Today we continue our series called Healthy Spirituality. If you have found yourself exhausted or overwhelmed or ready for a new start, this series is designed to help you develop four practices in your life to get healthy spiritually. If you are here exploring faith, we are giving you an inside look at what is essential about following Jesus.
And if all followers of Jesus did these four things, we would experience more and more of heaven on earth and others who are exploring would be more open to faith as they see the transformation in us.
Last week was following the Spirit in our lives and throughout our day.
Today is living a life in the Scriptures. This means we connect with God in reading the Bible and applying what we read to our lives.
Next week is about being in intentional community – something many of us have drifted away from during these last couple of years and in two weeks we will talk about living generously – generous with our time, talent, and treasure.
Let me give you an example of how the Bible can play a critical role in how God speaks to us and guides us.
When Deborah and I were dating it was the early 1990s so we wrote letters to each other. No FaceTime or emails or texts. It was so exciting to get a letter from her! Every day I went to the mailbox just hoping there would be a letter!
That was the main way we communicated because we lived 100 miles apart and it was long distance to call each other, and I’m cheap so that rarely happened. She lived in Irving and I lived in Waco. They seemed so far apart in those days!
Now what I discovered was that absence does not make the heart grow fonder. For a time absence can be what helps you realize you don’t want less of this person in your life but more. Even still, prolonged absence can actually lead to doubts and drifting apart.
Now in the summer of 1992, I applied to be a summer missionary in Russia. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, and there was an opportunity to go there for 10 weeks. The problem was my parents wanted me to work half the summer so I could only go on summer mission trip for 6 weeks. The only 6 weeks option was in Dallas.
I grew up near Fort Worth.
Dallas was the last place I wanted to go!
I was really upset with my parents. I mean I was an adult now! I was 20! I should be making my own decisions! Of course my parents were still paying all my bills while I was in college. I was just responsible for paying for gas, dates, and fun with friends. But I had bought my own car and I didn’t want to work at the same grocery store I had been working at since I was 16!
The challenge was that I was really trying to trust God with my life. I was really growing a lot as I was spending more and more time with God in prayer (sometimes with groups of friends we’d pray all night) and in the Scriptures. In fact I had memorized key verses at around 17-18. At 19 I memorized the Sermon on the Mount and now at 20 I was trying to memorize all of Ephesians. It was about this same time that a verse I did not like in those days, but I really like it now struck me as God’s Word to me about what I should do that summer:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”” – Ephesians 6:1-3
So I humbled myself. Rather than heading off to Russia and rather than just not going anywhere at all, I worked at Kroger half the summer and went to Dallas as a summer missionary.
Here’s what’s amazing. That summer is when I fell in love with Deborah. We were able to see each other the entire summer. It didn’t really dawn on me until just before the mission trip, for the first time in our relationship I would be living in the same area code as Deborah. Even from Bedford near Fort Worth it was long distance to call her in Irving. Now we would be able to talk all the time for free!
Take that AT&T!!
That summer we went from slowly getting to know each other while dating other people to exclusively dating and by the spring of the next year we were engaged.
Why do I bring that up?
If we aren’t careful and intentional, we drift in our relationship with God. One of the key ways we stay connected with Him is reading the letters written to us – the Scriptures and through prayers which are like phone calls with God, the Creator of the universe.
Except here’s what’s remarkable about communicating with God, He can put His thoughts directly into our minds!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:16
When we said “yes” to following Jesus, the Spirit comes to live within us to guide and direct and convict and comfort us. We can learn to discern His voice in our mind.
Have you ever thought you wished it was easier to know God! Like if He was visible and spoke audibly it would be so much easier!
Here’s what’s cool: we can know God more than any person on this planet because He is not bound by a human body and verbal communication. God is everywhere. We are never alone. He can put His thoughts in our minds!
Did you know that 70% of human communication is nonverbal? That’s why we got zoom fatigue. It wasn’t just looking at the screen all the time. Our brains were having to work so much harder to understand someone because we couldn’t see their nonverbal cues in their face and with their body language.
We just returned from a trip of a lifetime! We used lots of airline miles and Deborah and I went to stay with one of our global partners who has been be hosting our daughter who is a gap year missionary with them this school year. Their church is doing amazing things as they have seen 40 adults come to Christ in the past 5 years. That is incredible in Europe! And our daughter Trevi has grown so much! She is speaking French fluently! She was our interpreter everywhere we went (and even our driver all around Paris) And we got to take her to Rome to show her the Trevi Fountain, the place that inspired us to give her that name when we visited it 5 years before she was ever born. Now in Italy, my wife’s understanding of Spanish helped us quite a bit. So my daughter speaks French. My daughter speaks Spanish, but you should know I am also bilingual. I speak Latin – pig Latin.
Here’s the thing: the cute little kids Trevi has been caring for this past year would come up to us and speak French as if we knew what they wanted. Remarkably oftentimes just considering the context and body language, many times we could understand them and they could understand us.
Even still, when it comes to communication, there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstandings!
