Character Determines Potential

Character

“Character reigns preeminent in determining potential.” (Laura Hildebrand, Seabiscuit)

Character involves the moral or ethical quality of a person, and preeminent means superior and surpassing all others. Potential determines what something or someone is capable of being or becoming, their possibility. Potential exists as a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.

Combining these definitions gives us an amplified version of Hildebrand’s discovery about character.

“The moral or ethical quality of a person is superior to all other qualities in deciding the possibility of excellence that exists within someone or something and that may or may not be developed.”

We see this truth of character determining potential through the life of Seabiscuit as it intersects with his owner, Charles Howard, his trainer, Tom Smith, and his jockey, Red Pollard. Howard recognized Smith’s wisdom, and Smith saw the potential in Seabiscuit, who had not been trained properly. Pollard was the last piece in the puzzle that finally showed Seabiscuit’s potential to the rest of the country. These men brought out Seabiscuit’s character – his heart – with amazing results.

As a child, I remember desperately wanting someone to see my potential, but I too often just felt overlooked. Maybe that’s why stories like Seabiscuit inspire me. And maybe that’s why frustration overwhelms me when I see potential in others but struggle seeing the character necessary to make that potential show itself in meaningful ways.

Character does not simply involve the surface person. Instead, true character shows through under pressure and in our attitudes, actions and words, especially with how those play out when no one but God knows the truth.

“Good character is about making good choices no matter who is watching or who will know about it.” (Dan Black in The One Required Leadership Quality)

We’ve likely all known – or have seen on television – someone with immense potential but who failed to realize that potential because of faulty character. What begins as poor choices in private, a more accurate reflection of our character, eventually shows through in the public realm. Our true character eventually becomes evident to all.

Thinking about this idea of character and potential and remembering how it played out in the life of Seabiscuit, two application points emerge to focus on as we encounter potential.

  1. Potential means very little if character is not developed.
  2. Focus on character, and potential will take care of itself.

The Bible says character is developed through endurance of suffering (Romans 5:3-5). This truth was certainly seen in Seabiscuit, and we all know it’s true in our own lives too.

This idea of potential being determined by character exists as a life principle we can embrace at every stage and in every season. It’s why parents can’t shield their children from all of life’s struggles, but instead should focus on character development within whatever life hands their children.

We also must not estimate potential, others or even our own, simply by appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). The attitudes, actions and words that ooze out when under pressure are what best indicate the status of character and thus the development of potential, and we need God’s help in seeing and encouraging both.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain

5-14-13 Vacation brain

Vacation Brain discussed the mindset that happens when one fails to live life deliberately. The symptoms of vacation brain include increased comparisons, God neglect and flesh focus.

Let’s address each of these symptoms in detail.

Increased Comparisons

On sea days, cruisers spend a lot of time lounging around and being entertained. The entertainment staff provides an almost constant schedule of entertainment opportunities. However, my husband and I found people watching to be more intriguing than most of what they offered.

Unfortunately, I too easily started playing the comparison game while people watching. I naturally found individuals “better” than me in some way, and I deliberately looked for those “worse” to help me feel better.

I eventually realized the danger of living in a constant state of comparison and what it did to freeze my progress and growth. I mean, I could easily feel good about myself or berate myself depending on where I placed my focus.

This idea of how constant comparisons can negatively impact our lives gets more attention in the series Battling Boredom.

God Neglect

A cruise offers activities for virtually every interest. Comedy acts, dance shows, trivia contests, video games, casino gambling and club dancing are some examples. There’s no chapel on the ship that I’m aware of, and no Bible studies make the daily itinerary.  In other words, any focus on God does not appear to be a cruising priority.

I am not suggesting that everyone on a cruise ship totally neglects God. With over 3,000 people on the ship, I am certain some people spend time with Him. In fact, one couple at our dinner table on our second cruise prayed together each night, and we had some faith-related conversations with them.

I am suggesting that the cruise ship atmosphere does nothing to promote one’s faith. Routines are broken, and everyone seems to be living the good life. Unless an individual deliberately chooses to incorporate God, most of what is offered on a cruise ship does more to promote desires of the flesh than anything else.

While I believe that a God focus remains the responsibility of the individual, I also understand how the pull of our culture, especially in such an amplified way, can significantly impact an individual’s choices.

Flesh Focus

The draw of abundance is as clear as the surrounding ocean on a cruise ship. Opportunity for gluttony, drunkenness, laziness and poor stewardship abound. To make the ease even easier, cruisers receive a “sail and sign” card that allows them to “pay” for everything. In other words, no actual money exchanges hands when buying drinks, gambling or purchasing anything while on a cruise.

So, focusing on the flesh really requires little effort, and to some extent that is why cruises are so immensely relaxing. When this focus becomes a habit, though, an unhealthy life becomes a trap. Our fast-food, immediate gratification society cultivates this focus on the flesh, which then grows naturally if we do nothing to resist.

The post Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? looks at how these symptoms undermine a productive and fruitful life.

DISCUSSION: As with any illness, symptoms can manifest themselves differently from one person to the next. Can you name additional symptoms of vacation brain?

