Victory through Affliction

AFFLICTIONIn Chapter 7 of The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge points out the many ways God uses affliction in our lives.

He uses them to refine and correct us, to motivate us to know Him more, and as catalysts for spiritual growth. Afflictions in God’s hands remind us of our dependence on Him and of His love for us. They also create compassion within us and make us encouraging to others.

God also uses afflictions to restore His people and to focus our gaze on Heaven. He uses them to point out His activity and to bring about radical obedience.

God always uses affliction in our lives to reveal His glory.

When faced with affliction, we must choose whether or not we will let God use it as a great refining work in our lives or if we will be immobilized by it. For years, it immobilized me.

As I find myself beginning what our culture terms “middle age,” I find myself asking, as Sorge notes of David & Hezekiah, “Lord, you’re taking me away in the prime of my life! I’m too young for this.”

I too often feel like the best years of my life were swallowed up in affliction, that it’s all downhill from here. Yet, something in me recognizes this as a lie. Out of somewhere deep inside, resilience knows to push through, to struggle, to persevere. But that didn’t always exist. Where did it come from?

Sorge reviews Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-4 and 2 Peter 1:5-8, outlining the pathway to spiritual maturity that each provides. In doing so, he notes that “There is no pathway to spiritual maturity apart from perseverance. And there is no perseverance without pressures. Fruitfulness is found only as we endure through crisis and hardship.”

I’m not sure about the level of fruitfulness at this point, but I know I possess a level of perseverance born out of desperation, a desperation that pushed me toward Christ. As a result of what that desperation did in my life, I also pray for people I love get desperate too. Sorge says this of desperation,sf_HeavensChampion_01

“Affliction naturally produces desperation within us. Some people respond by trying to survive. Others respond by lashing out at everything within reach. Others collapse and live in a state of depression. God purposes, however, that we channel that desperation toward a fervent pursuit of His face.”

My own story of desperation involves all of these levels seemingly moving in an upward spiral toward knowing God more. For so long, I simply survived life. I lashed out at everything – and everyone – within reach. And I collapsed & lived in a state of depression way too often.

Life certainly involves struggle, this I know for sure. Fortunately, God uses that struggle to refine us and  draw us to Him.

But life is also about victory. It’s about knowing He already won the victory. It’s about refusing to dwell on the affliction or adversity and to instead focus on the victory.

“OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other participants include DustyGlynn, Joell, Rick, and TC. If I missed anyone, please let me know whom in the comments below.

Stop the Beeping!

beep 2The beeping started at 4AM. Where is it coming from? Get the ladder & a new battery. Who put a dead battery with the new ones? Get another battery. Seriously, that one is dead too? Stop the beeping!

Not exactly proud of this, but I’ve watched every episode of Friends. Twice. It makes me laugh. (There’s one aspect of it that I wish was different, but that’s another topic for another discussion.) So, when the beeping started at 4AM and continued every minute for a half hour (seeming like an eternity), I kept thinking about the episode where Phoebe couldn’t stop her fire alarm from going off.

She took the battery out. She ripped the alarm off the ceiling. She smashed it with a shoe. Then, she wrapped it in a blanket and sent it down the garbage shoot only to have it returned to her by a fireman, the alarm still beeping.

So glad my husband handled the situation when the beeping began at 4AM, and he did so with patience even as I lay in bed chuckling every time a “new” battery failed to work. (It seems appropriate at this point to acknowledge that my husband is an insanely and frustratingly patient person. I would have went Phoebe if it was just me.)

As I lay there between bouts of chuckling & frustration, all I knew is that I just wanted the beeping to stop. And in my desperation, I was willing to do almost anything for that to happen. Where was my shoe anyway?

Then I realized how often in life I just wanted something to stop – pain, disappointment, fear, etc. – and was willing to do just about anything to make that happen. That never turns out well.

Stop the pain through substance abuse or self-mutilation. Stop the loneliness with inappropriate physical contact. Stop the chaos by finding comfort in food. Do anything and everything to stop the pain and discomfort. (These aren’t all mine. I just wanted to share the space a bit.)

A Better Way

beep 3I don’t fully understand how it works, but I can tell you that the love of God stops the beeping.

His love stopped depression from ruining my relationships. It stopped my self-hatred. His love gives me hope for a future and joy right now, yes, today. Focusing on His love removes guilt and brings new beginnings.

