Evaluating My Spiritual Life

On June 23, 1994, I recognized that I was a sinner, that I was far from God, and that on my own, there was nothing I could do about it.  I grew up with many friends who went to church off and on, but never really felt compelled to find out more.  As a fifteen year old that just completed my sophomore year in high school, I realized that there had to be more to this life.  I had a great family and lots of friends.  I made good grades and was successful in athletics.  Many people would say that I had everything going for me.  The only problem was that there was still an emptiness that wasn’t being filled by these “things” that I was doing.

I went to summer camp with the church I had been going to for about a year.  At camp, our speaker spoke very clearly about the difference in living a life headed for heaven and a life headed for hell.  Our theme song for the week was “The Great Adventure” by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I heard God speak very plainly to me about the fact that He was the only one who was enough to fill the emptiness I felt.  I went and spoke with my youth pastor about what I was feeling to find out what I should do and later that evening my Sunday School teacher led me to Christ.  The story of my spiritual life began around 11pm on Thursday, June 23, 1994 at King’s Academy in Seymour, Tennessee.  The following Sunday the pastor of our church baptized me so that I could share publicly the change Jesus was making in my life.

My spiritual journey began almost 14 years ago.  I am by no means all that God wants me to be, but by His grace, I am not longer what I once was.  Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity talks about how easy it is for leaders to neglect the three main components of spiritual growth: prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction.  Those are the three components I will use to evaluate my current spiritual condition.

Webster’s Dictionary defines prayer as an address or a petition to God or a god in word or thought.  As a small child I thought that prayer could only happen with eyes closed, head bowed, and hands clasped reverently together.  I think this is still how most prayer happens, but I find that the majority of my prayer time comes in phrases, conversations, and thoughts.  Honestly, there have also been a few loud argument prayers over the years!

I have kept a prayer journal for almost 10 years now.  In the journal I write the date at the top followed by the Scripture that stuck out to me the most in my reading for the day.  Then, I have two columns of prayers.  The left column is for praises to celebrate and the right column is for prayer requests.  One of the most rewarding things about keeping this journal is to see how God has moved many of my prayers from the right column to the left column, from the “ask” category to the “answered” category.  Are all the answered prayers just as I hoped?  No.  Thankfully God doesn’t give me everything I ask for.  Just like a small child, I don’t always know what is best for me and my sin nature tends to crowd my requests and shroud them in selfishness rather than God’s glory.

In his book Too Busy Not to Pray, Bill Hybels talks a lot about prayer and how God has grown him through the discipline of prayer.  My favorite quote is that “prayer is not something that you can learn at a conference or seminar or be taught from a book.  Prayer is something that you must be driven to in order for it to really work.”  How many times have I really been driven to prayer?  Was it when I was choosing a college?  Was it when I moved from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee to Acworth, Georgia and didn’t know anyone at all?  Was it when I first met my husband?  Was it when one ministry opportunity ended and a new one began?

I spent five years as a youth minister in a local church and have spent the past three as the Dean of Student Life in a Christian school.  When we are gathered for chapel or other large assembly at school, I usually say the prayer to open or close the time we have together.  If a bunch of us have gotten together to cookout or for a party at someone’s house, usually I get asked to say the blessing.  When I am home visiting my family, we sit down to eat, and everyone bows their head assuming I will want to pray.  I’m sure the group prayer opportunities will really abound once I have my seminary degree hanging on the wall!!

I don’t take these opportunities lightly, but must confess that I often fall into the rut of just saying the prayer because it is the socially appropriate thing to do in that situation.  At the beginning of a cookout, is that the right time to fall on my knees and cry out to God on behalf of the 90,000 people in my community that are far from God?  Is it the time to pray that God will take away the word cancer from our vocabulary and keep couples from choosing divorce?  Yes, that is the perfect time for that.  Do I do that?  No, because that is not what is expected.  Thank God for the weather, the friends gathered, and the food we are about to eat.

I tend to be more of a private prayer warrior.  I talk to God a lot while I am in the shower, driving down the street, and waking up in the morning.  I have also learned in the past couple of years how powerful it can be to pray with someone right on the spot.  It is so easy to tell someone that “I’ll pray for you.”  A great friend of mine started asking if it would be alright to pray for that need right then.  It was such a powerful experience when he did that for me, that God has provided opportunities for me to do that for others.

As I am getting older, I am learning a lot more about listening.  God doesn’t want our prayer time all cluttered up with my talking.  After all, doesn’t He already know what I want and what I need?  God loves to hear me voice His praises, but He also wants to speak to my heart.  Prayer is an area that I have learned a lot about and am looking forward to what God has to show me next.

