You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
Psalm 10:17 teaches us that God encourages His people when they face difficult times. As difficult times usually involve discouragement, God uses encouragement to counter the negative effects of discouraging events. He uses the encouragement of faith-filled “see to it” relationships (Romans 1:11-12; Hebrews 3:7-14), the Word of God (Romans 15:4), and the fellowship of believers (Philemon 7; Hebrews 10:25) to encourage us.
Why do we need so much encouragement? The simple truth is that the world we live in is filled with heart-hardening sin, hope-stealing disillusionment, and academic arguments that undermine people’s belief in God. Competition, envy, and jealousy all reach for power; but when they do not get it, conflict results (James 3:13-16) and encouragement perishes. Without encouragement, we will eventually turn away from God.
From politics to economics, from religion to family, we can find strife more often than encouragement. The polarized politics of the United States continues to reflect strife. Economic strife continues to occur as jobs from the United States are outsourced to foreign nations, while terrorism combines the world of politics, economics, and religion to create intense strife around the world. Moreover, the internal battles in churches wrestling with doctrinal and social issues continue to reflect strife. Strife is defined as “a bitter and sometimes violent conflict.” It is considered to be “an act of contention, fighting, or struggling against others”; synonymous with strife are discord and dissension.
Often fanning the flames of strife is criticism, which is defined by The Oxford Dictionary Of English as “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.” There are synonyms like disapproval, faultfinding, carping, and nitpicking, which give even deeper meaning to this term. Perhaps you have escaped the strife and criticism that fills our world today.
If you have done so, then you are the exception, because there remains tremendous strife and criticism in every walk of life. But if you are like most, you find yourself still caught in the grips of strife and criticism, in need of the encouragement and reassurance that your life and faith can still change and thrive.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
If we are going to thrive, we must develop a powerful faith in God. This faith must be allowed to soften our hearts, awaken our vision, and compel us to make the effort to secure the blessings God longs to give us. No matter how dark things may seem in your life, there is always hope! Here are 25 ways to resurrect hope in your life and begin thriving again. Choose one, three, or five of these to become bedrock convictions in helping your life and relationship with God thrive.
Idolatry is one of the least discussed sins among believers, and yet one of the most often discussed in the Scriptures. One of the most common forms of idolatry involves our consumption with the personality of man. Our celebrity-obsessed culture has infiltrated the church and as a result, we are in constant temptation to make people the focal point of our life rather than God.
There is more discouragement in the lives of Christians over the thoughts and actions of people than almost any other aspect of their lives. This is both ungodly and unhealthy! Make it a goal to study out idolatry in the Scriptures and the importance of keeping your focus on how God thinks, what God feels, and how God is working in your life.
Become a person who is known to be consumed with pleasing God. Recommended Bible reading includes the books of Isaiah and Galatians. A great character study is the life of Jacob, with special attention to Genesis 32. None of this will be complete without a scriptural word study on “idolatry.”
If more people received their esteem from God and their spouse, then this would be a much healthier world. Take time out to evaluate how much you love, are encouraged by, and enjoy being with your spouse. Make it your goal to rebuild intimacy and restore joy to your marriage. When your marriage returns to health, you will be free from the insatiable desire to chase after the world’s rewards of power, prestige, and possessions. You will discover that with a righteous relationship with God and your spouse that you have the two most valuable things life has to offer.
Recommended Bible reading includes Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and Ephesians. A great project for character study is to select three different marriages in the Scriptures to compare and contrast. Finally, a biblical word study on “love” (for the men) and “respect” (for the women) is a great place to start.
Can you imagine what your life will be like if your children grow up to be Christians? Imagine the opportunity to walk, talk, and pray with them. Envision the moments when you will be weak and they help you find strength. If you begin to live purposefully in a way for your child to become a “true Christian,” then there are treasures in store for you that are unimaginable and indescribable. Of course that means that everything else will have to take a back seat. Desires to have them live out your dreams of greatness will have to be submitted to your desire to see them fulfill greatness in the eyes of God.
What greater goal could a parent set than to build their home to produce Christians? The Bible readings for this goal are Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, and Proverbs. A powerful character study would be the marriage and parenting life of David. Your scriptural word study should be based on the word “children.”
4. Extended Family
Who has not become a Christian only to offend and insult their family with their “new found knowledge?” There are always opportunities for you to introduce those in your extended family to the life of Jesus with your life rather than your words. For those who have sacrificed to a degree that has hurt their relationship with their extended family, there is a great deal that can be done to repair these relationships.