Go, Set A Watchman

Earlier this year, I read “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee. While the book disappointed, the title stirred my curiosity. After a quick search, I discovered the inspiration for the title and went on a bit of a journey into its meaning. What follows here reflects that journey.

Watchmen of Old

Many great cities (Babylon, Jericho & Jerusalem, for example) in Bible times had walls around them for protection. Watchmen stood upon these walls and looked for signs of enemies, travelers, messengers or any unusual activity.

The Hebrew word for watchman (tsaphah) literally means to lean forward & to peer into the distance. The word implies to behold, spy out, wait for & keep the watch. Watchmen held important jobs because spotting danger from a distance gave a king and his army time to implement a plan of action and protection if necessary.

A watchman, in order to do his job well, needs to stay awake and alert. He needs to fight distractions and be very good at discerning the nature of approaching situations. No reading a book or playing games on your phone. Watchmen must pay attention.

God’s Appointed Watchmen

The spiritual truth regarding watchmen plays out in the Old Testament when God set prophets as watchman over His people.

“For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” (Isaiah 21:6)

Harper Lee borrowed the phrase “Go Set A Watchman” from Isaiah because Maycomb desperately needed a “moral compass.” Without it, the people followed the ways of culture and of the flesh. The idea of a “moral compass” captures well what God intended for the watchmen He set over his people.

In the Old Testament, a watchman (also used in Ezekiel 3:17) was a “moral compass” for God’s people to help them stay obedient to His will as declared in His word and to help them resist the culture around them.

Watchmen are also identified in the New testament and given tremendous responsibility as moral compasses over God’s people.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

However, as with literal watchmen on the walls, what happens with the information a watchmen provides is not up to them. The receiver of the information decides what action to take (Ezekiel 33:1-9). The purpose of watchmen set in place by God is to teach, explain, expound and warn. Those who receive that instruction choose how to respond.

Believers as Watchmen

God gives every believer the task of heeding the warnings and directions given by his appointed watchmen.

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

God also appoints ever believer as a watchmen too. A variety of Scripture get at the importance of believers as watchmen and aid to further instruct us as to the duty and purpose of the watch we are to keep. Looking at just one — 1 Peter 5:8 — provides a great deal regarding the nature and activity of this responsibility. The first part of this verse in the Amplified says…

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times.”

How this command gets carried out looks different from one individual to the next, but the general point is clear: Stay awake and pay attention. The motivation for doing so remains the same for every person and is found in the second part of 1 Peter 5:8.

“That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.”

The enemy sneaks and prowls in an attempt to catch every believer unaware. He looks for the weakest moment to attack. He has restless energy that he can never satiate. We must keep watch, and we must heed the warnings of those God sets to keep watch over his flock. We must always remember the power and cunning of the enemy. We must fulfill our roles as watchmen.

DISCUSSION: How well are you heeding the watchmen (leaders) in your life? How well are you fulfilling your own role as a watchman?

A Detailed Life

Ever had your car professionally detailed? I have not, technically, but it was done to the “new” cars I have purchased. The pre-owned vehicles once moved and breathed in other lives but transferred into my life with the previous owners detailed out.

Neither have I detailed a vehicle myself. Why? Because it’s tedious work. Detailing involves getting into cracks and crevices and digging out accumulated grime. It’s taking out the floor mats and vacuuming. It’s reaching way under seats and getting all the crumbs and forgotten pencils, papers and water bottles. Sometimes, it results in “that’s where that is” or “I forgot all about that” or “Eeewww!”

Detailing sort of hits a reset button. It reorganizes and renews. Changing outside appearances in most areas of life really isn’t all that difficult, but making lasting change where our inner life matches our outer life, where the details of life balance with one another, can be a real struggle. Detailing our inner lives means digging into the cracks and crevices and reaching way underneath the surface to hidden places to find the forgotten, lost and unsavory.

2014 Word 365 – Details

Details 4Detailing my life, which I consider focusing in on the details as much as the Holy Spirit leads, in 2014 will lead me to do everything I do “simply, slowly and clearly,” in essence, to get into the cracks and crevices in a way that allows for hitting the reset button in some areas and discovering new direction in others. Specifically, focusing on the details of life will help me…

  • Simplify. My natural tendency involves complicating everything. If I don’t deliberately think of keeping the details of my life simple, I get overwhelmed easily. Focusing on the details will better establish a habit of simplicity.
  • Slow down. When I read, I move quickly to reach the end in order to move on to another book. But I miss out on the processing and applying. When I write, I also do so quickly and fail to carefully consider every word. Listening, too, often involves forming responses instead of truly hearing. Slowing down will amplify the quality of the time I spend in my favorite activities and with the people I love most.
  • Clarify.  Focusing on the details will also help clarify my focus. If I can find ways to stay clear in my focus (God’s will for the details of my life), I believe my life will be simpler. I also believe I will be more productive the clearer I can get and keep my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Qui Gon Jinn tells Anakin, “Your focus determines your reality.” Unfortunately, Anakin’s focus continually drifted toward fear, resulting in him choosing the path of darkness.

