So what makes Lauren, Lauren? Or, Stephen, Stephen? If not our achievements or failures, then what? If not our feelings, then what? If not our schooling or job, then what?
God's covenantal actions toward us make us who we are. Fundamentally.
Our greatest commandment as Christians is to love the Lord. But, we can't love the Lord if we don't delight in Him. Our first goal each day must be to take joy in who He is.
What is the MSC Divine Design Process and why should you care?
So what makes Lauren, Lauren? Or, Stephen, Stephen? If not our achievements or failures, then what? If not our feelings, then what? If not our schooling or job, then what?
God's covenantal actions toward us make us who we are. Fundamentally.
Do you need encouragement today? How can you encourage yourself in the LORD? In this video, Michael shares passages of Scripture that deal with encouragement and focuses our attention on the promises of God in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Joy in God is not only the foundation of Michael Swindell Coaching, but the foundation of all our worship and all our discipleship. But, why? Why should we be so focused on joy in God? Why does Michael Swindell Coaching exists to MAXIMIZE THE JOY OF CHRISTIAN LEADERS?
I sat down, put my hands to my face and let the tears fall. My wife, Ann, was taken aback. This is not normally the way I conduct myself. In fact, I may have throw 3 objects total out of desperate anger. That book and maybe two pens (maybe 4). Yes, my season has been more weepy than usual, and, yes, more depressed in a non-technical sense of the term. But, rage? Where did that come from?
If you are reading this post then chances are that you think highly of goals. For many of us, the more goals, the better. You may like big, hairy audacious goals. Or, you might prefer small, incremental and doable goals that compound over time. Some of us like short-term goals and others mid-term goals and still others prefer the long-term variety. There are personal goals and corporate goals, morning routine goals and evening routine goals. We think up wedding goals and vacation goals, and those oh-so-sacred "bucket list" goals.
And then there is the grand-daddy of them all: S.M.A.R.T. goals. That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. In my coaching practice, I teach people how to create SMART goals based off a number of factors that currently impact their life situation. So, goals are good. Some goals are great. Goals, goals and more goals seems to equal a better life at the end of the day.
The goal "behind" the goal is growth. What matters is growth. And the growth that matters most is a growth that many of us are not familiar with setting goals for. But setting goals for this area of growth is the most important type of goals we will ever set.
Growth in our Love for God
When most people think about growing, they think about something that is visible and somewhat tangible. They think about increasing their bench press. They think bout moving from a 3.0 GPA to a 3.5 GPA. They think about moving from 100 sales per year to 125 sales per year. They think about moving from a $70k base salary to a $150k base salary. They think about attaining a work certification or a promotion.
But, from a biblical standpoint, the most important category of growth is one in which it is sometimes difficult to measure. What God is most concerned about is our growth in our love for Him. Jesus said this when asked about which commandment was the greatest:
Thus, our most important goals should be in alignment with Christ's greatest commandment. In some real sense, every goal we set must find its fulfillment in elevating our love for God, even if only in an indirect way. Our love for God is what flows into love of our neighbors. It is the fountainhead of emotional strength to endure the struggles of this life. When we love God more, we obey all his commands with greater urgency and thoroughness, knowing that, if we love Him, we show it by obeying his commands (John 15:9-17).
But, how do we grow in our love for God?
This may sound overly simplistic, but it is the truth: we read the Bible, pray, and obey. Before you stop and say, "Okay, really? This again? I have heard this a thousand times already. Give me something I don't know," hear me out. There is not always a correlation between the number of times we hear something and our ability to implement what we already know in a particular season.
So, even though you might already know the answer to growing in your love for God, ask this follow up question:
This is where the rubber meets the road. Goals are great insofar as they help us to put the spiritual disciplines into practice that will partner with God in growing our love for Him. I have found a tendency in myself that while pitiful to admit is probably true for many of us. I must acknowledge that when goals are about personal health and fitness, work or school, I more readily write them down, track them and have some measure of accountability. Well, okay, not always with health and fitness, but it is typically built into the fabric of work and school (Projects have to be due at some point, and someone is grading.). Yet, when it comes to goals of Bible study, prayer and obedience, it is strangely easier to not write them down, not track them and not look for consistent accountability. In this way, my main desire of growing in love for God is thwarted by other competing goals and desires. Can you relate?
