Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Tag: Relationships (page 1 of 2)

Wholeness and Healing

wholeness-and-healingWhen you stop to consider the amount of wealth in the United States it is quite amazing. Think about the luxury many of us get to live in and the technology that we get to use. The comfort and ease that Americans get to live in is not the way many people get to live.

It is quite interesting to me that in spite of our great wealth and ease of life, that there are many people who struggle with depression and other disorders. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) the percentage of Americans taking antidepressants basically doubled (6.8% to 13%) between 1999 and 2012.

Now there are many reasons for this, but one thing is certain: money and wealth cannot fix all our problems.

It is great to live in luxury, to be part of the first world and experience first world problems, but that doesn’t mean we will experience wholeness in our lives. The reason for this is sin. Wealth does not fix the problems sin causes in our lives.

Erwin McManus in his book Uprising wrote; “He [God] invites us to find our purpose and our healing in serving others.” (p. 144)

All of us are broken to one degree or another. This is why the self-help section at the book store is so large, we do want to find healing and wholeness, but we don’t know how.

I think many of Christians understand that their purpose is found in loving and serving other people. McManus correctly points out that purpose is key to experiencing wholeness in our lives.

On the face of it this idea seems to be contradictory to us. How can healing and wholeness be found in giving our lives away?

Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of someone else. Many people will even make this claim regarding the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” After all, they reason, you can’t love neighbor if you can’t love yourself.

That is a misapplication of the verse. Jesus isn’t saying we need to learn to love ourselves, as if he was a modern day pop psychologist, but rather, he is emphasizing that the love, respect, and honor you want to experience is what you are to give to other people.

We need to follow the example of Jesus:

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14; NLT)

Jesus did not experience the brokenness that you and I have, but Jesus did experience the various emotions that are common to human life. In this passage Jesus heard the news of the death of John the Baptist, his relative and forerunner, and he is experienced grief. It is appears that Jesus wanted time alone with his disciples, but the crowds were determined to follow him. In a time of personal need, Jesus showed compassion for others.

Once again we see the paradoxical nature of the Gospel. Wholeness is found in giving ourselves away. Healing is found in serving others.

One of the huge consequences of sin is that it damages our relationships. We were created to be in relationships with both God and people, and the reason we are broken is because the relationships that we desperately need are damaged by sin. A lack of healthy relationships leads to broken and sick people.

So how do we build healthy relationships?

It begins by reaching out to people in love. This is the example that God has given to us. Remember God took the initiative to have a relationship with us, and that is what we must do. I think one mistake that we often make is to wait for people to reach out to us. The example God gave is that we are to reach out first.

By reaching out first, not only are we following the example of God, but we are also demonstrating our trust in God. We are trusting God to provide for our needs as we seek to love people and we are trusting God to bring healing and wholeness into our lives.

Now I don’t what to sound like there is no need for professional help: counseling, medicine, etc. I have benefited from talking to a professional counselor, so I know that they play an important part in our healing. Rather than down playing professional help, I want to point out the missing piece in our healing: loving service to others. The path to healing always includes reaching out to others in love.

Personally, the times I experienced the greatest healing are the times I removed the focus from my pain and started to care for others. Sometimes it has been as simple as praying for others and other times it has involved becoming an intimate part of another person’s life.

Whenever we show concern for others we stop being consumed with self and we allow our heart time to heal as we experience God’s love through our love for other people. God’s love is made most real to us when we are showing love to others.

Here is the thought I would like you to remember: Wholeness is found in giving ourselves away.

Keep Your Standards

Standards

When I was a sophomore in college I was the children and youth intern at a church in western Iowa. One Sunday I was invited to eat lunch with one the families and they asked me questions about my life and if I had a girlfriend. When I told them no, they asked if there was anyone at college that I was interested in, and again I told them no, and I added that I wasn’t interested in just dating, but wanted to find a woman I could see myself marrying. They responding by saying, “Paul, did you ever think your standards might be too high?”

I remember leaving that conversation shaking my head in disagreement.

One of the reasons I disagreed with the advice they were trying to give me was because their whole frame of reference was that people needed to be in a romantic relationship. That is not true.  In fact, the wrong romantic relationship can be detrimental to our lives. We have to be very discerning about our relationships, especially ones that are close and intimate like romantic relationships are.

