The following is an excerpt from www.Exponential.org, originally written by Dave Ferguson on January 8, 2023. For more wisdom from Dave, check out Lost Cause, a five-session RightNow Media video series on evangelism.
We need to create and use language that reinforces our values. We must be intentional about creating and consistently using vocabulary that mobilizes Christians to reach lost people. The clarity, consistency, and intentionality of our narratives, language, behaviors, and practices are an overflow of the clarity and conviction of our values.
Consistency is one of the keys to effective storytelling. We need to use the same language, in the same ways, over a long period of time.
One of the things we learn as church leaders over time is that just when we get sick and tired of repeating phrases is when the congregation is just beginning to get it. We like to be onto the next new terminology, and often it works against us.
To create narratives that make it clear evangelism is important to us, we need to be willing to embrace repetition.
The reason we need to pay so much attention to our language is that we are responsible for telling the most important story in human history: the gospel. This is the story of a redeeming God who came to live among us in the human form of Jesus before dying for our sins, coming back from the dead, and leaving his Holy Spirit with us to empower us to share this story widely and well. We are all responsible for telling this story in a way that makes clear the fact that all human stories lead back to Jesus’ story.
We are all lost and in need of our risen savior.
We see Jesus articulate this in one simple statement in Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” That was Jesus’ mission. And that should be our mission, too. And, therefore it certainly should be the mission of his church. If that was his mission, we should ask ourselves: how did Jesus live out his mission in the story of his life?
From the beginning, Jesus’ story expands beyond the religious institutions of his day. These spaces were often closed to outsiders and the lost, but through his actions and words, he expressed his values (and that of his father) to welcome people into a new story.
When you follow Jesus’ example and intentionally connect with people far from God you’ll begin to get questions about why you believe stories from the Bible, and about how your life story has changed as a result of your relationship with Jesus. Be prepared for these moments because they offer golden opportunities to open doors. They allow you to build bridges between the stories that others tell you and the story of Jesus.
We also see from Jesus’ examples that we have an easier time sharing our stories with people during meaningful moments that don’t necessarily take place in our church buildings. For many of us, this will require a shift in our ecclesiology, the way we come together and experience church. If you have a mindset that evangelism happens only in a building once a week (the common model for most of our Western cultures) you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships that create space for storytelling and story-sharing. It’s hard to build relationships while sitting in the pews listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, or taking communion.
As we seek opportunities to tell our stories, it can be helpful to use a simple storytelling framework that helps us connect to others around us. I use a simple three-part format to share my story and it’s been so effective I wrote about it in my book BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. You wouldn’t believe how many stories have come out of this method.
What was your life like before you met Jesus? Or if you grew up in the church knowing all about Jesus, what was your life like before you got serious about following him? Your story begins with who you were.
How did you become a Christ-follower? Did you go through a particularly tough time in your life that led you back to God? Did a friend invite you to a church service? Did a family member introduce you to Jesus? Did a life experience inspire you to get serious about following Jesus?
What difference has following Jesus made in your life? How has knowing him impacted both the good and hard times? Yes, when telling your story, include both the good and the hard. People will be more impacted when you’re honest about the challenges you continue to face even when you’re following Jesus. And don’t give the Sunday school answer. Talk about how your life is different and how God is growing you in certain areas, but make sure you’re sincere about how it’s a process and how often you still make mistakes.
To learn more about developing narratives of evangelism in your church or community, watch Lost Cause, a RightNow Media original series made in partnership with Dave Ferguson and Exponential.
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We all know that prayer is an important part of the Christian life, but if we’re honest, finding time to pray can seem impossible. It’s hard to pause to pray throughout the week when work, family, and an overloaded schedule seem to take up most of our free time. We all have a lot going on, but we don’t have to let busyness stop us from spending time with God. In fact, we can’t afford to let busyness stop us—prayer is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life because it is how we communicate with God. We cannot properly serve a God we don’t talk to.
If we’re going to see prayer as an important part of our daily lives, let’s keep a few things in mind.
The Bible makes it clear that prayer isn’t optional—prayer is a command and is essential to following Jesus. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (emphasis mine). Think about your current prayer life and ask yourself, “Do I really talk to God about everything?” Many of us would admit that we have a habit of inviting God into the large-scale issues of life, while leaving him out of what we might consider miniscule. But leaving him out of the little things can subtly lead to a lifestyle of independence and isolation. Every Christian is called to pray in every circumstance.
