4 Tips to Thrive in God’s Kingdom: Notes from Missouri Youth Camp

Photo cred: MO Youth Facebook page

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.

1. Transparency

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.

2. Influence

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.

3. Pursuit

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)

4. Purpose

“Your hands need to be so full of purpose that you have no room to reach for anything else.”

Mike McGurk

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?

2 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Month is over, but we’ll be discussing mental health throughout the year (and past that, of course) here on BPR. Even with all the attempts across social media to talk about mental health and discuss ways to treat and overcome mental health struggles, there are still many within society who often dismiss it as a serious aspect of our lives that needs to be addressed. When we talk about boosting mental health, we often refer to activities we do for therapy or mood boosters like going for walks or listening to music. But there are other aspects of our own mental health, such as thought patterns, that require behavioral changes.

Here are 2 ways I have found to be helpful in improving my mental and spiritual health:

1) Be self-aware.

We must be aware of why we think and feel the way we do about people or situations in our lives. As an introvert, I tend to spend a LOT of time inside my head. It comes naturally to me to put my emotions under a microscope and figure out where they’re coming from.

Being aware of the causes behind our own emotions and actions can make us aware of things within us that need to be addressed. For instance, if a person who constantly says nasty things in anger does enough reflection and examination, then that person may find out that the reason they lash out verbally is because of a situation in their past in which someone may have betrayed them. Every time I make a mistake or say something I shouldn’t, I think of when Jesus says in Matthew 12:34, “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” If it’s not in the heart, it won’t come through the mouth.

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”

Matthew 15:18 (KJV)

Taking time to examine yourself, especially through prayer, can help you better understand yourself and work to overcome damaging behavior or thoughts.

Jodie Smith, a pastor’s wife with a degree in counseling who has written on mental health from a biblical and spiritual perspective, said in her book Bursting Alive: Healing Your Damaged Emotions Through Your Miracle Journey to Wholeness, “A healthy person lives in a world of honesty and reality.” Working to be more self-aware in order to improve our behavior and mindset requires honesty, which brings us to another way we can improve our mental health.

2) Admit when you’re wrong or made a mistake.

I know, this one can be difficult for those who have the need to always be “right.” Y’all, I will admit that as a strong-headed, knowledge-loving, youngest child, the need to be “right” or have the “right answer” all the time has been a lifelong struggle for me. Learning to become more self-aware can lead to recognizing and understanding our own faults and flaws. When we do, people tend to split off into one of two categories: hiding and denying mistakes or admitting and trying to overcome them.

As Smith writes in Bursting Alive, an unhealthy person who is in denial of their own flaws lives in an invented reality. They shirk responsibility, and they may often try to hide their pain or guilt through addictions or unhealthy behavior (Smith, Bursting Alive, 21-24). Whereas a healthy person is willing to accept responsibility, wanting only the truth.

Sometimes, the truth is that we have made a terrible mistake. Sometimes, the truth is that the reason we’re struggling so much is because we’ve got some cleaning up to do in our hearts. Maybe it’s bitterness or idolatry or addiction or another form of sin. Maybe it’s a weight or burden that we need to let go of and surrender to God.

Being honest with yourself is the first step to healing.

“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.”

Psalm 139:23-24 (KJV)

Once we become self-aware and admit our own mistakes, then we can move forward with repentance, opening the door for God’s grace and mercy to deliver and heal us.

That is when God can move and do a work in our lives.

And so I encourage whoever is reading this to take some time and examine yourself. Be open and honest with yourself about the things you’re struggling with. And then find a place to pray so that God can help you heal.

3 Ways to Maintain Our Spiritual Health

Chainmail, Soldier, Spiritual Battle, Protection

No one likes their flaws exposed. We wrap ourselves in armor to protect our egos, but are we wrapping ourselves in the armor of God to protect our souls?

