Combating Doubt with Faith, Hope, and Love

I’ve been thinking about the topic of “double-minded” again. The phrase only appears two or three times in the Bible (depending on the translation), but I wrote a whole post on it a few months ago and this month it’s the topic for my church’s scripture writing group (click here to download a copy for yourself). As I write out these scriptures each day, other scriptures keep coming to mind related to how we can avoid being double-minded and instead be whole-hearted for God.

Being able to maintain a whole-hearted level of commitment is very important for us. We don’t want to be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind … a double-minded individual unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8, NET). Doubt like that has no place in a faithful life. But saying we need to have faith without doubting and really living that way are two different things. What is it that can keep us from being tossed around like this by turmoil, questions, and fear?

Fixed on Jesus

The double-minded person is described as “tossed around” and “unstable.” You could say they are wavering between two ways of being and thinking: faith and doubt. So that means we need to find something unwavering to hold on to if we’re going to avoid being trapped in this sort of mindset.

we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

Jesus endured the cross without wavering, and He’s now sitting at God’s right hand advocating for us (Heb. 12:2; Rom. 8:34). He isn’t going to leave us on our own, and that gives us confidence. We can come to God the Father through Jesus at any time from anywhere with anything we need to talk about.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings

Hebrews 10:19-22, NET

Holding on to Jesus is the first step in combatting doubts and fears that would make us double-minded, unstable people. Faith is where our journeys as Christians start, and if we feel ourselves wavering then we need to go back to that foundation and focus on Jesus. He’s where our confidence to keep enduring comes from.

Anchored in Hope

Continuing to read in Hebrews 10, the author adds another layer to how we can hold fast to Jesus: “And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb. 10:23, NET). Being double-minded makes us wavering; hope in Jesus is something we can hold on to unwaveringly. For Christians, hope isn’t a nebulous possibility. It is a sure and certain thing.

so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:18-19, NET

We have faith in God, He proves Himself faithful, and that gives use a solid foundation for hope. If we can hold on to faith and hope, then we have an anchor to keep us from being tossed around like a wave on the sea. We have a way to combat double-mindedness as we keep moving forward in faith and hope.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

Philippians 3:13-15, NET

And the Greatest is Love

Faith and hope are commonly paired in scripture (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:5; Col. 1:23; 1 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:21). They’re also spoken of alongside love as something we ought to put on (1 Thes. 5:8). Indeed, Paul tells us “faith, hope, and love” are what endure and remain, and of the three “the greatest is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NET). It would make sense, then, that love would also play a vital role in keeping us whole-heartedly focused on God.

One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, WEB

Loving God wholly–with all the focus of our hearts, souls, and minds–leaves no room for being double-minded. Being whole-hearted for our God, who “is love” helps us become love as well (1 John 3:10; 4:7-12; 5:2). That transformation toward being like God changes our minds as well as our actions.

The Spirit God gives us (a gift we commemorate tomorrow on Pentecost) is a spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Tim. 1:7, NKJV). Modern Bibles often translate sophonismos (G4995) as “self-control” or “self-discipline,” but it also means “soundness of mind.” The root words refer to someone who is “sane” or restored to their senses (Thayer’s dictionary, G4994 and G4998). If we want to avoid being double minded, we need to have faith in God, trust Him and hope in His word, and be filled with His spirit of love. That’s what will make our minds “single” as we follow Paul’s example of continuing to press on toward the wonderful future God promises us.

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What Does It Mean To Be Double-Minded, and How Can We Fix It?

I love it when a phrase in a book or a comment from a friend prompts an unexpectedly deep Bible study. Just last week, someone in my church’s scripture writing group suggested we study the phrase “double-minded.” Since there are only two verses in the Bible that use this word (at least in most translations), it sounded like a challenging and intriguing study. It’s also a study that’s relevant to things we struggle with today. It’s so easy to find ourselves becoming filled with worry, questions, and doubt. There are so many different versions of “truth” being marketed today, and it gets confusing. We need to be clear in our own minds what we believe and why so that we’re not double-minded. I hope you’ll find reading about this topic as fascinating–and helpful–as I did. We begin in the opening part of James’s epistle.

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8, NET

The word translated “double-minded” is dipsuchos, meaning “two spirited,” “vacillating” (Strong’s Dictionary), “wavering, uncertain, doubting,” and “divided in interest” (Thayer’s Dictionary). It comes from two words: dis (twice, again) and psuche (breath, spirit). Zodhiates adds that “such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (dictionary entry 1374). Sounds like something a lot of Christians struggle with today, doesn’t it? James is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it appears once again closer to the end of his epistle.

Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10, WEB

Though there are only two verses using this word, James makes it clear that being “double-minded” is not a good thing. From the context as we read James 1:8, we can say that faith and stability are the opposites of double-mindedness. Then James 4:8 recommends that the double-minded purify their hearts, indicating that being double-minded has something to do with the state of our hearts. It also appears to be something that we can fix, and which God will help us correct.

How Long Will You Waver?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah confronted the people of Israel about their idolatry. They’d constantly sway back and forth between faith in God and following pagan religions. This wavering, uncertain, divided loyalty was not something that pleased God.

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word.

1 Kings 18:21, NET

You can click here to read the entire story. Right now, I want to focus in on the phrase “paralyzed by indecision.” The more literal translation from Hebrew would be, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?” (NET footnote). Here, though, it’s an idiomatic phrase and does not refer to physical disability or injury. It’s a picture of someone’s thoughts and loyalty swaying back and forth unsteadily, similar to how James describes the double-minded individual as tossed by the sea. Other translations of this phrase in 1 Kings 18 include, “How long will you waver between the two sides?” (WEB) and “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (NKJV).

The need for us to set doubt aside and be loyal to God alone is also discussed in the New Testament. In his Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts, Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NET). We’re not meant to live in a state of indecision. Knowing who Jesus is removes doubt and replaces it with faith. This sort of faith is absolutely essential, “for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6, NET). We don’t have to get rid of all doubt before we come to Jesus, but at the very least we need to reach a point where we can say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NET).

Don’t Divide Your Loyalty

The only other Bible verse that uses the word “double-minded” is found in certain translations of Psalm 119:113. In the World English Bible it’s translated, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.” The New King James Version is almost identical: “I hate the double-minded.” Offering a slightly different reading, the New English Translation says, “I hate people with divided loyalties.” We cannot afford to live as double-minded people with divided loyalties. It’s impossible to be loyal to God and serve things that are incompatible with His way of life.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:24, WEB

Our loyalty and service belongs to God alone. We must follow Jesus’s example of rejecting the siren call of temptation and say, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him'” (Matt. 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13, NET). This is exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” right before he said, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, WEB). God wants the entirety of our hearts, not just the pieces leftover after we do other things in our lives.

O Lord, teach me how you want me to live.
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks with my whole heart.
I will honor your name continually.

Psalm 86:11-12, NET

Learning to Have an Undivided Mind

Though there are only 2 or 3 scriptures that directly talk about being double-minded, many scriptures talk about the importance of having “one mind” and being “like-minded” with other believers. This doesn’t mean that believers will all have the same personalities, types of lives, or individual opinions. Rather, this like-mindedness is rooted in all of us learning to think in the same way that God thinks. If we’ve been recipients of God’s spirit, then “we have Christ’s mind” (1 Cor. 2:16, WEB). The more we learn to have the same mind as Christ, the more like-minded we become with each other as well.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6, WEB

God wants His people to live in unity. We’re meant to care for every follower of Christ as much as we care for ourselves. We’re to work on resolving differences peacefully and prayerfully, seeking to have God’s perspective rather than defend our own opinions. We’re to replace double-mindedness, doubt, and instability with faith and loyalty, following the example of Jesus Christ in how we act and think.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, WEB

Through the power of God working inside us, we can choose to change our thoughts. Whether our minds are divided or whole is in large part up to us. We’re not helpless victims of our own doubt but rather mighty warriors who are strong in the Lord. Through Him, we have the power to overcome worry, doubt, and division and instead commit ourselves to lives full of faith.

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Picking A Theme For Next Year

Are you planning to set a New Year’s resolution for 2021?

After the way 2020 has gone, I’m not sure what most people are thinking about this. Do you plan specific resolutions hoping to make 2021 a better year than the last? Avoid resolutions because you’re just in survival mode?

At the beginning of 2019, I shared a post called “Encourage Your Hopes, Not Your Fears,” which talked about the idea of setting an intention for the year rather than making specific resolutions. Resolutions are notoriously easy to break. It’s far more rare to meet someone who actually stuck with a New Year’s resolution and saw it improve their life than it is to meet someone who broke their resolutions almost as soon as they’d made them.

Abandoning resolutions can be disheartening, even though it’s pretty much expected. Resolutions are usually about some kind of positive change–loose 15 pounds, read 1 new book each month, eat less sugar–and when we don’t meet those goals we send ourselves the message that making positive change is hard/impossible. We might laugh at our weakness or joke about how hard it is to keep resolutions, but I think it still discourages us if we set goals that we know we’re unlikely to meet. You’re not going to convince yourself change is possible by setting yourself up to fail.

Just because resolutions aren’t a great form of goal setting, though, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t resolve to make steady improvements each year. Personal growth is about forward progression over time. We don’t have to get all our growth work out of the way within the next couple of months (nor should we expect that’s possible). Growing is something we do our whole lives, and it often happens in cycles. We go through periods where it feels like we’re spinning our wheels and times when it’s easy to see our progress.

