Life Themes, Part 1

Effective and Productive

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, about half of Americans make them. Unfortunately, according to Norcross & Vangarelli as reported in Psychology Today, most people fail to stick to their resolutions. Specifically…

  • 22% fail after one week
  • 40% fail after one month
  • 50% fail after three months
  • 60% fail after six months
  • 81% fail after twenty-four months

Reasons for this failure involve…

  • Unclear and vague goals
  • Failure to gauge one’s progress
  • Weak self-control and self-regulation

Honestly, not at all surprised by these numbers or by the reasons for them. They’ve certainly proven true in my life over the years.

What I have found to be effective instead is having life themes that integrate into every facet of my life. They have to be biblically-based, though, or even this approach fails to be effective over the long term.

These themes developed gradually and were born out of adversity and failure. And I’m grateful for this process because they now help direct me to being effective and productive in ways goal setting never did.

Focus & Motivation

You’ll may look at the themes I’m about to share and think they are simply positive-thinking mantras. And to some extent you’d be right. But they’re more than that. They also remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve come through, and they motivate me to continue into where I’m being led.

Two passages in Isaiah not only encapsulate these ideas but also help weave these themes together.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

These, and other, scripture serve to remind me of the themes of my life. I need the reminders too. Without them, I just get overwhelmed by life. This is one reason I need to consistently study Scripture. Doing so helps these themes continually come to the surface not just in what I’m studying but in every facet of my life from teaching to talking to a friend or my kids to when I’m alone and working.

My Life Themes

Let me simply share these themes with you now. In next week’s post, I’ll go into some detail on each of them.

  1. Focus determines reality. (Isaiah 26:3; Galatians 5:16-18; Luke 12:34)
  2. Never give up. (Isaiah 50:7; Hebrews 10:35)
  3. Take small steps. (Hebrews 12:12)
  4. Keep it simple. (Colossians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 11:3)
  5. Wait on God. (Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 27:14)

If you were to spend much time with me or even to just read through a handful of posts on this blog, you’d run into each of these themes over and over again. In fact, there are quite a few people you could talk to who could name a few if not all of these since they’ve heard my say them so often. And that’s a deliberate goal on my part.

Which brings us back to the idea of goal setting. The Holy Spirit directs me to goals all the time. And when he does, He also lays out the plan for achieving them. Sometimes the plan comes all at once, but often it comes in just one or a few steps at a time. Always perfectly. And always, these themes saturate the plan.

This approach serves to eliminate unclear and vague goals because I’m following the Holy Spirit, not pushing for progress in my own efforts. As for self-control and self-regulation, that comes through a combination of Bible study and accountability, which both serve to remind me of the life themes planted in my spirit.

No, I have not eliminated all of what keeps most people from achieving goals. However, I do realize my inability to set and achieve goals in my own effort, so I try to continually turn that work over to the Holy Spirit.

As 2018 approaches, I am taking time to review these themes and to remind myself of the Holy Spirit’s continual activity in my life. This week’s and next week’s posts are reflective of that renewal. Including others in more of my life is a goal the Holy Spirit has recently shared with me, and these posts are, hopefully, reflective this too.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Study to Stay Steady

How to Identify Counterfeits

Do a quick internet search for “how to identify counterfeits” and one fact becomes abundantly clear… there a lot of counterfeits out there.

  1. Money
  2. Food
  3. Textbooks
  4. Bags
  5. Watches
  6. Cameras

Counterfeits are usually a much lower quality and don’t last as long as the authentic item, and they simply do not live up to the value of the original item over the long term.

When you want to purchase an authentic item, awareness of counterfeits is important along with a good knowledge of the original. You could also learn different anti-counterfeit measures unique to each item.

All approaches for identifying counterfeits stem from the original product. In other words, the ability to identify a counterfeit is based on knowledge of the authentic.

This holds true in religion too. Counterfeits continually work to distract and pull people away from the authentic doctrine found in the Bible. I don’t know if I could tell a difference between a genuine designer bag and a knockoff, and I’m not sure I care all that much. I do know, however, that I want the truth on which I base my eternity to be authentic.

Discerning False Doctrine

Early church leaders wanted to be sure of the same thing. They wanted people to be aware of the existence of fake Gospels — of false doctrine — so they could base their lives and their eternities on the truth of the Gospel of Christ alone. As a result, the church leaders taught about the difference between counterfeits and the authentic gospel frequently.

