Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: example

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,

The big serve

I recently watched a documentary about a Make-A-Wish event for a young cancer patient.  When he was 18 months old, he was diagnosed; however, his family waited to do the Make-A-Wish event until he was five, so it could be something more memorable and meaningful to him.

It started out as a simple plan to let him play the part of his favorite superhero for a day, but it quickly grew into a large-scale, city-wide event.  As word got around that a young cancer-survivor wanted to be Batman, people began offering their skills and connections to make the day as realistic as possible.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the people who got involved:
A boy donated his replica Batman costume and let the cancer survivor keep it afterwards.
One guy offered his black Lamborghini to be the Batmobile.
A local anchorwoman prerecorded the news broadcast that started the event.
The Chief of Police prerecorded messages to give out the day’s missions.
A social media company handled all publicity leading up to the day.
Actors played the roles of Batman, Penguin, and Riddler.
A local eatery provided their lunch.
During its busiest time of year, the opera house tailored all costumes.
A famous musician provided theme music.
A company overnighted a specialized computer chip to run the communication device.
A baseball team gave permission to use their mascot and stadium.
A social media expert provided official Twitter updates during the day’s events.
City Police, many of them on their day off, ensured the planned city route was unblocked and safe.
The mayor ended the day by presenting the key to the city.
A wealthy couple covered the city’s extra expenses for the day.
And many, many others donated their time and effort in both big and small ways…

On top of all this, roughly 14,000 people showed up to witness the events as Batman and Batkid went all across town to save the day.  While they brought supportive signs and cheered him on, the sheer volume of people presented a huge logistics problem – one the police are all too familiar with.  Safely managing a mass of humanity that large always presents a formidable challenge.  However, the officers found something different that day – whenever they would ask people to move back and give Batkid some space, people in the crowd would turn around at start helping them move the crowds back to make way.  No one grumbled, complained, or mouthed off at the officers.  Additionally, there was no complaint of crime or problems from within the crowds at each of the event’s locations.

While the day of the event was hugely successful (it was done on a Friday), those involved said there was a curious spillover to the event that lasted well into the next week.  In general, people were happier; people were friendlier.  It was described as an afterglow to the efforts to take care of this young cancer survivor.  No one expected it, but for a little while, the citizens gained something they didn’t have before.

But why did the crowds and city act this way?  Because they put the needs of the little boy ahead of their own.  Although this wasn’t a church-sponsored event, the participants provided a real-life example of what the Apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Philippians 2:3-4
in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Whether they had donated a Lamborghini or held up a homemade sign of support, each person’s focus was helping this one child.  For a single day, they stopped their own agendas, let go of their personal worries, and they focused on someone else.  No one did anything they would consider extraordinary – they all stayed within their skills and abilities – but when they did it together, something big and beautiful happened.

Does your small group or members from your church get involved in your community?  Mine does, and I absolutely love it.  We don’t go out to protest or yell preachy things from the street corners.  Instead we follow this example:

Philippians 2:5, 7
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who…emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant

When we empty ourselves of our pride, our agenda, our schedule and serve others with the skills and abilities God has given us – big and beautiful things can happen.  In humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Get out among non-believers and serve – isn’t that what Jesus did?

However, the afterglow of our efforts will last longer than just a few days…instead, it will echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,

Our opportunity is larger than you think

After giving several serious warning throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews refreshes us with examples of regular people who have actually lived the kind of life he is urging his readers to choose – a life that is marked by actions that show we trust the Greater Messenger; that we are living for participation in a future kingdom.

We have now arrived at what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame”.  Hebrews 11 contains Old Testament examples of those who by faith trusted God with the message He gave them – and then they made life choices with that end in mind.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the words translated faith and believe are the same word in Greek, and are best defined as – to trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them

And in this context, the action to follow is the expectation that God will fulfill His promise of participation in a future kingdom.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 6
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.  For by it our ancestors won God’s approval…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

If we do not believe the importance of the message, we won’t draw near to God.  All the faith heroes listed in this chapter are being commended for the actions in their individual lives that corresponded to their belief in the coming future that was promised by God.

