Digesting God’s Word

Most of us read Scripture for our own specific purposes. We search for knowledge, inspiration, direction, comfort and wisdom. We have a problem, and we want guidance on how to handle it. Or, we’re anxious or sad about something, and we want God’s peace. God does certainly meet those needs through His Word.

What if instead we read the Bible with God’s purposes in mind before seeking our own? What if we let God’s Word change us as God intends rather than going in with a specific purpose to fulfill?

You Are What You Eat

Think of it in terms of the healthy way to approach your diet. When we focus on what will best nourish us, we’re healthier and have more energy than if we only eat what satisfies our cravings and stops or prevents hunger pains. We also ward off many sicknesses and diseases this way too.

Even more significant is that researchers have discovered that nutrients in food change how proteins are produced in almost every gene in our body. In other words, what we eat changes us at our most basic level.

You Are What You Read

This truth carries into what we read as well. What we read does the same for our mental health as what we eat does for the body. Research shows that reading…

  • Can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.
  • Slows mental decline in general.
  • Can improve your memory.
  • Improves concentration.
  • Lowers stress.
  • May help with depression.
  • Helps you sleep.
  • Gives you better analytical skills.
  • Makes you more empathetic.
  • Causes heightened connectivity in the brain that persists after you stop reading.

What you ingest and then digest mentally programs your thinking. Sure, personality and nurturing play a role along with genetics and upbringing in developing how you think. But much of that can be reprogrammed by what you read.

Digesting God’s Word

Perhaps this truth about reading is why several places in Scripture emphasize actually digesting God’s Word. Here’s one example.

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s armies.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Additional examples include Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 and Revelation 10:8-11. Notice the impact of digesting God’s Word, of letting it nourish our inner beings, in each of these examples.

Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book expresses the impact that digesting God’s Word can have on a Christian by saying…

“Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images become practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.”

When we read and digest God’s Word, it shows in our actions. We can’t help but be changed by what we read when we truly participate in the process. That means it’s more than a daily habit. It’s sustenance for our spirits.

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Shipwrecked Faith, Part 2

In Shipwrecked Faith, Part 1, we defined a shipwrecked faith and talked about how the struggle to avoid one is real for everyone. In this post, we’ll look at avoiding shipwreck as well as how to recover from one.

How can you avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Paul’s advice to Timothy to “fight the good fight” is still wholly applicable for us today. More specifically, he told Timothy to be aware of false teachers, which basically means anything that doesn’t line up with living out your faith according to the Gospel. It’s anything that veers you away from living a holy life and not offending God. Refusing to follow false teaching and insisting on living out the Gospel results in avoiding a shipwrecked faith.

For an even more detailed answer, let’s look at what Paul says next. He tells Timothy that those who suffered a shipwrecked faith failed to keep a good conscience. They knew the truth of the Gospel but chose to live contrary to it. They made a deliberate choice.

Think of your conscience like the ballast for a ship. Without proper ballast, a ship is unbalanced and cannot be maneuvered accurately. So, a captain can know the right path to take but not be able to steer the ship that way if the ballast isn’t working like it should. Likewise, we cannot live out the Gospel, our faith, if our conscience has been discarded.

In order for this truth to be fully applicable to our lives, we need to understand what exactly our conscience is and is not. Your conscience does not define right and wrong. For the Christian, the Gospel does that. Instead, your conscience directs how you live out your faith, whether according to the Gospel or contrary to it.

Let’s break down the truth of what Paul tells Timothy. How can we live out the truth of the Gospel by keeping a good conscience and thus avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Preserve a Good Conscience

Preserving a good conscience means refusing to drift. Recognize that drift begins imperceptibly and happens gradually, especially if we fail to consider it as a possibility.

Drift happens through compromise. Compromise comes when we tolerate what we should not tolerate, things like torn sails, overloaded ships, complacency and arrogance. It happens when we refuse to challenge the sin in our lives. Sin destroys a good conscience and leads us away from living out the Gospel.