A second reason that I disagreed with the advice is because I understood standards are important. I knew that I didn’t have to date a lot of people to discover the type of woman I wanted to marry. I already had a good idea of the character and faith that I desired in a wife, and that is what guided my search.

Fast forward 15 years and I was still unmarried, but I was dating someone. There were a few red flags in the relationship, but I was ready to overlook those warning signs, because I was ready to be married. I told myself that I could make it work. Looking back on that situation I can see the flaw in my thinking. For a relationship to work it requires two people. I could work hard to make a relationship or a marriage work, but if the other person doesn’t put in that same effort the relationship will still fail.

Graciously, she ended the relationship. One of the reasons she gave for the break up was because the relationship was too much work. You see, the fact that I was willing to lower my standards to make the relationship work didn’t matter. Time and experience eventually revealed that we did not share the same values or have the same level of spiritual maturity, and this meant the relationship was destined to fail. It wasn’t about a lack of trying or even a lack of love, rather it was about not being compatible and having different standards.

When I met my wife Jenny, it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was a woman I could marry. She measured up to the standards I was looking for in a wife, which made our relationship night and day different from my previous relationship experience.

In other cultures arranged marriages, agreements between families, are the way marriages happen. In our independent and individualized  culture we use dating to form our marriage relationships. Dating provides each person with the choice of who they will marry. In this situation we have to have some way to make a wise choice in the person we marry. This why our standards are  crucial. The role standards play in this process is to provide a measuring stick to help us evaluate the other person.

It is not enough simply to have standards. We also need to know what standards are non-negotiable and what standards are mere preferences.

For example, one of my non-negotiable standards was a woman involved in ministry. I knew that if she was actively involved in some sort of ministry we would have a similar spiritual maturity and that we would be able to share an important part of my life.

An example of a preference I had was that she would have the same Christian Church/Church of Christ background that I had. Though this was harder to give up than I thought it would be, marrying Jenny and joining the Free Methodist Church opened up new avenues for ministry.

When it comes to identifying your standards for dating and marriage it is important to know what are the things that you must have in a spouse, those things that you can’t stand in a partner, and those areas that it would be nice to have but  you can live without.

Dating is dangerous because you are giving another person access to your heart. Having standards gives you a level of protection in your life. That is not to say that you will not be hurt. Any time we are in a relationship there is the risk that heartache will happen. The protection our standards offer is discernment.

In the infatuation that accompanies romantic relationships it is easy to be blind to the the character of the other person. Your focus is on the thrill of new love. This excitement is one of the reasons we get hurt in relationships. We  allow our hearts to lead and we ignore the warning signs of incompatibility the pop up along the way. Our standards can help us see past the emotional high of an exciting relationship and decide if there is truly a future for the relationship.

Don’t let go of your standards. They are a crucial tool in helping you make one the most important decisions in life.

Be Encouraged

image{1 Thessalonians 5:9-11; ESV}

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Have you ever felt out of place at church?

I know that I have. Too often we feel like we have to “put on a mask” before we walk through the doors of the building and pretend to be someone we are not. We are keenly aware of the struggles, the temptations, and the doubts that hold us back from truly being the person God created us to be.

If you have ever felt that way you are not alone.

In his book Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli wrote:

Sprinkled throughout our congregations are good people who have been paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, insecurity and self-doubt, insignificance and guilt, which are what cripples most of us who are trying to follow Christ. (p. 24)

Think about your church family.

If we are struggling with sin, temptation, doubt, uncertainty, guilt, loneliness, insignificance, heartache, and fear, then it would seem likely that other people we worship with struggle with similar things in their lives. In spite of this reality, there is an unspoken expectation that Christians need to have it all together. The result is that we end up hiding our true selves from one another.

This is what Mike Yaconelli got me to ponder: Followers of Jesus need to encourage one another.

Following Jesus is hard. It is especially hard if we lack a support group who will encourage us, help us, and support us through the ups and downs of life. Remember, the first thing God declared to be not good was the loneliness of Adam. We were created to be with other people.