Prayer keeps us in check and helps us remain dependent on God. We all have the tendency to think we have life figured out—with Google, opinions on social media, and readily available advice from friends, it’s easy to think we have our lives under control. But as helpful as our friends and internet resources are, we need the Spirit of God to generate a spiritual life. When we pray, we’re showing God that we know we need him. We cannot make it through this life without his guidance, his wisdom, and his input.
No relationship we have can thrive if we don’t spend significant time with the other person—the connection we have with friends, family, or significant others will eventually fizzle if we don’t make quality time a priority. The same is true for our relationship with God. If we want to know God deeply, then communication is key.
As believers, much of how and why we pray is rooted in how well we know God. Because we know he expects holiness, our prayers must include repentance. Because we know he is a generous God, our prayers must include thanksgiving and gratitude. Because he is a good and kind God, our prayers should include our adoration and praise for him. The more we know him, the broader and more intimate our prayers become.
There are many ways we can enrich our life of prayer. Take a moment to read through these suggestions and reflect on the prayer life you currently have and what kind of prayer life you want.
God desires to be involved in our daily routine, thoughts, and decision making. Say a prayer of thankfulness when you find a great parking spot on a busy day. Ask him to help you stay focused when a work project is frustrating. Pray for wisdom when your toddler throws a tantrum in the grocery store.
When you can’t form the right words to say but are filled with emotion, you can allow the words of Scripture to become your heart’s prayer. Read your favorite psalm or passage and allow those verses to be your prayer. Meditate on them, memorize them, or read them aloud.
God is our creator and, as the psalmist says in Psalm 139:2, he knows our thoughts from far off. There’s no need to hide our true feelings, frustrations, or questions from God—he already knows and wants us to bring those feelings to him. When we pray, we have the freedom to be honest in his presence knowing that he will guide us into all truth, correct any erroneous thinking we might have, and comfort us.
Sometimes, the best way to enhance our prayer life is to form a routine. When we intentionally incorporate prayer into our daily lives, it will become a natural habit. An easy way to get started is to try out one of the devotionals on RightNow Media. Prayer and the Psalms is a ten-day devotional that takes you through several psalms to learn more about prayer.
When we start to invite God into the everyday—even mundane—parts of our lives, we move past solely making requests and walk into trusting him with all our thoughts and troubles. Prayer is how we learn to worship him fully, know him as our friend and savior, and lean on him as our only hope.
It feels like church is changing. Well, that isn’t completely the case. Worship styles, Christian culture, and the popular forms of preaching change with every generation. That is as inevitable as the sun setting this evening. But the cultural ground under our feet has shifted.
As pastors, we can often despair over our congregation’s lack of passion. To combat their malaise, we dream up campaigns to build excitement, events to attract people distant from the gospel, or emulate popular teachers to add an extra spark to the pulpit. We run ourselves ragged trying to dispel apathy. But what happens when flashy strategies and catchy anecdotes don’t energize our people; when there are no new volunteers and Back Row Bob still sleeps through your sermons?
When our strategies fail, we often feel like failures. Shame, despair, doubt, and self-criticism come knocking on our office doors to remind us of our flaws and shortcomings. If we aren’t careful, we will end up like Elijah, abandoning our calling in frustration, grief, and despair (1 Kings 19:1–10).
Our culture is changing. In many ways, the Christian culture of the last thirty years is disappearing as the West evolves into a post-Christian world. The strategies of yesterday aren’t working today like they used to and won’t work in tomorrow’s world. But we don’t need a new strategy. The solution to apathy and the church’s woes is not a better worship set, a more responsible youth pastor, or better elders. Gospel-oriented passion is a God-given gift.
When we ask God to cure our apathy, we are asking for nothing less than revival—a reorientation of people to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s a tall order, far too much for any one of us. But, to our relief, the enlivening of God’s people and reawakening of the spiritually drowsy is not our responsibility. It is not in our skillset. Any and every pastor-led “revival” will end as soon as that pastor’s humanity is revealed—either through exposure of sin, exhaustion, or weakness.
You are imperfect, but God has called you to lead his people, flawed as you may be. Your call is to be faithful. What you need, what your people need, and what the world needs is for the Spirit to move in our midst.
The first step in combating apathy is to drop to our knees in humble prayer, admitting our limitations, our fears, our frustrations, and hopes. Praise God for what he has done in your church (how often we forget!) and what he is preparing to do. Practice what you preach. Confess your sins. Thank God for his goodness. Weep and rejoice for your flock. Boldly ask that God would awaken you and your people and be glorified in your congregation.
