Right Ladder, Wrong Building

My Path to Spiritual Burnout

Energizer Bunny for Jesus

I wasn’t your typical teenager or even the average church kid. I was pretty radical about my faith. To avoid distractions, I asked my parents to disconnect the cable in my room. I got rid of my TV completely. Instead of a gaming system for Christmas, I wanted a leather bond NIV Life Application Study Bible. At one point, I took apart my bed and started sleeping on the floor. I didn’t want to be tempted to sleep in and miss praying in the morning before school. I also thought this would be an excellent way to prepare myself in case one day I had to sleep on the ground on the mission field. All of this was done, not out of religious duty, but out of genuine love for God. 

In my senior year of high school, I started a Christian club at my Christian School. Which I know sounds silly. Especially since we already had chapels, daily devotionals, and classes that began with prayer. Our unofficial slogan was, “We put the C in B.C.S. (Bethany Christian School).” That kind of lets you know what our perspective was if you weren’t in our club.

 I also got special permission to miss school during lunchtime to speak at Christian clubs at other high schools in the area. Even sports were just another opportunity for me to share my faith. After pickup basketball games in my neighborhood, I would hold the ball and make everyone wait to play the next game until after I shared my testimony and gave an altar call. This full itinerary doesn’t include the small groups, prayer meetings, retreats, and leadership gatherings I also attended at church. You are probably starting to see that I was a little Energizer Bunny for Jesus. But how long could I keep this up?

University Missionary

I continued this same zealous routine in college. On my first day on campus, the front page of the school newspaper read, “LSU Ranked #1 Party School.” One of my friends posted this in his room like it was a badge of honor. I saw things differently. University wasn’t a place for me to prepare for a career or make memories. It was a mission field that needed to be conquered (The Seashell Message got me). 

Even when my grades suffered, I still made sure I was at church every time the doors were open. I volunteered for our church more than most people work while in college and I still worked full-time. I never stopped to ask myself if something was out of balance. At this point, my family tried to intervene. They asked me to slow down with the church involvement. I just thought they were outsiders who couldn’t understand my passion. 

Was Something Wrong?

I missed out on many typical aspects of the college experience because of the time and energy I devoted to my spiritual pursuits. For example, one weekend, a friend of mine and I decided not to eat until we had read the entire New Testament. Another time I had a ticket to LSU’s first football National Championship game in over 40 years but gave it up to go on yet another retreat.

There were benefits to some of this, but it was also very much out of balance. I limited my class load to the bare minimum to be more involved with church activities. I went to youth services and stayed out late in revival meetings many times the night before an exam. This limited class schedule caused me to go into debt even though I was on scholarship because I had to attend an extra year of school to complete my requirements to graduate. These were all sacrifices I was happy to make at the time. “Onward Christian Soldier!”

When a Good Thing Becomes a Bad Thing

After graduating from LSU, I joined the church staff. Working at the church kept my ministry plans moving forward even though I was becoming increasingly exhausted from years of a demanding religious routine. My weekly schedule had enough church meetings to fill most senior pastor’s month. I was doing good things but had the nagging feeling I wasn’t being true to myself. The busyness could only cover up the restlessness in my soul for so long. 

I had to learn that a good thing could become a bad thing when it is taken to an extreme. Healing needs to take place when we are producing out of insecurity or a need to be recognized. I did not know it at the time, but I was manifesting all of the symptoms of codependency (see the 5 attributes in this blog). I was a religious addict who was using spiritual activities to mask insecurity and wounds that needed emotional healing. Without being properly addressed, people like me end up hurting themselves and others. I experienced these consequences first-hand in multiple ways. At the time, my identity was more connected to what I did for God instead of who I was in Christ. It was hard to see that I was speeding towards a cliff of religious disappointment.

Right Ladder, Wrong Building

What started as a passionate love relationship with God had become a high-performance machine of religious production. It provided a way for me to be elevated and achieve my goals, but at what cost? I had become proud, critical, and generally spiritually unhealthy. Eventually, I would reach the top of my ladder only to realize I had leaned it against the wrong building. 

