If you’re a decision-maker at your organization, request a free consultation to find out how RightNow Media can equip and inspire your people.
Not a decision-maker?
Tell your pastor about RightNow Media instead.
It’s easy to say we agree with the previous statement, but it’s harder to believe it. Many Christians start their workday and wonder if typing on a computer for the entire day is worth the trouble. Teachers struggle to see the value of the work they put into lesson plans, especially when their students do not listen. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies wonder if all the long hours in the office will fulfill their hopes and dreams. In every job sector, people love God but often do not know if God cares about their work.
Work can be challenging and stressful, but it does not have to feel meaningless. Since God cares about our work, we must look to him to understand why our work matters.
The first few pages of Scripture contain God’s perspective on creating the universe. One of the main topics that the first three chapters of Genesis address is work. In fact, over 60% of the verses in Genesis 1–3 say something about work. God labored for six days and then rested on the seventh. When God created humans, the first thing he told them to do was work (Genesis 1:26; 2:15).
Work has always been essential to God’s plan for the world and his people.
God also said all he created was good, which includes humanity and their work. But since the tragic introduction of sin into the world, recorded in Genesis 3, humanity has doubted the goodness of work.
Our labor had dignity before being distorted. So today, we need to see our work as a reflection of God’s goodness—the way God saw it in the beginning. We should not dread our nine to five or see it as a part of the Genesis 3 curse. When we do our jobs, we fulfill a part of our God-given purpose to create, cultivate, and care for the earth. God sees both the garbage truck driver and the astrophysicist and says their work is good.
Many may not know what a J bolt is, but there is a J bolt helping to secure the foundation of buildings all over the world. J bolts are small J-shaped pieces of metal used to secure concrete foundations and provide an anchor for building structures. They look small and insignificant, but they serve people in a major way every day.
Work is one of the J bolts of society. The jobs we do play an essential role in supporting and contributing to the economic and social foundations of our lives. Our work, like a J bolt, impacts people, even when our jobs might look or feel insignificant.
We can also see examples of how work serves people in the Bible. In Exodus 31:1–11, God chose people with specific skills to work with wood, metals, and cloth to provide the necessary tools for Israel’s daily worship. Because of their craftsmanship, God was glorified and God’s people had a place to worship God for generations.
The work we do plays a role in serving our world. Without it, many people would have unmet needs and miss out on the ways our job benefits society. We need godly businesspeople to ensure business transactions involve fairness and equality. We need plumbers to handle our sanitation issues before they become public health concerns. We need metalworkers to make J bolts so our buildings can stand firm. No matter what we do, our work matters because it serves others.
Christians can be tempted to think a vocation is only spiritual if it’s a ministry job. But being a pastor is not the only job that can impact the kingdom. The Great Commission from Matthew 28 tells us that God calls his people to go all over the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But if the church has any chance of reaching the world, pastors cannot be the only people who use their vocation as a platform for the gospel.
What better opportunity is there than going to work every day to share the Christian life with many who do not know Jesus? Colossians 4:3 encourages Christians to pray for “open doors” to spread the name of Christ. God can use us in our jobs to build his kingdom, whether we are a professional football player or a high school janitor.
When we look to God for why our work matters, we can see that our jobs have a God-given purpose. God created work and it is good. Our vocation can serve people and grow the kingdom of God. We can therefore approach our nine to five knowing that God cares about what we do and sees our work as significant—to him, his people, and the world.
Are you a business leader looking to invest in a personal care resource for your employees that can help them flourish in every area of life? RightNow Media @ Work, a library of on-demand video resources has a library of over 20,000 videos on topics from leadership and personal development to parenting and finances. Schedule a free demo today!
As we unpack our nativity scenes from eleven months of storage, placing Mary next to the manger is as normal as singing Christmas carols or watching Buddy the Elf eat gum off the subway railing.
For many of us, though, Mary never leaves the manger’s side. She goes back in storage with the wise men and reappears next year. While Mary serves the miraculous and cosmic role of birthing the Messiah, she is also a faithful witness of what it looks like to model Christ’s action of mediating between God and humanity—telling others what God is like and bringing him their concerns.
You may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t Jesus the only one who mediates between God and humanity?” And that instinct would be right. I’m not talking about mediating salvation between God and people—that’s something that only Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection has accomplished. What I am saying is that, like the prophets in the Old Testament standing as a go-between by proclaiming God’s message to the people and representing the people’s requests to God, Mary shows us how to occupy the space between God and the world as a light that points people to God.
