How I’m pursuing spiritual health in 2018

Empty tank

For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to pay very close attention to warning signs about my spiritual health.[1. And my physical health, of course, but that’s not the purpose of this post.] In 2015, I hit a wall, where I realized I was running on empty due to various circumstances. Throughout 2016, I made a number of changes to my lifestyle, my reading habits, and my writing schedule to allow me space to get healthier.

As one year moved into the next, I wanted to build on the good foundation that had been laid and keep going.

Then 2017 actually happened.

This year has been a demanding one, and I don’t think I can fully separate the professional from the personal. For me, they’re too interconnected, which is generally the nature of jobs that are connected to ministry. The workload itself is right around my sweet spot for capacity, which is a good thing since I’m never bored. However, while I don’t think I’ve been neglectful of my family, I do definitely struggle to turn “off” work when I’m at home.

It’s also the first year I’ve experienced panic attacks, near-crippling anxiety, and several other challenges. Much of this has been the result of the stress I’ve lived with for several years, as well as the ongoing effects of our move to America, including planning for our longer-term future here. That stress isn’t going away, so I need to figure out how to cope with it better.

That sounds mostly negative, but it really isn’t. There’s been a lot of great things that have happened this year as well. Although it took some time, we settled into a church here in Franklin. Emily and the kids are starting to make friends both in and out of the church. We’re serving and contributing, which I’m grateful for the opportunity to do.

But I’m not going to pretend that it hasn’t been a challenging year. And 2018 looks to be equally challenging, although in different ways.

So what am I doing to protect my spiritual health and grow during this time?

Ultimately, it comes down to continuing to prioritize three disciplines: reading, praying, and resting.

Reading: Continue my practice of reading the Bible on a daily basis, and do all I can to protect and prioritize that time. In addition, making sure my reading habits are well-balanced and fruitful to my soul. One thing I want to try in 2018 is a chronological reading plan. We’ll see if I get there, though.

Praying: Continue to prioritize prayer as a proactive discipline, rather than a reactive one.

Resting: Trying to prioritize sleep and taking real days of rest. To recognize my limitations as a finite human being and honor those limitations while avoiding the sin of workaholism.

Will I be successful? Only God knows. But I do know that if I accomplish each of these in part, even if not in whole, I will be healthier as a result.


Am I healthier spiritually than I was a year ago?

About a year ago, I shared that I’d hit a wall. 2015 was a pretty dry year in terms of my spiritual health, one that was more or less the culmination of years of different events.

I was coming out of a long and difficult season at my previous job. We were continuing to navigate life with Emily’s epilepsy. I was tired from the regular grind of writing and not being as known as I wanted to be (which is to say, me being a prideful idiot). And I was exhausted from waiting for a very long time on something really cool (which you all now know is our family’s move to Tennessee and my job with The Gospel Project).

As 2016 began, I wanted to address this dryness. I started the year with a plan to better manage my time, to re-read the Bible in its entirety and reincorporate journaling into my routine, and to read a number of books specifically to encourage and challenge me as I sought to get healthier.

So, am I healthier than I was a year ago? Before I answer that question, maybe it’s better to take a moment to consider what happened and how I am planning to move forward in all these areas.

What happened with my Bible reading habits?

I actually got off to a good start, especially on my Bible reading. In fact, it wasn’t until we got the approval to move to the United States that keeping up with my reading plan started to slip. Even so, I didn’t stop. I kept reading, just at a slower pace. So I didn’t get through the entire Bible in a year. But I did read a TON of Bible this year and was reminded why I love studying it so much. (And hopefully that has come through in some of the posts I’ve written over the last few months.)

I also started to experiment with different styles of Bibles, and really fell in love with the Reader’s edition approach, which helped me read all four Gospels in about a week (which is pretty rad).

During this coming year, I’m going to refocus on trying to complete my read-through of the Scriptures from beginning-to-end, but I’m not going to stress about the timeline. What matters is completing it, and hearing from God in it, not how long it takes.

How did I take control of my time?