Hebrews 11:13, 32-33, 39
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance…And what more can I say?  Time is too short for me to tell about [all of those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises…All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised

Wait.  What?

What do you mean, they didn’t receive it?  God promised it, so why didn’t they get it?

However, the author did says they obtained promises.  He continues:

Hebrews 11:40
God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

Made perfect can also be translated to reach a goal, be fulfilled, or completed.

Let verse 40 sink in…read it a second time…and a fourth time…

God has decided to allow us (you and me!) participation in bringing about what Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, and all the OT heroes were longing to see, the fulfillment of their faith in God’s promises.

You are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told.  Will you?

Keep Pressing,

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,

The purpose of our salvation

When we think about the ‘worst sins’ a person can commit, we immediately jump to all the atrocities that people commit against other people.  While humans have done horrific things to other humans throughout the centuries, alongside every event is an act of rebellion against the One who created us.  When we look at the motivation for our sin, many sinful actions are the result of our own selfishness taking precedence over the well-being of others; however, some sinful actions are a full-frontal assault on God, with people being the collateral damage.

When Paul was describing the ultimate purpose of his conversion to Timothy, he gave a saying of the time his own personal twist:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

and I am the worst of them. 

A few sentences before, Paul admitted to directly challenging God when he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  He did everything in his power to exterminate the belief that Jesus is the Savior that for centuries God had told the Jews to watch for.  Paul had used all available means – jail, torture, even death – in order to eliminate the teaching of Jesus as Messiah.  

If there was anyone on the planet who could be considered a ‘lost cause’, someone who had absolutely zero chance of believing that Christ could give him eternal life – it was Paul.  Paul was so dead-set against Jesus that no one could reach him.  Any time he heard the gospel message, he set out to kill the person who delivered it.  Only a dramatic, direct encounter with the risen Jesus could convince Paul to change his mind…there was no other way.

No wonder the first century believers were afraid of him!  The church had their reservations and doubts about Paul’s conversion…think about it…why would God save that guy?  I’m sure there were more people praying that Paul would be hit with a lightning bolt than there were people praying that God would reach him.

However, God had other plans for Paul.  In fact, his conversion wasn’t only for his own personal salvation, it wasn’t just a means to avoid eternal separation from God:

1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Because of Paul’s conversion, no one has the excuse of being “too bad” or “too unworthy” or “too far gone” for Jesus to save.  This worst of all sinners became a ‘first copy’ to all future believers.

God accepts and forgives people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Each one who believes in Jesus for eternal life will demonstrate some aspect of God’s character to the world around them.  What does your story show?  Perhaps you’re from a certain segment of society, or you’re in a particular socio-economic class, or you struggle with a specific kind of sin…God can point at each one of us, as an example, and say “See my generosity?  I will even give eternal life to someone like that.”

When we recognize the great privilege and honor it is to partner with God in this way – as an example of His love – we can confidently say, along with Paul:

1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen

Keep Pressing,

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?


The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,

An unexpected example

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, we often find His disciples in an ego-driven discussion, debating which one of them was going to be “the greatest” in Jesus’ kingdom.  On His last night, Jesus gave them a powerful example of what a “great” leader does.

John 13:1, 4-5
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart from this world to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself.  Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him.

I’m certain you could have heard a pin drop.  The normal hustle and bustle of conversation and movement as 13 guys reclined at a low table to eat the Passover meal would have come to a standstill when Jesus picked up the basin and the towel.

Does your state’s Governor handle coat check duty at the annual Governor’s ball?  Does your company’s CEO shine your shoes at the annual budgeting meeting?  Of course not.  So why would the Messiah – at the remembrance meal that foretold His coming – wash the filthy, sweaty, gnarled feet of twelve grown men, all of whom were subordinate to Him?

John 13:12-17
When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them,

“Do you know what I have done for you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord.  This is well said, for I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.”

“I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

The disciples had spent the last three years trying to learn everything they could from Jesus, in order that they might one day be just like Him.  The one who ended up most like Jesus, would be “the greatest” disciple, with all the authority and privilege that would come with that distinction. 