Before traveling to Bethlehem for Jesus’s birth, Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant. Elizabeth recognized Mary’s unique role as the “mother of [her] Lord” (Luke 1:43) and pointed toward Mary’s faith that God would “fulfill what he has spoken to her” (Luke 1:45).
In response, Mary launched into her famous speech magnifying God’s character—the Magnificat. These ten verses are more than Mary simply responding to her situation with gratitude. Mary shares God’s words not only with Elizabeth but also with us as readers thousands of years later.
Many commentators say Mary’s speech falls in the genre of prophecy. In essence, a prophet served as a mediator between God and people to provide the people with revelation of who God is. Mary comments on her own “humble condition” (Luke 1:48) and how God exalts the “lowly” (Luke 1:52), like herself. By describing herself in these terms, Mary speaks to those who may similarly feel overlooked or unimportant—much like how the people of Israel likely felt at the time of Jesus’s birth. Mary says that God has “helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54–55) with Jesus’s birth announcement, reminding God’s people that he cares and acts on their behalf.
Through her speech, Mary stepped into the space between God and his people by proclaiming the good news that God’s “mercy is from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50) and that “he has scattered the proud . . . [and] toppled the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:51–52). She reminds us that God “has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53). Her song reads like many of the psalms in the Old Testament that proclaim the character of God to people in desperate need.
Mary models how we should be little mediators of God’s presence on earth—declaring his good news to people who need to hear it.
The beginning of Jesus’s public ministry provides a stage for Mary to stand as a type of mediator outside of the Christmas story. Before Jesus began teaching and demonstrating his identity as Israel’s Messiah, he and his disciples were invited to a wedding Mary also attended. As John writes in John 2:1–12, the wine for the wedding in Cana ran out and presented the host family with a problem.
Running out of wine at a celebration in Ancient Near Eastern culture was a social faux pas that would have brought enormous shame on the host family. Seeing this risk and interceding on behalf of the wedding party, Mary went to Jesus with a request without a question, “They don’t have any wine” (John 2:3).
Not only did Mary initiate stepping in as an in-between for the wedding party, but she also went straight to the person she knew could act, revealing her faith. She saw a need and entrusted it to the person who could meet that need.
While Jesus’s response appears harsh (his calling Mary “woman” isn’t derogatory or dismissive as he uses the same word when speaking tenderly to her on the cross in John 19:26), Jesus explained that he was hesitant because he had not begun to reveal his identity as Messiah—which Mary presumably knew—to everyone.
Instead of feeling rejected, Mary reaffirmed her faith in her son by telling the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. Jesus may have chosen not to act and told the servants to stand by, but Mary accepted that possibility and left the decision in Jesus’s capable hands. In doing so, she communicated an important truth not only for the servants at the wedding but also for us reading the passage today—obey God regardless of what he calls you to do. Mary advocated for people who had nowhere else to go and instructed them on how they should respond to God’s command—much like how the church operates in the world today.
Maybe it is appropriate that we think of Mary most often during the Christmas season. Christmas often calls us to act in mediatory ways.
This may be someone’s first Christmas alone, and they need to hear from you that God sees them. Perhaps this Christmas someone received bad news and needs you to advocate for them on your knees in prayer. By imitating Mary as she imitates Christ, we can be God’s ambassadors, channeling his overpowering love for them.
So, you’re about to lead a small group, maybe for the first time, and you’re sure your pastor made a mistake in asking you to lead this group. You may be feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and a little anxious at the thought of someone asking a question you don’t know the answer to. How can you, a normal person, lead a small group?
For some reason, we often think Bible study leaders have to be the smartest person in the room, armed with quick, charming, and compelling answers for every question. Good leaders host their small group in a pristine home or know the coolest place in town to chat over coffee. They’re stylish, funny, brilliant, put-together, and BFFs with Jesus. Now, we know small group leaders aren’t all of those things but—for whatever reason—we are sure we have to be that kind of leader.
The truth is you don’t have to be perfect in order to be effective. You don’t even need to be perfect in order to be a great small group leader. The best small group leaders are actually far from perfect, but they do share some traits in common that you can easily add to your own life.
Take a second to answer this question: What makes small group leaders different than the people they are leading?
