How to Get Unstuck

stuck 2When our van got stuck in the snow years ago, it overheated and caught on fire when I tried to get it unstuck. In hindsight, I should have just waited for the tow truck my husband went to call. Not one of my better decisions.

Stuck in traffic. Stuck in the mud (or snow). Stuck in a rut.

Doesn’t matter what kind of stuck… Frustration grows the longer I’m stuck, whether mentally physically or spiritually. The more frustrated I become, the less patience I have, and the more stuck I feel.

Being stuck gets my emotions all riled up, and I simply become unable to make good decisions. Until the frustration, impatience and anger abate, I feel lost in an endless maze of emotions. So, feeling stuck too easily turns into more like being trapped unless I find a way to overcome the emotions and get unstuck.

For this reason, my first step when I feel stuck is to get out from under out-of-control emotions. Sometimes this means simply walking away from the situation if possible and letting the emotions abate. When physical space can’t happen, I try creating mental space through praying, reading, singing… whatever gets my mind off how I feel, which is rarely a good lens for handling a situation well.

After my emotions fade, I can see more clearly and am able to assess the situation and consider the root cause. I ask myself, “Why did I get stuck in the first place?”  Sometimes, the cause is simply a wrong turn. Other times, being stuck serves as a warning from my subconscious alerting me to a problem I might not recognize on my own.

stuck 1With our van incident, while a wrong turn led us to getting stuck, and my impatience resulted in a significantly worse situation, the whole incident alerted us to a problem with the vehicle’s electrical system.  In this case, we just lost the van, and no one was hurt. Had this particular situation not happened, we might have learned about the recall through a much worse scenario.

Once we have a better idea of what caused us to become stuck, we can make the best choice for how to wisely work through the problem. If a wrong turn is the cause, the best solution is usually to just get back on the right path. Sometimes this means getting help, and sometimes this means backtracking. Either way, simply accepting the loss — and apologizing if needed — is often the best way to get unstuck.

In the past when I’ve felt stuck, I’ve generally made one of two bad choices for dealing with being stuck. Sometimes, I got stubborn and pushed (forced my way) through to progress. Other times, I did nothing and simply wallowed in my doldrums. Both of these approaches ended the same way… chronic stuckness from never actually dealing with the root cause.

Over the years, I’ve learned that being stuck is not necessarily a bad thing. It brings me to a standstill, to a place where I am unable to proceed or go back, and that makes me stop and think. When I get out from under my emotions and find the root cause, I also discover needed adjustments I would not have seen had I not gotten stuck.

Getting stuck never feels good, regardless of the details. Yet when we realize that the best adjustments in our lives often come because we get stuck, we see the benefit to this unavoidable waiting. We begin to understand that progress often comes with forced course corrections largely because we often don’t stop to look for them otherwise.

DISCUSSION: How do you get unstuck?

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

The word “upgrade” leaped to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past several of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another.

Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point, we all feel the need for a new direction or even a new beginning. Whether we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades offered serve only to give us that “fresh” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. Fortunately, one area exists where an upgrade comes guaranteed to positively impact all of life.

An attitude upgrade brings a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, brings renewal to anyone’s outlook.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

Developing and maintaining a godly attitude could be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Be teachable, flexible and willing to change. Allow yourself to be renewed by staying open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) Let go of pride and admit areas of struggle. Confess the areas your attitude slides, and open yourself to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Choose positive input and allow it to push out the negative. Remember that a key in any discipline involves constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. The Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. That choice may need made place every minute at times, but we allow our emotions to only exist as gauges and not pilots.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment provides tremendous motivation when we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, and other Christians as well as non-Christians pay attention to our attitudes. We are setting examples and sending messages through our attitude, action and words.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) is particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

We all need attitude upgrades. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing serves to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn upgrades our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

Vacation Brain

vacation brainWhen I came back from my first cruise, I literally felt like I was still on the cruise ship at times with its constant swaying. This lasted a few weeks after the cruise. I even woke up in the middle of the night from what I can only describe as my brain trying to connect with my shipless reality.

