How many times have you had a conversation with someone, but your mind was elsewhere? Probably too many times to count. I’m usually thinking about several things trying to solve a problem or find a solution to them. When someone engages me in conversation during these times, I’m honestly not listening to them talk in those cases. Im present in the conversation, but not mentally in it. To be honest, it even happens when I’m not trying to solve things, but I’ve had to learn that listening and engaging with others is one of the best ways to value them. I have to tell myself (while they’re talking) to pay attention and listen. Otherwise, if it’s not something I’m really interested in or don’t see how it relates to me, my mind wants to wander. I’ve had to train myself to be present in conversations.
If it happens to you with people, it also happens to you in prayer. How many times have you started to pray and then you remember you were supposed to do something? Our minds start to wander and think of things we need to be doing instead of engaging with God in prayer. Those voices need to shut down immediately or your prayer time will turn into a thinking time. I have to stop the thoughts the moment they come in. I’ve got a friend who keeps a notebook beside him when he prays. He writes down those things that pop in his mind so he has a to-do list when he’s done. He jokingly says, “I let the devil be my secretary. He tries to disrupt my prayer, but I use it as him giving me all the things I need to do.” However you choose to do it, prayer is something we must engage in with our utmost attention. We are speaking with the King of Kings after all. He deserves our attention.
Colossians 4:2 says, “Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving” (AMP). To get the answers we need from Heaven, we need to be persistent in our prayer. Jesus gave a couple of parables about this. We must also be alert and focused during our prayer time giving God all of our attention. Prayer closets are a good place to block everything else out to give God your complete attention. I also recommend leaving your phone somewhere else and finding a time when you won’t be disrupted by others. When our prayer life suffers, our relationship with Him suffers. God loves quality time and the best way to do that is to have a set time when you can engage with Him in prayer uninterrupted and to stay focused on Him. Quick short prayers are good, but they’re like text messages. A relationship can’t thrive on just texts. Have focused conversations with God too and you’ll see your relationship with Him bloom like never before.
As I wait for my oil to get changed in my car, I can’t help but think of all the correlations between the routine maintenance work on my car and the need for routine maintenance of our walk with Christ. Someone was recently telling me a story about a guy who was never taught that his oil needed to be changed. He got a new car when he started college, but by the time he graduated, the engine broke down. His car wasn’t designed to go on forever with the original oil. It, like us, needed fresh oil.
Too many Christians try to live the life we are called to live without ever getting fresh oil. We try to survive our whole lives on the emotions of our initial salvation experience. When we try to do that, we break down, get tired and run out of energy. It gets hard to move when God says move because we haven’t done anything to grow the relationship. It becomes difficult to walk by faith because we haven’t done anything to improve our sight. We couldn’t stay in a romantic relationship based off of our initial feeling so why would we try to do that with God?
Imagine your first date with someone you love. There were butterflies in your stomach. Your palms were sweaty. Your voice might have even cracked. You were so enamored with the person across from you that you could just stare into their eyes forever. Now, many years later, life has happened. That initial feeling is gone. You’ve learned that to make that relationship work, you’ve got to do routine maintenance to the relationship. You can’t count on those initial feelings to keep the relationship going when times get tough. You’ve had to put fresh oil in the relationship if it’s going to survive.
For a Christian, we get fresh oil by spending time in prayer with God. I’m not talking about a one way prayer. I’m talking about dialogue where you sit and wait to hear back from God. You have to spend time reading and pouring through the Bible. Fresh oil doesn’t come from reading a chapter a day. It comes from digging through it, listening to the tone and finding how it applies to your life. You also get fresh oil from being around other believers. You can’t get that kind of oil just sitting in a pew next to someone for a few hours on Sunday. You have to break bread with them, hang out with them and have a relationship that stirs up each other’s gifts.
Fresh oil doesn’t come on its own. It’s something you have to take time out of your schedule for and will cost you something. If you’ve been trying to keep your relationship with God going on that initial feeling, you probably aren’t far from a break down. Spend time today getting back into your prayer closet. Take time to look deeper into His word than just the normal cursory look. I will also encourage you to connect with other believers who will challenge your faith and will push you beyond your comfort zone. When you do that, you’ll find a renewed love for God and an excitement that is deeper than your initial salvation experience.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
From the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that God is a gardener. It says in Genesis that He planted a garden in the middle of creation. He didn’t simply speak it into existence like everything else. He took the time to plan and decide where He would plant each tree. He carved rivers around it to water it so that it would remain fertile. He walked in it every evening to enjoy it and to care for it. Then He placed Adam in there to be its caretaker. I think growth occurred naturally in that time because when Adam and Eve were removed from the garden, God told them that from now on they would have to sweat to get growth. There would be thistles and other things that would compete for the resources that he would grave to remove in order to achieve optimum growth. It then says that Adam began to cultivate the ground as soon as they left the garden.
God put the desire to create growth in each one of us. Some of us grow gardens. Some of grow families. Some money. In any case, if you look at your life, you’re spending a considerable amount of energy trying to achieve growth somewhere in something. Where we focus our time and energy is really what’s important to us since time and energy are our most precious commodities. What is it that you’re trying to grow? Will it matter for eternity? Is it only for your benefit? Each of us have to look at our lives to see if we’re growing the right things, and if we are doing the right things to create that growth.
2 Peter 3:18 says, “But continue to grow and increase in God’s grace and intimacy with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (TPT). Growth in maturity of our faith is required of each of us. Your Faith is not your pastor’s garden to tend. It’s yours. This message was from Peter, who was the head of the Church at the time. He was telling believers everywhere to own their growth. What are you doing daily to own your own growth? We must make sure we’re watering our lives with God’s Word. We have to pull the weeds of doubt constantly. We need to have a plan for the areas we need to grown in. If you’re going to own your growth, you’re going to have to start cultivating new ground in your faith and do the work of a gardener. Your pastor can give you the tools, but you must do the daily work.
The heart is known as the seat of our emotions. Our emotions dictate our words and actions. You can tell a lot about what’s in people’s heart simply by listening to them and watching their actions. When I hear people talk down to themselves or beat themselves up, it bothers me because it’s a reflection of how they truly feel about themselves. I went to compliment a kid recently about how well he performed and he replied, “I was terrible. I’m no good. I don’t know why I did it.” My heart broke because he’s already let his self talk destroy his confidence. I tried to speak life into him, but more than anything, he needed a change in his heart to readjust his thinking.
Proverbs 14:26 says, “Confidence and strength flood the hearts of the lovers of God who live in awe of him, and their devotion provides their children with a place of shelter and security” (TPT). It’s amazing how much we can accomplish when we have confidence and mental strength. So many of us struggle with an internal picture of who we are. We must remember that we are made in God’s image. The greater picture we have of God, the greater picture we will have of ourselves. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”
The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength. To love Him with all of our heart, we need to know Him more. The more we know Him, the more we will live in awe of Him. It’s no coincidence that He listed the heart first. Everything stems from there: our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with others. If you need confidence in any of those areas, it starts with knowing God. You get to know Him more through reading the Bible, prayer and sitting quietly in His presence. Learning to do these three things won’t just change you, it’ll have a generational effect as well.