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Why I Abandoned My Bullet Journal

Photo by Lynn Tran

Written By Sam Ly, Singapore

In recent years, bullet journaling has taken the world (or at least my friends and me) by storm. The concept is simple. You use just one book for everything—scheduling appointments, recording tasks, journaling, drawing, you name it. There is a basic standard template to help you get started, but you’re basically free to customize it according to your own lifestyle.

If you’re wondering how the name came about, it’s because it involves writing down everyday plans and events in the form of bulleted lists.

As someone who has a weekly scheduler along with seven other journals for other things (expenses, dreams I remember, thoughts from quiet time with God, etc.), the concept of bullet journaling was enticing. Finally, I could combine everything into one!

That’s when I realized it wasn’t so simple in practice. Because bullet journaling involves starting with an empty notebook, one needs to create everything from scratch. Search “plan with me” on YouTube and you will see the sheer amount of effort it takes to create each month’s calendar and weekly spaces, which includes writing neatly and drawing amazing illustrations.

As it turned out, I ended up spending a lot of time researching and watching videos on how to create my bullet journal and spending money on materials I “needed” for it. Instead of spending time to do the things I wrote down, I was spending time decorating my bullet journal and fussing over my messy lines and ugly attempts at hand-lettering.

That’s when it dawned on me: this was happening in my Christian life too—I was letting the “good to haves” drown out what I really needed.

There are a lot of things a “good Christian” is supposed to have, which are present in my life. Perhaps you have them all too—cell group, youth ministry, church on Sundays, prayer group in school, volunteering at a para-church organization that reaches out to youth etc. While these are all good things to help me grow in the knowledge of God and relationship with other brothers and sisters-in-Christ, it reached a point where I started to miss the big picture: God himself.

I knew something was wrong when I would tell myself I had no time to sit down to read His word and pray because I was too busy preparing for the next Bible study I had to teach, too busy trying to coordinate and plan for my portion in ministry, too busy with “Christian things”. How was it that I was too busy for the very God I told others to trust and obey?

I realized the answer to this was simple: I had said “yes” to too many things without realizing that I had limited time and energy. Instead of guarding my time with God, I packed my schedule to the brim thinking it would work out in the end because I was doing all these in His name. As I struggled to fulfil all my commitments as well as my responsibilities as a student, I began to drown in all the work I had to do.

I know that the Lord can use difficult and trying times to reveal to me that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I also know that the testing of our faith through trials produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3). But I also learned that I need to be discerning and wise in the way I manage my time and energy.

God does not need us to embellish and pack our lives to the brim to prove that we are His faithful servants. Friends, God loves us as His children—our identities are secure in Christ alone, and we are much more than ministry machines. When we abide in Him and He in us, we will naturally bear fruit and so prove that we are His disciples (John 15:4-11).

I am still learning to be a wise steward of my time and energy. While I remember to discharge the duties of my ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), I must also remember to watch my life closely (1 Timothy 4:16). Instead of embellishing my schedule with many good things that call for my attention, I have peace in my heart to say no to some of these, if they come at the expense of my own relationship with God.

4 Ways to Keep a Regular Quiet Time

Written By Noni Elina Kristiani, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

It was at a Christian retreat where I first learned about quiet time.

An older Christian gave me a devotional book, which taught me how to spend time every day building my relationship with God. Since then, I have tried to have quiet time every day.

I do not always succeed. When I was writing for my school magazine, for example, I did not get enough sleep. I had a hard time waking up early in the morning and would forget my quiet time then. Though I told myself I would do it later that night, I would end up falling asleep without reading my bible. However, God always reminded me of my commitment.

But keeping up my commitment to have regular quiet time is not always easy. Here are a few things I have found helpful in keeping a regular quiet time.

 

1. Remind yourself of what it’s about

Quiet time is a special time where I get to know God more. I worship Him through praising Him, praying to Him, and reading His word. I can tell Him all my burdens and talk to Him like a best friend.

Through quiet time, God rebukes or strengthens me with His words and gives us the wisdom and strength I need for the day. At one point, I realized that how my entire day goes is determined by how I start it together with God.

When I am tempted to sin, the Holy Spirit reminds me through my Bible reading. When my burdens become too much, I believe in God’s deliverance. The Scripture reminds me that God is always with me.

 

2. Set aside your best time and set a reminder

We can come to God anytime, but I think we should give God our best. Instead of a short couple minutes between daily activities, I try to spend my quiet time in the morning, before I start my day. What works best for you might be different from what works best for me, but the important thing is that you find the best time to enjoy your relationship with God.

I set an alarm on my phone to help me wake up early in the morning, so I can have quiet time before I start my day. You can also stick a note on your wall, asking yourself, “Have you had your quiet time today?” or reminding yourself, “Let’s start this day with God.”

 

3. Ask others to support you

One thing that really helps us establish a regular quiet time routine is asking others to remind us and pray for us. When in college, I joined a Christian peer group, and it really helped my spiritual growth. We need a community that helps us grow in God. I would encourage you to become involved in a community of believers, where we can grow together. When one is weak, others are strong.