However, Jesus’ actions didn’t negate His title, position, or authority.  Since the disciples had accepted Jesus as their Teacher and Lord, how could they refuse to humble themselves and serve in the menial tasks, like what He had just performed?

As a mentor, we too need to provide a tangible example to our protégé.  Real life examples leave a mark like nothing else can.  Verbal instruction is the foundation for learning and developing others, but they will never forget the example of the time you stepped down and washed their feet.

Keep Pressing,

A front row seat

One of the greatest benefits in a mentoring relationship is the unique access the protégé has with their mentor.  There is the opportunity for private life moments to be shared between them, if the mentor is willing to be completely open.

Moses has now taken on an assistant, or protégé, named Joshua.  One day, while the nation of Israel was camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, Moses receives an invitation to bring the priests and tribal leaders part way up the mountain to fellowship with the Lord.  Moses also brought Joshua to this meeting.

Exodus 24:9-14
Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and 70 of Israel’s elders, and they saw the God of Israel.  Beneath His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself.  God did not harm the Israelite nobles; they saw Him, and they ate and drank.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and went up the mountain of God.  He told the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you.  Aaron and Hur are here with you.  Whoever has a dispute should go to them.”

God personally invites Moses further up Mt. Sinai to receive the law directly from Him.  This meeting will be one of the biggest moments in the young history of the nation of Israel.  This was big-time stuff, definitely not for those who hadn’t left the kiddie table.  Not even the nation’s elders were going.  If there ever was a time to leave the trainee behind, this was understandably one of those times. 

Instead, when God invited Moses, Moses essentially turned to Joshua and said, “That means you, too.”  Moses’ words to the elders were pretty clear: “Wait here for us until we return to you.”  Joshua was going to have a front row seat to watch his mentor interact with God.

This wasn’t the only time, either.

Exodus 33:7-11
Now Moses took a tent and set it up outside the camp, far away from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting.  Anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp.  Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would stand up, each one at the door of his tent, and they would watch Moses until he entered the tent.

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance to the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.  As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent.  The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.

Then Moses would return to the camp, but his assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.

Every time Moses spoke to God, Joshua was there to watch and listen.  Think of the conversations he overheard.  Imagine the discussions between God and Moses that Joshua was able to witness.  Joshua was able to see what God is like and he was being taught about leadership, governance, and God’s expectations – all personally by God – because of his special mentoring relationship with Moses. 

Joshua could observe God and Moses interact, away from all the noise of the people.  The lessons he learned would affect how he would one day lead the nation.

If you have a mentor, be sure to observe how he or she interacts with God when no one else is around.  If you are a mentor, don’t withhold these moments from your protégé.  Allowing them to observe you pray and wrestle with God will be just as impactful as your teaching.

Keep Pressing,

Much ado about mentoring

Many years ago, I was given a rather simple – and yet deep – illustration for the kinds of relationships each of us needs within the body of Christ. 

Everyone needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

This straightforward description has always stuck with me.  Whenever I share it with someone else, I usually don’t have to give it much explanation – they immediately understand the details of these relationships:

Paul – someone who leads me toward God, provides a more mature example
Barnabas – someone who comes along side me as an equal, to both encourage and challenge
Timothy – someone who I am pouring my life into and providing a Godly example for

These relationships, especially those between a “Paul” and a “Timothy”, are commonly referred to as either discipleship or mentoring relationships.  While the term mentor is not specifically stated in the Bible, the word disciple is – and it generally refers to someone who is a learner, a follower, and an imitator of their instructor.  Howard Hendricks best described these special kinds of relationships:

Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension. Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships. But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ? How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?

Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ. But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity. Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.” The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.

For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap. But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.

The point is we need the mature and experienced to kneel down with those of us in the family who are immature and have limited experience.  I feel that is one of the greatest areas where our modern church family has faltered – especially among the men, but women need these kinds of relationships, too.  We all need someone to challenge, guide, and protect us as we mature.  However, it is also vital that we turn to those around us and become the mentor they so desperately need.

