Resources for Victorious Living Part Two

The Modern Pilgrims Progress Part Six- In which Pilgrim discovers he neglected to acquire a key resource.

 

Successful Christian lives don’t just happen, no matter how easy some people make it look. Victorious, destiny-fulfilling life happens when a Christ follower listens to God faithfully and obeys explicitly. God will provide and direct any true believer to the right resources for every moment.

Like Moses’ staff that became a snake and devoured the Egyptian magicians’ staff/snakes.

Like ravens brought the prophet, Elijah, food in the wilderness.

Like Christ’s disciples fed a crowd with a child’s lunch.

Many believers fail to fulfill their destiny because they balk at doing things that seem weird by human standards. Many pilgrims lack the right resources for their journey and then wonder why they aren’t doing so well. In the last post I suggested an obvious one, ignored or treated casually by a growing number of Christians.  Authentic connection to a healthy, local church. If you are not active or sense a disconnect from your current church, I urge you to go back to the previous post to work through some questions and ideas about that.  Please don’t sit home and avoid the issue. That makes you an easy target for the enemy.

Last week I suggested you discover a church’s position on the truth and authority of the Bible before you throw your lot in. This week I’d like to recommend a few more criteria for finding your God-designed place.

  • Do I agree with the vision, doctrines and beliefs of this church?

There is no one denomination or fellowship that holds all of God’s truth perfectly, so don’t try to find it. However, you should be able to wholeheartedly support a church’s position on basic truths about sin, salvation, the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming of Christ. Even smaller churches feature websites that usually contain this information. With a house church, you will need to ask key questions of its members.

 

Please don’t become involved in a church simply because the pastor preached a great sermon and you liked the music. Occasionally, I run across someone who regularly attends our church but becomes uncomfortable when people exercise the gift of tongues. We are an Assemblies of God church. Hello.

 

  • Will my gifts and skills be celebrated and used?

 

God deposits specific spiritual gifts in every believer (I Cor. 12). He also made each of us in a unique way that is perfectly suited to the places he calls us. If you’ve got a passion for sharing the gospel with children, you probably don’t want to land in a church within a retirement community. If God’s called you to disciple Baby Boomers, you need to go where they are, not the latest millennial church start in your town.

 

This is a method God uses to wedge us out of one place and into another, by creating a holy restlessness concerning our gifts.  If you aren’t using them right now, why? Are they not needed? God doesn’t call every church to every ministry. My church isn’t engaged in a ministry for military veterans, but I’m so grateful for other churches who are. Maybe you’re a frustrated worship musician because you aren’t being used to the degree you’d like to be. God might be preparing a perfect you-sized, worship leader position in a different body.

 

One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is using your gifts and abilities in your God-ordained place. Don’t settle for less.

 

  • Are the ministries and budget balanced between in house and reaching their community and world?

“The church is the only society that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” (William Temple) Sadly, many American churches invest too much of themselves toward the already saved. I believe in these last days, God grows impatient with that mindset.  Ask questions and search websites to discover the answers to these questions.

  1. What type of community engagement and impact is this church involved in?
  2. What is the level of support for world missions considering the overall budget?
  3. Do the pastors and leaders teach and model a passion for the lost that is demonstrated through actions?

 

  • Do I fit with these people?

 

Before you become a faithful attender, participate in a few large group events and mix it up with the people outside of a worship service. You may discover that although the worship services are a real connecting point for you, that may be the only one.  I remember a small group my husband and I were once assigned to lead many years ago. A lovely group of people for sure but we had no common interests with them beyond that group. Eventually, Ken and I dreaded those Sunday evenings. With our current small group, we are eager to get together.

 

Do a little reconnaissance to see whether you can find shared bonds with folks before committing to them.

 

  • If this is a church over 50 people, is there a small groups ministry?

This dovetails with the above point. If you think you fit somewhere, then you need to go all in and be connected authentically with 6-12 other people in that body. This will happen when you commit to regularly meeting or serving with a consistent small group of people inside the larger congregation. True spiritual growth does not happen by only attending worship services.

Accountability and vulnerability are hallmarks of a good tribe. That is where believers grow. You need a safe place where you can admit failures honestly and celebrate your victories genuinely.

Do you desire a victorious, purposeful life? The right resources make a difference. Position yourself rightly in your God-ordained place of growth and ministry. Below, I created a condensed list of the six questions you should ask before committing.


 

How to Find and Maintain Authentic Friendships-Part Two

The Modern Pilgrim’s Progress Part Four- In Which Pilgrim Finds Companions

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.

“Even longer,” said Pooh.

Truth, from a stuffed bear. I often forget that relationships with other Christ-followers will go “beyond infinity,” as Buzz Lightyear says. My attitude about relationships is too earth bound.

Too caught up in the relational struggles of the moment.

Too invested in temporal pleasures and concerns.

Too careless with lost people’s souls.