What Paul and the other apostles taught those in the early church about false doctrine holds true for us still today. Let’s look at a few of those points to help us discern the real Gospel from any of the many fakes rampant still today. Notice that the approach stems from knowledge of the authentic Gospel of Christ as taught in the Bible.

Any teaching and any person sincerely professing true doctrine — that found in the Bible will consistently do the following:

  1. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. (1 John 4:2)
  2. Bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16)
  3. Have words and actions that complement each other & Scripture. (Titus 1:16)
  4. Are consistent in what they preach and practice. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
  5. Only preach Christ crucified. (Galatians 1:8-9)

Together — along with the activity of the Holy Spirit — these points help believers know false doctrine when they see and hear it. Yet, knowing doesn’t always keep deception at bay. Without a systematic and consistent approach to studying doctrine, even the most dedicated Christian can (and has) fallen prey to false doctrine that goes against what the Bible teaches.

Study to Stay Steady

Talk to people who were once dedicated to living the Bible and the Gospel it teaches and who have since fallen away from that lifestyle and their beliefs, and you’ll find at least one consistent thread within every case… a neglect of Bible study.

Any Christian, no matter how long they’ve been a believer, must study to stay steady. They must maintain a consistent habit of Bible study throughout their lifetime in order to avoid wandering away from the true Gospel.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Ephesians 4:14)

Diligence in studying Scripture is key to the maturity of faith. It’s crucial for steadiness and for staying focused on the authentic Gospel. If you think you can avoid false doctrine by willpower alone, you’re deceiving yourself. Only by knowing the authentic Gospel as taught in Scripture can a person remain steady in Godly character and growing in faith.

For more on this topic, read What is false doctrine? Found at GotQuestions.org.

Living Sacrifice

As Living Stones, we are a holy priesthood. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins and came to life again in defeat of sin, death and the devil, he abolished the old system of sacrifice to atone for sin.

Now, Christians can offer spiritual sacrifices out of love and gratitude for the One who gave everything for their benefit.

The spiritual sacrifices we make do not die (as with the old system) when we offer them. Instead, each living sacrifice we make can become…

“…a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)

A living sacrifice first and foremost comes from the heart of a believer. It requires taking responsibility for your own sacrifice. No one can do it for you.

Most importantly, Jesus must be the number one priority before an acceptable spiritual sacrifice can even be made. Once that life-changing decision takes place, continue in the journey toward holiness, toward being set apart.

What does God look for our sacrifices?

Consider the following 5 elements when evaluating your sacrifices.

  1. Attitude. God calls everyone to be a living sacrifice in whatever they do in life, yet activity means nothing when offered with the wrong attitude. We must follow Abel’s example and avoid Cain’s. One sacrificed with the right attitude, and one did not. One’s sacrifice was accepted, and the other’s was not. (Genesis 4:3-7) (See The Aroma of your Heart for a related Bible study.)
  2. Love. Loving some people takes little to no effort. Yet, there are those who make loving them difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible. (If we’re honest, we’ve all been difficult to love at some point.) When a person gives nothing in return, loving them becomes a struggle. As living sacrifices, we choose to give expecting nothing in return. After all, isn’t this what Christ did for each one of us?
  3. Balance. Holiness happens in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Every Christian does his or her part through the deliberate and intentional choice to live out God’s will by becoming a living sacrifice. The Holy Spirit is a “helper” who comes alongside us. This is why He was sent to us. (John 14:16, 17, 26)
  4. Discomfort. Convenience often defines us. Yet, sacrifice requires inconvenience and discomfort. We must learn to orient our taste buds toward desiring long-term (eternal) benefit. Doing so allows for intimacy with God, which occurs when we make an acceptable sacrifice. Sweet-tasting convenience is the enemy for an acceptable sacrifice. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  5. Teachability. A living sacrifice comes from a person willing to learn, grow and change at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. God always provides the appropriate measure of time, talent and treasure to do His will. We hold responsibility for offering ourselves to Him through what He enables and gives us to accomplish.

What’s your heart condition?

An acceptable sacrifice comes through a contrite heart. A sincere and broken heart comes when we spend time at the altar prior to offering our living sacrifices. It comes when we let the Holy Spirit lead us through an attitude upgrade. Submitting ourselves in this way, allows us to…

“…present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

What role does submission play?

Submission begins by evaluating the status of the heart and asking tough questions.

