Do You Have a King?

Judges 19-21

Judges 21 25 NIV

If Judges 19-21 were made into a movie, I would not go and see it. It’s too gruesome. It’s too graphic.

And yet, it’s recorded within the Word of God.
Why did all these terrible and awful things happen? We’re told at the beginning of Judges 19 and it’s stated again at the end of Judges 21, as well as recorded multiple times throughout the book of Judges: “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”
When societies and individuals do nothing to invest in a relationship with God, our moral compasses become messed up, our values and priorities get out of alignment, our behavior goes out of control.
Let’s not sugar coat this – this passage of Scripture certainly doesn’t – our actions have consequences. What may seem like something small and innocent can end up wrecking havoc on not just your life, but the lives of others.
Twenty years ago I was rear-ended by a drunk driver. I was stopped at a red light and I heard screeching tires behind me and suddenly my car lurched forward hitting the car in front of me. I had a cassette tape (Google it) sitting half-way in the tape deck. Thanks to Newton’s First Law of Inertia, it ended up in my back seat. And I ended up with whiplash. My neck and back have never quite been the same.
I’m sure that the driver had no intention of getting into a car wreck as he consumed his alcohol and then decided to get behind the wheel, but it happened. I certainly had no realization that when I got in my car to head home from a friend’s house, that my life would change due to someone else’s reckless choices, but it happened.
Whether it’s drinking and driving, or telling a “small lie”, or cheating on a test, or being unfaithful in a relationship these behaviors have consequences. When we start to do our own thing rather than submit to God, life gets messed up and people get hurt.
Thankfully, God sees fit to forgive and redeem. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” How awesome is it that God longs to still want to have a relationship with messed up people?!?! This includes you and me.
We have a King – will you acknowledge Him? Instead of letting your passions and desires rule your heart, will you humble yourself and submit to Him? Let the love of God cover you today.
Bethany Ligon
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+19-21&version=NIV
Tomorrow we will be reading the book of Ruth as we continue (or begin) our Bible reading plan.  Print your own copy here 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan and mark off each day’s reading.  What is God wanting to tell you in your waiting – open His book and find out!  

Samson – Hero of Faith

Saturday – Judges 16-18

Judges Devotions-6

Weird people are my kind of people, and Samson definitely brings weird to a whole new level. We’ve seen Samson rip a lion apart with his bare hands, tie 300 burning foxes in pairs by their tails, and kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey.

God wanted Samson to follow through on his Nazirite vow, which involved abstaining from cutting his hair, drinking wine, and going near dead bodies (Numbers 6:1-8). In this way, Samson would be set apart from the rest of the world—sanctified and pure. However, he eats honey from a lion’s carcass, is tricked by Delilah into cutting his hair, and disappoints God in a dozen other ways. He’s hot-headed, prideful, and is obsessed with revenge; yet, in his weirdness and messiness, Samson is commended for his faith. He is mentioned in Hebrews 11, as a hero of great faith.

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Samson’s life ended with one act of great faith. After losing his hair, the source of his God-given strength, Samson was captured by the Philistines. They gouged out his eyes and threw him in prison. Since Samson was the Philistine’s public enemy number one, they ridiculed him in the temple for their own entertainment. On that day, Samson made one final request to God:

“Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes’” (Judges 16:28).

God used Samson’s physical weakness and his obsession for revenge, turning it into strength. With a surge of God’s power, Samson pushed on the pillars of the temple, crushing the temple and all the Philistines in it. Samson was messy, but God used him to bring the Israelites closer to liberation from the Philistines. We, like Samson, are never too messy to be used by God.

In fact, when we believe we are too messy to be used by God, it’s God’s power we underestimate, not our own. He wants to transform your messiness for his glory. Will you be transparent in giving God the glory as he transforms your mess? What weaknesses of yours can you surrender to God to be redeemed as strengths? What messy people in your life, the same people God sees value in, are you avoiding?

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+16-18&version=NIV

Thank you, Mackenzie for your writing this week!  Tomorrow, as we start a new week, Bethany Ligon will discuss the final chapters of Judges for us, and then take us into Ruth and 1 Samuel during the rest of the week.  Keep Reading – Seeking – Growing & Loving!  We have a great God!

2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

In Your Waiting God is Working

Friday – Judges 13-15

Judges Devotions-5

Waiting is hard, like really hard. Most boxes of frozen foods give two sets of directions, one for the microwave and one for the oven. I’m the kind of person who always picks the microwave.  I’m also the kind of person who abandons a movie if it hasn’t struck my interest in the first five minutes, and you bet I’ve read the last page of every book I start because I can’t wait to see how it ends. On every road trip, I ask “Are we there yet?” dozens of times.

