The past few weeks I have been "fasting." As you might remember from my Practice What You Preach...post, Facebook was taking away from my time with God. So I gave it up for a few weeks and really focused on daily Bible reading, prayer, and tithing (because I do a really bad job with this). I also tried to indulge in some other reading material, mainly my stack of books that I have either bought over the years or have received from someone else. Here is how I have been doing in each area and how God has blessed me also.
1. I just recently started meeting with my boss (Mike Sander) and some teachers at the high school here in Norton. We meet together every Tuesday over lunch to pray and talk about what we have read in the past week. We set a goal of reading one chapter a day or seven chapters each week. We started reading in Hebrews and have just recently moved into James. This has been great for me because it is a way for people to keep me accountable and also a time where I can take in what other people noticed in the verses that we read each week.
Through the first couple weeks, one constant theme has been sticking with me. Faith. In Hebrews 11, the author lists what has become known as the faith hall of fame. Given are various accounts of times when men and women showed great faith. Names like Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and the list goes on. The thing that strikes me here is the things that God was asking these people to do. He was asking them to do things like sacrifice their only son, build a huge boat that will take the majority of your life while being criticized by all your friends, standing up to a Pharaoh...etc. The amount of faith that each one of these different people had amazes me.
This got me thinking...how is my faith? Because the truth is, its not that great. So many times in my life I don't put my faith in God and trust that He will work in situations. I like to rely on my own strength and do things on my own without even asking God to help. I don't have the faith to trust that God is going to take care of the little things in my life, much less have the faith to sacrifice my only son to Him. This is something that I need to work on. So many times, when I pray I ask hoping that God will provide or hoping that God will work in certain situations. I need to pray in faith, believing that God will provide and knowing that He is working in my life. My goal right now is to get better at trusting God and believing that He will work through me instead of hoping that He will.
2. I have recently been setting aside specific times during the day just to pray. One of those times is right before I do my daily Bible reading. I ask God to speak to me through His word, help me to find something new that I didn't notice before, and help me to apply those things to my life. I can't explain to you the difference this has made. It's like verses are just jumping off the pages and God is saying..."This is what you need to hear today, take it with you."
It seems like God has been making things easy on me throughout this journey too. Usually when I give up things to give more time to God, it is really hard to do and I have trouble sticking with it. These last few weeks, however, different things keep happening to help me keep with it. For example, as our youth group activity last week we developed a prayer labyrinth. This is simply different stations of prayer, each with a specific area to pray about. We set up stages like giving adoration to God, praying for your future, praying for your friends, confession, etc. Just focusing on prayer while preparing for that activity helped me to stick with my goal of spending more time in prayer. It was a constant reminder that I needed to spend time with God.
3. I am really bad with my money...and this is probably an understatement. I spend impulsively and usually on things of little importance, like fast food or many cubes of Mt. Dew. Because I am so bad with my money, I rarely have anything left to tithe with. Therein lies my problem. I have spent all my days so far giving what I have left back to God after serving myself first. I need to focus on giving to God first.
It was always hard for me to tithe because I liked to see what my money was going towards. I would find creative ways to tithe, like giving to missionaries or helping friends who are raising money for an internship. I don't think doing that is a bad thing, but it points back to my lack of faith. I need to trust that God will use the money I give to help further the Kingdom.
In the past few weeks, I gave to God first. Not spending money on myself even though there are things I need to pay for. I gave in faith knowing that God would bless me if I offered my gift to Him. And bless me He did. He gave me multiple opportunities to make some extra money through doing some odd jobs. He also blessed me through an anonymous gift of $100 from someone in the church here for no apparent reason. If you give in faith offering your gifts to God from the "first fruits of your labor," he will look on you with favor! If you don't believe me, read about it here; then here.
4. I have a stack of books that I have accumulated over the years, but still have yet to read. This pile keep growing for some reason and I have no clue why. Most of the books in this pile are books by Christian authors on leadership, Christian living, etc. So I decided that this would be a great time for me to grow closer to God and grow in my leadership skills at the same time. I just finished a book called Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz. Miller offers unique insight into many aspects of Christianity. Painting pictures of Biblical truths in a new light.
In his books, Miller really challenges his readers to get away from the cookie cutter, do these 5 steps to get into Heaven thought process on Christianity. His thoughts are that this way of thinking takes away from the relational aspect of Christianity and feeds the compartmentalized culture. The thing that really stuck with me after reading this book though was this: As Christians , we spend so much time looking at the sins of people and what is keeping them from a relationship with God that we forget to love them. We spend our time trying to "convert" non-Christians and feeding the notions that Christians are all hypocrites instead of reaching out to people and meeting them where they are at. We need to focus on the relational aspect of our relationship with God and show people that we are Christians by loving them and showing them that we genuinely care about them. Jesus spent the majority of His time during His ministry reaching out to the homeless and sick and poor and hurting. He ate with tax collectors and conversed with prostitutes. He loved people and met them where they were at. We need to strive to be more like Jesus in these ways.
These past few weeks have been a journey for me. A great adventure. A time when I have really started to dig deeper into who Christ is and what His plan for my life is. My prayer is that I will continue to grow in Christ daily and be more like Christ as I grow. I also pray that you will be able to do the same.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.