So, how do we set goals for Bible study, prayer, and obedience that actually increase our love for God?
We must identify core goals that we have reasonable belief with help us grow in our love for God. Most of us know that we should read the Bible, pray and obey. Yet, many people do not know how to do these in such a way so as to increase their love for God. And yes, it is possible to read the Bible and not grow in love for God (see: Pharisees). So, without further ado, let's get real practical here:
What about prayer?
I know that when I prayer walk around my basement, I am far more engaged and emotionally motivated than when I sit quietly to pray. I can feel my love for God rising. So, I should probably feel bad about that and go learn from a monk how to sit still and pray quietly. WRONG! I should rejoice that God has given me a way to pray that increases my joy in and love for him. Therefore, I should set goals that have to do with the frequency and amount of time I spend prayer walking.
Why type of prayer engages your heart for God's purposes? Reading Operation World? Interceding for family members? Sitting down quietly before the Lord? Whatever it is, pursue goals that are in alignment with your unique wiring.
What about Bible study?
Right now, I am rejoicing in reading 1 & 2 Samuel along with the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary by J.D. Greer and Heath Thomas. I love thinking about God's faithfulness to David. Also, I am realizing that I need to keep Jesus front and center more than I do, because when I focus on him, I get a perfect visual for the character of God and my love for him increases. So, I should probably stop and memorize the names in the 1 Chronicles. WRONG! I should set a chapter or time limit boundary to my reading and set goals for frequency.
What type of bible reading engages your heart for God's purposes? Reading large portions and seeing a narrative unfold? Memorizing and chewing on one verse from the Psalms? Whatever it is in this season, set goals and do it!
What about obedience?
I know that I have been disobedient of late in choosing joy in God regardless of the circumstances. Basically, I have been guilty of not "rejoicing in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4). So, one of my current goals is to do whatever it takes in my personal devotions to stir my heart unto rejoicing. Specifically, this looks like a few songs of either Hillsong, Rend Collective or The Gettys. The music and lyrics of these artists have a way of elevating my mind and heart in ways that other artists do not. Therefore, I should repent of my selfishness and learn Gregorian chants. WRONG!
Where are you directly disobeying God's Word? Set repentance goals in this area and watch your love for Him increase.
Every Christian I know wants to grow in their love for God. I am sure you do as well. So, set goals that increase your love for God. Intentionally pursue growth in your love for God by pinpointing the goals that will help you move forward. By the power of the Spirit we can do this!
Everyone of us lives out of a perception of our identity. If you forget who you are, you'll forget how to live. For those of us who are in Christ, this means our primary, everlasting identity will begin on this foundation of redemptive love.
This foundation of being in Christ is our surest, most durable identity. But we have others. We have covenantal identities which include our spouse, our family and church membership. We even have tertiary identities that may come and go seasonally.
But, the world around us is constantly attempting to tell us to define our identity by things like how much money we make, how "beautiful" we are, our sexual desires or how successful we are at work. Living out of these false identities will only breed frustration and, ultimately, despair.
Below is my own personal list of identity declarations. They serve as a mental and spiritual alignment to God's Word and sovereignty. They remind me that I am created, loved and held accountable to God's sovereign plan. They inspire me to live as the redeemed man that I am.
Take these and use them for your own life, editing as needed. I pray that God uses them to confirm your truest identities, and motivate you to live for his glory.
My Primary Identity in Christ Declarations:
I am a good creation of the loving and wise Triune God. (Gen. 1)
I am an Image-Bearer of Yahweh. (Gen. 1)
I am a vice-regent of Yahweh in the Earth. (Gen. 1-2)
I am an unconditionally loved Son of God. (1 Jn. 3:1)
Therefore, nothing I accomplish gives me more love and nothing I fail at takes away love.
Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ. (Rom. 8)
I am a Son whom Christ has given authority in His Kingdom; he empowers me by the Spirit. (Luke 10:19)
I am a lamb in Christ’s flock. (Jn. 17:3)
I am one who lacks nothing. (Ps. 23:1)
I am a Son of Abraham, heir of the promises (and mission) of the covenant. (Eph. 3:6; Rom. 4:16)
I am a branch attached to Christ the Vine and pruned by God the Father, bearing lasting fruit. (Jn. 15)
I am a friend of Christ and His disciples. (Jn. 15:17)
I am both pure and free, washed by the word of Christ (Jn. 15, Rom. 8:1)
I am redeemed by Jesus Christ’s blood, cleansed from all trespasses according to the riches of God’s grace (Eph. 1:7)
I was chosen in love for adoption as a Son of God (Eph. 1:4-5)
I am a living stone in the Temple of God (Eph. 2:22; 1 Pet. 2:5)
I am a member of the Body of Christ (Eph. 3:6)
I am a royal priest of God (1 Pet. 2:5-9)
I am a citizen of God’s holy nation, His treasured possession (1 Pet. 2:9)
I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3)
I am raised up and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Col. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:6)
I am a disciple-making disciple of Jesus Christ. (Matt. 28:18-20)
I am God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ to do good works. (Eph. 2:10)
I am a chosen witness for Christ (Acts 1:8)
I am one sealed with the promise of salvation, the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 1:13-14)
I have been liberated out of the kingdom of darkness and now dwell as a citizen in the kingdom of light. (Col. 1)
I am hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1)
Because I am in Christ, the Father delights in me! (Matt. 4)
I am an instrument for the praise of His glorious grace! (Eph. 1)
I am more than a conqueror in Christ! (Rom. 8:26-39)
I am an object of God’s mercy, hand-crafted to declare His love and glory! (Rom. 11)
I am a warrior in Christ’s army, re-born to wage war against all the schemes of the enemy, to liberate the captives and bind up the brokenhearted! (Luke 4:19-20; Eph. 6)
I am a brother to my siblings in Christ!
My Covenantal Identities:
I am the husband to Ann and the father to Ella.
I am a Swindell, a son of Jim and Cathy, a brother to Steven and Fallon, Christine and Manly, Claire and Wade, as well as an uncle to my nephews and nieces. I am the son-in-law of Kent and Sue Taulbee.
I am a local church member of Calvary Baptist Church.
I am a friend to many.
I am a student at Southern Seminary.
I am a business owner and gospel coach.
Pray with me:
Father, I praise you, for you are the good, gracious and loving Creator. You are worthy of glory and honor and praise, because you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being. The heavens declare your glory; the skies proclaim the work of your hands. There is no one a glorious as you, whether in heaven above or on earth below. You are the glorious, holy, righteous God.
Because you are good, you created all things good. You gave one type of goodness to animals and another to the trees, one goodness to the oceans and another to the earth. And although humans were made a little lower than the angels, you crowned us with your glorious image. You bestowed upon us relationship and reason, laughter and joy.
For those whom you have called to lead, give them humility. May they not look only to their interests, but to the interests of others. May they exhibit kindness, bearing with the weak in all patience. Send trials their way to grow in wisdom and godliness. Let their leadership shine before others that they may glorify you on the day of visitation. Purify their hearts to seek first your kingdom and righteousness.
Give your leaders clarity. May it be crystal clear what the next step is for themselves, their families and their organizations. Give them charity. Let their decisions be full of love and grace. Give them diligence. Empower them by your Spirit to forbear the tasks given to them. Give them provision. Teach them to rejoice in the abundant, kingdom life of Christ. Give them support. Surround them with covenant friends and caring followers.
Forgive your leaders in your mercy for their pride and stubbornness. May your kindness lead them to repentance (quickly!). Show them their faults that they may confess their sins to you and others.
Thank you, Father, for you hear the prayers of the ones you have declared righteous. You will accomplish your purposes in this earth and the new earth to come. You will see to it that your glory is manifest and our joy is complete. You will lead us as we lead others until that great and glorious day of your coming. To you, Oh Lord, be all glory and praise, through Christ, Amen.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21
I have a coaching client who jokes with me about how he loves to "destroy evil." His worldview, shaped of course by the Bible, is often caught up with the ideas of spiritual warfare and how the church is called to overcome evil in the name of Jesus. This desire to destroy evil is good and, indeed, a sign of the Spirit's work in his life.
