Tag Archives: spiritual disciplines

Shoveling Darkness

My pastor from a few churches back (Steve Holt of Mountain Springs Church in Colorado) used an illustration in one of his sermons, and it’s stuck with me.

He said that our hearts have dark rooms in them.  The darkness comes from the sin in our lives.  We know that it’s there, and we want to get rid of it, but we aren’t sure how to do it.  So, we take a bucket into the room and start shoveling darkness out bucketful by bucketful.

This approach almost always meets with frustration and guilt, because we can’t shovel out the darkness fast enough to make a difference.  We exhaust ourselves trying to change bad habits and get rid of sin only to find that they replenished themselves while we were shoveling out the next bucketful.

A better solution (and one that actually works) is to simply turn on the light.  It chases away the darkness.

How many times have we struggled with sin in our hearts and in our behaviors that just wouldn’t go away?  Satan first tempts us to commit the sin and then becomes our accuser, beating us up with same weapon he just convinced us to give him.  We suffer tremendous guilt and discouragement in our walk and often give up, thinking it’s just not possible to get free.

It probably isnt possible if we are just shoveling darkness.  We need the light of Christ in our hearts to conquer these persistent sins.  It’s available through God’s Word, through other godly believers, through acts of service and love, through prayer and many other spiritual disciplines.  Once the light is on, it’s so much easier to say, “no,” to temptation, to gain consistency in our walk.

So maybe we should stop stressing so much about the sin that we want to take out of our hearts and start focusing on letting more light in.  Once God gets into a room of our hearts, He will clean it up and take out the trash for us.

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)


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Filed under christianity, growth, guilt, habits, heart, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, Religion, sanctification, sin, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

The Amazing Chinese Bamboo Plant

The Chinese Bamboo plant starts from a tiny seed. You plant the seed in the dirt, and you water the seed. Very little seems to happen the first year. Despite your efforts, only a tiny shoot pokes out of the ground.

So…..the second year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the third year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the fourth year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the fifth year you water and fertilize and protect the seed.….Finally, during the fifth year, the Chinese Bamboo plant begins to grow. In fact, it grows 90 feet tall in just 6 weeks!

The question is, did it grow 90 feet in six weeks or in five years? The answer, of course, is that it grew 90 feet in five years. It took five years to grow the root system that would one day support a 90-foot plant.

People are often like the Chinese Bamboo plant. We invest hours and hours trying to develop ourselves or others, and nothing happens.  We spend years discipling our children to follow the Lord, but…..nothing happens.   We hold countless meetings with our staff members to coach them in the development of their strengths and developmental areas, but…….nothing happens. We redouble our efforts to help a friend make better decisions, but…….nothing happens.

If you’re like most people, you will be tempted to give up. Don’t do it! If you give up, the seeds you planted will die. But if you continue to care for the seeds, one day (when you least expect it) the results of your labor will seem to magically appear overnight!

If the Chinese Bamboo plant immediately shot up 90 feet in the first year, one strong wind would blow it down. By growing deep before it grows tall, it gains the strength it needs to withstand the force of heavy winds. Similarly, lasting growth starts on the inside of people. It’s difficult to see that change is taking place, but this is a necessary process. The growing they do on the inside creates strength of character and conviction.

Don’t give up hope! Your efforts will be rewarded!  Once the root system is established, your growth or the growth of those you are coaching will spring up seemingly overnight!


Filed under Change, christianity, expectations, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Teaching

Who’s Guarding Your Gates?

In it’s prime, the Great Wall of China was 6,400 km (4,000 mi) long, extending from Shanhaiguan to Lop Nur. In many places, it is still up to 7 to 10 meters high (25 to 35 ft), 7.5 meters thick (25 ft) at the base and 4.5 meters thick (15 ft) at the top. It is made largely of stone slabs, bricks and lime on the inner and outer facings with packed dirt in between.

It was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) in order to hold out the raiding Manchurian and Mongolian tribes. Earlier walls had proved ineffective in the north, so the Ming’s conceded the desert areas of Inner Mongolia and brought the new Great Wall closer to the capital city of Beijing (known then as Shuntian).

It was an expensive undertaking. Many lives were lost building the Great Wall. Some estimates reach over one million deaths of the slaves and prisoners of war that were forced to work on it. Most of their bodies were buried inside the wall for expediency, and the Wall became known as “the longest cemetery in the world.”

And then there was the cost to defend it. Every 180 to 275 meters (200-300 yards), there was a guard tower. Even today, there are still over 10,000 watchtowers and beacon towers left standing. It took hundreds of thousands of soldiers to man these towers and defend the gates, and many had to be located in very remote areas, where travel in and out was difficult and dangerous.

It was the pride of the Ming Dynasty, and rightly so, but for all the cost and all the effort and all the lives lost to the construction and defense of the Wall, it only took one man to make it irrelevant.

Wu SanGui was a border general in 1644 A.D. He was charged with defending the Shanhaiguan garrison at the Great Wall from the impending attack of the Manchurians and the Mongolians to the north. But because he was angry with the emperor, Wu invited 80,000 invading forces through the gate.

The Emperor’s forces were taken entirely by surprise and had to flee to Beijing with the Manchurians and Mongolians in hot pursuit. Eight days later, enemy forces arrived uncontested and claimed the capital city. Thus began the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China.