This experience was like a spiritual carbon monoxide poisoning. I wasn’t aware the air I was breathing was becoming toxic. Perhaps I was too busy to notice my first love had been exchanged for the trap of religious performance. I was naturally driven, which made it even easier for me to fall into this pit. Even though the signs were already warning me as I started my adventure in full-time ministry, it would be another seven years before I changed course.

Time to Believe Again

Eventually, I decided to make a U-turn before running into a brick wall that could have ended in disaster. For me, that looked like stepping away from full-time ministry when it appeared everything was going great. The result was over two years of working in the secular world and attending church as a member instead of a staff member or leader. You may wonder why I would make that kind of change like, but that decision forever changed how I view God, church, and people. It is from those experiences that I wrote the book Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. 

The book is written much like this blog post. Each chapter is a short essay where I share a story from this incredibly uncomfortable but transformative season of life. Believe Again will be a great help for those who have experienced church hurt or spiritual burnout. If you know someone who has gone through something like this then please order a copy of this book and give it to them. They will laugh, identify with the story, and hopefully find inspiration to begin again in their faith.

Use this link to order Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion in paperback or Kindle edition.

What Is Believe Again About?

An Honest and Hopeful Journey to Rediscover Faith

I hope you are not expecting Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion to be a typical “preacher book.” These pages are not filled with outlines and sermons. Instead, you will find a story overflowing with surprising friendships, unconventional mentors, and lessons I never knew I needed to learn. It is one I hope you can even find yourself in as well. If you have ever grown weary in your faith, wanted to give up on going to church, or have been discouraged by the circumstances of life, then I want to encourage you to read on. 

After years on staff at the large church I grew up in, I found myself suddenly working outside of full-time ministry. This transition into the real world was startling for someone who grew up in church and never intended to do anything but work as a pastor. It was the lowest point of my life. The exact rock bottom of this unexpected change was somewhere between asking the guy I used to pay to cut my grass if I could work for him and taking orders from a convict with a knife so I could support my family. But let’s not get nitpicky with the details.

One of the best things that came from this season was the relationships I gained as a result of this unique path. Much of this book focuses on these amazing people. They are the characters in the goofy spiritual journey I was on. Many of these friends came from the new way I was living my life and where I started working. Others came along as I developed the courage to share my story publicly. The things I was experiencing were so outrageous, and such a contrast to the life I lived before, that I started writing them down. Eventually, I decided it would be a good idea to share some of these embarrassing details with a blog.

True to how I was feeling at the time I named the blog, “Fish Out of Church.” I had blogged for a long time before this, but not in a personal and vulnerable way. The more I wrote, the more people would reach out to talk about their own experiences. Connecting over our shared disappointments in life and church as well as our hopes for the future seemed to bring some healing. 

Could maybe others use some encouragement to step out of their religious comfort zone as I had done?  Is it possible you fall into this category as well? I wrote this book to help anyone who was in the same situation I was in and needs to discover a fresh perspective on faith, find hope in trying times, or could use a little help learning to trust God one day at a time.

The circumstances I share in this book made it appear my time in ministry, along with many of my hopes and dreams, were over. I was surprised to find an uncomfortable season working outside of the church would strengthen my faith and teach me to lead more like Jesus. I believe this collection of outlandish stories will help you do the same. Here is how I lost my religion, found authentic faith, and began to believe again.

Believe Again will be available on Amazon on October 4.

Find out more about the book here: https://believeagain.net

Pre-order the book at a discount and check out the Believe Again merch here: https://joshroberie.com/shop/

The Search for Contentment

Our boat gently glides with the breeze across a pristine pond in South Carolina. I am fishing with a friend. The conversation is meaningful and natural- refreshing even. Ancient Oaks with curtains of moss hang from swirling branches and frame up our view. If you could sum up the word “peace” with an early morning scene, this would be it. The only problem is restlessness lingers in my chest like the morning fog that has yet to leave the water around me. Why is this?