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1). The Israelites have fallen back into sin and in desperation, they call out to God… and wait.

Suffering for forty years, I imagine many Israelites were wondering what God was doing in their waiting. Did He hear their prayers? Did He still care for them?

Another woman, Manoah’s wife, was also waiting, but for a child. “A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth” (Judges 13:2).

Even when they could not see it, in their waiting God was working. You see, the answer to Manoah’s wife’s prayer was also the answer to the Israelites’ prayers.

“The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines’” (Judges: 13:3-5).

This baby boy, Samson, grew up to liberate his people from the Philistines. In those forty years of waiting, God was preparing for them a leader who would bring deliverance.

Are you in a season of waiting? Whether you’re waiting for a promotion, a spouse, a child, a house, a cure, or a plan, God hears your prayers. Child of God, your heart’s deepest desires are in the hands of the Almighty; in the meantime, trust that God is working. Maybe He isn’t working in the way you’re expecting, but He is still working.

We’ll jump more into Samson’s (spoiler alert: crazy) life tomorrow, but for today I want to leave you with scripture that has encouraged me in my times of waiting:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7).

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:13 & 14).

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5).

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).

In your waiting, He hears you. He fights for you. He is working.

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+13-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 16-18 as we finish another week on our  2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan. And, it’s always a great place to start up, too!

An Eternal Perspective

Thursday – Judges 10-12

Judges Devotions-4

Growing up, every evening my dad returned home from work I would run to him shouting, “Daddy!” I would jump into his arms, sometimes nearly knocking him over. Judges tells about another dad’s return home after a day of work, but what happens next is heart-breaking.

Jephthah, in a battle against the Ammonites, makes a deal with God, “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30 & 31).

God delivers and the Israelites triumph over the Ammonites. As Jephthah returns home from his day of work, his daughter, dancing, runs through the door to greet him. Knowing he must deliver on his promise, Jephthah tears his clothes, weeping. In a beautiful act of obedience, his daughter agrees, retreats to the wilderness to grieve, and dies.

The Bible only refers to this young lady as Jephthah’s daughter. Despite how little we know of her, she did have a name. She had a family. She had friends. She had talents. She had dreams… but she gave up everything.

This story really used to anger me. How could God require an innocent, young girl to die? When I considered just that moment, it was hard to really believe the essence of who God is: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The image of the loving God I had constructed in my head would never require Jephthah’s daughter to die. I looked for loopholes in the story and read commentary after commentary, but I was still unsatisfied—still devastated by how this story damaged my view of who God is.

Later, I had a realization; the story of Jephthah’s daughter didn’t end the day she died. While her story may be paused, it’s not finished. In fact, the climax of it all is still to come when God will raise her from the dead to spend eternity together. With an eternal perspective, it’s incredibly obvious that God really is love. The everything Jephthah’s daughter once had is nearly nothing in comparison to how abundantly God is going to bless her in His Kingdom.

The best part of this story is that we get to share in her reward. Like Jephthah’s daughter, God wants our everything, but He also wants to give us His everything.

You, me, and Jephthah’s daughter—we’re like kids with only a few dollars to our name, and God asks us to hand over everything in our piggy banks. As children, it can be painful to see those few dollars go because we can’t yet comprehend ever having more than that. However, I am confident that God’s return on our investment will surpass our greatest expectations.

With an eternal perspective in mind, what will you give up to God today? Would you be willing to die for Him? What does it look like to truly hand over your life to God? Remember, He wants your everything, and in return will give you His everything.

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+10-12&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be chapters 13-15 as we continue through Judges on our journey through our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

 

Hey, Siri. What’s an ephod?

Wednesday – Judges 8-9

Judges Devotions-3

While Gideon is presented as a mighty warrior earlier in Judges, his legacy becomes more muddled in today’s reading. When you first learned about Gideon in Sunday School, your teacher probably didn’t tell you about his seventy sons (one of whom killed nearly all of his brothers) or the ephod he made out of gold.

If you’re like me, you’re asking Siri right now what an ephod is, but let me save you the trouble. An ephod is a sacred, decked-out, garment worn by the high priest that hung from his neck, similar-ish to a vest. After the Israelites invade the Midianite camp, Gideon requests that everyone bring him a gold earring from their share of the plunder. From the forty pounds of gold gathered, Gideon makes an ephod. He’s not Israel’s first leader to build something grandiose out of gold (we’re looking at you, Aaron).

