2023 is a week away, and I’m already thinking about personal challenges and goals for next year.
At the beginning of every year, many people make what we call “resolutions” that usually involve getting healthier or making more time for important things like family time or projects around the house. Many make spiritual goals as well, such as reading the Bible or fasting more. Of course, all of these goals are great, but we often get distracted by mid-year and abandon those resolutions. The older I get, the more I simplify my life. I’ve got a few small things I’d like to work on in 2023, but the two largest priorities I have and that I believe are essential for us to make every year are 1) spiritual growth and 2) financial security.
Let’s face it – the Christmas season is stressful mostly because many of us have maxed out credit cards or overspent our paychecks trying to buy presents for friends and family. And there are often other expenses that come due this time of year that add to the stress. Money seems to be on the brain more than the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Stressing over our finances takes the joy of Christmas away when instead of seeing the joy on your loved one’s face when they open their gift, all you see are dollar signs.
And it’s also true that when we’re busy with life, we can often neglect our spiritual health and relationship with God.
I made one major goal for myself in 2022 and that was to study the Word more in-depth and get closer to God, and having done so throughout this year has reminded me of the importance of properly ordering your priorities. It all comes down to stewardship. How well am I managing what God has given me? Am I saving money? Am I investing in the Kingdom both financially and spiritually? We should be able to look back over our life at the end of each year and see how God has drawn us closer to Him over the past several months. And we should be able to look to our future every year knowing that the present choices we’re making are to ensure future financial security.
Yes, God will always provide for our needs, but He wants us to be wise with our money – it all belongs to Him, after all. We have the responsibility to invest financially in our future for our own sakes and for our family’s.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
1 Timothy 5:8 KJV
In order for us to be able to provide for our families and be able to give to the Kingdom, we have to start making wise financial decisions now. If you’re young, that might look like going to trade school or college and pursuing a stable career. If you’re a bit older, it might look like investing in your kids’ future needs over yours or their present wants. For all of us, making wise financial decisions involves having a good work ethic so we can earn raises and promotions, saying “no” to our flesh when we want to buy something completely unnecessary and ridiculously expensive, saving money consistently, avoiding charging everything to credit cards, and cutting out little unnecessary expenses that add up over the year (like weekly Starbucks runs or fast food for lunch every day). Regardless of where you’re at in life, it is never too late or early to start saving, spending wisely, investing in your future, and investing in the Kingdom.
If you take care of your relationship with God each year and make wise financial decisions, He will take care of you. Rest assured, your future will be secure, and everything else (where you’ll live, who you’ll marry, when you’ll get married, where you’ll be in five years, etc.) will fall into place according to God’s timing and perfect will.
In 2023, let’s focus on God and wise investments and see how He continues to pour out His blessings upon His people as we pursue Him more and spread this Gospel to the people around us. May the Light of Jesus shine so bright in us that it snuffs out the darkness and ignites our communities and families with the Holy Ghost!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my Breathe Pray Repeat readers! I pray these posts have blessed and encouraged you this year. This will be the last BPR post until February as I’ll be taking a break in January to focus on some themes and direction for this blog in 2023.
We’ve all been there. Whether we’ve lost a loved one or suffered another kind of loss or setback, most of us know what it is like to struggle with feelings of depression. But depression affects us all differently and to varying degrees.
I’ve been reading Rev. Carlton Coon’s book Light in a Dark Place: Encountering Depression, and I wanted to share some important points with you from Encountering Depression that may help you or someone you love learn how to navigate depression.
1. There is significance in variety.
As I stated in the intro of this post, depression affects us all to different degrees. Reverend Coon references everything from mild seasons of depression or grief to Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which we used to call clinical depression (Coon 21). Below are some examples of the common ways depression affects people:
Disinterest in normal activities
Decreased sense of self-worth
There are many more ways depression can affect a person’s mood or lifestyle, but the variance in how we experience depression is significant. We in the community of people who want to increase awareness of mental health issues and help others understand them may forget that there are people out there who still dismiss mental illness and believe depression to be a figment of the imagination. Those who have experienced depression or have a loved one or friend who has know otherwise.
No two people are exactly alike in every conceivable way, and depression’s different effects on us are proof of that. You may become angry and lash out at others when suffering from depression, but someone else might feel intensely sad or simply numb. These different experiences further prove that mental health and mental health issues need to be discussed all the more so that everyone can recognize whether they or someone they know is experiencing a serious mental health problem and find healthy solutions to get through it. The differences in how depression affects everyone who suffers from it do not take away from the seriousness of this disease but instead show that no person’s experience with depression should be dismissed or belittled.
