The Value of Research
As a writer, I fully understand the value of research and knowing my topic well. Regardless of length or type of work, research allows me to better know my writing topic. When I struggle at any point in a writing project, research always produces the breakthrough I need to move forward.
This same approach plays a significant role in my faith walk too. Regardless of the struggle or challenge, seeking God’s will by digging into scripture always strengthens my faith.
I’m referring to going beyond daily devotions. I’m getting at digging into all the scripture related to the struggle or challenge and refusing to stop until your faith revitalizes. It may take several hours, days or even longer, but the time spent won’t be in vain.
If you refuse to quit and push through, you’ll come through the stronger because you’ll know God and his will better than ever before.
Steps for Digging In to Scripture
- Make a list of related scripture and read through them. Make note of the ones that most connect with your struggle. I usually find them with the concordance in my Bible or by doing a Google search. If doing a Google search, only look at Scripture at this point. Stay away from any articles or commentaries. Just you and God for now.
- Write out the scripture that stood out to you. Don’t question why some click while others don’t. Just go with it. It’s the Holy Spirit working.
- Make bullet points for each scripture. Write down any thought or connection you make with the reference. No editing. Just record what comes to mind.
- Meditate on each Scripture. I often take walks or go for bike rides or even take a nap where I fall asleep thinking about the Scripture as related to my struggle or topic. Just spend time directing your thoughts toward the Scripture you’re studying.
- Read through the Scripture and your notes again. Make note of additional thoughts and revelations.
- Pray using the Scripture and your notes. Talk to God about what you’re studying. You may have more notes to take during this step.
- Listen for God to speak to you. Again, go for a walk or bike ride, but this time just listen for God’s whisper in your mind. Don’t make yourself think anything.
- Seek outside sources. Only do this after you’ve spent significant one-on-one time with God. These sources include commentaries, sermons and articles about the scripture and topic you’re studying.
- Talk out what you’re studying. Again, only do this after lots of one-on-one time. Find a good listener and share what you’ve discovered. Then, let that person give you some input.
- Consider journaling. This works best if you do it throughout the process. I actually do these steps in my journal.
The key in this process lies with refusing to quit. Keep reading through the scripture, and keep meditating on them too. Push through and continue digging in even if you don’t feel or hear anything at first. God will speak to you. Expect it to happen.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
Some people feel the need to finish every book they start. I do not. I will start and not finish a book if it’s poorly written. I’ll also stop reading it if it just does not click with me for any reason.
There are too many books in the world for any one person to read in a lifetime. Why waste my time when there are so many other available options?
Sometimes, though, I actually get frustrated trying to decide how to best spend my reading time. It bugs me I can’t ever get to all the books I want to read. I feel like I’m missing out on information and inspiration key for my life.
More Books than Space
Thinking of this reminds me of a particular comment the disciple John makes a couple of times.
“And I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books.” (John 21:25)
Jesus did so much during his three-year ministry the world could not contain a written account of all of it. So, all the books in the world together pale in comparison to what would be a complete written account of Jesus’ ministry.
For a bibliophile like me, that’s an amazing fact to try and grasp.
We Have Enough
I wonder what else would be recorded if electronic books were available in Jesus’ day. Would we just get more examples supporting what we already know? Are we missing out because we don’t know all Jesus did? Or, would having all that written down be so much information that reading it all would be a burden, kind of like reading all the books in the Library of Congress?
We can’t definitively answer these questions. However, we can know for certain that what we DO have written down in Scripture is enough. We can be certain that what we’re given in the Bible provides exactly what we need.
“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)
We can also realize that even though our knowledge remains incomplete this side of Heaven, one day our knowledge will be complete.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will fully know just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)
How many people actually witnessed much of what Jesus did — both what was written down and what wasn’t — and still failed to believe he was who he said he was? They teach us that belief doesn’t come with knowing everything.
Comfort in Knowing
These Scripture comfort to those of us who like to know lots of stuff. They help those who like to understand the why and what and feel frustrated when we can’t.
We can instead turn our efforts toward what to do with what we do know. We don’t have to try and wish away our circumstances and remain frustrated trying to understand what we don’t know.
Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”
(Fellowship of the Ring)
We can’t do much with what we don’t know, though it can consume us if we let it. We can, however, determine what to do with what we do know.
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
Easter Sunday holds a prominent place in my childhood, church-going memories. The smell of Lilies. New clothes. The Easter bonnet my mom wanted me to wear and that I hated. Easter breakfast after a sunrise service. Traditional church service. All good memories.
As an adult, Easter memories still rest strongly in my mind. Same smell of Lilies. Spring colors. Easter hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” that I’ve never not known. Easter dinner followed by a rather competitive egg hunt at the in-laws.
