I wear her first wedding ring set on my left hand, a gift that she offered to her grandson when he broke the news that he wanted to marry this girl from West Virginia. We were just two broke college kids who fell in love. Her pale blue eyes twinkled the instant I walked through the door to her house. She had never colored her hair and it was still as deep brown as could be with one white streak gracing the side of her head. By the time I met her, she was 89 and wheelchair bound. Grandma Pearl was as sharp as a tack and could tell you stories about living through the great depression and what it was like growing up between the Rivers in West Kentucky before the government flooded the land to form the lakes. Life wasn’t always easy for her. She worked hard and had a tough spirit. She once pulled her own tooth because she couldn’t afford to go to the dentist! The biggest thing that stood out to me was her tattered bible; marked and highlighted and always in reach. In the background of your conversations, you’d have to speak loudly over the gospel channel, which she blared because her hearing had dulled over the years. She had her favorite preachers and she would give her opinion on her not so favorite ones. Whenever you started to leave, it didn’t matter how long you had been there, she’d always ask, “Are you leavin’ already?”
She was 91 when she passed away and I wish I had more time with her. In the few short years I knew her, I gleaned much wisdom from her way of life. I learned how she would stretch a pot of dumplins’ to feed nine kids and that even when life gets hard, there’s no excuse for going hungry. I’m not talking about the physical hunger that comes from lack of food but the spiritual hunger that comes from a lack of feasting on the Word of God. In the last few years of her life, Grandma Pearl would admit that getting out of bed each morning was difficult, but she would make herself do it every day. She wasn’t physically able to leave the house to attend church but she didn’t use that as a reason to excuse herself from spiritual growth.
I will admit, there have been times in my life when I have blamed others for the lack of joy and growth I was experiencing in my Christian walk. As a teenager, I blamed my dad when we moved to a new church and I had to leave my old friends behind. I thought staying at my old church was better and my anger blinded me to the work God was doing. There have been times where I blamed my husband for my lack of growth because I thought if somehow he was more “spiritual” then I would be too. While there may have been a splinter present in my husband’s eye, there was also a painful log protruding from mine. I can look back on every stagnant and joyless time in my life and see that underneath there was always anger lurking and a finger quick to pull the trigger on someone - or something that was to blame beside myself.
There have also been times when I dipped my bucket into another Christian’s well of joy. While there is nothing wrong in sharing another Christian’s victories, I can’t attribute their growth as my own. The faith of my husband, pastor, Sunday school teacher, friend or family member does not save me or make me holier. Only Jesus has the power to wash me clean and sanctify me through the truth of His Word.
When it comes to my faith, instead of placing blame or resting in what my husband or someone else is doing, I need to take responsibility for me. No one else can do my quiet time or study my bible. Immersing my heart in the Word of God is what guards me against falling into sin. Knowing the promises of God is what allows me to stand on solid ground when everything around me is falling to pieces. Communing with God through prayer is what gives me peace of my mind and diverts my focus to the cause of the Kingdom rather than the fleeting pleasures of this world.
We all have excuses. I’m very good at validating myself when I’m not doing what I ought to be doing or need to be doing. Sometimes there are very real hurdles that hinder us from getting something done but often time, it’s a matter of finally putting on the gloves and getting to work. Spiritual growth shouldn’t be drudgery but I’m reminded that there is still a sinful nature about me. While I’m still in this body on earth, my heart will not be naturally bent towards God. I’m reminded of Luke 9:23-24, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” I can wake up in the morning and decide I just don’t feel like carrying my cross or I can “Grandma Pearl it”--thrust it over the back of my wheelchair and resolve to run my race with perseverance. I can determine that the cause of Christ is greater than my own desires and worth every cost.
Through all of my striving, when I am seeking God there is much joy. The more I spend time with God; I notice it gets easier to pick up my bible regularly. I start to thirst for scripture and the things that I used to think were so important start to look very unimportant in the light of heaven. I want to list a few excuses I’ve made over the years and a few I’ve heard from other Christians. If you find that you relate to the excuse, I hope that the solution will give you the kick in the pants you need to move forward with spiritual growth. Our growth is not about working for the salvation we’ve already obtained through Christ or earning God’s favor by gaining scriptural knowledge, but it is about thriving in your relationship with Jesus Christ for the sake of furthering His Kingdom.
EXCUSE 1. The preaching at my church is not very good.