2. There is healing in simplicity.
Just as there is variety in how depression grips each person who experiences it, there is also variety in how a person should respond to and navigate this difficult season. In Encountering Depression, Reverend Coon emphasizes balance and simplicity. If a person is emotionally balanced, then depression is less likely to overwhelm them (Coon 62). Too much on one’s plate is often a recipe for becoming overwhelmed, which is why simplifying one’s routine may prove beneficial. As Coon states, dealing with too much “leads to exhaustion, which is a fertile field in which depression often takes root” (Coon 82).
Consider the following tips for simplifying your routine and engaging in activities that may help you navigate depression:
Remove yourself from non-essential projects and activities.
Get yourself outside and go for nature walks.
Take a break from social media.
Set a simple daily routine.
Take time to rest.
There is a reason we need rest so much. As imperfect humans, our minds and bodies can only take so much before we become weary. An overloaded mind and body often results in burnout and feeds depression. We must take time regularly to unplug, get outside, remove ourselves from activities that may be weighing us down, and give ourselves time to breathe, pray, and repeat.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.“
Matthew 11:28 KJV
Just breathe. Just pray. Rest. Read the Word. And repeat the process.
And we know that getting through a season of depression is a p r o c e s s. But it is doable by learning how to understand what we’re experiencing and why, finding healthy ways to get through it, and finding rest and strength in God’s presence.
Coon Sr., Carlton L. Light in a Dark Place: Encountering Depression. 2019.
“Jesus over everything,” you say as you forget to spend time with Him that day.
You say you put Him first, but you spend half the day without a word in prayer. Then, you pray, but you’re distracted.
What is it that’s consumed your attention? Your Instagram account? Tik Tok? The news? Or perhaps it’s the load of laundry you still need to put on? Maybe it’s the garage that needs cleaned out, or the yard that needs mowing, or the half a dozen other projects you still have left to do.
So, what then, does Jesus over everything mean to you? Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your “me time?” Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your house chores? Does it mean Jesus over everything, except your job or your family? What do you think everything means? Oxford defines it as “all things; every single thing.”
That’s what it takes to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Putting Him above all things, above every single thing in your life.
The rich man left Jesus in sorrow because he couldn’t put Jesus above his riches (see Matthew 19:16-24).
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Mark 8:36 KJV
Others couldn’t put Him above their family.
“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:59-62 KJV
So what can’t you put aside to follow Jesus? What is keeping you from giving Him everything?
If you want to get closer to Jesus, He must come first. His Kingdom must be your number one priority in life.
He created you to worship Him and reach the lost. Other things in this life are important, yes, but He has promised to supply all your needs. If you want to follow Him, you must trust Him to take care of you. If you want to follow Him, you must give Him your sacrifice of time and sacrifice of praise.
He must matter more to you than earthly gain. To see His face in glory, Jesus must stand first in your life over everything.
Until then, all your words and efforts are in vain and your promises empty.
Is “Jesus over everything” a daily declaration to you? Or is it an empty phrase you use to fool yourself into thinking you put Jesus first while you really serve the world or yourself?
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15 KJV
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Missouri Youth Camp ended last week, but I’m still thinking about the powerful services we had. In every service, there was a heavy spirit of expectancy, depth in every message, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost in every altar call. It was without a doubt one of the most incredible weeks I have experienced. Mike McGurk, the morning speaker, taught one message in particular that detailed a few tips that, if applied, can help each person (and each young person, especially) truly thrive in the kingdom of God. For today’s post, we’re going to go over these tips again.
Don’t keep the things you’re struggling with to yourself. This one’s actually hard for those like me who prefer to “suffer in silence.” It’s the noble, mature, strong thing to do, we tell ourselves. But actually, keeping deep struggles to yourself makes you more vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks and makes it harder to overcome those struggles.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
Proverbs 28:13 (KJV)
Talking to a trusted spiritual leader, such as your pastor or youth pastor, about something you’re struggling with gives you a source of support and guidance. Openness and honesty are underrated qualities in any relationship. How are you to develop a working relationship of trust and transparency with your leaders or even colleagues or friends if you do not let them in if something is going wrong? The more you keep things to yourself, the more time you give to the devil to mess with your mind and bring confusion.
Bro. Mike McGurk spoke of self-destruction. If you keep things to yourself, then the lies of the devil can cause you to break down and self-destruct. There is strength in going to a trusted spiritual leader like your pastor with your personal struggles with sin or an emotional or spiritual issue.