This is our second day of fishing. On the first day, I caught two largemouth bass. They are probably the two biggest bass I have ever caught. This got me excited about how many fish I could catch before the end of the trip. I set the mark at ten. As a bonus, I decided I must catch the biggest fish out of everyone.

Am I an experienced bass fisherman? No, not really. I have been fly-fishing for a few years at this point and only got a crash course on bass fishing from a friend right before this trip. That does not change my perspective, though. I caught two nice fish on the first day. That cemented the possibility that I would easily catch ten or more before the end of the trip.

As the morning continues, the sun begins to press harder on our necks and backs. I am growing more frustrated as well. My friend is catching more and more fish, and I have yet to get a bite. We adjust my lure, I get a bite, and then the fish wiggles off of the line before I can reel him in. Now I am just angry. Why do things always end up this way for me? The familiar feeling of not being good enough and even discouragement begins to muddy the waters of an otherwise perfect day.

Then it dawns on me. Why am I so upset? I have already caught two of the largest fish I have ever caught (and have the photos to prove it!). I love being in nature and quality time with good people. Every physical sense I have, my eyes, ears, skin, nose, and tongue, tells me I am sitting in perfection, yet I am discontent. It is the sixth sense of self-induced pressure that is ruining my day. Is it possible that it is only this made-up goal of catching a certain number of fish that is causing me to feel discouraged? Because, other than that, everything is great!

Paul talks about the secret of contentment in Phillippians 4:11-13:

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Phillippians 4:11-13 NIV

A couple of things stand out to me about this passage. The first is verse 13. So often used to encourage ourselves in difficult situations and athletes in a moment of competition, I see it differently in light of the previous verses. When Paul says, “I can do all things through [Christ],” he is actually saying, “I can [find contentment in any situation] through him who gives me strength.” Wow! This passage has more to do with contentment than it does with accomplishing the impossible.

The second thing I noticed is that he calls contentment a “secret.” To Paul, it is something to be “learned.” This means that finding contentment may not be obvious at first. It is something that has to be searched for to be found. To begin a search for treasure, there are certain things you have to leave behind because they would only hold you back on your journey. You cannot bring everything with you in your boat. That day on the bass pond, I needed to leave something behind if I wanted to embrace a journey of joy and contentment on the path ahead.

I like that I set goals for myself and am not satisfied with how things are. It is not always a good thing, though. Too often, I put pressure on myself that is not from God or anyone else. It is a striving in me that reveals a lack of patience and trust. It is a fleshly focus on self that needs to be brought to the Cross so that my soul truly flourishes in contentment.

That morning, I decided to remove my numerical goal for catching fish and just enjoy the process of fishing. I don’t mean for this to be a metaphor for pastoring and growing a church, but it feels like that without even trying. Since that day, this principle of leaving behind unnecessary pressure has been something I have been applying more to my life in every area. Contentment is part of the crucified life. It requires saying no to ourselves so that we can say yes to the peace of God that leads to the secret of contentment.

Creating a Culture of Prayer

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” – Corrie ten Boom

Do you have intercessors providing a prayer shield for your church? How have you prioritized prayer in your church? In the uncertain times we live in, prayer has never been more critical. This not only true for you personally, but also for your team and church members. It is vital to create a culture of prayer in your church from the beginning. If we pray more than we preach, then we will never be preaching to just ourselves.*

The first two ARC churches both began with a season of 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. Church of the Highlands continues to start each year with 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting and also does 21 Days of Prayer at the beginning of the school year. Church of the Highlands is known for its systems and practical help to church planters, but much of the church’s growth can be attributed to their commitment to prayer.

“If you are going to plant a church, then you have to win the war in the spiritual.” – Chris Hodges

Four Keys for Church Planters to Win the War in the Spiritual:

1. 21 Days of Prayer – Have a season of prayer and fasting leading up to your launch day. At ARC, we teach to launch on the fourth Sunday in January. Not only is this one of the most attended launch days on the calendar, but it also gives planters time to lead their team in 21 Days of Prayer leading up to their launch day.

