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.

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.

The Burning Bush Experience and Four Points of Reflections on Exodus 3:1-4: A Guest Post by Dr. Rafael Machuca

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

Exodus 3:1-4 (KJV)

1. Stay faithful in the things of God.

As the above passage of scripture opens, we find Moses traveling to the backside of the desert. He was traversing a hot, barren place alone, leaving behind him the comforts of home, companionship, and support. Regardless of his circumstances, Moses continued to faithfully take care of the flock that had been entrusted to him by his father-in-law. He was a support for his family even though it put him in a difficult situation. As he put the care of the flock before his own comfort, he was completely unaware that he would soon be called to lead God’s flock, the children of Israel.

Any time we do work for the church or support the leaders over us, it is important to remember to do it all unto God. It is not unusual to experience situations that make you feel like you are working alone in the desert. Maybe you are the only one showing up for prayer, willing to teach a Bible study, or participating in evangelism. It can be easy to wonder where everyone else is. If your eyes are not on the Lord, the work can become very wearisome in your own eyes. However, when you do it unto God, you can take comfort in knowing that God notices your hard work and determination. He knows exactly where you are and the work you are doing to further His kingdom.

2. God will utilize all parts of your life for His Glory.

The mountain Moses came to was called Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. Even though Moses had been raised by Egyptians and then spent decades as a fugitive in the desert, God knew that every experience he had and every land he learned to traverse would be beneficial to help lead the children of Israel out of captivity. When God uses us, He does so knowing every past experience will become a skillset to be used in the future.

Do not let yourself believe you have no skills or talents to offer.

God can use your Bible quizzing experience, years of living faithfully, your secular work experience, and even the knowledge born out of learning from mistakes. The key is to give ourselves totally to God so He can use us for His purpose and His glory.

3. God uses your surroundings to get your attention.

A bush burning in the desert would not have been an unusual sight. It would have been easy for Moses to see the fire but shift his focus back on moving the flock away and continuing with his daily tasks.  However, he gave this situation enough attention to realize something was different, and doing so, he witnessed a “great sight.”

God used a seemingly normal occurrence to get Moses’ attention as he was going about his day. What in our surroundings is God trying to use to get our attention? It may be a situation at work or with family or friends. At first sight, everything may appear insignificant and normal. But further inspection may reveal the Lord at work getting our attention for a greater purpose.

4. When God calls, answer.

As Moses turned aside to witness the bush burning yet not being consumed, God had succeeded in getting his attention. However, the Lord’s intentions went far beyond that. God does not just want to get our attention. All who are willing to stop and turn toward God can have the opportunity to hear Him calling. It is a call filled with love and a purpose, and all who hear will get to choose if they are willing to answer that higher calling.

This passage in Exodus 3 paints a beautiful picture of how God will set things in motion to get your attention. From the burning bush to the call, don’t be too busy living life that you miss what God really has for you. He is just waiting for you to look toward His direction to call you into a deeper walk and a deeper life with Him.

*****

Dr. Rafael Machuca is a VA Hospital Chaplain at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He studied and received his Doctor of Ministry degree at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in 2020. Dr. Machuca served his country in the United States Marine Corps from 1993 – 1997 and has been honoring and paying tribute to U.S. veterans ever since.

Understanding Weakness: On Mistakes, Perfection, and Forgiveness

You’re going to make mistakes. God doesn’t hate you for that.

This is what I should have told myself years ago when I was starting out in college.

It was the spring semester of 2016, and I was taking a mix of online and seated classes at a community college while working part-time as a tutor at the writing center. One of my online classes was a world history course with my history professor from the previous semester—Mr. Z we called him. He was the fun, quirky professor always eager to chat with his students. I met with him multiple times to discuss my papers and upcoming exams, and during one particular meeting, we discussed a paper I was writing for another history class that he was helping me perfect.

As I settled into my seat across from him, I gazed in horror at his marked-up version of my draft on his desk. How could I—I have made that many errors?! Mr. Z sensed my panic and quickly explained.

