discipline

Resolutions or Resolve?

Moving beyond resolutions to resolve

Interest in physical fitness surges a few times throughout the year. The holiday season when we all tend to eat more than our body needs is a prime example. This carries over to New Year’s resolutions to get physically fit.

Summertime also brings renewed interest in physical fitness for those who go to the beach or lake to catch some sun. Some gyms are even open 24 hours a day for the die-hards, but many of us have difficulty being consistent.

Inconsistency is also an issue for many of us with spiritual fitness. We may know what is needed for spiritual growth and strength but struggle to move beyond the initial experience of making Jesus the Lord of our life.

Resolutions are more like wishes made when blowing out birthday-cake candles. Moving beyond resolutions requires resolve—a choice or decision that results in commitment.

Knowing isn’t doing

Just knowing what we’re supposed to do doesn’t make it happen. I may know a healthy diet and exercise are primary for being physically fit, but if I don’t make changes and act on those changes I won’t become physically fit.

It works the same way with spiritual growth and health. I may know to read the Bible, stay in fellowship, pray, worship, serve, and so on, but if I don’t do these things consistently I can’t expect too much in the way of spiritual fitness.

And yet, there’s more to it than doing things that lead to spiritual growth and fitness. There is an internal struggle we must contend with and overcome. It requires resolve to overcome this struggle more than a mere resolution.

We must contend with and overcome an internal struggle

lightstock.com_notebook-Bible

lightstock.com_notebook-Bible

Hard questions

Because we’re set in our ways, it’s hard to make significant changes in our life. We need to ask some hard but important questions.

What are specific ways I can move beyond my present spiritual state?

What can I do to overcome habitual tendencies I’ve held most of my life?

Once I know what needs to change, how do I make these changes?

Just as commitment and discipline are needed to maintain physical fitness, the same is true for spiritual fitness and growth.

But why does it always seem to be such a struggle?

Our struggle

Our internal spiritual struggle exists because of two warring natures — one is old and dead but the other is new and alive. The old nature is more familiar to us, it’s like a long-term ingrained habit. It’s not an old friend!

Habits like biting nails are often done subconsciously. We do it without realizing it. This is the problem we have with our old nature—our old way of life. It’s our go-to, our internal inclination.

How can we break away and break free from this old way of life?

Just quoting Scripture won’t make it go away. It won’t just fade away with time by doing all the right things. Nor is it about modifying our behavior.

It’s a matter of our will. Not to make a resolution to change but choosing to surrender it. Sounds counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The death of us

Previously, I wrote about a life hidden. This hidden life is a Christian’s new life arising from our new nature given to us by God when we enter into a personal relationship with Him.

But this hidden life is like the life contained in a seed or seed pod. The seed pod has to die for the new life contained in the seed to come to life.

Jesus spoke about this saying, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). In another post, I looked at this need to die to self.

The Bible speaks of putting this old way of life, or old self, to death. But is it understood by most Christian believers? Maybe at a basic level of knowing it but knowing how to do it is another thing altogether.

Here’s what the apostle Paul said about it in Colossians —

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices (Col 3:5–9 NIV)

A choice and a commitment

So, how do we put such things to death?

Notice the figurative language used — “since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”The image is that of taking soiled clothes off.

It’s an intentional choice and action. It doesn’t just happen.

What’s the key?

Think of it as a slow burial.

Theologically, we can know we are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) with a new nature (Ezek 11:1936:26), but our struggle is with letting go of the old self and its ways.

It requires a continued choice and commitment on our part.

A slow burial of what’s dead

unsplash.com_TMarshall

unsplash.com_TMarshall

We need to realize the old way of life and its nature is dead to us. It no longer holds life for us. That is, it doesn’t fulfill us but empties us and holds on to us with a death grip.

Putting the things mentioned above to death requires us to acknowledge they only breed death for us spiritually. They are a dead end in themselves and they need to be buried in the past. Buried with Jesus—the visual image of water baptism (Rom 6:3–7).

Jesus died to put such things to death on the cross and He removed their power through His resurrection (Col 2:13–15).

After realizing this, we need to choose to not go back to these old ways of life, these habits of our old self. We do this by choosing not to live that way, be that way, and do such things. This is the way we will bury the old self.

But remember, it’s a slow burial. It requires a resolve that goes beyond mere resolutions. It requires a daily choice to trust in the Lord’s perfect work of redemption on the cross, as it personally applies in our life.

The old way of life and its nature need to be dead to us

I’ve got more thoughts on how to take the next step beyond putting the old self and ways to death. If you’re interested, let me know.

Until then, a few questions…

What seems to hold on to you from your old way of life?

How is it a dead-end for you now?

What are some practical ways you can bury it for good?


This was published earlier in Publishous on Medium as a revision from a previous post

Avoiding Bad Advice

Listen to advice and accept discipline so that you may be wise the rest of your life.