So God skips past all that to speak directly to our hearts and minds. The key is our willingness to listen.
And we do have His word to us in written form. There are even direct quotes from God to us! The words of Jesus are all throughout the Gospels which are four eyewitness accounts.
I can tell when it’s God’s voice vs. my own vs. the voice of darkness if the thought is selfless, requires courage, and is consistent with God’s character as found in the Scriptures.
We have a workshop to help you in this called The Hearing God Workshop. This workshop is what helped my daughter reconnect with God in her faith and has helped hundreds of people learn to hear God’s voice. Led by our Pastor of Prayer, Tara Browder, you can find more details at at GatewayChurch.com/North-Austin.
As leaders, it’s critical you and I learn to hear God’s voice and stay connected with the Lord because we are helping others new in their faith or those exploring faith. You and I can help others grow up to be the person God created them to be!
Here’s the catch: we cannot just live off the fumes of the past. We need to press in more and more towards God so that we can know Him more and help others know Him more.
And we can help others with the basics of what it means to follow Jesus. You can help your kids, your extended family, your co-workers, your neighbors – anyone you are investing in spiritually.
Let me share a few quick principles to help you hear God’s voice more clearly through the Scriptures and how to help others do the same:
Let’s talk about each of these briefly:
1. Make time with God a priority.
A worthy goal is time with God daily and learning to be in conversation with Him throughout the day.
Start with reading the Gospels and the letters of Paul and the Psalms.
Resources to help with this include youversion app, Bible Project app, Soul Revolution app, Gateway App which has message series to go back and learn from.
My goal is 10% of the day in time set aside with God. If I’m awake for 16 hours that’s 960 minutes, so if I can tithe 96 minutes of my day to be in the scriptures, listening to sermons or podcasts about God, singing along to worship in my car then I’m in a really good rhythm. Not always possible. Give yourself some grace on this. But it’s a worthy goal. Gets me off social media and away from the news.
My goal is one day a week with no news and when I’m in a really good rhythm no cell phone one day a week.
Another goal is one solitude day a month. Sometimes it may be more like a morning or an afternoon of solitude.
Give yourself grace.
But these are goals to help me be intentional about not drifting in my relationship with God.
Remember, God is always speaking not just in those intentional time with Him.
He speaks through a song lyric, through someone sharing their heart in your life group or in the lobby, through a message on Sunday, through a conversation at work at home or with a neighbor.
That’s why what Carlos talked about last week is so important: staying in step with the Spirit all day throughout the day.
Spending time with God in the Scriptures isn’t the end goal. The end goal is a vibrant relationship with God where you grow to stay connected with Him throughout the day!
2. Reading the Bible and prayer go hand in hand.
Always pray going into time in the Scriptures, throughout, and after.
“God, what is your message for me in this?”
Or “God, you know what’s been on my heart lately, show me wisdom from your Word about those things.”
Responding to God with prayer after reading the Bible is a great practice as well.
If you aren’t sure how to read the Bible and don’t know how to meditate, go to gatewaychurch.com/digging-deeper this week and it includes a link to a Bible Project article called “3 Easy Ways to Engage the Bible and Help to Get You Started”
Meditating on Scripture is a game changer!
You still yourself. You quiet your mind. You get rid of the distractions. And you allow God’s Word to you fill your mind and heart. This isn’t Eastern meditation which is an attempt to empty your mind. This is biblical meditation which fills your mind with all that is good, beautiful, hopeful, and peaceful – all those things that come from slowing down and connecting with God.
In light of recent tragedies, prayer has gotten a bad rap. When I feel overwhelmed and eager to do something like in the case of these mass shootings, here’s my response:
- Praying for those affected and asking others to pray. Those who are grieving need supernatural help. If you have seen some of these social media posts from the families who lost children, they are asking for prayer. Prayer allows us to open our hearts to God and He can send us out often as the answer to that prayer.
- Donating blood and encouraging others to do the same.
- Donating funds to organizations that are making a real difference. In the next week or so, Gateway will be donating funds based on some of the relationships Carlos Ortiz (our North Austin Campus Pastor) has since he grew up in Uvalde and even attended Robb Elementary.
- Looking to help those who are troubled and needing help and encouraging others to report and/or get help for those kids and young adults needing help.
- Doing the research rather than just reposting angry posts. Looking at ways to train on gun safety or contacting law enforcement or my local political officials to take action on policies that can protect against this happening again or at least far less often.
- Most of all, seeking to bring more of the healing and hope I have found in my faith to others who need and want what I’ve discovered.
3. Apply what you have read to your life today.
There are certainly times when I go to specific passages because I need specific guidance about a specific issue that those passages address.
When we go to the scriptures we are seeing how God has spoken to others in similar situations. Sometimes we are learning from the women and men in the Bible what to do and what not to do. Much of the Bible is descriptive. It’s saying what happened and it’s raw and unvarnished. It’s not saying what we should do but what happened. We use wisdom to determine if the example we read is what God would want for us or not.
But some are prescriptive. Especially the letters of Paul. They were written to believers to guide them to know how to live.
