Spending Time With God

My husband and I have been married for 24 years, and we dated for 6 years before getting married. At this point, we know each other pretty well. Likes. Dislikes. Annoyances. Goals. Dreams. Fears. We started finishing each others thoughts after the 20-year mark, and we can anticipate needs and expectations better than ever before.

By spending time together, talking or just doing life together, my husband and I have gotten to know each other quite well. Of course, going through tough times together has a tremendous amount to do with how well we know each other too.

The intimate connection between a husband and a wife gives one of the best pictures of the intimacy — the knowing — that God desires with us. In fact, God actually uses the marriage relationship to tells us about Christ’s relationship with the church in Ephesians 5:22-32.

The Activity of Knowing God’s Will

You don’t have to be married to understand what God desires. God wants to know us, and he wants us to know him. Scripture is very clear on that.

Knowing God’s Will begins with the Gospel of Christ, that we know with utmost certainty. To grow in that relationship, we can look to the example of a good marriage. The knowing of another person that happens in marriage gives insight into the specific activity that results in knowing God and his will.

That activity? Spending time together.

Just You & God

Spending time with other people (children, extended family, friends) is necessary and beneficial. However, time for just my husband and me has proved crucial for the success of our marriage. The same is true in our relationship with God.

Spending time with God helps you learn what he wants, what he expects of you and what pleases him. It helps you anticipate his desires and to understand what he wants you to avoid. Spending time with God also helps you know the right decisions to make.

As with any other person, spending time with God is the best way to know him better. The Bible calls spending time with God “abiding” in him.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Abiding — spending time — with God begins with some very basic habits like reading your Bible (God’s spoken word) and praying (talking to God) daily. It involves just sitting in his presence and listening for his voice. And it also means praising him for who he is and what he does. Knowing God and his will also results in our actions reflecting what we know.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let. Him who boasts in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

We need to interact and communicate with the people in our lives to have a good relationship with them. Likewise, we need to interact and communicate with God if we want a good and growing relationship with him. As we do, he promises to reciprocate.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

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?

The Reality of Your Focus

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Notice the Theme

In Star Wars I: Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn directs young Anakin toward a way of thinking that really drives the entire movie series:

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

This theme actually runs throughout many books and movies. In most cases, it stands out with little effort put toward seeing it. As a Christian, I also see this theme throughout Scripture.

The truth that “focus determines reality” stands out the most in the Old Testament as God’s people continually struggle with focus, casting it from God Almighty to foreign god’s multiple times.

“This disaster happened because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt and because they had worshiped other gods. They had lived according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced.” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

The theme also comes alive in Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (Proverbs 4:24)

“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then your will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:2-5)

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

The theme shows up in the New Testament too.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Applying the Theme

FocusThis theme of “focus determines reality” has become one of continual application for me. And even though I regularly visit its status in my life, I still intentionally hone in on it a bit more at the start of every new year. This year, that deliberate focus came out in the form of three separate posts.

Pursuing a Quiet Life — A peaceful inner life permeates the outer, physical state of a person. It’s a deliberate effort that benefits not just our own lives but the lives of the people around us too by witnessing to the impact of the presence of God in a person’s life.

Balanced Goal Setting — We certainly should pursue our ideas and make plans as best we can. We also need to keep in mind that He ultimately accomplishes His will regardless of what we plan. With that, we need to leave room for the unexpected and be willing to love and pursue His will over our own.

Diligent, Peaceable and Occupied — These words give a deeper understanding toward what it means to focus on developing and living a quiet life. This focus also helps us accomplish the work God gives each individual in a productive and effective way.

My prayer is that this theme permeates your life too as you realize the importance of deciding your focus in the determination of your reality and how doing so falls within God’s design and plan for your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you seen the theme “your focus determines your reality” played out in your own life?

Note: For more Scripture examples, see “What the Bible says about staying focused.”

Balanced Goal Setting

DiligentGoal setting has existed in a variety of shapes and sizes for me over the years. I’ve attempted what others have recommended, and some of it worked… sort of… for a little while anyway. In that, I’ve personally experienced great success as well as epic failures with goal setting.

Traditional goal setting— taught via books, classes and websites — has never worked well for me. Bits and pieces, have, but not any approach as a whole. Yet, I cannot give up trying. Something inside of me propels me toward backward and present assessment for the purpose of forward planning.

