Become Effective By Being Selective

In The Purpose Driven Life, Day 3, Rick Warren begins by asking this question:

“What drives your life?”

In the discussion, Warren talks about “quiet desperation” and “aimless distraction.” All of us can probably describe what each of those means and be able to give examples of what they look like within our own lives.

Each of us also knows how these really mean that we’ve lost focus on what drives our lives. A truly frustrating state of mind, to be sure.

While we could look at this topic from a variety of angles, let’s focus on only one. In Warren’s words…

“You become effective by being selective.”

Taking on too much. Worrying. Being too busy. People pleasing. Mediocrity. Following feelings. Seeking acceptance from the world. Approval seeking. Making comparisons.

That’s my list. It’s what overwhelms me if I’m not selective. If I fail to focus and instead follow fads and feelings, I’m not at all effective. Instead, I’m depressed and frustrated, all because I’m not being selective.

Being selective means choosing best over good enough. It means pursuing expertise instead of being a generalist. Most important, for Christians being selective means letting God decide who, what, when, where, why and how.

How does this happen?

God’s word to Joshua when he was likely feeling overwhelmed be being thrust into leadership and given an overwhelming task to accomplish gives us the instruction we need.

“Keep the law always on your lips. Meditate on it day and night, careful to do everything it says. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

For the Christian, then, being selective means:

  1. Knowing God’s Word fully.
  2. Studying God’s Word continually.
  3. Obeying God’s Word completely.
  4. Leaving the results up to God.

Being selective involves walking a God-directed path. We can only know the steps to take, though, if we know God’s directions. Only then will we be effective in truly eternal ways.

Bookends of Readiness

Bookends keep books upright. They help keep them organized and in good condition too. Bookends of readiness for sharing the Gospel function much in the same way.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

The books in the middle make up the “defense” and “reason” for the hope that you have. Essentially, that is your testimony. The bookends?

  1. Sanctification
  2. Meekness & fear

Sanctification (holiness) keeps a believer ready to evangelize by lending authenticity to his witness. Meekness and fear indicate humble patience along with recognition of who God is and the truth of what the Bible says about Him. The Elliot Commentary explains it this way:

“Recognize, in word and deed, His full holiness, and therefore to treat Him with due awe.”

The bookends of sanctification on one side and meekness and fear on the other hold up our defense – our witness – by keeping the focus on God.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:23)

“And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23)

Life of Trees

In Spring 2018, I decided to read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I still remember the “Why?” looks my family gave me when they found out what I was reading. Essentially, they thought the topic would be boring and could not imagine why I would choose it.

Though not the most exciting read, and in no way encouraging my hope of the existence of Ents or Narnian foliage, realizing how trees communicate was fascinating. Learning about the life of trees, especially why some are so resilient, renewed and deepened my appreciation for how nature shows God’s glory.

Be Like Trees

Learning more about trees also increased my understanding of where the Bible references trees. It gave me depth of understanding about how trees illustrate how we are to grow spiritually. For example, we are to…

  1. Thrive like the olive tree, which can live 500 years even when neglected because its root system allows it to get water quickly. (Psalm 52:8)
  2. Flourish like a palm tree that sheds leaves on purpose before a storm to make it less top heavy and therefore less affected by the force of the wind. (Psalm 92:12)
  3. Grow quickly like the cedar and in a wide range of climates with roots often as deep as the tree’s height. (Psalm 92:12)

How can we be like trees in our spiritual lives?

We can thrive like olive trees by continually seeking living water (John 4:10) and by trusting in God’s love. We can flourish like palm trees by letting go of what weighs us down during life’s storms (Hebrews 12:1). And, we can grow like cedars by establishing deep roots in the fertile soil of God’s word (Luke 8:1-15).

The Worst Lie You Can Tell

Years ago, my college Intrapersonal Communications teacher started a class session with this statement:

“You cannot lie to yourself.”

He explained that this is because we eventually believe what we continually tell ourselves. In other words, even though what we’re saying may be a lie, our minds eventually accept and act on it as truth. Essentially, then, we can reprogram our thinking with lies.

What’s more, research actually supports this assertion.

“Humans are masters of self-deception. We fool ourselves into believing things that are false, and we refuse to believe things that are true.”  (How Do I Know When I Am Lying to Myself?)

Self-deception also comes up often in literature.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses respect for himself and for others. And having no respect, he ceases to love.” (The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky)

“Self lies are the worst lies…” (Richard Bach)

Most significantly for Christians, the struggle with lying to ourselves is also confronted in the Bible.

“Keep my from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your law.” (Psalm 119:29)

Self-deception is the worst type of lie because it reprograms how we think, and the way we think determines the reality of our lives. For this reason, we need to regularly let our minds be renewed.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Our culture seems to condone self-deception. The follow-your-feelings, seek-your-own-truth pattern of the world seeks to conform our thinking. It’s telling us that lying is acceptable if it fits with your personal truth.

Refuse to conform to this worldly pattern. Regularly assess your thinking by getting in God’s word and letting it transform you. Know God’s will, so you can regularly cast down any thinking that conflicts with it.

“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32-32)

Stability Within Change

Changing Seasons

While the extremes vary, everyone experiences changing seasons no matter where they live. Even Hawaii changes seasons, though not an extreme difference and only between two different seasons (summer and winter).

If you think changing seasons are unchangeable events, think again. Climate change experts say that the timing of seasons is now changing.

The Earth’s seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds. This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say. (Timing of Seasons is Changing)

Yes, even the changing seasons are becoming more unpredictable, though if you live in a place like I do (Michigan) that has always been the case.