But, how does one actually achieve victory over the forces of darkness?
Well, first off, there is prayer. When we pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" we are calling on the Lord of Heaven's Armies to break through the darkness with his marvelous, heavenly light. Our prayers in accordance with God's will is one way we partner with God in the destruction of evil.
There is also the armor of God as described in Ephesians, chapter six. One of the pieces of spiritual armor is the "sword of the Spirit, the word of God." So, when we speak the word of God and we argue with lies according to the word of God, this too is an act of spiritual warfare. I was told as a young boy that "the pen is mightier than the sword." This is true in the natural, but also in the supernatural. There is nothing more powerful than God's Word enlivened by His Spirit.
In addition, as the verse at the top of this article indicates, we also overcome (i.e. destroy) evil with "good." In other words, the "good works" that "God prepared for us in advance" (Eph 2:10) that "we should walk in" are missles of holy war against the darkness. This should not be hard to comprehend since the works of God's Son, Jesus Christ, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension dealt the mortal wound to all of the world's evil; we join with his mission as we continue to walk as he walked and love and he loved. Jesus performed good works to overthrow the Enemy; we do the same.
But, how does this connect with our unique mission?
If God has prepared good works for us to walk in and good works are what overcome evil, then knowing and walking in the specific good works you are designed for actually destroys evil in this world. To maximize our ability to overcome evil in our world is directly connected to our ability to confidently live out of our unique mission. On the flip side, if we do not know how we are wired and therefore do not know what to do with our lives, we are not doing our part in overcoming evil.
Now, this might make a direct connection to your work, but it also may be indirect. If you are designed and called by God to work for the CIA, FBI, a military branch or local law enforcement, yet you forego that call to work at State Farm Insurance, this is an obvious abdication of your responsibility to overcome evil with good. This is a direct connection we all understand.
However, anytime we neglect God's unique mission for our lives and opt for another path, we are lessening our ability to overcome evil with good. For example, if you are designed to be a homemaker, but are pressured by the world to go into sales, then your ability to overcome evil with good is limited. Why? Because in neglecting your call, you are neglecting your good works. "Good" works done in disobedience to God's plan for your life are not good at all; they are sin.
A perfect example of this is King Saul of the Old Testament. When Saul did a "good work" of sacrificing animals won in wartime to the LORD, but did so without God's permission or the oversight of the LORD's prophet Samuel, he was fiercely rebuked and disciplined.
"'You have done a foolish thing,' Samuel said. 'You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed his ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command.'" (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
So, how can we learn from Saul's mistake?
We each have a unique way we are wired to display the glory of God's image in the world. We do this when we align our time, energy and resources to live out the unique mission he has given to us. If we do not know who we are and what we are called to do, it is imperative that we find out. For the overcoming of evil in the world and for the reward of God's promises, we must fight to live in step with His plan--year-by-year, job-by-job, day-by-day, decision-by-decision.
Do you know how God has wired you and what you need to do about it?
Do you want to overcome evil with the good works God has prepared in advance for you?
Let me know. I can help. Find out more at michaelswindell.com.
In my last blog post, we looked at the value of discovering and writing down our unique purpose in life by way of a personal mission statement. Below are some questions to get you started in a more focused way.
In order to obtain a rough draft of a mission statement, I encourage you to think through these questions and write a rough draft mission statement with no more than 20 words.
Requirements of a Great Mission Statement: After reading your rough draft aloud,
God is on mission: He created all things to glorify himself (Rom. 11:36). By glorifying the Triune God through our lives, we partner with God in His mission while being filled with indescribable joy (1 Pet. 1:8).
But not only does God have a mission, and not only does His Church have a mission, but as members of his Church, each of us also has a unique, personal mission to be lived out in community with others.
Ephesians 2:8-10 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
God saves us that we would uniquely bear His image (Gen. 1:27) by walking in the good works that He prepared in advance for us to do. What is our personal mission? Walking in step with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, doing the things that God prepared in advance for us to do. But, the leadership of the Holy Spirit and our ability to understand in any given set of circumstances what we are to do is difficult. It requires discernment. It requires intentional time and prayer and thinking about how God has wired us, positioned us and experienced us.
