It’s Not Fair!

Competition & Comparison

FairEveryone has some degree of competitiveness in them. For some, the competitiveness shows through during sports or card games. For others, in grades, awards and recognition. Still others through the way they drive and even “fight” for the best parking spot at the grocery store.

In that competitiveness inherent in our human nature, we also usually see comparisons at work. It’s the idea that we did something that someone else didn’t, or vise versa, which resulted in the recognition or victory.

We like to get what we think we deserve, and often we determine this based on what we think others deserve (or don’t deserve). If the result fails to reflect what we feel fits our expectations and assessment of the situation, we feel cheated or slighted and say (or at least think) those infamous words, “It’s not fair!”

Fairness Mentality

The story of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20 shows how this fairness mentality really involves a worldly way of thinking. It’s the idea that we should get something simply based on time served (seniority). But God considers quality over quantity. When we fall short, His grace steps in to more than make up the difference.

When we begin to compare and make assessments based on our views, this story can help us remember that…

  • Salvation is all about grace.

“…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for ALL those who believe; for there is no distinction; for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)

  • Expectations kill attitudes.

“When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested…” (Matthew 20:10-11)

  • Fairness mentality robs joy.

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take it and go. I wanted to pay the last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my own money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’” (Matthew 20:13-16)

Without comparisons, we often would be perfectly content with what we received. But because we compare and calculate based on our finite knowledge, we too often discover dissatisfaction and lose joy. Oh, and we end up steeling other people’s joy along the way when we crab about their generosity.

Focus on Grace & Mercy

Jesus ends this story in Matthew by saying…

“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.” (Matthew 20:16)

I realize this indicates a lack of seniority in God’s Kingdom, and I know it also shows that anyone at anytime can enter God’s Kingdom regardless of past history. In other words, man’s idea of ranking and placing and deservedness doesn’t exist in God’s way of thinking. Aren’t you glad too? I mean, I don’t want to be compared to Moses or David or Paul. Do you?

But I also think this statement contains a directive that can reshape our way of thinking. Instead of looking at others and determining what they or you deserve based on comparisons, can we instead focus on the kindness of the giver? Can we look at the grace and mercy at work in the situation?

When we change our focus in this way, I think we can better live in the joy of the Lord. What do you think?

Preventing Decision Fatigue

Decisions

The best way to become overwhelmed with decisions, to experience Decision Fatigue, comes through doing absolutely nothing to prevent it. People who consistently make good decisions & maintain consistent self control structure their lives to conserve willpower (their decision-making energy). In other words, they employ habits that allow for consistent regulation of decisions.

Scripture has a lot to say about decision making to help each one of us make better decisions and better direct our decision-making energy.

1. Develop a habit of preparedness. (Matthew 24:44)

Preparing requires spending time with the Father and learning His will. It means letting the Holy Spirit guide and direct decisions. Preparedness involves taking care of the physical self, which helps maintain a long-term focus instead of being driven by immediate needs.

2.) Simplify. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Many of us become overwhelmed because of unnecessarily complicated (heavy) lives. Simplifying means automating where possible and releasing where necessary. Very few things are truly mandatory, things we truly HAVE to do. Decide non-negotiables and then use energy for bigger decisions.

3.) Learn to say “no.” (Luke 10:41-42)

We don’t have to accept every opportunity presented. In fact, opportunities often distract from God desires for us. Many of our decisions involve deciding among good, better and best, not between good and bad. Jesus emphasized this when he said that what Martha wanted to do wasn’t bad, but what Mary chose was better. Know “How to Make Consistent Progress” by focusing on your purpose as Jesus did, and you’ll have a clear idea of what to say “no” to and what to accept by way of opportunity.

4.) Let others do their part. (Exodus 18:23-24; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:27)

Jethro advised Moses to delegate, so Moses wouldn’t get worn out and the people frustrated. The disciples needed to delegate in order to focus on their parts and still ensure needs were met. The concept of the body of Christ tells us we all have our own work to do, which also tells us some decisions just aren’t ours to make. We must allow others to fully do their parts too.

5.) Refuse to second guess. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Just as the the disciples did when Jesus called them into ministry, make the best decision you can and fully commit to it. Second guessing wears you and your ability to make good decisions — or any decisions at all — down.

6.) Develop an eternal focus. (Psalm 61:2)

Developing an eternal focus involves prioritizing toward that which benefits eternally rather than just temporally. It means getting our focus off self and off of what satisfies only in this world and onto our Creator who knows what is best for us.