“Relax, it’s not terrible,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m pushing you harder because I know you’re at the level where you can handle it.”

It wasn’t much of a comfort. I wanted my work to be near-flawless, and he knew that. I always wanted to know all the answers, and if I didn’t, I didn’t want anyone else to know it. When I explained my (admittedly) flawed mindset, Mr. Z said something to me that I’ve never forgotten.

He said, “You don’t want people seeing the chinks in your armor.”

“No, I don’t!” I said (a bit surprised that he hit the nail dead center). You see, I believed that if people saw the chinks in my armor, it meant they would see me as weak, vulnerable, incapable—human.

Sometimes, you just don’t want to be that real with people. You’d rather just go through life with no one knowing anything about what you’re going through or how you feel deep down. That way, when you mess up, there’ll be no one to judge you and no one to know that you don’t always make the right choices.

Making mistakes is for weak people, I told myself, and weakness is wrong.

Yes, weak people make mistakes, but as humans, we are all weak by nature, having an imperfect and sinful nature by default. Weakness isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s just natural. That’s why we need God. Through Him, we receive strength to overcome our flaws. What I failed to understand then was that it is OKAY to admit that you’ve made a mistake. You are only human, and God doesn’t punish you for that.

Our sinful nature and inclination to make mistakes doesn’t give us license to make whatever mistakes we want just because, but it does mean that our mistakes should come as no surprise to ourselves. God isn’t surprised that we fall and fail and make bad choices, and He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. There is none perfect but Him. He doesn’t beat us up when we make a bad choice, and neither should we condemn ourselves.

No matter how many times we mess up, if we truly repent and seek forgiveness, then God is faithful to forgive us of our sins (see 1 John 1:9).

When you realize that God’s grace extends to you no matter how many mistakes you make, then you’ll be able to extend that same grace to others.

It was when I learned how to release the self-condemnation that I felt for the mistakes I’d made that it was easier to forgive others for the things they’d done wrong. They were only human like me, after all. I could see my own flaws, my own imperfection in others and knew that if God didn’t hold my mistakes against me, then I shouldn’t hold others’ mistakes against them.

If you don’t forgive yourself, how can you truly forgive others?

You are not perfect. You will continue to make mistakes. But guess what?

It’s not the end of the world if you do. God’s grace is sufficient to cover your sins (see 2 Corinthians 12:9), and His strength is more than enough to help you overcome your weaknesses.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the tempation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (KJV)

There is a way to escape the consequences of our weak nature—salvation in the name of Jesus and doing our absolute best to live as He has instructed us to live. God created us to be imperfect beings in need of our perfect Creator.

Lean into that.

Give your flaws, mistakes, and all your baggage up to Him.

It’s okay if you fail. Just remember that God never fails.

It’s okay that you’re not perfect and what you do isn’t perfect. Just remember that His love is perfect.

If you fully surrender to God and trust Him with all you have and all you’ve done, He will take care of you, and you’ll be closer to Him than you were before.

How to Overcome a Victim Mentality: A Guest Post by Kayla Carmichael

(Photo courtesy of Kayla Carmichael.)

The sad part is this: not everyone actually wants to be healed.

Some are okay remaining exactly who they are and the way that they are. A victim mentality has stolen more lives than I believe we would like to admit. It takes work to heal, it takes work to work through our own dysfunction, it takes work. Thankfully, we are not alone on our journey, but we do play a part in it.

There was a time in my life not too long ago that I was a victim to my own story, to what happened to me, to the pain that people had caused me. It is so easy to become a victim, and when we have been hurt, we often can have a longing to feel justified for being a victim. I mean, we are hurting, after all.

Does anyone see me? Does anyone care about me? Does anyone know that they are the reason why I am the way that I am?

I learned one morning as I began to speak to God about some things that had happened to me. I was just so sad. I simply did not understand why this happened to me. I then remember feeling this thought of, “Kayla, do you realize that you do not have to feel this way? You do not have to remain in this mindset. Do you realize this? It is time to close the doors to your past.”

