This is the time of year when people hope to kick-start the process of change. As we turn the calendar for a new year, many start dietary cleanses, bootcamp exercise programs and structured budgeting strategies. Why? Because they feel stuck and realize that little changes here and there are not enough to break stubborn habits.
While some are looking to lose weight, get fit or get out of debt, your resolutions may be different – You want to finally get free from porn, grow in your relationship with God, or overcome the shame that haunts you. What dramatic steps can you take to experience titanic shifts in these areas of your life?
I recently interviewed Michael Hendricks on the book he and Jim Wilder wrote called, “The Other Half of Church”. This book helped me make sense of my own spiritual growth as well as what I’ve seen in ministry. Michael explained how we can try very hard to experience spiritual growth and freedom but get stuck because we miss some key ingredients to true change.
Many Christians believe that their greatest growth will happen through being rooted in the truth of God’s Word. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We forget that our “mind” has two hemispheres: the right and left sides of the brain. Jim and Michael found that almost all of western efforts of spiritual growth are aimed at the left side of the brain. When you read your Bible or listen to sermons, you engage only half of your brain!
Jesus didn’t give His twelve disciples a manual on spiritual growth and ministry, although this would have been much more efficient. Jesus chose instead to spend three years walking through life with them. Yes, He taught them through words and explained the Scriptures, but the power of His ministry in their lives went far beyond learning content.
Particularly post-covid, many of us seek transformation while neglecting some key ingredients of what actually produces lasting change. I highly recommend that you listen to my conversation with Michael, but here is a summary of four key ways for you to engage your right brain as you pursue freedom, healing and spiritual growth this year.
# 1 – Seek the “face” of God
While I have been a Christian since childhood, only within the last fifteen years have I learned to enjoy personal intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. I love studying the Bible, yet the Bible alone left God feeling more like a distant King than a true Father. I have no doubt that during all those years, I was saved and loved by God, but I didn’t know how to walk in His love. I lived with a vague sense of always disappointing God, knowing my sinful thoughts and hidden struggles.
All that dramatically changed when I began each morning by seeking the face of God. Not just His truth, but His actual presence.
The disciples could look Jesus in the eyes every day and see His personal love and care for them. I love how the show The Chosen brings to life how deeply Jesus interacted with each disciple. It makes me long to look into the piercing and gentle eyes of my Savior. By faith, we can make this a real pursuit in our own lives.
“The Lord Bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). If you are God’s child through the blood of Jesus Christ, His face lights up when you seek Him. When my adult sons come over for dinner or call me, I light up because I’m so delighted to spend time with them. The same thing happens when we seek the presence of God.
What you can do to make this a priority:
- Spend a few minutes every day with your eyes closed seeking the presence of God. You might listen to worship music during this time and simply meditate on God’s kindness of love for you.
- Read a book like Practicing the Presence of God by brother Lawrence.
- When you read the Bible, ask God to personalize it to you. How does He personally want to speak this truth into your heart?
#2 – Pursue a place of belonging
I live in Cleveland, Ohio which is known for cold weather and fanatic sports fans. While Cleveland professional sports teams may not always be winners (we are actually known for the opposite!), our fan base is among the most loyal in the country. If you live in Cleveland long enough, you’ll find yourself yelling at the TV on Sundays and maybe even woofing in the “dawg pound” (you might have to do some research to understand this reference!)
Here is my point. Belonging drives identity; identity then drives behavior. My hunch is that many American Christians don’t feel like we belong anywhere. We read our Bibles, listen to our favorite podcasts, and spend 90 minutes on Sunday watching the worship team and pastor do their thing. Your personal and spiritual growth will be stunted as long as you don’t belong. There are aspects of learning that can never happen without a faithful community of people doing life with you.
The disciples belonged to Jesus and to one another. This gave them a sense of identity transcending spoken truth. They celebrated, wept, hid in fear, and fought, but they stayed a group committed to each other and to the call of Jesus.
In our busy lives and megachurch models, you can go decades without belonging. Unfortunately, this type of rich community will not likely seek you out – you will have to intentionally pursue it. Belonging is not just regularly showing up, but nurturing the sense that “these are my people.”