Many plans are in the human heart,

but the advice of the Lord will endure.

The fear of the Lord leads to life,

and such a person will rest easy without suffering harm.

If you stop listening to instruction, my son,

you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:20-21, 23, 27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:15-29 GW)


Unsolicited advice is cheap and plentiful. Just like opinions, everybody seems to have advice to give about—life, diet, exercise, business, politics, religion… you name it.

Equating advice as wisdom would be an oxymoron. Not all advice is wise. Go to a racetrack and ask for tips on which horse to bet on. You’re sure to get plenty of advice but the majority of it is useless or worse.

This is true for many other scenarios in life. And yet, people keep handing out free advice that others try to follow. I suppose some of the advice may be useful but I wouldn’t count on it.

So, how can anyone be sure of any advice? Of course, it’s important to consider the source of the advice. Is the person trustworthy? Does the one giving advice follow it themselves?

GIGOGarbage In, Garbage Out. This term was coined in the late 50’s as computers began to make their impact in mathematics, science, and business. Simply put, sloppy input produces unreliable output.

Just because a computer spits out calculated information, no one should blindly accept its output as true. Look at all the political and election polls and how skewed or far off they are from actual results or from one poll to another.

If the data input is incorrect, the output will also be incorrect. If the program calculating or analyzing the data is flawed or susceptible to glitches, then the output shouldn’t be trusted.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The only way to avoid bad advice is to be discerning enough to know the difference between what’s good or bad or questionable advice. Understand the origin of the advice. Where is it drawn from and who is giving it?

As explained before, the Proverbs of Solomon are often expressed as guidance from a father to a son. Solomon, the primary author, sees God as the father and Bible narratives provide scores of life examples of sons to learn from—both good and bad.

Here is reliable guidance for avoiding bad advice based on these 4 selected verses—

verse 20– Two things are recommended to gain lifelong wisdom—listen to good advice and make a continuing commitment to apply it in daily life.

verse 21– Others may have advice to offer and our own heart will generate plenty of plans and ideas but only advice that originates from the Lord will last.

verse 23– Good, reliable advice is grounded in a genuine awe and respect for the Lord. The fear of God leads to life because of the confident trust we have in Him.

verse 27– Commitment and discipline to the truth of God are essential for us to maintain the discernment needed to avoid listening to bad advice and holding to good, reliable guidance for our life.

Reflection—

Avoiding bad advice requires discernment to know the difference between what’s good or bad or questionable. When you listen to good, reliable advice and commit yourself to follow it, you can gain a life guided by sound wisdom.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment to help you know what is good advice to follow. Pray for God’s guidance and wisdom daily and for understanding of what you read in the Bible.

©Word-Strong_2018


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

The Path of Wise Counsel

Stupidity is fun to the one without much sense,

but a person who has understanding forges straight ahead.

Without advice plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.

…and a timely word—oh, how good!

The path of life for a wise person leads upward

in order to turn him away from hell below. (Proverbs 15:21-24 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:20-24 GW)


When I was in school as a young student, we used encyclopedias as references for projects and term papers. The Encyclopedia Britannica was somewhat the gold standard then but the more modern American version—the World Book—was a bit more accessible and easier to use.

If you wondering how long ago, it was after dinosaurs were extinct but before Jurassic Park (LOL). We went to public and school libraries to do research, unless your family could afford to buy a set of encyclopedias. Even then, if you needed several reference sources, you went to the library.

But today, a laptop and a good wifi signal will suffice most of the time. Need some answers? Check Wikipedia or “Google it!” Want to know how to do something? Search YouTube.

But the wired-world of today isn’t nearly as reliable and trustworthy as many believe. It’s a closed system of information and tech-savviness. Wisdom and understanding aren’t contained in articles or downloads that await us in the Cloud.

True wisdom is gained through reading, discussion, reflection, and thinking. But who has time for that?

Godly wisdom requires a similar process but is based on the Scriptures as a primary reference of truth and the wise counsel of godly people.

There was a time when “experts” thought the world was flat and ships would fall off the edge of the earth if they went too far. Of course, this was proven false countless times, centuries ago. The earth, planets, and stars in their orbits was also understood in Bible times (Job 26:7, 10; Psa 19:6; Isa 40:22).

Current wisdom is uncertain and short-sighted. It’s based on insufficient evidence with unverified extrapolations. Years ago, certain foods were said to be unhealthy for us. Now, these same foods are considered essential to good health.

Too often, what may be true to some degree is taken to an extreme. This is true in various fields of knowledge. It leads to what I’d call pop-wisdom. It’s pushed by popular opinion but my cynical self says it’s driven by what’s marketable rather than sound reasoning.