You do not have to be perfect, for as we know, there is none perfect save for God.
We are incapable of perfection, and your pastor knows this. Because of our human nature and constant struggles with our flesh, we will always need encouragement, correction, independence, and guidance. We need encouragement for our self-esteem, correction to overcome our weakness and mistakes, independence to allow us to make our own decisions, and guidance to lead us in the right direction.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (KJV)
You’ve heard the saying that no person is an island. Learn to be transparent and trust your pastor to help you and pray for you when you’re struggling.
Be careful with the people and things that you allow to influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You’re heard “love the sinner, hate the sin” and the fact that Jesus ate with the sinners and publicans. This is true. However, Jesus called us to be separate from this world.
As another common saying goes, we are in the world but should not be of the world, meaning that while we are in the world, we should do the things we must to survive, build relationship, families, careers, etcetera, but we should not conform to the lifestyles and beliefs of the world. Bro. McGurk explained in his message that when it comes to those you may be around at work or at school who live like the world, you should love them and eat with them, but do not live like them or let them influence how you live. For example, if you’re out to lunch with your coworkers, but they talk about going out later to drink and party, don’t let their lifestyle choices influence yours. The sign of a confident Apostolic Christian is one who influences their friends and coworkers and draws them toward God, not one whose friends and coworkers draw them away from God.
There is one saying my Bishop used to teach about that some might take issue with, but I’ll mention it here and then explain: if you can’t change your friends, change your friends.
If the people you hang around are becoming negative influences in your life, then you should not spend time around them anymore. For example, if you have a teenage son and he starts hanging around kids who do drugs behind the school every day, you would want your son to stop hanging around those kids. That doesn’t mean he should be rude to them, condemn them, yell at them, or throw the Bible at them. It does mean he should set healthy boundaries in his life so that he can maintain a strong walk with God and show others that he is committed to living for God and not like the world. Having strong principles, convictions, and morals is a good thing, not something anyone should be ashamed of.
Lot allowed his surroundings to influence him, and it led to his wife’s demise.
“And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.”
Genesis 13:10-13 (KJV)
The appearance of the land was pleasing to Lot, and so he allowed what pleased his eyes to influence his actions. He pitched his tent toward a place that was filled with wickedness. Much can be said and written just from this account in Genesis (and indeed much already has), but just six chapters later, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with Lot barely escaping with his daughters. His wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Most of us know this story, but its message will forever ring true.
Want to know the direction your life is taking? Look at the things you allow to influence you.
The problem with influence is appetite. What you consume is what you put on display through your words, actions, and thoughts. In order to walk with God, you must change your appetite so that the things of the world – entertainment, personalities, trends, money, attention, etcetera – no longer influence you.
If you pursue God and allow the things of God to influence you, then you will thrive in His Kingdom. This point goes back to the previous point about influence. Your life will go in the direction of the things you pursue. If you pursue fame and attention and money, then your life will be filled with self-absorption and materialism. Pursuing God means putting God and a godly lifestyle above everything else.
You should get a job. You should make an income. You should try to have and raise a godly family, but those things become idols when you pursue them above God. So, how do you pursue God?
Read the Word. After all, the Word is God (see John 1:1). The Bible is His Living Word, and if we want to get to know Him more, we should read it every day. Don’t just read it, though. Study the Word. Pray the Word. And while you read the Word, journal. I have a journal set aside for Bible journaling, and when I open up the Word to begin my study time, I have the journal in one hand and the Bible in the other to write down thoughts, revelations, or specific verses while I’m reading. This is a pretty common and simple concept, but it is vital to understanding His Word more and committing key scriptures and biblical principles to memory.
When you pursue God, He will open up His Word to you and welcome you into a deeper relationship with Him.
“Draw night to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
James 4:8 (KJV)
We exist to worship our Creator, have a relationship with Him, and reach the lost. When we make living for God and growing His kingdom our purpose and top priority in life, then we will be too busy to become enamored with the distractions of the world. We will struggle with our flesh every day, but there are things we can do to become purpose-driven in the kingdom.
Be involved in your church. Help with the media team. Be part of the music team. Teach Sunday or Wednesday school. Clean the church. Contribute to your church’s social media page by taking pictures. Help in the kitchen. Go to outreach functions. Invite your friends and coworkers to church and special events. Go to special events yourself rather than skipping them because it’s your Friday night. Teach Bible studies. (Lord knows, we should all be doing more, especially on that last one, including yours truly.)