Are you involved in a community of believers? If not, you can find on at your church, school fellowship, or college.

 

4. Don’t be discouraged when you fail

Have you tried, but failed, to have regular quiet time? When that happens, I feel like I have disappointed God and that really makes me sad. But then I remember that God showed His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

God does not expect us to be perfect in our love for Him. He will look at our hearts and forgive us when we confess our sins before Him. Our efforts to grow closer to Him make Him happy.

 

If you ever feel like you don’t deserve to meet God, that is the moment God longs to heal you. Come to Him, spend time with Him, and tell Him what’s on your heart. He longs to talk with you. He listens, and He answers your prayers in His own time and His own wonderful way.

Are You Running on an Empty Tank?

Written By Joy-Ann Wood, West Indies

When I was getting ready to leave the house one day, my father said to me, “Better pump gas in the car, or else you might run out on the highway, you know . . .” I laughed at his comment and replied, “Nah, I got this covered. I’m sure there’s enough gas to take me to my destination and back.”

Despite this reassurance, he still insisted that I top up my fuel tank. Later, as I drove down the highway, I pondered his advice. Could I really make it to my destination and back before the fuel gauge indicator hit “empty”? I had heard stories from a few friends about running out of gas while driving. I could never understand how that could happen, since the indicator always warns you ahead of time that the gas is running out.

This experience parallels our Christian journey. Many times, we take this daring step of travelling on “empty.” Despite knowing we are “empty,” and that we need to spend more time with the Lord, we ignore the Holy Spirit’s nudging. We claim that “we’re okay,” and we tend to be “fine” once we are involved in Christian activities. However, if we lack daily time alone with Jesus, we’re like a car travelling on “empty”, in danger of coming to a sudden halt anytime.

Sometimes, it’s our busy schedules that lead us to running on “empty”. We get engrossed in teaching Sunday school or volunteering in Youth ministry, singing in the choir, or being involved in dance or drama ministry at church. We take the source of our strength for granted and busy ourselves with rushing from one event to another. We fall into the trap of spending less time with God while finding other ways to keep ourselves going. But suddenly, everything comes to a standstill when we burn out or lose sight of our purpose.

Jesus is calling us to spend time with Him, so that we may be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit to serve and give our ultimate best for Him. When a car is filled up with gas, it tends to go farther without having to stop suddenly for more gas. If we fill up our spiritual tank with time set aside for God, He will equip us with the power to serve humbly,  persevere through trials, and stay focused on Him for the rest of our lives.

Be intentional about spending time with Jesus. Running on “empty” causes us to lose heart easily and prevents us from giving our best for Him.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1

Do We Enjoy God?

For the past few days, I have been ploughing through the book of Isaiah trying my best to understand what the prophet means. But I have been growing increasingly anxious, because I don’t seem to be learning much; nothing applicable has really struck me. In fact, each day, I barely remember much of the passage for the rest of the day.

So instead of opening my Bible today, I sit and stare at my ceiling and at a little scribble on my bedside that says, “Jesus loves”.

I can’t hide the feelings of frustration at the lack of tangible results from Bible reading. I can’t hide the worry that God is not revealing something to me possibly because there is some unconfessed sin, or because I am not reading the Bible rightly.

I had thought that consistently setting aside time for Bible reading and praying meant that my Christian life was healthy and thriving. But now I wonder: have I missed out something crucial?

“We cannot glorify God, even if we are praying, if we don’t enjoy him.”—John Piper

I seek to be disciplined in my Christian life, which I see as spending an hour in the morning and at night reading God’s Word, being responsible and accountable for my ministry commitments, and leading a deeply believing and expectant prayer life that gives space for God to move and work in, through and around me. I believed these made for a “successful” Christian life.

All these are really good things, and it is good to put effort into growing and honing these disciplines. But as I struggled to reconcile the dissonance I felt while I followed these disciplines, I started to ask what I was truly seeking.

Did I see spending time with God as a daily to-do item to check off? Did I see my completion of “quiet time” as an indication that my relationship with God was “ok” for that day so that I could go on to do other things? I sought God’s peace, sense of satisfaction, and fulfilment that He had promised—but did I seek God?

In Jeremiah 2:13, God charges the Israelites with two sins: forsaking God and pursuing idols. He said: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Had religiosity become my idol? Had I forgotten that God is my only spring of living water, and tried to build my own source of spiritual strength? Had I become so caught up with keeping the spiritual disciplines, that I forgot to simply delight in the LORD?

Enjoying my time with God is a privilege and is possible because of His grace. He will rebuke, correct, and train us, so that our hearts will be turned more and more to recognize how enjoyable He is.

Over the past few days, God has been rebuking me for my attitude as I embarked on my spiritual disciplines. I thank Him for showing me where I have gone awry in my walk of faith. What a faithful God we have, that He would provide for our growth from beginning to end! As we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, let’s remember to seek God first and foremost.