Having this swaying sensation in the absence of being on a boat led me to realize that sometimes our minds can get stuck cruising while the rest of our bodies struggle to go through the motions of life. This creates and out-of-balance state that I call “vacation brain.”

Defining Vacation Brain

The Urban Dictionary offers two definitions for “vacation brain.”

“The 1-2 days before vacation when you can’t get much work done because your brain is already on vacation.”

“When you feel like you’re on vacation but you actually aren’t.”

Those definitions make sense, and I’ve experienced both, but allow me to offer a third definition. Vacation brain is…

“Failure to live your life in a deliberate way that leads toward balance physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Let’s face it, if we live our daily lives the same way we live when we on vacation, we’d all be in serious trouble.

The Symptoms of Vacation Brain

The symptoms of “vacation brain” exist within what I call a “cruise ship lifestyle.” Here are the ones that stand out most to me.

  • Increased comparisons
  • God neglect
  • Flesh focus

The posts, Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain and Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? delve deeper into how this topic relates to the influence of culture and also discuss the application to our everyday lives. For this post, let’s discuss some ideas to remedy this unhealthy state of existence.

The Remedy for Vacation Brain

The best remedy that I know of for “vacation brain” comes from Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I came home from my first cruise vacation and started feeling the shipless swaying sensations, I knew that concentration and focus would be a struggle for me until the sensations went away. (On a side note, Mal de Debarquement Syndrome does not go away for some people.)

We must stay keenly aware that vacation brain can easily become a part of our everyday lifestyles if we don’t deliberately choose to not let that happen. Consider the following for helping keep vacation brain from becoming a lifestyle.

  1. Renew. Renew the routines and habits that work well and discard or revamp what doesn’t.
  2. Read. I need to get as much positive input as possible, so I read God-focused blogs in addition to my Bible. Reading is one of the best ways to renew your thinking.
  3. Reconnect. While my husband and I connected a great deal on our cruise, I missed my friends and the rest of my family. Reconnecting help to refocus.
  4. Review. Review your priorities. Checking your calendar and your checkbook can help with doing this.
  5. Refuse. Vacations should be relaxing. They should help create new perspectives or reestablish old, helpful ones. Refuse to let the benefits of vacation be erased.

Almost immediately upon our return from our first cruise vacation, we had to deal with some significant life issues. I found myself wondering if the relaxation of vacation would dissipate more quickly than it came. Then I realized that vacations don’t create a state of peace that will live on indefinitely; instead, they should hit a reset button that helps us re-balance in a way to better deal with life’s coming challenges.

DISCUSSION: What other suggestions do you have for remedying vacation brain? Why do you think vacations are so important, maybe even crucially essential, for our lives?

Learning Humility from an Astronaut

In “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” Col. Chris Hadfield says that in new situations, people are generally viewed in one of three ways. Based on their attitude and actions, they may be seen as a minus one, someone who is actively harmful and creates problems. Or, they may be viewed as a zero, which means their impact is neutral. Third, they may be viewed as a plus one because they actively add value to the situation.

Hadfield believes the best approach for success in any situation involves “aiming for zero” because it’s an attainable goal and often a good way to get to a plus one.

What Hadfield is really getting at is the value of humility, and he gives examples in the book of why it’s a worthwhile approach not just in new situations but also in situations where you’re the most experienced person in the room (or spaceship). In fact, Hadfield says “aiming for zero” contributed greatly to his success.

“Two decades into my career as an astronaut, I felt as close to being a plus one as I ever had. And I knew that my best bet of getting the crew to see me that way was to keep on doing what has always worked for me: aiming to be a zero.”

Whether knowingly or not, Hadfield lived out the principle of humility extolled in Scripture.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

astronaut

Aiming for Zero

Hadfield gives examples of where he purposefully worked to make others successful instead of seeking recognition for himself. He also gives advice on how to stay humble or “aim for zero” whether you are the newest or most experienced person in space or on earth.