Whatever it is, be active in your church and be active in the kingdom of God. We find our identity in Christ, and when we make His mission ours, then our purpose will become clear.
Each of these four concepts is essential to thriving and growing in God’s kingdom. So, in order for you to apply these to your life, here are some questions you might ask:
Out of these four points (transparency, influence, pursuit, purpose), is there one or more that are lacking in my life?
What am I doing or what can I do to address this issue?
Hollywood held the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, but not many tuned in to see it. In fact, recent polls reveal that the majority of Americans have not even seen or heard of any of the films nominated at the Oscars. This is, of course, very good news.
Ten-plus years ago, I remember hearing of the films that won awards at the Oscars and being somewhat familiar with them. Back then, I watched the short clips of humorous moments that had happened at the ceremony that were still family friendly and did not alienate half of the country because of different values and beliefs. Things are very different now, and the polls that show most Americans did not watch the Oscars or the nominated films may be a sign that the culture of celebrity worship is dying as the average American is more concerned with keeping their job during the pandemic and spending time with their family.
So, why is the tuning out of Hollywood significant for us as Christians?
Because it’s an indicator that many more conservative, centrist, and/or Christian Americans are waking up to what truly matters in our life: the physical, mental, and yes, spiritual wellbeing of ourselves and our families.
One writer on Facebook wrote about how refreshing it is that Hollywood is becoming completely irrelevant to Americans. Many no longer look to the Oscars for entertainment or obsess over films and celebrities that took home several awards.
Instead, they go to work, take their kids to the park, attend church on Sunday, and completely forget that the Oscars were even coming up or happened at all.
This is a sign that our lives truly do not and should not revolve around materialism, consumerism, and temporal things, such as Hollywood, in order for our lives to be fulfilling and purposeful.
Indeed, it is true that the more we spend time in God’s presence and reading His Word, the more we feel fulfilled in Him. The more we focus on living a life that is pleasing to God, the more we invest in our eternity with Him, and the more we tune out the distractions of this world, the more our purpose will come into focus and the more our lives will become balanced and our minds at peace.
The decline of Hollywood and celebrity worship culture should inspire us to keep our minds and affection set on things above. Nothing in this world will remain, which means that nothing in this world is worth sacrificing eternity in Heaven with our King Jesus. When we tune into the Spirit, then we can understand the importance of investing in things eternal over things temporal.
Robert Frost wrote a famous poem in 1923 called “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” essentially about the fleeting and fading nature of life. Part of the poem reads, “Then leaf subsides to leaf/so Eden sank to grief/So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay.” Frost was referring to the golden buds or flowers on trees that turn to leaves before withering away and to the idea that nothing beautiful or seemingly innocent will last. Our lives are but a vapor, after all.
The gold in Frost’s poem takes on a new meaning when thinking of the Oscars. The awards celebrities give themselves take the form of literal golden statues, but each award becomes irrelevant by the time the next awards season rolls around, and they gather again in hopes of receiving yet another award. You see, when you tune into materialism and gorge yourself with a worldly appetite, the accolades and praise from society’s echo chamber become shallow, unsatisfying, and meaningless. When you fail to invest in the Kingdom, life becomes hollow. You lose out on what truly matters, and your spiritual wellbeing falls into decay just like the grass that withers and the flower that fades.
Hollywood is fleeting. The films they make are not forever. Their fame, fortune, and success will not last.
But the things of God will stand forever while the things of this world will pass away.
So, to those investing more in temporal things and to those in Hollywood obsessed with acquiring their collection of awards, I say: remember—nothing gold can stay.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
Matthew 6:19-20 (KJV)
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
When we’re stuck in a spiritual rut, life always seems to get out of focus. Our days are rushed, our mind is busy, and no matter how hard we try, moving forward is practically an impossibility. How do we juggle our hectic lives, overcome our flesh, and maintain a healthy relationship with our Creator? The answer is both simple and complex—consistency.
We have to learn to be consistent in our lives in order to live a life dedicated to serving the Lord and His Kingdom while fulfilling earthly duties, such as work and school. Consistency is the key to unlocking our potential as children of God and living a purposeful life. But there are three components, three steps we must take in order to master consistency in our daily lives.
Step 1: Consistency in Thought
We must make up our mind every day that we will serve the Lord.