Walls are important, but if you can’t trust your gatekeeper, they won’t be much protection.

We build our spiritual walls through daily spiritual disciplines, like Bible study, prayer, Scripture memorization, journaling and other good habits. A lot of time and effort goes into building these walls as protection against the Enemy, whose main goal is to breach our walls and get into our minds and hearts. But all that good work can be nullified if we don’t protect our gates (our eyes and our ears).

Through our gates come both good things and bad, and it’s the gatekeeper’s job to decide what to let through and what to keep out. Unfortunately for us, we have two gatekeepers, and one of them is not loyal to our spiritual agenda. There is a constant battle between your flesh gatekeeper and your spirit gatekeeper, and it occurs daily right inside your gates. The one who wins each battle decides which images and information to let past your gates into your mind and heart.

Paul describes this battle in his letter to the Galatians:

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)

And he tells us how the battle is won for the spirit gatekeeper in his letter to the Romans:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)

What he’s saying is that we can never stop building our spiritual walls. Every day, we need to be living in accordance with the Spirit, and that is done by daily spiritual disciplines. We can’t build our walls up and then take a break. As soon as we stop working on them, they start to deteriorate. And the weaker our walls, the weaker our spirit gatekeeper. The weaker our spirit gatekeeper, the easier it is for our sinful nature (our flesh gatekeeper) to overcome our good intentions.

If you are struggling to keep your gates closed to the junk the Enemy is sending through, and you are desperate for a victory today, remember that God will always come to aid your weak spirit. Isaiah tells us that:

He will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. (Isaiah 28:6)

Pray for strength, and God will help you get those gates closed.

* For more articles about spiritual gates, check out these links:


Filed under Challenges, Sexual purity, Spiritual gates, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

The Pump Is Dry

A leader in the organization I work with tells the story of walking down a dusty road in Texas.  As he approached a hill, he could hear a terrible squealing and grinding coming from the other side.  When he reached the top of the hill, he saw where the noise was coming from.

There, in a farmer’s field, was one of dozens of oil pumps that were common to the area.  But this one was different.  Being poorly maintained, it had run dry of the oil needed to lubricate its parts.

Isn’t that ironic?  An oil pump needing oil. 

And isn’t that convicting?  How many of us have been in the position of annointing others with the oil of the Holy Spirit while we ourselves are running dry?  How long can we go on like that?  How long before our spiritual gears and pumps grind to a halt?  We can’t continue to give to others what we ourselves no longer have.

I’m personally struggling with this, because it’s been months since I worshiped in my own home church.  With my travel schedule, I’m frequently gone on the weekend.  The one week I was home, I taught in children’s ministry.  While the people I work with frequently worship together, I’ve found that it’s not exactly the same.  The pump is feeling a little dry.

It’s not just worship that keeps the pump lubricated.  It’s all the spiritual disciplines working together.  Prayer, Bible-reading, fellowship, meditation, service and good works, fasting, devotions, tithing, obedience, singing…(just to name some of the most common ones). 

Don’t feel pressured to do them all.  Each one of us was created differently by God, and He takes joy from our different ways of growing closer to Him.  Focus on the spiritual disciplines that help you center on God, and keep trying new ones from time to time.  You might find you like them.

So, give yourself a little oil this week.  You’ll find a little goes a long way.


Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth

You’ve Got What You Need

Back to the story of Nehemiah from the Bible.  It’s interesting that Nehemiah built a wall without a quarry.  Where did he get all that rock?  By some estimates, the wall was over 1.5 miles long, 20 feet tall and 9 feet thick*.   That’s a huge amount of rock!  Walls using this much material would typically require years of work as men cut and carried new rock from a nearby quarry.  But Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in 52 days using the rubble of the old wall.


He used only what he had immediately available.  I think there is a spiritual principle here.  Sometimes we want God to give us more.  More blessing, more territory, more ministry, more, more, more…  That’s not bad.  It’s okay to pray for more, particularly if it is motivated by the desires God has placed in your heart.  But often, when we pray for more, God says, “Before I give you more, what have you done with what I already gave you?”


Nehemiah built the wall with the materials that God had already supplied.  True, they were a mess – huge piles of rubble and mortar.  It had to be discouraging at first, and I imagine Nehemiah’s initial reaction when he inspected the walls was, “I don’t even know where to start!”  But as he built the wall, it had to be apparent that God had given him enough.  Not enough to build the walls to their former glory, probably, but enough for what God wanted to do at that time.  Maybe later he would have the ability to strengthen the walls, but at this particular time, he had enough for God’s purposes.


If God is not answering your prayer for more, maybe it’s because you have enough already.  Maybe He’s waiting for you to put those resources, those skills, those gifts, those relationships to good use.  They may be a mess right now.  You may feel overwhelmed trying to make use of what you’ve already got, but start somewhere.  Place one stone in the wall.  In other words, make a single, God-honoring decision.  That’s where it all starts.  It’s the first godly decision, the first godly action that’s the toughest.  The ones that follow start to pick up momentum as you see the progress on your wall.  Before long, you’ve got a mighty spiritual wall (and you managed to clean up the place at the same time).


* (Nolte, David P. “A Mind to Work!” www.id.mind.net/~dnol/amindtowork.html) 


Filed under Spiritual Growth