  • Are you doing good?
  • Does your life involve sharing?
  • What sacrifices are you making for God?
  • Are you too comfortable?

Submission continues as we listen to the answers God gives us to these questions.

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5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Convenient Confusion

what-to-do-3-1239436-1598x1065Whey my boys were younger, they were quick to say, “I’m sorry” when they messed up. Sometimes, they said it for the millionth time about the same mistake. When this happened, my response sounded something like…

“I know you’re sorry, and I forgive you. I will always forgive you. But being sorry really means little for you if you do nothing to change your behavior.”

Now that my boys are teenagers, I still expect them to repeat mistakes from time to time in some areas, but I also realize progress should exist. They love Jesus, but they’re certainly in training still in so many ways. I have to constantly keep telling myself…

“Progress over perfection.”

Unfortunately, many adults act much like teenagers at times, though there should be marked maturity well beyond that found in most teenagers. These adults live in convenient confusion and believe saying “I’m sorry” stands on its own without being followed by a changed life.

I’m certainly guilty. I’ve relied on my words to carry me a bit much too at times. Yes, I too have been conveniently confused, thinking that filling my life with learning and knowing stuff somehow means trusting Christ. The truth is, though, trusting Christ really means doing what He says. It means following His directions and not pretending to be confused over what God’s Word says.

James addresses this very topic in James 1:22-25.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.”

Let’s consider these truths from a few other perspectives:

“No man is better for knowing that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. Nobody is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell, there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.” (A.W. Tozer)

”It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and get God’s blessing. It is not the hearing but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.” (Warren Wiersbe)

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand.” (Mark Twain)

Consider the following questions for self-evaluation to know where convenient confusion might be plaguing you.

  • What am I hearing from God and not putting into action?
  • How might I be sinning by pretending to be confused?
  • Have I stopped listening to Him in some area because I know I’m not obeying?

As you consider these answers, actively look for ways to move from being a hearer only to also being a consistent doer. What might some of those ways be for you?

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Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

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In general, people exercise for one reason — to be healthy. Many take that further and aim for higher levels of fitness and strength. In addition, the types of exercises undertaken are many and varied both for an individual and from one person to the next.

However, one essential focus exists regardless of exercise type if the person hopes to avoid injury and increase strength and stamina. That focus? A strong core. Without it, back pain and lack of endurance — among other issues — limit activity.

The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core” by Harvard Health Publications confirms this truth. The article expresses the importance of a strong core well beyond exercise strength and stamina.

“A strong, flexible core underpins almost every thing you do.”

A Strong Spiritual Core

Core 2As essential as a strong core is to physical strength, even more so is it for spiritual strength. In fact, the first piece of God’s armor Christians are told to put on involves establishing a strong spiritual core.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” (Ephesians 6:14)

In a soldier’s armor, the belt holds the sheath, which holds the sword. This means a soldier cannot easily carry his weapon and have quick access to it without his belt being secure around his waist. Spiritually speaking, the belt of truth provides for properly carrying and quickly accessing the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The world’s approach to truth involves relativity based on opinions with no absolutes. God’s truth, however, involves eternal and unchangeable absolutes uninfluenced by opinion.

Having the belt of truth buckled around your waist means having God’s eternal and unchangeable truth providing you with core strength that influences everything you are, say and do. Many Scripture emphasize and clarify the role of God’s truth, but let’s look at one that gets to the heart of why a strong spiritual core is so important.

“Sanctify them in your truth [set them apart for Your purposes, make them holy]; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17, AMP)

Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

Both a strong physical core and a strong spiritual core take hard work to obtain and consistent effort to maintain. And both can make all the difference in a person’s overall health. One Scripture sums up this effort well.

“Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, AMP)

Other versions of this verse say to “be diligent.” This diligence involves basic habits all Christians need to keep their core strong.

  1. Regular Bible Study. My pastor says that in all the cases of Christian leaders he’s personally known who have fallen away from living how the Bible directs, all of them can be traced back to a neglect of regularly studying God’s Word. Knowing he has been in ministry for over 30 years emphasizes the powerful impact of that statement.
  2. Embrace Truth.  Making decisions in and living by faith based on God’s truth is where accurate handling comes into play. A simple question can help assess whether or not you embrace truth as revealed in Scripture in any given situation: Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

God’s truth — his Word — provides a moral compass, something severely lacking in our world today. It keeps us secure in our faith, and it allows us to combat the lies of the enemy, who does not want that belt to be secure.

