Let's Talk

I Don't Feel Close to God
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My devotion time used to be really intense, but now it has simmered down. At times, I feel like God isn't there. And even when I do have my time with God, there doesn't seem to be any passion in it. What should I do?

I want to encourage you to try something I call the 90-Day Experiment. Challenge yourself to spend five minutes a day with God for the next 90 days. When you complete the experiment, I can't promise you'll burn with passion for God every morning. But I do think such a disciplined approach will help you recover a devotion time you won't want to miss.
Exactly what you do during those five minutes is up to you, but here are some ideas to help get you started. A good youth-oriented devotional book may help you break out of some boring patterns. Ask your youth worker for one of the many excellent devotionals out there. Or maybe you are a person who does better if you journal and write out your prayers to God. That's fine. You might try singing Christian praise songs as part of your daily routine. You could even read through the New Testament. Yeah, it might sound overwhelming, but it only takes two or three chapters a day to do it in 90 days.
What I'm saying is this: If what you're doing now isn't working, try something different. Mix things up. Be creative. Sure, it will still require incredible discipline to accomplish the 90-Day Experiment no matter what you do. But breaking out of your old devotional rut will give you the motivation you need to get going again. And I guarantee it will be worth it.
Nineteen years ago, I was feeling just like you, so I challenged myself to the 90-Day Experiment. I've never stopped, and I've never regretted it. Of course, I've missed some days along the way, but that time with God has made a huge difference in my relationship with him.
I've read it takes three weeks to form a habit, and three more weeks to solidify that habit as a lifelong practice. If you successfully complete the 90-Day Experiment, chances are you'll develop a routine with lasting significance. Go for it. Take the challenge. You'll be glad you did.

What's Wrong with Smoking?

I've been a Christian for a while now, and I love God with all my heart, but I smoke. I've tried to quit, but I always start back up again. In some ways, it's gotten in the way of my relationship with God because I feel guilty about it. But in another way, I don't see why this should affect my faith. It doesn't really make me any less of a Christian. There are a lot worse things I could be doing, like drinking or having sex. I guess I'm not sure why smoking is such a big deal.

You're right, there are "worse" things you could be doing. And it's very true that God loves you unconditionally, not for what you do, but for who you are.
Now that we have those points out of the way, let's talk about your addiction to nicotine. Maybe you don't think of yourself as an addict, but you are. Nicotine, the drug in cigarettes, is one of the most addictive drugs there is. You know its power because you've tried to stop, and, as you found out, it isn't easy. Here are four reasons why I hope you will do whatever it takes to quit smoking:
Reason #1: Cigarettes can eventually kill you. As a smoker, you're much more at risk for lung cancer and heart disease, to mention only two of the ways you could die from your addiction to nicotine. When companies place warnings on the cigarette packages you buy, they do it for a reason. Cigarette smoking has been proven to be very harmful. Can you be a Christian and smoke? Yes. Will you quite possibly die earlier and lead a less healthy life? Yes.
Reason #2: Nicotine is a "gateway drug." You've probably heard this term in school. It simply means that, because you smoke, there is a greater chance that you'll also begin to use other harmful drugs.
Reason #3: It may be illegal. You don't say how old you are, but if you're under 18, it's against the law for you to smoke. And as Christians, we are supposed to obey the law (Hebrews 13:17).
Reason #4: Your body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). This means you are to strive to keep your body pure and stay away from anything that would harm you or keep you from God. That includes all kinds of things, like drinking, premarital sex, overeating, starving yourself, drug abuse, self-mutilation and smoking.
My mother started smoking at age 15. She would probably beg you to quit now, before the addiction becomes even more intense. But she isn't able to do that. She died a terrible death from lung cancer a few years ago. For your family's sake, your future spouse and children's sake, for your faith's sake and for your own quality of life, do the right thing and quit your nicotine habit today. Throw those cigarettes away. Then tell a friend about your decision, and ask that friend to hold you accountable and keep you from ever lighting up again.

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