Paul says, “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8). There have been many books written on how to train for godliness, so I will just give a brief summary of a few spiritual disciplines that have led me to experience more joy in God, rather than giving an exhaustive list. Applying these training exercises in your daily life will grow you in godliness and allow you to experience more joy in God.
Johann Hari traveled the world in hopes of finding better ways to help drug addicts. After meeting with dozens of people, experts and junkies alike, he concluded, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connectivity” (TedTalk). One of the men he met along his journey is Canadian psychologist, Bruce K. Alexander, who conducted a study in the 1970’s called Rat Park. He put rats in empty, isolated cages with two water bottles; one with plain water and the other with morphine water. Nearly 100% of the time, the rats would become addicted to the drug water and eventually die from overdose. He also created a giant cage that he called Rat Park, with dozens of rats, cheese, and toys, along with the same two water bottles. It was like the Garden of Eden for rats. His studies showed that almost none of the rats in the connected environment became addicted or died. They barely touched the morphine water! After getting some of the rats addicted in the first environment, he moved them to Rat Park. These rats stopped using the drug water very quickly.
One of the leading methods of recovery over the last hundred years is the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There are groups all over the world for different drugs of choice, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and even Heroin Anonymous (HA). Alcoholics Anonymous started in the 1930’s when the founder, Bill Wilson, had a spiritual experience that removed the desire to drink and he began living according to the principles of the Oxford Group. This was a Christian group aimed at leading people into a relationship with God and living a Godly life. These principles find their roots in the Bible. The twelve steps evolved from these Biblical principles, but have allowed room for people to come up with their own conception of God. Although the twelve steps have helped multitudes of people relieve their desire to drink, they are incomplete in many ways. In this short appendix, I will address four of those shortcomings.
Following Jesus won’t always be easy. There will be opposition and hard days. Yet, we can rest assured that He’s with us always, and that if He’s called us to something, He will be faithful to see it though. Be patient, humble, and hard working in the process. Trust Him in the hard times and praise Him in the good. He loves you, has a calling on your life, and will see it through.
Too often, I rush through life, failing to acknowledge the Artisan in anything. My mind becomes conformed to the pattern of our rushed culture. We look right past the Sistine Chapel to scroll for hours through social media. The world is trying to conform us to its image, cynical and unimpressed. Our senses are deadened. Our ears are deafened. We rush past God’s beautiful creation and we rob ourselves of joy and we rob Him of the glory. God wants to awaken us to see Him in His creation, and make our hearts leap for joy, glorifying Him in everything.
God wants us to pray, plan, and bear fruit. The new year is a great time to evaluate our plans and make new plans for this next year. We should hold these plans with open hands, trusting that God’s plan trumps our plans every time; but this doesn’t mean that we don’t make plans. Godly plans honor God and advance His Kingdom.
True peace is possible. God doesn’t want you to be trapped by anxiety. Therefore, operate in the authority God has given you by casting out the spirit of fear. And through the mountaintops and valleys of this journey, let’s press on in what God has called us to in spite of the opposition. God is greater than anxiety.
In a few moments, your identity changes completely, but you must now learn how to think and live out of this new identity. Learning this is the essence of true freedom. Here are a few of the foundational truths that we must know and adopt if we are going to think and live in the freedom that God has freely given us in the Gospel.
Life and ministry are sometimes very difficult. The internal and external pressure and stress sometimes leaves us feeling depleted and discouraged. When we feel this way for an extended amount of time, we all feel the God-given need to retreat. We are like an athlete in the NCAA tournament who has played a great game and needs to get his body and mind ready for the next game two days later. We are like a NASCAR driver who needs to come in for fuel to be able to finish the race. God made us all dependent beings and has made us with the need to retreat and hide out. The question we must answer is where are we hiding? Where do we run when we are running on E?
...there is hope. I have seen hundreds of drug addicts meet Christ and learn to live in true freedom and real joy. My family and friends had all but given up on me after many rehabs and broken promises, but God did a miracle. Love them like Jesus does, pray for them, and make Jesus the center of your universe!
It’s not enough to get the bad out; we must also fill the empty space with something, or really Someone. True lasting freedom is not found in the absence of something, but in the presence of Someone. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). If we are going to experience lasting freedom, we must not only clean our spiritual house, but also we must be filled with the Spirit of God.
Once a drug addict places their faith in Jesus, they are completely forgiven and have been made into a brand new creation, but now comes the long journey of learning how to walk in the freedom they’ve been given. The reason why so many people feel the joy of the Lord on Sundays at church but then bogged down and hopeless the rest of the week is because they are carrying around what feels like thousands of pounds of garbage from their past.
What if our problem wasn’t that we are seeking our pleasure too much, but that the stuff we are seeking our pleasure in isn’t working? What if the problem isn’t that we are addicted to pleasure, but that the object of our addiction isn’t good enough? What if the drugs aren’t a strong enough pleasure to satisfy our souls? What if we were made for a Greater Pleasure.
2018 - Ready, Set, Go!
There is something special and energizing about finishing one season and starting another—this is especially true with regards to a new year. There seems to be organic momentum and fresh anticipation regardless of what we experienced in the last year. How can we pour gasoline on this to maximize the momentum? Here are four of the things I’ve seen produce the most fruit in my life.
Do you want to stay faithful to your calling for the rest of your life? Do you want to stay faithful to your wife until death do you part? Do you want to stay faithful to Jesus until He takes you home?
Over the past few years, many Christian leaders who I look up to have “fallen away.” Some have burned out and others have had a complete moral failure. With these leaders heavy on my heart, I have been searching the Scriptures trying to learn how to prevent this in my own life and the lives of my friends who are in ministry.
To be effective in ministry, the gospel must be central in everything we do: every sermon we preach, every devotional we write, all of our small group curriculum, and in every aspect of the life of our churches. If the gospel is not central, our churches will be built on sand and will eventually collapse into a religious relic or a glorified version of a self-help pep rally. If we’re not preaching the gospel, we are preaching a cubic zirconia version of the divine diamond of the universe- the gospel.