  1. Enter a situation without causing a ripple.
  2. Observe and learn from others.
  3. Try to learn rather than seek to impress.
  4. Be teachable. Don’t assume you know everything.
  5. Try to be ready for anything.

The value of humility comes down to realizing that every act, no matter how small, holds tremendous value when it contributes to the mission. Having a humble mindset where you “aim for zero” not only allows you to contribute to the mission more effectively, but it allows others to do so also.

Hadfield sums up his “aim for zero” approach to humility this way:

“But if you’re confident in your abilities and sense of self, it’s not nearly as important to you whether you’re steering the ship or pulling an oar. Your ego isn’t threatened because you’ve been asked to clean out a closet or unpack someone else’s socks. In fact, you might actually enjoy doing it if you believe that everything you’re doing contributes to the mission in some way.”

In space, the specific mission varies. As Christians, though we carry out our part of the mission uniquely based on our God-given talents, abilities and opportunities, the mission itself never changes.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Just as each astronaut plays a specific role as well as fulfills general duties on any given space mission, so to do Christians have general and specific roles in God’s mission on earth. As we each aim to complete them with an attitude of humility even though our performance may be a plus one, we avoid becoming a minus one and negatively impacting the mission.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about Hadfield’s approach to “aim for zero” as a path to a successful mission?

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

 

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC but the Persians were the dominant power & the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today), and they were credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not, and this led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, and likely impacted largely by Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. They probably also knew about it through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control, and the Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi likely traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem not alone but probably with a large entourage. We know this because they were the ruling class of the Parthians, which meant they were wealthy. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great because the people of Jerusalem likely thought they were about to be besieged by the Parthians. Herod’s & the people’s fears were justified since there were many people (including Herod) in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before and basically kicked out all the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. In fact, the two groups were back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians were a sophisticated culture of commerce and had significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

In other words, the Romans and Herod had reason to fear the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The background of the Magi is so interesting because it shows a growth of knowledge about the Messiah that started just before the silent years and endured from one generation to the next within a people who were not even Jewish.

And we can’t overlook the fact that the Magi had looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They were expecting it and knew how to identify the signs.

We also know that at some point the Magi’s quest took on increased significance. With that, they set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

DISCUSSION: How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

Making Room for Christ

nativityThe Christmas Story

Since about 47% of Americans attend Christmas Eve church services, almost half the people living in the United States are familiar with the Christmas story (found in Matthew 1-2 and in Luke 1-2). Many likely know it almost by heart.

Personally, I’ve heard the Christmas story from every possible perspective — the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the innkeeper, even the stars in the sky and the animals in the stable. Uncountable modern tellings focus on the meaning of Christmas from every point of view, including through favorite Christmas carols such as Joy to the World and Silent Night.

One version delves into the idea of “no room” at the inn in Jerusalem. For whatever reason, it could not accommodate a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

This physical circumstance connects to the spiritual reality that even before Jesus’ birth, people failed to make room for Him amidst busyness and rush.

No Room

The hurry and bustle of the holiday season distracts so many from making room for Christ. Really, busyness prevents a focus on Him year round. From before His birth to Christmas today, there seems to be the all-to-common state of “no room” for Jesus.

The solution lies with a new perspective and deliberate effort. He won’t force His way into our lives, but He certainly provides ample opportunity for us to welcome Him of our own accord.

Make Room

Welcoming Christ into a busy life starts with hearing the voice of the Lord through the holiday noise. It involves a deliberate seeking of His peace amidst the all-consuming busyness during the holidays and beyond.

This approach begins with a change of focus as we ask God to speak to us and then as we add intentional effort to hear his voice. That requires stopping physically, mentally, spiritually and, especially in our modern culture, electronically.

Consider the words of Psalm 46:10 in several versions to understand how this best happens:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (NIV)

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting — and know that I am God.” (Holman)

“Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God.” (God’s Word Translation)

“Desist and know that I am God.” (Young’s Literal Translation)

Making room for Jesus involves removing ourselves from the intense volume of the world. It means reorganizing our lives to make room and de-cluttering to get rid of distractions.

