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 Principles of Spiritual Growth

Where do we grow from here?

This was the title of Rev. Victor Jackson’s Friday night message at Missouri Youth Convention a couple of weeks ago. At every youth convention, congress, or camp, there are always powerful messages from anointed preachers. Through each message, God ministers, and He moves. But there is always at least one message in particular that stands out. Everyone has their own “favorite” message that spoke to them in particular. Well, ever since the Friday night service of Missouri Youth Convention, I’ve been thinking about Bro. Jackson’s message on growth.

Growth has been a topic I’ve thought about often over the years as God has helped me navigate various life struggles and situations. So, for today’s post (which I know was supposed to go live yesterday—my apologies for the delay!), I wanted to share with you an extension of some of my notes from the message “Where Do We Grow From Here,” highlighting two principles of spiritual growth. Also, I do share post updates and topic ideas on my Instagram, so please be sure to go ahead and follow me there if you aren’t already so that you can find out when posts may be delayed or about upcoming topics. (You can find my Instagram account by clicking here.)

Without further delay, here are two principles of spiritual growth.

1. Don’t make a small start your identity.

Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, right? Whether it’s in your ministry or personal relationship with God, you must begin small. In order to grow your prayer life, for example, you may begin by praying 15 minutes a day consistently and extending that over time. As Victor Jackson said, however, “It is a blessing to begin small. It is a curse to end small.”

We should all start out at small beginnings, but that isn’t where we should end up.

“If you’re not growing, you’re living outside of God’s purpose for your life.”

Victor Jackson

We are meant to be producing spiritual fruit. An apple tree will not produce apples if it stays in the state of a small seed or the size of a twig. When we grow, we become stronger and produce spiritual fruit. The righteous man experiences spiritual growth like what the beginning of Psalms describes when comparing the godly versus the ungodly:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalms 1:3 (KJV)

2. Don’t put limits on your elevation.

People often limit how you can grow. As soon as God starts using you more and growing your ministry, there are people who judge you. They place limits on how much a person can grow in his or her walk with God. We may even fall privy to the idea that we should only grow to a certain extent and no further so as to prevent others from believing we’re trying to make everything about ourselves or to try to prevent ourselves from becoming prideful. So, we stay small and claim it’s out of humility.

Humility is an essential attribute of a true Christian character, but Bro. Jackson pointed out that we are not meant to use our humility as an excuse to remain small and refuse to grow into what God wants us to be.

“Humility is not a destination; it is an attitude,” he explained. “If you don’t want to grow, your humility in remaining small just became disobedience. Obedience is a pathway. You’re supposed to be going and growing. Get to growing and knowing this is what the kingdom is.”

Indeed, spiritual growth is about letting God use you more in the ways that He wants to so that His Kingdom can grow through each of our efforts. That’s why we should teach more Bible studies, pray more, fast more, become more involved in ministry, and do all that He asks us to do. As we mature in Christ and grow, we become more well-rounded Christians and more effective in ministry and in the Kingdom.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (KJV)

Follow after God’s direction in your life, and you will grow. Spiritual growth is stunted when you stop putting effort into your ministry and walk with God. A lack of effort leads to a lack of growth, and a lack of growth leads to spiritual death.

“You were destined to grow. You were destined to go beyond.”

Victor Jackson

We must always be striving to do more for the Kingdom, more for God, more for others, more in our ministry, and more than we’ve done yesterday and ever before in order to reach this lost world and get closer to Jesus. We cannot forsake the importance of growing in every aspect of our lives.

We were destined to grow.

Welcome to 2022: A Bit About The New Year, Jonah, and Forgiveness

Happy New Year 2022 from yours truly!

Welcome to 2022!

This first post of 2022 is going to be pretty simple and casual because, to be honest, things are already starting to get crazy busy, and my mind can’t focus long enough this week to spend 3+ hours writing anything!

First order of business, I just want to say thank you to everyone who is reading this and beginning the new year by keeping up with Breathe Pray Repeat. It means SO much to me! Second order of business, I wanted to share a thought with you today on something that’s been on my mind for a while now, and it involves perception, forgiveness, human nature, and the account of Jonah.

From all the things I’ve heard said about Jonah throughout my life, I’d say the dude gets a pretty bad rap. Of course, he did literally try to run away from God’s commandment and was angry when God wanted to show others mercy, only being truly distressed when his plant died. But if I’m going to be completely honest with you, I have to say that I find Jonah incredibly relatable. You see, it’s easy when we read the Word to separate ourselves from the people we’re reading about as though we would never act or think like they did when they made mistakes. Sometimes, it’s easy to think of them as mere 2-D historical figures playing out a role in our heads rather than real, regular people. When we do that, we forget our own human nature.

Jonah did NOT like the people of Nineveh to say the least, and as I read a little about Nineveh, I began to understand why Jonah felt as he did. Nahum called it “the bloody city,” and witchcraft, murder, fornication, and other evils were abundant in Nineveh’s society (see Nahum 3). Suffice it to say, they were a truly wicked people committing unspeakable horrors and egregious evils. It’s completely understandable why Jonah, who knew full well what kind of people the Ninevites were, would not want God to pardon them (however wrong he was in his response).

