When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his apprentice, Timothy, he presented three great insights about cultivating a healthy spiritual environment at home. Paul writes: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:3-7). This one sentence gives us a perfect picture of three generations of Christians. Timothy’s grandmother Lois became a Christian; lived out what she believed so much that it influenced her daughter Eunice to become a believer. Eunice lived out what she believed, so her son, Timothy, also became a believer. Lois and Eunice had such an effect on Timothy that their lives were visible to Paul through Timothy. In other words, when Paul looked at Timothy, he saw Lois and Eunice's influence shining through.
Their example to Timothy begs a question of us. What kind of values and virtues are you cultivating in your kids? The first insight Paul provides is to be sincere. The apostle Paul says Eunice and Lois both had “sincere faith.” That means they acted out their belief system. They believed in Jesus and believed what he said was true, so they did what he says to do. They forgave others, they shared of their material things, they helped strangers, and they chose to be servants instead of trying to be above everybody else. They walked the walk and talked the talk.
Our children watch us and they act on what they see. When my kids were little, every one of them was simultaneously screaming before lunch one day. So rather jokingly I said “Josh, shut your pie hole.” Of course he heard what I said and, like a parrot, issued the same command to his sister. So now she was telling him to shut his pie hole and he was telling her to shut her pie hole and Katie told both of them to shut their pie holes. I told Josh not to say that and he immediately told me to shut my pie hole. I had modeled something I didn’t want mimicked. Kids are like magnets; they will pick up anything you give them whether good or bad. I’m sure that Eunice and Lois were not perfect, but their faith was sincere and they modeled what they believed.
The second insight is to be consistent. Being consistent as a parent is tough. Any parent knows being the good example isn't always easy. And any parent willing to teach their teenager proper boundaries with social media and good driving skills knows it is hard to walk the walk consistently. What we learn best as children are lessons that are transmitted through consistent actions and boundaries rather than verbally taught. What are you transmitting consistently to your kids or other impressionable kids or young adults?
The third insight Paul provides is to be a growing Christian. Paul mentions three generations here and there is no indication whatsoever that any of them stopped growing. They kept growing and continued to produce spiritual fruit in their own lives which impacted and nourished others. Jesus promises us we will grow if we stay connected to Him. “5I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Here are a some practical ways you can cultivate a healthy spiritual environment in your home:
-Pray as a family and share with each other the prayers that have been responded to.
-Pray with your kids before bed.
-Serve others together.
-Go to church and be enthusiastic about this time spent together.
-Bring the kids to AWANA, Freshwater Kids, or Student ministry activities.
-Participate in a group with other growing Christians and model your devotion to Christ-like friendships.
-Share with them regularly your love for Jesus and how he is working in your life.
What kind of a role model are you to your children? If you don’t have kids or your kids are grown, what kind of role model are you to others? Are you OK with the life you’re living in front of your children, family, and friends? Is your life revealing more and more the marks of Christ-like-character or self-absorbed character? Are you living a kind of life that you would like to have modeled to you?
God is willing to work with you and help you grow in your faith so you can become the role model to your children and others that you desire to be.
Your self-perception has a profound impact on your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual well being. If you have the perception that you need to be perfect, it impacts everything and you will always struggle with discontentment. There are three truths that you need to know and understand.
First, you are God’s creation. In the very first book of the bible, when God was creating everything, we are told that God created humans. You didn’t evolve from a plant nor an ape. You were purposefully created by God. “26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. “27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:27.
Mom and dad might not have planned you, but you are no accident. God knew you were coming and when you were in the womb he took joy in you. “13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.” Psalm 139:13-15
When I first found out I was adopted, I thought I was a mistake. My adoptive parents were so good in telling me the truth and letting me ask questions about my biological parents. They told me over and over that I was not a mistake and I am able to believe them because I know it’s true. God says so. To this day, I have no idea who my biological parents are and probably never will. Regardless, I know I am not an accident and neither are you.