An expert band, thousands of dollars in lights, and beautiful staging, are nice for Sunday worship. But true worship is neither confined nor defined by staging. True worship is defined by spirit and truth and can happen in every moment of our lives. The profound beauty of worship is not found in your band’s version of “Oceans” or in your expert teaching. The glory of worship is in its object—God himself. Worship is an opportunity for you and your people to wholly turn to God in praise and awe.
The second way to combat apathy is to point your people to God—the one who is, was, and ever will be. The Alpha and Omega; beginning and end. The most passionate church in the world is the church who is wholly focused on God. And, again, true worship is a gift from God. The Spirit leads us in truth, prays for us when we do not have the words, and glorifies the Father and Son as he indwells us.
Once again, you are dependent on God to enliven your worship. So keep praying.
It can be easy for lay people to assume that pastors and church staff are the only people with a calling on their life. We know that isn’t true, that every person is called to lay their lives down at the foot of the cross.
We are busy. But our schedules don’t change God’s calling. Often, we try to make church amenable to people’s schedules. To a point, that is totally understandable. But decades of seeker-sensitive models have taught Christians the church is a low-commitment event. It is what we do on Sundays—well, the Sundays we feel like going. Is it really that surprising Christians who see church as an optional program aren’t excited to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources for it?
When we minimize commitment to the Body of Christ, we send the message that the church’s need is not so great—that sacrifice is for church staff, volunteering is a hassle, and the mission of God is a side plot to our lives.
Do not minimize involvement in the church. Don’t soften the commands of Scripture. When someone shows up to volunteer, don’t give them a minimum requirement—tell them what you need and ask for a commitment. Invest in them.
Apathy has always been a problem for God’s people. We aren’t experiencing anything new, even as our culture slides into a post-Christian perspective. But when the world ignores the church, our hope doesn’t change.
Pastors are like the prophets of old, surrounded by idols and syncretism. Like the prophets, we call people back to God’s Word, to radical repentance, worship, and service.
Our world doesn’t need a better event; they need Jesus. Turn to him. Point your people to him. Call them to his standard.
Pastor, he is with you.
It’s a trite but true saying, one we would follow closely with God’s warning in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” As church leaders, we know all about the need for Christian community. We preach it, write about it, can cite all the verses imploring and commanding Christians to engage in it . . . but few of us can escape the magnetic pull of isolation. No one is an island, but the calling to ministry often seems like a call to living alone.
Even when surrounded by staff, volunteers, and faithful church members, leaders can feel isolated. Our people don’t understand the weight of spiritual leadership. Our work is often minimized to “just getting coffee with people all day.” In addition, we have unique internal struggles that we don’t know how to deal with. We encourage people through their doubts, but don’t know where to turn with our own. We prepare sermons or lessons on confession and repentance while fearing that if we practiced what we preach, we would lose our jobs. And so, we hide, couch the truth behind Christian platitudes, and pretend to have it all together when the seams of our lives are tearing.
For a church leader, isolation can feel like the only way to make it when simply trying to stay afloat has led us to feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and unable to be ourselves. It may not be good, but it seems easier to be alone.
Let me tell you something you already know: the reason you are remaining in isolation—no matter your circumstance—is a demonic lie. Isolation will encourage your secret sins to grow, fertilize the roots of your pride, and hasten inevitable emotional and/or physical burnout. It may feel safe, but isolation will destroy you and your ministry.
Yes, you are in a unique position both professionally and spiritually, but the normal rules of Christian life apply to you in the exact same ways that they do to the people in the pews. More than that, God’s grace and love are equally available to you as they are to the greatest sinner in your Sunday service.
1. You need confession and repentance. Read James 5:13–16. What fears or concerns do you have with confessing and repenting of your sin within your church? What could you gain from turning away from your hidden sin?
2. You do not need to hide your flaws. Read 2 Corinthians 11:28–30 and 12:6–10. What strengths are you tempted to hide behind? What would it look like for you to “boast in your weakness”?
3. You need friends both in and outside of your church. Read Hebrews 3:12–13. In what ways does isolation encourage your sin? Who in and outside of your church could you meet with for regular encouragement and accountability?
You do not have to lead alone. There are countless opportunities for you to connect with other church leaders just like you.
1. Join thousands of pastors, church staff, and group leaders for RightNow Conference.
2. Connect with other pastors who use RightNow Media through the Church Leaders Facebook group. Discover weekly bonus content, best practices, and conversations with others in ministry.
3. Explore the Pastors library—it has great content for pastors and church leaders. Go through a study with other leaders or your staff to grow in Christ together.
