How to Handle Peer Pressure

If we live boldly for Jesus, we’ll stand out like a green leaf full of life amidst leaves that have dried up and begun to wither.

What do you do when you want to fit in but know you were called to stand out?

Welcome to the world of peer pressure where people you want to impress want you to do something that you don’t feel right about. Many of us who perhaps went to public school know what this is like. Now, I attended private school from the 5th grade and on, but until the 4th grade, I went to public school like most kids do and experienced a bit of peer pressure early on.

It was the first grade, and I was in Mrs. Patton’s class—a wonderful teacher. She was young and sweet and had us do action songs for fun. During one particular song (when I was wearing a matching cardigan, tank top, and skirt set), the boy and girl who sat next to me kept motioning me to remove my cardigan, which would leave my arms exposed in the tank top I had on underneath. I did not quite understand modesty or separation at this time. All I knew was that I was raised not to reveal my shoulders in public.

I remember the boy looking back at me and smiling as he nodded when I reached up to my cardigan to begin to remove it. I was a bit confused, unsure of what he and the girl meant at first. I liked them. They were cool kids. They made me laugh. Still, I had a sense that I shouldn’t do what they asked.

Then, the boy said, “Do it,” as he clapped to the action song.

So, I did, and he and the girl nodded again and cheered me on before looking back at Mrs. Patton to see the next action in the song. I don’t remember how long I kept my cardigan off, but I know I had it on when I left school that day. I never told anyone. What I did seemed harmless, but something inside my first-grader mind knew that my mom would be disappointed if she knew.

That was the only example of giving into peer pressure that I have from my public school years, but it helped me understand as I got older how to handle and how not to handle peer pressure.

1. Fall in Love with Pleasing Jesus

If we are to resist peer pressure, then we must first fall in love with Jesus and living a life that is pleasing to Him.

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)

When I first caved to peer pressure, I didn’t fully understand what I believed or why I believed it yet. As I got older, stayed in church, and developed a love for reading the Word, my love for dressing modestly to reflect His glory grew stronger. Eventually, I didn’t imagine what I might look like if I didn’t wear skirts or if I did wear makeup. Eventually, I didn’t groan and complain about having to find dresses with modest necklines. Eventually, I didn’t care about what others thought of the way I dressed because I fell in love with a lifestyle that was pleasing to my God.

2. Don’t Cave

I caved to peer pressure in the first grade, but it taught me a lesson not to do that again. I was lucky that I wasn’t pressured to do much worse when I was in public school, but many are not so lucky.

Some students may be pressured to smoke or do drugs. Some students may be pressured to go too far with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some adults may even be pressured to do these things by coworkers or to go to a coworkers’ outing where they drink and party. Whatever you do, don’t cave in to others’ demands that make you uncomfortable and that you know are not pleasing in God’s eyes.

Paul wrote in Romans that we are to be a holy and acceptable living sacrifice to God:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)

It is only reasonable that we live for God in righteousness and resist the ways of the world. Sometimes, our flesh finds a way to confuse us, however.

I can remember times when I was a teenager and was around others who were listening to inappropriate music and talking about movies I wouldn’t dare share with my parents. I can remember feeling they shouldn’t be doing those things, but still I bopped my head to the music with them. I can remember thinking that I shouldn’t have been with them, but part of me wanted them to like me.

If you cave to peer pressure, then even if that thing that you end up doing doesn’t seem that harmless, it may invite spirits into your life that will linger with you longer than you’ll realize. And those spirits may influence you to do or say things in the future that will take you further from God.

Caving to peer pressure is dangerous for your spiritual survival.

3. Stand Strong and Love Others

Boldly embrace a lifestyle of separation from this world.

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”

2 Corinthians 6:17 (KJV)

The older I became, the more I loved being a born-again Apostolic who doesn’t look, dress, talk, or act like the world. By this time when peer pressure came knocking, I was able to keep from even opening the door and inviting it into my living room. However, as one lives a lifestyle of righteousness and separation, one should not become too prideful of that.

When friends or coworkers invite you to a bar to hangout, don’t respond by turning up your nose in a self-righteous attitude. That does not reflect the character of Christ, and it certainly does not make others want to go to church with you. As we stand strong in this faith, we must love others like Christ does.

Love those who invite you to those parties that you know you won’t go to. Decline politely, and if they ask why, take that moment to share your beliefs. Witness to the peers who pressure you out of love for them, not out of condemning them. They need to know that there is a better life than giving in to worldly lusts, and we are the ones who can show it to them by standing apart from this world.

After all, it is the love of Christ through us that compels people to live for God. We can resist peer pressure by becoming more like Jesus and hiding His Word in our hearts, and when we do, His love in us will draw others to Him.