Unfortunately, like Aaron’s golden calf, the Israelites begin worshipping Gideon’s ephod, which resided in his hometown. I’m not exactly sure why Gideon made the ephod, perhaps to mark Israel’s victory or assert his dominance as a leader. At any rate, I don’t think Gideon’s intent was to make something for the Israelites to bow down and worship. After all, he had just told the Israelites that there is only one king: God.

I think there are two valuable lessons we can learn from Gideon’s mistake:

1. You can hurt people even when you don’t “mean to.” Whenever I got in trouble as a child, my go-to phrase was, “I didn’t mean to.” However, even if I didn’t mean to hit my brother, he still had a bloody nose. My intent wasn’t to make my brother’s nose gush uncontrollably, but that was the impact of my actions. In the same way, Gideon didn’t intend to build something that would create a rift between the Israelites and God, but it did. It is important to take responsibility for our actions, even when they’re not premeditated. With urgency, deal with the hurt you may have caused.

2. Watch out for snares! The author of Judges describes the ephod as a snare to Gideon and his family. Be on guard, avoiding traps that try to rip you from God—maybe it’s a lie that keeps running through your head, a movie you know you shouldn’t be watching, or a friend who pressures you into something you’re uncomfortable doing. Also, be proactive in looking for snares that could trip up a brother or sister in the faith; the church works best when we look out for each other. If your roommate struggles with pornography, don’t let them sit alone on their computer. If your friend is a recovering alcoholic, don’t take them to the restaurants covered in beer advertisements. If your classmate is tempted to cheat during a test, cover your answers.

In a world where sin is often celebrated, let’s make sinning as difficult as possible.

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+8-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 10-12 as we carry on with the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

God is with me

Tuesday – Judges 6-7

Judges Devotions-2

I could tell you the story of Gideon in my sleep, but probably only in Spanish. For the past couple years, I’ve told many groups of children in different cities throughout Peru the story of Gideon. Each time, we make torches like the ones Gideon’s men brought into battle. Whether we’re gathered at a local park, a giant school assembly, an alleyway on a busy street, or a kitchen table, we all shout enthusiastically, “Dios está conmigo!” which means, God is with me. The pure joy and conviction in the children’s echoing voices give me shivers each time. The God who was with Gideon, is with me, with you, and with hundreds of children in Peru.

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Reading the story of Gideon again today, I am amazed by how God defies human logic; His ways often seem mysterious to us, but they lead to victory. Of all the people to raise up an army to fight against the Midianites, God picks Gideon, a self-proclaimed runt of the litter from the weakest clan in the whole city. He looks at Gideon and says:

The LORD is with you, mighty warrior. (Judges 6:12)

Gideon’s response to God’s calling is laughable:

Pardon me, my lord. (Judges 6:13)

He talks to God’s angel like he just accidentally bumped into someone at the grocery store. Gideon’s hesitation continues, as he asks God for a handful of signs, involving a goat, bread, and fleece. When Gideon is finally sure that God is indeed with him, he assembles an army of 32,000 men. God, however has a very different plan. With just 300 men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches, God leads His people to victory, conquering the Midianite army of 135,000 well-equipped soldiers. The same God who triumphs over seemingly impossible circumstances is still at work today.

I, like many of you, entered the year 2020 with the word “vision” on the mind. To me, vision meant clarity and a plan. I was hopeful that this would be the year I would “figure everything out.” In these past few weeks, everything I thought I knew, everything I planned, has been thrown out of the window—all because of a virus I didn’t see coming.

Much like Gideon, I’m scared, uncertain, and don’t understand what God is doing (yet). So maybe 2020, the year of vision, wasn’t a promise for answers, but rather a challenge of your faith. Will you seek God’s provision and plan for your life? Will you cling to Him when everything else is shaky, foggy, and unknown? Will you trust that He is present even if His ways don’t make sense to you yet?

For the next few hours, I challenge you to not look at the latest news headlines or CDC guidelines; instead, rest assuredly in this simple truth:

God is with me.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+6-7&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 8-9 as we continue seeking God in His Word on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

Thumbs, Big toes, & Fire—oh my!

Sunday – Judges 1-2

Judges Devotions

Joshua is dead. Ten thousand Canaanite men—also dead. The Israelites take revenge on a Canaanite king who was notorious for cutting off other kings’ thumbs and big toes by, of course, cutting off his very own thumbs and big toes. Jerusalem is set on fire. And that’s just the first 8 verses!

Judges if off to a whirl-wind of a start, but if you think the craziest part of Judges is over, you’re in for a ferocious ride, my friend. After a wild first chapter, the author of Judges (who is unknown, but some speculate it’s Samuel) steps back to give us an overview of this unprecedented time in history, this 340 year stretch of judges.

