Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Principles for Thriving

Dannah Gresh: We all want to be more like Jesus. Del Fehsenfeld says the change takes some cooperation on our part.

Del Fehsenfeld: Jesus and the way of grace is not going to do transformation for you. He’s going to invite you, but what He wants in this process, actually, is friends. He doesn’t want a robot. He wants your volition. He wants your intention. This is going to involve your heart, soul, mind, strength. This is going to involve your love.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for June 22, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Dannah, when it comes to this matter of becoming more like Jesus, which we want to do, it seems like we fall into one of two ditches on opposite extremes.

One side is, “Man, I’ve got to do all this stuff. I’ve got to read my Bible more. I’ve got to pray more. I’ve got to witness more. I’ve got to do more . . . whatever.”

And the other is, “It’s all up to God. He’s the one who has to do this. What I do doesn’t really matter.”

Dannah: Yes. That first one is one that I’ve struggled with a lot. I call it performing. My board member who holds me accountable and loves me a lot said, “You sound like you’re feeding your spirit with performance.”

She actually challenged me once, “Step away from your journal. Step away from the Bible reading you’re doing. Ask the Lord, ‘What do You want me to do to participate in the change that You need to bring into my heart right now?’” Because, for me, for a long time, if I didn’t fill up the page in my journal, I hadn’t done the work to be holy that day.

What was I believing? I was believing the lie that it was up to me—and it wasn’t.

Nancy: And yet it would also be a lie to say that we don’t have any part in this—just let go and let God do this in me.

Dannah: Yes.

Nancy: He’s not going to just zap up and make us holy, but wouldn’t that be lovely.

So we’re engaged; we’re involved in the process, but we can’t do it without God and His grace. That’s what our guest today is going to talk about.

I’ve actually known Del Fehsenfeld, III, since he was a little guy. His dad, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. who’s now with the Lord, was the founder of our parent ministry, Life Action Ministries. His son Del now serves as a part of the Senior Leadership Team for Life Action Ministries. He’s involved in a combination of writing, counseling, and speaking.

Each week our staff here at Revive Our Hearts gather with other staff from Life Action Ministries for a chapel service. I got to hear Del share this message in one of those chapel times several months ago, before everything shut down for the coronavirus. He was explaining some of the reasoning behind a tool that you’ll hear more about in this program called the “Personal Vitality Plan.”

This is something that Dannah and I have both done recently, and we’re going to challenge you to do the same at the end of today’s program. Here’s Del Fehsenfeld in that chapel time, giving us some principles for thriving spiritually.

Del: I’m becoming increasingly convinced that being a Christian is the best possible way of life. A lot of times in the culture, people are thinking Christianity is about the things the Church wants us to stop doing. It’s a sort of negation.

But when you actually look at the words of Jesus, He came and said, “I’ve come to actually give you life that’s abundant”—or life to the max. He had this confidence that good news was available of the eternal life that any kind of person could step right into and begin going with Him, with God, into the life that we were actually created to have.

To be a Christian, to follow in the way of Jesus, is to also say, “Yes,” to everything that is actually true and good and beautiful—it’s actually to embrace the way of thriving. As a community here, one of our values is not just to survive the Christian life, but it’s actually to thrive in it with Jesus as we’re learning from Him, as did His disciples, how to be like Him.

We take numbers of things that we do to try to promote that, but at least once annually we want to in a very concentrated way think together about our common commitment. That is first of all not to serve in a ministry, but it’s to follow Jesus wherever He leads. 

I do believe that as we follow Him well, we will do our best kind of living and also our best kind of outreach. To be a disciple of Jesus, to be fully engaged, is also to be the best kind of minister that we can possibly be. This is our common commitment: It’s not first of all to a ministry but to Jesus Himself. 

I’m just calling that out of you. Hopefully this conversation will help, among many others, to begin to give us a common framework for how to have that discussion about being a disciple, about what the way of thriving looks like, but also to do it individually. Because the path of discipleship, while it is a common pursuit of the one Savior Jesus, also has its own individual aspects. 

