Tag Archives: life-change


What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? As a mom of three, I think of child-tears, frustration, time-outs (or worse), and me feeling frazzled and worn out. Discipline, if we’re honest, is not fun. Rewarding in the long run? Sure. But not exactly a word with a positive connotation.

So when I talk about spiritual disciplines? Well, the danger for you and for me is that we can bring this somewhat negative connotation into the conversation. But Scripture uses several words that are translated at “discipline.” One means to chastise, correct, or instruct (see Hebrews 12:6-7). But here’s some good news: God’s Word uses entirely different words to talk about discipline in terms of our spiritual formation. Consider this excerpt from my book, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival:

trainersAs we look at the spiritual disciplines, we’re instead aiming for the concepts of gumnazo and askeo. Gumnazo—from which we derive the English word gymnasium—means discipline in the sense of athletic exercise and training. We’re talking about a spiritual sweat here: regular “workouts” that keep our faith in shape. This is the word Paul uses when he urges Timothy, “[T]rain yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, emphasis added). This is the same connotation the writer of Hebrews intends when he prods his readers by saying, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14, emphasis added).

Askeo means the discipline of a master craftsman who employs skill, persistent determination, and great effort to turn raw material into a piece of art. Continue reading


Meet My Friend JoHannah Reardon

Friends, as we discuss growing in character and virtue, I’ve invited my friend and colleague JoHannah Reardon to stop by. JoHannah is managing editor of Christianity Today’s ChristianBibleStudies.com. She’s also a pastor’s wife and a fiction writer. Listen in on our conversation about what it takes to grow in godly character.

Welcome, JoHannah! Please tell my readers a bit about yourself.

I am one of the very fortunate people who gets to do something I love for a living—writing and editing at ChristianBibleStudies.com for Christianity Today. But most dear to my heart is being a wife, mother, and grandmother. I feel so blessed to have those three roles. As I’m getting older, I feel that more and more.

This month we’re talking about virtue and character. Who comes to mind as an example of God-honoring character? Why? How does that person’s example inspire you?

If we are talking about someone living, I’d have to say my sister. She has the gift of evangelism and has led so many people to Christ (including me), but she also has the gift of mercy and has nursed countless people who are ill. Since I have neither of those gifts, I am in awe of her. She’s also a tremendously faithful family member to her sisters, brother, husband, kids, and grandkids—and a bulwark to those in her church.

If we are talking about someone not living, it would be Corrie Ten Boom. God used her writings to challenge me as a young, spoiled, self-centered Christian to learn to accept all that comes from God’s hand and to be faithful even when I don’t feel like it.

How about a little word play here: What does your experience in crafting (fictional) characters reveal to you about the idea of shaping and growing our own character? What insights or connections can you see between these two concepts? Or about how God is at work in us, “writing” and “crafting” our character?

I’m so glad you asked! That’s the reason I write fiction—to show, rather than tell, what it looks like to live a Christ-centered life. I was greatly influenced as a new Christian by George MacDonald’s novels, whose characters demonstrate what it means to live in a Christ-like way. Reading one of his books (A Quiet Neighborhood) is what made me want to be a writer. I love making up stories; but more than that, I love having my characters wrestle with the kind of things I wrestle with. And as I do that, I come to terms with some of my own struggles.

For example, when one of my characters wrestles with forgiveness, I have to confront that in my own life as well. It forces me to realize I need to forgive, or accept God’s forgiveness. Or if materialism is plaguing a character, then I have to honestly face that I would prefer to have no financial worries.

But the opposite is true too. As I see my characters struggling with sin, I want so badly for them to move past that sin and find victory. As I’m watching them battle their demons, I often realize once again that it is always miserable to give into sin. Conquering it is a lot more work, but oh so worth it.   Continue reading

Spiritual Variety

In  a healthy Christian life, we need the “essential vitamins” — the main practices of spiritual growth that are usually heavily emphasized in church (such as Bible study, prayer, and worship). Like essential vitamins in our diet, we need these building blocks of spiritual life so we don’t become fatigued and spiritually emaciated.

