Is It Well with YOUR Soul?

As a shepherd leader, you are undoubtedly concerned about those you lead. You care about their souls. You pay attention to their spiritual conditions and want to lead them deeper with God.

At least I hope so.

Being in a small group is—or should be—good for your soul as well. But I’ve found, through my own experience and from talking to other leaders, that this is not necessarily so.

Last week I attended a regional gathering of small point people from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The theme was caring: for our leaders and ourselves. We began by worshiping together, singing several songs, one of which was “It Is Well with My Soul.”

I felt like a liar as I sang those words.

Because my soul has been troubled lately. I won’t go into all the reasons here, but, even as I sang, my soul felt . . . not well at all. It felt stressed, hurting, depressed, even lonely . . . as I stood in the midst of a bunch of fellow community and discipleship junkies.

And I knew I was probably not alone.

Allow me to digress for just a moment. When I take a step back and consider the big picture of my life, I realize how blessed I am. In the big picture, my soul is well. I have a strong relationship with my heavenly Father who loves me despite myself. He provides for me every day. I have a loving wife and four good kids. I have friends. My health is good. I could go on and on counting my blessings.

But let’s face it: our many blessings don’t always add up to a soul that is well.

When my soul is not well, I know I need at least four things:

  • I need more time with God in the “ordinary” disciplines of Bible study and prayer, perhaps extended time away from all my projects, to-do lists, etc. to be with God in a solitary place.
  • I need more time with my friends—the opposite of the above. I need a both-and solution, and I’ve learned this is a symbiotic relationship. Both of these makes the other one stronger.
  • I need to serve others, taking my focus off myself and putting it on other people. When I surrender, my soul grows stronger. (Does that make you think of the Grinch?)
  • I need more time doing some of the “out of the ordinary” types of disciplines. For me, this includes personal worship. Actually, I like to spend time on a regular basis worshiping God. Worship is a lifestyle, not an event. But I’ve learned that extended time in personal worship helps me more than just about anything else when it is NOT well with my soul.

Let me briefly discuss that last one a little more. I try to find different ways to worship God.

One way is to take a walk in a woods where nature sings to me the majesty of God, and I simply join in that worship.

Another way is something I did this morning: singing praise and worship songs to God. To help me do this, I created a YouTube channel that I play in full screen on my laptop. I chose praise songs that help me focus on God, ones that include the lyrics so I can sing along. If you like this idea, you can view it below. I believe you can also subscribe to it.

What other ideas have you used to attend to your own soul? Please share them below.


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Five Straightforward Steps for Making God’s Word a Daily Part of Your Life

I have been writing about the vitality of God’s Word for leaders, whether you lead a small group, a ministry, a church, a business, a family, or yourself. Yesterday I wrote about my love for God’s Word. Like the writer of Psalm 119, I desire to seek God with all my heart (v. 10). Like most humans, I struggle with this. It’s like I’m in a battle … because I am!

Psalm 119 provides a lot of incentive for us to get into God’s Word and learn from it. The psalmist talks about hiding God’s Word in his heart, meditating on it, taking delight in God’s statutes, rejoicing in following God’s commands … but just how do we get there? How do we get to the place where we, like the psalmist, love God’s Word and delight in living according to it?

As I’ve read Psalm 119, I’ve come across a number of hints. Here are five verses that I think helped the psalmist, and can help you and me as well, to make reading, meditating, and obeying God’s Word our way of life:

