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The Gospel Is Never Old News

The Gospel Is Never Old News

“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” . . . “ON THE MOON! And It’s ‘One Giant Leap for Mankind’” . . . “Diana Dead.” All these headlines were breaking news at one time, but now they’re . . . old news.

For many Christians, the gospel isn’t much different. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life, I thought of the gospel as good news for unbelievers but old news for believers.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Gospel Is Still for You, Believer

News flash: The gospel isn’t mainly for your unbeliving neighbors!

But don’t just take my word for it. In Romans 16:25, Paul writes to believers, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.”

Did you catch that? It’s the gospel that strengthens us as believers. The simple, familiar story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf.

Here’s another verse, written about believers, that clues us in that the gospel isn’t mainly for our lost neighbors: “The gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5–6).

Is the gospel bearing fruit and increasing in you and me? (Hint: If we’re not regularly rehearsing gospel truths, it probably isn’t.)

I like how Tim Keller puts it: “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A-to-Z of the Christian life.”

Today I’m writing over on TrueWoman.com. Catch the rest of this post there.

Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you tended to think of the gospel as good but old news . . . or as good news for today and tomorrow and the day after?

A Hospitable Church Begins with Us

A Hospitable Church Begins with Us

The American church tends to get a bad rap—and often with good reason. That’s why I want to tell you about a gem of a church that Trevor and I stumbled across on our way to Illinois this past Thanksgiving. A church that shattered the negative stereotypes of what the American church is all about. A hospitable church.

Happening Upon a Hospitable Church

Up until the day before, we planned to attend a different local church. But when my friend invited us to her church and then over for lunch at her pastor’s house, we were intrigued.

“You’re totally welcome,” she said. “We do it every Sunday. We spend the whole afternoon together, go back for a 5:30 p.m. service, and then make supper there. Leftovers, pizza rolls . . . nothing fancy.”

I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of spending the entire day with strangers (I like my alone time!). But Trevor was excited about attending a church that made it easy for us to corporately set aside the Lord’s Day. So we said “yes.”

And that’s how we ended up spending all Sunday with perfect strangers. Believe it or not, I didn’t miss my alone time. That day was the highlight of our vacation . . . and even one of the top highlights of 2017 for us.

What made it so great? Yes, the songs and sermon were meaty and rich. Yes, the people were friendly. And boy, those homemade salted caramel cookies they served after service . . .

But what really sealed the deal was the hospitality we experienced after the church doors were shut.

Walking Into a Hospitable Home

We felt right at home from the moment we walked into the house and the kids took our coats at the door. The mom of the house showed me a messy but private bedroom where I could nurse Iren.

Trevor and the pastor talked and ate while I fed Iren. Then I came down, and different kids held Iren while I chowed down and talked with my friend.

I noted that the pastor was down-to-earth and accessible. He seemed a bit shy, but he was present with us all afternoon. He didn’t lead the conversation; he just sat on the couch with a drink, obviously enjoying the conversation and people.

Kids of all ages sat crosslegged on the floor. Men and women sat around the room in chairs—one woman knitting.

Conversation meandered here and there until I started a group conversation on parenting and rules. I was amazed to hear they’re not big on adding rules to their kids’ lives but on focusing on God’s two greatest commands: loving Him and loving others. I took lots of mental notes for when Iren gets a little bigger.

We went back to the church for evening service and then joined these same people in the kitchen for pizza and more fun, deep conversation.

Becoming a Hospitable Church

Trevor and I exited those church doors late that evening saying, “We want that kind of love, community, and hospitality at our church.”

“Let’s pray for that,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied, “and it starts with us.”

I am so grateful for his perspective. We are the church (Eph. 1:22-23). There is no need to sit around waiting for someone else to take action—not even the leaders. We can and should take ownership, initiate, and invite others into our lives and home.

How about you? Are you waiting for someone else to set the tone at your local church, or are you welcoming others into your life and home? Let’s be a hospitable church!

PS: If you live in the Michiana area, check out Michiana Covenant Presbyterian. It’s a hidden gem.

PPS: Come back to the blog next Friday, February 2, to read about the one sentence this pastor shared that has lodged in my gut and changed my days—possibly even the course of my life—ever since I heard it.