4 Steps to Remove Idols in Your Life

Whom do you serve?

As Christians, we are to serve our God Jesus Christ alone (see Exodus 20:2-6), but sometimes, without even realizing it, we find that we have built altars to idols in our lives. The Bible speaks often about idolatry, and this is an issue the people of Israel struggled with a lot. They were called to serve one God—Yahweh—but all throughout the books of Judges and 1 and 2 Kings (among many others), we read how they began to serve false idols and little gods rather than serving their Creator alone.

“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:14-15 (KJV)

There are countless examples of idolatry in the Bible from Aaron making the golden calf for the Israelites to worship while Moses was on Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 32) to the young man who would not sell his possessions to follow Jesus (see Matthew 19:16-25). However, idolatry is not only a thing of the past. Sure, many of us may not be serving literal statues in our homes and praying to them every day, but many have built altars to idols of money, success, and fame. Idols come in all forms today.

We see people make idols of other people. I read a comment from a woman on social media a while back, and in this comment, this woman said she repeated to herself as a mantra when she became scared of the current virus rampaging the world, “I trust Fauci. I trust Fauci.” Indeed, many have made political figures and celebrities idols in their lives, investing more of their time in thinking about these people and having more hope and faith in these people than the very God who created them and the entire universe.

People make idols of ideas and ideologies. They worship a scientific theory as though it is Bible. They hold onto a political belief system with greater conviction than the Word of God.

People make idols of things—things like social media, expensive cars, or even (Lord, help me) their phone.

People also make idols of their habits and of themselves. As my pastor has explained, even something as seemingly harmless as going fishing can become an idol if you give all of your time to it. If a hobby or habit takes up most or all of your mental energy, your thoughts, your time, and your passion until it controls you and compromises your walk with God, then it is an idol. If you can’t say “no” to it, it’s an idol. And if you have set yourself and your desires and plans above God, then you have made an idol of yourself.

So, how do we get rid of idols that we have set up in our lives, whether we did so intentionally out of rebellion or ignorantly out of distraction? Thankfully, God’s Word shows us clear steps we must take to remove idols in our lives:

1. Examination.

When king Josiah of Judah was about 20 years old, he began to purge “Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (2 Chronicles 34:3). In order for Josiah to get rid of the idols, he had to seek them out first.

The first step to removing idols in our lives is daily examination. We must search our hearts each day and ask ourselves these questions: To what or to whom am I giving my time? My treasures? What are most of my efforts going toward? For what or for whom am I most passionate? Is there anything in my life that I cannot say “no” to?

2. Recognition.

In order for Josiah to purge the land of idols, he had to do a thorough job, which required recognizing which things were idols or were related to idol worship and had to be destroyed. After searching high and low for idols and destroying them all over the land in II Kings 23, Josiah even went so far as to destroy the high places that king Solomon had built for the false gods Chemosh, Ashtoreth, and Milcom (see also 1 Kings 11). Solomon failed to recognize the gravity of what he was doing as he turned away from God and toward idols.

After searching our hearts and lives for idols, we must be able to recognize what counts as an idol. In order for us to remove idolatry in our life, we must ask God for the wisdom to discern what we have made an idol, and we must be honest with ourselves. For example, if we allow playing video games or watching sports to take up more of our time and passion than praying to God, studying His Word, and investing in His Kingdom, then we must exercise wisdom, discernment, and good judgment to understand that those things are idols that we must remove.

3. Eradication.

King Josiah was very thorough in removing idols from the kingdom. He removed horse and chariot decorations in the Temple, broke the altars and images of false gods, and even killed the priests of the high places of false gods upon the altars and “burned men’s bones upon them” (II Kings 23:11-20). Josiah put away those who were “workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem” (II Kings 23:24).

If we are to remove idolatry from our lives, then we must do so in completion, holding nothing back for ourselves. We must totally remove the idol (be it a habit or an obsession), leaving no trace of it for us to return to in a moment of weakness. For example, if a person is obsessed with sports to the point of committing idolatry, but this person only stops obsessing over baseball and basketball but still places football above going to church or praying to God, then they have not totally eradicated that idol from their life.

4. Re-dedication.

After we have examined ourselves, recognized the idols in our lives, and totally eradicated them, then we must re-dedicate our hearts to the Lord. After putting away idols out of Judah and Benjamin, king Asa “renewed the altar of the LORD,” and the people renewed their covenant to seek the Lord (II Chronicles 15:8-12). King Hezekiah repaired the Temple, restored worship to God, and had the people sanctify and cleanse themselves before God (see II Chronicles 29). After Manasseh turned to God from a life of wickedness, he took away the idols and “repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel” (II Chronicles 33:15-16).