It is often far more useful to have a broad intention or theme for growth, which can adapt as our lives change, rather than a more specific resolution that we’re likely to break. This idea brings us to a video from CGP Gray that I’d like to share:

Whether you call it a theme, intention, or something else, setting a broad and adaptable goal for the year (or for parts of the year) can be a fantastic alternative to the traditional New Year’s resolution. This is about changing the trend of your life in manageable ways. For example, CGP Gray talks about his “Year of Novelty” and “Year of Order,” as well as suggesting “Year of Reading” or “Year of Health” as possible themes. Themes are what he calls a “fuzzy, high level, longer-term way to navigate your brain” that help you “build a life you want to live.” Themes like this might last a year. Or you might pick two themes and devote half the year to each. Or you could change themes with the seasons. It’s up to you.

You could even pick a theme that you’re already working on. For example, I’ll be starting my second semester of grad school as the New Year begins. I could call 2021 my “Year of Learning” and make it my intention to take opportunities to learn when they come up. That could involve making the most of classes I’m already taking, saying “yes” when opportunities like publishing an article or attending a conference open up, or reading a few more non-fiction books that don’t directly relate to my classes. If I have the time, maybe I finally take a class in sign language or first-aid like I’ve been wanting to do for years. Or I could learn some of the baking techniques that intrigue me when I’m watching The Great British Baking Show. I don’t have a specific resolution so all of these could work, and if I only do some of them (or do something else learning related that’s not on this list) them I’ve still participated in a Year of Learning.

What do you think of choosing a theme for the new year instead of a resolution? Do you have an idea of what sort of theme or intention you’d like to set? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Writing (Like Life) Is an Individual Growth Process

I started graduate school last week! It’s a Master’s program of Rhetoric and Writing, and it means I suddenly have less time for blogging than I did before. But it also means I’ve been reading a number of books and scholarly articles that are prompting me to think more deeply on topics related to teaching and the writing process.

That might not sound, at first glance, like something that has to do with “finding our true selves in the people God created us to be.” However, I’m struck by similarities between best practices for teaching students to improve as writers and what I know about personal growth. We don’t all follow the exact same patterns for personal growth, nor do we all grow at the same pace and in the same way. Similarly, one-size-fits-all is not a great approach to teaching writing. There are, of course, certain things we look for in “good writing” — a strong thesis, structure that supports the thesis, integration of quotes and examples, etc. But to a certain extent, whether or not something is “good writing” also depends on the individual writer. Read more

How To Fertilize Your Spiritual Garden

Last week, I wrote quite a lengthy post about why it’s so important to tend our spiritual lives as we would a carefully cultivated garden. God desires growth from us, and we need to put effort into that if we want to stay in a close relationship with Him. It’s important to know how highly God values growth, for Jesus warns if we don’t use the gifts He has given us there’s a very real chance they’ll be taken away. Knowing God wants and expects us to grow isn’t much use, though, unless we also talk about how to make growth happen.

Abide in Jesus

When Paul talks about people in ministry “planting” and “watering” spiritual gardens, he also makes very clear that it is God who “gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-9). Growth and fruitfulness happen because of God’s work in our lives. We’re involved, but we don’t make it happen.

“Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, all quotes from WEB translation)

This is the first principle of spiritual growth. There are things we can and should be doing to grow God’s gifts and bear fruit for His glory. But the best efforts on our part will accomplish nothing if we are not firmly attached to Christ. Without Him, we’re like plants that have no root system. We can’t grow unless we’re abiding in Him. “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness” only comes “through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11). Read more

The Need to Tend Our Spiritual Gardens

Suppose you and your neighbor were to plant a vegetable garden. One of you put the plants and seeds in, watered them once, then stepped back to let it all grow naturally. The other watered and weeded diligently, trimmed where needed, staked up the vines, and poured time and attention into the garden. The first will have a small harvest, if any, from plants choked by weeds and eaten by bugs. The second will enjoy a bountiful harvest of tasty, healthy vegetables. That’s the analogy Gary Thomas uses in his book Sacred Pathways to talk about growth in the Christian life.

“Some of us live with the mistaken impression that our faith needs only to be planted, not tended. Becoming a mature Christian, some think, is like becoming six feet tall — it either happens or it doesn’t. This is not the view of those who have written the classics of our faith or the view of the writers of scriptures (see, for example, Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Timothy 4:15-16; James 1:4; 2 Peter 1:5-11).” — Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways, p. 232

The Bible is full of talk about spiritual growth and fruitfulness. We can’t do anything to earn salvation or accomplish reconciliation with God on our own — that only happens through the work of Jesus Christ. But once He gives us the precious gift of salvation He expects us to do something with it. That “something” can be summarized as “grow.”