Now, this does not mean that we are not to deal with what has happened to us accordingly. We do not dismiss our pain, but we release it to the Lord, and we become vulnerable in His presence. We decide that we are no longer going to be a victim of what has happened to us. Of what someone has done.

Victory is a choice.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. If I am not walking in victory, it is because I have decided not to walk in victory. However, walking in victory does not mean I am now “no longer hurting.” It simply means I am going to pick my head up and yield completely to the Lord as He heals me and as He restores me.

So, what will I decide? Will I decide to continue to worship my pain, or will I decide to worship my God? The God I choose to worship is the God who will determine my outcome.

Every. Single. Time.

You are a victor, not a victim.

********

Kayla Carmichael is an Apostolic writer and a great example to younger generations of what it means to love and live for God no matter what. Moving from Ohio, she came to Urshan College in Florrisant, Missouri and is now in her senior year, majoring in Christian ministry. Her goal is to pursue a master’s in counseling. Between devoting her time to school and church, Kayla is also writing her first book. Be sure to follow along with her insightful posts on Facebook and Instagram (@k.carm12)!

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

5 Ways to Avoid the Pitfall of Pride

“Everyone, look at me! I did a thing!”

That’s what many of us may often think or even say when we want people to pay attention to our accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong—I believe it’s okay to acknowledge when you’ve done something halfway decent. After all, it certainly isn’t helpful to tear yourself down when you’re doing your best. But attracting others’ attention to your own strengths or talents often leads to pride. And what follows pride?

Destruction.

We’ll go over 5 ways you can avoid the pitfall of pride in your walk with God. Today’s post is inspired by and taken from notes to a lesson by Tony Wyatt Jr, an associate pastor and the young adult leader at my church. (You can check out a full guest post by Bro. Tony on spiritual food for the soul through this link.)

1. Seek God in the good AND the bad.

“Lord, I need you,” is easy to say when things aren’t going so great. It’s easy to run to God when life is falling apart.

Now, I’ll admit it. I’ve certainly struggled with maintaining consistent, quality prayer time and Bible reading when things were going great. You may know how it is. You don’t have a pressing, dire need at the moment aside from the usual future goals and desires. You start to get a little distracted. Your prayer times don’t seem as fervent as they were just a few months ago. You’re reading fewer chapters of the Bible a day. Maybe you’re even going a day or two in a row without really connecting with God.

Whether it’s your job, school, kids, or other responsibilities, life tends to find extra things to distract us with when the status quo is pretty manageable. But the less we pray and study the Word, the more we’re almost telling God, “Eh, I got this for now.”

Cue narrator voice: “She did not have this for now.”

It seems as though many of us may feel we need God less in the good times. We run to God when the going gets tough, but when things are looking up, we prefer to rely on ourselves.

You see, those bad moments will test our faith and hopefully strengthen it, but those good moments will prove our resolve to have a strong relationship with God. When you seek Him in the good times as well, you’re showing God that you understand you still need Him and that you WANT more of Him. If you find yourself in a rut because things are pretty peachy, and you’re getting distracted, choose a time of day when you can give God your full attention and seek Him harder than before. Continue to fast, continue to pray, continue to study the Word, and God will take you deeper than before.

2. Let go of your desire to prove yourself.

Pride often develops through the desire to prove to yourself and others what you can do. When we focus on proving our talents or accomplishments to others, we’re obsessing over our abilities.

“I can do it. Just watch me. Look what I can do. Just wait. They’ll see.”

We don’t have to prove ourselves to others. The only one we should truly seek to please is God.

Jesus was literally God wrapped in the flesh, but he approached others, especially those who argued against him, not with a prideful attitude but with a meek and gentle spirit.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it now robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Philippians 2:5-7 (KJV)

Jesus made himself like a servant, and so we should follow His lead. Instead of trying to prove yourself to others, focus on serving others and pleasing God.

3. Don’t boast about your accomplishments.

This one takes us back to the opening of this post. Boasting about what you can do emphasizes the self.