No, it doesn’t make sense. What the Bible says may seem crazy at times, and perhaps other paths seem more plausible. At least from a human point of view (Proverbs 21:2)

I simply can’t deny that my life was miserable and Jesus brought me out of the pit. Nothing else worked. Self-help and material gain only dug the pit deeper thus creating a harder fall when I got back around to jumping in again. The beeping only got louder.

Desperation

Out of desperation to just stop the beeping, we rush to temporary fixes, to Band-Aids that gush red. We just rip the alarm off the wall, forgetting that it’s there for our safety. Instead of patiently assessing and properly addressing the problem, we do whatever we can to quickly stop the beeping.

But our problems just keep returning. Until we have full batteries, the beeping won’t stop. We must address the source of the problem. And the only way I’ve found for that to happen in a lasting way is through the love of Jesus that covers all my mistakes on the cross.

DISCUSSION: How has the love of God stopped the beeping in your life?

Curing Spiritual Vertigo

VERTIGOSpiritual Vertigo feels like a rut, like being stuck in the muck and mire of a pit. Feelings dictate actions, and truth becomes muffled. When you have spiritual vertigo, you feel like you’ve hit a wall and don’t know which way is up.

Curing Spiritual Vertigo

Regardless of the reasons for Spiritual Vertigo, the cures that truly work remain the same. Consider these tried and true approaches for restoring balance when Spiritual Vertigo hits and even for preventing its onset in the first place.

  1. Go back to the basics. Are you praying daily? What about scripture reading? My pastor says that in 30 years of ministry, the one commonality among those who succumb to spiritual decline is neglecting these basics.
  2. Repent where necessary. Losing focus on God always means I placed other people, events or feelings (other gods) above Him. When this happens, ask God to make you aware of areas requiring repentance, and then ask Him to forgive you and help you move forward with renewed focused & refreshed energy.
  3. 220px-Circle_change_1Be still & be quiet. Often, the busyness of life leaves us feeling like our heads are spinning. We barely have time to breathe let alone stop and assess our spiritual health. While taking time for quietness and stillness may seem counterintuitive when your “to do” list rivals Santa’s naughty & nice list, doing so almost always clears the fog and helps reset priorities. (For the many who struggle with being still and quiet, check out this series on The Discipline of Silence.)
  4. Connect. Being a shy introvert, the last activity I feel like participating in when any area of my life is unbalanced, especially my spiritual life, is connecting with others. I realize extroverts are slightly different in this way, but I do see a protective barrier socially even with my outgoing friends when they suffer from Spiritual Vertigo. I’m always amazed how much more stable I feel after genuine connection. For this reason, I know it’s important to push past pushing others away and to obey the scriptural mandate to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) which requires that we actually share them.
  5. Consider a change-up. My son has pointed out a “change-up” pitch in baseball several times to me because I struggle understanding what it is. Fortunately, I do understand the importance of a mental change-up when spiritual vertigo hits. For that reason, I regularly employ regular change-up habits to attempt to prevent ruts in my spiritual life. Those include reading a new author, changing my prayer location, trying a new activity and exploring a new hobby. Learning about another’s interests or unique skill and simply finding some way to take in new information or old information in a new way can provide the needed change-up to cure Spiritual Vertigo. My brain seems to get revived when I do something that creates new pathways or clears ones filled in by neglect. (I think there’s even research that supports this!)

Refuse to Give Up

Everyone experiences some degree of spiritual vertigo at some point in their lives. Regardless of what works to restore balance for you – and it may differ each time – one approach that works for everyone is not giving up.

Keep trying approaches until something works. Eventually, you’ll find what you need to hit your reset button. When you do, not only will the spinning life disappear, but you’ll likely discover renewed spiritual health like none you’ve ever known before. Just like our immune systems becomes stronger by successfully fighting illnesses, so too do our spirits when we push through spiritual vertigo. Just read the Biblical story of David for proof of this.

DISCUSSION: What cures have you found for spiritual vertigo?

Note: This post and the post Spiritual Vertigo were inspired by the post Kilter by Bill Grandi at The Cycleguy’s Spin.

God as Savior, Friend, Daddy & Husband

For the first 28 years of my life, any desire for obedience to God stemmed from the idea of “should.” I should go to church. I should tithe. I should read my Bible and pray daily.

Unfortunately, “should” fails to stand up well under the desires and emotions of the flesh. “Want” provides a much stronger motivation than “should.”