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost, and when we remove the idols from our lives, we must then recommit ourselves to God.

Rebuild your altar to God. Sanctify it with prayer. Commit yourself to studying the Word and following His commandments. Sacrifice your time, talents, treasures, and passions and give it all to God. And renew your covenant with God to serve Him alone.

This world is all about serving yourself, worshipping your desires and plans, and elevating yourself and man’s creations above God. But we are not called to be like the world. Though we be in this world, we are not of this world.

Our God created us, came for us, died for us, and rose again, defeating death and overcoming the world all because He loves us and wants us to live with Him in His Kingdom for eternity. The least we can do is serve Him and Him alone.

How God Changed Me

My childhood friend, sister, cousin (in the back), and me a very long time ago.

I hate change. As a super nostalgic person, I’ve always had a habit of romanticizing the past, of looking back at my childhood through rose-colored glasses.

It’s true that I did have a pretty awesome childhood. God blessed me with Apostolic parents who raised me in a good church with leaders who followed God and His Word. I spent my days annoying my older sisters, playing with my cousins, and writing short stories about—wait for it—dogs and their owners going on adventures. Yes, it’s true. I went through a weird phase in which I was obsessed with dogs and dog stories. 10-year-old me adored Homeward Bound and thought it was one of the best movies ever. I spent my summers digging in the mud outside, playing catch and frisbee, running around the backyard with my dogs, and playing Spyro the Dragon on our PlayStation. Ah, yes, the early 2000s. What a wonderful time.

I spent my teenage years going to my church’s private school that consisted almost entirely of my sisters and our cousins for several years, and we constantly tried to stall our teacher (also my cousin) from starting class each day. We threw notes to each other in class, watched silly videos on the old computers during breaks, and laughed at the boys as they picked on each other among other shenanigans. Of course, there was learning going on, and I didn’t earn the nickname “Ms. Perfect” from my cousins for nothing. I was very adamant about getting all gold stars (which stood for a grade of 100%) on my test score chart. From the 5th grade until the 11th grade, I spent practically all day at church almost every day of the week.

My church school gang in 2011.

As a lifelong Apostolic Christian, my church was my second home. I went to school there, and I played with my cousins there as we roamed around the halls downstairs in the dark (as if it was scary) while our parents participated in music practice upstairs. When I got a little older, I became more involved and went to music practices and youth events in addition to spending all day at church because of school. Church was my life, so one might think that I had a super close relationship with God and that I was super spiritual from a young age, right?

Wrong.

No, I wasn’t a rebellious child who didn’t like my upbringing. I loved church. I loved God. I loved living for God. I just wasn’t truly digging deeper into my own relationship with Him. Instead, I rode the waves of the high I was on during that time of my life. After all, most people’s teenage years tend to be a breeze compared to the adult world. Life was great, so I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking that I needed to change anything in my personal life.

I went to church twice a week faithfully. I mean, I practically lived there. I was involved in ministries. I skimmed through a chapter or two of the Bible almost every day. Sure, I talked to God a lot. But I wasn’t breaking through. I wasn’t seeking God with all of my heart.

Why? Because I was also giving my heart to something else.

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other….”

Matthew 6:24 (KJV)

I was the biggest movie buff. Not only did I watch a movie or a few episodes of one of my favorite tv shows every evening, but I researched film and television trivia all the time. I obsessed over my favorite films and characters—I was a HUGE Marvel girl, and I may have chanted “Loki” along with the crowd at San Diego Comic Con several years ago when I watched it on my phone as Tom Hiddleston, dressed up in character, screamed to the delight of his fans, “Say my name!” Being a fangirl of various movies and series was not something I shared with many, but it pervaded my thoughts constantly as I geeked out over new stories and plots and characterization (because I’m a writer with a very vivid imagination, and I couldn’t resist that type of stuff).

Now, I’m not explaining all of this to tell you, “DON’T WATCH ANYTHING EVER AGAIN YOU HEATHENS, OR YOU’LL ALL BE CONDEMNED!” After all, I know many people who watch films or series every once in a while with their family, and it doesn’t affect them or take them away from God. But if it does, then it becomes a problem. Know who and what you are serving. If the answer isn’t God alone, then it becomes a problem.

I needed to change, and once I began my early young adult years, and my life began to get harder, and my family and I began to go through things I had never faced before, I realized I needed much more of God than I had. You get out of your relationship with God what you put into it. And so I examined my life and realized that I had not been progressing in my walk with Him. I wasn’t getting closer to God. I wasn’t really hearing from Him. I wasn’t digging deeper into the Word. I had let myself become obsessed with things of the world all the while trying to serve God.

For many years, I thought I was “just fine” in my relationship with God until the rubber met the road, and I needed more of God but was farther away from Him that I realized. That’s when I knew I needed to change.

“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:8 (KJV)

Change is not easy. It’s a long process, filled with mistakes and trial-and-error and going back to God for forgiveness and asking Him to give you the strength to do better and live right. With His help, I put away those obsessions. I began to pour myself out so that He could fill me. I began to study His Word more closely, searching the Scriptures to be closer to Him. I began to pray for longer than five or ten minutes each day. I began to search for Him with everything I had, and through that process, He began to change me.

God’s been so good to me, and now I’m privileged to be a youth worker and spend time with great kids who love God and want to serve Him more.

You see, when God changes us, He gives us new and better desires to please Him in all we do. He takes us to a deeper level where we receive revelations and a greater understanding of what it means to walk with Him. There were things I no longer watched anymore. There were songs I no longer listened to. He changed the way I spoke about others and my attitude toward them. He helped me understand the habits I had that were not wise.

The more time I spent in His Word and His presence, the more I came to love His Word and His presence. The more time I spent putting away old habits and trying to live a righteous lifestyle, the more I came to love holiness and living for Him.

Of course, I still have so many moments in which I need my Jesus to help me overcome my flesh. Just as none of us are perfect, I (in absolutely no way) claim to be nor do I claim to be super righteous or have it all together. Of course, there are still some things I will watch with my family and enjoy every now and then (I do love Star Wars, but my sister has not been drawn to it—yet!). But those things, those old habits no longer have a hold on me.

My God delivered me and changed my mindset and attitude. And He will do the same for you if you will put away those unhealthy habits, sacrifice your flesh on the altar, and draw near to Him.

Life in the Spirit: 3 Reminders From Romans 8

School and work are often drudgery.

Back-to-back tests and papers due. Piles of work that lead to overtime. New company policies that are confusing and make your work harder. It can make your life seem completely miserable at times.

As children of God, however, we have an avenue to living a purposeful and rewarding life even when our school and work responsibilities try to drain the life from us.

Today, we’ll look at three key reminders from Romans 8:1-18 of what it means to be alive in Christ.

1. Through Christ, we are free.

You might feel like a prisoner to the drudgery of life, clocking in and out of work in robotic fashion or dragging yourself to school every week, but we are not meant to feel like prisoners in this world.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!

In fact, Romans 8:1-3 explains that we are free from “the law of sin and death.” When we believe in and live for Jesus Christ, the sins of our past no longer have a hold on us. Without Christ, we are prisoners to sin, and eternal death is an inevitability. With Christ, no matter what mistakes we may have made or difficult circumstances we may have to endure, the consequences of sin and the ways of this world no longer have us bound.

The weight of this world and of the things that accompany life in this world do not have to keep us down or burdened because our God already defeated sin and death and has overcome the world (see John 16:33). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has made us free (see Romans 8:2), and so we can walk in the freedom we have through Christ each day no matter how stifling life may seem on earth.

2. We must continue to walk after the Spirit.

When group projects and research papers pile up, when the customers are rude and your boss keeps giving you more responsibilities, and when traffic is backed up after a really long day, we must continue to walk after the Spirit—yes, even when we are tempted with road rage. If you live in or near Springfield, Missouri, then you might understand the frustration that accompanies dealing with mindless drivers who pull out in front of you while you’re doing 60 and they’re doing 35 or who cruise in the fast lane and refuse to move over. Truth be told, many a Holy Ghost-filled Christian has almost lost their Holy Ghost when dealing with rush-hour traffic.

Walking after the Spirit means living a righteous lifestyle every day. Simple, right? Not when we feed our carnality more than the spirit, but when we pursue righteousness and a closer walk with Jesus on a daily basis, it becomes more natural to maintain a spiritual mindset.

Having life through Christ means forsaking our carnality.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Romans 8:5-6 (KJV)

If you follow your flesh, it will lead to death. If you follow after the Spirit, then it will lead to eternal life and the peace of God. We cannot expect the peace of God and His blessings if we follow our own lusts and desires. Verse 8 goes on to say that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Ouch.

Want to please God? Pursue Him. Pursue righteousness. Even when people annoy you and schoolwork overwhelms you and your job is miserable, pursue a lifestyle that reflects His Spirit within you.

3. As His children, we have a divine inheritance!

The more we walk after the Spirit, the more we realize another truth of what it means to have life through Christ.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

Romans 8:14 (KJV)

Those who walk after the Spirit are called the children of God. Our salvation is not based on a “once saved, always saved” ideology. Walking after the Spirit means that we continue pursuing Him and practicing a righteous lifestyle every minute of every day. If we do so and are filled with His Spirit, then we have what verse 15 calls the “Spirit of adoption.” Being “adopted” by Christ not only means His Spirit dwells within us but that we have 1) a loving relationship with Him and 2) a divine inheritance.

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:17-18 (KJV)

Being joint-heirs with Christ means that we join in suffering with Him and that we also get to experience the benefits of what we may have to endure on earth—eternal life with Him. No amount of suffering we may experience here can compare to the glory that awaits us in Heaven with our King.

As the old song says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase. So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

No matter what you’re facing, whether you’re going to school or working or both, encourage yourself with these truths.

Through our God, we have freedom, and our past mistakes cannot keep us bound. Through Him, we have everything we need to maintain a righteous lifestyle. Through Him, we have the promise of eternal life.

The weight of this world no longer has a hold on us. We are alive through Christ!

3 Helpful Bible Study Methods

Reading and studying the Word should be a daily commitment if we want to grow closer to God. When I was a teenager, I found myself becoming satisfied with reading a short chapter here and there and calling it good. (Woo-hoo! I read an entire chapter of Psalms! I’m good for the day!) Everyone has to start somewhere, and there is no shame in a child reading a chapter of Psalms a day to develop a daily habit of reading the Word, but as we grow older, we must become more dedicated to studying the Word in depth.

As always, we must remember that God is calling us deeper.

Sometimes, figuring out how to study the Word can be difficult when you’re out of the habit or don’t know where to start. For today’s post, I thought I would share with you three Bible study methods that I have adapted and that have helped me dig deeper into the Word.

1. Summarization

This involves what we English majors like to call “close reading.” When you’re reading a chapter of the Bible, ask questions about the chapter and write down your answers. I like to use the typical 5W1H method.

  • Who are the people involved in this chapter? Who is speaking? Who is the author? Who is the audience?
  • What is taking place in this chapter? What are the implications of the events? What Biblical principles or lessons does this chapter explore?
  • Where do the events in this chapter take place? This question can refer to an actual location or where the events take place within the story’s timeline, which brings us to the next question.
  • When does this chapter take place? When did the author write this? (This also helps you understand the context of the chapter as you look at the events in the surrounding chapters.)
  • How can I apply the principles or lessons this chapter teaches to my life?
  • Why are the events in this chapter important? This question helps you under the significance of the passage both within the context of the story and within your own life.

2. Cross-referencing

This method involves going from verse to verse, often across different books, to study key terms and concepts. It helps to have a Bible that contains references within the page that point you to related verses. I recommend the Apostolic Study Bible, which is what I use.

Here’s an example of using this method:

In the footnotes of Psalm chapter 7 in my Apostolic Study Bible, it directs me to read the related verses of II Samuel 18:19-33. David wrote Psalm 7 in reference to the news of his son Absalom’s death, which we read about in II Samuel 18. Through cross-referencing, I can read and study the situation to which David is referring in Psalm 7 to better understand the context of both passages of Scripture.

You can also use this method on your own by using the concordance at the back of your Bible and finding multiple verses throughout the Bible that discuss a particular topic.

3. Word Study

What I like to call the “word study” method involves using a Strong’s Concordance to study the root meanings of words in the original Hebrew or Greek texts. When I use this method, I simply begin by looking up a word in a particular verse in the Strong’s Concordance. (I use the Bible Strong’s Concordance app on my phone, but I also have a physical copy of Strong’s Concordance in my home library.)

This method helps you understand how a word is used differently in the Bible and what its different uses mean. For example, “love” in Romans 12:10 is from the Greek word philadelphia, which means fraternal affection or brotherly love. In John 15:10, we find that the love mentioned here is unconditional love (or agape). Here, Jesus is giving the command that we abide in the kind of unconditional love He has for us, whereas the love mentioned in Romans 12:10 specifically refers to love toward members of the church.

The above Bible study methods and tips are designed to help you understand the context of a passage of Scripture, what lessons a particular passage teaches, the connection between verses, how multiple verses extend the same topics, and how we can understand a word or concept based off a word’s original meaning. If we devote even a little bit of time daily to studying the Word, then we will come to understand Him more and how He wants us to live.

Studying the Word fosters a love for the Word and Godly living, allowing us to bury His Word within us so that we might reflect His glory to others and share the Gospel message.

BPR Schedule Update: There will be no blog post next week as I’ll be on vacation. To see how I’ve applied the word study method to my Bible studying time, check out the “comfort” series in the “Bible Studies” column.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

5 Things To Help You Overcome Depression

Mental Health Awareness Month takes place the entire month of May, and the theme this year is “You are not alone.”

For those who struggle with depression, overcoming it is not as simple as others might think.

There are those who might say, “Everyone gets depressed. Just get over it,” or, “If you really wanted to be happy, then you would be,” but they don’t realize that overcoming depression does not come so easily as simply wishing for it to happen. As someone who has struggled with forms of depression and who has many family members who have as well, I’ve seen and experienced the difficulty in trying to force yourself to “be happy” even though you feel sad, heartbroken, abandoned, and alone. It often results in burying emotions that need to be worked through and addressed only for them to rise again later and leave you more broken and shattered than before. Forced healing is not lasting healing.

Because May is mental health awareness month, I’ve decided to share with you and those who are struggling five things that have helped me in the process of overcoming feelings of depression. Of course, this post may not be entirely applicable to those who are suffering from severe or clinical depression. If you or someone you know is suffering from clinical depression, please know that there is no shame in reaching out for help, receiving support from a psychiatrist, or asking for prayer. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of because, yes, many people do suffer from various forms of depression and feelings of sadness to varying degrees.

“Forced healing is not lasting healing.”

Instead of trying to ignore or bury those feelings, here are five things you might try to help you begin the process of overcoming it:

1. Listen to music.

Now, some of these tips may seem basic, but just hear me out. When I’ve struggled with depression, almost every single time, I’ve managed to find comfort and feel God’s presence through new Gospel songs I found. One song in particular that spoke to me when I was struggling was “Defender” by Francesca Battistelli.

Listening to music, or music therapy, has proven calming effects that can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. When one listens to music, be it instrumental or soothing music, it can help that person experience his or her emotions on a deeper, more visceral level. It may even help clear the mind and make one’s emotions easier to understand.

Just any music doesn’t prove helpful to me, however, which is why I encourage listening to Christian music. As Christians, we understand that our help comes from God, but when we’re struggling with caring for our mental and emotional health, it sometimes becomes necessary to plug into other avenues that help us connect better to His presence. Don’t just listen to the music, but meditate on it. Find new songs that speak to what you’re going through and let yourself praise Him as you listen.

2. Listen to sermons.

We listen to messages over the pulpit every week, but sometimes, it helps to search for an extra word from God throughout the week when we’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness or anxiety. God can minister to us today even through an old message posted to YouTube five or more years ago. One such sermon that I heard when I was struggling and that I’ve returned to often is Victor Jackson’s message at General Conference 2019 called “The Forgotten Anointing.” For those who are weary and full of grief, this message may just be the word from God that will help you begin to heal.

Whether you search for sermons based on what you’re going through or by a preacher you’re familiar with, consider taking notes while listening to the sermon. Write down how God might be speaking to you through the message and ways you can apply it to your life moving forward.

3. Do focused Bible studying.

This one might seem like another no-brainer to those who study the Word consistently, but doing some focused Bible studying is a great way to work through what you’re experiencing by researching it in the Scriptures.

When I found myself in a dark place once, I realized the one thing that might help me get through it was if I could just feel the comfort of God again. So, I began doing a word search for “comfort” in my phone’s Bible app that contains the Strong’s Concordance. As I read verse after verse and studied the original Hebrew meanings of “comfort,” I immediately felt God’s presence. By the next morning, the heavy burden of grief and sorrow that had weighed me down had lifted immensely.

Doing some focused Bible studying on key terms or events in the Bible can help you understand the biblical approach to what you’re experiencing and will take you closer to the presence of God.

4. Get (and stay) involved in church.

It’s natural to want to take a step back from responsibilities at church or even not to want to attend a service or two when you’re struggling with depression, but it’s when you’re struggling that you need that foundation and consistency in your life the most.

Find new ways to get involved in ministry or new ways to use the gifts God has given you for His Kingdom. Go to every service. Continue worshipping God in the worship service and at the altar call. Attend special events or services. Keep in touch with your pastor and church family.

Although it may be difficult and you may feel at times as though you have to put on a smile and pretend you’re okay, the consistency of fellowshipping with the people of God and serving in His Kingdom is one of the most important steps in overcoming depression. The consistency and strong foundation that come with being involved in church bring much needed comfort and peace when you’re going through turbulent times or spiritually dry periods.

5. Do fun things.

Depression can make you feel as though you’re barely surviving and are unable to enjoy even the simplest parts of life, but don’t stop trying to find positive and uplifting things that can make you feel a little less sad for a little while.

Listen to music as we already explored above, or go out to breakfast or lunch with family or friends. Go for a walk at a park. Read a book. (If you need some reading inspiration, stay tuned for next week’s post when I’ll share some book ideas for your summer reading list!) Take a short trip on a day off and go to the lake or hiking or for a simple country drive. Write down your thoughts in a journal.

Whatever you do, do something that takes your mind off your stress and grief and pain if only for a moment and bask in that moment of relief. Every little moment of peace adds up, and eventually, you might find yourself going from feeling sad to being just okay to finally realizing that you are and can be happy in your life in spite of what you’ve gone through.

Overcoming depression is not an easy process and does not look the same for everyone. If you find yourself struggling harder with overcoming depression, try the above tips that have helped me.

Remember that our God is a God of peace. We can find the comfort we need in His presence and in the presence of our church family. Even though you may feel alone, you are not alone. You can overcome depression and be stronger than you were before.

“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 (KJV)

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 (KJV)

The Temporal vs The Eternal: Tuning Out the World and Tuning into the Spirit

Hollywood held the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, but not many tuned in to see it. In fact, recent polls reveal that the majority of Americans have not even seen or heard of any of the films nominated at the Oscars. This is, of course, very good news.

Ten-plus years ago, I remember hearing of the films that won awards at the Oscars and being somewhat familiar with them. Back then, I watched the short clips of humorous moments that had happened at the ceremony that were still family friendly and did not alienate half of the country because of different values and beliefs. Things are very different now, and the polls that show most Americans did not watch the Oscars or the nominated films may be a sign that the culture of celebrity worship is dying as the average American is more concerned with keeping their job during the pandemic and spending time with their family.

So, why is the tuning out of Hollywood significant for us as Christians?

Because it’s an indicator that many more conservative, centrist, and/or Christian Americans are waking up to what truly matters in our life: the physical, mental, and yes, spiritual wellbeing of ourselves and our families.

One writer on Facebook wrote about how refreshing it is that Hollywood is becoming completely irrelevant to Americans. Many no longer look to the Oscars for entertainment or obsess over films and celebrities that took home several awards.

Instead, they go to work, take their kids to the park, attend church on Sunday, and completely forget that the Oscars were even coming up or happened at all.

This is a sign that our lives truly do not and should not revolve around materialism, consumerism, and temporal things, such as Hollywood, in order for our lives to be fulfilling and purposeful.

Indeed, it is true that the more we spend time in God’s presence and reading His Word, the more we feel fulfilled in Him. The more we focus on living a life that is pleasing to God, the more we invest in our eternity with Him, and the more we tune out the distractions of this world, the more our purpose will come into focus and the more our lives will become balanced and our minds at peace.

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Matthew 24:35 (KJV)

The decline of Hollywood and celebrity worship culture should inspire us to keep our minds and affection set on things above. Nothing in this world will remain, which means that nothing in this world is worth sacrificing eternity in Heaven with our King Jesus. When we tune into the Spirit, then we can understand the importance of investing in things eternal over things temporal.

Robert Frost wrote a famous poem in 1923 called “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” essentially about the fleeting and fading nature of life. Part of the poem reads, “Then leaf subsides to leaf/so Eden sank to grief/So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay.” Frost was referring to the golden buds or flowers on trees that turn to leaves before withering away and to the idea that nothing beautiful or seemingly innocent will last. Our lives are but a vapor, after all.

The gold in Frost’s poem takes on a new meaning when thinking of the Oscars. The awards celebrities give themselves take the form of literal golden statues, but each award becomes irrelevant by the time the next awards season rolls around, and they gather again in hopes of receiving yet another award. You see, when you tune into materialism and gorge yourself with a worldly appetite, the accolades and praise from society’s echo chamber become shallow, unsatisfying, and meaningless. When you fail to invest in the Kingdom, life becomes hollow. You lose out on what truly matters, and your spiritual wellbeing falls into decay just like the grass that withers and the flower that fades.

“When you tune into materialism and gorge yourself with a worldly appetite, the accolades and praise from society’s echo chamber become shallow, unsatisfying, and meaningless.”

Hollywood is fleeting. The films they make are not forever. Their fame, fortune, and success will not last.

But the things of God will stand forever while the things of this world will pass away.

So, to those investing more in temporal things and to those in Hollywood obsessed with acquiring their collection of awards, I say: remember—nothing gold can stay.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

Matthew 6:19-20 (KJV)

“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

Colossians 3:2 (KJV)

2 Reminders For When You’re Dealing with Stress or Imposter Syndrome

Matthew 19:26 in the King James Bible.
Matthew 19:26 reminds us that all things are possible with God!

Do you ever feel as though you’re the camel carrying the basket of straw about to burst and that the straw that will break your back is only moments away?

I am not enough.

You might say this silently to yourself or to God in prayer as you wearily reflect on all the things you have to do and your limited abilities.

I can’t do this.

It’s true.

You are not enough…on your own. You can’t do this alone.

When I’m struggling with imposter syndrome, worrying people may realize how inadequate I am, or when the stress of life weighs me down, here are 2 reminders that give me strength to carry on:

1. Everything I do I must do for Jesus to the best of my ability.

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”

Colossians 3:23-24 (KJV)

Imposter syndrome causes a person to feel like a fraud, doubting his or her own abilities or accomplishments. I’ve struggled with this often, but each time I do, God reminds me that it doesn’t matter what others may think of what I can or can’t do or of what I have or have not accomplished. What matters is that no matter what I do, I must do it wholeheartedly for His glory.

Whether it’s your work or ministry, as long as you keep your focus on God and direct your efforts and attention toward Him, then you will be able to overcome feelings of doubt and inadequacy.

2. All things are possible with God.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Philippians 4:13 (KJV)

When you have a heavier load than usual, it can seem impossible to get everything done. On our own, we cannot fulfill each of our duties and maintain peace of mind, but with God, we can do all things because He is our strength.

Sometimes, life presents us with seemingly impossible tasks. But God has equipped us with all we need to do all He’s called us to do.

God has given us everything we need to live in this world according to His Word—Himself.

When we become worried about failure or inadequacies, we must put our focus on Him.

Redirecting our focus to Jesus reminds us what this is all for and why we’re here. It’s for Him. We work, go to school, and survive in this world to support the Kingdom and become stronger members of the Kingdom. He gave each of us unique abilities and placed us in specific locations to serve Him and His Kingdom.

We are enough to our God!

When we serve God and give ourselves and abilities to Him, He makes up the difference in our lives. We may have the weight of the world on our shoulders, but He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.

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 College Tips for Newbies & Pantsers: Midterm Edition

Strong Hall
Missouri State University
College
Strong Hall on a rainy day at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
Picture taken May 2020.

If you’re newer to this blog, you might not be aware that at certain points during the semester, I post some tips for those who are new to college or who tend to fly by the seat of their pants and put things off until the last minute. I believe it is essential that we try our best in every aspect of our work to reflect a godly character and strive toward excellency in all we do. Many of these tips are also applicable to those in high school, and we can even apply the lessons these tips explore to our lives beyond college.

*****

Midterms are almost here, and so are many big exams and paper due dates. Here are 3 tips I found helpful in preparing for exams and papers throughout my 5-year college experience:

1) Highlight key points & terms in textbooks or sources where you can.

For example, one history professor I had always provided us with a master list of terms we would need to know before each exam to properly define and describe them in paragraph form. Of course, we had no way of knowing which terms she would choose, and the list included some 60 terms out of which she would choose only a handful. Now, I felt she was pulling a Satan move on us, but after freaking out, I was determined to do well on the exam.

I searched through every document and page of every source we’d read thus far, highlighted each term, and wrote everything down about each term that I could find. The areas I focused on were the following: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Then, I wrote down the significance of each term. Doing so helped me prepare and pass my professor’s rigorous exams.

As you read your sources, any term or definition you come across is always worth highlighting and remembering just in case it comes up again later.

2) Plan your essays.

Do it. Even if you tend to be a pantser. A brief outline that simply states your essay’s topic and supporting points will go a long way in helping you create an organized paper that may earn you a good grade.

Brainstorm your ideas. Do some freewriting. Write down ideas for your essay’s intro paragraph and support for your main points. Write down the sources you’ll use to support each main point. Write down ideas for the significance of your essay’s topic that you will reflect on in the conclusion.

If you plan your research and an outline at least seven days before your paper’s due date, then you’ll have at least five to six days to write a page or two each day and finish just in time.

Pro tip: if you prepare two weeks in advance, you’ll have time to send your draft to your professor to get his or her tips on what you should change before the due date.

3) Take time every day to relax.

My ethics professor once explained how he never allowed himself to study so much in college that he couldn’t make time for his social life or to relax throughout the week. This was one of the best pieces of advice any professor had ever given me. I found that through applying his advice, I managed to enjoy my life even when I was juggling several papers and exams due at the same time.

College is stressful. You should be responsible and do your work on time. However, you should also take the time to be around your family and friends and (most importantly) spend time with God. If you study well and prepare for your papers, you’ll find you have more time during the week to relax for an hour or two each evening.

Read a book. Chat with your family. Spend more time in prayer. Take a nap.

Just breathe, pray, repeat, and relax, and you will get through it.

*****

The above are tips that apply to far more than just college experiences. Preparing for important projects in the workforce and adult world is essential for success. Taking the time out to enjoy your life with family and friends is essential for your mental and emotional health. Prioritizing your time with God is essential for your spiritual health.

We must never let ourselves become too lazy or too stressed or too busy that we don’t approach our work and relationships wisely and seriously.

If you know someone in college or even high school who’s struggling, share these tips with them as an encouragement. College is not forever, but the lessons one learns in college will help them get through the rest of life.