2. Develop a Prayer Team – Have a prayer team as part of your dream team. I once heard it said that every decision for Christ is a result of someone else’s prayers. On your dream team, you should have members of your team praying during the worship experience. There is a spiritual battle taking place every time people come to church for the first time. Let’s post some prayer warriors at the spiritual gates of church services.

3. Have Personal Intercessors – As the church pastor, you need to have a few trusted people covering you and your family in prayer. The spiritual attacks on pastors in the season of launching a church is real. Your intercessors are those you communicate your schedule and needs to so that they can be proactive in praying for you.

4. Group Prayer – Lead a regular time of prayer with your church. Do not delegate the responsibility of group prayer to someone else. From the very beginning of your church, you should be the one leading these prayer meetings. Even later in your church’s life, when you may not lead every meeting, you should still show up. This communicates to the congregation that your church is a place of prayer and that you are winning the battle in the spiritual.

The first teaching in the ARC Church Planting process is “Winning the War in the Spiritual.” You can watch it for free at arcchurches.com. If you are a pastor looking for resources on prayer, you can find many helpful tools from Church of the Highlands. At this site, you will find teachings on prayer and downloaded prayer guides, and other useful items you can give out in your church.

*Rephrased from this quote: “See to it that we pray more than we preach, and we will never preach ourselves out.” A.W. Tozer

This content originally appeared at arcchurches.com.

The Surprising Path to Overcoming

Do you ever feel like life is not fair? Of course, you have. We all run into those situations in life, but what are these circumstances telling us about God and our relationship with Him?

I have heard it said that there are two types of people in the world. There are mercy people, and there are justice people. Mercy people want to make the world right by giving others a second chance. Justice people want to make the world right by defending people who are suffering. I tend to lean towards being a justice person. Wait, does this mean I can be in the next Justice League movie?

Being a justice-oriented person causes me to feel the pain of mistreated people. When I see someone taking advantage of others, it hurts my heart and stirs me to action. Cut to workout montage where I prepare myself for battle like Rocky and Apollo Creed in Rocky III. 

The problem is, I cannot always correct the wrongs of the world. In my mind, I will overcome injustice, but that is not always the case. It is similar to when you are watching a show, and the bad guy gets the upper hand and then the show ends on a cliff hanger. Doesn’t that make you grit your teeth in frustration? I know it does for me, and that is how I think you should feel when you read Psalm 73:2-8,10-12:

But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong.They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty.These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.“What does God know?” they ask. Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Psalm 73:2-8, 10-12 NLT

If you use social media as your guide, you might believe that overcoming mistreatment and unfairness is to put people on blast, stir up the mob, complain, criticize, and attack. For Christians, the surprising path to overcome mistreatment is different.

Getting stronger than those that come against us is not the solution. Running away is. That’s right, pull a Forrest Gump and solve your problems in a nice pair of Nike Cortez. When our problems are too big for us, then we should run – run to the one who is bigger than our problems, God. 

Not being able to overcome every injustice does show us something about God. It also teaches us about our relationship with him. It shows us God is merciful and gives people time to repent. Sometimes they do not. That is ok because God is also just. He will not leave us hanging, but He also wants us to learn something from situations where it seems we cannot overcome the bad guys in our story. 

We can see the solution in Psalm 64:1, 10 

O God, listen to my complaint. Protect my life from my enemies’ threats. The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him. And those who do what is right will praise him.

Psalm 64:1, 10 (NLT)

We overcome by finding refuge in the Overcomer. We run away from our flesh’s and the world’s way of responding to problems and difficult people and run to our God. Not being able to be stronger than every difficult circumstance does not make you a weak person; refusing to admit that does. Unfair circumstances are just another (shall I say, good) reminder of how much we need God.

Hello, Again

Hello, Again

Well, this is awkward. I have not written a new blog post in quite some time. So, I guess this is Hello, Again.