Around age 28, the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus blossomed in my thinking. I already believed He died for my sins, but I never realized He wanted friendship with me too. My friendship with Jesus fulfilled a long-held, deep need inside of me for a loyal and encouraging friend who refused to give up on me even on my ugliest of days.

About 7 years after this paradigm shift, the realization of still more came into my awareness. Not only did God send His Son to die for my sins and save me from eternity in a fiery pit, and not only did Jesus desire a best friendship with me, God also wanted to fill the daddy void in my life.

While I never doubted that my earthly father loved me, I felt like he loved me because he “should.” His lack of involvement in my life left a void – a hole in my little-girl heart – that impacted me more than I realized for many years. One day about 6 years ago, God filled that void. I crawled into His lap and let Him father me in a way I had needed for so long. He became my Abba Father.

Savior. Best Friend. Daddy. Desperate needs fulfilled by one Holy God.

four words

But there’s still more…

“And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “that you will call Me ‘my Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘my Master.’” (Hosea 2:16)

The idea of calling God “my Husband” seemed quite strange at first. But as I experienced the unconditional love and acceptance, the encouragement and devotion of my earthly husband, I began to understand that this most precious earthly relationship provides a glimpse of the relationship God desires with me.

This relationship with my husband comes only after 20 years of trials and struggles, hurts and offenses. It comes through humbleness, forgiveness, courage and faith. Only because of wilderness times and times of seeming barrenness of hope can my marriage now flourish.

This same wilderness experience also taught me about God’s work in my life to draw me closer to Him as well as to increased intimacy (a word we’ve really misconstrued) with Him. Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers says it this way…

“God doesn’t impose the wilderness on us; instead, He puts a desire within us for His higher purpose, and so He allures us into the wilderness. We weren’t asking for the wilderness; we were asking for more of Christ. But God knew the wilderness would be the place where we’d gain more of Christ.” (Chapter 3)

Because of my earthly view of intimacy and my warped vision of what marriage “should” look like, getting to the idea of God has my husband fails to come easily. Yet, the recent growth of abundance in my own marriage after a long period in the wilderness opens the door to yet another paradigm shift, yet another dimension of the complete person of God.

“During the season of dryness and confinement, the Lord transforms our relationship with Him from Master/servant relationship to that of a Husband/wife relationship. God intends the prison to awaken deep bridal affections for the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Sorge, Chapter 3)

Because I experienced Jesus as Savior, I could then see Him as my Best Friend. As my Best Friend, the idea of Him also fulfilling the role of Daddy became possible in my thinking. And now, because these aspects of who He is exist as foundational realities that drive my faith, the shift of thinking to Him as Husband has begun.

And in this change in my thinking about God, I wonder if finally the impetus behind my obedience will now permanently move from fear and “should” to one of love and a desire to please Him.

DISCUSSION: How has your view of God changed over your lifetime? What do you think about the idea of a Husband/wife relationship between believers and God?

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other active participants include Dusty, Glynn, Joell, TC and Rick. If you know of others, please leave a link for their post in the comments.

Creating Structure

Summer 2013 (2)As discussed in The Importance of Structure, we humans need appropriate structure for productivity and to help keep negative habits from running rampant. This holds true in a variety of settings from businesses to families to classrooms. In fact, creating structure where none exists often serves to undo long-standing poor behavior.

My youngest son (now 12) provides a perfect example of this truth. For 8 years of his life, he had no structure. He moved from house to house (and often hotel to hotel), always around different people except for his older half-sister. School was optional. At some point, as his birth mother became increasingly absent, his behavior went from undisciplined to unruly.

Yet, over the past almost four years, as we applied the advice of a wise adoption case worker to provide consistency, our son is now a responsible young man who loves to serve at church and cares about his grades. He now reads above his grade level, and he is no longer classified as a special education student.

The advice to be consistent with our son really revolved around providing structure. For starters, he simply needed to know that the basics of life would stay the say from having enough food to eat to where and when to sleep.

Essential Elements of Structure

While many elements exist for solid structure, several essential elements seem to rise to the top. From business success to raising godly kids to helping students achieve learning success, the essential elements of solid structure seem to always include consistency, organization and discipline.

Consistency provides security and safety that encourages stretching and trying new things. Organization gives a better chance of not only completing but finishing strong. And discipline, while usually resisted at the time, provides the learning necessary for growth.