As I choose to focus on the details of life in 2014, I too realize that my focus will determine my reality. If I fail to detail certain areas in my life, I may continue down a hurried and complicated path. I may continue to find myself increasingly confused and less productive. But if I guard my focus, I can walk the path of an amplified life that produces and inspires depth of character.

Details 5So once again, as I refocus on the two verses in Isaiah given as a focus for my life almost four years ago, I realize the necessity of creating a detailed life, one that exists in immediate and thorough obedience.

DISCUSSION: How’s your focus?

Want help with your goal setting?
Check out the terrific resources offered in
New Year’s Bible Study” at Beyond the Sinner’s Prayer.

2013 One Word 365

amplifyYear in Review

In 2013, I attempted a One Word 365 approach to goal setting. In previous years of traditional SMART goal setting, I achieved more than I would had I not written anything down, sure, but my goal reaching felt disconnected and unbalanced, kind of like having only part of my house clean.

So in 2013, my goal to amplify my life as a whole focused on taking what’s working well and making it better. (You can read more about it in Amplify, How to… Amplify and Vacation Reflections: Resolutions.) Not only did this change my approach in every area, amplifying became a part of what I do as daily habit.

Specifically, amplifying changed…

  • My writing life by increasing daily word count, focusing more in application and doing the actions on a consistent basis that make me a writer.
  • The way I teach. Instead of getting as much in as possible into a certain amount of time, I focus on a few important points and drive those home. We go deeper with a few rather than stay on the surface with many.
  • How I parent. I nag less & listen more. I pray for my kids as much or more than I talk to them about how and what (I think) they should be doing.
  • How I read. Instead of just getting from cover to cover, I reader slower and allow for healthy digestion of the material rather than wolfing down words and finding myself with nothing but indigestion.
  • My exercise routine. Instead of feeling like I need to be like others around me when it comes to exercise (especially biking & running), I focus on what works best for me, which means lots of variety and the goals of healthy and strong instead of skinny and competitive.

More progress than just that listed above existed in 2013, but these stand out as ones most linked to obedience to calling. These amplified areas of my life now fuel all the other areas, thus amplifying them as well.

What about you? Do you take a traditional approach to goal setting? If so, how do you feel about your success with that approach? Or, do you take a non-traditional approach such as One Word 365? If you do, what kind of success are you having? Please share successes, failures, wishes & dreams with regard to goal setting!

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

How to… Amplify

Choosing the Word

My family and I set goals together at the end of every calendar year. As already mentioned in Vacation Reflections: Resolutions, my husband and sons set their goals for 2013 rather quickly while I struggled setting mine.

After being drawn to the One Word 365 approach, I then focused in on selecting just the right word. As I am a recovering perfectionist, finding the “perfect” word seemed like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, and maybe because I was on vacation, I was able to sit quietly and notice God’s leading.

Just before going on vacation, I purchased a compact amplified Bible. While on vacation and soon after praying about a direction for my 2013 goals (it wasn’t an immediate “ah ha” moment right after praying), the word “amplified” on my Bible jumped out to me.

At that moment (and this was an actual “ah ha” moment), I knew I had found my focus for 2013. And as I studied the meaning and application of the word Amplify, my decision became increasingly solidified.

Connecting the Word

1-9-13 amplify beach 1

God had already prepared my heart for this focus. For about 6 months prior to purchasing the Bible, He drew my attention to reading the amplified translation during daily Bible study. I loved the depth this translation provided and continued reading it daily.

In addition to the spiritual application, the desire to go deeper made its way into other areas of my life as well. Physically, I felt like I was operating at 80% capacity and wanted to find out why and to do some tweaking to make headway into the remaining 20%. Socially, my weakest area, I had yet been able to truly make the progress I desired. I wanted to finally and fully know why. Other areas, as I note below, also called for amplification.

As I reviewed my 2012 blog posts, I realized that this desire to amplify could be also seen in much of what I was writing. Here are just a few examples:

So, when the word “amplify” came into my consciousness that relaxing day in Myrtle Beach, I knew that it was the focus I needed for 2013.

1-11-13 amplify

Applying the Word

When my family sets goals for the coming year, we focus in on 5 specific areas: Spiritual, Physical, Work/School, Social & Family. I knew what I wanted to work on in each of these areas already, so I then looked to key words that truly emphasized my intention to “amplify” in these focus areas.

The following resulted:

Spiritual – Generosity. Memorization. Transparency.

Physical – Posture. Stretching. Water.

Work – Projects. Crafting. Learning.

Social – Responding. Listening. Preferring.

Family – Individual. Relationships. Connections.

The key words in each of these areas reflect how I am purposefully choosing to amplify my life, and each involves taking what I am already doing in some way and adding power, detail, depth and quality.

This approach seems to leave room for change and flexibility and even spontaneity, not at all a natural quality for me, and I also find that these are the ways that I most notice the Holy Spirit moving in my life.

DISCUSSION: What would you list as important elements in how a person could “amplify” her life?

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader