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About this series
Cultivating a Lifestyle that Makes Room for God
We all do life in rhythms. Getting up for the day, meals, school, work, church... there are rhythms we live in. In this series, Chip introduces the idea of living in sacred rhythms. He tells us there's a specific way to arrange our lives that will cultivate practices and help us grow in intimate relationship with Jesus. Chip's son, Ryan Ingram, unpacks the specifics of how to live life in Sacred Rhythms.More from this series
Everybody in this room has what I would call rhythms. Just in your own mind right now, think about when you get up, what you do when you get up. Your path, where you go to work; some of you work out, some don’t. Some check the Wall Street Journal. Some get up immediately and look at your phone. Some do certain things on Friday nights, different things on Wednesday nights. Part of many of your rhythm is you come here on Sunday morning. Most of you come at nine thirty. Others have a different rhythm at eleven.
What you think, what you watch, what your favorite shows are; the path to work, what you do when you turn on either the radio or play your phone in the car – every aspect of your life is your rhythm, your ways, your habits. What you currently do is producing the person sitting in your seat.
It’s what you think, it’s where you’ve been, it’s how you have arranged your life. Some of you very intentionally have arranged your life. Others are kind of responding to all the stuff happening around you.
And so, what we are going to talk about is sacred rhythms. Sacred rhythms are a specific way to arrange your life to cultivate a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus.
So, you’re going to arrange your life. Everything from what you read, what you think about, what you do when, and why you do it – you arrange your life in a very specific way to have a very personal, intimate relationship with Christ.
The goal of sacred rhythms is literally these spiritual practices is what I would call “true spirituality.” So often, there’s all kind of spirituality, but the Scripture would say that true spirituality is nothing more than the life of Christ. It’s the life of Christ reproduced in a believer.
True spirituality is the life of Christ reproduced in the life of a believer by the power of the Holy Spirit. True spirituality is the life of Christ reproduced in the life of a believer by the power of the Holy Spirit as you cooperate and respond to His Word in faith and obedience.
And so, it’s not about reading the Bible more, praying more, being more moral, doing all kind of certain things to somehow earn God’s favor. It’s eternal life, it’s letting His life get reproduced in you.
And here’s something that has been very helpful to me: the number one agenda that God has for you – more than your happiness, more than a successful marriage or great singleness or business success – His number one agenda is to make you like His Son. Every up, every down, every relationship, every circumstance God is sovereignly orchestrating to get your attention, to draw you to Himself, and to, little, by little, by little make you more and more like Jesus so that in your thoughts, your word, your deed, and your motives, you would literally ride in your car or drive your car and go to work the way Jesus would if He was driving in your car.
You would spend your money and treat people who treat you badly the way Jesus would if He lived inside your body. You would do everything every day where Jesus, living out through your personality, so that you are, in fact, the light of the world.
And the question is: how does that happen? How in the world does the Spirit of God take normal, regular people like us and, over time, produce progressively, little, by little, by little, the life of Christ in us? And part of that is these sacred rhythms.
And so, we do that, I want to ask you to open to Mark chapter 4. And in Mark chapter 4, we get a picture of what you have to understand about sacred rhythms because apparently, it’s really easy to make them an end instead of a means.
People, for centuries, have figured out how to make prayer the end or God’s Word the end or fasting the end or a pilgrimage the end or praying many times a day.
And what I want you to do is look at the end of chapter 3, because there’s a context. And I am going to go over this passage rather quickly, but what I want you to get is the overarching principles, because we have to get this before we talk about sacred rhythms. And then I’ll just tell you my personal experience of the rhythms that have helped me the most that God has used to change my life.
The context picks it up in Mark chapter 3, verses 31. Jesus is doing amazing ministry, He has healed a leper, crowds are coming, His parents, His mother and brothers are thinking He possibly might be going insane. They can’t even get to Him. And so, someone comes and says, “By the way, your mom and your family is, they are here.” The text says a little bit earlier that it was so overwhelming ministry, He didn’t even have time to eat.
And we pick it up, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him and they told Him, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for you.’” Notice what Jesus says, “‘Who are My mother and my brothers?’ He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him. ‘Here are My mother and My brothers. Whoever does God’s will is My brother and My sister and My mother.’”
Jesus is saying, “What does it take to have family resemblance?” What does it mean to be connected to Him? And at the core, what He says, “Those who do My will, those are My true mothers and brothers and sisters.”
And then it’s interesting, the next section He is going to answer the question that you should be asking: well, how do you qualify to be in His family? How do you have that kind of intimate relationship?
If you have a Bible, open it up and follow along. And if you have a phone, it’s okay. Can I tell you something about sacred rhythms? Your phone is okay, but you will never grasp the Scriptures reading the Bible with your phone. It’s not that your phone is bad. The problem is there is a context. You can’t see the structure of what has happened fifteen verses back and twenty verses ahead and the structure on your phone.
So, are you ready? Question: How in the world do you become close and intimate with Jesus? “On another occasion,” chapter 4, “Jesus began to teach by a lake. And the crowd that gathered there was so large that He got into a boat and He sat out on the lake while all the other people were along the shore.
He taught them many parables in His teachings. He said, ‘Listen, a farmer went out to sow his seed. As he scattered the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and at it up. Some fell on rocky places where it didn’t have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Others fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants so they didn’t bear any grain. And still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew, it produced a crop multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.’
“Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.‘” Can you imagine? That’s His message. That’s the sermon. What – okay…
He has done these miracles and we have all come, thousands of people are here. And He tells a story about a farmer and seed and it falls on four different paths and three of the four paths nothing happens. And on one path it does.
“He who has ears to hear,” is: do you really get you need to respond to what I just said? What is really encouraging about this is His closest followers had no clue what He was talking about.
When He was alone, the Twelve and the others around Him asked Him about the parables. Then He said,” you might underline this or highlight it on your phone. “The secret,” not a secret, “the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.”
The secret. You want to understand how the King and the world lives according to God’s economy, that story that I just told is revealed to you. “But those outside everything is in parables so that, ‘ever seeing they may never perceive, and ever hearing they never understand; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ When Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?’”
Now, get this. He told lots of parables. I probably read this passage ten years and didn’t catch this. If you don’t understand this parable, you cannot understand any other parable of Jesus.
He said, “This is the secret of the kingdom of God.” Well, then we better get the explanation. Let’s follow. What was He really saying? “The farmer sows the seed of the Word. Some people are like those along the path, and where the seed of God’s Word is sown, they hear it, and Satan comes and takes it away of the very Word that was sown in them. Others are like the seed sown on the rocky place; they hear the Word, the truth, and at once they receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they only last a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away.
“Still others are like the seed sown among the thorns. They hear the Word; but the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things come in and they choke the Word, making it unfruitful. Others are like the seed sown on good soil and they hear the Word, and they accept it.” And Luke, in the parallel passage says, “With a good and honest heart, they put it into practice.”
“And it produces a crop – thirty, sixty, or even a hundred-fold what was sown.” You notice you have a blank sheet where you can take some notes. If I was taking notes, I would write this down: your response to the Word will determine your relationship with the Lord. Period. Your response to God’s Word will determine your relationship to the Lord.
Now, this is true salvifically. It’s true about responding to receive God’s forgiveness, but this is the secret of the kingdom. This is how the Word is God’s truth. It’s not just His truth about how you have a relationship with God. This is a truth about transformation.
Every, single day; every time I open up the Scriptures, every time you hear the Scriptures taught, every time you hear a song that has passages in it – the Word of God is going forth. And the Word of God never fails to accomplish all God sends it to do.
But the seed, there’s life in the seed. One hundred percent of the time, seed in good soil produces everything God wants it to produce. The only variable in all of the stories is – what? It’s the soil. And the soil is your heart and my heart.
If you have a hard heart, I don’t want to hear about what God is saying to me. The enemy is coming in. Pulls it away. Or maybe you are zealous and, “Oh! That sounds so exciting!” But you get all revved up about it and then you don’t follow through.