The blood of Jesus can restore a good conscience. Under the blood, there’s no guilt, shame or fear of punishment. In Christ, we have peace and rest as our consciences once again function properly, and we become able to live our faith in the Gospel.

Preserving a good conscience also involves keeping short accounts with God and others. This means following a continual process of confession, repentance and forgiveness. It means again and again returning to the Gospel.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Determine to Be Separate

Being separate from the world requires that we know God’s Word. We must meditate on it regularly and actually fear not obeying it. We need to cast it as our anchor again and again and wait for God to show us the way through it.

Being separate also involves declaring Christian warfare. That means we decide to keep up the struggle of becoming righteous rather than giving in to the world, flesh and Satan. We decide to refuse the easy and and to instead fight for our faith.

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Finally, being separate means knowing without a doubt what you believe…

If we truly hope to be separate, we must continually return to these Gospel truths and choose to live them out regardless of what others think, say or do. Separate is necessary if we hope to avoid the drift of our conscience.

Keep An Active Faith

An active faith is one that is alive and growing and focused living out the many directives detailed in Scripture.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee from these things; aim at and pursue righteousness [true goodness, moral conformity to the character of God], godliness [the fear of God], faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11, AMP)

Paul’s advice to Timothy here gives clarity on how to live an active faith… flee from the bad (anything contrary to the Gospel) and pursue the good (that which conforms to and confirms the Gospel). An active faith refuses to be lazy and instead insists on actively living out the Gospel in every way possible.

What if your faith is already shipwrecked?

What if you’re already adrift and off course? What if your conscience has already been thrown overboard and left behind? What if your faith has run aground and the waves are tearing it apart?

What if you’re in a place where you’re refusing to take responsibility and instead continually blaming others for your circumstances? What if you’re already ignoring the limits God provides? What if you’re already compromising convictions?

The answer is the same no matter how far gone you feel you are right now.

Return to the Gospel. Get to know God’s truth again and rededicate yourself to living it out.

  • Rebuild your conscience based on faith in the Gospel.
  • Reestablish your conviction to live separately.
  • Reactivate the activity of your faith.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

Shipwrecked Faith, Part 1

What causes most shipwrecks?

Shipwrecks are usually caused by one of many reasons. The most common are poor design, instability, navigational errors, weather, warfare, effects of age, improper operation, fire/explosion, equipment failure and intentional causes.

Shipwrecks also happen simply because the captain failed to believe it could happen. He simply ignored the warning signs or was just in too much of a hurry to see them.

Most shipwrecks do not happen in open water but in sight of the shoreline. The majority take place after the ship runs aground on a sandbar, coral reef, rocks or another wreck.

There are a lot of ways to avoid shipwreck, most specifically tied to awareness and diligence. Knowing where and where not to sail a ship is certainly a big key. Another is having a proper ballast since the ballast balances a ship and allows it to move smoothly through the water.

The causes and prevention of shipwrecks transfer easily to our faith life, mostly because of the connections Paul made to them.

What is a shipwrecked faith?

Paul was very familiar with shipwrecks. He personally experienced three of them along with a day and a night “in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:25). His experiences allowed him to use related terminology to help us better understand living out our faith.

“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, so that [inspired and aided] by them you may fight the good fight [in contending with false teachers], keeping your faith [leaning completely on God with absolute trust and confidence in His guidance] and having a good conscience; for some [people] have rejected [their moral compass] and have made a shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19, AMP)

Paul begins this letter to Timothy by warning him against false doctrines and myths. He charges Timothy to remain true to sound doctrine that confirms the Gospel. Paul also gives examples of two individuals who failed to do this and as a result shipwrecked their faith.

When we have faith in the Gospel, we lean on God with complete trust and confidence to guide us where he wants us to go. A shipwrecked faith, then, is a faith that has veered off that course and run aground. It’s a faith that drifted away from the truth of the Gospel and was broken apart by relentless waves.