True wisdom—godly wisdom—takes the larger view of things and yet sees the smaller details. It doesn’t rush to unreliable conclusions. It’s also practical. True wisdom applies to everyday life and is time-tested.

Godly wisdom is based on an eternal perspective rather than individual preference. This is seen in the larger context of these verses and is summed up here—

The fear of the Lord is discipline ⌊leading to⌋ wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Prov 15:33 GW)

As spoken of in an earlier devotional, the fear of God isn’t a fearful attitude but a personal, respectful trust in God. It’s not relativistic but a disciplined view of life and truth.

When the wisdom we hold to is no longer based on assumptions and opinions but anchored in a transcendent source of truth, it is reliable and sound.

It includes trustworthy advice from people whose lives are an example of godly wisdom based on biblical truth, not arrogance and self-importance. This is the path of wise counsel.

Reflection—

How are you guided through life? Do you listen to the popular wisdom of the day or rely on the soundness of godly wisdom? True wisdom is gained through reading, discussion, reflection, and thinking on the truth of God with those who trust in Him.

Prayer Focus—

Approach each day with a fresh willingness to seek godly wisdom from the Scriptures—asking God to give it you as you pray and read (James 1:5)—and spend time with the people of God who trust in Him as shown by the example of their lives.

©Word-Strong_2018


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

A Cure for the Heartsick

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

Delayed hope makes one sick at heart,

but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life.

Whoever despises ⌊God’s⌋ words will pay the penalty,

but the one who fears ⌊God’s⌋ commands will be rewarded. (Proverbs 13:12-13 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 13:1-13 GW)


The heart of a person can't be expressed with an emoji and it's far more complex than the outline of a heart made with two fingers and thumbs.

When we talk about a person's heart, we speak of a person's inner being. It's deeper than our emotions but certainly affects us emotionally in ways that are good, bad, or indifferent.

Indifferent is worse than bad. Indifference to emotions indicates an emotional blankness—what psychologists call a flat affect—having no response to external stimulus or situations. It can indicate shock, numbness, or even clinical depression for example.

An indifferent nature is far worse. When a person is indifferent to others, it often indicates anti-social behavioral tendencies. Being sick at heart indicates a profound sadness and a sense of hopelessness—a human spirit that's crushed.

What causes someone to be sick at heart? According to this verse in Proverbs—a delayed hope. A hope that is set aside by circumstances beyond a person's control. It's more than unfilled expectations. It goes deeper.

This type of delayed hope comes in many ways. A refugee in a worn-torn area longs for peace and safety. When someone longs for a marriage partner or having a child, they also can become heartsick.

Obviously, some life situations are more dire and pressing than others but a person who is sick at heart focuses on whatever hope seems most important to them.

This proverb goes on to say, but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life. This isn't the longing of a selfish desire, it's much deeper.

When refugees find peace and safety, it's certainly more fulfilling than a good meal or gaining any possession. When we witnessed adoptive parents uniting with the child or children they were adopting through our ministry, it was a sweet and emotionally fulfilling time.

The key or cure for those who are heartsick is a change in what they're focused on. This is indicated in the following verse—

but the one who fears ⌊God’s⌋ commands will be rewarded. (Prov 13:13b GW)

The fear of God isn't a state of anxious fear but trust—a personal trust in God. I heard an interview of a journalist who was kidnapped by Muslim pirates and held several years for ransom. He hated his captors and longed for freedom.

When he heard a religious leader speak of mercy and forgiveness, he began to change his view of his captors by forgiving them.

He said it began to change his attitude towards his captors and seemingly hopeless situation. His heart and outlook lightened up. He acknowledged it required discipline. He had to work at forgiving them each day. Eventually, the day came for him to be freed—a longing fulfilled.

Are you sick at heart because of a longing in your heart or a hope that seems to get pushed back over and over again? The cure is a change of focus.

This is similar to what King David and the Lord Jesus said—

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:33-34)

Set the eyes of your heart on the One to whom nothing is impossible. Not just once but daily, even many times within a day, till it becomes a personal discipline—a commitment of your heart.

Reflection—

Set your heart on the Lord as your primary focus—not on what you are heartsick for or about. Do this so it becomes a personal discipline—a commitment of your heart—and trust whatever you are longing for to God.

Prayer Focus—

Learning to trust God in a deep way requires commitment and discipline in prayer. Prayer is the lifeline for communication with God—to share what's on our hearts and to spend time to wait and listen for Him.

©Word-Strong_2018


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

Our Responsibility of Choosing

Some choices are easy while others seem impossible. On any given day, we make hundreds of choices, often without realizing it.

We choose when to get up—even though it may be out of obligation or commitment. What we eat, drink, wear, and where we go or don't go are all choices.

But it's easy to choose without choosing—to settle into a routine—even to let others make choices for us. Whether we choose or choose not to choose—we alone are responsible for our choices.