When creating and maintaining structure, though, we must remember that too much structure can stifle. Overdoing structure results in attitude problems leading to disobedience and disrespect. Working to constantly maintain a balance within structure, changing with the seasons of life, is crucial for structure to produce positive results.

Results of Appropriate StructureMattawan (8)

Like the essential elements of structure that rise to the top, there also seems to be certain positive results that consistently show up as well. To begin with, confidence comes when individuals overcome self-defeating habits in the safe environment of positive structure.

Security also results from solid structure because children, students and employees alike know what’s expected of them as well as what to expect from their performance.

Growth physically, mentally, spiritually and socially also takes place as confidence grows within a consistent and organized structure. Without this type of structure, we get stuck in ruts and negative habits simply because they are comfortable and change isn’t.

Structure for Sanity

I wish I could say that our focus on structure with our son came purely from a desire to simply do what was best for him. It did not. In fact, a large part of my motivation stemmed from wanting to stay sane. I needed the structure to keep my frustration from venturing into really unhealthy levels (well, staying there anyway… it got there plenty of times). I needed it to have a game plan that I desperately hoped would pay off.

Even though born out of self-serving motivations, my desire to create solid structure eventually turned into truly believing in its foundational ability to create consistently positive results.

DISCUSSION: Discuss your experience with structure. Also, what application regarding structure can you make to/with God’s Word?

For a slightly different take on the importance of structure, check out Does a Book Need Structure to Be Published? at The Write Practice. You may also be interested in reading Thinking About Structure, which sort of started this recent focus of mine on structure.

Breaking Out of the Lather, Rinse, Repeat Routine

shampooThe “No Poo” Method

Not too long ago, I decided to revamp my hair care routine. I was struggling to get my hair to style how I wanted it or even in any way I thought acceptable. It was oily and what I considered unruly, and I felt constantly self-conscious of it.

Then I read a magazine focused on natural methods for everything from house cleaning to personal care. One article talked about using baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead of shampoo. It’s called the “no poo” method. After additional research, I decided to give it a go. Based on my research, I also added olive and lavender oils to the routine as well and decided to only wash my hair every other day.

vinegarMy hair care routine just was not working well. I kept trying different salon products with no positive progress. So, I decided to break out of that lather, rinse, repeat routine and try something radically different. So far, so good.

The Definition of Insanity

My recent hair routine revamp represents what I think we all need to do from time to time in one area or another. We get stuck and feel in a rut, but we fail to change anything, and we just keep doing what everyone else does.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

The idea of repetition involves making something a habit, making it automatic. Professional athletes practice the fundamentals over and over again. Writers write day in and day out. And at least to some extent, this repetition should produce positive results.

But Einstein’s point becomes clear when we realize habits are failing to produce those positive results. In fact, they may even frustrate and depress us because of the lack of progress. At times, insanity seems imminent.

This happened with my hair care routine. It’s happened in my exercise routine. My kids often develop pointless habits that need adjusted. These practices of doing the same thing over and over again with no progress not surprisingly produced the same, frustrating, lack-of-progress results over and over again.

Break Out of the Routine

While habits often produce beneficial results, they also often create a rut of frustration and boredom. When this happens, either we choose to break out of the routine or to continue on the road to insanity.

Choosing to break out of the routine includes the following elements (not necessarily steps in this order as many can happen simultaneously):

  1. Assess the current state of affairs. What is not working? What can you change?
  2. Research possible solutions and changes. Get the knowledge you need to make wise changes. Refuse to be ignorant.
  3. Seek wise counsel. Get advice from someone who is where you want to be. Pray a lot.
  4. Acquire the tools. What do you need in order to make changes? Supplies? Instructions? Knowledge?
  5. Obtain accountability. Let someone know what you’re doing, and ask them for honest critique of the changes you’re making. Be willing to hear what they are saying and make adjustments based on their advice.
  6. Find encouragement. Read about people who made similar changes with success. Get around people who encourage you to change & grow. Refuse to let negative in, and that often means shutting out the influence of culture through avenues like television & magazines.
  7. Reassess regularly. Go back to #1 every so often and re-assess what’s working and what’s not.
  8. Try different approaches. Be willing to make mistakes to figure out what works. Mistakes are great teachers!
  9. Nix changes that don’t work. Some approaches just won’t work for you. Keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.sf_runRace_01
  10. Refuse to give up. You are not trapped. There is a way through, over, under around, whatever. Stay persistent! Quitting is the only sure way to make no progress.