The word “rejected” that Paul used is a nautical term that means “thrown overboard.” In other words, they made a choice to reject the faith and drift away from the truth of the Gospel. They are Christians who knew the truth of the Gospel and how it directs us to live, but they made choices that cause them to drift away and veer off course.

No One Is Immune to a Shipwrecked Faith

Any good ship captain realizes shipwreck is always a possibility. Likewise, every Christian must realize the real and constant pressure to live contrary to the the Gospel, to righteousness.  Not only is this Paul’s warning to Timothy, but life attests to this harsh reality for us as well.

  • Church leaders who become Sunday only pew sitters and some who no longer even attend church.
  • Rebellious teenagers who once loved and served God and were active in church.
  • A friend who says, “I know what I’m doing is wrong, but I know God will forgive me.”
  • A family member who wants to live like his friends who said, “This faith thing just isn’t working for me.”
  • Another friend who said, “How can I believe in a god who let my friend die?”
  • Paul’s own shipwrecked faith. (Acts 9)

While stories of others shipwrecked faith testifies to the truth of what Paul says in 1 Timothy, none anchor it better for me than my own story of a shipwrecked faith.

What about you? Has your own faith gone adrift or even been shipwrecked because you made choices that gradually got you off course?

In every case, a person with a shipwrecked faith — or one drifting that way — followed something contrary to Scripture. We followed a “truth” based on the world, the flesh or Satan that directed us away from how the Gospel of Jesus directs us to live.

Don’t give up hope! Return to the Gospel. Begin with this freeing truth.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

In Shipwrecked Faith, Part 2, we look at how to avoid a shipwrecked faith and what to do if your faith is already shipwrecked.

Love Holds the Key

Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.

Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Be on guard.

Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.

Stand true to what you believe.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.

Be courageous.

Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.

Be strong.

True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.

Everything done in love.

Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.

As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.

“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.

Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

In Should Assertiveness Be Your Goal? we talked about how some people often feel like doormats but struggle with becoming more assertive. We came to the conclusion that becoming Christ-like, which sometimes involves being assertive, is really the better goal. Let’s look at how to move toward that goal.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

Christ was certainly assertive, but he was also humble. This truth is evident throughout Scripture, especially in the Gospels. His life illustrates the perfect balance between confident aggression and humility.

Knowing Christ more and becoming more like him is the key to knowing how we should live and interact with others. It’s the key to knowing how to be assertive and humble at the same time. It’s the only way to know when to go the second mile and when to voice our plans, preferences and desires.

If the goal is to become Christ-like, not to simply be more assertive, we must first realize that one blog post, book or sermon (or even 10 or 20 or 100) cannot cover all of how that happens. Instead, we can begin our lifetime journey of progress toward perfection. We can start by looking at a few basics to create a foundation to becoming Christ-like even when our flesh or the world encourage us to focus on being self-confident.

Almost any part of the New Testament can guide us in becoming more Christ like. We find a terrific example of how this works in Ephesians 4.

Walking Worthy

Right away in Ephesians 4 we find a list of how “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… humility… gentleness… patience… tolerance… love… unity…” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Throughout the chapter, we receive instruction on how to live this out. With just one or two readings through Ephesians 4, quite a few pieces of instruction jump out for how we  “learn Christ” and are “taught in Him.” In other words, how we become more like Christ.

  1. Be equipped.

    This is why we have pastors and teachers. They help us understand and apply the instructions given in God’s Word.

  2. Speak the truth in love.

    Essential to maturity and unity in Christ. Also a sign of stable growth. Learn to talk through difficult stuff and to do so in a loving way.

  3. Be angry without sinning.

    While we can appreciate that anger isn’t forbidden, it’s important to realize that we cannot let it linger whether justified or not.

  4. Monitor what you say.

    Avoid saying anything unhealthy and destructive. Instead, words should edify and build up.

  5. Be kind.

    Forgive as Christ forgave you. Be tenderhearted, sympathetic and compassionate. Often, we must show kindness even when it’s undeserved.

You can find these habits progressing in the lives of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament as they spend time with him during is earthly ministry. They’re even more evident as they spread the Gospel after receiving the Holy Spirit. Even many individuals (Joseph & David, for example) in the Old Testament provide examples of these principles being progressively lived out.

Most importantly, you can find all of these habits exemplified in the life of Jesus during his 3-year ministry as well as implied in his life before then (Luke 2:52). Pick any Gospel and read about Jesus’ life on earth, and you’re sure to spot these habits carried out in perfection.

Our Helper

Jesus was certainly meek and mild. He balanced love and truth with courage. He was also proactive and commanded respect while also being humble and loving. His example shows us how to be assertive without becoming self-focused and over-aggressive.

As we seek to become more Christ-like, a lifelong endeavor to be sure, we can place our confidence in his desire to help us. Not only can we get this help in the pages of Scripture, but we have supernatural help us as well.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

Progress Toward Perfection

As we progress toward perfection, we can have confidence knowing we have a perfect example to follow. We have imperfect ones too that can also help us in our goal to becoming lie Christ.

Consider the following posts to help in your effort of progress toward perfection:

Should Assertiveness be Your Goal?

Feel Like a Doormat?

Ever made plans, got organized and fully prepared to follow through, only to have them changed by someone who already agreed to those plans? Do the same people seem to do this to you often?

What about making plans only to having someone who isn’t a part of those plans insist you change them to accommodate their plans, preferences and desires? Do your plans often seem less important?

Perhaps you usually keep your plans, preferences and desires to yourself because you fear others might not listen or will get offended because you don’t agree with what they want. You feel others simply don’t value what’s important to you.

When these types of situations happen and you fold to others once again, do you wonder if you are simply a doormat? Do you think you’re always taken advantage of by others because you don’t speak up for yourself? Maybe you’ve just decided you’re simply a pushover, and that’s your lot in life because you’re afraid to speak up for fear of hurting people you care about.

The problem for you could even be that you believe “turn the other cheek” as well as “walk the second mile” (Matthew 5:38-42) mean you should always give in to the plans, preferences and desires of others and disregard your own. Plus, Scripture talks so much about humility — thinking of yourself less — and you really want to live this out.

Should Assertiveness be Your Goal?

At times, maybe you decide you’ve had enough, and you’re going to become more assertive. You’re tired of being walked on and don’t want to put up with it anymore, not even from those closest to you. So, you decide to become more assertive.

Even though you’ve made this goal, you still fear becoming assertive because you don’t want to seem aggressive and selfish. You also don’t want to offend others. Plus, maybe you just don’t have an outgoing personality that seems to support assertiveness.

Mixed in with all of this is knowing that the way you feel now isn’t what God desires either. You don’t believe he meant for you to feel overlooked all the time. He doesn’t give you ideas and desires only to have them continually disregarded, right?

Maybe assertiveness is the right approach. After all, everyone thinks assertiveness is good, right? At the same time, it just doesn’t feel quite right for some people. What is the right choice?

Focus Determines Reality

Assertiveness certainly shows up in Scripture. In fact, Jesus often showed a confident aggression. For a couple of examples, read about how he talked to the pharisees in Matthew 23:13-36 and about how he showed is  anger in the temple courts in Matthew 21:12-13. Jesus definitely sets an example of assertiveness.

The second part of the definition of assertiveness, the “self assured” part, hangs me up though. Scripture just doesn’t support basing your confidence in yourself (Philippians 3:3), which is where assertiveness places the focus. Instead, as we focus on Christ and who He is, we better see how to assert confidence that comes from who He is and what He has done for us.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:4-6)

With that truth in hand, the goal really then focuses on becoming Christ-like, not being assertive. Being Christ-like means committing your ways to him and trusting him to work in your life instead of relying on your own efforts. It may involve assertiveness, but it does not make it the ultimate goal.