To understand how to do this, we’re going to take a look at various mentor relationship examples that God has provided for us throughout the pages of Scripture.  We’ll watch how the mentors interact with their protégés.  We’ll observe their successes and their failures.  Most of all, we’ll be looking for how God was able to work with both of them because of their relationship.

A good starting point is a statement the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.  Right in the middle of his instruction about the many ways they needed to mature, Paul makes this bold statement:

1 Corinthians 11:1
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.

Whether you are the mentor or the protégé, for this special relationship to work we must both desire the same thing – we must desire to imitate Christ.

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Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

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The hard work of prayer

Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them.  In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him.  However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.

Colossians 4:12-13
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.  He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.  For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.

When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor.  We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures.  Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.

Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from.  When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.

And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community.  So he prayed.  But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request.  Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.

When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”.  The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”.  Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight. 

This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers.  He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf.  The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy.  Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.

Epaphras is an incredible example for us.  Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for?  Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with.  However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over.  After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.

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Harsh words

The quickest way to change a situation is to open our mouths and have something selfish and negative come out.  With just a few harsh words, the tone of a conversation can be altered and the general mood of the room is radically different.  Depending on what we say and how we say it, relationships can be damaged for a significant amount of time. 

Recognizing this, it’s easy to see how careless words can tear apart family members.

After warning the Colossian believers to put to death any idolatry and greed that comes out of their hearts, Paul encourages them to take their conduct up to the next level by closely watching what comes out of their mouths.

Colossians 3:8
But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

Paul says that these types of words must be put away.  The Greek word for put away means to “put off or aside”.  This action is intentional, and there’s no wiggle room here, it must be done.

Not to be self-congratulating, but I would like to use an example from my own life – I have decided there are some things that my boys will never hear from me.

I can clearly remember stories, jokes, and advice given to me over the years…but I will not repeat them.  Some memories go way back into my youth.  The stories and jokes were meant to be funny, and honestly, I laughed quite a bit at them.  My immaturity was in full bloom as I listened intently to my friends’ stories, trying to add in some off-color or inappropriate joke of my own.  My quick wit was good for that, or so I thought.

I also have distinct memories of “advice” given to me by people who were lashing out in anger and frustration, either at someone else or at the world in general.  I can still hear their voices say those words as they angrily warned me to avoid certain individuals or people groups.

However, I will not place the burden of these words on my children, or anyone else around me.  The memory of these words will die with me.

Now that the memories have been put away, the real challenge is to follow Paul’s direction and keep anything new from springing out of my mouth.  Now you must put away he says.  Paul’s direction needs to be applied moment by moment – even when things go sideways at work, or I’m caught off-guard, or my plans for the evening get wrecked, or I am hurt (yet again) by someone close to me.

Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to be upset, frustrated, or even angry; we just need to be watchful for how our mouths express those emotions.  Guarding what comes out of our mouths is vital for maintaining healthy relationships within the family of God and with those outside of the family. 

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Suffering for outsiders

Pain is both a motivator and a deterrent.  Physical, mental, emotional pain…it doesn’t matter the type, because pain is, well, a pain to deal with.  Usually, it’s the desire to avoid pain that leads to us promptly finishing a given task or ensuring that we do not do a particular task.  We don’t like pain, and we’re willing to go to great lengths to make sure we don’t experience it.

There are very few things in life we willingly suffer for.  Since our default is to avoid pain, it is a significant decision when we are willing to endure pain and suffering.  Even then, the only people we may willingly suffer for would be a family member or an incredibly close friend.  However, most everyone understands our motivations when we do choose to endure pain for those close to us.

But that’s where the gospel turns things upside down.  When we accept the truth of the good news – that Jesus loved us enough to die in our place – we see others differently.  After Paul became a believer, Jesus gave him the task of spreading the gospel message.  As he describes his calling to the Colossians, Paul mentions that he suffers…but notice who it is he’s suffering for.

Colossians 1:23-27
This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I Paul, have become a minister of it.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church.  I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.

God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Since the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection was a mystery hidden for ages and generations, no one fully understood it.  Even the disciples had to have Jesus explain it to them.  This means that everyone else would have trouble grasping this mystery, also.  As the gospel message was explained and spread throughout the world, some people “got it”; they understood and believed, and yet some people didn’t. 