Sometimes the best place to start is with an apology for your behavior, and an explanation that your actions did not accurately reflect your beliefs. We believe in sound doctrine, but we also believe in love. In fact, no one cares about the soundness of your doctrine unless you have love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Take out your calendar and begin putting important dates to remember for celebration with your family. Explain and exemplify the incredible changes in your maturity as well as the church’s maturity. Talk with other disciples who have great extended-family relationships so you can learn from them. Finally, don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. Love is an enduring quality, and if you rely on God, your love will persevere until they see it is genuine.
It will also be at this point that they will have seen Jesus. Bible reading on this subject should begin with Luke, followed by 1 Peter. Your character study should be Jesus and His relationship with His family. The biblical word study for this section is “forgiveness.”
In Matthew 5:8, Jesus says, “the pure in heart will see God.” This tells us all we need to know about motives. Our relationship with God is doomed if we ignore the health of our intention, ambition, or motivation. Why we do what we do means everything to God.
He makes this clear in Proverbs 16:2 when He says, “All of man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” Since we look at the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7) it is difficult for us to know the motive of others. This puts the responsibility for having a pure and undefiled heart on each one of us individually (Proverbs 4:23).
Because the heart is the wellspring of life, our lives deteriorate as the spiritual condition of our heart declines. We cannot thrive without making sure we have pure motives. The Bible reading for further study is 2 Chronicles, Jonah, and James. Your character study is Absalom and the scriptural word to study is “motive.”
One of the most difficult things to recognize and accept are our own limitations. Simplifying our lives is a response to the realization that we cannot do all that we desire to do. For any change to take place we must eliminate “the urgent” so we can focus on “the important.” You will find simplification essential to any changes you plan in your life.
The best thing you can do to begin the journey of simplification is to write down everything you want to accomplish this year, and then cut the list in half. The Bible reading for this focus is Nehemiah, Mark, and Titus. Your character study is John the Baptist. The biblical word study is “faith.”
Once you simplify your life, you will find that it is much easier to focus. Focus is evident when you are aware of your priorities daily and see regular progress toward the goal you have set. There is one thing to do in order to understand spiritual focus, and that is to begin studying the book of Acts. How focused were the New Testament Christians? What did they do to maintain their focus? What sacrifices did they make so that they were able to remain focused? What was it about their hearts that allowed them to stay locked-in on their vision with such tenacity and fervor?
Permanence is the quality or “property of being able to exist for an indefinite duration” (American Heritage Dictionary). Building is about establishing permanence, whereas transience is about coping for the time being. When we build, we see a vision and are willing to delay gratification because of this vision. Those who are transient give up at the first sign of difficulty, and go in search of a new project, experience, or fad. Christians should and must be builders; the church as an organization should be about building.
One of the most important changes in the church and every Christian must be that we all adopt a builder’s mentality. We cannot thrive unless we devote ourselves to one another (Acts 2:42-47), and this necessitates permanence. What can you do to create more permanence in your home, in your relationships, and in the fellowship? The books to read are Ruth, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians. The biblical character study is Job, and the word study is “build.”
Everyone reacts when they hear the word “obedience”, because we associate it with being controlled. Interestingly enough, God associates obedience with love (1 John 5:3). Have you ever considered that your path to being a more loving person is to become a more obedient person?
The more we thrive in obedience, the more we will thrive in love. The Bible reading for this topic is Hosea, John, and 1 John. The character to study is Moses, and the scriptural word study is “obedience.”
What do you passionately believe in? Belief or faith is the seed from which love, righteousness, and vision grow. Unbelief is a sin that has crippled many of our spiritual lives and relationships. Peter says that faith is of greater worth in our lives than gold (1 Peter 1:7).
Have you lost the thrill of living based solely on what you believe? Have you become so “realistic” that you don’t take any risks? How much do you work at believing? How much do you work at having inspired visions? Do you believe in other people?
Take an hour to pray just about the dreams God has for your life and the lives of your family and friends. Make a list of those dreams. Take time each week to add detail and to develop these visions from God. The characters to study all come from the great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. Make a list of these men and women and study how they made decisions and lived based on their belief in God. Further Bible study on this can be found in Joshua, John, and Romans. The scriptural word study is simply “believe.”
Our relationships are the most valuable things we have. The quality of our lives is not proportional to our achievements or possessions, but to the richness of our relationships. When we have great relationships, we have a great life! As Proverbs 19:22 says, “What a man desires is unfailing love.” What is the quality of your relationships? How are you as a relationship-builder? Have you worked at your relationships, asked others for input, and invested prayer, time, and effort into making them great?