God does still speak to us. He still offers peace. And He still provides wisdom. Our part in the equation requires enabling ourselves to hear Him. In doing so, we not only “know” He is God, we understand the perspective of many on that first Christmas — the shepherds, the wisemen, Mary & Joseph — who rearranged their lives to usher in the Christ child.

QUESTION: What do you need to remove or rearrange to make room for Christ now and in the coming year?

 

Pursuing Encouragement Through the Holy Spirit

Trinity with Crown, Cross, and DoveThe church I attended from birth to age 18 talked a lot about the Holy Trinity with most of the focus being on God. We also tossed around Jesus’ name some but mostly just at Christmas and Easter. We really talked very little about the Holy Spirit and then only as the name for the third part to the Trinity.

My lack of early learning about the Holy Spirit resulted partly from a gap in the teaching received and partly from me not paying attention. (Mis-remembering might be at play some too.) For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit simply was not only my spiritual radar until my late 20s.

When I discovered what Scripture said about the Holy Spirit, though, the embers were stirred, the flame flickered, and I realized two things:

  1. The Holy Spirit had been active throughout my life. In fact, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14). I could actually look back and point to His activity throughout the years.
  2. I missed out on what the Holy Spirit offers largely because of my own ignorant resistance.

What does the Holy Spirit offer?The Flame in Yellow and Orange

“And I [Jesus] will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor-Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever… you know Him because He (the Holy Spirit) remains with you continually and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17, AMP)

For the first 3/4 of my life, the Holy Spirit seemed like this mystical, other-world being. Actually, we called Him the Holy Ghost, and He really did seem like a ghostly sort of figure to me. Certainly out of reach and definitely not a comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor or strengthener.

When I discovered the Holy Spirit’s role and looked back on my life and saw Him fulfilling that role even when I didn’t look to Him, I wondered…

How can I have even more Holy Spirit activity in my life?

“ Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

In other words, the Holy Spirit is on always ready to comfort, advocate, intercede, counsel and strengthen, and I just need to not push that help away or get in His way. I simply must choose to walk according to the Spirit’s leading.

Personally, I “subdue” (other versions use “quench,” “stifle” and “extinguish”) the Holy Spirit when I get too busy, become overwhelmed or put my focus anywhere but on God. Conversely, when I purpose to spend regular time with Him through studying the Bible, spending time in His creation and fellowshipping with other Christians, I more clearly and more often “hear” the Holy Spirit.

So, pursuing encouragement through the Holy Spirit involves making God a priority every day. It involves not letting my life get so busy I can’t hear or don’t recognize His promptings amidst all the other noise. And it involves trusting Scripture and relying upon it as the guide for my life and the main tool the Holy Spirit uses to interact with me.

DISCUSSION: How does the Holy Spirit exist as an encourager in your life?

Spiritual Fitness

dumbbell-1306867-1599x1066My home gym contains everything I need stay in good physical shape. The treadmill, elliptical and boxing bag give me great cardio workouts. The kettle bell, weights and stability ball provide strength training and toning.

A healthy diet filled with the right balance of fruit & vegetables, carbohydrates & protein also contributes to my overall physical health. Avoiding unhealthy foods is a big piece of the puzzle too.

Health experts say that neither exercise or diet alone do the trick. Both are needed to be physically healthy. They also say we must not just do good for our bodies but also avoid the negative — unhealthy foods, overexertion, being sedentary, etc.

In general, we understand the need to operate at our best physically and that it impacts our productivity. We also know that being unhealthy causes our bodies to become overloaded and toxic. Most people at least acknowledge the importance of improved health through eliminating negative habits and increasing positive ones.

No doubt being healthy and strong physically holds tremendous value; however, that value has limits because our physical bodies have limits. Our spiritual health, on the other hand, holds infinite importance since it goes into life beyond the physical we see now and into eternity.

“Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding a promise for both this present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Knowing this, how can we make spiritual health a priority?

Like the way I have stocked my home gym for physical fitness, having the right tools and equipment on hand is important for spiritual fitness too. In addition, establishing healthy habits — simply using the available tools — also contributes to spiritual fitness.

With that in mind, consider the following as a sort of spiritual fitness guide:

  1. Know Your Bible Religious Stock ImagesRead the Bible. Open it regularly and read the valuable instructions included inside for living a godly life. Take this knowledge a step further by receiving instruction from godly pastors and teachers to help propel you into higher levels of spiritual fitness much like a personal trainer can take you to another level physically.
  2. Prioritize life around God. Making God one of your priorities puts him at the level of other priorities that fill your time. Instead, plan around God’s will. This puts Him at a higher level and shows He is not an item on our “to do” lists but rather the director of how we spend our time.
  3. Do an attitude check. Regularly assess the state of your heart, your intentions. Does what’s going on inside of you fit with what the word of God indicates about what our attitudes should look like? (Print and read ”Attitude – The Aroma of Your Heart” for a scripture study on what the Bible says about attitude.)
  4. Schedule fellowship. Growth happens best in the company of others. You can read books about personal growth, and you can read scripture about love. You can certainly pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to work in you for change. But what does doing these things really mean if we don’t interact with others? And, we can’t expect fellowship to happen by itself, especially in our busy culture. We must intentionally and deliberately put fellowship on our calendars on a regular basis.
  5. Pursue spiritual health. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. If you’re doing nothing to change the path of your life, then do something. Set a goal. Have some area in which you are pursuing a more spiritually fit existence. Remember that small steps add up over time to make a huge difference.

Spiritual fitness involves an intentional effort on our parts, as does physical fitness. So take some time today to ask yourself if spiritual fitness is a priority in your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you made God the director of your schedule rather than just an item in it?

You Are a Piece of the Puzzle

puzzleIf you enjoy putting puzzles together, the ultimate in frustration comes when you realize you only have a a few pieces left, and one is missing. What a letdown! No matter what, that puzzle will always be incomplete. Just one piece is indispensible for the complete picture.

My boys once put together a puzzle shaped like an elephant. The elephant was made out of hundreds of smaller pictures of other animals. So, not only was the puzzle itself a picture, but within that picture were other pictures. Therefore, a missing piece not only affected the puzzle as a whole, but it also the individual pictures that combined to make up the whole picture.

We all have our own puzzles that are our lives. Each of our lives also combines to create a larger picture. For the Christian, that is the body of Christ. The absence of any one piece and the picture is incomplete. The absence of any person and the whole picture is marred by the gaping hole much like a missing piece stands out in an otherwise-completed puzzle.

A body of believers (often called a church body) works the same way as a puzzle. Every individual in the body is a crucial piece for the complete picture.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In other words, we are all integral parts of the whole, which is the body of Christ. Each part has a specific function with a different purpose. We must avoid thinking we are the most important part, but we also must not think we are unimportant either. Instead of comparing one part to another, each part must fulfill its own purpose and must also work together to create a cohesive unit that glorifies Christ.

When a piece of the puzzle is missing in the body of Christ, there is a void that cannot be filled. While that does not mean that the work of Christ won’t ultimately be accomplished, because we know it will, it does mean that it will go forth differently than if that void was filled by the piece created to go in that space. God created each person to play a role in His will with each role being unique and able to be filled by only one person. If you don’t place yourself into the pile of pieces, you can’t become a part of the puzzle and the puzzle essentially can never be completed.

Life is so much bigger than any one person, but each person plays a part in making life complete. No one has all the pieces alone; we all need each other to complete the puzzle. We are each a piece of the puzzle of God’s will within the larger picture of the church. We all need to be in the box together, ready to complete the picture.

DISCUSSION: How does this play out in your life? What does it mean for you to be a part of the body of Christ?

What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?