SOLUTION. Don’t just sit back and distance yourself from your church. Continue to serve and invest in the people at your church as hard as you can and supplement your growth by listening to other gospel-centered preachers via podcast, you-tube, or tv. Read Christian literature alongside your daily Bible reading. Pray for your pastors and leadership. The easiest way to ease discontent with someone is to pray specifically for them. There was a period of about 6 months when we moved from Frankfort, KY to Clarksville, TN where we were searching for a church. What could have been a very discouraging time became bearable because our previous church would post each week’s sermon on their website for listening. There are some legitimate reasons for leaving a church but a change of membership is not always the answer during a period of time when you feel like church leaders aren’t feeding you. I recently read a good blog specifically on this topic that I will link here if you are questioning whether a change of membership is right for you.
EXCUSE 2. I don’t have time to study God’s word.
SOLUTION. I remember when we first brought Isaac home from the hospital. I was so overwhelmed. I thought to myself, I can’t believe my parents were able to do this! A newborn’s schedule is very unpredictable and for the first several months, I was lucky to get a shower. We may not be in a season where we can sit down every morning at six am with our cup of coffee and bible but there are things we can do every day that keep God at the forefront of our minds. You could have Christian music playing in the background of your daily activities or pull up a sermon online to listen to. Remember, there is always a pause button if the baby starts crying! Another thing to not forsake is meeting with other believers. Your work schedule may not allow you to be at church every Sunday and if that’s the case, think about meeting up with a friend or bible study group throughout the week. Accountability is a great thing when you have a lot going on in life. Step back and look at what is most important. We tend to overload our schedule so much that we run ourselves ragged. This is not good for you or for those around you and especially not conducive to spiritual growth. Think about letting something go. It might be as simple as putting down your phone and getting off social media. There are many things that distract us from studying God’s Word.
EXCUSE 3. My circumstances are very difficult right now.
SOLUTION. Friend, these are the times when I would urge you to lean into God! You might be going through sickness, loss of a loved one, a loss of employment, or divorce. Whatever the situation, draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8) My encouragement is not to let your worldly sorrows overwhelm you. I’m reminded of 1 Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”. We may not understand what God is doing and He may not grant us the answers but God does promise us a hope that extends past this temporal life. Restoration will be made complete in heaven. When we struggle with believing in God’s goodness, let us be reminded of His great mercy. The fact that I deserved eternal death and He granted life is beyond my understanding. The idea that Jesus bore the suffering I deserved is a gracious consolation during hard times.
For those who aren’t sure what preachers to listen to or what music to listen to, I am going to list a few preachers and Christian artists below that either I listen to or have been recommended by trusted sources. If you are reading this blog, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share excuses that you’ve made in the past or have commonly heard from others. It would be interesting to get a conversation going. Thanks for reading,
Rend Collective – upbeat worship music for times you need a pick me up
Sandra McCracken – great modern day hymn writer
Andrew Peterson – wonderful storyteller who creates unique parallels to our life and who the Father is in relation
Rich Mullins – one of the founding fathers of modern day praise and worship music
Shane and Shane – wonderful harmonies and powerful praise music
Shai Linn – Christian rap artist with great doctrinal truth in his lyrics
Keith and Kristyn Getty - modern day hymns with sound biblical truth; Celtic musical feel to many of their songs
Matt Papa – worship music with deep lyrics
Lecrae – Christian rap artist with an inspirational conversion story whose lyrics echo his testimony to how Christ has changed him
Chris Tomlin – worship artist with solid, biblically based lyrics
David Platt – urges the church to follow Christ with great abandon and has a heart for international missions
J. Vernon Mcgee - don’t let his country accent turn you away, he’s no country bumpkin when it comes to knowing scripture!
Allistair Begg – emphasizes knowing scriptural knowledge and getting to know God through our repentance; also has a pleasant Scottish accent :p
Tony Merida – an unlikely pastor according to his background story but someone who is where they are today because of God’s mercy; as a middle schooler I listened to him at fuge church camp and he is part of the reason I am in music ministry today
Thabiti Anyabwile – pastor and author; former muslim converted to Christianity; addresses issues of race and theology
* All of the pastors listed have many free sermons available through their personal or church websites or through different podcasts. Some are available on YouTube and Vimeo. The Christian artists I listed vary greatly in style so if you find one is not your personal taste, you might try another. This list is by no means exhaustive.