Many of us think leaders are gurus—perfect, all-knowing, wise ones who know the Bible inside and out and can answer any question. But gurus make really bad small group leaders. They tend to make group meetings all about themselves, their knowledge, and their insights. It’s pretty hard to focus on Jesus when the leader is making the group about themselves.
The most effective small group leaders are guides. They have a map, know what trail they are on, and know where they are headed. Their leadership is not about getting everyone to focus on them but on avoiding dangers and making progress towards their destination.
Your small group time is not about you; it’s about Jesus. Your responsibility is to keep people focused on him, becoming more like him, and making him known.
But what if you don’t have the answer to a tough question? A guru would be threatened because it would challenge their status as the all-knowing leader. But a guide? Guides aren’t threatened because they have the “maps” of God’s Word, the support of church staff, and an abundance of great resources for answering tough questions at their fingertips. Guides actually become more helpful when tough questions come up.
If you don’t know an answer, be honest: “I don’t know, but I will try to find an answer for our meeting next week.” Which brings us to the second quality of effective leaders.
It’s like legendary basketball coach John Wooden said,
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Being prepared doesn’t mean you have to outline your meeting minute by minute, but you should know what you are going to cover in your group that week. Take time to look over the Bible verses, study questions, and any resources you will be using. Preparation will look different for everyone, so find a method that works best for you.
The most effective small groups aren’t thrown together last second; they are the result of a prepared leader prayerfully thinking through the time they are about to spend in God’s Word. After all, if you are a guide, you need to know your map!
But being prepared does not mean you have to teach your group because…
You don’t have to be a seminary professor or pastor to be a great group leader. You simply need to facilitate conversation. Think of your group as a community rather than a classroom. Your goal in the group is to help the church grow in spirit and in truth, not ace a Bible quiz.
Ask an opening question and wait for people to start talking (it’s okay to endure a little awkwardness). If your group starts running down a rabbit trail, gently point them back to the topic at hand. Ask open-ended questions. Try to get everyone involved in the conversation. At the end of your time, talk about ways to apply what you are learning.
More often than not, you will learn from the people in your group. They will see things you missed. They will have ideas you wished you’d thought of. But for a great small group leader, being a part of a community headed towards Jesus isn’t about being in front—it’s about leading people to Jesus.
Starting out as a small group leader can be daunting. But most of our anxiety comes from thinking we have to be spiritual gurus. Once we realize that we are guides, the anxiety to be perfect starts to slip away. When we prepare well, we will build our confidence. Shifting our role from “teacher” to “member of the community” will take away our self-imposed performance pressure.
Great group leaders are normal people, just like you. No matter your background or leadership experience, if you guide people to Jesus you’ll be doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.
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 placed 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.
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.
In the early days, it can be thrilling to plant a church. There is so much potential, so much hope. We want to do everything we can to make our churches succeed. However, we often equate growth with success, and while we know that God is the one who builds the church, we may still feel an urgent need to manufacture momentum.
We want our churches to “get big” as quickly as possible, and for good reasons. Size creates financial stability, multiplies our impact, and lets pastors delegate responsibilities to gifted leaders. So why wouldn’t we want rapid growth and good momentum? Momentum creates excitement. Momentum turns congregations into movements. Momentum is what turns small house church planters into recognizable pastors with influence and acclaim.
But momentum can also be a poisoned chalice.
While we rush to brainstorm growth strategies, we don’t often stop to consider the costs or pitfalls of growth. Church planting is demanding work, and we can assume that once we hit one hundred, five hundred, or a thousand members then things will calm down. Only too late do we realize that the work never slows down without us intentionally hitting the brakes.
We don’t have to look far to find friends or famous pastors who have burnt out and are no longer in ministry. We can all name fellow leaders who became enamored with church size or rooted their identity in their sermon views. Those stories don’t end well.
There are good and righteous reasons for a church to grow, but when growth is our goal, God can cease to be our aim. Is growth worth the potential cost? Would you drink that cup even if it sapped the vibrancy out of your relationship with God, your family, or your church community?
For many of us, the answer would be “no.” But how can we avoid the allure and dangers of momentum?
In Hebrews 11:32–38, we find an odd pairing of saints. The first group “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight” (CSB). The second group of saints was tortured, destitute, and misunderstood. Which group would you say was successful? According to the author of Hebrews, the answer is both. Saints are not judged by their circumstances or fates, but by their faithfulness.