Relationships are about including, accepting, supporting, and forgiving. If any of these areas are difficult for you, it will hamper your ability to build fulfilling, godly relationships. Decide to make relationships a top priority in your life and change whatever you need to change to become a great relationship builder. Read Ruth, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians. The character study is Paul, who had to overcome many challenges to become a good relationship builder. The biblical word study for this is “friend.”
“Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper and be satisfied” (Proverbs 13:4 NLT). One of the greatest character qualities that most people desire is discipline. We want to achieve the best in life, yet fall short because of our lack of discipline. Discipline is something many of us need most, yet we work the least to develop it. Why is it that we do not take the time to plan our schedule with our spouses every week? Why do we get the little things done but not the things that really need to get done? Why don’t we have well-planned dates when we are single? Why do we miss or neglect our daily personal Bible study and prayer-life on a regular basis?
The one ingredient that we are lacking in our lives is discipline. If you struggle to meet your financial obligations, do you look at your lack of discipline? Though we are in great need of it, why do we resist being disciplined? We need God to help us develop this important character quality in our lives.
A lot of our frustrations and fears can be alleviated if we strive to have more discipline. We must learn to fight the lure of laziness and work hard at being disciplined (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 NLT). For further study on discipline, read Proverbs, Daniel, and Luke. A character study on Nehemiah and word study on “self control” and “hard work” is recommended for this section.
“Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NLT). Today, Americans are more out of shape and overweight physically than ever before! Could it also be true that most disciples are out of shape and overweight spiritually than ever before? As we have begun a new year with new decisions, the good news is that all of us can become that thriving, growing spiritual person God destined us to be!
The twelve disciples Jesus chose were not individuals unlike us. They had their personal sins and challenges too. Yet, most of them had an outstanding willingness to learn. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked Jesus (Luke 11:1). Jesus Himself was an incredible learner! (Hebrews 5:8) What one Christ-like quality do you need to be taught in order to mature and grow spiritually? You will have to decide to become a learner so that you can be trained by God and others in order to attain it.
Great Bible study in your decision to become a learner includes Proverbs, Psalms, and Titus. Also, study the Gospels to learn how the disciples were trained by Jesus. Finally, study the character of Paul, as he was devoted to letting God transform his life in every encounter he had (1 Corinthians 11-12). A great word study for this is “humility.”
We live in a world that rewards and encourages self-promotion, self-seeking, self-absorption, and self-centeredness. However, individualism and independence only lead to loneliness, discouragement, and failure. God has designed for our lives to work best only when we are interdependent and work together. He wants us to be team players.
On a team, everyone plays a role, does their part whole-heartedly, and is most happy when the team as a whole is successful. To build a team with our marriage, our family, and our church, we must learn to share the strain and depend on each other as we depend on God.
What role do you play on the different teams you are on? In your marriage? Your family? Your household? The church? Who are you making better? How are you sharing the strain for? Great Bible reading for teamwork is Exodus, 1 Samuel, and Ezra. Biblical character studies to do are Jonathan and David, Moses, and Nehemiah. The word study for this is “unity.”
“Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). As disciples, the greatest danger we face is that of the love in our hearts growing cold. As unbelief, mistrust, selfishness, and fear increase, love’s influence in our life decreases. We don’t just wake up one day a more loving person; God teaches us to love (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
The more we understand God’s love, the more we are able to love (1 John 4:7-11). With love, a daily quiet time is transformed into an intimate walk with God. With love, a superficial acquaintance is transformed into a trusted friend. With love, bitterness, and hurt are transformed into vulnerability and forgiveness.
There is no love without investment, vulnerability, and trust. What character is better to study on the topic of love than Jesus? Study the Gospels and underline every instance you see Jesus loving God or a person. Set out to imitate Jesus’ love. In addition to the Gospels, further Bible reading on love should include 1 John. For a word study, turn to 1 Corinthians 13 and study each of the words that define love (e.g., patient, kind, protect, trust, hope, persevere).
When we think of roots, we immediately think of the long and large extensions on the bottom of trees that are embedded in the ground and that anchor and nourish the strongest and tallest of trees. When we apply this to our own lives, we are reminded of how important it is to have those anchors that nourish and hold us up. What anchors your life today? Surely it must be God, and we are always building our relationship with God deeper and more securely. He is the anchor for our soul, but what about our homes? Are you putting down roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the relationships here in the Bay Area or are you constantly longing to be somewhere else?