But I also really need variety. I need more than only the basics to live a full and happy life. Too much of the same, same, same can get boring. God didn’t design us to thrive via rote, worn-out routine.

And the good news is that Scripture and our rich tradition of Christian spirituality throughout church history offers us many ways to grow and connect with God in addition to these essential basics! Variety can help us flourish! That’s why I’ve included a wide variety of spiritual practices in my new devotional series for women, Flourishing Faith. Here’s a quick overview of the types of practices included in the books — consider using this list to add variety to your own spiritual walk this week.

• Act: Apply Scripture’s challenges to your life through concrete action.

• Create: Use art, drawing, poetry, or another hands-on project to interact with God.

• Examine: Explore Scripture using investigation, research, and study.

• Interact: Connect with another person as part of your spiritual journey.

• Internalize: Interact with Scripture using Christian contemplation, meditation, and memorization.

• Journal: Reflect on your journey and record your thoughts in creative ways.

• Ponder: Read and think about Scripture, historical information, or an insightful quotation.

• Pray: Speak to God and listen to him.

• Symbolize: Use an experience or a common object as a metaphor to help you contemplate a spiritual truth.

• Worship: Express gratitude and praise to God.

Grace, the wind in my sail

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, 
      a flawless performance is nothing to you. 
   I learned God-worship 
      when my pride was shattered. 
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love 
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. (Psalm 51:16-17, The Message paraphrase)

The process of changing and growing includes the gift of the Spirit’s conviction in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a gift when we experience it. Guilt, a realization of failure, a shattering of pride — it feels awful.

And if we don’t understand something crucial, then we can distort conviction and misunderstand it as condemnation. We must understand — in head, heart, and soul — that we live within and are sustained by the grace of God. The Grace that suffered alongside a thief on the cross, that forgave his executioners in the moment of death, that triumphed over sin and left it empty as the tomb. Continue reading

Lessons from high school chemistry and physics

Dynamic: marked by usually continuous and productive activity or change.

Static: showing little change.

What kind of faith do you desire? What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life is God leading you into?

A static life is safer. No hope is needed — keep plodding along each day, just as before. Minimal expectations are required — of course expect the big stuff (like heaven or Jesus coming back), but other risky steps of trust or gutsy expectations have no place in a static life. Hardly any sacrifice is needed either; you can follow your dreams, live by your plan, and keep things as under control as is humanly possible.

A dynamic life and faith, on the other hand, is both rich and scary. Continue reading

Mirror-gazing, part 2

A spiritual practice that’s been particularly meaningful to me in recent years is examen or examination of conscience. It’s a Christian way of praying that is a sort of confession — an honest look, with God, at one’s life or at one’s day. It’s nestled in grace, not guilt, and it’s a way of identifying areas of needed growth. It’s also a great way to pause and recognize in gratitude the many ways God has been and currently is at work in one’s life! Click here to read a post in which I explain how to practice examen. Consider what role this prayer practice might play in your life.

A matter of lighting?

There are moments in my life when I realize our bathroom mirror has inadequate lighting. It’s visually warm and cozy. I can apply make-up in a jiffy and feel great.

But then I walk into a bathroom with a different type of lighting–like at the movie theater or an airport. (You know the lighting, don’t you? The brutally honest lighting?) Suddenly I see things I didn’t see at home. Maybe I didn’t blend in my cover-up and there’s a big opaque splotch on my face. Or maybe there are big bags under my eyes or a plethora of pimples and assorted blemishes I somehow missed. Or perhaps there are other horrors too ugh!-ifying to type on this blog.

This different lighting is not the warm and inviting light that I choose to live in, and for good reason. But the brutally-honest lighting has it’s place. It’s critical not just for our appearance, but similarly for our souls. There are times when we benefit from a cold, hard, horrifying look at ourselves. When rather than a mere glance, we stare into that spiritual mirror and really see who we are, blemishes and all. Continue reading

The Bad News . . . the Good News

“Mom,” my four year-old daughter asked me the other day, “Why don’t any of the people in the Bible obey God?”

In my answer, I patiently brought up examples of men and women who obeyed God in Scripture: Joseph forgave his brothers, Queen Esther saved her people, and so on.

