Improving Your Spiritual Life (for Christians)
70% of people who send me feedback at http://www.insideoutmusic.net tell me they want to improve their spiritual lives. I'm really excited that they want to do that. In fact if you're reading this, you probably want to do it as well. If you're like many of the people I've talked to you've probably been spoon fed clichés until your ears bleed. "Just pray, let go and let God, spend more time in the Word..." You know the drill.
For some reason the cliché's don't cut it. You're struggling with envy, hurt, anger, pornography, power, or just feel a complete phoney in your Christian life. Maybe you secretly fear you've committed the unforgivable sin, or that you're really going to hell and there's nothing you can do about it.
You're afraid to talk to your minister or Christian friends because you fear they will judge you. Maybe you have talked to them and they did condemn you. That will not happen to you here. I want to lay out for you very briefly the sort of things you need to do to improve your walk with the Lord. God loves you, and wants to change your life. If you are reading this now, it is clear evidence that the Spirit is working in your heart, because you want to change, and I know you can. So let's roll.
It is easy to get depressed over what's wrong with your Christian life. While there's nothing wrong with concern over sin, forgetting God's love is an even greater sin. Before you take inventory of your faults, make sure you start your blessings list. Remembering what God has done in your life, and in Christ is the foundation for real change.
Knowledge is the power to change
You want to change, and you need to change, but how? Romans 12 says we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. Christianity is a lot more than head knowledge, but real faith involves your head. You need to know :
* Yourself - who are you? What has God called you to be?
* The Bible - you need to know what He says about your life and how to live it.
* Your desires - you need to know your deepest desires, because they will either lead you to, or away from God.
* Your thoughts - what's really going on between your ears?
* You need honest perspective. You need to know what other Christians think. We find it hard to discuss what's really going on inside, but when we do, we discover we all have deep, dark secrets.
Holy Habits The heart of spiritual self development
One of the biggest weaknesses in the 21st Century is a fear of discipline. We somehow feel that discipline and habits are the enemy of spontaneity and authenticity. But if you ask any successful person in ANY field, including faith, you will find deeply ingrained habits built from a lifetime of hard work and discipline. Habits of prayer, fasting, planned Bible reading, church, fellowship, time out for retreats and renewal, all form part of a balanced Christian life. If that's all there is, our faith is just an empty shell, but without them we will be weak and vulnerable.
Lord knows you've got to change
We mentioned above how we are changed by renewing our minds, but what is it about our minds we need to change? We need to understand what forces shape our behaviour and thinking. We are responsive beings. We respond to the environment around us and make choices. Everything we do reflects a choice we make. We may not be consciously aware, but it's true. I might feel powerless to walk away from the chocolate cake, but in between seeing it, and eating it, something happened in my brain. I said things to myself. "It wont hurt to have a little." "It's pointless trying, I've failed so many times before". "I'll start again tomorrow".
We need to notice the thoughts that ultimately lead to us making choices we don't want to make. We need to replace those unhelpful thoughts with a new program - one that leads us in the way we want to go. It might be a Bible verse. It might be an affirmation. It may be a quote from Dr Phil! It doesn't matter as long as it's true and it helps.
We need a plan to move from where we are now, to where we want to be. We need to ask ourselves:
* How important is this change to me?
* What will I gain from making the change?
* How confident am I that I can make the change?
* How will this change improve my Christian life?
We are wise to start with changes that we really want, that are important, and that we feel able to change. This works for most people. However there are adrenalin junkie types who find it better to bite of a big challenge first, just to prove they can do it.
Changing behaviour, particularly lifelong bad habits is hard, and usually needs expert help. Whether it's a Christian Life Coach, a therapist, a counsellor or pastor. It's not the title that's important, but the skill. If you're thinking about paying someone for professional help, be sure to ask them what sort of experience they've had, and what sort of results they get.
One of the big myths of modern life is that we can do it alone. Whether it's pride or fear, going it alone is a recipe for disaster. No matter how many self development books you have, you need personal help. Weak as they were, Jesus had his disciples. Aaron was the first Life Coach in the Bible. He advised Moses to get some help. We all need help, such as:
* Mentors to guide, teach and encourage us.
* Creating a physical and emotional environment that helps rather than gets in the way.
* Accountability, whether it's a spouse, a Christian friend, minister or coach. We need someone who will ask us the tough questions, and with whom we can share the deep, dark secrets without fear or favour.
* A church that inspires and helps us.
* If your church is large, you'll also need a small group of people who you can get to know and share fellowship on a more intimate basis.
There is no need to go it alone. Even if you can't find what you need locally, the fact you are reading this on the Internet is proof that there's a whole world out there that can offer support. All you have to do is ask.
Three Quality Qualities
I have found three qualities that are essential in Christian living. They cannot be separated. They are grace, patience and trust.
We need to be absolutely assured that God really does love us, and that his love does not depend on our performance. As Phillip Yancey says "there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do will male Him love us less". Do you really understand that deep in your heart and mind?
We need patience to allow God time to work in us. When we read Bible stories, we often condense time down to a 30 minute TV episode. The reality is that major changes in people and nations took place over years, and sometimes centuries. God slowly, but surely worked His purpose out. We need to be patient with ourselves, and with others. That's what grace is about.
Patience leads us to trust. If we know God's grace, and are patient with Him, we can truly trust that all things, including our failures and dark secrets, are part of His plan to make us like Him. This relieves a great burden of guilt.
So friend, this is a very brief introduction to what's involved in making a positive change in your spiritual life. You need to start with an attitude of gratitude. You need to be honest with God, yourself and others. You need support, and you need a plan.
A free tool
If you need a hand, I suggest you use the Spiritual Life Assessment. It will help you to honestly face your dark secrets, and begin the journey to real change that lasts. If you want help from us, you simply have to ask.
Till then - God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Ken Davis is a songwriter, Life Coach and music producer who also sings badly. He has been involved in music ministry since 1977 and currently serves in the music ministry at Dapto Anglican Church in Australia. You can get plenty of Christian Living resources at http://www.insideoutmusic.net including free sheet music, MIDI files and training materials.
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