In 2005 I was ready to throw in the towel and walk away from God, Jesus, and the Church. Guilt, doubt, and insignificance weighed me down and I wondered if following Jesus was actually worth it. I have been one of those people sprinkled in the congregation, but I wasn’t an occasional visitor I was the youth pastor. If I was struggling as the youth pastor, you can imagine how the occasional visitor must feel.

This is the reality of all of our church families.

The New Testament book of Hebrews was written to a church family in the midst of a difficult time. The persecution and doubts had them ready to give up. It is thought that these Christians had experienced one wave or persecution and lost most of their possessions. This new wave of persecution threatened their lives. You can imagine that a return to Judaism, which was a legal religion, appealed to them. This is why the author of Hebrews wrote:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV)

The writer called his readers to encourage one another, and the echoes of his call fall upon us today. Following Jesus isn’t easy and we need all the encouragement we can get.

How will we hold on to the hope we have in Jesus if we don’t have people on our side who will encourage us?

Encouragement is essential to remaining faithful throughout life’s struggles.

How can we receive the encouragement that we need?

Encouragement doesn’t find us by accident. We have to take initiative if we hope to be encouraged in our lives. The writer of Hebrews provided two ways for us to take initiative.

  1. We need to meet together. This requires that we make it a priority to regularly meet with other Christians. Sunday morning worship and weekly small groups are important because they provide us with the opportunity to create the Christian community that we need. On the flip side, if we isolate ourselves then we will not be encouraged. We need to take the initiative to meet together. Part of that imitative is to invite people to be part of our community. Without an invitation it is difficult to join a group.
  2. We need to follow faithful people. One way we can spur each other on in faith is through our example. We provide encouragement to others by living a life of faith. We also have to remember the people of faith who have gone before us. Hebrews 11 has a list of Old Testament saints who endured struggles and remained faithful to God. It was important for the first readers of this letter to be reminded that following God isn’t easy and there are people who have endured to the end. We need to be reminded of faithful examples. They could be ancient saints, modern day believers, or someone in between. These examples remind us what God can do through the most difficult of circumstances.

Following Jesus isn’t easy. In our church families their are dozens of people struggling with their faith. In fact, you umight be one of the people struggling. Through the dark times of we life we need encouragement, and that encouragement is found in fellow believers.

Questions to consider:

  • How have you struggled with your faith?
  • Why is it important to be encouraged when going through difficult times?
  • Are you being encouraged? Are you an encouragement?
  • What is one thing you can do to encourage a friend?

 

A Praying Boyfriend

praying boyfriendIn our culture the way we find a marriage partner is through dating. This whole ritual of boyfriends and girlfriends is littered with potential pitfalls, which means that very few people escape the process unscathed. Many of us carry the scars and broken hearts of dating relationships gone bad. Some of those wounds we received while dating will be with us the rest of our lives.

Because dating is so dangerous it is essential for Christian guys to approach dating with wisdom, guidance, and love. Guys, please remember that you are not out on a great hunt trying to find meat for supper, but you are in pursuit of a life partner who you can love, cherish, and lead. Dating, as exciting as it is, is also a huge responsibility.

As you date you need to keep in mind that the girlfriends that you have are, first and foremost, daughters of God. If you are a Christian, this means you have the responsibility to help her mature in faith, to encourage her to use her talents in ministry, and not to become an obstacle as she follows Jesus.

In other words you need to hold her life as a sacred trust for as long as she is a part of your life. Her life is not yours to use however you want or to destroy. You are responsible for protecting her as long as she is in your care.

As a Christian, your dating experiences cannot be all about fun, but they also need to be about mutual encouragement as both of you grow in faith. I believe that it is the man who is to lead the relationship in this aspect. If you are not leading your girlfriend spiritually it is your responsibility to stop dating until you are spiritually mature enough to lead.

How do you go about leading your girlfriend spiritually? You begin to lead your girlfriend though prayer. I don’t mean some wimpy little prayer that many people like to pray: “God, I would just like to ask that You will just be with my girlfriend and just grow her spiritually…”

I am afraid that such a prayer isn’t going to do too much. You see prayer doesn’t start with the words you say during prayer, but it starts with your motivation for praying. For your prayers to be effective you have to believe that God hears your prayers, and that He has your best interests at heart. Prayer also has to become important enough to you that you set aside time to pray each and every day. If you are just praying to mark “prayer” off our religious to do list, well then your prayers aren’t going to accomplish much.