I forget that I’m building relationships that will last, as Pooh says, longer than forever. Whew! When I look at people that way, it makes me want to be more careful and prayerful about how I forge and maintain friendships.  In part one of this piece on friendship, I discussed prayerfulness and authenticity, two foundational stones for meaningful relationships. I suggest going back and reading that previous post first, if you haven’t already.

Two  more of my foundation stones of friendship came to mind as I pondered my history with friends. My list is not definitive. It’s just mine. Developed in the hard knock school of failed relationships. Forged in the fire of loneliness and poor choices. (For more ideas from wiser pilgrims, check out the list of recommended books at the end of the previous post.)

  • Be realistic– no one can fill all your buckets except Jesus. Marriages fail because spouses expect each other to be everything. All the time. Friendships wane when we glom onto one person and expect them to be our everything. Or even two people that we count on exclusively. Jesus picked twelve. Twelve.

We’d all be better off if we stopped thinking, “more highly of ourselves than we ought,” (Romans 12:3) We need to recognize that everyone of us is a handful and it’s best to develop relationships with several folks. Let’s go back to Pooh Bear and consider the variety of his friends character qualties.

-For sheer joy?  Tigger

-For faithfulness and earnestness? Piglet

-For a reality check? Eeyore

-For wisdom? Owl

-For thoughtfulness and planning? Rabbit

-For kindness and caring? Kanga and Roo

One day of Tigger’s energy is great but don’t try serious conversation with him. Piglet’s loyalty is solid, but his fears are many. Kanga is as kind as the day is long but probably won’t tell you the truth about yourself like Eeyore will. Get the idea?

 

God will open doors of friendship between us and a variety of other people with qualities God knows we need. What if Jesus’ only disciple was Peter? I’m seeing a wake of cut off ears behind them. Yet, Peter showed great faith in his best moments. Or, how about a circle of three with Jesus, James and John? Oh my. So much bickering over positions. So little time.

Few of us have too many quality, soul-level, in it to the end, friends. So, who are you overlooking as potential friends? How might you be frustrating your tiny tribe with all your expectations? Open eyes.  Open hearts. Open hands. These are the channels God uses to position new people in your life.

 

  • Be positioned– if you’re not in your God designed spot doing your God-ordained stuff, you’re going to miss some people. Peter turned up in the wrong place. Moping by a campfire instead of praying. Where was he supposed to be? I’m not sure but I’m certain it wasn’t in that spot, denying he knew Jesus. King Saul turned up in the wrong place too. I’m positive God wanted him somewhere other than a witch’s doorstep asking her to call up the ghost of Samuel.

 

As a positive example, although Jacob started in a wrong place, covered with animal fur and lying to his father, he met his beloved Rachel, by being in his God-ordained place later. Each of the twelve disciples left life as they knew it to follow and obey Christ. Look at the adventures they experienced and the deep friendships they formed.  And how about sweet Ruth? She obeyed all her God nudges, positioned herself rightly, and went from poor widow to beloved, wealthy wife.

 

Friendships are important. Being about the business of God’s kingdom, is more important. Ruth didn’t go out to glean in the fields because that’s where she thought she’d find a husband. She simply did the work God called her to do in that moment.  Should I expect God to drop friends into my life when I’m not doing the same?

 

If Ruth never worked the fields and instead sat home, simply hoping Boaz might notice and provide for relatives, I think the story ends differently. Boaz felt an attraction to her hardworking, humble spirit, which he observed as she worked. Godly, obedient people are naturally attracted to other godly, obedient folk.

 

Position yourself in places of obedience and faithfulness. This is where God often connects us with some soul mates.

Friendships can be, as Dickens said, “the best of times and the worst of times.” Jesus’s friends failed him repeatedly. He still invested in those relationships. Even Judas. At the beginning of a new year, this is a good time to review your friendships. Do you need to let go of some people that drag down instead of building up? Are you engaged in your God-given work? Is there a potential friend you’ve overlooked because they are different from you? Are you praying about your friendships? What action will you take today?

 

 

 

 

How to Find and Maintain Authentic Friendships- Part One

 

The Modern Pilgrim- Part Three- In Which Pilgrim Finds True Companions

“God has a bigger vision for our friendships than we can even begin to understand.” Angela Sackett

Friendships are tricksy. When you decide to be an all-out, on fire, Holy Spirit- filled, crazy in love with Jesus kind of Christian, well……they can be even harder.

When you’d rather:

  • Spend Sunday morning in worship with other believers instead of sleeping in, doing yard work, video gaming or shopping
  • Talk about the latest book by John Bevere, Frances Chan or Ann Voskamp instead of whatever Shade of Grey just hit the NYT bestseller list
  • Spend your first moments in the morning in prayer and Bible Study instead of checking your social media likes

Well, my friend, you are what my former pastor called, “a hothouse plant living in an open meadow world.” Your thirst for the higher things of God will affect your ability to form and maintain soul-level friendships. Frankly, the fragrance of Christ on you will repel some people.