Combined with prayer, God uses His Word to speak to me.  I am very thankful for the way I learned how to read and appreciate Scripture.  My youth pastor taught us how to take notes during sermons and other messages and how to have an effective quiet time.  All of those lessons gave me a hunger for the Scripture.  It is still amazing to me to think what a privilege it is that we even have the Bible.  It is the most complete source of information available, 66 books that cover creation and end with a preview of what is to come when Jesus returns!

I have read through the Bible a variety of different ways, but never from Genesis straight through to Revelation.  I tend to get really bogged down about halfway through the Old Testament.  I have read the entire Old Testament and the entire New Testament.  I have also read the Bible chronologically.  God also used my youth pastor to cultivate in me a desire to memorize Scripture on a regular basis.  I was always so impressed by the way that people could quote just the Scripture they needed when they needed it.  I purposed in my heart that I wanted to be able to do that and God has given me the grace to memorize many verses and passages over the years.

My favorite verses are I Timothy 4:7-8, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales, but rather train yourselves to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness holds value for both the present life and the life to come.”  As an athlete growing up, I have a great appreciation for the value of physical training.  However, I also recognize that the day will come when physical limitations will keep me from doing the things I could once do easily.  When it is all said and done, do I want to be remembered for how fast I could run, how many free throws I could make, or how much of God’s Word I studied, memorized, and shared with others?  I would venture to say that God isn’t going to ask about the free throws or the running!

I own several different translations of the Bible and love switching up what I read every now and then.  I tend to use the NIV when I am studying or speaking especially since I am usually teaching high school students.  I love rereading a familiar Bible story in a different translation and watching the story unfold to show me something I’ve never noticed before.  My Bibles are all filled with highlighting and writing.

Whenever someone shares a particular Scripture with me in order to encourage or hold me accountable, I always underline it and write his or her name beside it.  That reminds me when I run across it again to keep in mind the words that person shared with me and how God used that time to grow me.  Hopefully that will keep me from slipping into old habits.

Prayer and Scripture reading are areas that God has used to challenge and grow me.  The last area I want to explore is spiritual direction.  I love to read and I recognize that a lot of my ideas about God are shaped by what others write about their experiences with Him.  I try to be careful to make sure that I read the Bible more than I read what other Christians are writing.  It is valuable to learn from other people further along the path than I am, but I can’t ever let that become a substitute for soaking in God’s Word.  Eugene Peterson says, “Being a spiritual director means noticing the familiar, naming the particular.  Being knowledgeable in the large truths of sin, grace, salvation, atonement, and judgment is necessary but not sufficient.”

In his book, Teaching to Change Lives, Howard Hendricks writes that during our life, we should always have a Paul, a Timothy, and a Barnabas.  We need a Paul who teaches us, a Timothy that we are training, and a Barnabas who can encourage and support us.  In order to gauge my spiritual direction, I have to look closely at the people filling the role of Paul and Barnabas.  As a Christian educator, I am thrilled to say that my list of Timothy’s is usually quite long.  I don’t take that for granted, but know that if I am missing a Paul or Barnabas, the Timothy’s and I will all suffer greatly.

I have had the same Paul in my life for about three years now.  It is someone that is a few years further along her Christian walk than I am.  She is a wonderful teacher and very well respected by all of her peers.  She is someone that is consistently mentioned at graduation as being the hardest and most favorite teacher our students ever had.  We spend a good bit of time together.   She has an amazing knowledge of Scripture and little tolerance for “feel-good Christianity”.  She has really challenged me to grow in my faith and to engage in more conversations about spiritual things.  When she points out something I have said or something she notices in my life, I know that she has prayerfully considered it and is sharing in an effort for me to become more Christlike.

My Barnabas is actually made up of 2 people.  One is a man that I used to work with and the other is a lady that I work with now.  They are both great friends of mine and friends with each other.  God has used them both in a variety of ways the past few years in the midst of dark times as well as during times of great celebration.  They are both great at helping me make sure my purpose is clear and that my motivation is God’s glory.  Barnabas was the whole reason that we even know who Paul was.  He stepped back because he knew that God intended to use Paul in a mighty way.  These two friends have played a variety of roles in my life, but have always been a great source of encouragement and support.

Prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction come together to form the foundation for my spiritual life.  It is always exciting to look back over the past 14 years to see how far God has brought me.  However, I am also challenged to keep running towards Christ by the words of Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

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