Your value as a church planter is not found in your church’s size, but in being loved by God.
Your identity is not found in being a best-selling author, popular podcaster, or leadership guru, but in who God says you are. Your purpose is not to build God’s church, but to faithfully make disciples.
When faithfulness is our goal, the pressures of rapid growth look like nothing more than glittering distractions. Sermons are an opportunity to faithfully proclaim Jesus, not a platform for our personality. Leadership becomes an opportunity to serve rather than to domineer and lord over our staff and volunteers. The people in our church become our focus rather than the empty seats.
Your church’s size plays no role in your ability to be faithful.
Therefore, your church size cannot be an indicator of your success. If God does not judge your church by its appearance, why would we?
Being obedient to God will lead each of us to different outcomes. Some churches may launch with hundreds of people, while others never grow beyond a small group meeting in a living room. Both can be faithful, successful churches. God is the one who changes hearts and saves lives. He builds his church. We are servants in his house—there is no reason for us to manufacture what only he can do.
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.
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.
I’d spent my whole life in stage-of-life groups with people like me—guys with similar interests and struggles. Those groups made connecting with other Christians easy, but this new group was a challenge. I felt I had little in common with the retired empty-nesters and college students in my living room. I struggled to ignore the chaos of the toddlers playing on the floor. And I had no clue how to counsel married couples.
The people in my small group watched movies I’d never heard of, inhabited various corners of social media, held opposing political views, and even had different ideas on how to live the Christian life. How was I going to lead this group, much less help them build friendships with each other across their diversity?
I was facing the big challenge of multigenerational groups: connection. Because we gravitate to people like us, diversity can feel uncomfortable. But if we stick with the tension of getting outside of our bubble, we can find the richness of the body of Christ in all of our unique gifts, experiences, and wisdom.
Every group is different, and leaders can try many strategies to help their group form good, lasting relationships. But, as the leader, you need a strategy to help people overcome feeling disconnected from other group members.
Leading a healthy small group is like gardening: we can prepare the soil and water the seeds but only God can make the seeds sprout and grow. You can’t force friendships, but you can create a place for them to grow.
Think about the times you have felt most welcome in someone else’s home—what did they do that made you feel comfortable and appreciated? You don’t have to throw a dinner party; sometimes people just need to be asked about their day. Find the person standing on their own and strike up a conversation with him or her. Or if there is a young mother in your group, think about setting aside a space for her infant to sleep or nurse. A little consideration can make everyone who visits your group to feel valued.
The people in your group have a wealth of experiences and wisdom—far beyond what you as a leader have on your own. Instead of worrying about what you need to teach, think about the questions you can ask the people in your group. What do you want to know about them? What insights do they have that would bless the rest of your group? What have they learned about God and his faithfulness
If you have a hard time thinking of good questions, that’s okay! Most RightNow Media Original series come with free study guides full of great questions so that you can worry less about preparing lessons and focus more on the people in your group.
Everyone is busy, and it can feel like a struggle to make it to small group every week. But if you want your members to share their lives with each other, you will need to spend time together outside of your small group meeting. Don’t make it too complicated—you could get coffee with one person in your group each week or coordinate group lunch after church on Sunday. The more casual interactions you have with people in your group, the faster you will build meaningful relationships with them.
Every church has different goals for their small groups, but we all share the same mission: to make disciples and build God’s kingdom on earth. And nothing brings a group together like working as a team. Talk to your group about the causes and groups of people God has called them to serve. What need can your group meet? If your group has little kids, consider partnering with a local non-profit that can be flexible in the way you serve and are open to family friendly projects. Or find a place to serve as a group in your local church—if you get stuck, ask your pastor or other group leaders for ideas.
No one wants the relationships in their group to remain shallow. Getting together week after week to talk about news, sports, or the weather is, quite frankly, boring. We want our groups to be hubs of deep community marked by friendships, support, guidance, prayer, and evangelism. But meaningful friendships don’t happen overnight. It can take months (or longer) for a group to feel like a community. Don’t get discouraged when relationships don’t progress as quickly as you would like. In time, God will weave people together in ways you had not imagined. Don’t give up.
The first few months of your small group will be the most challenging as people push through awkwardness and build friendships with one another. In my group, some of the most unexpected people—people who did not immediately click with one another—ended up best friends and were in each other’s weddings. They’ve built families alongside one another, leaning on each other’s wisdom and support.