Scripture about being prepared like the ant (Proverbs 6:6-11), counting the cost (Luke 14:28) and preparing your field (Proverbs 24:27) dominate my thoughts when I think of goal setting. Scripture also touts the importance of diligence…

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5)

But there are also Scripture indicating a futility in goal setting.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)

Setting goals without a good dose of humility results in setting ourselves up not just for falling short of our goals but for not enjoying – not truly living in – the present process and moment.

The next verse in James 4 helps bring a balanced perspective to planning and goal setting.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15)

Proverbs 16:9 further emphasizes this balance.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

This scripturally balanced perspective of goal setting gives me peace as I reflect backward and look forward because I can better see both the importance of setting goals and for leaving room for God to change my plans. Ultimately, this means His goals take precedence over mine.

To reach this balance, I find asking a couple questions to be quite helpful.

  • Do my goals make room for the unexpected?
  • Do I love God’s will more than my own?

The most effective mindset for goal setting involves having our own ideas and making our own plans but knowing God will ultimately accomplish His sovereign will.

DISCUSSION: Do you struggle with the idea of goal setting too? Does this more balanced way of thinking help in that struggle?

Trivial Frustration

2940147241851_p0_v1_s260x420 (2)My sons recently lured my husband and me into Trivia Crack addiction. In doing so, they brought out a deeply-buried emotion. At least, one I try to keep stuck in the most remote regions of my mind but suspect comes out more than I realize.

Years ago, frustration ruled and reigned in my life, usually in the form of hurtful words toward myself and others. In fact, my volatility became a point of humor at times. Nothing feels more frustrating than being teased over how easily you become frustrated.

Frustration brought out the worst in my temper, which did a nice job on its own too. At one point, I felt out of control. When I realized how easily frustration came and how anger almost always followed, I knew I needed to find a way to break frustration’s hold on me.

Overcoming Frustration

Until my recent descent into Trivia Crack mania, and discovering that my oldest son is way smarter than me, I thought frustration’s grip on my self esteem no longer existed. When I saw differently, I reached into my anti-frustration toolbox to again tame the animal before anger followed it its wake. Here’s what consistently works for me:

  1. Walk away. When the tension begins to build deep within my gut and the self-insults begin to fly carelessly out of my mouth, off goes the game. When I recognize the early signals of frustration and walk away, I begin the process of turning off my frustration.
  2. Find a distraction. Once I walk away from frustration, I must walk directly to a distraction. Reading. Watching a movie. Exercising. Cleaning. Anything to get my mind off of the cause of my frustration before I begin to stew and boil.
  3. Pray. When frustrated, my prayers resemble a “deliver me or I’m going to die or go to jail” sort of desperation. Of course, the preventative approach prevails in effectiveness, but I fail to always remember to pray for help with frustration until I’m deep in its throes.

Generally speaking, frustration visits my psyche much less today than in my younger days. Yet, it does still seem to sneak up on me from time to time in a cumulative, frog in the frying pan, sort of way. This process truly helps squelch the animal before the ugly really comes out. Staying well rested, healthy and prayed up makes the episodes flee sooner and stay relatively mild too.

Still, I cannot forget that frustration always exists as a struggle for me. Perhaps God gave me an insanely patient husband to balance me a bit in this area. For sure, a certain diligent awareness must always exist on my part to prevent frustration’s return to the throne. Lastly, great comfort comes in this struggle of mine through the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9.

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In this battle with one of my greatest weaknesses, Christ’s power shows itself in the specific activity that counteracts frustration. Nothing mystical takes place. Just a simple “do this” kind of instruction that leads me away from frustration.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for overcoming frustration? What other areas have you seen or experienced God work in a similar way?

Creating a Phyiscally Healthy Foundation

waterThe goal of a physically healthy foundation needs a consistent focus all year long, but especially during the holiday season. The extra food and the neglect of exercise, the choices affecting us physically, significantly contribute to the demise of our joy after the holidays.

After years of struggling with depression and having the holidays be the lowest point of the year, I finally realized this startling truth and began to understand how diet and exercise played a huge role in my mood & energy.

Physical & Mental Connections

We simply cannot escape the fact that the choices we make regarding our physical bodies directly and significantly impact us physically. What we do — or don’t do — physically directly connects to how we feel mentally and physically.