Once we started down the road to moving, I had to make a big change to my writing output. Since July, I’ve been posting daily, but only once a day. And that’s been a really good thing for me since it means I have time for other things (like going to bed at a decent time). So as I move into this coming year, I’m going to keep this schedule, which will look like this:

  • Sunday, Monday and Friday: original content
  • Wednesday: podcast (when available)
  • Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: curated content (“Links I like,” “Weekend reading”)

How did my reading help me love Jesus more?

I’ve read a pretty bizarre list of books over the last year, and not at all what I expected to, in part because I read fewer books directed at Christians than I have in years. But it did help me to love Jesus more because I was able to enjoy how gifted men and women reflect the image of God in their creative efforts, as well as read a number of books that overtly encouraged me in my faith.

This coming year, I want to make sure I am striking the right balance of books intended to overtly grow me in my faith with those that might assist in a tangential manner. What that looks like, I’m not entirely certain. But I do know I’ve got a hankering to read more Francis Schaeffer…

So back to my question: am I healthier spiritually today than I was a year ago? I think so, yeah. Am I where I want to be? I don’t think so, but I’m seeing progress. And I’m not sure I can ask for more than that.

Photo credit: 42/365 – feeling low via photopin (license)

My (not so successful) year of time-tested theology


I had big plans. Big plans I say! Unfortunately, they didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

See, I started 2015 with this big idea: I was going to read a bunch of time-tested theology. This was a reactionary decision to my reading a lot (and I mean a LOT) of modern books over the last few years that have either been retreading the same ideas, or were so useless that I felt like I needed a shower after reading them. So, I made my choices: I was going to read Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (because Derek Rishmawy worked hard to make him cool again), The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, and Augustine’s Confessions. I created a reading plan for Bavinck (which you can see here), I picked up a delightful new edition of The Institutes, and I dusted off my long-ago purchased copy of Confessions.

And then life happened. Or rather, a lot of things in life happened.

I started school, and rocked my first course at Covenant Seminary, which required a lot of reading and thinking time. I found myself in a fairly dry place spiritually at the midway point of the year, really needing to refocus on my Bible reading and personal study (this is still a bit of a struggle, in all honesty). Between work, family, school, serving with our church, and the blog, something had to give… and it was my reading project.

How far did I get? About half-way through the third volume of Reformed Dogmatics (though I’m still picking away at it). And along the way, I learned a few important things:

1. I should have planned out Bavinck to be read over the full year. Looking back, I realize I bit off more than I could chew, which was foolish. I gave myself a far too aggressive plan, which was not a good idea. Instead, I should have focused just on Reformed Dogmatics and spaced the four volumes out over the year. Tackling one every three months is far more realistic. It also would have helped me enjoy it a little more.

2. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable. This is probably the hardest thing for me to admit, since I don’t like quitting anything. I am one of those “I must succeed” guys. So quitting is an admission of defeat, except when it’s not. For me, having to quit was a good thing because (along with all the other good reasons I had), I found that even with the pace I was keeping I was struggling to really process and consider what I was reading in favor of turning pages. And even as someone who regularly reads an average of two books a week, that’s not okay from my perspective. Reading is to be enjoyed, not to be treated as a task to be completed.

3. My failure will inform the future. Despite the failure, I won’t stop trying to challenge myself like this, which is why later this week I’ll be sharing a bit more about how I’m planning to structure my reading this coming year. But whatever I do will be informed by what I experienced in 2015. Recognizing that school will make my reading more challenging is helpful. Knowing that something unexpected could derail the whole thing is worth factoring in.

4. Taking care of my soul is more important than reaching a goal. As I said earlier, last year was a very dry year for me spiritually. There’s no besetting sin that I’m aware of (I’d assume my wife would have picked up on something by now); there’s just this funk that makes it hard to read my Bible, to pray consistently, to sing (even to songs I want to sing to). So this is something that I’m being extremely watchful of—not only in choosing what my next goal will be, but in working to accomplish it. Whatever my plans are for the coming year, they’re going to be pursued with the knowledge that I need to consistently take care of my own soul. Because if I neglect that, then what I’m reading really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, does it?