It’s all about me. Look how talented I am. Susie can’t sing like I can. Bobby isn’t as smart as I am. I’m leagues above them. Pay attention to me!

Here’s a good thing to practice each time you accomplish something or improve a skill: tell yourself, “It’s because of God that I could do this. It’s His power and ability, not mine.”

When I was in college, every time I passed a test that I was terrified I’d fail, I knew it was God who got me through it. Trust me. I took an advanced Spanish class as part of my degree requirements, and while I can speak baby Spanish, I couldn’t speak it fluently to save my life. The final was a ten-minute, one-on-one conversation with my Spanish professor. To this day, I have no idea what I said during that conversation, and I have no idea how I passed with flying colors. I’ve joked that it’s because my professor must have taken pity on me, but truly, I know it was God.

Every good thing you do, every accomplishment, every skill you earn, remember that it’s because of God that you can do those things. In a culture that is all about the self, be the one that makes it about Jesus. Be the one that boasts of His power and accomplishments.

You may have a lot of talent and great achievements, and it’s okay to be pleased with a job well done, but remember this: God is the one who blessed you with your accomplishments and abilities.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

1 Peter 1:5 (KJV)

4. Put others before yourself.

You should also be the one who puts others before yourself. This society loves the term “self-love.” Now, it’s true that you can’t truly love and help others if you hate yourself. However, people tend to go overboard with the self-love concept nowadays.

“I need that $500 spa treatment. The kids can go without a few essentials this month. It’s my time.”

Remember the old saying you might have learned in Sunday school? J – O – Y.

Jesus.

Others.

You.

Put Jesus first. Put others second. Then comes you.

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2 (KJV)

Jesus’ ministry was all about helping others, healing the sick, showing mercy, and loving the needy. And that is what the church should be all about—reflecting the character of Christ, pointing people toward Him.

Pride is all about putting yourself first. True love is all about putting others first.

5. Be happy with what God gives you.

Finally, you do need to be content with what God has given you. Now, don’t mistake complacency as the same thing as contentment. I believe complacency and a lack of drive or willingness also bring about destruction as pride does, but contentment is about accepting what you have and finding ways to be pleased with it. (Side note: that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be better or improve the skills God has given you.)

A prideful spirit boasts as though the things you have are because of your abilities, but it isn’t just that God is the one who has given you skills and abilities, He’s also the one who has blessed you with a home, food, clothes, and a job and provided for all your needs. And if you have such a need, He is the one who can fulfill it.

Matthew 8:20 shows us that Jesus didn’t even have a house or place to stay every night, but he was content: “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

Paul wrote of his contentment even when he was imprisoned in Philippians 4:

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Philippians 4:11-13 (KJV)

In verse 13, Paul hit at the key to avoid being prideful. I can do all things through Christ. Many people think of this verse as referring to just accomplishments or skills when Paul says, “I can do all things.” Sure, it does apply to those things, but Bro. Tony made the connection here between this statement and Paul’s circumstances when he taught this lesson recently.

Paul was able to endure his circumstances through Christ. It’s through Him that we can do all things, meaning we can endure hardship, overcome trials, experience loss, pain, disappointment, and heartbreak, and still trust in God, be content with what He’s given us, and finish the race strong through Christ who is our strength.

We don’t have the ability on our own to achieve great things. We don’t even have the ability to endure difficult times on our own and come through them stronger and wiser. It’s His Spirit within us that gives us that ability.

So, what’s the key to avoid being prideful?

Practice giving everything back to God—the praise, the glory, the credit.

He, not you, deserves it all.

3 Keys to Endurance

You’re going to make it. Just hold on.

Things you tell yourself when the going gets tough and your resolve is wearing thin.

Sometimes, life can be just too much, you know? Your finances are tight, there’s not enough time in the day or the week to get things done, and your bones begin to ache from all the stress. Maybe you’re tired from work, family drama, or just life. Maybe you’re tired of hearing about all the negative things in the news. Maybe you’re tired of waiting for things to get better.