  • Our guts produce 95% of our serotonin. (Note: The human body creates Serotonin, which works as a neurotransmitter. Some researchers regard it as a main chemical responsible for maintaining mood balance. Many believe a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.)

If your digestion isn’t healthy, what impact might this have on your mental health?

Is it possible that there are dietary changes you can make to achieve a more consistent mood?

What could 20-30 minutes, 3 days a week do to improve your energy levels?

Lack of sleep can hinder you from thinking clearly and keeping your emotions at an even keel.

Is there a way to establish a more consistent level of sleep for the benefit of improving your ability to think clearly?

Can you add just a glass or two more of water a day to improve your mood and energy?

These basic principles operate uniquely within every person. The more and longer we neglect this impact, the increased likelihood of ill physical and mental health.

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A Physically Healthy Foundation

Of course, the goal is a consistently healthy lifestyle all year long, but maintaining is certainly more difficult during the holidays regardless of individual levels of diligence and self-control. Incorporate the following tips to help maintain physical and mental health during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Eat healthy food first. Choose fruit and veggies before heading to the dips, sauces and sweets. You’re sure to eat less of the unhealthy stuff when you eat the good stuff first.
  2. Find creative ways to be active. Park in the farthest spot from the entrance. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Commit to a certain number of push-ups or sit-ups a day. These small steps produce an immediate impact simply by choosing to implement them.
  3. Be diligent about rest & sleep. As much as possible, stick to a normal sleep schedule and have regular down time to rest. Don’t be afraid to take short power naps either.
  4. Drink more water. Comparable only to the impact of adequate sleep, staying hydrated significantly benefits mental and physical health. If you incorporate no other tips, drink more water and get enough rest.
  5. Take basic supplements. A good multi-vitamin and a probiotic are likely to benefit everyone. The mental and physical changes even after a couple of weeks will surprise you.

These tips provide the small steps needed for a physically healthy foundation. Having this core base of health allows for flexibility in your diet and schedule from time to time, something that can be helpful during the holidays. It also provides the ability to rebound more quickly after the busy season abates.

Small Steps Add Up

You may not be able to completely control what is available to eat at parties or the busyness of the season, but you can do a lot to find more balance during the holidays. This involves taking small steps that add up over time to make a big difference.

Determine to control what you can by taking small steps toward a healthier you. Consider immediately incorporating one or more of the above tips even before the new year arrives.

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How to… Be Yourself

Today’s post comes from the example set by my oldest son who is celebrating his 14th birthday today. Before I launch into a diatribe of how he can’t possibly be 14 because I can’t possibly be old enough to have a 14-year-old, let me just say, “Happy Birthday, Jonathan! I love you!”

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“Don’t feel stupid if you don’t like what everyone else pretends to love.” – Emma Watson

The quote above fits my son oh so well because one of Jonathan’s biggest strengths lies with his self-confidence. He knows how to stay true to himself. As I thought about why that is and how that is evidenced in his life, 7 qualities that describe Jonathan stood out.

  1. Loyal. Jonathan has a friend others seem to avoid, but my son will choose his friend over an invitation to join the “cool” kids. Why? “He’s my friend, and I like him.”
  2. Individual. Jonathan listens to movie soundtracks like Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and other classical-style music. He doesn’t like the music most kids his age listen to.
  3. Simple. Jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes. So much like his dad.
  4. Teachable. He asks for help with his homework as much as he does with the social challenges boys his age face. He gathers input, makes a decision, and then commits to that decision fully.
  5. Diligent. Jonathan sets goals and does what’s necessary to reach them. He needs little supervision.
  6. Honest. Jonathan has always had a very guilty conscience, even as a toddler. He owns up to his mistakes quickly and is honest with his thoughts and opinions. While he is still learning how to better mitigate those responses, his honesty is certainly refreshing.
  7. Humorous. He doesn’t try to be funny. He does sort of “collect” humor from what he reads and watches, and then he makes it his own. Jonathan just says or does what he finds humorous, and he ends up being hilarious.

These 7 qualities not only illustrate how my son Jonathan stays true to who he is, they also offer valuable insight into how each one of us can learn to truly be our unique selves too. At least, he has certainly taught me that lesson in my own life over and over again during these past 14 years.

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God has gifted me with such an amazing son, and I look forward to learning more from Jonathan in the future!

DISCUSSION: What qualities in Jonathan do you want to cultivate in your own life? How do you plan to do this?

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