At the beginning of the year, I took time off from blogging and social media. I like to do that once or twice a year since I am online so much. It is always refreshing, but I also enjoy being in this space. I like creating content and sharing the digital world with people. 

What Have I Been Up To

Lately, I have been posting a lot of Reels to Instagram in place of blogging. These are 15-30 second videos where I share an inspirational thought. Some of them are silly, and others I share things I think are important. You can find them here: https://www.instagram.com/joshroberie/.

I have also been using Facebook to share content I would typically place on this blog. The reason being is the interaction is built into each post, and I can count on Facebook to put it in front of more people instead of only subscribers seeing my blog posts. You can connect with my Facebook page here (where I also share my reels): https://www.facebook.com/JRoberie. If you want to connect with my personal profile, you can do that here: https://www.facebook.com/joshroberie.

I have also been writing for other outlets and continue to work on new book projects that I am excited to share more about soon.

What Is Next  

I will be posting new content to this site starting, well, now. I also really want to do a podcast. I have been planning it out for years but do not want to do it if I cannot do it with excellence. I am not sure it is in the budget to get studio space and equipment for something like that, but I hope to have an option soon and guests you would want to hear from. 

Thanks for being a reader. I am looking forward to sharing with you more in 2021!

Four Wrong Responses to the Pandemic

Why Are We Going Through a Pandemic?

Have you paused in the last ten months long enough to ask, “why?” Why are we going through a pandemic? God is love. He is omnipotent, and He is good. So why is all of creation groaning under the pain and suffering of a global pandemic?

We wondered the same thing after Hurricane Katrina. Was it the sin of New Orleans that brought this disaster upon the Gulf South region? Was God trying to get our attention?

You may even wonder something similar when things happen to you on a personal level. Are you experiencing bad things because God wants to punish you, correct you, or get your attention? If God loves me, and I was doing all the right things, then why am I experiencing bad things in my life?

God and the Pandemic

In God and the Pandemic, N.T. Wright poses the same questions concerning the pandemic in the opening chapter of the book. “Why is this happening? Is someone trying to tell us something? What are we supposed to do about it” (Wright)?

He then gives four typical responses to similar circumstances. I have seen them repeatedly during our Pandemic of 2020, but his examples are rooted in the ancient world.

Response 1: God Is Angry With Me

“In most of the ancient world, and many parts of the modern world too, major disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, plagues) are regularly associated with angry gods. Something bad has happened? Must be because ‘someone’ has it in for you” (Wright).

Is this plague like the flood of Noah? Is God punishing a world gone wild with sin? Even though God said He would never do that again (i), still 2/3’s of Christians believe the pandemic is a warning from God t change our ways (ii).

Response 2: This Is Just Part of God’s Plan

The Stoics believed, “Everything is programmed to turn out the way it does. You can’t change it; just learn to fit in” (Wright).

I have heard people say they do not want to wear a mask because if the virus is coming for them, so be it (iii). There isn’t anything they can do anyway. Everyone should just bite the bullet and let it come for those who will die anyway, and then the rest of us can get on with it.

Health experts have called intentional herd immunity “perverse” and a “terrible idea” (iv). This perspective also seems to go against the teaching of scripture:

“Don’t be selfish… Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:3-4

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” Proverbs 14:21

“Whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31

“The Lord protects the strangers.” Psalm 146:9

God is Sovereign, but that does not mean we do not have a role to play as Christians in a pandemic.

Response 3: The Problems Are Someone Else’s Fault

According to the Epicureans, “everything is random. You can’t do anything about it. Make yourself comfortable as you can” (Wright).

Maybe you have thought, This will fade away soon, and things will be back to normal as soon as those “other” people start doing what they are supposed to or stop doing what they are not supposed to do.

We are not powerless in the pandemic, but we also should not enter the “the low-grade, but powerful ‘cultural wars’ [to] simply go for easy answers that reflect that irrelevant standoff” (Wright). Blaming China, the government, or people who do not wear masks without identifying your Christian responsibility when the world is hurting is not a viable solution.