So we’re doing corporate framework and then personalization where my goal for you this morning is that no one would leave without renewing your personal commitment to following Jesus and making that more than a concept but making it concrete. That’s what we’re after this morning, and I think it’s good for us to be reminded of these things.

Now, I introduced you to a buddy of mine. His name is John. He lives here in South Bend. He’s an engineer by day. He’s a musician by night. He’s a really cool guy. He’s a Jesus follower.

Part of what John is involved with in his discipleship is that he has become aware of a problem that’s inflicting many of our major cities, South Bend included. It’s the fact that most of our sewage systems are antiquated. They’re called combined sewage systems, which means the rain water runs into the same place as the sewage. So when you have storms, the systems can’t handle the volume. So guess what the backup is? It’s our rivers.

If you were to reverse this back ten to fifteen years here before anything was done, over a billion gallons of raw sewage a year are being dumped into the St. Joseph River. So John, as a follower of Jesus, wanted to bring beauty and healing to all things. He said, “We’ve got to do something about that.”

As you can imagine, sewage systems are very expensive, and it’s very disruptive because they’re underground. To retrofit a sewage system is pretty, pretty destructive. So John and his team are actually working on some innovative ways to help. It just blew me away what he told me. He said what they’re doing is they’re going around to different abandoned places in South Bend—abandoned lots, very selective—and they’re planting gardens. In these gardens that not only beautify abandoned places, they’re planting them with plants that soak up tremendous amounts of water.

(Can you see the logic here? It doesn’t just take an engineer to get this . . . I actually got it.) So when it rains, these beautiful places soak up the water, and guess where the water doesn’t go? It doesn’t go into the sewage. Therefore, the volume of sewage into the river is drastically cut. They’ve cut it in half, and they’re working to get it down further.

When he told me this, I thought, What a beautiful metaphor for the path of discipleship. The Bible has some really concrete things to say. Jesus talked to us about the mastery and the slave-making nature of sin. He told us to beware of that. He came to conquer that. He tells us strategies to actually deal head-on with the toxins of our life.

But I want to say to you again that, ultimately, this is not a one-prong strategy. We’re not just fighting sin. We’re not just trying to stop doing things that we know we shouldn’t do. Jesus had a revolution of the heart which would actually get to the nature of our desires to what we want to do. More than just turning us away from what is evil, He’s turning us towards everything that is good and beautiful.

As we follow Jesus, or as we move towards the One who is actually the source of everything good and beautiful, guess what we’re moving away from? From toxins. So there are two ways, actually, to fight sin and to see thriving in life. It’s not only to focus on the negative; it’s actually to put our energies full-heartedly into the cultivation of the gardens of our hearts.

As a community, what we’re really wanting to do is not to be defined by all the things that we’re stopping. We’re wanting to move into what is beautiful and good and true, which is Jesus.

I want to remind you that this is the nature of the eternal life that Jesus came to bring. It’s not only just a state or a geography. It’s not just that we’re going to take up residence at some future date in something called the eternal life. Eternal life actually has the quality of something that has invaded the present. Jesus said in John 17, for example, that “this is eternal life that you may know Me, the one true God, and Jesus Christ who He sent.”

So eternal life actually has a qualitative dimension that begins now. The eternal life that Jesus came to bring actually is something we can experience right in the middle of the present. We can move forward with anticipation, believing that as we follow Him, He’s going to be leading us into everything that is actually true and beautiful. He’s going to make us fully alive.

This is why theologians will say beautiful things like this: “The glory of God actually is man fully alive.” God is the most glorified in us, as Piper would say, when we are most connected or satisfied in Him.

This is not only a nice idea. This is your destiny. It is your identity. It is what the resources of the Holy Spirit and of the family of God and of everything that God is proposing in the world. It’s actually qualitative as well as quantitative. It’s not just to get you to heaven when you die. It is to give you the thriving kind of life and to bring healing and beauty right into the middle of the mess and to gradually revolutionize the entire world.

This is what we’re a part of. So we say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to God and these ways to make discipleship something that is personal as well as corporate, to make following Jesus, to make cultivation of our hearts, to make beauty the first objective of our lives.

We also need to understand that this is fundamental to the human soul. Your soul is always becoming. So, as C. S. Lewis said, we’re either becoming whores or we’re becoming magnificent in ways that, if we would see it with unveiled eyes, we would actually be tempted to fall down in worship because this is the trajectory of every soul.

So your soul has a trajectory, whether you pay attention to it or not. That’s what I want to say to you. You can leave with cultivation and a plan for that as your goal, or you cannot, but your soul will be engaged. Do you see what I’m saying? You will decide the trajectory of your soul, and we have to decide which direction that’s headed.

Neglected souls don’t go away; they actually go awry. Inattention to our discipleship to our souls does not result in nothing. It actually results in something that’s destructive.

We have both this invitation to beauty, and we also have this warning that souls need attention, and they need cultivation. This is going to involve our participation.

I’m going to give you three quick principles. If you want to ground this in Scripture, it’s all over the place, but just look at 2 Peter 1. It’s just so clear. I’m just going to bridge some of this for you quickly to give you this in the Scriptures.

The apostle Peter, in the way of Jesus says, “God’s divine power has actually granted to us (all that follow Jesus) all the things that pertain to life and godliness so that we may become partakers of the divine nature” (see v. 3).

Now, that is a short sentence with tremendous importance. So take a look at it:

“All things” and then he says, “You’ve actually become partakers of the divine.” The life of God actually has taken up residence in the soul of man. Wow! It’s literally that unbelievable that the union of the human person to the nature of Christ, the divinity, is becoming one.

So you see what’s happening here? You are being transformed into the highest kind of glory in our connection to Jesus, and this changes everything about our lives. It changes what is possible because of the DNA that we carry in our souls.

Here’s the first principle: Christ-likeness is actually possible because of grace. You have a new nature.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I just want to do a thought experiment with you. What is your own assessment of what is possible in terms of your thriving? Do you actually believe that it’s possible to be like Jesus? A lot of us will give the Sunday school answer and say “yes.” But when it actually comes to our own thought patterns, do you actually intend and believe that it’s possible for you to thrive?

The apostle Peter starts there. He’s, like, “Hey—a reminder here: It’s actually possible because grace,” which is not only unmerited favor to forgive you, to change your standing with God; it’s actually the power and the desire to transform your desires. It’s actually something that’s working below the surface.

At the very core of you, no matter how small, if you’ve come to Jesus and experienced the supernatural renewal of the new birth, you have had an identity change. You have had a DNA transplant. You have come alive at the very core of your being to God, and God has become wedded to you. You have the divine nature.

So at the very source of you, at the very core of you, is not sin. It’s not darkness. Your heart actually, in Jesus, is not bad. It’s beautiful. It’s being renewed. Now, it may not be transformed. Like every aspect of your personality may not be transformed. But who you are is brand new. “The old is past, the new has come.” You are in Christ. Identity wars are over. This is who you are.

And so, because of who you are, there is a new possibility. In the same way that a top-notch athlete not only practices relentlessly and attends to many things . . . We know that we will never be Michael Jordan or LaBron James because we do not have the DNA of those folks. Right? We’re never going to take off from the foul line and soar into the sky and dunk a basketball from fifteen feet away. We just won’t. Why? Because we don’t have the DNA. We don’t have the physicality.

But in the way of Jesus, Jesus is not a superstar like LaBron James, who can simply dazzle us with his skills. He is the Lord of life who knows how to give His DNA to those who follow Him. And this is why His confidence is in the fact that you have been given all things, and that you have what it takes. It is possible for you to thrive.

Do you follow this? Big stuff—because this will change your mentality, your prayers, and your expectations as you lean into Jesus to say, “Okay, if this is true, You’re going to have to show me a lot more. You’re going to have to show me how to follow You into the kind of thriving that is Your inner-life.”

Secondly, Peter then goes on immediately after this, “For this reason (because of what’s happened to you, because of grace) you are to make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” (see 2 Peter 1:5).

I’m abridging now, because the next verses as you read that text give you a description of the beautiful life of virtue, the beautiful life of Christ. These lists in the Bible all parallel one another—like the ones in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit, and others. They basically are descriptions of the character of Jesus Himself. They modify what all these folks who had followed Jesus had actually seen in Him and now were experiencing from the Spirit. So this is just a description of Christ-likeness.

It’s interesting, however, that having just told you this unbelievable thing about grace, He now brings in your full-hearted engagement and pursuit and your effort. Grace is a gift that we can never earn, but grace, while it may be opposed to earning is not opposed to effort. Do you see this?

One theologian has put it this way: “Grace is actually better thought of as desire and power or fuel for our rocket engines.”

Jesus and the way of grace is not going to do transformation for you. He’s going to invite you. He’s going to provide the inner resources, but what He wants in this process, actually, is friends. He doesn’t want a robot. He wants your volition. He wants your intention. This is going to involve your heart, soul, mind, strength. (Does that ring a bell?) This is going to involve your love. This is going to involve your, “Yes!”

Grace is the most powerful thing in the universe. It is free. It’s a gift. It’s opposed to earning, but not to effort. So this is the second principle.

Thirdly, this: He says, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being effective, for if you practice these qualities, you will never fall” (see v. 10).

Now, in order to practice something, you have to have a plan. My wife’s a runner, but in years past, she’s done some racing. One year she decided, “I want to run a marathon.” 

I said, “You’re crazy—26.2 miles!” She wants to run a marathon.

Now, how many of you know that the desire and the intention to run a marathon does not equal the capacity to run a marathon? In other words, I can sign up for a marathon. I can make it on my bucket list for years and actually show up to the race. But what’s going to happen to me if I bring my best intentions to that race and try really, really hard? How many of you are betting on me? Nobody?! Because we know that would be ludicrous. It’s, like, a good way to have a heart attack!

In order to run a marathon, you have to do more than try. You have to do more than want. You have to translate the want and the try into a plan whereby you take the bigger goal, and you break it up into pieces.

You can go online, put your age in, your weight, your capacity and shape, and they will actually break this down for you. You start by walking around the block—many times. And as you walk around the block many times, what happens to your capacity? It grows. Eventually you can run around the block. Then eventually you start to do training runs. And through practice, you develop what? Capacity.

There are things I cannot currently do—like run a marathon. I have to move back to focus on the things I can currently do that will enable me to eventually do the things that I cannot now do. Does that make sense? This is the nature of all practice. This is the word that Peter chooses here. He’s saying, “You’re looking at this incredible life of Christ, this Christ-likeness, this thriving nature of things. We’re saying this is possible for you. This is your destiny. This is what life is about. This is beauty. This is your battle plan.”

Now, if you go out and simply try really hard to be like Jesus with no attention to the way it is that we are actually transformed, you’re going to be repeatedly frustrated. You may even conclude that, “I’m just not a runner. I just can’t do marathons.” No. You haven’t taken seriously this idea of intention and possibility and translated it into where you are. You have not made the concept concrete. 

Which is why, again, I’m saying all this in background, to tell you why it is that we thought it was so important here that we make the concept of the fact that we follow Jesus concrete. We’ve got to start forming from our intentions wise plans that can be practiced in training for every disciple to be able to realize their commitment and their intention to actually grow, to be transformed, to become like Jesus, to living grace. 

We went to work on that. We thought, “Okay, there are some pitfalls here. We want to do this corporately because we believe the first commitment of every person in a Christian ministry, should actually be like Jesus Himself. They should actually be a disciple.” We agree with that.

However, we realize that not all of us are in the same place. Not all of us grow in the same ways. There are some things that are common to all of us, but there are some things that are very different.

So how do we do this? How do we insist on a robust, concrete pursuit of Jesus as the primary corporate value of our life? How do we do that without creating a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, kind of thing that says, “This is what holiness looks like—these ten things—and everybody has to do it.” Wouldn’t that be terrible?

We wanted corporate commitments with the ability for you to have dignity and personal volition. (I hope you sense my desire to communicate to you the why before I give you the what.) So what we did is we created a tool that would bring those things together, and we call it our “Vitality Plan.” I think most of you have seen this. It’s been around a little while.

This is not righteousness. There’s no “Vitality Plan” chapter in the Bible. This is wisdom. It’s thought of as a tool. You may look at this and go, “I’ve tried this. This doesn’t really work for me very well.” I want to talk to you about that before you discard it. But here’s the thing I would say to you: “Do you have a plan for thriving and for discipleship? If your plan is better than mine, I want you to use it. If you don’t have a plan, I like my plan better.” 

Let’s read this together:

Christian growth and spirituality is about the whole person. Thus, a spiritual growth plan should meaningfully address our body, soul, and spirit. All are involved in following Jesus.

Now, look up here for just one second. The resurrection of Jesus means many things, but at the very minimum, what we could all say together is that it means that forever God has a body. This means a tremendous amounts of things for the way we view ourselves and the earth that we live in.

The vision of heaven is not ultimately a disembodied place away from here. It’s a renewed earth. It’s a new heaven and earth. We don’t know exactly the amount of continuity or discontinuity. People disagree about how that’s going to happen. But the point here is that physicality matters. Matter matters. It is not a Christian idea to discard the care for physical things. That is just one aspect.

When I say holistic, I mean the resurrection means embodied transformation. It means soul, spirit, emotions. It means all of this. The renewal of Jesus is actually incredibly comprehensive. It actually means all things.

The second paragraph here:

One way of visualizing your overall development is to think of your life as a reservoir comprised of multiple subsections. It is possible to be doing well, to be full in one dimension of your life while neglecting others to be empty.

Now, look up here for a second. It’s an incredibly important concept because I find, in myself and in many of the people I’ve talked to over the years, that we get paralyzed, especially in religious communities where holiness is a virtue. (Like, we’re actually paid to be good. It’s amazing!) It becomes very problematic when we say, “Well, am I good or am I bad?”

Let me ask you a question: “Are you good or bad?” See what I’m saying?

I think we need to acknowledge that grace’s strength and progress coexists with weaknesses. It exists in all of us in this way. This is incredibly liberating for communities because what it means is that your sin doesn’t negate your grace.

I’ve talked with lots of people who think, Well, I might as well give the whole thing up because I thought I was doing well, and then look what happened. Well, no, you actually were doing well. You are doing well. 

That’s terrible, so let’s talk about that. Why are we setting up a false dichotomy? This is intended to liberate you as you think about the graces and the brokenness, because they coexist. They’re not exclusive.

We’re asking people to identify activities and practices that are helping fill you in each area or that are draining you. This graph identifies various areas that require attention. You may want to add areas not represented. I threw some on here that are common to people.

Dannah: Let me hop in here to explain that the “Personal Vitality Plan,” this tool Del Fehsenfeld is talking about, consists of a grid. There are three columns along the top labeled: What’s Going Well? What’s Being Neglected? And Steps to Replenish.

Then down the side are the different categories in your life—things like: Seeking God, Marriage, Family, Relationships, Emotional Health, Physical Health, Rest and Relaxation, and more. We’ll tell you how you can get this tool in just a moment, but here’s Del to explain it some more.

Del: Depending on your season of life and situation, certain things may not apply. You may want to add things. You can reconfigure it. The idea here is you don’t want to start dropping out whole sections of your life, reducing spirituality to something less than the whole person. You just need to be comprehensive. What I find is people have on their radar certain things and not others. Usually age reveals all things.

What we hear here then is 1, 2, 3. The intention is to take an annual retreat. (I like to do it all at once. I get all caffeined up, and I get in a quiet place. That’s just the way I like to do it.) What I’ve found over the years is that some people don't want to overload, so they spread it out. So, it’s either all at once, or spread out over a week, or whatever, whatever you want to do.

What you’re basically doing is an audit with God about your soul. You’re not doing a problem-focus search, and you’re also not doing a Goldilocks search. You’re just saying, “Lord, here’s an area of my life. Is it full or empty? What’s full? What’s working? What are strengths? What can I celebrate?” You need to take notes with God on your soul.

Then you say, “God, are there any red flags? Like, what’s happening here? What’s behind that? Is there anything You want to tell me about this? As I think about it, what’s going on?”

You start to identify areas that are draining, that are weak. And you’re not doing any judgment right now. You’re to suspend judgment. You’re just taking notes on your soul with God. 

As you get through this process, as you spend quality time with that, you begin to get a picture of some of the things that are working and some of the things that need attention.

Now, we are somewhat good at this and somewhat bad at this on our own. We see things. Some of you are way too hard on yourselves. Some of you are not hard enough on yourself; you’re blind to some of it. Maybe we’re both.

We take that snapshot of our soul, and we go to someone that we select, or maybe several someones and we say, “Hey! Here’s the snapshot of my soul. You want to see it?”

We start talking to them through the different things. We say, “Hey! As I was reflecting with God, here’s some of the questions I’m asking. Here’s some of the things that I wonder about. I’m trying to figure out what God wants me to focus on.” Then you get some wise feedback from somebody you trust.

Nancy: That’s Del Fehsenfeld speaking at a Life Action/Revive Our Hearts’ chapel service, talking about a resource he’s developed called the “Personal Vitality Plan.” I love the way that Del has come up with this tool to help us take a soul audit, as he called it, without turning it into a legalistic set of rules that we’re supposed to follow.

This is something that we here at Life Action and Revive Our Hearts use on a regular basis. In fact, you were just telling me that you’ve had your team go through this.

Dannah: We did. In December we all got a journal and the “Personal Vitality Plan” as part of our Christmas gift package. And, Nancy, I have to tell you that I found some blind spots by using this tool—things that needed to be attended to so that my emotions and my spirit could be in alignment with God’s purpose for my life. I was able to attack those in January and start the year off better than I have in many years in terms of just walking in step with God’s Spirit.

Nancy: Wow. I love that! I love that it’s not overwhelming. It’s not like, “You deal with these eight things at once.”

We’re challenged as each of us on our staff goes through this at least once a year, to just pick one thing that surfaces in this soul audit and focus on: “What steps could I take to deal with that area?” Then we’re encouraged to share that with someone else who can encourage you and help hold you accountable in that area.

Just before we started recording today, Dannah, I said, “Would you be that person for me?” I’m getting ready to go through this again. I’m looking forward to the chance to share with you what God speaks to me about as I go through that “Personal Vitality Plan.”

Dannah: It will be my honor. I’m excited about that. It’s so important that we have other sisters that are helping us process through how we walk through this life in a way that glorifies the Lord.

This month we’re offering the “Personal Vitality Plan” to you as part of something we’re calling Flourish: A Plan for Personal and Spiritual Vitality. It’s never a bad time to take inventory of where we’re at spiritually. We’ve designed Flourish to help you do just that.

In addition to the “Personal Vitality Plan,” Flourish also contains a booklet you wrote, Nancy, called, “Strengthen Your Faith.”

Nancy: Yes. It’s my take on that same passage we heard Del talking about today, 2 Peter, chapter 1. I just walk through some of the principles that Peter gives us in that wonderful passage about how we can build on our faith to become spiritually mature and flourish.

Dannah: That booklet by Nancy and the “Personal Vitality Plan” are packaged together and included in Flourish. It’s our way of thanking you for a gift of any amount this month. You can get all the details when you visit, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Now, it’s probably no surprise to you that the news industry thrives on sensationalism and, frankly, just plain old bad news. Do you ever feel so overwhelmed by it all that you’d rather never see a news headline again? Tomorrow, we’ll hear how we can respond to those feelings.

Nancy will take us to God’s Word and tell us how we can live in light of eternity. I’m Dannah Gresh. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help your faith to flourish. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Del Fehsenfeld

Del Fehsenfeld

Del completed a Master’s Degree in marriage and family therapy and worked as a counselor before joining Life Action Ministries in 1996. He serves as Senior Editor and Pastoral Services Director and is involved in a combination of writing, counseling, and speaking responsibilities. He and Debra live in Niles, Michigan, and are the proud parents of four children: Shepard, Kária, Chálissa, and Sol.