“… the devil… was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths.” (John 8:44, AMP)

A strong physical core increases stamina, limits pain and advances balance and stability. Spiritually, a strong core removes the limits of our own thinking, which causes pain, imbalance and instability in our lives, by establishing in us eternal and unchangeable absolutes — God’s truth — that will remain uninfluenced by man’s opinion.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the belt of truth applied for Christians today?

Becoming Spiritually Healthy

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Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life. Yet, it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force, for me to truly become spiritually healthy.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus desires for us to be spiritually healthy. He wants to increase the focus of our lives continually more toward God. But, He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus either. We must let Him change how we think… which changes our focus, which then changes our reality… if we are to become spiritually healthy.

Spiritually Healthy Habits

Usually, being led by Christ through His Holy Spirit involves many activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, letting Christ lead us simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health.

  1. Don’t neglect the basics. Keeping a consistent routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial. The basics keep us strong for the unexpected life inevitably handed us.
  2. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with every aspect of life from schedules to clothing. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  3. Pay attention to physical health. While indulging feels good in the moment, the consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices prior to making them.
  4. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible.

Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled life. As I do so, and as I keep to these habits, living spiritually healthy becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality. This is the only way to become and stay spiritually healthy.

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Staying Out of the Pit

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

pit

Staying Out of the Pit

What you read on Struggle to Victory covers my main approach to keep from falling back into the pit of depression. I get into the details of topics I am struggling with, find out what Scripture says about them, and process them by writing about them. Doing this helps tremendously in capturing thoughts and not letting them hold me captive, which is what happened when I didn’t know how process feelings. At some point, I just determined not to let my thinking exist without boundaries and structure anymore, and writing gives me a way to establish the boundaries and structure I need to keep well away from the pit.

But writing isn’t all I do. I’ve discovered that one thing rarely does exactly what you need in any area, at least not for very long. Writing simply provides an outlet for my very busy inner life. Being an introvert, my inner life is as busy as the outer life of most extroverts. Writing gives me a way to order that world and to deal with it in a healthy way.

In addition to, or rather alongside and within writing, there are various ways I keep from going in the direction of pit dwelling. First and most importantly, I maintain a daily, consistent relationship with God through Bible study and prayer. I’m not saying this as a high and mighty “look how spiritual I am” statement; instead, it’s meant to simply say that I know I am completely and utterly unable to stay out of the pit of depression without Him. Without the Holy Spirit working in my life, and without God’s mighty power active in and through me, I would not be alive today.

I also make staying physically healthy a priority by eating healthy, exercising and getting plenty of adequate rest. I’m willing to try different approaches to health and wellness because I’ve learned that limiting yourself to the approach of traditional, Western medicine only limits and may even inhibit your ability to overcome depression and become healthy. My approach is along the lines of integrative medicine.

Staying aware of personal triggers is important too. I know the signs of my getting overwhelmed (digestion issues, sleep problems, anxiety & general grumpiness, for example), and I make adjustments as soon as I realize what’s happening to prevent any more veering off into bumpy territory.

While I need routine and structure to some extent, I must balance them with flexibility and variety. Otherwise, I get into a rut of boredom that also leads to depression. Fortunately, my husband and sons help tremendously with this area not just with their busy schedules but also with their zest for discovery and adventure.

Knowing what to avoid is also key (examples for me include sugar, romance novels, and television shows in general). One area of thought that I need to be extra careful with is absolutes. Saying “I never…” or “I can’t…” or “I always…” usually takes me down a very narrow and precarious path. I’ve learned to leave the absolutes up to God who has the capacity to follow through with them simply because He doesn’t change and I do.

As you can see, I have a variety of ways I keep from falling back into the pit. All of them are negotiable except my reliance on God.

sooner quoteIn Retrospect

Some ask what I would have done differently now that I am able to look back on depression with some objectivity. Let me simply say that I just would have done all of this sooner. I would have taken the small steps needed to get out of the pit sooner. I would have asked God to help me sooner. I would have let others help sooner. I would have let my pride go sooner. Nothing really done differently since all were necessary parts of the journey. They just all could have happened sooner.

So much (most really) of what caused my depression was outside of my control, so I don’t think I personally could have prevented it. I could have just taken the steps to get out of it sooner. That’s all on me.

DISCUSSION: How can someone not suffering from depression help those who do struggle stay out of the pit?

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Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?