Or you hear it and you start to grow and then pretty soon you are distracted by many things: the worries of relationship, the worries of a child, the worries of finances, the deceitfulness of riches. The, Wow, every time I get focused then my phone goes off and I’ve got to check my Facebook and someone did this on Instagram and they Slacked me over here. And all the bombarding of your mind.
And then there are some who receive the Word and they take it into your heart and you realize, God is speaking to me. And He is telling me that He is good and that I can trust Him and I can believe Him. And that means I can go to my supervisor and I can tell him or tell her that what happened the other day I thought was unfair and unjust and I realize it may get me in trouble, but I have to defend an employee or someone on my team. And I am going to say it winsomely and lovingly but I am going to respond.
Or the Word speaks to me and says, “That which you’re putting in your mind is drawing you away from Me and I want you to stop putting that in your mind so I can draw you close to Myself.” And you say, Oh, but it’s so hard. And then you take the secret out and you get it into the light and like bacteria, the light begins to evaporate that.
And then you get some friends around you and little, by little, by little the seed of purity grows in your heart and you’re transformed and you are free.
Now, notice the sower is Jesus Himself. God’s Word, every person who grows spiritually, there’s a centrality of God’s Word.
Do you remember Moses at the very end, He was giving His last sermon as they were going to go into the Promised Land and knew he wouldn’t go. And he watched a group who rebelled, who wouldn’t listen. Literally, are you ready for this? They took God’s Word and they threw it behind their back. They forgot His Word. And he says at the end of Deuteronomy, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, for this is not an idol word; it is your life.”
Jesus, remember when He was tempted? What did – how did He defend Himself? “It is written, it is written, it is written.” He had memorized passages and in spiritual battle, He took those passages. The rhema, the Word of God spoken. The writer of Hebrews would say, “For the Word of God is living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword and piercing through the division of soul and spirit, of both joint and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
See, it’s – spiritual disciplines and rhythms are not: I read a chapter today. Or, I read my verse on YouVersion. Or, I read three chapters. I bet God loves me even more. It’s a living, powerful Word that has to be received in a heart in order to apply it. Jeremiah would say, “Thy words were found and I ate them,” and notice the tense of the verb, “and they became for me, they became for me, the words were found and I at them, and they became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.”
Everywhere in Scripture you find this sacredness of the Word of God, to those Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word, you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
The last thing Jesus prayed on His very last night, He said, “Father, sanctify them. Set them apart.” It’s a difficult world. They have their flesh, the enemy, and the world system. “Set them apart by Your truth. Your Word is truth.”
So, all I want you to know as we start, I don’t know your relationship to God’s Word. But what I can tell you is, your relationship with God’s Word will determine your relationship with the Lord.
It’s not that morality doesn’t count or that being a part of a program or being a part of a ministry – all those things are important.
A little story, we were looking for the next series of leaders. And so, I went to our elders and then I went to our staff and I said, “Tell me, give me the names of people that you – man, these are leaders in our church. They are emerging. And I don’t know if they’ll do it, but I’m just going to call them and say, ‘Hey, would you meet with me every other Sunday afternoon for six, eight, ten weeks and just get to know each other?’”
And I don’t tell them that there’s a future leadership. I don’t know if there is or not. But I just want to get with them and get to know them. Because I know at the heart, you’ve got to have a relationship.
So, they gave me a bunch of names and I called about eight guys and they all eight said yes and these are leaders. These – wow! And so, I said, “Why don’t we start. Just tell me your story. Just tell me a little bit about how you came to faith and if you have a family or where you work.” And they went around and they told me their story and it’s great.
And I said, “Last question: tell me your relationship with God’s Word.” They said, “What do you mean?” “Just, what’s your relationship with God’s Word? I know you are leading this ministry and you’re involved in that and you have this high-powered job and you’re a doctor and you’re in the high-tech world.”
And they were all different ages and all different nationalities. And I’ll never forget the first one.
He said, “Well, I have YouVersion and I read that verse every day.” I said, “That’s it?” “That’s it. But I try and think about it.” I said, “Okay. Next?” “Well, um, I try to read the Bible, but I’ve got a high-demand job and I’m out by six and usually I have work until about eight and I need to see my kids more.”