Put yourself for a moment in Jonah’s sandals. You’ve seen and heard what the Ninevites do, and then all of a sudden, God tells you to go preach to them, and knowing God, you KNOW He will show them mercy. And (because you know how much evil they’ve done), you don’t want them to be given mercy. No. You want them to be punished. After all, how could they do all that evil and then get a free pass?

Ay, but there’s the rub. Therein lies the flaw in your thinking. And therein lies the point of the book of Jonah.

It isn’t about all the bad things the people of Nineveh did. They truly repented, and God always honors true repentance, and He offers forgiveness and mercy even though we don’t deserve it.

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Romans 9:14-15 (KJV)

Our human nature doesn’t want to look past people’s mistakes. That’s why we often want to hold grudges against others for hurting us. That may even be why we may want to judge Jonah for the mistakes he made. Our expectations of others can make us forget our own human nature and flaws.

God extended grace and mercy to the people of Nineveh as He does to you and me. He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins if we turn from our wicked ways and seek after Him. Jonah shows us an interesting study of human nature, but it also shows us that God wants us to be forgiving towards others as well.

No matter what so-and-so did or said to hurt you or others, forgive them. No, they don’t deserve mercy, but neither do you. God GIVES us grace. We don’t earn or deserve it. Our flesh causes us to judge others and hold grudges, but it’s the Spirit of God within us that helps us show mercy and love.

So, that’s it for today! It’s true that even after what we know about Jonah, I still relate to the dude for how real and imperfect he is. There is an account out there that states he came to his senses after the end of the recorded book of Jonah and praised God, so there IS hope even for us stubborn people!

Thanks for reading the first BPR post of 2022! There should be a guest post on here in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for that as well.

God Bless,

Caitlin

The Reason Why Jesus Came: Reflecting on 2021

This is the last post of Breathe Pray Repeat…

…of 2021.

2021 has been an interesting year. For some, it’s been better than 2020, but for others, not so much. There’s been a lot of grief and loss for far too many this year. I know quite a few people who have lost loved ones, and my own family has been affected by grief after my grandmother and uncle passed away this summer. People are suffering, and just when it seems that burden has lifted, something else often happens to cause more grief.

As I began to reflect on this Christmas season and the mood many are feeling at the end of this year, I thought again of the song my church’s youth group sang for Christmas:

“For the broken, the unworthy, You came. Jesus, You came. For the wounded, for the hurting, for the lost, and for the lonely, You came. Jesus, You came.”

When I think of all the pain and loss many of us are feeling at the end of this year, I remember we’re exactly the kind of people Jesus came for. As Jehovah, He hadn’t experienced the same kind of sadness and grief and weariness until He wrapped Himself in flesh and became the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ. He chose to walk and live among us and suffer sadness, grief, and persecution ALL for us. When Lazarus died, Jesus cried. So, He knew and knows what loss feels like.

You may feel defeated, weary, and weak, but Jesus came to lift that burden and give you hope. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

We have hope we’ll be reunited in Glory with our loved ones who have passed. We have hope we’ll get through every trial and come out of it stronger than before. When the joy of the Lord is your strength, you can learn to find joy and gladness even in the midst of less-than-ideal circumstances.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:13 (KJV)

As I look back over this year, I see a lot of sorrow and hardship for my own family. But I also see a lot of good memories. I see a lot of good people who have been there for us and with us through it all. I see how God carried us through our loss. I see how God blessed me with a job that I desperately needed. I can see the blessings of God even through the bitterness of difficult times.

And that gives me hope—hope for a great 2022 even if some things don’t go my way.

As you’re reading this, if you’ve suffered some kind of hardship this year, I want you to know Jesus came for you. He came to be your comfort on those sleepless and sorrow-filled nights. He came to be your strength when you can’t stand another day. He came to fight your battles against spirits of depression, infirmity, and despair. He came so that you might have life more abundantly, and He came to give you salvation and a future with Him.

Jesus, our Jehovah, had the first word in the beginning, and He has the final say.

This Christmas and New Year season, remember that you are never alone in whatever struggle you’re facing or battle you’re going through. Remember that you’re the reason why Jesus came.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Matthew 1:21-23 (KJV)

*****

Thank you to everyone who has read Breathe Pray Repeat this year, and a very special thank you to every person who wrote a guest post on BPR! You are all amazing, and I’m so thankful for you. I hope to bring more great content to you in 2022 and more great posts from guests that will encourage you and draw you closer to our God.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

~Caitlin

BPR Post Update + Thought of the Day

This week’s post is just a little blog update for all my readers and subscribers. I’ll be at Missouri’s senior youth camp this week, so there will be no blog post this Friday. However, I’m working on a Bible study post for Friday of next week that I hope you’ll enjoy.

My family and I are back from our vacation to the east coast in South Carolina, and as we were driving back in the rain through Tennessee, I had a thought that I wanted to share with you.

How often do we shut the windows of our heart and soul when things get a little uncomfortable? It starts pouring, life gets hectic, or God moves us in a direction that shifts us out of our comfort zone, and sometimes, we decide that we can’t take it all at the moment, so we close the window.

God, I don’t like this. I just can’t deal with it right now.

We don’t want the discomfort that comes with getting wet. After all, who wants that uncomfortable feeling of being in wet clothes in the rain?

Sometimes, the rain of His Spirit is pouring down, but we still have that window closed. We don’t want the discomfort that can accompany spiritual growth. So, we keep the window closed and prevent more of His Spirit from flowing into our lives.

If we want more of Him, we’ve got to open the window in our hearts and let Him in to nourish us, clean us out, and help us grow.

Just as a plant needs water for growth, so do we need the living water of God’s Spirit to pour into our lives and transform us into who He wants us to be.

Transformation and spiritual growth aren’t necessarily comfortable, but they are necessary.

My prayer is that we succeed in resisting our fleshly desires for an “easy way out” and instead continue to grow in Christ no matter what may come our way.

Again, there will be no new blog post until next Friday the 18th, but I encourage you to go back through the Breathe Pray Repeat archive and read any post you may have missed!

Thank you to all the BPR readers and subscribers who are still here. I appreciate each of you and pray this blog has blessed or encouraged you in some way.

Have a great week, everyone!

The Takeaway

At the end of a year, I always find myself reflecting on how I may have changed over the past twelve months and the overarching lesson I may have learned. In 2019, I was anxious for the year to end. 2019 didn’t see my personal life growing the way I had hoped it would. My family endured emotional struggles, and it was largely an uneventful year. At the beginning of 2020, I was hopeful. In an early Facebook post, I wrote that I was “claiming 2020 as a year of growth, positive change, restoration, fulfillment, and joy.”

Well, January passed, and I still wasn’t happy in my personal life. I was in my final semester at Missouri State University and longed for it to be over so my life could finally start. February passed, and March came, and the pandemic began to rear its ugly head. College moved completely online.

Online classes were an easy transition for me. I’d taken at least two online classes every semester since my second in college, and I loved online learning. I didn’t have a job, and therefore, staying at home 98% of the time as opposed to 90% of the time hardly changed my life at all. Online church was a big adjustment for my family and church, but we held onto the fact that we knew we’d all be back together again, and several weeks later, we were.

During the first few months of the pandemic, my personal problems and plans took a backseat to adjusting to our new schedule and growing concern over the state of the country. I’d expected to have a full-time job by the time I’d graduated, but very few places in my local area wanted to hire new employees during a pandemic. It appeared this year would not be the year I had dreamed it would be. How could I grow when there were no opportunities to go places and experience the next phase of my adult life? How could there be any positive change amidst a pandemic? How could I find restoration when more things in my life were taken away? How could I find fulfillment and joy when there was distraction, frustration, and turmoil in my life and all around me?

The summer passed, and God blessed me with a part-time online position as a writing tutor, and though it wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, 2020 began to change me for the better.

After a series of sermons and messages during which God spoke into my life, I decided to cut distractions out of my life and give God complete control over my desires and plans. In the lowest moment of my life when I despaired over whether I would truly be able to connect with God the way I needed to for a miracle to happen in my life, God spoke to me about pouring out my entire being to Him and serving Him with everything, even if I didn’t think it amounted to very much.

So, I started this blog, stepping far out of my comfort zone, to use for Him the passion He gave me for writing. And after several weeks of studying His Word more, praying more fervently, and seeking Him more, I’ve become closer to Him and closer to the person He wants me to be. Lord knows (and my family knows), I am lightyears away from being that best version of myself, but I am closer than I was when 2020 started.

I prayed for growth, and I got it.

I now run two websites and a blog on two social media sites, and God blessed me with publication of a short story of mine over the summer.

I asked for positive change, and I got it.

2019 me had become less than pleased with my personal life and where I was in my life. I wanted to be as happy and content as I had been so long ago before I allowed college and spiritual struggles to drain me and weaken my joy. So, I prayed for restoration, fulfillment, and joy.

2020 me found restoration, fulfillment, and joy in my relationship with God alone. It took years of suffering and a pandemic to stir my soul and move me to action, but I decided not to allow my pain to control my life anymore.

God gave me everything I had asked for in 2020. None of it looked like what I had thought it would, but He didn’t fail me, and He never will.

What’s the takeaway I learned from this year?

Speak life, not death over your situation. Words have power.

Pray in faith. The storm may still be brewing, but our peace is in God, and He is the Miracle-Worker.

Believe in God. Whatever His Promises are for you, they will come to pass.

Look up. Look up to Jesus where our help comes from, and look up to Heaven, our eternal home, because He is coming back soon.

I struggled as we all have in various ways this year, but I became a different person than I was in January 2020. I grew, changed for the better, was restored in my soul, and became fulfilled and filled with the joy of the Lord. I still have a long way to go, but 2020 taught me to never give up and never go back to the way I used to be.

Only God knows what 2021 may bring us, but no matter what may come, my prayer is that we will see the promises of God become manifested in our lives and that we will become the strong, faithful fighters for truth and humble servants of God that He wants us to be.

So, speak life. Pray in faith. Believe in God. Look up.

Jesus is on the Throne!