Response 4: The End is Near

The Platonists “present life as just a shadow of reality. Bad things happen here, but we are destined for a different world” (Wright).

Wright says this is the point of view some Christians opt for. “Death isn’t the worst that can happen. We’re headed somewhere else anyway. All right, let’s be sensible, but please don’t shut down the churches. Or the golf clubs” (Wright).

The Christian Response

The best answer to why are we going through a pandemic might actually be a question. “‘What?’ What can we do?” When we volunteer to help those in need, we demonstrate the appropriate Christian response to a Pandemic (v). 

According to Wright, when we do this, we are modeling what the early Christians did in times of plagues. 

“In the first few centuries of our era, when serious sickness would strike a town or city, the well-to-do would run for the hills (patty of the problem was often low-lying, fetid air in a town). The Christians would stay and nurse people. Sometimes they caught the disease and died. People were astonished. What was that about? Oh, they replied, we are followers of this man Jesus. He put his life on the line to save us. So that’s what we do as well” (Wright).

Indeed, Jesus did command us to take up our cross and follow after Him (vi). He wants us to lay down our rights so that His Kingdom could be built here on earth as it is in Heaven. Oh, that the world would again be astonished by the Church in this same way. It is already happening through the generosity of believers, and I pray it will continue to be that way as we each navigate our personal responses to the pain of the pandemic.

(i) Genesis 8:21-22 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+8%3A21-22&version=NKJV

(ii)  https://www.fox6now.com/news/poll-63-of-religious-americans-believe-covid-19-pandemic-is-message-from-god-for-humanity-to-change

(iii) https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/29793295/vikings-qb-kirk-cousins-coronavirus-die-die

(iv) https://sports.yahoo.com/should-teams-actively-seek-herd-immunity-from-the-coronavirus-234449908.html

(v) God and The Pandemic, N.T. Wright Chapter 1 page 3.

(vi) Matthew 16:24-26 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2016%3A24-26&version=ESV

Is It Unspiritual to Feel Forsaken?

Where Is God When It Hurts

Is it unspiritual to feel forsaken? While the feeling itself is not spiritual, it is important to know emotions are also not unspiritual. Authenticity is an essential attribute of true spirituality. Being honest about how we feel is not the same as letting our feelings control us, and going through a hard time does not mean you are less spiritual than someone who is not.

Inauthentic spirituality wants you to feel guilty about feeling bad. It says to have something going wrong in your life means there must be something wrong with you. This faux spirituality projects an image of perfection that easily chips under further inspection.

Is It OK To Be Honest About Our Pain

Psalm 38 is an excellent example of how God encourages us to be honest about our hurts, doubts, and sufferings.

We first see that he is honest about his sins and shortcomings.

1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,

Performance Christianity makes it challenging to find healing and deliverance from our sins because that mentality makes it difficult for us to own and take responsibility for our mistakes. When imperfection leads to rejection, redemption becomes impossible. Instead, we get hiding, defending, and hypocrisy.

Authenticity Is Not UnSpiritual

As we continue with this Psalm, we see that authenticity is celebrated, not avoided.

6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

Some may say that David is being negative and needs to focus on the bright side of things. That perspective causes us to miss out on the hidden treasure found in God only when we bring our authentic feelings to Him.

Not Everyone Understands Our Pain

Then we come to feelings of rejection.

11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.

Have you ever been in a situation that is so bad when friends try to relate their lack of understanding only highlights the pain more? They want to summarize your suffering in an attempt to empathize, but as foreigners to your turmoil, they fall short of fully describing your experience.

This is a tough place to be, but you are not alone. We have Psalms like this to remind us that when no one else understands, God does. He is with this in these moments. When human friendship falls short of relating to our sorrow, we get an invitation to intimacy with God that we would not have received otherwise. He draws us in, under the shadow of his wing, to offer comfort and refuge.