Our season changes are extreme, and you simply love or hate it. I’ve actually heard of people missing the extreme changes after moving to a place with less seasonal change. Also, every time we enter a new season, someone (often a person who has lived in the area for many years) expresses surprise over it happening.

If you live in an area of extreme seasonal changes, you have to admit to the beauty of every season. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to see when it’s hot and humid or rainy or bitter cold or there’s a foot of snow on the ground or you experience rain, fog, snow and cold with a 40-degree temperature drop all in one day.

Change – unexpected or not – keeps life interesting.

Life’s Seasons

Our lives have seasons too, some expected and some not. Some people embrace the change, some resist; most do both, and all are at times surprised when change takes place.

Staunchly resisting change is futile as well as unhealthy. We all know this both by observation and experience, but it doesn’t stop us from stubbornly resisting change at times.

Why do we sometimes resist the changing of life’s seasons and other times embrace them? Why do we in our hearts often wish things wouldn’t change?

The answers to these questions are unique to every person. What we all have in common, though, is the need for stability within change.

Stability Within Change

Stability within change is essential for thriving as the seasons inevitably change in our lives. For Christians, this means focusing on God who does not change.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 )

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

As the seasons of life morph in both expected and unexpected ways, I am learning to lean heavily on Jesus. The hope he gives keeps me stable amidst the changes of the many extremes in my life.

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:19

Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

Be Determined

Biblical Examples

Determination can be good or bad depending on your focus. It also lasts or fades depending on the approach we take to maintaining it. As Christians, our goal is to maintain a God-focused determination.

Let’s look at three individuals in scripture from whom we can learn a lot about a God-focused determination.

  • Ezra’s determination teaches us that we must be hearers, doers and teachers of God’s Word. (Ezra 7:9-10)
  • Daniel’s determination shows us that resisting the surrounding culture is not only possible but necessary. (Daniel 1:8)
  • Paul’s determination illustrates the need for complete focus on the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

These men teach us a great deal about staying determined, and they set examples we can and should follow.

Biblical Instruction

Through Ezra’s, Daniel’s and Paul’s examples, we see that staying determined is possible. In addition, the Bible clearly indicates where our determination should focus.

We are to be determined to…

  1. Obey God: Simply make up your mind to do it. (1 Samuel 7:3)
  2. Avoid sin: Know your convictions before you are tested. (Job 31:1)
  3. Stand firm: Stand in faith, and you will be protected. (Isaiah 7:9)
  4. Follow Christ: Let Him lead you in every area of life. (Mark 8:34-38)

How to Be Determined

How do we obtain and maintain an enduring God-focused determination? Let’s again look to Ezra, Daniel & Paul for answers.

  • Ezra praised God for giving him favor. He also went to the Lord with concerns. (Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 9)
  • Daniel had a habit of prayer that he maintained even when facing death. (Daniel 6:10)
  • Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, often included prayers filled with thanksgiving, prayers for others, as well as prayer requests for his ministry. (See a list of Paul’s prayers on Scripture Zealot.)

Habits of prayer, praise and thanksgiving are keys to constant God-focused determination. Also, never forget that God promises to help us stay determined.

“For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint (a stone), and I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)

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Talk Less. Listen More.

Live at Peace

Doing your part to Live at Peace with others is highly contextual. Specific situations and people require certain and different actions and words. The right response varies from one context to the next. At the same time, there is one approach that applies in almost every situation.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

In a nutshell, take care with the words you use. If possible, don’t use them.

All About Balance

The theme of watching what we say is clear throughout the book of Proverbs. The rest of Scripture is not silent about the importance of the words we use either. In fact, considering the balance of what we say to what we do not say is better for everyone involved.

“Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2)

“Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.” (Proverbs 25:12)

“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

In other words… Talk less. Listen more.

Simple, but not easy.

Ask for Help

Sometimes, not saying something takes all the self-control I have, and there’s little left for engaging in listening. Yet, truly listening is often what’s necessary to understand another and to establish a peaceful relationship.

On my own, I fail to keep quiet and to listen all too often. I need help.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

God never let’s me down. He faithfully leads me to fulfilling his desires for my relationships. I promise He’ll do the same for you too.

Fore more on the impact of what we say and how we say it, read James 3.

Live at Peace

 

Do Your Part

We live in a time when taking personal responsibility is happening less and less. That means what the Bible says about taking responsibility stands more and more in contrast to our surrounding culture. Let’s look at one example of this.

“Do your part to live at peace with everyone as much as possible.” (Romans 12:18

When I read this verse, I immediately ask, “What’s my part?” The specific answer to this questions varies from one situation and person to the next, so it’s important to continually seek the answer.

Each one of us also has to realize that we are each responsible only for our own efforts. We cannot force anyone to act peaceably toward anyone else. Also, we must face the hard truth that living at peace with everyone isn’t always possible even if it’s always the goal.

Guiding Principles

The Bible has a lot to say about how to live at peace with others. Many verses offer guiding principles for doing our part in every situation to continually “live at peace” with others.

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41)

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Live in peace with each other.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

Some of these verses give specific instructions for living at peace with others, such as turning from wrong and doing good and not retaliating when someone wrongs us. Others simply restate the command. All of them cement the truth as integral in the lives of Christians.

Inescapable Truth

We simply cannot escape that God wants us to do whatever we can to live at peace with others. That doesn’t mean we compromise convictions and values to keep the peace. We must, however, exhaust our efforts to live in peace with others through personal responsibility and sacrifice.

Only through the transforming power of God as His Holy Spirit works in us is this possible.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Did you notice that everything we need in order to live at peace with others exists as fruits of the Spirit?