When looking to apply what you read it could be as simple as a change in perspective or it could be actual guidance like I shared about the passage about honoring your parents.
4. Dive deeper when there is doubt or confusion.
Let’s be honest: there are some difficult and confusing passages. Perhaps some of you started reading the Bible and then got confused and gave up.
You should know, the Bible is not pro-slavery, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or irrelevant, but it is ancient. As a result, when you come across these, just know it may be cultural.
The three best things to do in that moment:
First, look at the context to explain the cultural setting to help it make sense.
BibleProject.com helps a lot with context. Cannot recommend their app or their videos and podcasts enough!
Second, let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures.
You can learn to understand the confusing passages with the clear ones.
Third, consider godly counsel – those who you know and how passages have been interpreted over the centuries.
Let your doubts draw you closer to God rather than keep you from Him.
5. Trust God even if you don’t understand something.
You can also learn to hold the tension of uncertainty and still trust God.
Don’t throw out everything because you don’t understand one thing.
Things will begin to make sense if you stick with learning instead of judging God and rejecting. It’s important to have a bigger perspective. Remember God’s ways are higher than our ways.
Now sometimes, what you read may seem odd because our culture has gone away from God’s way. Don’t just read the Scriptures, let the Scriptures read you! Remember, the goal of reading the Bible is not just about getting information, it’s about transformation which happens in the context of relationship with God. We read His Word to us and apply it to our lives.
When you jump into the Scriptures, be sure to start with reading about Jesus and then read everything through the lens of who Jesus is and who He revealed God to be.
We know what God is like by looking at who Jesus is.
The Bible is not about getting more information. The Bible is all about transformation that comes in the context of relationship.
It’s through the Bible that we learn to pray, we learn to worship, and we learn who God is. The entire book of Psalms are prayers and worship songs!
As our pastor in Los Angeles would say:
“The Bible is a portal into God’s presence.”– Erwin McManus
God speaks to us through the Scriptures in our times of need.
However, when you are experiencing acute and indescribable pain, trusting God is really hard!
I’ve experienced some excruciating pain before, but none of those compared to the kidney stone I had on March 12th!
I already shared with you last week that miraculously, rather than lasting a few days as they warned me, I was healed miraculously within an hour and a half of coming home!
Our prayers had worked! Some of you were part of that prayer team!
All seemed to be back to normal until I went to the airport this past Wednesday morning to travel to Charleston where I was a speaker at an event for pastors. The pain was back. Now it wasn’t as bad as it got at the end of my time in the ER lobby, but it was just a bit beneath the pain level of what it was just before I decided to go to the ER. I started to panic: what if it got worse on the plane! What if this keeps happening all the time! What if…? I started texting Deborah for advice about medicine, and I messaged some of you to pray for me. I got on the flight to Dallas because of course there are no direct flights out of Austin for almost anywhere, and I was starting to sweat as the pain began to increase. I asked the stewardess for water, and she immediately asked: “Sir, are you feeling ok?” I assured her I would be fine, I just needed to take some Advil. I began to hope I was telling the truth.
All that to say, I couldn’t concentrate to write on my journal or to work on this message or to work on my talk for the pastors in Charleston. I was in too much pain to try to sleep. So I just started reading Isaiah 40-66. That was the bonus reading for this Sunday. I just asked God to heal me and speak to me and to give me hope.
I figured if God could help the people of Israel in the midst of their struggles, surely helping me with a kidney stone on a plane would be easy!
Then all of a sudden so many passages began to stand out:
But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you… he who formed you… “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.– Isaiah 43:1-5
One particular passage stood out to me as if it was written prophetically to me all those 2700 years ago!
This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. (I need this rock to go! Teach me, please!)
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, (Don’t drink so many Diet Cokes?)
your peace would have been like a river, (I want peace like a river!) your well-being like the waves of the sea. 19 Your descendants would have been like the sand, (I would do anything for this stone to become like sand!)
“The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.” (I need to be redeemed!)
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; (And then the greatest line of all!) he split the rock and water gushed out. (May it be so, God! Please split the rock!) -Isaiah 48:17-21
I found myself laughing in spite of the pain. I began to calm myself down. The prayers and the Advil kicked in, and I started feeling better again!
So I can tell you, God can be trusted! He can be trusted even if the pain had not stopped. Sometimes He says “yes” to the small things so we will trust Him when He does not answer our prayers the way we want in the big things.
Or as the half brother of Jesus said: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” – James 4:8
How does God want you to draw near to Him right now?
Maybe today is the day to surrender your life to follow Jesus?
If so, just acknowledge you need his forgiveness and start a relationship with God through Jesustoday.
Maybe you have been following Jesus, but rather than following His guidance in the Scriptures, you have been making decisions based on the news, your own thoughts, or your own feelings?
If so, confess that to Him and start afresh.
What burdens do you have to lay down?
Who are the people in your life or ministry that need help beyond what you can give them?
Draw near to Him and let Him comfort, inspire, empower you!