Second, God created you for a purpose. He knew you were coming, and even before you were born, he recorded every moment of your life in His book. “16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:16
Jeremiah was a prophet of God who was called by God to tell people to repent from their sins and his message, for the most part, fell on deaf ears. He was ridiculed, teased, thrown into a muddy cistern, anticipating he would be there until he starved to death. He battled depression on a personal level and often questioned if God knew what he was doing. When Jeremiah was about 12 years old, God told him that he created him for a purpose. “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
Jeremiah clung to these promises when he felt discouraged and tempted to believe the lies others were saying about him. It must have been very hard to reject their words. The only way he could do this was to cling to God’s truth that his life mattered and he had a purpose. God used Jeremiah in a profound way to share His love with non-believers. God also created you for a purpose. “10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” Ephesians 2:10. To the world you might only be one person but to one person you might be the world. If you believe that God created you and that he created you for a purpose it’s much easier to be content with who you see in the mirror.
The third truth is that God is proud of what he made. “17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! 18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” Psalm 139:17-18. Contentment comes when you understand that you were created by God, for a purpose, and that he is proud of what he made. You are no accident.
Will you take that step of faith today and believe? Jesus wants you to stop comparing yourself to everybody else and put your eyes on Him. When you do, you will find a new level of contentment.
My daughter Sara loves to make soup. At first her soup didn’t have any flavor because it consisted of boiled potatoes and carrots without any seasoning. Being the good father I am, I ate it. I tried to be encouraging, but she and I both knew it was lacking something. The second time she made soup, she added potatoes, carrots, and an entire cup of seasoning salt. She was getting closer, but it had way too much seasoning salt in it to even attempt consumption. She kept at it and, little by little, Sara started adding the right ingredients, in the right portions, and cooking it for just the right amount of time; some potatoes, a few carrots, a fair amount of chicken, chicken bouillon, and a touch of season salt… and voila! The best soup in the world! It just took her a while to figure it out.
Our spiritual life is like a recipe. In order to grow in our faith, we must incorporate different means of fellowshipping, worshipping, and connecting with Christ – all in proper ratios. Your meat and potatoes (the base of your spiritual walk) might be attending church and reading devotional books, but without prayer, it isn’t going to taste right. If you want to take the next step in your faith, you are going to have to learn how to season your spiritual life with prayer.
I am convinced that through prayer, God’s power can change circumstances and relationships. God’s power can help you face every problem, fight every battle, and finish strong. I believe that God can heal physical disease, emotional distress, remove marital obstructions, and meet financial needs. We tap into God’s presence and power when we learn how to pray.
Jesus’ disciples intently watched him pray and when he finished, they held their gaze at him and said: Lord, teach us to pray. There was something so authentic, so transformative, so peaceful and powerful about Jesus’ prayer life that even the closest people to him asked for advice on how to pray. He gave it to them.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13
If you want to regain the power of prayer in your life, utilize the prayer pattern Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:9-13. Jesus didn’t tell us to recite this prayer over and over. He says this is how you should pray, not what you should pray. In his prayer, Jesus reveals what you need to know in order to have a deeper connection with God in your prayer life. I created an acronym based on this prayer to energize my prayer life. It helps keep me focused when I pray. The acronym is PAPER and it comes right out of this passage that teaches us how to pray.
P - for Praise. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” When we praise God, we worship Him for who He is, for being awesome, powerful, righteous and just. We praise him for his love, forgiveness, and grace.
A - for alignment. “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray for alignment we are asking the Holy Spirit to help us align our lives with God’s precepts provided to us in His word, the Bible. The Ah-ha moment is when we realize that it’s really about aligning our lives with His will, not asking Him to align His will with our will.
P - for provision. “Give us today our daily bread.” Pray for your needs and wants. There is no request too big or too small for God. I open up to God about my own life and what I need by sharing my aches, pains, and problems with Him. I also share my hopes and dreams with Him because God knows me inside and out. God wants me to pray for specific needs that I have.