Overcoming Decision Fatigue

The path to overcoming and preventing Decision Fatigue requires unique steps for each individual, yet all can apply the same biblical concepts. For every person that means…

  • Examining hearts & removing idols of self-reliance.
  • Learning to say “no” to good and trusting God’s leading toward best.
  • Consulting with God regularly.
  • Being intentional about self-care.
  • Setting boundaries.
  • Living within God’s will.
  • Living in community.

Do you feel overwhelmed thinking about where to start?

Let that overwhelm draw you to Christ and to his power. Remember that the resurrection of the dead revealed God’s unsurpassable power, and that we have access to that same power (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Ask God where to start. Ask Him how to become less overwhelmed with decision-making. Let Him gradually lead you to a place of focus where you feel His peace and where you can live with joy and effectiveness rather than in overwhelm.

Decision Fatigue

Choice Overload

Choice 1As my least favorite domestic activity, grocery shopping looms on the horizon of my schedule like an approaching storm during a picnic. Never finished, I almost always start a new list before the bags get unpacked and the kitchen storage filled. Add to that the usual dissatisfaction with items both purchased and forgotten, the tempest continually stirs.

Worse than its constant, unfinished state is the vast number of choices that come with the endeavor. All these elements combine to make grocery shopping the bane of my domestic duties.

Maybe grocery shopping doesn’t pique your anxiety like it does mine, but I’m guessing you relate in some way to the reality of choice overload. In fact, the United States exists as a culture of choices with so many options that we get stressed out simply with the sheer number of decisions coming at us almost nonstop in almost every aspect of life.

The Impact of Overwhelm

Choices 2We all understand the importance of making good decisions. Unfortunately, the ability to make the right decision matters little when overwhelmed with too may choices. Research proves that the more decisions made and the more options within those decisions, the less able a person becomes to make good decisions of any size.

In other words, as we make more and more decisions, we also make poorer and poorer decisions. And, much of our decision-making energy goes toward a lot of small, often trivial, decisions, and this serves to increase the chances of the bigger decisions becoming epic failures.

Our ability to make decisions works much like a muscle that gets fatigued with use. Think of it this way, “decision fatigue” or “choice overload” is why…

  • Coaches and quarterbacks often make poor decisions late in games.
  • Judges grant parole less often as the day goes on.
  • Parents give in to their kids incessant pestering.
  • People make unhealthy dinner choices after a long day at work.
  • Exercise gets nixed for the couch & the television.
  • Families struggle with finances after habitually impulsive decisions.
  • Great men & women of God make worldly choices in their personal lives.

Decision fatigue also explains why many people become easily frustrated and irritable since a person’s brain becomes less able to regulate behavior the more decisions made. Thus, this fatigue also affects how we love others.

One of two outcomes generally results from decision fatigue. First, a person becomes reckless & impulsive and simply fails to expend the energy to think before making decisions. This creates a pattern of destructiveness that ends up making most problems worse.

The second result is doing nothing. Initially, this appears simply as the easy way out; eventually though, this route makes a person resistant to almost any kind of change since continuing unhealthy habits is simply easier than changing. When we suffer from decision fatigue, satisfying immediate needs is easier than developing the self control needed to make healthy choices.

The spiritual impact of decision fatigue comes when we just don’t have the energy left over for the bigger decisions or for seeking God’s will rather than simply following the feelings of the flesh. Instead, we spend our decision-making energy on temporal matters and either just don’t get around to deciding about eternal matters or simply don’t even consider the difference between decisions that are only important in this life and ones extending into eternity.

DISCUSSION: How does decision overload/fatigue impacts you on a regular basis.

For the next step, move on to Preventing Decision Fatigue.

How to Make Consistent Progress

delay

Immediately. At Once. Suddenly. Instantly.

Jesus’ ministry was not one of delays. In fact, it began with his baptism, “immediately” followed by 40 days of temptation (Mark 1:12-13). Then, he commissioned his first four disciples who followed “at once” and “immediately” (Matthew 5:18-22). When he healed, illness left “suddenly” and “instantly” (Mark 1:31, 42). Nothing he did met with delay, and he accomplished his purpose within three years of ministry.

Why the absence of delay? As I struggle with lack of progress and even feel like I’m going backward more than forward, I’m especially drawn to the absence of delay in Jesus’ ministry.

What can Jesus’ ministry teach us about how to make more consistent progress within God’s will?

1.) Jesus’ purpose was crystal clear. He came to seek and save the lost, plain and simple, and he never deviated from that purpose.

“Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” (Mark 1:38)

2.) Jesus’ every action drove toward his purpose. Every action and every word was a step toward fulfilling His purpose.

“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

3.) Jesus made connection with God the Father a priority. He consistently made time for his most important relationship.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

How would your life change if you held to a simple clear focus, made every action drive toward that focus, and made relationship with God the Father your top priority?

When I lay my life against these three aspects of Jesus’ ministry, I am better able to see why I stall and go backward more often than I move forward.

On most days I have a simple and clear purpose, I spend time alone with God, and my actions drive toward my purpose. But, also on most days, I let my attention get easily drawn to other things, and I spend too much time comparing myself to others which results in losing confidence in what I know is my purpose. I also too easily let myself look to other areas of interest — good things — and forget that I must often chose between good and best in order to stay in God’s will.

When I realize how Jesus stayed so focused during his early ministry, I understand where I fall short and need to reestablish myself. How does seeing his focus and the reasons for it help you with your focus?

Going Public

FearFor many people, myself included, telling others about Jesus seems a bit like telling people about Amway. At least, the discomfort (fear?) ahead of time feels similar, and the reaction received is also strikingly similar. (I’m not at all proud of this truth, by the way.)

But that’s stupid. Isn’t it? I mean, Jesus is the best news ever, but people seem to receive words about him with as much disdain and skepticism as they do multi-level marketing.

Not exactly sure why this is, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Loving Jesus is a lifestyle, it’s actions, and not simply the words we use. As I thought about this and realized my struggle in this area, the Holy Spirit turned on a light that showed how sharing the Gospel — talking about Jesus — really is not difficult.

  • Focus on Gratitude — Letting people know what Jesus has done for you comes from a place of gratitude, not fear. So, if you feel fear, try focusing on being thankful.
  • Remember Your Anointing — Isaiah said it first, and Jesus quoted him. They said the “anointed” would proclaim the good news to the poor. We also know that the anointing abides (dwells) within us (1 John 2:27). So, no matter how we feel about our abilities or how about we’ll be received, the anointing exists to qualify each one of us.

Public 1

  • Focus on What You Know — What you know best is what Jesus has done for you. Simply speak to what you know about him personally.
  • Don’t Force It — Don’t focus on where you see others headed without Jesus, at least not at first. Let them see Jesus in you first and wait for the opportunity to go further.
  • Create Awareness — Do this by the way you live life with Jesus. Let his peace and power be seen in and through you amidst the chaos of life, and let others be drawn to him as they desire that same peace and power. Trust the Holy Spirit to do the drawing.

Yes, Jesus and the Gospel of salvation seem too good to be true. The idea that our past can be erased and that we can be made new and pure is amazing. The fact that it’s free to us is baffling. In today’s culture, many people want something for nothing but avoid that which truly is free to them. Salvation is free to everyone, but making him Lord requires giving all of what we are.

“If you live for Jesus as a secret agent, you’ll eventually wake up as a double agent.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

Don’t keep Jesus a secret. Don’t try to live for him on the inside and neglect doing so on the outside for fear of what others might think. The Great Commission says to “go and make disciples.” This “go” really means “in your going,” in other words, “as you go about your life.”

For me, this means as I write and teach. It means as I parent my two boys and as I fulfill my marriage covenant. It means taking the opportunities God gives to share Him and realizing these opportunities often come through the way that I live life and the way I react when life runs me over.

Forcing things in my life has never turned out very well. In fact, it’s almost always gotten me overwhelmed and in places I knew weren’t meant for me (jobs, commitments, etc.) But waiting for God to open doors always leads down the path of balance.

It’s hard to resist creating my own path. After all, the worlds’ wisdom says I need to make my dreams happen. But that’s just never worked for me. Every opportunity that’s held God’s anointing came when He created the path as I waited for him to do so. Taking steps down the path he creates isn’t always easy and require a lot of effort on our part, but they will always lead to a place where going public about Jesus comes from who we are in him and not from forced “shoulds.”

DISCUSSION: How do you feel about “going public” about Jesus?

Face Over Hands

Face First

Seeking God’s face means getting to know Him and not only looking to what He gives to and does for us. This involves an honesty of intention in our searching.

Seek 1

Quite a few places in scripture emphasize the idea of seeking God’s face over his hands. Psalm 27:8 tells us God creates a longing in our hearts for connection with Him. Psalm 104:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:11 are duplicate words of David’s seeking God’s presence and his strength continually.

1 Chronicles 28:9 gives us much of what we need to understand the importance of seeking His face:

“And Solomon, my son, get to know the God of your ancestors. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord sees every hear and understands and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”

How can we apply this directive to know God – to truly see His face over what He does for us – in our lives today?

  1. Sincerely seek God’s face. Reading the Old Testament is a great way to get to know God’s character as he interacts with his people.
  2. Worship him. When he does show is hand, recognize what he has done and be grateful to him for it.
  3. Serve him. Reading the New Testament gives much in the way of how to serve God. Never stop studying this.
  4. Give your whole heart. Continually allow God to show you what you have placed above him on your priority list.
  5. Keep your mind teachable. Turn to God for direction on how to live your life & be open to having your faith challenged.
  6. Don’t neglect God. We get busy so easily. Knowing this, we can build in habits that ensure our regular attention toward him.

Seeking God’s face — his character, who he is as a person — really involves simply choosing to spend regular and consistent time with him. It involves listening to him, talking with him, and caring about his desires.

As we get to know God better and better, we realize the role faith plays in that relationship. We begin to understand that we must trust that he rewards those who honestly seek him…

Seek 2

…and this means seeking him and letting him decide what happens next. We must trust that he’ll do what’s best for us. This growth of trust results in more seeking of him and less asking for his hand to move in our lives.

Now is always the best time to seek God. Don’t wait for a better time because there isn’t one. Putting it off means making any further seeking more difficult because it increases our distance and the stuff we put between us and God. Fortunately, God doesn’t move or hide; he’s always right where he is at this very moment ready for us to seek and find him.

DISCUSSION: What keeps us from truly seeking God’s face, his character? Why do we so easily seek God’s hand, what he does, instead?

Be Prepared

Prepared 1“Got your food bar and water bottle?”

“Yep.”

“What about your spikes?”

“Yep.”

So went the conversation just before my son left for school the day of his first track meet of the season. I wanted him to be prepared to do his best, and that meant not having to stress over forgetting something. This conversation really just represents one of the many I’ve had with my boys.

My husband, knowing I’m not a morning person, has told me more than once that he’ll see the boys off to school in the mornings while I get a bit more sleep. But, I just can’t release the need to make sure my boys are prepared for the day ahead. I remind them often to prepare the night before, but being teenagers and also boys, they usually don’t. While my husband is a terrific father, and good at many things, planning ahead is not his strong suit. Plus, he just doesn’t have mom radar.

Being unprepared can be frustrating and embarrassing. It can turn an ordinary day into a bad one very quickly. And too many unprepared days usually lead to an overwhelmed life as getting by consumes any best that might otherwise exist. A habit of unpreparedness eventually creates a reactionary, drama-filled life. And that sort of life comes characterized by relentless stress and exhausting overhwelm.

The Value of Preparedness

Prepared 2I want my boys to learn the value of being prepared because I know this habit sets them up for an effective and successful life. Vastly more important, though, is them knowing the concept of preparedness as it relates to their spiritual states. I want them to know that their heavenly Father also values being prepared and wants them to always stand ready.

Matthew 24 conveys God’s preparedness message aptly. In it, we have Jesus’ words telling us to not panic and to instead prepare to endure to the end. The idea of panic and endurance tells us the situation will be dire and feel desperate at times.

Jesus also tells us what to pay attention to and what not to let steal our focus. In that, he directs us to…

  • Know the Truth (His words, Scripture, prophecy, etc.)
  • Know what’s coming
  • Know what you don’t know (the exact timing)
  • Know your responsibility as these events unfold

This chapter in Matthew ends with a call to preparedness, to

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus gave us what we need to be prepared, and called us to a continual state of preparedness.

A Habit of Preparedness

Living with a habit of preparedness based on the information you have creates the mindset necessary to be ready for THE event of all time — Jesus’ return. This is ultimately why I teach my boys the mindset of preparedness. My hope is that doing so will create a way of thinking that flows into every area of their lives, from the small events like track meets to the big ones later in life, but most importantly to the only thing that ultimately matters — their individual relationship with their Savior.

Seeing the connection of everyday habits to our eternal perspective helps us better see the truth in how all we do can truly be to His glory.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Preparedness is, for me, one of the most powerful examples of this principle.

DISCUSSION: How would you describe your level of preparedness, both in life and eternally?

Are You Using A Broken Compass?

Compass 1In Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow, and at times others too, uses what initially appears to be a broken compass to achieve his goals. Turns out, the compass points to what the holder wants most and not to true north, which means the person holding it must actually know what he wants in order for the compass to be of use.

At one point, the compass spins without fixing in one direction because Jack doesn’t know what he wants. The compass follows the holder’s heart, after all, so if the heart is confused, so too is the compass.

When I lose focus, I feel like I’m trying to follow a compass that spins in circles too. My path gets confused with too many options, and I don’t know which direction to take. Like Jack, I become lost in a vast, unending sea, sort of floating around in aimless frustration.

Lost and Wandering?