“You don’t want people seeing the chinks in your armor,” I wrote in a creative nonfiction class last year. “Chinks. What does that mean? A weak point, a place of vulnerability, an opening for an attack from the enemy. A minor flaw, so says the online dictionary, or weakness in a plate of armor. A detrimental flaw. A special flaw. There’s an interesting phrase. A special flaw. It’s a special point of weakness that directs the enemy where to attack an otherwise invulnerable person. Are you invulnerable?”

Vulnerability is something of which many of us afraid. After all, who welcomes an attack from the enemy with open arms? We don’t want to be vulnerable, but sometimes, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable when we do not take care of our spiritual well-being. One missing or weak link can be deadly.

In a history class on the Spanish Conquest in 2019, I held a coat of chainmail as my professor lectured on the weapons of the Conquest. It was a small section of a coat of chainmail—about a 12-inch square. Remembering my professor’s lecture, I later described in my essay for a creative nonfiction class how the Europeans manufactured the chainmail while they rested between battles: “A blacksmith would take thousands of tiny metal or steel rings and carefully interlink them by hand. A single coat of chainmail could take months to finish if a skilled blacksmith worked 10-hour days.” If the blacksmith didn’t do his job correctly, it could spell death for the unlucky soldier wearing the flawed coat of chainmail. I became so fascinated with the concept of the process of creating a coat of chainmail that I reflected on its significance—and spiritual parallels—even more in my own writing.

“You imagine the misery of knitting steel for a living in 90-degree weather with 60-percent humidity in the Yucatan Peninsula,” I wrote, “trying to get a piece of chainmail done for a hotshot conquistador so he’s a little more likely to survive the arrows or stabbing spears of the Mayans than the footman who came over for gold and glory with only a helmet and a crossbow….You imagine the fever of smallpox getting to you while linking those steel rings and skipping a section right where the coat will slip over the conquistador’s left shoulder. If the Maya or Aztec crossbowmen spot the opening, the glory-seeking conquistador won’t last long. One small missing chink in his armor, and the obsidian arrow blade will tear through the chainmail as though it were linen instead of steel. A special weakness.”

At this point, you may be wondering why I’m going on about the history of developing chainmail in the Spanish Conquest and including excerpts from my own writing. As a deeply private person, vulnerability has always been a relevant topic to me. Those of us who like to keep things close to the chest tend to guard ourselves with more caution. But there are times when we may all be guilty of caring more about preserving our pride than protecting ourselves from spiritual attacks.

When we’re not prepared and protected, we give the enemy an opportunity to attack. There are at least 3 things we can do to ensure our chainmail is not missing any links:

1.) Stay prayed up.
2.) Stay well-read.
3.) Stay clothed in the armor of God.

(11) “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
(12) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
(13) Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
~Ephesians 6:11-13 (KJV)

Do we have on the helmet of salvation? Are we carrying the sword of the Spirit? How’s our daily Bible reading? Are we keeping up a daily prayer life?

The armor of God is necessary for our spiritual protection. We are warriors in the Lord’s army, and our battles are spiritual. Just as soldiers must keep their armor in its best condition to protect themselves from harm, so must we keep our armor in its best condition through daily prayer & Bible reading. This also requires frequent checkups of our armor to ensure we’re not missing a crucial piece.

If we aren’t maintaining our spiritual armor, then we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks due to our own laziness or carelessness. Without a helmet on, we expose our minds to sinful thoughts. If our shield of faith is missing, then we expose ourselves to the enemy’s arrows.

Proper preparation and protection will help us repel the enemy’s attacks.

Though God is always with us to win the victory, we cannot use His protection as an excuse to be careless with the upkeep of our spiritual well-being.

We may labor under harsh conditions as the blacksmith labored in the Spanish Conquest to develop a flawless coat of chainmail, but our labor is not in vain when we approach our work with purpose and dedication.

We labor in the Kingdom, we pray, and we study the Word so that we can withstand the attack of the enemy, so that there are no chinks in our spiritual armor, so that there are no missing links in our coat of chainmail.

One missing link can be deadly.

So, examine yourself each day and ask this question:

Are you vulnerable?

3 Steps to Mastering Consistency in Your Life

Prayer, coffee, and the Word.

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.