PPPS: To make it easier on you, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive Friday’s post in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) I generally post once a week, though next week it will be twice. Oh, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Tiny, Bald, and Toothless Forever, Please

Tiny, Bald, and Toothless Forever, Please

My dear friend Martha became Mrs. McCallops earlier this month. I choked up as her husband, Chris, began to dance the mother-son dance at the reception. As he drew his mother near and whispered in her ear, I squeezed Iren just a little bit closer.

“That will be Iren before we know it,” I told Trevor.

“No, I want him to be tiny, bald, and toothless forever!” he replied.

But we both know that can’t be. Iren’s not tiny (still 99th percentile for length!). He’s sprouted feathery light hair all over his head, and his two top teeth have made their appearance. More than that, he’s constantly on the move. Our baby has bid us goodbye; we are already seeing all boy.

Born to Leave

Much as we might be tempted to squeeze him just a bit tighter sometimes, we know he’s not ours to keep. He was made by and for God, and our goal is to raise an independent man who will leave home one day. Our greatest desire for him is that he will both know and make God known wherever he goes.

And so I’m preparing for our mother-son dance already, should he marry one day. Iren has been to at least two weddings since he was born, and both times I’ve brought him out to the dance floor to sway and then “get jiggy with it.”

He was born to leave, and I will do my best to release him well.

I love you, my son. And because I do, I hold you with open hands. Someday we may dance our own mother-son dance, and then I will give you to another woman. Should you not marry, I will share you with the world.

Because you never ultimately belonged to me. You belong to God. Go and make Him known.

(Thanks to www.HHawkinsPhotography.com for the excellent photo!)

 

My 2017 Writing Goals in Review

My 2017 Writing Goals in Review

Happy New Year! If I could sit down with you today over a cup of Chai tea, one of the first questions I’d ask you is, “Are you setting any goals this year? Any New Year’s resolutions?”

I know New Year’s resolutions are poopooed by a lot of people, but I’m taking advantage of the new year to review and set some new goals.

One year ago, I actually wrote out my writing goals for the year ahead. I mostly failed to meet them, but I learned an important lesson in the process. 

The Writing Goal I Did Meet

Of the six writing goals I set, I accomplished just one of them:

  • Get published on DesiringGod.org.

(Here are the three posts DG published if you’re interested.)

The Writing Goals I Didn’t Meet

Here are the five writing goals I didn’t meet . . . and why:

  1. Get published on TheGospelCoalition.com. I didn’t get far with this goal, as I never even submitted a potential post to them. I should have set a deadline, determined what to write about, and researched what person and email address to contact them at.
  2. Publish 48 posts. Here’s what I did do right: I calculated that I needed to post four times a month to reach this goal. I started strong (five posts in January and five posts in February), but then I began to fizzle out. After giving birth to my son, Iren, in May, I didn’t post at all in June, July, or September. My total post count for the year was a mere twenty-one.
  3. Have Tim Challies mention me in his 12/17 Top Bloggers post. Hah! I would have had to post quality content way more often to even make me a contender. (Here’s who made Tim’s 2016 list; I’m still watching for his 2017 list.)
  4. Complete content audit on PaulaWrites.com. I first heard about the concept and importance of a content audit in this podcast. It’s a pretty overwhelming project. I chipped away at it throughout the year . . . but barely. Again, I should have set weekly goals in order to hit this goal.
  5. Double email subscribers and social media subscribers. I feel like a broken record. I needed a plan, not just a goal.

What I Learned from My Unmet Writing Goals

Some people might quit after such a dismal performance, but I’m not discouraged. If I hadn’t set any writing goals, I wouldn’t have written as much as I did.

More importantly, I learned from the experience: I won’t reach my goals without a plan.

So this year, I’m freshly motivated to do things different. This year I’m setting quarterly writing goals rather than annual goals. This should keep my writing goals front-of-mind throughout the year—not just in January and then in December.

I’ve already scheduled quarterly goal reviews on March 24, June 23, September 22, and December 17. I will use those times to review my progress and finalize the next quarter’s writing goals. (For accountability, in the future I’ll share my 2018 goals with you . . . as well as my progress.)

How about you? Are you setting any goals for yourself this new year? (Any you feel free to share?) More importantly . . . have you put a plan in place to execute your goals?  

Learn from my failure: You won’t reach your goals without a plan.

