If you could start all over again, what three things would you change?
I’m one of those people who believe we have a destiny, a plan, a purpose for being here. The twists and turns in our lives shape us and make us the person God intended us to be. When I think about the things I would change, it makes me stop and wonder how those changes would affect my life purpose.
In making those changes, would I inadvertently erase something good in my life? Would I miss out on experiences that ultimately shaped me? It’s difficult to say how the smallest changes would affect our lives. But if I could, there are three things I would have done differently.
I would have finished my undergraduate degree right out of high school and before I had children. I think I have reiterated this to my children for the last ten years. I started my degree then decided I could make it without one.
College is difficult enough without trying to study while sleep deprived. I worked hard to juggle small children, my own wedding photography business, and school. But then I think it might also be what made me so determined to finish.
I give credit to God for my marriage on a daily basis. We were young and stupid and thought we could live on love alone. We recently celebrated 25 years together, but I know it was by the grace of God.
We worked hard to have the marriage we do today. However, I wish we could have worked harder. I wish we would have been more intentional. The second half of marriage has been rich because we put the time into the relationship. We would be much further ahead if we had started working on it earlier with greater intentionality.
I hesitate to say there is anything about ministry I would change. In looking back, I see how God used one thing to lead to another. But this I can say with certainty…I wish I had surrendered more quickly.
I wish I had given God permission to move in my life and change me sooner than I did. I wish I had said yes to the call on my life when He first prompted my spirit. I wish I had let go of vices and bitterness and forgiveness before they did so much damage.
The Word of God promises that He will repay the years the locusts have eaten. But repaying the years does not erase the scars. Yet, the Word of God also reminds us that He is working all these things together for good.
These are the three things I would have changed. You probably have three things you would change…maybe even more. Some of you have an opportunity to take this advice and learn from my mistakes. For the rest of us, let us remember we have a God who does great things and who births miracles out of our mistakes.
As a new Christian, I knew nothing about the Bible. I had not been raised in the Church and my knowledge was limited to knowing there were four Gospels written about Jesus. That was it. However, God blessed me in the early days with an insatiable appetite for His Word and I read several chapters each day.
My approach to studying God’s Word has changed over the years. I now read each day for encouragement and inspiration. But I also take time throughout the week for deeper study. You do not need to be a pastor or have a Bible degree to study God’s Word. A personal study will help you in your daily walk. And it will help you break some of the strongholds in your life.
Here are some tips for your personal growth and spiritual development.
Choose a Book or Topic
Choose a book of the Bible or a topic that you would like to know more about for yourself. It could be something you are struggling with or simply something of interest. One year I spent several months reading nothing but Christ’s words in red. It was challenging to focus solely on His words. Other times I have challenged myself with the prophets, kings, and New Testament letters.
If you choose a topic, a concordance will help you to find passages that focus on a specific word. For example, if you would like to know more about prayer, a concordance will give you a reference for each time the word “prayer” is used in scripture. You can also reference some great online websites like Study Light or Bible Gateway. These websites offer study helps such as concordances, commentaries, and topical Bibles.
I have a journal dedicated to my study notes. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A journal, notebook, or composition book will do. Some of us prefer fancy and others prefer practical. I also keep several highlighters and pens so I can mark words and phrases that seem to speak to me as I read.
Time and Space
My personal study is more structured than my personal prayer and reading time. I regulate my time and space for this activity. I prefer a quiet area where I can spread out my materials. I also prefer to study in the afternoon or evening since I am not really a morning person.
You choose the time and place that best suits you. If you have young children, then you may have to work around their schedules. But God will help you find a time and place that works for you.
Who, What, Where
So what do I write in my study journal? I prefer taking it verse by verse, chapter by chapter. I read the passage and mark the words or phrases that seem to speak to my heart. I may not understand why they are prominent, but I write them in my journal. After a few readings, I begin to ask myself questions about these words and phrases.
How do they fit into the larger scope of the passage? Who is speaking to whom and why? What are they trying to say here? How is this relevant to my life right now? What feelings are evoked in my spirit when I read this passage? What do I believe God is trying to say to me through this Word? Is there something I need to do in response?
As I begin to answer some of these questions, it naturally flows into a time of prayer.
Bible study journaling is a powerful way to deepen your walk with Christ. Today is a good day to step out on faith and dig a little deeper. Take the challenge and commit to 30 days of study. Then see what God will do in your heart and life.
I hope you will try it and let me know what He does in you!
Every vocation has its ups and downs; pros and cons. Pastoral ministry has more than its fair share. Here we are 2000 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, yet I’m not sure the Church in the Western World looks anything like it did in that first century. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong just radically different.
As I read through the New Testament, I can’t stop myself from meditating on how we do things today. As a pastor, there are three things that scare me about 21st-century ministry.
Not Being Successful
Failure is a frightening thing, but not being successful is even more frightening. If there are extremes on either side, then there are those of us who are average. We preach average sermons and baptize an average number of people each year. We lead average Bible studies and record average attendance in our annual reports.
We live in a culture that celebrates big, shiny, and grandiose, not average. Those of us who are average at what we do have to get real good at trusting Jesus. We have to trust that our faithfulness is acceptable. But our culture doesn’t applaud faithfulness. Therefore, when we are sitting with our peers and begin to feel that we don’t measure up, we need to know that we know God applauds our faithfulness and obedience.
I would like to tell you that I have mastered this, but I haven’t. And some days it scares me that I am not successful the way the world measures it. But I’m getting better at trusting Jesus.
Not being successful scares me when I am with my peers. However, being successful scares me when I am in the trenches of ministry. It is so easy to let success get to your head and harden your heart. Success in ministry frightens me because I have seen so many fall from their golden, man-made pedestals.
Every success we achieve in ministry tempts us to wade in its glory. We have to be careful to give that glory back to God and keep our souls humble. Someone once said we are never as great as some people think and never as terrible as others want us to believe. The trenches of ministry help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. For He alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Never Realizing Potential in Christ
Yet, the thing that scares me most about ministry is never realizing my potential in Christ. We can find ourselves paralyzed between being successful and not being successful. We can struggle to find the balance to such an extent that we never realize our potential in Christ. My greatest fear is that fear itself will keep me from being the minister Christ has created me to be.
There must come a time in ministry when we no longer focus on success…whether we have it or don’t have it. Instead, we focus on becoming the minister Christ desires us to be. We must devote our energy to realizing our potential in Christ so that we can be His hands and feet in this world. And when we realize our potential in Christ, then we will be reflecting the New Testament Church as it should be.