This takes lots of reflection over the years. It takes opportunities to see how our desires attach or don't attach to certain activities. It may take understanding our personalities through the lens of testing such as Meyers-Briggs (16personalities.com), StrengthsFinder 2.0 (HERE), StandOut (HERE), or the Enneagram (HERE). It takes an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses (Like THIS book can help with). It make take interviewing the people you know best about how they experience your good, bad and neutral tendencies. Whatever it takes, it's worth the effort.
What is our relational network? What is our vocation? What are our finances? What city do we live in? What church community are we called to love and serve? No one has a unique mission without a specific context to live out that mission. If you are called to live out a mission, it is going to be in a specific time and place with specific people whom you already know. Why? Because just like God's mission, our mission is for the sake of God, others and creation.
One more thing to understand about discerning our specific mission is that it takes a sobering look at your past and how that connects with your present and possible future (Two great resources are HERE and HERE.). God has sovereignly ordained our parents, siblings, towns and cities we grew up in, our education, our opportunities, our joys and wounds, and everything else about us to work out in conformity with the purpose of His will (Eph. 1:11). ALL things work out in our lives for our good and His glory. This doesn't mean Satan doesn't hate us or hurt us; it means that God is greater than Satan and can redeem the work of evil for greater good (Rom. 8:28).
"There is no greater blessing in life than to know that we are right in the middle of the trail God has marked for our lives and to know that He is providing the strength and endurance to play our part in His plan for the World." -Steve Saint, son of the late missionary Nate Saint, in the forward to The Missionary Call by Dr. David Sills
Holy habits, or spiritual disciplines, are those habits which form the liturgical basis for our communion with Christ on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. If you want to grow in your ability to abide, or commune, in Christ (John 15), then you must learn to identify and develop the holy habits most essential to the task. If you want to be used of God to see the transformation of lives, then you must consciously dedicate yourself to the lifelong pursuit of holy habits. If you want to increase your delight in God and others, then you must be able to focus yourself to consistently create new habits, under the leading of the Spirit, that allow you to enter into God's presence more consistently.
There is no substitute for abiding in Christ if you want to see the fruit of God displayed in your life. Do you want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22)? Then you must abide. Do you want to see your spiritual gifts develop (1 Cor. 12-14)? Then you must abide in Christ. Do you desire to see God utilize you in powerful and effective ways for His Kingdom's sake? Then you must abide in Christ. Do you want to more regularly see God show up in amazing ways, not only in your life but the lives of those you interact with? Then you must abide in Christ.
And the way we learn to abide in Christ is by developing holy habits that lead us into commune with Him. There is no other way.
Jesus found time in his busy schedule of redeeming Israel and saving the world to develop the holy habits of prayer (Luke 6:12), solitude (Mark 1:35), service (John 13:5), and Scripture memory (Matt. 4), among others. The earliest house churches in Jerusalem practiced holy habits (Acts 2:42-47). Paul's epistles consistently demonstrate his desire to see the churches he began and oversaw develop holy habits of praise and thanksgiving, which he himself practiced.
You can look throughout church history at the men and women of God who were used by Him in powerfully transformative ways. Billy Graham prayed fervently and studied the Bible. Dallas Willard was so convinced of the efficacy of holy habits that he wrote books on the subject. John Wesley memorized large portions of Scripture and fasted twice a week. St. Benedict developed an entire rule of life designed to incorporate holy habits throughout the day within a specific community. Augustine's holy habit of spiritual writing and teaching impacted all of Western philosophy and theology.
No matter how you want to be used by God, the path is clear: develop the habits that will allow you to abide in Christ. So, what habits are you developing? Start today.
What holy habits do I recommend the most?
1) Memorize the Scripture (like Jesus, Peter, Paul and most great men and women of faith)
2) Read/Study the Scripture
3) Pray (Praise, Thanks, Confess Sins, Ask)
4) Listen (in silence, perhaps repeating a simple breathe prayer like "God is Love")