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” ~2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)
When we keep our mind stayed on Christ and our thoughts in obedience to Him, then our lifestyle, our actions, and our words will follow suit. We must choose every morning to serve the Lord, and throughout each day, we must continue in righteous thoughts, remembering our resolve to serve Him and only Him. Consistency must begin in the mind.
Step 2: Consistency in Word
Consistency must also continue into our speech. If we only act the part at church but speak unwisely outside of church, then our words betray us and reveal our heart.
(34) “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
(35) A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
(36) But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
(37) For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
~Matthew 12:34-37 (KJV)
Our speech must exalt the King and reflect His Spirit within us. This is why it is essential that we maintain righteousness in thought. If we first determine in our minds to follow and serve the Lord, then we begin to allow His Spirit to dictate our words to others. His Spirit within us helps us guard our tongue and keep our speech in check. Consistency in word will lead to a more righteous life.
Step 3: Consistency in Deed
Of course, it is not enough to mentally choose each day to serve God or to pay only lip service to serving Him, but our actions must follow suit as well, and we must become consistent in our deeds.
(23) “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
(24) Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
~Colossians 3:23-24 (KJV)
Consistency in our actions requires not only a conscious, daily decision to serve the Lord, but it also requires making smarter choices. We can replace unhealthy or unhelpful habits with spiritual ones. For example, instead of starting the day on our phone for half-an-hour, we can begin our day by reading the Word. Consistency in deed requires making decisions to put God first, such as building consistent prayer lives and daily Bible study sessions. Consistency in these areas should then carry over into our actions around others, showing the world His character in us through our righteous actions.
Once we have learned how to become consistent in each of these three areas, then we will truly be able to show the world the transforming power of our God. When we become consistent in living for Him, others will notice, giving us the opportunity to become active soulwinners and grow the body of Christ. Becoming consistent is not easy, and there will be days in which we will fail. And that’s okay. But we must then become consistent in our determination to get back up each time we fall and strive harder to serve Him more.
Consistency brings results.
It brings us closer to God, and as we become consistent in our daily walk with Him, we learn to love Him and His Word more. We learn to replace old habits with spiritual ones. And we learn the value in making up our mind each day to live for God in righteousness, in checking and guarding our speech (and our thoughts!), and in choosing each day to become more like Jesus and to become the people He has called us to be.
There’s something about birthdays that spins the wheels of reflection in my mind. As I turned 25 this week, I began to reflect on what I’m most grateful for during this first quarter of my life, and I settled on one of the most important aspects of a Christian’s life that I realized has helped make my life balanced—having (and listening to) consistent leadership.
Having balance is the only way we can survive in this world and still live for God. Life gets hectic, and we get distracted, and then we find ourselves guilty because we’ve been spending more time on distractions and less time on God. He is the one for Whom we exist, after all. Consistent leadership is an essential element that we must not only seek out but also appreciate to create a healthy balance and make God and righteousness the center of our world.
We find consistent leaders in our pastor, ministers, mentors, and our parents who lead us according to God’s Word so that we might grow up as a well-watered child of God. As we grow from childhood into adulthood, we need pastors and leaders who will not only preach the Word as it is but live the Word. What’s even more essential, however, is not only listening to consistent leaders but applying their teachings from the Word to our lives.
My pastor during my childhood and into my upper teenage years taught many lessons rooted in truth, and because I could see from his lifestyle that he loved truth, I valued his lessons all the more. There is one such lesson that I will never forget—
the dogfight taking place inside ourselves.
He explained that there are two dogs waging war inside each of us—the carnal dog and the spiritual dog. But which dog will win in the fight?
The one you feed the most.
As I went from high school to college and into the adult world, I learned how much more balanced my life and each day were when I fed the spiritual dog inside of me through prayer, spending time in the Word, and fasting. It became obvious that this was a daily battle against the flesh, and I knew that consistency was key because I’d seen my childhood pastor and many other leaders apply this lesson to their own lives by living consistently for Jesus.
We’re all human and obviously make mistakes, but if we lean on God for strength, we can win this daily dogfight within ourselves and strengthen our walk with God.
We find balance by consistently serving Jesus no matter what.
It’s what my spiritual leaders have taught me and what my parents have shown me.
Maybe today isn’t your birthday, but it’s as good a day as any to take stock of your own life and reflect on what your leaders, parents, or mentors have shown you. It’s a good day to show your appreciation to them for their leadership and faithful service to God. It’s a good day to start feeding the spiritual dog within you more than ever before. And it’s a good day to endeavor to live a balanced life for Jesus no matter what may come your way.