It will be impossible for our roots to go down deep if our hearts are not settled here. When we don’t put down roots, we are unsettled and insecure, always longing for something else. If we dig deep and lay down roots, our families can develop life-long relationships that will help us grow and deal with whatever comes our way.
We must make a decision to invest our lives to build God’s church here instead of constantly looking elsewhere for comfort and security. “He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built” (Luke 6:48). The Bible reading for this is Deuteronomy. Your character study is Peter in the Gospels, and the word study is “remaining.”
One of the greatest gifts God has given us is the privilege of a diverse, and mature spiritual family. This was God’s design, so that at every juncture in our lives we will not have to “go it alone”, but rather experience the encouragement and the spiritual growth that can come from the counsel of one or many trusted friends. This is defined as discipleship.
Discipleship works when we are willing to trust God enough to allow someone to help us grow spiritually. Many have stopped growing spiritually because we don’t have people in our lives we are willing to trust to help us. When we make a conscious decision to grow spiritually, we will look for people to help and teach us; as a result we’ll enjoy and value this process. Write down 3-5 areas in you life you need to grow in spiritually.
Pray about them and decide if you really want to change them and if so, why wouldn’t you want help? They can range from overcoming a difficult sin, changing a character trait, learning how to build a closer walk with God, getting out of debt, to building a great marriage and family. Decide to trust God and someone to help you.
Finally, ask for help, not just once, but build a relationship with that person. The Bible reading for this goal is 1 & 2 Timothy, and Luke. In addition, a character study on Timothy and a word study on “trust” will help deepen your conviction about Discipleship.
Often heard in conversations around the fellowship is the desire to change our prayer life. Some are struggling to pray, shortening their prayers, or just simply failing to pray. Often we find it hard to pray because we are not our real selves when we pray. Many of us have become religious and “refined” in our praying, and have lost the simplicity and genuineness of our early walk with God. The person we are in real life is not the person we are when we pray, and unfortunately we are not letting God see or hear from the real us. It is true that over time we should have deeper and more mature conversations with God.
These come from a better understanding of who God is, which among other things, leads to an ability to praise Him in ways we couldn’t have in the early days of our walk with God. However, with the increasing depth in our relationship with God, there should also be emotion, passion, and vulnerability, resulting in a prayer life that produces transformation. You can change your prayer life and make today a turning point for being real and loving in your walk with God going forward. Study the character and prayer life of David. Read Psalms and 1 & 2 Samuel while paying attention to all the emotions that are described in these books. In addition, do a biblical word study on “praise.”
One of the most inspiring experiences as a disciple is seeing someone respond and completely change as he or she studies the Bible! Think about it: when was the last time you experienced God using you and working through your life to change someone else’s life? Remember the sacrifices you made and how it was well worth it. We were chosen as His disciples to go and bear fruit (John 15:16), become fishers of men (Mark 1:16-20), make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and let God make His appeal to the lost for salvation through us (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)! Jesus had great compassion on the spiritually lost because He saw them as harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36). “Their problems were so great, they didn’t know where to go for help” (Matthew 9:36 NLT).
How do you perceive the crowds? How do you view the people of the world? Do you really see them as lost and helpless or are you now so compromised that you want to become like them? Why did Jesus see so many open people, a harvest so plentiful? Read the book of Acts and study the conversions and the lives of the disciples who were used by God. In addition, the best biblical character study for this is the life of Jesus! Study Matthew and Luke. Take special note of His heart and motives in helping people! The word study for this is “love.”
Have you ever wondered how to maintain your drive and motivation spiritually? When we face fatigue, we want to slow down and do less. However, Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Serving rejuvenates us. God has given us gifts to use in order to build His church. Think of one way you can serve God. Study one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and examine the heart of Jesus as He devoted His life to serving. Decide to change any area that you are not like Him.
Make your desire to serve known and get input on how you can best use your talents and efforts in serving. Decide to be whole-hearted, since you are serving God and not people (Colossians 3:23). When the selfish moments do come, keep in mind “the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does” (Ephesians 6:7).
One of the best ways to inspire and stimulate a thriving environment is to become a person who encourages others. Things you say will set the tone for how you and others feel about your surroundings. Ephesians 4:29-32 directs us to say “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” To do this, we must control our tongue (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 12:18), repent of sin in the heart (Ephesians 4:30-31; Mark 7:20-23), and develop compassion through forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).