Things you can do to pursue belonging:
- Make your big church small. I recently met a woman in her 30’s who, for the past decade, has hosted a dinner at her house every Tuesday night. This group of women intentionally share life, what God is teaching them, and struggles. Whether you host a dinner or not, commit to regularly meeting with the same people weekly.
- Volunteer. One of the best ways to feel like you belong is to become an active participant. At Authentic Intimacy, we have a core team of volunteers who have become like a family. They are not only learning, but are part of the mission. They belong. You need that, whether it is through your local church or a parachurch ministry.
- Reignite old relationships.. Sometimes, God doesn’t want us to look for something new, but to reinvest in restoring relationships that have been nurturing in the past. Your richest relationships may be people you already know (even family members) with whom you need to breach a conflict or reprioritize.
#3 – Be vulnerable
You might be part of a Christian community that has faithfully met for years, but you still don’t feel known. Conversations stay superficial, even as you explore the Bible together. The power of community is not only belonging, but having a place where you don’t have to pretend.
Would you feel comfortable telling your people things like:
- I’ve been battling depression.
- We just had a huge argument on the way here.
- I’m lonely.
- I don’t know how to stop looking at pornography.
- I am struggling with believing that God is good.
- My son just told me that he is gay.
In my experience, many Christian communities have not ventured into this level of vulnerability. I’ve heard people say that they can be far more honest with their unbelieving friends than with their church group.
You will struggle to change until you have a faith community with whom you can be gut-level vulnerable. And here’s the thing: you might need to be the person who goes first. I promise you that everyone is silently seeking a place where they can be real. As long as the social norm is to keep prayer requests vague and play the part of the good Christian, our communities will stay superficial.
What you can do to create a culture of vulnerability:
- Go off script. Next time someone in your community asks you, “How are you?” don’t give them the expected, “doing great,” “been really busy,” or “hangin’ in there.” Instead, share a piece of your heart. This has been a really tough month. Or I had a major conflict with someone I love this week or even God has been showing me some deep things lately.
- Make a prayer request gut-level specific. We tend to be very specific about Aunt Jenny’s cancer when asking for prayer, but far more vague (or even silent) about our greatest needs. I need help loving my husband in this season. Or I have a sin struggle that seems to be getting the best of me.
- Seek a place that invites vulnerability. The sad truth is that some communities will not respond well to vulnerability. When you get raw and real, they are challenged to do the same. Sometimes we need to start with places where vulnerability is in the DNA, like recovery groups. (You might want to check out one of Authentic Intimacy’s Online book studies.)
#4 – Ask for and receive correction
Mike and I recently took a much needed vacation to a Picklball camp. I’ve been playing pickleball for a few years but this vacation was the first time I had any coaching. We spent every morning getting help from professional pickleball players, and it dramatically improved our game! In the moment, it doesn’t feel good when someone points out what you are doing wrong, but you can’t get better without that kind of feedback.
When was the last time someone lovingly pointed out something you needed to change? Because of our own insecurities, we tend to cultivate relationships that avoid loving criticism or honest feedback, but you won’t grow without it!
David wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me– that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). David’s righteous friend, Nathan, saved his life by boldly confronting him in his sin. This had to feel horrible in the moment, but was a tremendous blessing in the long run.
Do you invite and receive that kind of interaction? As terrifying as it might be, a loving rebuke is one of the greatest gifts a friend can give you.
What you can do to foster getting feedback.
- Seek out a counselor, spiritual director, or a mentor. People in these positions expect to give you constructive criticism. It’s very much like getting a pickleball coach!
- Ask for hard feedback from safe people. The people who know you well and love you may have important insights into how you could grow, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Give them this permission by asking questions like What is one blindspot you think I have? Or What is one area in my walk with God where you think I need to focus on?
- Ask God for revelation of how you need to change. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” God is honored when we ask this. If He points out areas of sin and failure, He will also provide the grace and wisdom you need to address them.
I don’t want to look at myself a year from now and feel like I haven’t grown and matured. If we long for greater freedom and maturity, there are some practical things we can do to pave the way. If you want to sign up for that gym membership or radical diet, go for it. But don’t neglect the most important elements to producing true change in becoming who God has created you to be.