Category Archives: Girls with Gusto

Practicing Simplicity

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In my book Girls with Gusto, I explore the eight major steps of the spiritual journey as seen through Proverbs 31. In Step Five, we come to the following verse:

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:19-20 NAS).

I’ve always thought this step was about becoming a generous person, and that by extending our hands to others we experience anew the trust and faith we have in God. While I still believe that to be true, I’ve come to realize that generosity is the by-product of this step, not the primary goal or lesson.

 

The More of Less

Like the rest of America, I have a lot of stuff: nostalgic mementos, old paperwork, clothes I’ll never wear again, pots I’ve never cooked in, materials for projects long-forgotten, and books that never held my attention. You know, stuff.

Thankfully, the Lord led me to a book called The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. This little gem has challenged me to put my stuff into perspective. It added the term “minimalism” to my vocabulary, and it gave me the freedom to dig myself out from all the junk.

But what really struck me was the author’s perspective. As a Christian, Becker’s focus isn’t on minimalism for its own sake but for what it can give him and his family—and a big part of that is being able to “meet the needs of others.” He states, “When we spend too much money on ourselves, we miss the opportunity to find greater joy by being generous to others.”

So, living simply can lead to more generosity.

 

The Generous Life

The Lord then led to me another gem, Secrets of the Generous Life by Gordon MacDonald. This devotion-style book gives practical tips on how to live a generous life, stating that giving generously is a “kind of divine work”:

“The generous life is not about doling out extra amounts of money. It is about reorienting the human heart in the direction of Christ so that we become transmitters of the same affection and care that Christ modeled in his time.”

Generosity, then, comes from focusing on God and heeding His call—which may involve the sacrifice of our money, time, or other resources for the betterment of others.

 

[Click to Tweet: Generosity comes from focusing on God and heeding His call. #generouslife #bigsisterknows]

 

The Discipline of Simplicity

God still wasn’t done schooling me on this topic. He led me to one more book, a modern-day classic: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster. In this book, Foster highlights the thirteen major spiritual disciplines as recorded in the Bible and understood by the leading church fathers since the first century church. Imagine my surprise when I learned that simplicity—not generosity—is one of those disciplines!

As Foster explains, “the central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of His kingdom first—and then everything necessary will come in to its proper order.”

To experience this “inward reality liberates us outwardly….Our goods become available to others.” In other words, when we put God first in our lives, we find ourselves capable, willing, and even delighted to be generous to others.

However, if we focus on being generous, on getting rid of the stuff, on living simply, then we will miss the point. For to focus on anything but God is to make it an idol.

 

The Practice of Simplicity

I now realize the true value of Proverbs 31:19-20: the woman is generous to those around her because she’s learned to live simply, her eyes focused on God. If we follow her example, we’ll begin to live generous lives, too.

In future posts, I’ll dig more into this concept of the simple (and generous) life and how minimalism can be a useful strategy. But for now, remember that whatever it is you’re seeking in life—whether it’s to be more generous, to understand God’s will, or to have God’s favor—that focusing on God and His Kingdom is always the answer. Only then can everything else fall into its rightful place.

 

What about you? Are you seeking to live a generous life? What techniques do you find helpful?

 

 

Focus on Hitting the Mark

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If we were to list all the sins of the world, we would be here a while. Perhaps we could start with the the actions forbidden by the Ten Commandments: stealing, murder, idolatry, coveting, lying, etc. Maybe we could even throw in some modern sins like driving under the influence, cyber bullying, personal identity theft, and telemarketing calls during dinner time.

But have you ever stopped to consider the meaning of the word “sin”?

 

The Definition of Sin

We might think that sin is any activity that harms another person or offends God. Or perhaps it’s the breaking of a specific biblical law. I imagine most Christians would probably agree with these definitions.

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. We can actually look up the word “sin” in the original Hebrew and Greek.* In both languages, the word means “to miss” or “to miss the mark.” This gives us the image of an archery target in which the center mark is the bull’s eye.

And that begs another question: what does the bull’s eye represent?

 

The Bull’s Eye

Throughout the Bible, we’re told to focus on God and serve Him only. (See Deuteronomy 10:12-13.) Just as the archer must focus on the bull’s eye in order to hit the mark, so we should focus on God and His will for us.

Archery is a sport, and the key to most sports (so I hear) is to “keep your eyes on the ball.” That’s because our hands follow our eyes. For this reason, an archer must focus on the bull’s eye in order to hit the mark.

As spiritual archers, if we’re distracted by something to the right or left, our arrows will naturally follow in that direction. But when we’re focused correctly, our arrows can hit the center mark. In other words, if we can focus on God, His Word, and His will for us, we can avoid sin and live in righteousness. (See Psalms 23:3 and 119:11.)

 

The Enemy’s Tactic

Many of us think that if we’re not purposefully following the Enemy, then we’re following God by default. But it doesn’t work that way, and the Enemy knows it. In fact, the Enemy’s goal isn’t for us to worship him but for us to stop worshiping God. And to do that, he just needs to get us off focus.