And I went around all eight people. And these are people that were successful, they were involved in church, their relationship to the Word was pathetic. And I had one of those gentle moments that I have, probably more than I should. But in one of those really gentle moments, I said, “Guys, I have heard about your life, I’ve heard about your families, I’ve heard about some of you have kids, I have heard about your dreams, I’ve heard about business, I’ve heard about your spiritual operations. Can I just go on record and tell you something?”
And they all leaned forward and said, “Absolutely none of that is ever going to happen. Your current trajectory for your life is train wrecks in every, single one of those areas because of your lack of connection with God’s Word.” That sort of set the tone.
And so, I had a little book about learning how to get in God’s Word I gave to each one of them and I thought, Boy, I came on really strong. So, this next time we meet, I bet they’ll all be digging in.
I was wrong! But you know what? They did start. And I remember the one guy that’s a CFO he goes, “I’m getting in the Bible before I go to the gym.” He goes, “As I have been reading the Bible, I realize that I feel all this pressure, but I don’t eat with my family and I haven’t tucked my kids in bed for about three years.” He goes, “I decided I’m going to go home.”
And one by one by one by one, it wasn’t me saying, it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that. You know what happened? Their heart, instead of hard; their heart, instead of shallow; their heart, instead of choked and crowded – it got soft.
And it wasn’t who they heard, it wasn’t a song they were singing, it was the living God and Spirit of the living God taking the written Word and making it the living Word and, by the way, it not only teaches and instructs, it actually gives us the power.
The Spirit of God can live in your life, but the Word is the fuel and the fuel gets transmitted by a trusting moment of faith that responds in obedience. And as you take the step, you get power to live the life that He has called you to.
Theresa and I over the years have done, certainly, our share of counseling and
I always liked to just be down front and talk to people. “So, what is God doing?” And people have really, really, really big problems sometimes. We have had our really big problems too. So, okay. But I saw this parallel. People would come down and, “This is wrong and this is wrong and that’s wrong and this is wrong and that’s wrong and where is God?” And so, I listen and pray and then I’ll say, “Could you tell me just something?” “Yeah.” “Tell me a little bit about, are you in the Bible on a regular basis?” “Well, no.” “Well, do you read it at all?” “No.” “So, you come to church now and then. Your problems are astronomical. And you really want God’s help. And you have been crying for the last five minutes and telling me how, ‘Where is God?’
Here’s an observation after forty years of ministry. Very, very big problems correlate with zero to little time in God’s Word. Much time in God’s Word doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. It means you have power and perspective and the Jesus that you sing about, that you said He is for me, He is with me – He manifests His presence and His power because He is speaking to you through His Word.”
Now, before I talk about some really practical ways, I need to fair here, because Jesus makes then some warnings. And here He gives you three specific warnings. Notice the warning number one. He says, “Do you bring a lamp out and put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on a stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Then notice He goes on. “Consider it carefully what you hear,” He continues, “with the measure that you use it,” as in, put it into practice, “it will be measured unto you and even more. Whoever has will be given more, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
Warning number one is: there is no such thing as private spirituality. We are living in a day where: I don’t need people. I don’t need this, even as a Christian. I am on my own. I don’t go to church. I read the Bible and I pray and I have this private relationship.
He says, “That’s not a part of My plan.” Whatever I am doing in your life needs to get out and people need to see it in your words and your life and your priorities and your work. The truth is light. The light is impacting you and I want that light to be everywhere.
And then He makes another warning. And this is actually kind of scary. He said: When you are in a service like this, when you are listening to a podcast, when you’re listening to a song where God is speaking and when God speaks to you, He brings truth through His Word, if you respond to the light, He will give you more light. If you stiff-arm Him and don’t respond to the light, little, by little, by little, even the light you have will be taken away.
See, it’s not, I can take you to places where people know the Bible ten times better than me and are writing in Ugaritic and Hebrew and in places – and you know what? God is far from them, but they are Bible scholars. It is not knowing the Bible or about the Bible. It’s responding.
One of the reasons I keep a journal is because it’s so easy to have an emotional experience with God. I read, I kind of felt the Holy Spirit, He said I need to apologize to Theresa because of what I said last night. And I really raised my voice and I really hurt her feelings. And…oh, I feel good. And I just forgot one little thing. I haven’t apologized to her yet.
The next time I open the Bible, it’s not quite as vivid. And then as I am praying and sit quietly, Have you apologized to Theresa yet? Well, we’ll do that later. But it’s eighty percent her fault, only twenty percent my fault. I want to make sure she has a chance, Lord.
Here’s what I’m telling you: there are times when I have felt very spiritually dry. You want a great rhythm of life? Every, single day I spend time in God’s Word. And every, single day I say, Lord, I have to respond. I need to take some specific step of faith today to respond to the truth. It might be: I’m going to pause and thank You. It might be: you know what? This was so encouraging to me, Lord, bring someone to my mind. I’m going to text two people.
But I am going to do something every, single day that, when the Word of God comes in, I’m going to act on it. Because here’s what I know: the longer I don’t act on it, you know what you become? You become a Pharisee. You become someone who knows a lot and then you can tell people how much you know and how much you have read and all your theology. Some of the people that know the most about God are the farthest from God.
The organ of transformation is not knowledge in the Christian life. The organ of transformation is obedience. It’s responding to what God shows you.
So, if He has been saying: Stop logging on to pornography. He’s going to keep saying that and saying that and saying that and you keep doing it, pretty soon, your experience of God’s presence…
Get out of that relationship. Forgive him. Or, Forgive her. You’re going to spend the whole rest of your life being angry at your dad or your mom and what they didn’t give you? Release it. And if you, if you are hard-hearted and will not respond to the Spirit, what you find is God doesn’t feel close. He is not doing that as – He’s doing it as a kindness and a discipline.
Anytime you feel like God is a little bit far away, pray this prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and see if there is any wicked way in me. And lead me in the everlasting way.” And then sit quietly.
And if you hear, “You’re a terrible person and you’re a jerk and…” That’s Satan. That’s condemnation. It’s always vague, it’s always general, it makes you want to run from God. But when you sit quietly and He says something very specific about you and an attitude or something you need to address, Thank You, Lord. That’s your Father saying, Hey, hey, come over here. Let Me put My arm around you. Let Me forgive you. Let’s walk together again. And as you walk in the light, He begins to experience the light with you.
Second warning is the parable of the growing seed. He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? A man scattered seed on the ground night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows though he doesn’t know how. All by itself,” we get our word automatic from this word, “the soil produces, first, the grain, then the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Warning number one: there is no such thing as just private spirituality. Warning number two: there is no magic formula. Spiritual growth is a process. Everything in life, right? It’s life. It’s the life of Christ. Everything in life has a seed and then the seed sprouts, then the plant grows, and then it matures. And when it matures, it has – what? Fruit. What is inside fruit? Seeds!
Inside every fruit, there are seeds. In fact, go back to Genesis. God designed this from the very beginning. All of nature – He is screaming, “This is how life works!” And He talks about: there’s vegetation and seed of its own kind. And there are animals and they multiply after their own kind.
He wants you to know there’s a process in birthing things in your life and there’s some growing. And then there is real growth. And then there is fruit. And guess what – it takes time. It is a journey. There is no big experience that will make it all happen, no matter how hard you try.
Notice He says: he plants it day or night, whether he is sleeping or not and how it grows he doesn’t know. Are you ready for this too? It’s mysterious. The Spirit of God is uniquely interacting with your soul and your spirit, what you need to hear in a personalized way. There’s not some cookie-cutter formula that everyone needs to do these practices in this way at this time. He is working and cultivating and growing and birthing and maturing you.
He knows your family of origin, He knows your fears, He knows your struggles, He knows your addictions, He knows all the things that are in your heart. He knows your strengths. And He is speaking in His Word, by His Spirit, and through the community of God’s people as a Father ushering you on this journey to make you more and more like His Son. And sometimes we get very impatient.
The third warning: “Again, He said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like? Or what parable shall we use to describe it? It’s like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed in the ground, yet when planted it grows and becomes the largest of all the garden. Plants with such big branches that birds of the air can perch in its shade.’” And then He goes on to talk about many other parables.
The third warning is that it starts small, but it has great impact. Sometimes you just feel like – I remember as a new Christian. I didn’t grow up as a follower of Christ. I’m telling you, I’d pray for three minutes and I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I remember reading a part of a paragraph and my head hurt.
God’s journey, it starts small, and then what happens is He not only works in you, but then He works through you. It’s the smallest little seed, but then it grows. Then notice the impact. Even the birds of the air, it becomes a place of shelter to others.
God must work deeply in you, before He works significantly through you. And I just want you to get that, because that’s the context for spiritual rhythms. Spiritual rhythms are very dangerous if they become an end in themselves.
If they become a journey and a process, where you realize: the issue is my heart. God’s seed is powerful and supernatural. It will always produce the right thing.
Second, you know what? It’s going to take time. And so, the issue isn’t how much I know. It’s: am I responding to what I do know? And then I need to realize that God is patient with me and it’s a process. He’s not shocked when you have two steps forward and three steps backwards. He’s your Father. He’s not down on you. The enemy wants you to get discouraged.
And you’re thinking, Gosh, everyone else is so far along. I remember when I was – I came to Christ just before I went away to college and I would go to a Bible study and they would say something and everyone turned someplace and I’m looking at the table of contents. It was a really thick book. And, let’s see…where…? And I didn’t want to be too…
By the time I found it, they read it and were moving on. And I felt like a dummy. And what I realized was, you know something? God looks at your heart. He says, “I’m for you. I love you. Let’s start where you are.”
And candidly, I’ve been doing this for a while – I still read some passages – can I make an admission? Lord, I’ve read a lot of books, but I really, I still don’t know what this passage means. Is it embarrassing to think that an infinite God who created the galaxies and the world, that somehow, someway, that we are going to understand it all? It’s – you know what? Just take the passages that you do understand and respond to them and watch what happens.
Well, let me get practical to what are some ways, the spiritual rhythms at least that have helped me the most. The first one, I had a young pastor, I was speaking somewhere recently and he had been a pastor five years. He goes, “Excuse me, Mr. Ingram!” Boy, you’re getting old when they call you that.
And he said, “I’m just a young pastor and what, what advice would you give me? I really, I want God to use my life and…” And I said, “Hey…”
And I could tell he thought there was some really big thing coming. I said, “Well, I’m grateful that God put some great people in my life, I’m grateful that I got to go to a good school and had to learn Hebrew and Greek and all that.” And he’s going, “Oh, oh…”
I said, “Let me tell you what has helped me the most, more than anything else. All the education, all that. Here’s what has helped me the most. I had a bricklayer with a high school education model what it looked like to follow Jesus, love his wife, raise his kids. And after about three years around him, I didn’t know if I was supposed to be a coach or a lawyer or whatever. Here’s what I knew: I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be a man like him.”
And so, I said, “What I saw was he got up every day and spent time with God. It was the priority of his life.” And so, what I told him was, “For me, at first it was duty. I didn’t always feel like it. It was hard to get up. And then pretty soon it became a discipline that it was a habit in my life and I did it. And then I remember after a few years, it became a delight.”
And I will tell you, Theresa and I sometimes joke. I make the coffee at night before we get up and I’ll say, “Hey! The coffee is already made. We should go to bed early so we can get up, because then the morning comes!”
And I quit setting an alarm probably twenty-five years ago. Lord, just wake me up. Now, some of you keep setting it. Don’t miss work. But if you went to bed as early as me, I get plenty of sleep. And He just wakes me up and I just can’t wait to meet Him and you know what I do? I am in His Word and then when He speaks to me, I write it down. Because if it’s a process, I am so silly and not very smart and forgetful, I’ll forget what He’s doing.
And so when I feel really uptight, I’ll write this, Dear God. I am very concerned about…will you please help me with…? And I put a little box. And then, God, thank You so much for…when I don’t feel like praying. It’s amazing when you start thanking Him for what you do have. Thank You, thank You, thank You. And then, Wow, I’ve got a big meeting today. It may not go well. Would You give me supernatural wisdom and grace when I meet with so-and-so, because I think this will…
And then, the next morning I wake up and I’ve got these boxes. Lord, check mark! 10/11. Man, did You work in their heart and You gave me wisdom. Line through it. Lord, give me more grace, because I didn’t handle that very well. Right?
And near the end of every year, sometimes about every six months, I’ll get two or three of these out and I’ll just read where I’ve been and I’ll see the rhythms that God has in my life and what He is doing, because don’t we get just into what happened today and what about next week? Now, you don’t all have to journal. But for some of us, especially if you’re a verbal processer, it’s very helpful.
The second thing that has been super helpful for me was: how do you break through what I call, “strongholds.” You have areas of your life you just simply can’t break out of. And I will say what helped me more than anything else was I was introduced to memorizing Scripture around the areas that I struggled. And I started writing them on these cards and I would write, like in my college days, I was convinced that you could not be free from lustful thoughts.
And so, I took a number of verses where the Bible talks about that and I memorized them. And after twenty-one verses, word-for-word, in twenty-one days that I reviewed every day, God changed my thinking that changed my life. And I was free.
Then I realized that there were areas of my life that I longed to become, but no amount of trying hard – but the Scripture says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
If we had a little more time, if there’s one big thing I’ve learned over the years, apart from spending time with God, it’s being very focused – very, very focused about your intentionality in walking with God.
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. And so, when I was twenty-eight years old, I came to a point where I decided I would make instead of just “to-do” lists every day, I made a “to-be” list. And I was overwhelmed with work and I was a young dad and I felt like no matter what I did, I didn’t measure up.
And I remember someone telling me, “God will never love you any more than He loves you at this very minute. So, there’s nothing to prove and there’s nothing to lose. Live out of that love.”
And so, I remember, it was on my way home. I stopped at a Dairy Queen. And I got a napkin out.
Who do you want to be? I decided: I want to be a man of God. Well, what will that take? And then I wrote down on my schedule that I would meet with God first. Who do you want to be? I want to be a great husband with a great marriage. And so, I wrote on my calendar, “Every Friday: date with Theresa. We are going to eat as a family.” Who do you want to be? “I want to be a great dad.” And so I wrote on my calendar when and how I would spend time with my kids.
I said, “I want to be a great friend who actually stays in shape.” And so, I wrote on my calendar when I was going to work out and hang out with some guys. And then, “Who do you want to be?” “I want to be a man that God would choose to use in a way that would be absolutely unexplainable.”
And so, I started writing my desires down. And I wrote desires that I knew for sure were the will of God. So, a desire like, “I want to be habitually thankful as my unconscious response to all life’s circumstances in view of the sovereignty and the goodness of God.”
And I would just read that over. “I desire to hunger and thirst for God’s Word, to memorize and meditate on it, in order that I might know Him better.” I wrote down, “I desire to limit my work hours weekly and preaching schedule to avoid the burnout and self-dependency it creates.” “I desire to stop caring about what others think and apply myself and my schedule to what will make me the best I can be to God. I want to grow free of the invisible expectations that I allow to hinder my joy, my freedom, my schedule from pursuing the best.” Right? I’m a people pleaser.
And then I went through and I said, “Desire for my marriage.” “I desire to love Theresa sacrificially in a way every day that makes sense to her.” Now, she will tell you, I have not done that. But, and all I did is I would read these. And what I found was, as I read them, my mind was renewed. And I would find myself, “This is weird. I want to take out the trash and she hasn’t told me? Where is this coming from?” And the Spirit would say, You’re renewing your mind.
Then for my kids, I wrote down goals or, really, desires. “I desire to inspire my children to love God and His Word by my example in formal times and in conversation in the car and everywhere.” “I desire to model the attributes of my heavenly Father in my everyday life.” “I desire for each of my kids to hunger and thirst for righteousness and know deep in their souls how loved, significant, and valuable they are in Christ, not because of anything or anyone else.”
And then I wrote some desires for ministry. 1997 or 8. God, I desire to put something in print that would help people the way other authors have helped me. And I never dreamed I would write a book. God delights to fulfill the desires of your heart.