Outside of the usual Easter routine are several Easters spent away from home, including one on a mountaintop at sunrise in Vermont. Another involved the first half of the day riding in a car traveling home to Michigan from Missouri. No Lilies. No Sunday best attire. Worship via the radio (one of the songs was “Crown Him with Many Crowns), and McDonalds for Easter dinner. We did make the annual hunt though.
As I grew and matured, Easter eventually evolved from a once-a-year Sunday celebration to a year-round sense of purpose. Celebrating the risen Christ exists now as a way of life, a year-long state of mind rather than a capstone day in the church year.
Ticket to Heaven
A lot of the same elements still exist, but my view of the reason behind the celebration itself evolved away from simply a focus on the objects that represented it. I no longer only saw Easter as just a day to acknowledge that a far-away God sent his Son to die for my sins. I began to see beyond simply having a ticket to heaven.
Today, Easter now represents a relationship with Jesus.
Reasons for Change
Over the years, experiencing struggles and letting Christ lead me to victory in and through them matured my faith. Faith remains a simple but crucial act of the spirit. However, it now lives in a maturing state as the Holy Spirit’s leads and guides into the relationship that now permeates my existence.
My view changed also because worship changed. Some songs stayed the same, yet my participation exists very differently today than in my childhood and even early adulthood. Increased involvement in worship somehow increased the depth of the Easter message.
My understanding of God’s love for His Son also grew when I became a parent. Would I sacrifice one of my sons to save another person’s life? No, I wouldn’t. Yet, God did just that. Being a parent gives some inclination of how much He loved me to give up His only Son. Something I would never do.
My Best Friend
Somewhere within all this change, I realized Jesus also wanted to be my friend in addition to being my Savior. In other words, Jesus became a real person in my life.
Jesus became my best friend as my view of Easter grew. This satisfied a deep longing I remember having even as a young child.
I’m not sure I can adequately express what Easter now means to me or how it exists as a state of mind rather than a yearly holiday. All I can do is share this testimony and invite others to open their hearts to the transforming power of the Easter story too.
Research proves sleep is important. In fact, it plays an essential role in a person’s ability to be productive and healthy.
While experts say that everyone needs 7-8 hours of solid slumber every night, many individuals argue they can be at their best with less. Regardless, the fact remains that a good night’s sleep, however you define that, is essential.
While I still sometimes struggle getting a good night’s sleep, doing so is no longer a constant struggle like it used to be. Most nights, I now sleep a full 7 hours and wake feeling refreshed. This doesn’t happen by chance. I’ve learned that I have a great deal of control over how well I sleep, something I didn’t always believe to be true.
5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
These tips are mostly based on my personal struggle with sleep over the years. However, what I learned by trial and error is actually supported by what experts recommend too.
- Consider supplements. Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but I never liked the results and side effects. Some people take melatonin every night before bed to help them fall asleep quickly. For me, drinking tea with valerian and/or chamomile works best. Everyone is different, and it’s okay to experiment a bit in order to find out what works.
- Evaluate your environment. While my husband can sleep with the lights on or off and with noise or quiet, I need almost total darkness and complete silence. The temperature of the room matters too. I don’t like to be too cold, but my mother loves to have the window open when it’s freezing outside. Getting a consistent environment can go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep.
- Experiment with tools. Tools for sleeping include eye masks, ear plugs, white noise (a fan, for example), a body pillow, and an electric blanket. Again, play with these different tools to see what helps you sleep better. While the electric blanket is the only one I use at home (we live in Michigan, and the nights can get quite cold, especially when my husband is traveling for work), I do use ear plugs sometimes when traveling (like when camping). I have also used an eye mask in the past when I wanted to take a nap or could not control the room’s lighting.
- Change your bedtime routine. Caffeine and alcohol or wine too close to bedtime can affect how a person sleeps, and so can viewing any type of media screen (television, smart phone, computer, etc.). Think about what you do after 8:00PM that may be contributing to your sleep problems.
- Think about how you rest. Some people struggle sleeping at night because they replay their day over and over again in their minds. They struggle with how to relax. Counteracting this happens in a variety of ways. Ideas include writing down thoughts before going to bed and finding ways to relax during the day to prevent stress building up. Some people find that a power nap every afternoon helps them relax and feel less stressed at the end of the day. Others use full-body muscle relaxation techniques, and still others employ stretching and exercise to reduce stress.
Find What Works for You
The combination of techniques is unique to every individual. In addition, work toward as much consistency as possible with your routine. This includes getting up and going to sleep at about the same time every day, even during vacation and on weekends.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep include increased productivity, consistent energy levels and improved relationships. It also results in a more positive outlook on life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is an essential building block for EVERY area of life.