Still, we need faithful companions to journey towards our God-ordained destinies. We aren’t wired to attempt this solo. Jesus did daily life with twelve guys he hand-picked. Who are we to think we can live out Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock; I am an Island?” We need people who will:

  • Celebrate our wins with no secret jealousy
  • Celebrate who we are without masks
  • Encourage us to dive deeper with Christ
  • Encourage us to confront our shortcomings and sins authentically
  • Pray for us and stand by us when we are failing at all the above
  • Pray for us and stand by us when life goes upside down or sideways

I’ve squirreled up many friendships and lost folks along the way who God meant for me to hang onto. Held on to some I needed to let go. The following points are from notes I took during my classes at Hard Knock University. My instructors? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Apostle Paul. The four disciples record many details about Jesus’ complicated, scandalous, wonder-filled relationships with humans.  The Apostle Paul and his circle are also worth checking out.

This is not a definitive list guaranteed to get you faithful friends in a week. It’s a start. I’ll also recommend some books I’ve found helpful at the end of the post. Originally, I intended for this to be one piece but as I wrote and prayed, I felt a slow down from the Holy Spirit. So, only two points for today. More in the next post.

  • Be authentic

What good does it do you, long term, to build friendships around a public persona that isn’t the real you? You’ll either exhaust yourself trying to maintain the persona or mess up the friendship when the real you pops out unexpectedly. Usually during stressful times when you need your friends the most. This is a huge struggle for Enneagram Three’s, but I think everyone fights fear about dropping our masks.

 

I know I’m an acquired taste. I used to try and cover that up and be what I thought people wanted. Folks, that’s so opposite of God’s ways. He wants me to daily acknowledge the weaknesses and sins that he brings to my mind so that he can teach and change me. Listen, I tried to be a better, kinder, sweeter, more patient person on my own. I’m here to tell ya, it doesn’t work.

 

And worse yet, being a phony makes people feel unsafe around you.  They don’t know who’s going to show up at any given moment.  And they feel they can’t be real around you either.

 

We are all people in process. God chooses companions for me that are okay with the messes of my process, literally and figuratively. Their love for my strengths far outweighs the grace they need for my failings.

 

When God presents you with your next opportunity for a new friendship, and He will, ask yourself, “Am I acting like myself or the person I want them to think I am?” Lots of folks won’t enjoy your authentic brand. That’s okay! God will lead you to brothers and sisters who do which brings us to our next point.

 

  • Be prayerful

I know this seems obvious, but I’m not convinced we are praying about friendships near as much as God desires. Like the opening quote implies, there are key people God wants us to build relationships with at various times of our lives because he has huge plans for us. Some will be friends for a lifetime, and some will be friends for a season. They all matter. They all bring something to your table. They all need something from your table.

 

Many years ago, I learned to cry out to God for friends. Loneliness is a haunting thing that can tempt you to grab onto people and things you ought not to be. Allow God to open doorways between you and another. Don’t forge your own road. A world of troubles and sorrows can be entered simply through wrong relationships.

God longs for us all to be challenged by some Peters and loved by a Timothy or a Barnabas. The faithfulness of a John or a Silas can be the difference between us quitting or going on.

 

Ask God for open eyes and an open heart. The people you might be naturally attracted to are not always the ones God chooses for you. Some of my most significant relationships are with people my flesh might overlook. In fact, for years, I ignored the girl who turned out to be a faithful friend all through high school and college because she was unassuming. The angst of middle school would have been a lot better hanging with her rather than the boy-crazy friends I chose.

 

Again, friendships are so important to God, Jesus chose twelve people to live and work with every day. He could have done his ministry a different way, but I think God wanted us to observe and learn some things from the dynamics between all of them and Christ.  Next post, more ideas on finding and building friendships. For now, I challenge you to pray about your friends, or lack thereof. Is there a toxic relationship you need to end? Is there someone you are overlooking? Pray, pray, pray. Then extend your real self to the folks on the other side of the doors God opens.

Some of my favorite books about relationships:

The Road Back To You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile- Using the Enneagram model, this helps readers discover their own character qualities and gain understanding of other’s motivations, fears and strengths. HIGHLY RECOMMEND

“The Path Between Us,” by Suzanne Stabile is a follow up book that teaches specifically about how different types of personalities can be in successful relationships with one another.

“The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman teaches about the five distinctive ways people show and receive love. Sometimes, we think we are showing love to others, but we just aren’t speaking their language. This is a classic every believer should read.

Boundaries,” by John Townsend- sometimes friendships fail because we allow people to tread across lines in our lives that shouldn’t be crossed.  Setting up healthy boundaries in a relationship frees both people to be authentic and honest.  Allowing people to tread on us, often unknowingly, creates resentment and bitterness and breaks up friendships regularly.

The DNA of Relationships” by Gary Smalley is an enjoyable read with lots of great illustrations that teach great wisdom about relationships. Often we find ourselves in destructive dances with certain people that we just can’t seem to break out of, even though we may love those people dearly. This book teaches how to identify the problem and break the destructive cyclees, freeing us to enjoy deeper and more productive friendships.