It’s amazing to think that Paul was willing to suffer for something that the outsider Gentiles didn’t understand.  In fact, some of them would never understand.  They would fight against the message and the person delivering it.  On several occasions, they even attempted to “kill the messenger”.

However, because the message was so big and so important, Paul was willing to take the chance that he would suffer for it.  In fact, he did suffer a lot of pain.  But he also found joy in his pain – because he knew that he was doing the job God gave him to do.

Looking a Paul’s example, each of us should pause and ask the question –

Am I willing to suffer in order to do the job God gave me to do…even if everyone doesn’t understand the gospel message or my motivation to share it?

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Sharing our prayers

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

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Praying for those we haven't met

Let’s face it.  Praying for God’s help is awkward when you’re not intimately involved in the situation.  Whether it’s request for prayer from a good friend, a family member, or even a total stranger…we often don’t know what to say to God about it.  I mean, He’s God, after all…shouldn’t He know what they need more than I do?  How does my few moments of a mumbled, semi-sympathetic prayer really help anyone else?

Yet we often feel the same way even when we are praying for someone we do know.  When someone we love and care about – even those we deeply care about – are in another town and not in our day-to-day lives, how do we pray for them?  Again, it just feels awkward because God knows what’s going on better than I do.

In both these cases, I usually end up praying something like “God…please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through.  I pray that they rely on You.  Amen.”  If I’m honest, that kind of prayer leaves me feeling rather unsatisfied and wondering if I have just wasted my time – and maybe God’s, too.

The Apostle Paul came in contact with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the known world as he spread the good news about Jesus and ministered to those who believed on Him for eternal life.  However, Paul didn’t talk to everyone.  There were churches started in other towns by others who were also spreading the gospel. 

At some point during his journeys, Paul met a man named Epaphras.  Biblical evidence suggests that he was from the town of Colossae, which was about 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.  Although Epaphras was away from his hometown while he was ministering with Paul, the believers in Colossae were always on his heart.  His prayers for them were full of passion and concern…so much so that Paul also joined Epaphras in prayer, and then wrote the believers in Colossae a letter of encouragement and teaching.

Before we jump into Paul’s letter, stop and think about the situation.  Epaphras hadn’t been in recent contact with the Colossae church (no phones or email) and Paul has never met them.  Certainly Epaphras gave Paul some ideas on what he could be praying…but what, specifically, would he say to God?  What would you say?  Or to ask a question that might be even more daunting – What would you write to believers who are total strangers to you?  What reason would you give that would convince them that your advice is worth listening to?

Here’s what Paul had to say about his reasons for writing the letter:

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s aim is to encourage believers, even those he hasn’t come in direct contact with.  He desires for all believers to walk confident in their understanding, knowledge, and relationship with Christ.  There is much to learn from his example and from what he desires to teach the Colossian church.

For now, let’s ask God to show us how to be an encouragement to others – even those we haven’t met.

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Praying for glory

After completing His last teachings on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus informed His disciples:

John 16:33-17:1 I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said:

Father, the hour has come.

What Jesus prayed next is commonly referred to as His ‘High Priestly Prayer’.  Since Jesus prayed this in front of His disciples, they would have heard Jesus’ exact desires and petitions to the Father.

Jesus knew what was going to happen that night in the garden.  He knew that His entire life, and especially the last three years, had led up to this night.  The hour of sacrifice had finally come.

In this prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself, the disciples, and all future believers.  He also made some significant statements and requests during this prayer.  The first part of His prayer is for Himself, but His words are not selfish…rather, they are focused on His relationship with the Father:

John 17: 1-3 Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You,
for You gave Him authority over all flesh;
so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him.

This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God,
And the One You have sent – Jesus Christ.

Eternal life – which is both forever-lasting and of excellent quality – is only found in knowing God the Father, through Jesus Christ.  We were created to be in eternal relationship with God.  Jesus affirmed this to the disciples earlier in the night, when He said:

John 13:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

While Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify Him, Jesus’ aim was to use any honor the Father gave Him as an opportunity to reflect it back.  Glorifying the Father – enriching His reputation and advancing His agenda – was Jesus’ purpose in His life and ministry, and it continued to be his focus as He would head to the cross.