Not only are these elements ones I used to break out of the “lather, rinse, repeat” routine, they are ones I have used to make changes in many areas of life. Sometimes, the changes happen rather quickly like they did with my haircare routine. Sometimes, they happen slowly over time like they did for me with defeating depression.

Never giving up really is the key. Simply refuse to quit running the race (Hebrews 12:1).

DISCUSSION: What elements would you add to the list?

Whitewater Living

river

For many, whitewater rafting simply seems too scary. The idea of allowing the current to take you where it will, out of control. Maybe they’re just afraid of falling out of the boat. That was me until recently when my family and I went whitewater rafting while vacationing in Tennessee. Initially, I was apprehensive and afraid but went because my family was very excited and would be less so if I opted out.1000097_10200931585244204_1876371616_n

Instead of feeling out of control and scary, whitewater rafting was exciting and exhilarating. In fact, whitewater rafting actually provides a great way to understand how whitewater living, a term many use to express an out-of-control life, can be victorious and exciting instead of scary and unnerving. Here’s how…

  1. Expect variety. Our trip took us through calm waters and rapids. Similarly, life goes from calm to crazy within a matter of seconds at times, but expecting life to be anything but varied like a river really means having false expectations about life.
  2. Understand classification of rapids. Our raft guide explained that rapids are classified not based on what’s visible but on how difficult the area would be for a swimmer because the danger comes from the rocks below the surface. When we focus on what exists below the surface (character, convictions, etc.), we can better manage any level of rapids in life.
  3. Realize the dam is open. On the river where we rafted, rafting only took place the days the dam was open since this increased the flow of water. In life, we must realize that sometimes life is flowing more quickly and intensely than others, and we need to adjust accordingly.
  4. Plan for the worst. Prior to rafting, we received instructions for worse-case scenarios. We learned about our safety gear (helmets & life vest) and what to do if you fall in the water (swim toward the raft, don’t stand up). While not our focus, we must also plan for worse-case scenarios in life. We must know our convictions before we need them and emotions are high.
  5. Get locked in. Most people fear falling out of the boat, so they refuse to go rafting. But when you lock your feat into the raft (there’s an area all around the bottom inside you push your feet into), trust me when I say you aren’t going anywhere. In life, we must simply be locked in to God’s Truth.
  6. Paddle in sync with the leader. We paddled according to our guide’s instructions. We also needed to paddle in sync with the other rafters for the boat to move correctly. The idea of unity with other believers as we live our faith seems fitting with this idea of rowing the boat in sync for efficient movement of the raft down the river.
  7. Hold on to your paddle! We were shown how to hold the paddle and instructed never to let go. If we did, our paddles could easily come out of our hands and injure a fellow rafter. When we struggle with our faith or when we fail to live authentically, we can cause another to stumble. We must hold on to our faith and refuse to let go.
  8. Listen to your guide. The guide told us when to row. He steered the boat. He knew the river well and was our only sure way through the rapids safely. God’s Word is our guide through life. We capsize or fall out of the boat only when we fail to cling to His Truth. Doesn’t mean the river won’t ever get rough or bumpy, but it does mean we have a constant guide steering us through it.

Our lives are so much like a whitewater rafting trip that the experience, while scary at times, can also take us to new wonders and experiences that you just don’t get standing on the shore. With the proper tools, instructions and the right guide, the river of life can truly be an exhilarating experience.

DISCUSSION: What aspect of whitewater rafting can you immediately apply to your life?

Finish Strong

Quite frequently, I’ll hear a sermon or teaching or read an article or blog post and think to myself, “I wish I had thought of that.” This happened recently while listening to Nino Guarisco speak at my church.

Nino and his wife Tammy serve as missionaries to the students at the University of Michigan. You can connect with Nino on facebook.com/theitaliandude, on their web site, ninoandtammy.com or on Twitter @theitaliandude.

The following post comes from the notes I took when Nino spoke. While the wording, arrangement and some details are mine, Nino gets full credit for the main idea and scripture application. I truly do wish I would have thought of this!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~7-25-13 run

What do Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford & Billy Graham have in common? Before even attempting an answer, you might be saying, “Who are Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford?” And, asking that question is actually the point. No one remembers them.

Let’s take a minute to answer the question though. Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford and Billy Graham have the following in common:

  • They were all in their mid 20’s in the 1940’s.
  • All began their ministries around the same time.
  • All began their preaching through Youth for Christ.
  • They were all well-known with good reputations in the 1940’s.