Sometimes, you just want to lie down, escape, forget about all the stress, struggles, and negative news. Sometimes, you wonder how you’ll get through this.

When will I get to the end of this situation?
When will things finally get better?
How does one endure to the end?

Whether it’s life issues you’re struggling with or anxiously awaiting the day when the Lord calls us home so we can finally be free from this sin-sick world, here are three keys that may help you in unlocking your ability to endure to the end.

1. Though you may be tired, maintain your walk with God every day.

When I was without a full-time job for over a year, the waiting was getting pretty tiresome. There’d be days where I’d feel more confident than others, but on the days where I felt the deadline getting closer and the fear of being jobless with no insurance setting in, I often just wanted to take a nap, watch or read something, or do ANYTHING to take my mind off my fears.

What I discovered was the only thing that gave me peace and strength to overcome that situation was when I met with God each day and dove deeper into the Word.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7 (KJV)

Keeping up our prayer time then allows God to fill us with His peace that, in turn, keeps us going.

When you’re waiting for a blessing or just trying to get through a trial, perhaps the most important key to enduring that time is keeping up your relationship with God every day. It seems simple, but often our flesh needs simple reminders to get us back on the right track.

Often, my flesh wanted a quick and easy distraction, but those quick and easy distractions didn’t give me strength. They didn’t increase my faith in God. So, I studied Job. I read through the epistles. I made a point to set my phone aside and out of sight during my prayer time in order to get closer to God. And during that time, I grew. I developed my relationship with God.

Through prayer and reading the Word, we increase in the strength we need to endure.

2. Though you may feel overwhelmed, keep up your church attendance.

As my childhood pastor and lifelong spiritual leader Bishop Eddings has always said, “Church attendance is critical to survival.”

God never intended His church to be made up of scattered saints who never congregate together. It isn’t His Will for us to go to church only when we feel like it and to skip service and stay home when we “just can’t deal.”

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:25 (KJV)

As we get closer to Christ’s return, we must be committed to attending church even more.

Sure, we’re human. I’ve certainly woken up on Sunday mornings and wished I could sleep in and not have to dress up and go anywhere that day. For many people, when they have a lot on their plate, attending church is the first thing they bump off their list.

But as the song says, “I need you, you need me. We’re all a part of God’s body.” We need each other to survive. When we fellowship with the saints of God, when we worship together, pray together, and glean from the Word together, we increase in strength.

Instead of skipping church when life has you overwhelmed, get to church early to pray with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, going to church and fellowshipping with your church family can be the healthy distraction you need to get through a difficult situation.

3. Though you may want to isolate yourself, confide in a friend or mentor.

Trying to endure financial, personal, or spiritual struggles alone will deplete your strength and wear thin whatever resolve you have left.

We must talk to God and read His Word, yes, but God doesn’t want us to be without His church. We must keep up our church attendance and fellowship with the saints, yes, but even that may not be quite enough to help us endure a trial.

Tell someone you trust what you’re going through and ask them to help pray for you about it.

This doesn’t come easy to introverted people like me who prefer to “suffer in silence,” as they say. The longer I was without a job and the more rejection emails I received, the more desperate and miserable I became. Though I was keeping up my devotional time and attending church, I needed a bit more help.

Finally, I mustered up the courage to reach out to a trusted mentor and spiritual leader whose advise and kind words and prayers encouraged me. Suddenly, I had a new confidence and assurance that everything was going to be all right. I believed again that I was going to make it. I would endure.

Find someone–a friend or mentor–to support you. If you have no one else, you should definetly always go to your pastor for guidance and prayer, and even if you do have someone, don’t forsake the importance of seeking wise counsel from your pastor.

So, if you’re reading this and feeling weary of an internal struggle or external pressures, you will endure if you do not give up.

Pray. Study the Word. Go to church. Talk to someone.

Endurance requires daily commitment to resisting distraction and defeat.

So, then, how committed are you to enduring until the end?

“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

Matthew 24:13 (KJV)