The most important word in your vocabulary (but hardest to say)


One of the things I learned very early on as a believer is that people expect you to say “yes” to things. A lot of things.

Possibly all the things.

And the more you say yes, the more they expect you to keep it up. Now, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with this—I was, after all, the lord mayor of the friend zone in high school (let the overlooked brothers understand). But there’s a different kind of pressure to say yes to things at church:

  • To say yes to taking an extra Sunday in children’s ministry
  • To say yes to joining the set up team
  • To say yes to joining the local missions team
  • To say yes to filling in on the greeting team (and never leaving)

Am I the only one who has been there?

The thing about saying yes to good things is we actually want to. We want to say yes to doing more to help people know Jesus. We want to do more to serve in our churches and show our love for our fellow believers. If we love our jobs, we want to do more there because we enjoy it.

But then the turn happens, and those things we loved so much… well, we maybe start to hate them, at least a little. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten quite to that stage, though I do know there have been times when I’ve been more resentful than I needed to be. And what helped me was being reminded of a little word—one I forget all too frequently—that might well be one of the most important in my vocabulary:


I’ve had to learn and relearn this lesson: sometimes I have to say no to things. I have to do it at work in order to actually get the work I need to do accomplished. I need to do it at home with my outside work (let me tell you, it’s a bad idea to be doing a ton of freelance while writing a documentary and also doing sermon prep and maintaining a regular blogging schedule). I need to do it sometimes even with church (though that’s pretty rare). I’ve had to do it when I’m asked to preach during a particularly difficult season (like when I was trying to write a term paper).

And I’ll probably have to do it again.

So why is it I hate saying no so much? Because I, like so many others, tend to value myself by what I do—both in quantity and quality. I want to do an ever increasing number of things at an ever increasing level of ability. But that’s just not possible. So I’ve had to learn to say no.

Or rather, I’m trying to learn it. Again.

The thing I need to remember is that ultimately, my value isn’t determined by the amount of stuff I do, the blog posts I write, the number of sandwiches I make, or any of that. It’s determined by God, and more specifically, who he has declared me to be in Christ. If I am redeemed, renewed, forgiven, restored, and adopted as his son, what more do I really need? Is burning the midnight oil  all the time really going to make me more redeemed-ed or be adopted harder?

So here’s a little exercise for all of my fellow overachievers reading this: Write a post-it note, record a voice memo, send a recurring reminder to yourself… whatever you have to do, do something to remind yourself that the most important word you can say, sometimes, is no.


You don’t always realize you’re thirsty


It hit me last weekend as I was doing some (unfortunately) last minute prep for children’s ministry. I read my assigned text (Luke 24:36-49 for those wondering), not so much looking to pull it apart and figure out how to make a message out of it, but just to read it. And I realized something: I’ve been incredibly neglectful about spiritual health of late.

You know how you don’t always realize you’re thirsty until you actually have a glass of water? It’s kind of like that—going through my normal routine, not realizing I’ve been a bit dehydrated. And while it’s great to acknowledge stuff like this—to be real like people from Topeka—it’s not enough to say “this is where I’m at right now.” Instead, I actually need to do something about it. So here’s what I’m doing, starting today:

  • I’m putting my reading plan for the year on-hold in order to focus more intentionally on reading my Bible (sorry Bavinck!).
  • I’m deleting a few time-suck apps from my phone and iPad in order to avoid distractions.
  • I’m starting simple: reading through of John’s gospel, with a notebook handy. No timeline or anything like that. Just read it until this gospel has sufficiently mastered me.

As I’m working through the text, I’ll be sharing a few of my personal reflections here. As you can tell, this is not earth-shattering stuff. It’s pretty entry-level from some people’s standards. Yet, this is kind of basic reorientation is what I sorely need (and I suspect I’m not alone). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty. I need a drink of water.

Photo credit: Splashy Glass via photopin (license)