How To Respond to Difficult People

People are not the enemy, but as this Palm shoes, the enemy uses people to introduce conflict in our spiritual path. How does David respond to these attacks?

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

David uses these attacks to fine-tune his spiritual sensitivities. He knows some voices should be ignored. We should not listen to them, and we need not engage with them. Instead, we should refocus on elevating God’s voice above all others and responding to what He says about us and to us.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!”
17 For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me.

What We Learn From Waiting

Waiting is what makes authentic Christianity difficult. We do not want to deal with waiting. It gives us the opportunity to doubt ourselves and God and to believe our enemies are right. It takes more faith to wait than it does to act, sometimes.

Something else happens when we learn to ignore the wrong voices, listen to the right voice, and wait before acting.

18 I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.

When we do this, we are able to recognize the sin in our lives that hinders our relationship with God, others and prevents us from being the best reflection of them. When we respond to every attack and wrong voice, then we fall into the trap of blaming others and overlooking our own shortcomings. When we tune our spiritual station to God’s voice and wait, we often do not hear him pointing out what is wrong with others, but rather what he wants to change in us.

The Path to Redemption

This does not mean that the problem people in your life will go away.

19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good.

I have found that the names and faces change, but there will always be “problem people” in my life. My goal is not to change them or remove them. Instead, I try to focus on what needs to change and be removed from me.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!

God will be a refuge for you when you feel attacked and a comforter when you feel forsaken. That does not mean that he also does not want to help you grow through your adversity. I do not think His final plan of redemption for you is possible without you going through that metamorphosis. You will have to change ad God changes your circumstances for you.

Keys to a High Performance Christianity (Part Two)

A Life Changing Perspective

“The greatest question in all of human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps

Read part one of High-Performance Christianity here.

Step 6: Perspective

My life changed dramatically when I honestly asked if my opinions were based on Jesus or popular Christian culture. 

Examine your past teachings and current convictions through the example of Jesus. Start asking, what would Jesus do in this situation, instead of what others expect me to do. Abandon stereotypes of how you think a Christian should behave and make it your goal to embrace what Christ would say or do.

Step 7: Authenticity 

One of the most fun parts of embracing grace is learning to accept yourself and unashamedly live comfortably in your own skin. It can be intimidating to do this in a church world of behavior modification. You cannot live authentically while trying to live up to the preferences of people. 

Honestly, I can’t guarantee being the real you will be celebrated. I have just come to the place I would rather be rejected for being who I really am than accepted but exhausted trying to maintain everyone’s expectations for me.

Step 8: Guard 

A grace-filled person knows to guard their heart. Be aware of the “old ways,” as I call them, sneaking back into your life. 

I have become an expert at apologizing to people I do not think deserve an apology. This is not being fake. It is guarding my heart against making other people my debtors. I want to set people free. I do not want to be their prison guard holding them captive until they ask me for forgiveness. That’s no fun for either of us.

Leaving your religious rut means leaving old perspectives and possibly past relationships behind as well. It will hurt when people misunderstand your new positive Jesus-oriented approach to life. You will have to protect your feelings from this. There will be those who give grace a bad name by using it as an excuse to sin. Do not let this distract you. Keep heading down your own path. You will also have to watch out for pollutants that can distract you from the Lover of your soul. Keep your wellspring pure and refreshing.

Step 9: Rest 

I used to think a restful day was a wasted day. I would feel condemnation whenever a day went by where I had nothing to do. At some point, I read a Japanese proverb that said, “He who rests is never tired.” Something clicked, and rest became a principle that supports two main ideas for me.

The first is the Sabbath. True rest is part of worship. It acknowledges my need for God. It causes me to humbly admit that even if I did work 24/7, I could never accomplish everything God has for me without Him. It also causes me to pause long enough to appreciate things, and therefore express gratitude to God. 