Here’s where the similarities end. Now consider the following…

  • In 1946 Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford were featured in an article titled “The Best Young Men Used of God” published by the National Association of Evangelical. The article did not mention Billy Graham.
  • At age 25, Braun Clifford was preaching to thousands upon thousands of people everywhere he went.
  • Because of his good looks, Braun Clifford was invited to play the part of Marcella in the famous motion picture “The Robe.”
  • Chuck Templeton left ministry to become a journalist and by 1950 was agnostic.
  • By 1954, Braun Clifford lost his family and his health and became an alcoholic. At age 35, he was found dead of siroccos of the liver in a rundown motel in Texas.

People don’t know who Braun Clifford or Chuck Templeton are today. But, they certainly know Billy Graham.

The point? How you start doesn’t matter. Even the middle doesn’t matter too much. At least, they don’t matter if you fail to finish strong.

Consider Solomon

In the beginning of his life, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). In the middle of Solomon’s life, God once again reminded Solomon of staying focused and not letting his attentions wander from God (1 Kings 9:1-9). But sadly, at the end of Solomon’s life, he did in fact turn his attention from God and toward the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:13).

Solomon started well, really well in fact. He even appeared to be running strong in the middle of his life. But clearly, he failed to finish strong.

How to Finish Strong

If you watched only one episode of American Idol 2013, you heard Nicki Minaj say at least once, “I’m obsessed with…” Interestingly, the object of her obsession changed from one episode to the next and often within a single episode. What we can learn from Minaj is that we do need to be obsessed. But, unlike Minaj, we need to keep the focus of our obsession on God Almighty in order finish strong the race set before us.

Let’s look to what 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us about running the race and finishing strong, about how we can stay obsessed with pursuing God.

  1. Realize it’s going to be a struggle, a fight. We will struggle with Satan, and we will struggle with ourselves.
  2. Be obsessed with finishing the race. Finish everything you do well, no matter how big or small. If you can’t finish the small things, do you think you’ll have the endurance to finish the big? (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  3. Keep the faith. This doesn’t happen through works and one’s own ability. (Romans 10:17)

Get Obsessed!

With what are you obsessed? If it’s anything other than finishing strong, crossing the finish line, consider reevaluating your obsessions. Refuse to be like Minaj who spreads her obsessions around. Refuse to be like Templeton or Clifford who started well but failed to keep focused on God and therefore failed to finish strong.

Refuse to be like Solomon at the end of his life when he allowed his focus to be drawn away from God. Determine to keep your focus on God alone and to not let another have any control over that focus. Become obsessed with God alone!

DISCUSSION: How does your life reflect that of a person obsessed with finishing strong?

Check out the post Finishing at Cycleguy’s Spin for more inspiration to not quit and instead to finish strong… to achieve victory.

Pursuing Perfection, Part III

Path to PerfectionPursuing Perfection, Part I defined perfectionism and helped us view it through God’s eyes. Pursuing Perfection, Part II showed how we are already perfect in God’s eyes because we receive the instantaneous perfection occurring at salvation. This third part in the series takes the idea of perfection further as we look at how perfection is a process (aka progressive sanctification).

We do have a part to play…

Perfectionists have one thing right, we are supposed to pursue perfection. But they go about it completely wrong by relying on their own efforts to achieve the objective.

Those with a “good enough” mindset have it partially right too in that the goal is impossible. Because our efforts don’t get us to the objective, we sometimes just don’t bother to try very hard. But, the “why bother” approach does not match up with God’s desires for us either.

(Note: See Pursuing Perfection, Part I to better understand the definition of perfectionism and perfectionists as well as what a “good enough” mindset entails.)

Fortunately, scripture clearly tells us what our role is in this process. And this role involves the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives toward perfection. The following are all a part of the process of being perfected:

  1. Endurance/Patience (James 1:4) – Never giving up. Reaching the end of the race. Crossing the finish line.
  2. Love (Colossians 3:14) – Binds us together in perfect harmony. The glue for unity.
  3. Holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) – Get rid of the bad stuff that draws us  away and distracts us from God.
  4. Praise (Psalm 8:2) – Silences our enemies.
  5. Faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10) – Growing in faith takes us toward perfection.
  6. Good Works (Hebrews 13:21) – God equips and gives the desire to do them. They illustrate our faith.
  7. Unity (John 17:23) – We are more powerful as one, strong body than individual parts working separately.
  8. Strength/Power (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our imperfection (weaknesses) allows His power to show. When we try to be perfect in our own efforts, His power is no longer the focus.