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

My husband and I counted down the days. On Friday, December 15, Lucasfilm released the eighth Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We were there. Early. My hubby is the kind of fan who already knew the first two words of the upcoming film (“We’re not . . .”).

So naturally, after we married a couple of years ago, Trevor and I had a Star Wars marathon. He introduced me to all I’d missed out on in my deprived life up until that point. Now, I have to say, I’m a fan. In fact, I agreed to let Trevor design Iren’s baby announcement around Star Wars.

Consequently, today I’m sharing three ways Star Wars villain Kylo Ren points to a greater story. Check it out, and be encouraged. If you’re in Christ—no matter how dark your world may look—the dark side will not win.

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

If you saw the last Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, you’ll remember Han Solo talking about how a young boy who was once a Jedi apprentice turned to the dark side and destroyed Luke Skywalker’s fledgling Jedi academy.

When I saw who that boy became, I was reminded of a few ways the new Star Wars villain, Kylo Ren, parallels our actual enemy, Satan. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet seen The Force Awakens!)

  1. Just as Kylo Ren was once a Jedi apprentice, Satan was once a good angel of light.

We know this because all God created was good, not evil. Genesis 1:31 shows God standing back, assessing His creation:

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (emphasis added).

  1. Both Kylo Ren and Satan rebelled against their former masters.

Just as Kylo destroyed Luke’s academy, at some point before Genesis 3:1, Satan rebels against God. Jude 1:6 fills us in on his journey to the “dark side”:

The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.

  1. Both Kylo and Satan were wounded but given more time to work their evil.

After Kylo was defeated and scarred by Rey, Kylo retreated to his dark master, Snoke. We’ll see his fight continue against “the light” in some shape in The Last Jedi.

Similarly, God cast Satan out of heaven, but he was allowed to continue his work on earth for a time:

The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:9-12).

Satan was then crushed at the cross, as it had been foretold in Genesis 3:15:

“He [the offspring of the woman, Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Hebrews 2:14 tells us:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (emphasis added).

Yet the devil still limps around, like the scarred Kylo.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Why didn’t God put a complete end to Satan long ago? Pastor John Piper explains it well in this excellent sermon:

Jesus Christ will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.

Ways This Star Wars Villain Does Not Point to the Greater Story

This is where the similarities between Kylo and Satan end. Because while Kylo and the other evil members of the First Order continue their terror in that galaxy far, far away, no one will ultimately continue Satan’s work.

Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one! Soon Satan, sin, and death will be utterly and completely done away with. Revelation 20:10 gives us a glimpse into the future:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

This is incredible reason to rejoice! As epic as the Star Wars movies are, they are just that . . . movies. But Satan’s final demise (and sin and death’s) is as sure as a Star Wars nerd cooking up a terrible Rey parentage or Snoke origin theory.

What does this mean for you? The end to all:

Praise God. No matter how dark your world may look, the dark side will not win.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Romans 16:20).

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story was originally published on Patheos.com.

Hospitality on a Budget

Hospitality on a Budget

When you pass by someone’s free stuff sitting out on the curb, do you stop and take a closer look, or ignore it altogether?

Recently, my husband and I took advantage of a rare moment of freedom (read: babysitting), and set out on our bikes. We cycled through upscale neighborhoods, pointing out our favorite homes and landscaping, until we spotted this strange-looking device by the side of the road.

I wasn’t surprised when my husband instantly recognized what it was: an inversion table. We pedaled home fast. He jumped off his bike and climbed into his ’99 station wagon (the same one he’s been driving since he got his license thirteen years ago). He loaded the contraption into the back, and returned to research what inversion tables go for these days.

A couple weeks later he danced around the house, waving the $50 we had made.

How Should We Spend Our Money?

“Is it wrong to want more money?” he had wondered aloud a few weeks before.

“How would we spend the money if we did have it?” I questioned.

After thinking about it, we both agreed: Hospitality.

We got an opportunity to practice hospitality with a couple who moved in across the street, and we now had fifty more dollars to spend.

Because our neighbors are from Iraq, they don’t have family or many friends here. So we rallied nearly twenty friends and helped move them in, mow their lawn, and more. The mother only speaks Arabic, but as her words spilled out, she blew a kiss toward heaven. I knew she was expressing thanks for our help.

We provided a meal after, and our neighbors surprised us by also calling in an order for Middle Eastern food. I heated the large rounds of pita bread in the oven. Then I roasted a s’more for the mother over our bonfire, and we sent people home with leftovers.