The book of Joshua ended with a rousing speech in which Joshua declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). The Israelite people gave a unified response, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). The generation who made that vow saw God work in incredible ways—making way for the Israelites to cross the Jordan River, crushing the walls of Jericho, and keeping the sun from setting during battle. This generation even calls themselves witnesses (Joshua 24:22), and they take time to remember all God has done for them—carrying the ark of the covenant with them, setting up twelve stones by the Jordan.

However, we’ve already established that Joshua dies, and with him the generation that calls themselves witnesses. Despite everything their parents did to help them remember, this new generation forgets, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

As the Israelites occupied the Promised Land, God told them to remove all the idol-worshipping, morally-corrupt people from the land, but they forget.

I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’ (Judges 2:1-3)

They forgot who God is. They forgot what God had done. They forgot what God had told them to do.

While the events in Judges occurred over 3,000 years ago, their times seem eerily similar to our own. I’m at the age where I see a lot of my peers forgetting—forgetting who God is, what God has done, and what God has told them to do. We’ve all seen not only the statistics, but also the faces of people leaving the church. So what can we do to stop it?

Remember and remind.

Keep a list going: Who is God to you? What has God done for you? What has God told you to do? I encourage you to take some time during this quarantine to physically write a list so you can remember how present God is in your life. Also, support your brothers and sisters in the faith by reminding them of how real and near God is. Share your list with others, you never know how close someone in your life is to forgetting, just like the Israelites in Judges.

I can’t resist my strong urge to end this devotion with a joke: Who is the only person ever to not have any biological parents?

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Answer: Joshua son of Nun

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading passage, Judges 1 & 2 can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+1-2&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 3-5 as we continue the wild ride through God’s Word on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

A Country in Chaos (Judges 19-21)

Thursday, October 6

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Shelby Upton

Judges 19-21 starts its account by making it known that the events took place when Israel had no king.  Even more than Israel having no king, Samson was the last judge so during this time there was no spiritual leader either.
The accounts in these chapters are gruesome and disturbing. First we read about the Levite staying in Gibeah while traveling. While there perverted men of the city demanded that he be handed over to have sex with him. When they refuse his concubine is handed over then raped and abused all night and dies from her injuries.
When the man returns home, to send a message to Israel he cuts her up into 12 pieces and sends her out to the territories.  This then triggers a civil war in Israel against Benjamin where the Lord does tell Israel to fight against the Benjaminites. God hands over the Benjaminites to the Israelites but tens of thousands of men die during this war.
These accounts of lawless Israel not held accountable by a king or judge are so sad and unfathomable. We see the people not consulting God but trying to figure everything out on their own. When we do whatever we want without regard to God and his laws, life is a mess.  Our understanding and rationale is so flawed–just look at how entrenched in sin and unmanageable Israel had become!
The last verse sums up this section very well, Judges 21:25 “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.” And it was chaos.

The Company You Keep (Judges 16-18)

Wednesday, October 5

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Shelby Upton

Samson and Delilah is a well known Bible story. He was a Nazarite, his strength lay with that vow and uncut hair, Delilah betrays him and cuts off his hair.  The end.  But this story is much sadder and contains much deeper betrayal than that sparknotes version.
We don’t get much back story on their relationship but he was in love with her. The one person who should never have betrayed him sold him out to the Philistine leaders to discover his weakness. We know that Samson was clever–from his riddles and also telling Delilah multiple ways that would not take his strength. In Judges 16 however it says that due to her nagging day after day she wore him out and he told her the truth of his strength.
It was all over after that. It says that his strength and God had left him when his hair was cut off and his vow was broken.  After the Philistines gouged out his eyes God does return his strength for one last act of vengeance that resulted in his death and the death of a multitude of Philistines by pulling down the pillars of the temple.
When I look over this story I am heart broken for Samson. I truly see that he chose the wrong path and bad company over and over again.  Delilah was not someone to be trusted let alone a woman who would strengthen him as a judge and support his Nazarite vow.  She performed the act that broke his vow and caused God to leave Samson! This is a very extreme case of bad company but in our own lives we are influenced by and become like the people we are around. Bad company can wear us down just like Delilah wore Samson down.  We shouldn’t shut ourselves off from influencing others for good but the closest company we keep needs to be supporting our relationship with God and spurring us on towards righteousness.
Do you feel a divide between you and God? Take a look at the friendships around you, your significant other–what can you say for the company you have been keeping and how they have or have not been helping you grow in your relationship with God.