Don’t neglect this crucial proponent of good health. Simply put, being well-rested is one of the best ways to be ready to “make the most of every opportunity.” (See Ephesians 5:15-16). This was a huge motivation for me to improve my sleep routine. Getting a good night’s sleep goes a long way in helping me to be consistently at my best.
If you consistently sleep well, how do you make that happen? If you don’t, what will you try to hopefully change that?
Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.
Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.
“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.
Be on guard.
Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.
Stand true to what you believe.
Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.
Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.
True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.
Everything done in love.
Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.
As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.
“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)
Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.
Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.
What determines the clothing you’ll wear each day? Weather? Activity? Fashion? Cost? Mood? Comfort? All of the above?
“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.” (Eat. Pray. Love. by Elisabeth Gilbert)
Since I work at home, I could wear sweats most days. I don’t, though, because I struggle getting into a work mindset if I dress too casually. I usually plan my clothes well ahead of time, based mostly on comfort but also largely on the task at hand.
We all give some mental energy to the clothing we wear. Those choices are impacted by many factors, the combination of which are unique to each individual.
In Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat, the New York Times explains that studies show people are better test takers when they dress up. Researchers call this “enclothed cognition,” saying it’s the effect of clothing on our cognitive processes.
“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”
Research proves that clothing impacts thoughts. The Bible shows that this truth extends far beyond our physical dress and into our spiritual dress as well. Essentially, both show that there’s definitely an intimate link between our clothing and our thinking.
“Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14)
“Dress yourself in humility” (1 Peter 5:5)
“Since God chose you to be a holy people he loves, you must clothe yourself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
Our spiritual dress impacts our thinking. Where we allow our thinking to dwell affects our actions. We simply must continually consider how to dress ourselves spiritually if we are to please God with our attitude, actions and words.
Whether physical or spiritual, dirty clothing is easy to spot. Stains and smells almost always give them away. A washing machine and some detergent keeps our physical clothing clean. Likewise, our spiritual clothing receives cleaning too.
Unlike physical clothing, though, our spiritually clothing doesn’t wear out and become permanently stained.
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
How are we renewed daily?
- Encouraged by the hope of eternity. No matter what happens in this life, we have the promise of eternity. Be encouraged by and focus on this truth.
- Strengthened by the resurrection power of Christ. Christ conquered death. Is there anything going on in your life more powerful than death?
A transformation of the mind happens when we focus on and allow the Holy Spirit to work this daily renewal within us. The result?
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
We get to choose what we wear, both physically and spiritually, which determines our thoughts. And a power greater than death washes clean any stain that gets on the spiritual clothing we choose to wear. This daily renewal serves to transform our thinking, which leads us to pleasing God with our attitudes, actions and words.
Human maturity involves independence and self care. It involves taking responsibility for commitments. It also means refusing to make excuses and to instead always strive for our best.
As a parent, one of my goals has always been to teach my boys to become independent. I want them to know how to take care of themselves and to be responsible in a well-rounded way. This is the essence of human maturity.
Recently, my husband had to remind me of this goal when I expressed discouragement over my boys needing me less and less every day. My sadness about their pulling away from me became quite heavy one day, and he said…
“Remember, that’s always been our goal.”
Like independence is important in our development as humans, learning dependence on Jesus and His Holy Spirit is even more so in our spiritual maturity.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I taught my boys the idea of spiritual maturity very well, probably because I’m still learning it myself. And largely because dependence goes against the human part of me that desires to be in control.
“Spiritual maturity is counter to human maturity.” (December 20th, Live Dead Joy by Dick Brogden)
Spiritual maturity involves dependence on God and allowing him to actively care for us. It involves waiting patiently for him to unfold his will and then moving fully into it. Spiritual maturity also means continually acknowledging our weaknesses and realizing we can only be our best under His grace and mercy.
“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1)
Moving forward in spiritual maturity brings growth that obviously lies beyond any we could obtain on our own.
The Mark of Love
Spiritual growth becomes obvious to ourselves and others through one indelible mark.
“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)
If we only mature in a human sense, we become increasingly self-serving and defiantly independent. But, if we also mature spiritually, we live in humble obedience seen through the mark of love on our lives.
Promise of Deliverance
After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.
After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.
“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)
Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.
Defeated by Discouragement
We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.
An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.
The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.
Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’
‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)
To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.
When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.
- Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
- Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
- Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)
The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.
“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)
Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.
For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.
Will this year be any different?
I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.
I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.
Focus Determines Reality
Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.
Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.
Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”
An Unexpected Journey
Let’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions — and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them — this time next year.
This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals. The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.
The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:
- Healthy Goal Setting
- Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond
- Becoming Spiritually Healthy
- Creating a Physically Healthy Foundation
This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.