The barriers keeping you from being fully known may feel insurmountable, but God is calling you into something far greater than your isolation could ever offer. Ministry can be a burden, but it is never meant to be carried alone. In Christ, you can look at your community and echo the words of David in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Since Jesus left the disciples, we have carried the gospel across the globe. But, when we think of how to connect with unchurched people in our community, we can be left scratching our heads.
Was it always this hard? Do we need to make our churches more relevant, more trendy, more comfortable? We feel like we’re doing all the right things but we aren’t seeing results—what are we missing?
It can be disheartening to go through seasons where we aren’t seeing people come to Christ. We can feel stuck or behind. It can be tempting to think that we have to try something drastic to introduce more people to Jesus. But when we think about reaching the unchurched—people who have no experience with or interest in either the church or Christ—we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We simply need to do what Christians have always done with a strategy that best fits our context.
In Bible study, we all know context is king. If you don’t know the context of a passage, you will probably miss the point. The same holds true for your church. God has place you (a unique pastor) in your church (a unique people) in a unique place. Your position is purposeful and should define everything from the sermons you preach to the sort of programs your church offers.
To connect with the unchurched, start by thinking through your unique context—the things that make your mission field and position unique. These questions can get you started:
No matter how you answer these questions, starting with God’s unique design for your church will give you an idea of his direction for your church. For example, if non-Christians in your community are unlikely to go to church on Sunday, think about how you can empower your people to befriend their neighbors or to make your small groups open to visitors. Or, if your church is downtown but speaks the language of the suburbs, consider how you might adapt to relate to the people next door.
As you figure out your context, your creativity will spark. You will think of new events, sermon series, or ministries that could help you connect with the unchurched. But, as our culture changes, our posture also needs to adjust. For decades, the church has operated on a “come and see” model. People were willing to go to church or check out weekly ministries because the church was broadly seen as trustworthy and needed. Today, that is not always the case.
Unlike in year’s past, people today are more likely to think organized religion isn’t important. According to a 2019 Gallup study, only 36% of Americans have a high level of confidence in the church or organized religion, an all-time low. At the same time, 29% of Americans have little or no confidence in the church, an all-time high. In other words, we should assume that the people around us are skeptical of the church, even if they claim Christ.
So what do we do? A Sunday service may attract a handful of curious unchurched people. But a mobilized congregation of purposeful, Christlike friends can reach dozens of neighborhoods, workplaces, coffee shops, and grocery stores every day. Our congregations can reach more unchurched people in a day than we could with dozens of well-crafted sermons.
The attractional model has passed its prime. It is useful in some areas, but less so every year. To connect with the unchurched, our model for ministry needs to turn outward, shifting from a “come and see” to a “go and tell” mentality. For some of us, we may just need a change in our language, speaking to the specific concerns and questions of our culture. For others, we may need to fundamentally alter the way we do ministry.
There are many reasons why the unchurched may not be attracted to a church service or event, but there is nothing stopping us from going to them. Everywhere you go, someone needs Jesus: your neighbors, coworkers, bank tellers, and mail carriers. God has placed you in their path; trust him and what he can do in their lives.
Connecting with the unchurched is not about marketing strategies, trendier social media accounts, or more relevant sermon illustrations. None of those things redeem sinners. Only God can change a person’s heart. Our responsibility is to faithfully make disciples wherever and whenever God gives us the chance.
To summarize the Great Commission: go, baptize, teach.
Many aspiring politicians hope to become president of the United States one day. But the vast majority of them, despite countless county fair hot dogs, late nights, and fundraising emails, will never sit in the Oval Office. Their desires and dreams are based on subjective possibilities beyond their control.
Across the pond, William, son of England’s Prince Charles, hopes to become king of the United Kingdom one day. As the grandson of the queen, the son of the heir apparent, and second in line to the monarchy, he is counting on over a thousand years of law and tradition to guarantee his eventual accession to the throne. It’s safe to say he confidently expects to be king one day.
Whose hope, the politician’s or the prince’s, more closely resembles yours? Like our political candidates, we often use hope to express a desire or wish for a possible outcome. Hope can seem vague and subjective, difficult to pinpoint. It can be a feeling, an impression, a wish—often felt with deep fervency. I really hope my team wins tonight. I sure hope Mom cooks my favorite meal.
Feelings of hope brighten our countenances. But in the end, we’re still waiting for something we can’t guarantee will happen. William’s hope, however, is a confident expectation that his head will one day wear the crown. The law and his family tree are a sure foundation for his hope.