Growing Your Gift

Examples of God’s expectation for growth are found in the parables of the talents and of the ten pounds. A lord goes to a far country, entrusting great wealth to his servants. When he returns, every servant who increased their gift (no matter by how much) is praised as “good and faithful,” and welcomed into the lord’s kingdom. There’s one servant, though, who did nothing with their gift except hide it. It sat in the ground, useless. This servant is the only one who is not praised. The lord actually takes their gift away and then casts them out (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27).

I honestly don’t see how people can read the Bible and still teach “once saved, always saved.” It is true that no one has the power to take you away from God (John 10:28-29), but you can reject God’s gift, or continue in sin without repenting, or neglect to use and grow what He’s given you (Heb. 10:26-31; Gal. 5:16-21; Matt. 18:21-35). Even the Apostle Paul didn’t think he could sit back and relax, assured that he’d get eternal life no matter what he did post-conversion (Phil. 3:11-14; 1 Cor. 9:27).

If we choose to do things that separate us from God and don’t then come back to Him and ask for forgiveness, we could miss out on the kingdom. God tells us how to get there and He even died to make it possible. He very much wants us to accept, use, and grow the gift He’s given us. But He won’t force us to.

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Tending To Your Salvation

Talking about how God can take back gifts which He gives (a Biblical idea that’s found right there in the Jesus’s parables) is not designed to make us live in a state of uncertainty and terror, wondering if we’re “really saved.” Paul clearly didn’t think he should live in despair and doubt because he hadn’t yet attained the end goal of a Christian life. On the contrary, it motivated him to keep growing and striving to follow God.

God doesn’t really ask much of us when you boil it all down. Just the things needed for a good relationship. Love Him. Respect Him. Abide by the boundaries He sets. Apologize if you do something to wrong Him. Use the gifts He’s given you instead of setting them aside like they don’t matter.

So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13, all quotes from WEB translation)

Salvation is something Jesus accomplished once for all humanity, and He is the only path to eternal life (Heb. 9:12; 10:11-12; Acts 4:12). Salvation is also a life-long process that we’re involved with as God works in and through us.

Be diligent in these things. Give yourself wholly to them, that your progress may be revealed to all. Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching. Continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Tim. 4:15-16)

Paul isn’t telling Timothy that he can save himself or his congregants in the same sense that Christ saved us. But he is pointing out that we are involved in the ongoing aspects of salvation. To return to the garden analogy, people can plant and water spiritual gardens but only God can make them grow (1 Cor. 3:6-9). We’re expected to work on growing, but God’s the one who makes all that growth possible.

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Producing Fruit to Glorify God

Paul describes us in 1 Corinthians as “God’s farming.” In Romans, he uses another agricultural analogy by describing the people of God as trees with grafted branches. Israel is God’s olive tree, and when He opened salvation up to a wider group of people it was like He “grafted in” branches from wild olive trees. As the farmer, God is allowed to graft in or prune out as He pleases. He can even graft people back in after they’ve been cut out so long as they repent and turn back to Him in sincerer belief (Rom. 11:16-24). And we get to play a role in whether or not we stay grafted in.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  … In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples. (John 15:1-2, 5-6, 8)

In another place, Jesus tells us that we will know false prophets by their fruits. We can discern whether or not someone is trustworthy by how they live and the fruits they produce. God applies the same logic to us; He knows us by our fruits (Matt. 7:17-23). And we are warned, like the people John the Baptist preached to, “every tree therefore that doesn’t produce good fruit” (e.g. “fruits worthy of repentance”) “is cut down, and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).

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God Is Eager To Help Us Grow

Now, don’t go thinking all this talk of pruning and burning is happening because God doesn’t like us or wants to terrify us. He’s not up there waiting for any excuse to wack us out of the Vine. On the contrary, these things serve as a warning so that we’ll understand exactly how important it is that we stay close to Jesus Christ (the source of our life, as the roots that feed a plant) and commit to living in a Godly way (having a character that produces spiritual fruit). So long as we make even the tiniest effort, God is ready and eager to facilitate our growth.

Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. … Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. … But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. (Luke 12:27, 29, 31-32)

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One of the key characteristics of God’s kingdom is that it grows (Luke 13:18-21). And we’re invited to be a part of that. Seek Him. Grow with Him. Keep adding to your faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-8). Produce fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

One of the most encouraging studies I’ve ever done (for me at least) was on how God talks about human perfection. So long as we’re growing toward the goal of being perfect, as He is perfect, He treats us as if we’re already there. We don’t have to get everything right all the time or worry we’re not good enough. The only way to fail is to not even try. So long as we put effort into tending our spiritual gardens and do not neglect the gifts He has given us, God will make certain that we live abundant, fruitful lives that lead to the best eternal outcome.

 

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