The books of James and Proverbs are helpful in producing these three things. Take note each time you see the words “tongue”, “words”, “lips”, or “speech”, and deepen the conviction the Bible gives us when it comes to encouraging others.
Are you known as someone who brings unity in relationships? Do you promote love and peace in the fellowship or do you divide people by your attitudes and actions? What about in your home or household, do you bring the family together or do you tear relationships apart? “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9 NLT). What sins prevent you from being a peacemaker: selfish-ambition, competitiveness, pride, anger, jealousy, or envy? What fruit of the Spirit do you need to replace your sins with? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Most of us do not value unity or being a peacemaker as God does! In fact, God tells us to keep away from those who cause disunity and divisions in the body (Romans 16:17)! If this is the area of your Christian life you are going to change in the coming year, then begin by studying the books of James, 1 Peter, and Ephesians. The character to study is the life of Joseph and a great scriptural word study would be on “unity” and the “tongue.”
We were all created to contribute and make an impact with our lives. Ephesians 2:10 says that God has uniquely prepared good works for each of us to do. We are each created to contribute in some way! What kind of contributions have you been making to God’s Kingdom? Do you believe you need to contribute?
Satan deceives us is so many ways; he convinces us that we are insignificant or that we will be happier just taking care of ourselves. The truth is that God expects every one of us to make an impact — no matter how great or small. We will only find our hearts fulfilled when we are contributing with the talents God has given us — whether it’s 1, 2, or 5 talents (Matthew 25:14-30). God is also clear that “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25). Decide that you are going to contribute in building God’s Kingdom. Whether it’s by song leading, ushering, leading a small group, or having people over to your home, it will make a difference! Read Judges, Esther, Malachi, and Philemon. The character study for this is Peter, and the word study is on “giving” or “serving.”
The Bible makes it very clear that we are not to worry (Matthew 6:25), nor are we to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6). It is also clear that fretting leads to evil (Psalm 37:8) and that fear is the absence of love (1 John 4:18). Yet for many of us, although we know that fear, anxiety, and worry control our lives, we have yet to change. As we read each of these Scriptures we are challenged and reminded of the father in Mark 9:24 who exclaimed, “I do believe help me overcome my unbelief.”
Paul said, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). This means we can overcome fear, anxiety and worry. However, this does not mean we will be free from the things in our lives that will tempt us to worry or fret. Have you identified exactly what you worry about? Have you done a study in the Bible to understand how God wants you to deal with this? The apostle Paul is a great character study. The Bible reading for this would be Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and the book of Acts, and a word study on “peace” will give you further conviction and insight.
Do others consider you to be a joyful person to be around? Do you enjoy life with God’s blessings that you are an overflow of joy to others, attracting them to the Kingdom of God? So many believe in the lie that money and possessions will make you enjoy life so much more!
Recently, USA Today published an article interviewing people bearing testimony that money buys comfort and even pleasure, but not happiness! Do you need the world and its possessions to bring you joy, not convinced that “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)? Is God really all you need to enjoy life regardless of the circumstances of life? God intended the life of a disciple to be enjoyable and not unbearable! Is it not true that the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things choke the word” in our lives (Mark 4:19)?
Think about when you first became a disciple, how much you enjoyed your life because you made a decision to die to yourself, sacrifice all things and live for God. Remember how much you enjoyed life? Then, over the years, we increasingly allowed the world to influence us into wanting our lives back, and we looked to things of the world for enjoyment rather than spiritual things. This next year, some of us need to make a decision to enjoy and celebrate our life in Christ every day! Do you enjoy your relationship with God? Do you rejoice that your sins are forgiven, that you have a purpose for your life and a home in heaven? Do you enjoy your wife and children? Do you enjoy your friendships in the church?
There is so much that we take for granted in our lives! We become so focused on what we do not have instead of enjoying the blessings we do have! Recommended Bible reading for this is Philippians and Ecclesiastes. Additionally, doing a biblical character study on Paul and a word study on “joy” will revolutionize your life!
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Change begins with me, and thriving begins with change. Even if we see a fault in another person’s life, Jesus tells us to start by changing our own life first (Matthew 5:5). He gives us the priority for change when He says, “first take the plank out of your own eye.” Jesus considers anyone who pursues the criticism of his brother while paying no attention to his own righteousness to be a hypocrite. Imagine how different this world would be if each one of us obeyed this command! Imagine how much our faith and our lives would thrive!
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