When the writers of Scripture speak of hope in God, they use words of waiting, confidence, and trust. When God is the object of our hope, we wait in confident expectation. Why?
God has proven his reliability, trustworthiness, and power; therefore, our hope in him is well-deserved and sure.
God’s provision and redemptive acts are fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of biblical hope lies in its object—God’s faithful character and matchless power—rather than the fervency of our feelings.
Jeremiah, praying to God, “Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress” (Jeremiah 14:8) and “LORD, the hope of Israel” (17:13).
Paul names Jesus: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope . . .” (1 Timothy 1:1).
Jesus’s victorious return: “. . . while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The church is sometimes called “the hope of the world,” but any hope that we offer to the world comes from our savior. Jesus is the hope of the world, and he calls us to share his message of love, grace, and salvation. Because he is all-powerful and ever-faithful, we can look to the future not with dread but with joyful anticipation. We can endure disasters and conflicts and every disappointment with a sense of purpose.
God’s word is true, and his gospel offers hope for each of us individually, for the church as a body, and for the world which hasn’t yet recognized its savior.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
“For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14–15).
As the body of Christ set apart to bear his name, the church reflects the glorious likeness of our savior. He calls us to shine like stars in the world, proclaiming him in word and deed. The risen Jesus is our hope both now and eternally.
Registration for the 2022 RightNow Conference, which serves pastors, staff, and church volunteers, opens soon. This year’s theme, Hope Has a Name, reflects our desire to encourage church leaders to rest upon the solid rock of God’s character and faithfulness. We have every reason to place our hope in God, because his record of living up to his word is absolute, perfect, and complete.
More than even the law and a thousand years of tradition, more than aimless waiting or wishful thinking, we have reason to hope.
Have you ever found yourself leaving a Sunday worship service saying to yourself, “The worship was great—I can’t wait for next week”? Or maybe you've had the opposite reaction: “I love this church, but the worship was not my favorite . . .” No matter which situation you have found yourself in, we can all admit that we sometimes equate worship with the music we sing on a Sunday morning.
Our perspective of worship is often limited to what we experience at church. But Scripture is clear about what worship is—it extends much deeper than the songs that we sing. Worship is an intimate expression of gratitude for the mercies of God that he’s given to his people. And singing is just one aspect of how we worship. True worship happens when we live a life of sacrifice—when we worship as a lifestyle.
Paul had a strong grasp of what it meant to worship when he wrote to the Roman church. In Romans 12 Paul writes,
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”
Paul appealed to the church in Rome with the truth that worship is meant to be a sacrificial offering to God. What do we sacrifice? We sacrifice our lives to God. Sacrificing time by setting aside moments to reach out to those we care about is an expression of worship. Worship is sacrificing our money by giving consistently to the local church or covering a friend’s bill. It’s also offering our gifts and talents to help others. We’re called to live a lifestyle of worship—not setting apart portions of our week for worship but instead living in a constant state of worship knowing that every moment can be an act of service to God.
So, what does it look like to worship with our lives?
First, we worship in Spirit and in truth. In John 4:23, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman who would become the first evangelist of Jesus’s ministry. In this passage, John records Jesus’s words as he taught the woman how we worship. Jesus said,
“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Worshiping in Spirit and truth means we are led by the Spirit and grounded in the truth of Scripture. We need the Spirit—he moves in us, teaching us to worship, maturing us, and rooting us in truth. Sacrificial worship begins with our relationship with the Spirit. But how, exactly, does he help us to worship? In Romans 12:2, Paul says,
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .”
Worship begins with internal transformation. Renewal of the mind does not come from self-improvement or the next great self-help podcast. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes us. By his power, we experience transformation in our minds, our desires, and our actions. We worship in Spirit and truth by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and allowing him to work in our hearts. When we do so, we allow him to change us, enabling us to offer ourselves completely to God.
Second, our worship is to be holy, or set apart. Paul is not calling us to worship perfectly but rather to offer holistic worship. As Jesus’s followers, how we serve, how we give, how we love—they’re all expressions of our worship.
We can often get distracted by the ways of the world and lose sight of where we orient our worship. One example is how our minds are often slaves to any form of stimulation or entertainment. We can spend countless hours streaming Netflix or scrolling through our smartphones and, before we know it, we’ve devoted half our day to mindless consumption. But Paul reminds us that in our worship we should “not be conformed to this age.” Our devotion to God should be all-encompassing, which means we cannot let sin run rampant in our lives. Instead, we should live in a way that shows our lives belong to God.
