Archives For spiritual growth

Planning for growth

Ben Reed —  July 3, 2013 — 2 Comments
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image credit: Creation Swap user Cody Davenport

If you’re someone that’s content to take life slowly and easily, I’d frustrate you. I never find myself “content” with the status quo.

It’s this time of year that I start dreaming about the Fall. Summer’s in full swing, and I’m looking for what’s next. Where I need to grow. What I need to change. What I need to start doing. What I need to stop doing.

What book I need to read. What podcast I need to start listening to. What coffee shop I need to visit.

As a pastor, I’m always thinking this direction as well. I’m constantly looking for what’s next, because I’m never satisfied with where we’re at. “Good enough” doesn’t whet my whistle. Nor does “okay” or “average” or “decent” or “pretty good.”

So if you want to grow spiritually, you’ll have to plan for it. Here are a few things I’m looking towards, that will help me continue to grow. Your list may be different. But it’s time, now, to start making that list out.*

The Fall season can be a great time of growth, but you’ve got to plan now.

Read

I’ve always got a book or seven in my hand. I intake vast amounts of content through books and articles. They help me stretch and grow. Here are a few that are on tap for me leading into the Fall.

Write

For me, writing helps flesh my thoughts out like nothing else. I extrovert my thoughts to make sense of them, so writing becomes an outlet for what God’s showing me. Some of that makes it on this blog. Some of that will make its way into my upcoming book on small group life. But I’ve got to write to grow.

I’m going to write 1500 words/week throughout the 3 months of Fall. Which equates to 18,000 words. It’ll be good for my heart.

Go

It’s important for me to get out of my normal environment if I’m going to grow. Conferences provide that opportunity for me this Fall, and I’m headed to Atlanta for the ReGroup conference. I’m pretty stoked to be going back again this year. It’s a time of refreshment and strategic planning for me. The team at North Point is spot on.

What’s your plan for growth this Fall?

 * For continued spiritual growth, I’m assuming the normal disciplines of the Christian life: reading Scripture, prayer, corporate worship, small group community, confession, repentance, etc. I’ll not quit these, and neither should you. This is my outside-of-the-normal ‘things’ list. I’m also assuming you know that it’s God that produces the growth. I’m just positioning myself for the maximum potential.

 

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image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa

Sensing a call to ministry?

Then it’s time to start getting prepped now. Nothing can substitute for doing the work of ministry. But picking up and working through a handful (or two) of good books will help you more than you could ever know.

These are some of my favorites. Some I read in seminary. Others I’ve read since I’ve been working full-time in the local church.

I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

 

Ministry

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen (e-book)

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley (e-book)

Sticky Church by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Lectures to my Students by CH Spurgeon (e-book)

Creating Community by Andy Stanley (e-book)

UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (e-book)

 

Leadership

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell (e-book)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (e-book)

Tribes: We Need you to Lead us by Seth Godin (e-book)

Good to Great by Jim Collins (e-book)

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (e-book)

 

Theology/Spiritual Growth

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (e-book)

Knowing God by JI Packer (e-book)

Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem (e-book)

ESV Study Bible

The Attributes of God by AW Pink (e-book)

Desiring God by John Piper (e-book)

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (e-book)

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper (e-book)

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg (e-book)

 

Anything you’d add?

 

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How do I stop growing in my faith?

You’ve asked this question time and time again. In varying seasons of life. Maybe you’re asking it right now.

You’re tired of growing your faith.

  • Tired of getting closer to God. 
  • Tired of God calling you to do big things. 
  • Tired of feeling like your gifts are being well-spent. 
  • Tired of pouring yourself out. 
  • Tired of feeling like you don’t know exactly what God’s going to ask you to do.
  • Tired of God using you to minister hope and grace and truth.
I mean, seriously, it’s time to quit growing. Time to get control back over your life. Time for things to calm down, and for you to get a handle on where things are going. Am I right?
If you’re with me on this, and you’re ready for your faith to grow stagnant, stinking the place up like a mosquito-infested pond in June, then try this one thing on for size. It’s easy, really. If you’re tired of your faith growing, all you have to do is

Play it safe.

  • Don’t be generous with your resources. That’s risky, and takes faith. 
  • Don’t be generous with the grace you give others. You will probably get burned.
  • Don’t join a small group. You could be asked to be vulnerable. And you could be stretched. That’s no way to live.
  • Don’t read your Bible and act on it. Just stick to reading it. Much safer.
  • Don’t invite your neighbors to church with you. Stay in your comfort zone.
  • Don’t go on a mission trip. That’s crazy talk. 
  • Don’t go serve the homeless in your city. You might get dirty.
  • Don’t tithe. Planned giving? We’re going for minimal risk here. Come on.
  • Don’t maintain close relationships with people. People are too messy and difficult.
  • Don’t build relationships with people outside of the faith. If someone doesn’t trust Jesus, give ‘em a tract and move on. If you try to stick around and love them, you’re being dangerous.
  • Don’t worship with other believers. Just quit going to church. They ask you to do things like ‘participate in worship.’ Not safe at all.
  • Don’t do anything difficult. When things get tough, run the other way. That’ll *stick it* to your faith.
Just minimize the risk in everything you do. That way you keep things safe, easy, and manageable.
And watch your faith shrivel right up.
Anybody with me?
 

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I love Sunday morning corporate worship. It energizes me to worship with other believers, and be challenged by good, solid preaching.

But corporate gatherings alone will dry me up, spiritually. I need small group life.

You do, too.

Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Spiritual Growth

1. It’s too easy to hide in a large gathering.

It’s tougher to hide in a small group. 

2. It’s too easy to be passive during a sermon.

Wallflowers don’t last long in a small group.

3. There is little to no accountability.

Follow-through is much easier in a small group.

4. We’re prone to think we matter too little.

Small groups remind us that we are loved.

5. We’re prone to think we matter too much.

Small groups remind us that others have problems, too.

6. We’re prone to think, “they need to hear this.”

Small groups challenge us to personally apply Truth.

7. We’re prone to think, “this is only for me…”

Small groups keep us from cycling into destructive self-pity and loathing.

8. When we cry, there’s nobody to ask us, “What’s going on?”

Small groups don’t let tears go unchecked.

9. No food is allowed in most worship gatherings. #Lame.

We eat well in our small group.

10. “Be quiet while the pastor is preaching!”

Small group gives you time to have deep, life-stirring conversations with people.

11. Convictions go unchecked.

When the Spirit moves in small group, you’ve got time to slow down.

12. Specific needs go un-prayed for.

Small groups pray for the specific needs of their group members.

13. There’s no time for questions.

Small groups ask hard questions and allow for discovery.

Are you in a small group? Has it helped you grow spiritually?

 

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5 ways to not be like Gollum

Ben Reed —  January 10, 2013 — 3 Comments

You’ve heard of Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, right? That weasely, sneaky, under-handed nasty thief whose sole focus in life was the Ring. He didn’t start out that way. He started out as a curious, “quiet-footed” hobbit. Check out a bit of his backstory.

Evernote Camera Roll 20121124 093438

Gollum’s downward gaze shaped who he became. Instead of letting his curiosity help him explore the beauties of God, he let it drive him into the dark places. Smeagol became Gollum because he didn’t “look up.”

Curiosity is a gift from God…until you let it lead you to dark places. Instead of your curiosity looking for shadows of hope and grace scattered throughout the earth, it can lead you to search in dark corners of self-pity, self-hate and loneliness. Curiosity can lead you to your sin, your “dark places.”

When your gaze is always “downward,” you’re setting yourself up for a life where you’ll be dominated by your shame, guilt, and failures. Gollum is the prototypical person who is fully aware of their “thing,” their addiction, their “thorn in the flesh,” and who has made their life, and everyone else’s, revolve around that addiction. Gollum is so marked by his addiction that his whole existence revolves around it, and like a vortex he has sucked other people into his pain.

Time to look up.

26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

How do you take positive steps away from your sin, and help ensure that your addiction and recovery don’t become your identity? How do you make sure you don’t consume others in your road to health? How do you ensure you’re not dominated by your guilt, shame, and fear?

6 Ways to Not Be Like Gollum

  1. Get outside. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. As you do, you’ll find the dark places of your heart a bit brighter. (Isaiah 40:26)
  2. Get outside. Remind yourself that there is a God…and that it’s not you. He’s all-powerful, you’re not. He knows all things…you don’t. He created the stars. You didn’t. (Isaiah 40:26-27)
  3. Exercise. There’s something healing about working strenuous, physical activity into your routine. Growing physically weak reminds us that God’s strength is perfect. (Isaiah 40:29)
  4. Serve someone else. Gollum served, and only thought about, himself. If you want to get out of your rut, do something for someone else, in a way that your favor can’t be “returned” back to you. Make life not about you.
  5. Remind yourself of the times that God has loved you and breathed hope into your story. (Isaiah 40:27)
  6. Trust in the Lord. (Isaiah 40:31) Easier said than done, though. Which is why you can’t do this on your own. Everything else can be done, just between you and God. But trusting in the Lord is too difficult to try to do by yourself. Bring someone else into your journey, and give them the freedom to speak hard, life-giving Truth into your story. 
Ready to grow in your faith? Time to look up.
 

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Accountability

Ben Reed —  May 24, 2011 — 1 Comment

If you want accountability in your life, you’ve got to take responsibility.

image by Cassandra Security

Nobody will do that for you.  Others can pour into you, teach you, model for you, and share resources with you.  But if you want accountability, you’ve got to take that responsibility on yourself.  I’ve asked people to help me with certain aspects of my spiritual life.  Sometimes it’s “worked.”  Many times, it hasn’t.  But I’ve learned some principles along the way that have helped ensure success.

8 principles in seeking spiritual accountability

1. Ask for it.

If you don’t ask, nobody will respond.  You need these deep relationships that help you with your personal spiritual growth.

2. Help define what it needs to look like.

Don’t just assume that if you ask someone, they’ll instantly know what accountability needs to look like for you.  You have to help set the paramaters.  How often?  What will you talk about?  What questions should they ask you?

3. Be vulnerable and share your story.

Otherwise, how can someone else help?  If they don’t know who you are, where you’ve been, and the weak spots in your life, they’ll have no idea how to help you grow.

4. Take a risk.

You’ll never know if the person on the other end, that you’re asking to step into that relationship with you, is 100% trustworthy.  This is  a step of faith, not a step of pre-knowledge.

5. Remember that accountability is a two-way street.

This isn’t a cure-all solution.  You’ve got to be doing the difficult task of working on yourself and your own shortcomings.  Having someone “hold you accountable” doesn’t assure you’re accountable.  You’ve got to continue to actively pursue that relationship, and be open and honest with where you are at all along the way.

6. Give the other person the room to say, “No.”

This is a big responsibility that you’re asking someone to.  Give them the freedom to say that this is not the right season for them.  Forced accountability rarely works.  Both parties have to be willing to step in and do the hard work.

7. You have to continue to drive the relationship.

Don’t expect that you can ask once, share your story, and the other person will then magically follow up with you exactly when you need it.  You’re the one asking for accountability.  You need to be the one driving this relationship.

8. Ask for grace.

Since accountability isn’t a cure-all, there’s a good chance you’ll mess up again.  In a big way.  And this is where many “accountability partners” fall apart.  If you’ve messed up, you think, “I can’t possibly be honest about this with him now.”  And he’ll think, “I guess I’ve failed at holding him accountable.”  What needs to happen is what happened in the beginning: grace.  Set out from the beginning this idea that if failure happens, grace is the knee-jerk response.

You need someone to spur you on. (Hebrews 10:24) You’re too weak on your own to fight sin, insecurities, and the battles that rage against you doing what God’s calling you to do.  You need someone who’s got your back.  You need someone who is going to encourage you on the good days and the bad.  You need a warrior who won’t give up on you, who knows where you’re headed, and is willing to walk through the dark and the light to help you get there.

So encourage each other and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Do you have someone who’s intentionally encouraging you and helping hold you accountable?

Have you seen this kind of relationship misused?  Where one (or both) parties expected too much?

 

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The commitment

Ben Reed —  May 6, 2011 — 3 Comments

I have a small group that I am a part of that meets every week.  And I’m going to have to miss it soon.

I’m going out of town, and there’s no way I can make it back in time.  And that really bothers me.  Even though it’s only the 3rd time I’ve missed the group in 2 years.

Because I made a commitment to the group.

When I joined, I committed to being there every week.  The people in my group aren’t imposing any guilt on me for missing.  They’re not upset.  The group will carry on without me, no problem.  Somebody else will lead the discussion that night.  Somebody else will take up the prayer requests.  Somebody else will make sure the group keeps moving forward.  The group isn’t dependent on me.

But I’m bummed I can’t be there.

I’m missing out on

  • a dynamic discussion
  • a broken-hearted request
  • a cry for help
  • an opportunity to praise God for His goodness
  • a belly laugh
  • a good meal
  • catching up on life
  • sharing my own difficulties
  • sharing my own triumphs
  • doing life with friends
  • praying for a friend
  • being prayed over

You may not like my small group (I wrote about it HERE).  But I do.  These guys challenge, encourage, and equip me to do what God’s calling me to do.  Their influence in my life is beyond measuring.

To get the most out of your small group, you’ve got to make a significant commitment. Otherwise, a small group is just a Bible study.  A group of acquaintances.  An I-have-to-go-to-that-again? meeting.  A burden.  A time-waster.  Something that takes you away from what you really want to do.  A place of forced community.

Make the commitment to the folks in your small group.  They’ll be glad you did.

And so will you.

Have you ever made the level of commitment necessary to really invest in a small group?

Have you ever seen someone not make that commitment, and burn out quickly?

 

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Spiritual procrastination

Ben Reed —  April 13, 2011 — 35 Comments

The most dangerous word for your spiritual growth is “tomorrow.”

image by Jeff Boriss

I’ll share my faith with my friend…tomorrow.

I’ll start praying more regularly…tomorrow.

I’ll start reading my Bible…tomorrow.