John 17:4-5 I have glorified You on the earth
by completing the work You gave Me to do.

Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence
With the glory I had with You before the world existed.

Jesus begins His ‘High Priestly Prayer’ in the same manner He had previously instructed the disciples to pray:

Matthew 6:9 Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.

Above all else, Jesus was concerned with the Father’s reputation and agenda.  This aim dominated His life and His prayers.  As such, Jesus’ prayer practice matched His prayer teachings, and His example instructs us to focus on God’s glory in the same ways.

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Pray like this

For those who gathered around Jesus to hear and apply his teachings during the Sermon on the Mount, they were given some specific instructions about prayer.  Jesus has said to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44), to pray with the aim of talking to God and not for showing off in front of others (Matthew 6:5), and not to babble on and on in an attempt to educate God about our needs because God already knows them (Matthew 6:7-8).

If I were among those in the crowd, I think my head might be hurting a little after hearing this.  Jesus has completely re-arranged what I thought prayer was about.  He has so drastically changed what I have been taught was the purpose of prayer, that I am left wondering how I’m supposed to pray at all.  I can understand what he taught, and I can see why these changes to my praying habits are necessary…but I feel a little unsure of how to apply what Jesus has said.

I am so grateful for what Jesus said next:

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Based upon these new prayer-content instructions, Jesus provides us a model for putting his teaching into practice.  Don’t let its familiarity fool you…look for how Jesus incorporates his teaching into this model of a prayer:

Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Jesus’ instruction to love and pray for our enemies is found in the fifth line, where we recognize that our acts of forgiveness for the wrongs committed against us are echoes of how God has forgiven our own wrongs against him.

All pretention and showmanship is removed when we pray the beginning and ending of this model prayer.  The focus is clearly on God – his reputation, his kingdom, his power, and his glory.  There is nothing in these lines that draw the attention back to self.

Lastly, we see no repetition and no instruction to say this prayer repeatedly.  While there are requests, they are only focused on the immediate needs – food for today, forgiveness now, and rescue from the tempting snares set against us.

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Jesus is telling us that based on what we now know, this is what we should do with it.  He has enlightened us with his teaching and has given us a direct path to apply what we’ve learned.  Remember, it’s a model…not a form letter.  A template is meant to be mimicked, but it can also be adjusted slightly, as needed. 

Will we trust Jesus enough to try out his application?

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Reflections.  Imitations. 

We’re all echoes of what has been modeled for us, either good or bad.  Growing up we watch our parents, our friends, politicians, sports stars, celebrities – and then decide for ourselves what values and behaviors are worth emulating, and which ones are not.  Nowadays, we “follow” certain people or groups in social media.  When we need help or advice, we seek out people who have succeeded in business, parenting, finances, or leadership…and then put their recommendations into practice.  We’re imitators, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, we were built that way:

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, overall the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

We are reflections of our Creator.  We are made in his image.  From these verses in Genesis, we find that we represent some of God’s attributes and mimic some of his authority over the rest of creation.

When we find directions in the rest of Scripture to do some things and avoid other activities, they aren’t just rules where God is “bossing us around”.  The guidelines that God spells out in the Bible are there to show us how to best reflect the characteristics of God that he has instilled in us.

Paul wanted Titus to remind the Cretan believers of how the choices they made and the character of their lives would represent God to the morally bankrupt culture which surrounded them.

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

As always, Jesus is our perfect example of how to reflect God to the culture around us.  Looking at his life, we find that Jesus was

subject to rulers and authorities – even the corrupt ones
obedient – he followed through with God the Father’s plan of Salvation, even though it meant his death
ready to do good – he always acted in the best interest of everyone he encountered
slandering no one – he never spoke deceitfully
peaceable and considerate – he always engaged people in the moment, where they were at
true humility toward all men – the King of kings purposely chose to be the servant of all

When we follow Christ’s example, we fulfill our purpose and become what we were created to be.    

Which of these six traits will you reflect today?

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