Finally, our worship is to be pleasing to God. He wants us to offer our joys, struggles, successes, and hardships to him. We please him as we move away from self-centeredness toward God-centered lives. As we do so, we begin to see that his ways are much greater than ours. Our desires and aspirations begin to align with his. Paul comments on this transformation in Romans 12:2 by saying,
“. . . so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Paul says when we have a lifestyle of worship, we align with the Holy Spirit, and we know and delight in the will of God. Worship connects us to our creator; it changes us and makes us more like Christ.
So, how do we worship as a lifestyle? We live a life of sacrifice. We devote every day to God. We worship in Spirit and in truth in a manner that is holy and pleasing to God. The music we sing moves us and allows us to express praise in a unique and creative way. But music isn’t the main avenue of worship—our lives are the ultimate vehicle of worship to our savior. How do you worship? How are you devoting your life in surrender to God?
Living out our worship begins with a biblical understanding of worship. Gather your family and tune into Worship in the Word. Sing along with Christian artists Shane & Shane as they share ten beautiful, simple songs drawn directly from Scripture, providing a biblical and captivating worship experience.
But despite our best intentions to engage with God every day, many of us struggle to do so. According to The American Bible Society, 181 million Americans opened a Bible in 2021. Of those 181 million people . . .
If you have struggles, doubts, or fears when it comes to engaging with God’s Word, you are not alone. Millions of Christians desire to spend more time with God, but don’t know how.
So, how can we spend daily time with God when obstacles get in our way? To answer that question, we’ll start by digging into what God’s Word says about spending time with him.
Spending time with God isn’t just something we should do for him—it’s something he wants to do with us. We serve a personal, caring God who invites us to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28–30).
If we approach God with a humble heart, we have freedom in the details of how we engage with him. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” God cares more about our heart posture than our method of relating to him.
Starting a new habit is overwhelming when we try to do it on our own. However, when we depend on God for help, we are empowered to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:1–2 encourages Christians to surrender to God’s renewing sanctification that will help us look more like him. We don’t need self-help; we need to depend on God for true transformation.
Let’s get practical about how we can spend time with God regularly in 2022. There will be some reflection prompts in the following section, so make sure you have somewhere to record your answers.
There’s a big difference between saying to yourself, “I’ll spend time with God at some point,” and “I will spend thirty minutes with God at [time] and [place].” The clearer your plan, the more likely you are to make it happen. Take a moment to write down your plan.
Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” One of the best tools we have for habit change is the accountability and support of one another. If you want to spend more time with God, it will be helpful to tell trusted friends so they can keep you accountable. Brainstorm a list of possible accountability partners and plan how you will stay accountable to them.
Think of the things you do every single day and ponder how you could integrate God’s Word into those pre-existing routines. For example, if you usually watch TV before bed, try putting your Bible on your bedside table and reading before you go to sleep. If you’re in the habit of listening to the news on your morning commute, try listening to worship music or a sermon. The options are endless. List three things you do every single day and brainstorm ways to invite Jesus into those routines.
Spending time with God doesn’t have to be a chore. You don’t have to do the same thing every day. Remember, God cares more about our heart posture than our method of relating to him. You can switch up your routine by listening to a Christian podcast or watching a Bible study video. RightNow Media has a vast library of biblical videos you can use as a starting point for your devotional time. These videos can help you better understand Scripture, live by biblical values, and learn to share your faith with others.
You can also browse our Men’s, Women’s, Youth, and Kids libraries to discover video content for everyone.
It takes time for habits to form and change, and the journey won’t be perfect. Instead of getting discouraged by your struggles and slip-ups, use them as opportunities to grow closer to God. Remember, he wants to spend time with you. Whether you’re reading the Bible, watching a RightNow Media video, or journaling your prayers to God, each interaction with him will sanctify you to think, act, and love more like Jesus.
Let’s be honest—being in control can feel really good. Whether it’s perfectly planning a family vacation or having free creative reign over a project at work, being in control gives us a sense of power that can feel downright exhilarating. When we’re in control of a situation, there’s a level of predictability that puts us at ease and, for a moment, makes us feel like we can predict our future. But control also feeds our belief that we’ve got the skill, foresight, and wisdom to prevent any uncomfortable elements of surprise from entering our lives. And that is a lie.
If we take a step back and look at our desire for control, we’ll see a unhealthy and unrealistic strategy to mask our anxiety—anxiety that we should bring to the feet of Jesus. We might think that being in control is offering us security and safety, but control can strip us from experiencing a beautiful life of faith. It can make us hold onto our idols with a tight-fisted grip and rob us of the ability to mature in Christ.