Hospitality = Love for Strangers

Hospitality can hurt. If this is often the case, why do it?

I recently learned that the Greek word for hospitality, “philoxenia,” means “love for stranger.” And that’s exactly who we were — strangers — before God threw open the doors of his home to us:

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:12–1319)

As Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth writes in her newest book Adorned, “At the heart of the gospel, at the heart of the cross, is the Lord Jesus opening his arms wide and saying, ‘I want you to come home with me.’”

Hospitality: Worth the Expense

My husband and I are taking small, wobbly steps toward loving strangers, in hopes that we will better see and show the magnificent generosity of Jesus. And quite frankly, the joy far outweighs the pain.

“Is it strange that I feel sorry for him?” my husband asked me the other day of someone whose Instagram account is filled with one exotic vacation after another.

“No,” I replied. “I wouldn’t trade our life for his. While it’s ordinary, it’s so exciting.”

I can’t think of another life I’d rather live than opening my heart and home to others with this frugal but generous man by my side. Jesus is right: The upside-down life really does bring the most joy: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Hospitality isn’t always glamorous. It’s hard work. But hospitality — on a budget or otherwise — is worth it.

Hospitality on a Budget” was originally published on DesiringGod.org. 

How did God reach out to you and invite you into His home when you were a stranger? Does this motivate you to invite strangers into your home? Why or why not?

 

“How Would You Feel About Having Ten Kids?”

“How Would You Feel About Having Ten Kids?”

I told you I ached to write. I promised you more personal blog posts. That was two months ago. You deserve an explanation.

Where in the World Is Paula?

The good news is . . . I have been writing. I’m sorry I haven’t posted here much. But let me fill you in on what I have been working on.

A friend has started watching Iren Mondays so I can explore the possibility of writing another book. (Yesterday that included soaking in a bubble bath while reviewing journal entries I’ve written since meeting Trevor. Not bad huh?)

I’m currently outlining four potential manuscripts. I don’t know for sure that any of them will materialize, but it’s worth exploring. Especially because I imagine our family will continue to grow, and carving out time to write will only become more challenging.

I’m also still writing for Revive Our Hearts ten hours a week. I try to put in two hours each weekday, preferably while Iren is napping.

“How Would You Feel About Having Ten Kids?”

The last project I completed for ROH was watching the Revive ’17 messages and writing descriptions for them. Iren helped.

His favorite part of the conference was singing along with the band. I was especially challenged by Robyn McKelvy’s message on counting children an asset and a blessing. When I finished watching it, I interrupted Trevor’s workday with a phone call, asking “How would you like to have ten kids?”

He said something like, “Let’s see if you still feel the same way in a week.” He knows me well.

More than the number of children we have, Robyn’s message challenged the way I think about children. She also encouraged me to really enjoy them. (Thankfully that’s getting easier and easier. Five-month-old Iren is a delight.) It was fun to hear some of Robyn’s practical examples of what she does as a mom as well.

One more message worth noting: Susan Hunt’s description of aging brought tears to my eyes–specifically the last sentence of her conclusion. Apparently I wasn’t the only one . . . she got a standing ovation. You can watch those messages–and more–here.

Back In the Saddle

I actually did write a post for this site, but at the last minute I sent it to Desiring God. You can read it there.

All that to say, thank you for your patience with me. I still plan on posting here!

If you haven’t yet subscribed to my blog, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive future updates in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) You can unsubscribe at any time.

Two Travel Sagas with a Layover in a Neurology Hospital

Twice now Kimberly Wagner and I have traveled to exotic locations to speak at an event together. We met in Brazil in 2015, and a month ago at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Prince Edward Island . . . Or Bust

This past speaking engagement in Canada has been on our calendars since 2015. Our host kindly offered to let us stay a couple extra days with our spouses to be refreshed. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Trevor and I to agree, “Prince Edward Island? Um . . . yeah!” Kimberly and her husband, LeRoy, also planned to take our host up on his kind offer.

That was before I was pregnant and gave birth to our son. And before we learned that Trevor wouldn’t be able to travel with us, as it fell during his busiest season at work.

It was also just before LeRoy began experiencing strange symptoms. These undiagnosed symptoms persisted for the next two years—right up until the conference. In spite of his declining health, LeRoy insisted that they keep their commitment. He and Kimberly set out from Arkansas the day after my mom, my son, Iren, and I left New York.

An Exhausting Day of Travel

woman and baby sleeping on plane

 

In spite of the fact that Iren is a peaceful baby, our travel was exhausting. After several delays, we arrived in Prince Edward Island twenty-two and a half hours later. Our luggage, however, did not.

Thank the Lord for the kind man at the front desk of our hotel. He fetched robes, toothbrushes, and deodorant for us, and we stumbled into our beds—and Pack ’n Play—at 4 a.m. Thankfully, I didn’t have to speak the next day.

Kimberly, however, was not so fortunate. She also arrived at 4 a.m., but she had to speak at 9:00 that same morning.

And while I got to see my protector-husband at his finest (Trevor went to bat for us, tweeting at and calling Air CANADA in search of our bags), Kimberly had to support her husband. Literally. Within forty-eight hours of their arrival, he couldn’t walk without her help.

I got to connect briefly with LeRoy and Kimberly at the conference, and you would never have known they were going through so much. They were as kind and others-centered as ever.

Once the conference was over, we said our goodbyes (I wanted to get back to my hubby!), but LeRoy and Kimberly had planned to stay a couple extra days to relax.

More Delays . . . with A Layover in the Neurology Hospital

Our travel home wasn’t much easier than our travel there. I’ll take our delays over Kimberly’s any day, though. While we were delayed hours, she and LeRoy were delayed weeks.

LeRoy collapsed in the hotel lobby while they were still in PEI, and he couldn’t get back up. They arranged for an earlier flight home with a connecting flight in Texas, so they could visit a neurology hospital in Dallas. That layover and ER visit turned into an unplanned eighteen-day stay. LeRoy was finally discharged . . . with more questions than answers, and a whole lot of medical bills.

The Journey from Here

Leroy and Kimberly Wagner

This journey is far from over for them. Would you cry out to God on their behalf? Here’s the latest update so you can pray knowledgeably.  

Also, if you’ve been touched by Kimberly and LeRoy in person or through their writing, would you consider giving financially to help them pay their medical bills?

I texted Kimberly asking if they have insurance, and she told me they’re a part of Samaritan Ministries. She’s hoping that will cover a large portion of the hospital cost (which they have to pay up front), but it doesn’t pay for LeRoy’s medications. And these meds aren’t cheap. These dear friends are looking to God to provide, and you can help answer their prayers.

Thanks for taking the time to read our stories, when I know you have your own delays, illnesses, or other challenging circumstances. Big or small, may you walk intimately with God today, knowing that He is in control, and that He is good.

I leave you with this post Kimberly wrote about LeRoy while they were in the hospital. It’s one of the most touching posts I’ve read in awhile, as it shows the impact of walking with God intimately for years.

As the Wagners want more than anything else, may God be glorified through your own current saga—and theirs.

This post was originally featured on TrueWoman.com as “Unexpected Travel Delays and an Unexplained Illness.”

Back to Blogging Post-Baby

Hello there! It is so good to get back behind these keys post-baby. 

In the past three months I’ve pushed out a baby boy, survived the early days of insomnia and a new baby routine, prepped three new messages for a speaking engagement, and traveled out of the country with my son for said speaking engagement. Whew!  

The Baby Part

I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of wonder mom. Truth is, God blessed us with “Wonder Baby.” That’s what I call him. I do so quietly, though, so all the other new moms aren’t filled with envy.

Meet our son. Iren Daniel Marsteller joined our family on May 20. He was big. Over nine pounds. When the pediatrician first measured his head, he exclaimed, “How did you get him out?”

The answer to that would be “Trevor.” I never could have done what I did without his coaching; encouragement; and constant, strong pressure on my lower back.

I still can’t believe we did it. I don’t even want to look at the hospital when we drive by, and Trevor–with a twinkle in his eye–says he now understands how some people have PTSD. We’re not huge fans of the process.

But the result is so worth it.

We finally landed on our son’s name just before we were discharged from the hospital. (It’s a requirement, folks. The hospital turns into a prison until you land on a name for that little one.)  

Iren means “peace,” and Daniel means “God my judge”. We named him that so when people ask about his name, we can briefly share with them that our greatest need is to find peace with God the judge through Jesus.

Pray that Iren will find peace with God through Christ, and that he will cling to Jesus from an early age and point many to Him.

The Blogging Part

In the weeks to come I’ll share more about my struggles with learning I was pregnant, to life as a new mommy, to the three new messages I prepped and our travel to the latest speaking gig, and much more.

I haven’t been this excited to write in a long time. I ache to write, the way I ached for Iren when his grandparents took him for the first time for a few hours.

In addition to continuing to write for other blogs, I want to do more personal writing here. Trevor and I do a lot of hospitality, and I’d like to welcome you into our lives. Complete with baby pictures.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive future updates in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) You can unsubscribe at any time.

Now it’s your turn. What has occupied your summer? What are you getting back to, now that summer is drawing to a close? I’d love to hear.

10 Practical Ways to Push Past Social Anxiety

10 Practical Ways to Push Past Social Anxiety

Do you deal with social anxiety? This girl does. She asks:

How do you deal with social anxiety? I get so nervous around people sometimes and always feel awkward. I’ve been praying about it, but it’s still bad. I want to witness to others, but I practically have a panic attack when I do!

So for her—and anyone who can relate—here are ten helpful ways I’ve personally found to push past social anxiety.

You have to push past social anxiety to love others well.

First, though, a disclaimer: If you’re an introvert, you don’t need to become an extrovert! Think of the following list of suggestions as a few tools for you to take or leave. No one is asking you to get a whole new personality and become the most gregarious person at the party. What we are seeking is to love and welcome others as we have been loved and welcomed by God through Christ.

Hopefully one or more of these suggestions will be helpful to that end.

10 Practical Ways to Push Past Social Anxiety

1. Don’t hide behind your phone. Put it away when you’re with other people. It will help others feel more cared for and will help you engage them more easily. I’m guessing you’re actually better than you know at engaging people when the phone isn’t vying for your attention. You’ve got this!

2. Know that your approval comes not from people but from God. If you are looking to people to tell you what you’re worth, you will fear them instead of love them. Remember that we are all equal, each made in God’s image. If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you now have God’s full approval. And you have been given a mission to love Him with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself. You have to push past social anxiety to love others well.

3. Don’t be afraid to be awkward. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or done awkward things. But here’s the deal: It’s not a sin to be awkward. It is, however, a violation of God’s law not to love others. In order not to stay perpetually awkward, give yourself permission to be awkward for a while. And if you hurt someone in the process, be sure to seek forgiveness.

4. Ask questions. If you can’t think of questions to ask on the spot, it’s not cheating to have some prepared. For example, when I see someone new at church, I’ll often ask, “How long have you been attending?” followed by “How did you hear about us?” Then I can think of other spontaneous questions to ask them once the conversation is rolling.

5. Listen well. Now that you’ve asked a good question, your job is done, right? Wrong! Don’t let your mind wander. Listen well to how they answer your question. Don’t worry about thinking through your response or your next question—just listen well.

6. If you really want to go the extra mile, jot down notes after you talk to them while the conversation is still fresh in your mind. I often take notes on my phone when I meet someone new whom I think I might bump into again. My notes consist of their name plus an identifying characteristic and maybe something interesting I learned about them. That way, I can always go back and reference my notes later if (okay, when!) I forget their name.

7. Pray. Even though I usually feel like leaving the building right after service on Sundays, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking God, “Who do you want me to talk to today?” I then look for someone to introduce myself to or to say “hi” to. My husband and I are almost always the last to vacate the premises!

8. Practice. Stretch yourself. Try sticking around on Sunday until you’ve found someone to talk to. Practice striking up a conversation with the cashier at the mall. Try smiling at the strangers you pass on the street or in the halls at school. See and engage people wherever you go, just like Jesus did while He lived on earth.

9. Remember that others are insecure, too, and don’t take it personally if they don’t seem interested in talking back. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but you should seek to consistently be friendly. Don’t only talk to the friends you’re comfortable with. Seek out new faces, and do your best to make them feel welcome.

10. Focus on becoming a “there you are” person. There are a few blog posts you read and never forget. This one by Jani Ortlund is one of them for me. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me!

What did I forget? Any other tips you’ve found helpful for pushing past social anxiety? Why do you think it’s so important to work on it?

10 Practical Ways to Push Past Social Anxiety was originally published on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com.