The second is longevity. “He who rests is never tired.” If I learn to recoup and rejuvenate, I will have more energy for the task at hand. I’ll be better prepared to do my best when it is time to work. I won’t burn out and can last longer in the race. Every marathon has water tables, and a runner that expects to win knows the importance of pacing. Rest is not laziness. It is humility, worship, and intentionality.

Step 10: Value

Get your value from who you are in Christ instead of where you are in life. Religious burnout will always fight to turn this around. It causes you to complicate things. Valuing your position in Christ over your performance for Christ forces you to keep it simple. If you seek to be close to God’s heart, then your heart will start beating like His, and you will live your life as Jesus did.

Keys to a High-Performance Christianity

Part One of Two

“The truth of the gospel is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole heart. When we ignore this heart aspect of our faith and try to live out our religion solely as correct doctrine or ethics, our passion is crippled, or perverted, and the divorce of our soul from the heart purposes of God toward us is deepened.”

John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

The Engine of Your Soul

The key to a high-performance Christianity is not to focus on your performance at all. Instead, fix your eyes on the lover of your soul. Grow in your love relationship with Jesus, and you will always do more, produce more, and find more meaning in your faith. Living out of a love relationship does more for the engine of your soul than pulling up your bootstraps and being committed to religious duty ever will.

We have established we all have access to God only because of His kindness towards us. It is your response that brings about His blessing. This principle goes far beyond just the salvation experience. 

To help you with this I would like to offer ten steps to a high-performance Christianity.

Step 1: Responsibility 

Take responsibility for where you are. Do not blame anyone else. You will never experience personal growth while focusing on someone else’s need to change. Even Job, when he was proved right by God, still received correction in areas he could grow.

Step 2: Forgiveness 

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the most significant demonstrations of grace is the ability to forgive. 

I no longer try to hold everyone accountable. I can more positively influence others by loving them, pointing them to God, and letting Him be the judge.

Forgive those who hurt and disappoint you. This includes offering grace to leaders who do not offer it to others themselves. 

I have learned one of the most important lessons about forgiveness from my wife, Amy. She realized you should not hope others will be exposed for their wrongs. Instead, you should pray they will be exposed to the right things. God has a way of taking care of the rest when you do this. 

Step 3: Generosity 

“God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does”

– Martin Luther

Generosity is part of the lifestyle of a grace-filled believer. It is not just about finances.

It can be fun to find practical ways to be generous throughout the day with your words, attitudes, actions, and resources. You can do this by being an encourager or sharing your belongings. Have a bucket of positivity ready to pour out when you sense someone being negative instead of pointing out their mistakes. 

Step 4: Thankfulness 

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

– Malcolm Forbes

Embracing grace requires an intentional shift to an attitude of gratefulness. One way to measure your thankfulness is in how you respond to everyday disappointments. 

How do you react when your order is wrong at a restaurant? If a side item, or something else trivial, is mixed up do you humbly accept it? Or do open a grand investigation on the scale equal to a possible poisoning of a member of the royal family?

You may be thinking, “Well, I am the one paying for that meal, and I expect it to be right!” To that, I would ask, have you ever worked in a kitchen? Have you ever had someone make you feel worthless over something that was out of your control?

Instead of complaining about how, “it’s hard to find good help these days,” and how “this restaurant used to be a great place to go eat,” just be thankful you can afford a meal and are able to spend time with friends and family. Then leave a generous tip. Let’s not just share God’s grace. Give some of your own as well. You will never be the same if you do. 

Step 5: Read Differently

Start reading the Bible differently. Instead of looking at passages through an old performance-oriented filter, read through a lens of grace. 

Do not allow reading the Bible to become a checklist item. I would prefer you put your reading plan aside for a season then allow spending time in God’s word to become a task that creates spiritual pride.

I would suggest reading in Galatians to help reset your bible reading filter. Pray through it as you are read. Ask God questions and let Him speak to you. You can also spend some time just going through the Psalms to find healing. Another option is to read the gospels and see how Jesus treated sinners and responded to the spiritually proud. 

In my next post we will go over the other five keys to a high-performance Christianity in part two.