This isn’t to say that we have no control in this life. After all, God has given us free will and agency to steward our lives, decisions, and the responsibilities he’s given us. Sitting around hoping that God does everything is unrealistic—we still have to make decisions, act in obedience, and use wisdom to walk through this life. But our goal should be to live with God, not by our own power and in our own way. So, how do we use the control God has given us while relying on his sovereignty?
God wants us to rest—and not just by getting enough sleep or relaxing on the beach. When we feel like we have to be in control, we cannot rest. If my present and future depends on me, an afternoon off could be disastrous! What if an email goes unseen? What if my child misses out on an opportunity because of my inaction? Rest is not an option if we have to be gods of our own destinies.
A desire for control creates an inability to rest in the provision of God. He is in control, even when it may not feel like it, and he asks us to trust him with our futures, expectations, and hopes. When we are afraid or worried about tomorrow, we can cast our cares on him because he knows exactly how to handle our needs and our hearts. And, when we trust him, we can live free from worry because we know our good Father is at work, even when we sleep.
If we want to find rest, we have to begin with acknowledging God—not just turning to him when all else fails. However, releasing control is anything but easy. Learning to rest comes with time and allowing the Holy Spirit to help us.
To relinquish control, you will have to surrender your whole life to God. If you’re anything like me, then when you think of “surrender,” you think of someone throwing their hands up during a fight—giving up, vulnerable, with nothing left to give because they’ve run out of options. They’re at the will of their opponent. But when we surrender to God, we’re releasing our problems into more capable hands. In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take up my yoke and learn from me,because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (CSB).
It is exhausting to walk through life trying to control everything around us. We are eager to take on burdens that we weren’t meant to carry. Surrendering control is not about giving up, but about God working through our confusion.
Trusting God can be hard when we find ourselves in situations that we weren’t prepared for, nor have the energy to fix right away. Unforeseen circumstances—bills for unexpected expenses, getting fired, or receiving really bad news from the doctor—can leave us in a pit of anxiety. But even when we can’t see the outcome of our circumstances, God can.
Part of learning to trust in God is remembering that not only is he in control, but he’s trustworthy. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that we should trust in God and not lean on our own understanding. When we rely on our own futile understanding of life’s circumstances, we’re making decisions based on limited knowledge. When we relinquish control and trust God, we are doing exactly what he has called us to—walking by faith and letting him be God.
We’re not going to know everything ahead of time. We can’t. As believers, we stop looking into crystal balls that promise to tell us the future and trust the God who is with us. We cannot know what will happen in five minutes, but that ignorance forces us to trust God moment by moment and through all the surprises in life.
At the end of the day, we can only control so much—our character, our behavior, and how we choose to respond to our circumstances. Relinquishing control—especially when we’re used to holding tightly to our plans and decisions—can be really difficult. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can begin to make choices that lead us into a deeper trust in God, the one who has good plans and hope for our lives.
Consider your life and relationship with control—ask God to help you let go of everything that you’ve been holding onto so that he can lead you to his glorious future.
We all want to experience the freedom of authenticity, but how do we get there? In Discover Your True North, Bill George writes, “Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity, and thus it is at the center of your compass.” If we want to start off the year leading others in the way God has designed us to authentically lead, we must be keenly aware of the person in the mirror.
Self-awareness begins with the difficult work of self-examination. Yet many of us are unwilling to jump into the deep, dark, and uncomfortably cold waters of self-examination, which can feel like an attack on our identity. What if we discover that sometimes we are weak, wrong, or unpleasant?
The apostle Paul addresses the topic of self-awareness with the church in Rome: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3 ESV). This passage comes off the heels of Paul urging the church to be transformed by the renewal of their minds through the gospel message. The gospel tells us that we are weak, wrong, and unpleasant at our core, but God’s grace has rescued us and given us a new identity, which is rooted in Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). So, when we peel back layers of ourselves through honest reflection, we may still find difficult realities of the fleshly nature hanging around, but our sober-mindedness reminds us that God’s love surpasses them all (Rom 8:38–39).
As those loved by God, we are free to ask ourselves the tough questions of self-assessment because God’s love for us will never change.
Paul goes on to explain another essential aspect of our identity in Romans 12. He tells us that, as individuals, we all have a responsibility to contribute to the whole body of Christ. Typically, our self-perception has a tremendous effect on our behaviors, which means that how we view ourselves has a direct impact on others. If we think too little of ourselves and believe we cannot be a positive influence on our brothers and sisters in Christ, we may rob them of the joy of God expressing himself through our giftings. On the other hand, if we think too highly of ourselves, we may miss God expressing himself through others’ gifts or even suppress others from using their gifts if we are in a position of authority over them.