  1. “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes” (v. 59). It all starts with looking within. Do I have the wisdom to live life well? No. Do I have the power within me to do great things for God? Absolutely not. When I look within me, looking at my own resources, I must confess my deficiency … actually I’m being too kind … I must admit my utter wretchedness. And so, I consider my ways, and that leads me to turn my steps to God’s way. There’s a biblical word for this: repentance.
  2. “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws” (v. 30). The second thing I must do it to choose. God has given you and me the freedom and the will to make our own choices. Like Joshua, I have chosen to serve the Lord (24:15). The personal choice you make is more than an intellectual decision or an emotional response, although both of those are involved. It is a decision of the will. Note how many times in Psalm 119 the phrase “I will” occurs. The psalmist had chosen as a matter of his will to follow God and to study God’s Word.
  3. “This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (v. 56). Making this decision means putting it on your schedule. You make it a normal part of your everyday practice. When preachers talk about spiritual disciplines, they often start here. But you can’t skip the first two vital steps! The psalmist had made the reading of, meditating on, and obedience to God’s Word his practice. It had become a regular discipline for him, but I’m sure it was anything but routine! A word of warning here. This is the step where sometimes people make this whole thing Pharisaical; that is, legalistic. Jesus called the religious leaders hypocrites because they honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from God (Matthew 15:7-9; cf. Isaiah 29:13). Make God’s Word a part of your everyday life because you desire to know God and his ways. Dive into the Scriptures because you love God and desire to develop a stronger relationship with him.
  4. “I will not neglect your word” (v. 10). Sometimes we get off to a good start but then something happens to disrupt the good practices we have developed. Life gets busy. The holidays come. The boss demands more. The kids get sick. We get sidetracked. We just don’t feel like it. Satan gets busy. Actually, all those excuses can be summarized in the last one: Satan gets busy in our lives. He and his foul friends hate when we turn to God and take joy in his Word. Our commitment to the kingdom of God is a threat to his earthly kingdom. And this is why you and I need good, strong, caring, God-seeking friends. It’s why you and I need a small group where people are asking us regularly about how we’re doing. It’s why the guys in my men’s group regularly ask one another what we’re reading in God’s Word. We all need encouragement and accountability for the commitments we’ve made in life.
  5. “I will always obey your law, for ever and ever” (v. 44). There is some firm finality in the psalmist’s words. He has made a resolute long-term plan to live his life a certain way: God’s way, according to God’s Word.
I’m in. I’ve considered my ways; I’ve chosen; I’m making this my practice. I won’t neglect it. From here on out, I will always live by God’s Word.
How about you?



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gods at war: New Life-Changing DVD-based Small Group Study from City on a Hill

I had the privilege of editing the leader’s guide and “combat journal” for “gods at war,” a new DVD-based study from City On A Hill Productions, narrated by Kyle Idleman. The small group material was written by Ross Brodfuehrer, who did an incredible job developing this curriculum.

From the City on a Hill website:

In a new twist to the cinematic style City on a Hill has become known for, this 6 episode series was filmed in a docudrama style – … featuring the late Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), Chuck Bentley (Crown Financial Ministries) and others telling their true stories. In these compelling stories, we will see some reflection of ourselves, and recognize the true battle that lies at the heart of all our sin struggles. These stories also point the way to victory, as we see the kind of life-transforming power that Christ is ready to pour out in our lives as well. 

I believe God will use this study to change lives, if group members fully engage with the material, which is easy to do with these dramatic videos and well-written discussion guides. If your group used and grew through “Not a Fan,” you’ll love this study as well. I’m highly recommending it!

Read more and purchase your copies of gods at war here (links to City on a Hill website).

Call of Duty for Christ Followers

Today: Proverbs 20 

If you are a follower of Christ, war is not an option. You have a real enemy. You have a battle to fight. If you are not fighting now, it’s either because: (a) the enemy does not see you as a threat to him, (b) the battle is waging, but you are either unaware of it (most of us have not been very well educated about or equipped for this war) or you are simply pretending it’s not happening (which is perhaps the most dangerous position of all), or (c) the enemy is just waiting for an opportune time to strike.

Plans succeed through good counsel; don’t go to war without the advice of others (Proverbs 20:18, NLT).

On the surface, this verse is about a king’s wisdom to seek godly advice, especially in going into a literal, physical battle, where the stakes are literally life and death. It seems political leaders around the world could learn from this simple proverb!

But the same wisdom applies for us who follow Christ. As Christ-followers we have entered a spiritual battle. Jesus used this wisdom of seeking advice from others before going to war as a vivid illustration of “counting the cost” to follow him (Luke 14:31-33). If you are going to follow him, be prepared for a war!

Over the last couple years, my family and I have been thrown into a full-scale battle. The enemy’s attacks are unmistaken and ferocious. I recognized the attacks and put on the armor of God, but, like too many Christians, I was not sure exactly how to wage this war. But I knew the stakes were very high, so I asked. First, I prayed (and still am praying), asking God not only for his strength and protection, but also for his wisdom to do this battle the right way. Second, I called and met with a number of wise Christian friends and counselors, who gave me the advice I needed to make difficult and strategic decisions along the way. I also knew these allies were and are praying constantly for me and my family. This battle is far from over, but I can see that God is clearly in control. The defeated enemy will not win me or my family over. The battle is the Lord’s, but he has put me in to fight with his strength.

If you are a Christ follower, you, too, have a battle with the enemy to fight. When you enter the battle for your life or your family, don’t fear. But don’t go it alone, either. Find your platoon of comrades to be by your side.

Where is the enemy attacking you or your family right now?
Who is in your platoon? Who is giving you godly advice?
Your friends are also fighting battles with the enemy. How can you stand by their sides?