When it comes to praying for your girlfriends you have to answer the question: “Do I want my girlfriend to grow in her relationship with God?”

Don’t be so quick to answer that question. The quick Sunday School answer is, “Yes, I do!”

I think you need to stop and consider some of the potential consequences of your girlfriend maturing in her faith.

  • What if God shows her that the next step in her journey of faith is to break up with you? Would you be okay with that?
  • What if God uses her to bring up issues in your life that you would rather remain hidden? Would you be okay with that?

Your prayers will be more effective when you can honestly say, “God whatever Your will is I surrender my life to it.” Remember your will is not always the same as God’s will, that is why one of the purposes of prayer is to help people align their wills with God’s will.

When it comes to praying for your girlfriend, I think it is important to remember that you need to pray for them with them. You need to pray for her during your quiet time of prayer, but you also need to hold her hand and ask God to bless and guide her. She needs to hear this because she needs to know that you want God’s will for her no matter what happens in your relationship. Make sure you set aside time on your dates to pray with her and for her.

I want to offer a word of caution. Do not do this in the early stages of your relationship. It could freak her out because she might think you rushing things. It could also create a false sense of intimacy that your relationship has not yet reached. Wait for the right time to start praying together, just as you would with holding hands and kissing.

With that being said I want to give you a few practical prayers that you need to pray for your girlfriend if you are going to help her grow spiritually.

  1. Pray that God will keep both of you on the same page. This has proved essential to me in the last three relationships that I had before getting married. In the two cases where the relationship ended, God revealed that truth to both of us. While there was sadness that accompanied the end of the relationship, we both knew that God wanted us to go our separate ways, and we were able to part on good terms. There is no way to avoid the pain of a break up, but with God’s wisdom and guidance we can make it sting a little less.
  2. Pray for the knowledge of God’s will. The apostle Paul at the beginning of his letter to the Colossians reveals his prayer for them; And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10; ESV). Ask God to fill your girlfriend with a knowledge of His will that comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. Remember the important thing in her life isn’t that she will become your wife, but that she will live a life that is worthy of Christ Jesus. This is such an important prayer for you to pray, not only for your girlfriend, but for everyone you pray for, because everyone is in need of God’s wisdom.
  3. Ask for her to be clothed in the Armor of God. The Armor of God is found in Ephesians 6:13-17. The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6 that we are in a battle, a spiritual battle, and that means your girlfriend is out in the middle of battle field. Daily you need to ask God to put His armor on her. To do this you need to take time to walk through this passage and mention each specific piece of armor. The reason you need to pray this prayer is to help her to have the ability to stand firm in the face of the enemy’s attacks. This is also a prayer that I use for myself each day, I need to be clothed in God armor otherwise I will fall.
  4. Ask for God’s Kingdom to come into her life. This comes from the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10). The way I use this prayer is to focus on God’s Kingdom and ask that she will be a part of it, and for His will to be done for her as it is in heaven. The best life that you can live is lived in accordance to God’s will, and so you want your girlfriend to know God’s will, and receive the strength and courage she needs in living out His will for her life.
  5. Thank God for the opportunity. Each relationship is a gift from God. This is especially true with romantic relationships. Thank God for bringing such a beautiful woman into your life. Because you are thankful, ask God to give you the wisdom and guidance you need to be an encouragement to her. A relationship with a beautiful Christian woman is a great blessing, so you need to thank God for that wonderful blessing. Like all blessings there is also responsibility, and that responsibility is to lead and encourage her in her walk with Jesus. In order to do that effectively you need God’s wisdom, and as James wrote (James 1:5) if you lack wisdom you need to ask God for the wisdom you need to spiritually lead the woman you call your girlfriend.

Dating is dangerous and it leads to a lot of wounds. That is why the wise Christian man will take the time to pray and invite God into the dating relationship that he is in. As single Christian man, you want to make the dating relationship a positive and encouraging experience that will help both of you to grow in your relationships with God. So if you are really serious about being a Christian boyfriend, you will be a boyfriend who prays.

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Saturday Video: We Don’t Grow in Isolation

 

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