We’ll look at how to Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal in next week’s post.

Pursuing Truth

Solving the Problems of Flight

The Wright Brothers hit a standstill at Kitty Hawk in 1901 and almost gave up because they could not solve the issue of predictable control. They eventually realized they were relying on false data from others, so they built a wind tunnel and collected their own data. This led them to one of the greatest achievements in human history in 1903 — flight.

Had the Wright Brothers given up instead of pursuing accurate data, flight would likely have been delayed many years since no one came close to their achievements until four years later. And they only did that using data from the Wright Brothers. Perhaps man would not have went from the first airplane to a trip to the moon in one lifetime had the Wright Brothers not decided to obtain their own data.

If we approach our spiritual lives as the Wright Brothers did achieving flight, we’ll also see progress without borders. If we choose to pursue truth rather than take in information without question, we’ll discover how to live with unshakeable integrity. For an example of this, look no further than the Bereans.

Noble, Receptive & Eager

truthThe Bereans resided in Berea in Macedonia, and Paul and Silas preached to them during their second missionary journey there. This account is recorded in Acts 17:10-15, but we only need a couple of these verses to learn a great deal from the Bereans.

“Now these people [the Bereans] were more noble and open-minded than those in Thessalonica, so they received the message [of salvation through faith in Christ] with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. As a result many of them became believers, together with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” (Acts 17:11-12)

There are three aspects of the Bereans’ character we can cultivate in ourselves to help us grow spiritually by discovering truth. They Bereans were…

  1. Noble.

    In this context, noble means “exalted moral or mental character or excellence.” In other words, they focused on high-minded pursuits and did not let pettiness distract them from pursuing truth. They weren’t gullible but were willing to learn. They discerned truth amidst false data because they used God’s word to confirm or disprove what they heard.

  2. Receptive.

    The Bereans approached knowledge with an open mind. This doesn’t mean they accepted everything they heard as truth; instead, it means they listened first before passing judgment. They then sought truth based on God’s word and allowed it to shape their beliefs. Their moral character combined with their open-mindedness led them to see and understand the truth of the Gospel.

  3. Eager.

    In addition to being noble and receptive, the Bereans were also eager. These three qualities combined led them to not only protect Paul, but to one of them eventually accompanying him in his missionary work (Acts 20:3-4). Their eager pursuit also led to many others becoming believers. Godly morals and open-mindedness, when combined with eagerness, creates an unstoppable force.

There are many examples of individuals who followed the Bereans’ example, who let these same three qualities live and work in them and as a result advanced the Gospel. Check out the stories and writings of J. Warner Wallace, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for modern-day Berean examples.

What If…

what-ifWhat if more skeptics and doubters, both within and outside of the Christian church, pursued truth like the Bereans?

What if, instead of dismissing the Bible’s claims because they are difficult to understand, more people stayed open-minded and examined them thoroughly?

Dismissing the Gospel message because it’s difficult to understand is nothing new, though. Consider this…

“When many of His disciples heard this [Jesus teaching about himself as the bread of life], they said, ‘This is a difficult and harsh and offensive statement. Who can [be expected to] listen to it?’… As a result of this many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:60, 66)

What if, instead of avoiding something because it’s difficult or because it offends us, we instead pursue noble character and decide to listen to our pastors and other mature Christians with an open mind?

What if we use Scripture to regularly examine what we hear, regardless of who we hear it from?

What if we decide to eagerly pursue truth of our own accord instead of simply relying on what others — parents, teachers, pastors — tell us?

The Flight of Faith

Whatever your maturity, let me encourage you to pursue a life of noble character (righteousness). Approach Scripture with an open mind. Examine it regularly, collecting your own data. Let your faith take flight as you get to know Jesus and learn how much he loves you. Refuse to let other people decide the depth — or maybe even the existence of — your relationship with Christ.

Discover Encouragement and Determine Reality

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.