But my daughter wouldn’t have it. She shot down my examples with counter-examples of disobedience. She said, “Even those people you said still disobeyed God.”

Her simple observation led to a rather profound theological discussion to have with a preschooler: we are all sinners—and that sinfulness is a profound theme running through Scripture. It’s a truth that has become blatantly obvious to my 4 year-old simply from learning Sunday school stories and listening to Genesis on a CD.

And this “bad news” part of the Good News is central to this discipline of life-change.

Lest I make this month’s discipline sound morose, discouraging, and one to be avoided at all costs, we must recognize a core truth: recognition of our sin, confession, and repentance (turning away from those sins) leads to freedom.

One of my favorite theological writers, Frederica Matthewes-Green, says this: “[R]epentance, is joy. Initially we fear looking squarely at our sins, lest we get overwhelmed. But the reverse turns out to be true. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we realize the height of God’s love. The constant companion of repentance is gratitude; seeing our sin becomes, paradoxically, an opportunity for joy.”

My daughter’s observation about the Bible is true of my life too—mine is a story that includes disobedience, selfishness, sin. Yours does too.

As we look honestly at our lives—with God’s loving presence and gentle grace—we can find this paradoxical joy and freedom that comes from facing the reality of our brokenness.

This week—Holy Week—may be the very best time of the year for a period of personal self-examination. This week we remember Christ’s determined march to the Cross, the pinnacle of the Bible’s swell of human brokenness. It is the week we face our own sins that he carried with him on that road to Calvary. Yours. Mine.

Let it be a week in which we courageously look at those sins, confess them, and receive God’s beautiful gift of not only forgiveness but of transformation through the power of his Holy Spirit.

15-Minute Formation: Examen

Much of the lingo regarding spiritual formation has to do with be-ing rather than do-ing. Fundamentally I completely agree with this shift in focus. We seek to abide in Christ rather than “accomplish” for Christ.

But by nature I am a do-er. I am very accomplishment oriented. Each day I leave behind a list scrawled on paper or a Post-it in which I’ve recorded my to-do’s (and attempted to do at least some of them).

This month’s spiritual discipline of life-change adds an element of do-ing to our be-ing as we actively and intentionally join our best efforts with the Spirit’s work in our life, seeking to align our actions, character, and thoughts with the way of Christ.

One powerful way to do this is through the practice of examen.

In examen, we muster the courage take honest stock of our lives with God. Here’s how I explain examen in The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival (you can find more in-depth discussion of this topic in the book):

Ignatius of Loyola taught that Jesus-followers should regularly spend a focused time of prayerful reflection, taking stock of their day and evaluating how well they lived out your faith. He called this practice examen and outlined it in five basic parts:

1. Recognize that you are in the presence of God.

2. Reflect on your day with gratitude and thank God for how he blessed you, guided you, and provided for you.

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you as you prepare to evaluate the outer actions and inner motives of your day. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

4. Take time to prayerfully review your day. Start in the morning and think through the events that occurred during the day—consider your interactions with your children, spouse, and others; reflect on your inner thoughts and feelings; evaluate your use of time and your attentiveness to God. As you review your day, joyfully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as God points out areas in which you fell short of how he wants you to live and to love. Continue reading

Life as an Open Book

This month we’ll look at the practices of self-examination and life-change. I believe it is most fitting to look at a Scripture passage that exemplifies what these practices are all about.

Consider these words from The Message paraphrase:

God, investigate my life: get all the facts firsthand.

I’m an open book to you;

even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.

You know when I leave and when I get back;

I’m never out of your sight.

You know everything I’m going to say

before I start the first sentence.

I look behind me and you’re there,

then up ahead and you’re there, too—

your reassuring presence, coming and going.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?

to be out of your sight?

Investigate my life, O God,

find out everything about me;

Cross-examine and test me,

get a clear picture of what I’m about;

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—

then guide me on the road to eternal life.

(Selections from Psalm 139)

Will you speak the same open, honest, candid, risky, scary, freeing invitation to God? This month, invite God to show you what it means to live as an open book to him.