In essence, we are free to be honest with ourselves because we are ultimately validated by Christ, and our self-perception greatly influences our relationships with others. Now, you may have a firm grasp on your self-awareness. Or perhaps you are just starting your journey to discovering more about how God has designed you. Many of us find ourselves somewhere in between. Regardless, we can all benefit from asking ourselves the hard questions.
Here are a few areas of our lives we can practice asking ourselves self-examination questions as we start off the year. Take time to think through these questions and consider asking a trusted person in your life to weigh in on your answers.
Paul challenged Timothy, a young ministry leader, in 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV), “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul urges Timothy to pay close attention to the way he lived because it painted a poignant picture of the effectiveness of the gospel to those following him.
We must be willing to do the difficult and uncomfortable work of self-examination by asking ourselves questions that get to the truth.
In turn, the truth will set us free to enjoy God, the community he’s given us, and the work he’s called us to do.
A holiday brimming with delicious food, time with family and friends, and lots of football, Thanksgiving is also a day to remember what we’re thankful for. For Christians, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to reflect on all God has done and is doing and thank him.
Gratitude should mark the people of God, but we can be tempted to reserve it for a holiday or mealtime prayers. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” His command feels extreme—does he really want us to give thanks in everything? If so, what does gratitude even look like? How can we start building a habit of thanksgiving?
The good news is we can become grateful people by the power of the Spirit, and we can begin growing in gratefulness with one simple step: noticing what God is doing in our lives.
Paul mentions fourteen times in his letters that he thanks God for the people he’s writing to. Have you ever stopped to consider why he mentioned his gratefulness for his fellow Christians? Whether he is about to write words of rebuke or correction or encouragement, he still thanks God for the church—for people. He notices them. More importantly, he notices that God has orchestrated his relationship with them, that God put them in his life for a reason, and that God works in and through them.
Just as God brings people into our lives, he also places us in our neighborhoods, jobs, and churches. When he created the world, he put humans in it to live, grow, and take care of creation. Taking time to notice the world God put you in—your workplace, your home, your car, your church, your neighborhood park—can help cultivate gratitude in your heart. Yes, difficult places exist. Brokenness riddles our world. But God’s goodness, faithfulness, and kindness always shine forth through the brokenness for us to witness and thank him for.
Have you ever paused to notice a moment? Maybe the giggles of a playing toddler, the taste of a home-cooked meal, or the words of a hymn in Sunday worship. Or maybe you look back on past moments, spending time to reminisce with old college friends or to remember a loved one who’s passed away.
Past or present, moments encapsulate beauty. Slowing down to notice important or even seemingly insignificant moments can make us more grateful.
Taking notice of your people and your world—and seeing all of it as God-given, as proof of his love and grace—is the first step toward gratitude. When we know what to notice, we can move from simply observing our lives to giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving can look different for all of us, but there are a few practical ways we can weave it into our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is trendy for a reason. When we put pen to paper and list what we’re grateful for, we acknowledge what God has given us in a physical way. Regularly slowing down to thank God helps solidify gratitude in our hearts and builds our thankfulness muscle. Journals can also help us remember what God has done for us when we’re facing impossible, difficult situations. In many ways, it is an act of worship to write down what we are grateful for. Grab a journal or a pad of paper and try writing down three things you’re thankful for every day, then turn your list into a prayer of praise.
Gratitude is contagious. When we tell others what we’re thanking God for, we point them to gratefulness. Take a walk with a friend or call a family member and weave gratitude into your conversation organically. Notice how speaking with thankfulness about your life affects others. Or tell a significant person in your life that you are thankful for him or her and why, just as Paul did for the churches he wrote to.
Hardship often makes gratitude feel as impossible as asking the rain to stop pouring. When we face difficulty, the habits we’ve formed in calmer times come in handy. They give us the words to say when we have none to offer. Find verses on gratitude and memorize them (consider Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6–7; or 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Make a playlist of songs that express thanksgiving to God and return to it often. Or find a written prayer that thanks God that you can pray when words don’t come easily.
Gratitude transforms us. When we give thanks, we acknowledge God and his work in the world. We lift our eyes from looking at ourselves to see the spiritual reality of our lives.
God is at work. He always has been and always will be.
As you enter the holiday season, look for ways to build a lifestyle of gratitude. Invite your friends and family to join you and see how God grows joy, love, and hope in you as you thank him.