Maybe he can get us to succumb to the allure of money, power, and social status. If not, then perhaps we’ll zealously follow social issues while ignoring the needs of people all around us. Or maybe we’ll bend the knee to the idols of religion and family.

The Enemy doesn’t care what we focus on as long as it’s not God. And he’ll do whatever he can to make that happen.

 

[Click to Tweet: To sin is to miss the mark. Learn techniques to stay focused on the bull’s eye.]

 

Techniques to Focus

Are you aiming for anything less than God and His perfect will for you? Are you distracted by the things of this world? Here are some techniques to help you focus on the bull’s eye:

1. Pray—Ask God to help you identify the distractions in your life and to give you the courage and strength to put them in proper perspective. Make this your prayer throughout the day to help center you.

2. Read—Pick up your Bible at least once a day. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in selecting a book of the Bible and then read it all the way through. Meditate on the meaning of the Word and ask God to show you how to apply it to your life.

3. Simplify—For most of us, distraction comes by way of media, whether it’s bitter news, raucous sitcoms, or lustful movies. If you set these aside for a few days, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to focus on the voice of God. (You may not even want to turn them back on!)

 

 

What do you do to stay focused on God and His will?

 

* Concordances are like dictionaries for Bible words. We can search for the word in the English translation to uncover the original Hebrew or Greek word and what it means. Here’s a link to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance I use, which works well with my New American Standard Bible.

 


This content comes from my manuscript for Girls with Gusto. Visit the new Girls with Gusto page for more information on the book.

 

Bearing Fruit: The Evidence and Opportunities of Faith

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Photo and design by Ashley L. Jones.

 

If you’ve been going to church for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “bearing fruit.” People who use this phrase are usually referencing Galatians 5:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS).

I used to think that bearing fruit was something only the most spiritually-minded people could do. That’s because it seemed like only the grandmas and grandpas of the church could adequately display these fruits, such as kindness in traffic jams, patience in line at the store, and peace when everything seems to be falling apart.

And yet, as I study the concept of bearing fruit for my book Girls with Gusto, I realize that I’ve been mistaken.

Bearing fruit isn’t just for spiritual giants! Learn how at BigSisterKnows. [Click to Tweet]

 

The Image of the Vine

In John 15:1-5, Jesus used the image of the grape vine to describe our relationship to Him and the Father:

  • Jesus is the True Vine
  • God the Father is the Vinedresser (or vine gardener)
  • God’s people are the branches of the Vine

He then says, “He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b NAS).

This makes more sense when you understand the structure of grape vines. The grape bunches that you buy at the grocery store are cut from branches, which are connected to a vine. Although the branches produce the grapes, they cannot live on their own. Instead, they are dependent on the vine, which is the life source of the entire plant structure.

We rely on Jesus just as the branches rely on the vine to survive and produce grapes. As we tap into Jesus, we begin to access His essence of pure love. As we experience more of God’s love, we begin to overflow with it and all the fruits of the Spirit that derive from it.

This means that all believers—each and every one of us—can display the fruits of the Spirit.

 

A Fruitful Expectation

Jesus also explained, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, [the Father] takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NAS).

This shows that, not only are we able to bear fruit, we are expected to do so. If we don’t, it is a sign that we are not actually connected to the Vine of Jesus. However, when we do bear fruit, we give evidence of that God’s holy nature is alive within us. He then refines us so that we can bear even more fruit. Perhaps this is why we prove ourselves to be disciples of Jesus, and we glorify God the Father, when we “bear much fruit” (John 15:8 NAS).

 

Evidence and Opportunities

On one hand, “bearing fruit” is the evidence of our relationship with God; on the other, it is the opportunity to receive and share in the love of God.

A great example of this is the story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37-50. After his brothers sold him into slavery, Joseph was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and he ended up in an Egyptian dungeon. Even so, Joseph remembered his God. Perhaps that’s why God used Joseph to warn the pharaoh of a pending famine. Joseph heeded the opportunity, and his leadership and good stewardship saved countless lives, including those of his own family. Then, when he could have turned his back on the brothers that did him wrong, Joseph chose a better path. He took the opportunity to display mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Throughout his entire story, Joseph took every opportunity to do God’s will, and his character was filled with the fruits of the Spirit. Although we think of Joseph as a spiritual giant, we are expected to display these very same fruits of the Spirit in our own lives. Likewise, our opportunities to serve God may seem less important than Joseph’s mission to save the kingdom, but we should treat them with the same respect and gusto that Joseph exemplified.

 

Encouragement

I encourage you to examine your own life. Does your character and your actions give evidence that God is alive in your heart? Are you seizing the opportunities God sets before you?  If not, take a moment to get back on track by saying a simple prayer like this one:

“Lord, I’m sorry. I’ve missed the opportunities you’ve given me, and I don’t really see the fruits of the Spirit in my life. Please clean my heart and help me to focus on you. In your grace, give me more opportunities to serve you. Help me to hear your guiding voice, and give me the strength and courage to act accordingly. Thank you in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

 


Has someone affected your life by bearing the fruits of the Spirit? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below or on my Facebook page.