If we focus on these attributes, which God enables in us through His grace, we can know we are moving toward perfection. They provide a gauge by which we can assess our progress. The specifics of how these are carried out through the work we do, ministry, our hobbies & interests, etc., are unique to each individual. This eliminates the need for comparisons or competition with regard to sanctification.

The Struggle with Perfection

The struggle with perfection comes because we live in an imperfect world, we are imperfect people, and perfection really is impossible for us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the goal of perfection. We can’t go to the other extreme and put forth little to no effort just because we know perfection isn’t possible.

A huge part of my spiritual growth has been the renewal of my mind in the area of perfectionism. But that doesn’t mean that mindset has completely disappeared. For me, it means that I choose not to let the perfectionist in me direct my life. Yes, I’ve learned not to let perfectionism rule and reign and instead to allow a perfect God to rule and reign.

  • I’ve learned that the perfect shoes, bag & hairstyle don’t exist.
  • I’ve learned that I don’t have to correct people’s grammar constantly.
  • I’ve learned that most people don’t notice when commas or periods are missing.
  • I’ve learned that my own efforts to be perfect lead to a muddy and miry pit.
  • I’ve learned that God perfects others, not me.
  • I’ve learned that compassion, flexibility & forgiveness require accepting imperfections.
  • I’ve learned that walking the road to sanctification (holiness) makes my friendships, marriage and kids want to strive for perfection too.
  • I’ve learned that imperfection allows God to be more fully present in my life as I admit my need for Him to perfect me.

At the same time, I want to encourage those who are discouraged to the point of not wanting to try because they know perfection is impossible. God wants us to pursue perfection but to do so depending on Him. He wants us to play the role He has given us to play and to always strive for our best. And, He’s given us a way to accomplish perfection, both now and in the progressive sanctification that is our lives.

So taking this to heart, we need to remember…

  • We cannot become perfect through our own efforts.
  • “Good enough” thinking leads to lukewarm Christians.
  • God, in His grace, has already made us perfect through Jesus.
  • We do have a role to play in the process of being perfected.

DISCUSSION: How does the process of pursuing perfection – also called progressive sanctification – exist in your life today?

Pursuing Perfection, Part II

As we established in Pursuing Perfection, Part I, God wants us to be perfect. He knows that won’t happen through our own efforts, though, so He made a way for us to be perfect. Our own efforts won’t bring perfection. The world’s path won’t either. Only God’s way provides a way for perfection to become a reality.

You’re Already Perfect!Path to Perfection

Consider the following people’s lives. If you read the scripture reference, you’ll actually see these individuals described as “perfect” “mature,” having “wisdom,” “blameless” “righteous” and even “without blemish.” All of these get at the idea of perfection in the eyes of God.

If these individuals and groups of people – with their human frailties and significant mistakes – are seen as perfect (without fault) to God, why can’t we, even on this side of heaven, be considered “perfect” too?

How do we reach perfection?

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” (Edith Shaeffer)

If perfection is impossible, why bother? Why not coast through life with a “good enough” mentality? For two reasons. First, God tells us to strive for perfection. Second, He has provided a way for us to be perfect.

We can be perfect through…

  1. God – His grace perfects, confirms, strengthens and establishes us (1 Peter 5:10).
  2. Christ – He has already achieved perfection for us (Hebrews 10:14).
  3. The Holy Spirit – Our human effort blinds us to the process of perfection the Holy Spirit leads us through (Galatians 3:3).
  4. God’s Word – Imperfect hands + the perfect tool (His Word) = adequately equipped (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  5. Ministry – Matures the body of Christ to perfection (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  6. Sufferings – Jesus, the author (perfector) of our salvation, was the perfect leader because of His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
  7. Love – Drives out our fear, including the fear of not being perfect (1 John 4:18).

The Pressure is Off!

“Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” (Dallas Willard)

God perfected us through Christ, and nothing we do can reach the goal of perfection. But, that doesn’t mean we just give up and coast through life.

Scripture clearly says that perfection comes through Christ; it’s instantaneous at salvation. But, it also say that it’s at the same time a progressive work in our lives. Pursuing Perfection, Part III gets at how that progression exists based on scripture.

DISCUSSION: How does your life change knowing that the pressure is off to be perfect because, through Christ, you already are perfect?