I know God want me to _____, so I will…tomorrow.

I’ll start treating my wife with respect…tomorrow.

I’ll become a better parent…starting tomorrow.

I’ll quit doing ______…tomorrow.

I’ll choose to forgive…tomorrow.

I’ll choose joy, not anger…tomorrow.

I’ll choose to serve…tomorrow.

I’ll take charge of my spiritual growth…tomorrow.

Stop. Saying. Tomorrow.

Today is the day.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. – James 4:13-14

 

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Give yourself a break

Ben Reed —  March 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

I remember the day my son started walking.

He had been pulling up and cruising for a few weeks prior, so we knew he was just about ready to start letting go and walking on his own.  My wife and I were sitting across from each other in the middle of the living room floor, and I stood Rex up in between us.  He could barely get his balance.  In fact, he was so wobbly he fell down before he even got started.  So I stood him back up.

Then it happened.

He took a small step, then started to fall forward.  Just before he reached the point of no return (where he would fall flat on his face), he stuck his other foot out in front of himself.  His momentum carried him forward, and he forgot to put his other foot out in front, so he fell face first into my wife, who, along with me, clapped and cheered for our son.  He had started to walk!

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

Then he got tired, so we quit for the day.

Notice this: he wasn’t so hard on himself that he wouldn’t try again.

Part of the hindrance to our spiritual growth is that we’re too hard on ourselves.  We beat ourselves up over and over again, when we’ve got a Father who, while we’re still a long way off, is filled with compassion for us, and is running towards us so He can throw His arms around us and kiss us. (Luke 15:20-21)

We, like the Prodigal Son, still beat ourselves up.  We respond, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20)

To which our Father says, “Let’s celebrate!” (Luke 15:23)

I’m not saying that we should act like we’re perfect, and can do nothing wrong.  But I am saying that we should not be so paralyzed in our sin that we don’t take another step forwards, towards our Father who’s running our way.  We could live in the reality that we’re sinners who are “no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But wallowing in our guilt and shame doesn’t help us move towards God.

Maybe we should start reminding ourselves that our Father is cranking up the music, getting His dancing on, and grilling up a feast for us.  Because He loves us that much.

Do you ever find that you’re too hard on yourself?

Is it time to give yourself a break, and celebrate even a small step in the right direction?

Do you know someone who needs to be reminded of this truth?


 

 

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It’s time to fail

Ben Reed —  March 8, 2011 — 7 Comments

Maybe it’s about time you failed.

(image by ArtMoth.com)

I remember when I didn’t make the varsity baseball team in high school.  I was crushed.  But through that, I ended up quitting baseball to pursue golf, a sport I turned out to be pretty good at.

In seminary, I absolutely bombed a paper that I thought was one of my better projects.  Through that, I worked hard to refine my writing, and in the process, found a great love of writing.

The first small group my wife and I were a part of (in Louisville, KY) was an abysmal failure.  I didn’t want that to happen to us, or anyone else, again.  Now I’m a small groups pastor.

The New Testament Church was led by a guy named Peter.  Don’t forget that he had an epic fail, where his pride was kicked in the teeth.  He thought he was ready to die for Jesus.  He wasn’t (John 13:37-38).  His pride would even need to be kicked again a little later. (Galatians 2:11-21) And it needed to be in order for God to use Peter.

Why you need to fail

It’s through failure that we learn what we’re not that great at. Here’s a shocker: you’re not great at everything.  God’s gifted each person uniquely…you included.  We may not always find that gifting on our first shot.  Be open to other ideas than what you’ve always thought or been told.  Maybe your failure is a good indication that you need to try something else.

It’s through failure that we find out which ideas aren’t the best. Failure becomes a way of culling out the ideas, projects, programs, and directions that needed to go.

It’s through failure that we are motivated. Who wants to fail twice?  Failure pushes you to work harder, more efficiently, and lean more heavily on others.  Failure is a great deterrent to future failure.

It’s through failure that God comforts us. It’s hard to experience comfort without some level of failure. (see Lamentations 3:16-23)

It’s through failure that our pride is sucker-punched. If you were as awesome as you thought you were, you’d not have failed.  As John Ortberg says, “There is a God, and it is not you.”

As valuable as failure is, I still find myself consistently praying, “Lord, please help this _______ to go really well.”  Or, “Lord, you want this __________ to succeed more than I do…”  Or, “Lord, help this idea to not fall flat on its face.”

Maybe I should start praying, “Lord, maybe this needs to flop.  You know best.  Help me grow in the process.  Chip away the parts of me that don’t look like You.  Grow your Church.  Knock down my pride.  Renew my faith in Your plan.”

Is there an area of your leadership or your life that needs to fail?

Have you seen God grow you more through failure or through success?

 

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