Compass 2“People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:12)

“Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when he acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.” (Job 23:8-9)

“The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.” (Ecclesiastes 10:15)

These Scriptures aptly describe life with a confused focus or “broken compass.” They also help us see why we remain unable to move forward in ways that matter for eternity when our compass spins uncontrollably.

  1. We never settle on God’s Word, and instead seek solutions elsewhere.
  2. We think God can’t see us just because we can’t see Him.
  3. We fail to fix our thoughts on Him and become increasingly confused.
  4. We get hung up on our ability to understand or figure God out.
  5. We become overwhelmed by the temporary cares of life this side of Heaven.

Though I stay in that wandering state less than I used too, it still happens way too often. Maybe you feel this same frustration too.

Only when we focus our hearts do we know the right direction to take. But how do we get that focus? Sometimes even more difficult, how do we keep that focus once we obtain it?

The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Intercession 3

Check Your Contacts

Every couple of years, usually when I upgrade my smartphone, I perform a thorough cleaning of my contact list, mostly removing outdated contacts (past year’s teachers, duplicate information, etc.). Between those times of major renovation, I periodically go through the list to make updates to photos and other information.

Recently when making updates, I paused as I realized the unusual number of people no longer an active part of my life. Some moved away, and we simply grew apart as a result. Others, the circumstances that disrupt life just sent us in different directions.

A part of me will always be sad, I think, about faded relationships. While bridges aren’t burned, things will never return to the way they were either. Impossible, really, when the people involved change along with their priorities and focuses. If I dwell on these feelings, I get stuck in the past focusing on regrets instead of remembering the positives.

Relationships as Opportunities for Prayer

As I went through my list this time, I also began seeing the relationships represented more as opportunities than just a list of people I know. I’m seeing it more as a prayer list, which allows me to still be a part of each person’s life even when connection fades. I’m finding tremendous peace in this because no matter what happens in my life or theirs, a prayer connection can always exist.

More specifically, there will always be intercession (prayer to God on behalf of another), and this can actually be the maintenance plan for every relationship we have, regardless of its current state of elasticity. Oswald Chambers said we should

Intercession 1

This means that the focus goes to God, not to the individuals involved. It means we look to Him to work in each individual’s life, and that we rely on His work, not our own, in their lives. In this sense, prayer exists as the way we can be the most helpful to the people we know regardless of the status of the relationship.

Does this undertaking of intercessory prayer seem overwhelming to you? It does to me. In fact, I feel the heaviness of my inability to follow through in an effective way. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my own ability in praying for others.

Intercession 2

Paul doesn’t say to pray perfectly, and he doesn’t say to do it eloquently or only when I know the situation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, as best as I am able to do so, I am to pray for others in whatever way comes to mind. In other words, be obedient and let God do his thing.

DISCUSSION: How does intercession live and breathe in your life? What Scriptures come to mind as guides for how we can pray for others?

 

Hear. Listen. Understand.

Hear

Most people are very good at hearing. We know the right stance and facial expressions and even the appropriate verbal responses to confirm our hearing. But hearing remains only a physical act if we fail to fully engage in the process.

My 14-year-old has perfected the art of hearing. Eye contact. Mostly stationary. “Yeah” and “Uh huh” in the right places. Yet, his behavior later often confirms that he stopped with only hearing my words.

Listen

Once we hear, the next step involves truly listening. This means we choose not to form our response while another person talks. It means we decide to give value to the words we hear because we value the person saying them. Listening means we recognize that the words hold meaning and purpose beyond their initial point of origin.

As my boys mature, they move beyond only hearing my words and into listening for value. They attempt to apply instruction not just in my presence but as a choice for responsible behavior. They seem to grasp, at least at times, what many adults seem to be conveniently confused about, that those with experience and who love us quite possibly have valuable instruction to help better our lives.

Understand

Next comes understanding. After we hear and choose to truly listen, application starts to become a reality through our habits, and understanding grows. As understanding blossoms, the activity of hearing and listening changes from surface value to one of depth. A sure sign of understanding involves a person seeking out opportunity to hear and listen rather than waiting for them.

When my boys seek out my or their father’s advice, we see signs of this process happening. When a student takes notes and asks questions of a teacher, understanding is being sought. When someone spends additional time, perhaps in meditative prayer, reading or studying, they show a desire for the process of hearing, listening and understanding to become habit.

Jesus encourages this process in Matthew 13 as does Isaiah in 6:9-10. Lots of other places in Scripture emphasize the point too. Only when someone truly gives himself to hear, listen and understand does he finally see the significance of the repetition.

“Then the godly will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom: Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:43)

DISCUSSION: How does the “hear, listen & understand” process exist in your life?

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