E - for exoneration. “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” When we pray for exoneration, we are asking God to forgive us of our sins and help us to forgive others. When I confess, I see the cross. It reminds me that Jesus died on it for my sins. When I look at the cross, I find it easy to see my own sins which I confess to God and restore my relationship with Him.
R - for rescue. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We need God to rescue us from the temptations we face. All of us face temptations and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to resist them. If you don’t ask God to help you when you are tempted, you will be more likely to give in. Romans 8 talks about living by the power of the Spirit and how you need to tap into it to get through your challenges. Jesus wants us to come to Him as real and as transparent as we can be.
It is possible for you and me to integrate the practice of prayer into the rhythms of our lives. It is possible to grow closer to Christ and to deepen our love for him and knowledge of him. It is possible to pray expectantly, trusting that God will provide an answer, even if His answer is not what we expected. When you pray, think of the acronym PAPER to help you connect with God on a deeper level.
Years ago, Kathi and I moved a house and rebuilt it on a beautiful new location. After finishing the construction of the house, we put our focus on the landscaping. The first thing I did was build a rock retaining wall so that mud would stop flowing into our driveway every time it rained. Since I am too cheap to buy sod, I went and bought a bag of seed to spread around on the dirt in hopes of reaping a lush green lawn. A month and a half later the lawn looked promising.
Then one day when the kids had their friends over, they decided to ride the four wheeler, the go cart, and golf cart round and round my yard. When they were finished riding, my newly sprouted lawn was gone. Later that night while they were inside watching TV, I was outside standing on black dirt mourning. The grass was worn down to the dirt and the beautiful lawn that I had cultivated had a sorry, dry look to it.
The dirt was lifeless. It was beaten down and exhausted. It reminds me of the way many of us might feel at the end of our work week. When we started the week on Monday, we felt healthy and full of life, but after five days of problem solving, deadlines, family issues and relentless pressure, we feel like we have been run over again, and again, and again. And by Friday we are as shredded as my lawn.
The question is, how do you fill in the gap between Monday and Sunday? Do you keep spiritually charged throughout the week so that you don’t feel so run down and beat up by the end of it? How do you not only survive the week but thrive during it?
Filling in the gap between Monday and Sunday begins when we commit to doing these five basic spiritual practices:
1. Read the Bible often. The bible is God’s written word. Second Timothy 3:16 declares: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” If you are new to reading the Bible, I suggest you start in the Gospel of John. Then read the book of Acts to give you a picture of how the early church grew. If you are struggling, read Philippians. Find a book in the New Testament (besides Revelation) and read one or two chapters a day. This will help you understand who God is and how God works.
2. Pray daily. Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. His instructions are given in Matthew 6:7-13. “7 When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! 9 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
Pray in the morning, throughout the day, and before you go to bed. The point of prayer is not to recite words, It’s to connect your heart to God’s heart. Talk to Him like a friend, because he is.
3. Connect with other believers. I am in a small group and love it. We meet every week to learn together, pray for each other, and enjoy one another’s company. When we connect with other believers, it strengthens us just like it did when believers in the early church gathered. Find a group of other Christians to connect with, or at least one or two friends who will pray for you and support you, just like you will do for them.
4. Serve like Jesus. Serving others connects our hands and feet to the cause of Christ. Matthew 25:40 records Jesus saying “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Serving is important to Jesus because it helps others know that Jesus loves them and that those who believe in Christ care and desire to serve others..
5. Live generously. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6. Everything in this world is destined for the dump so don’t get consumed with consuming. Don’t fill your week pursuing things that don’t really matter. Learn to live within your means and live generously.
Don’t read these five spiritual practices as a to-do list, read them as guidelines that will help you to stay connected to Christ and growing as a believer. Nobody said that life was going to be easy. If someone told you it would be, they lied. As Christians, we need to fill in the gap between Monday and Sunday by committing to growing in our faith every day. If you focus on these five practices, and you try to improve in them little by little, you will begin to fill in the gap between Monday and Sunday. You will not only survive each week, but thrive each week. As for my lawn, I replanted and it regrew. After all, I’m raising kids not raising grass.