Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

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

Struggling for Simplicity

simplicityDo you long for simplicity? In the chaos and confusion of overwhelm and overload, do you instinctively know your life wasn’t meant to be this way?

Our bodies crave simplicity. They long for whole foods instead of processed filler. They want activity balanced with rest. When our muscles tense and stomachs ache, our bodies are telling us to satisfy the craving for simplicity.

Our minds seek simplicity too. When our thoughts whirl and our heads pound from decision overload, that’s our clue to slow down, to simplify. A clue most ignore.

Why do we ignore the signal’s our bodies and minds send us as they cry out for simplicity? Do we really believe there’s no way out, no other way to live?

Now consider the soul. As our lives burst with activity and commitment, somewhere deep inside — in the truest part of ourselves — we recognize the lack, the emptiness of it all. We realize that in the overwhelm of life, our souls are underwhelmed because we’ve neglected their care.

Pursuing Simplicity

While overwhelm and overload happen almost without effort, simplicity only comes through disciplined and deliberate choices. And, experience tells me, the motivation for making those choices only comes when my focus falls to my Creator, to His desire for my life. Nothing else works.

I’ve wavered between simplicity and overwhelm. I’ve wanted one but felt trapped in the other. Until my body and mind said, “No more,” and I finally heard my spirit’s “feed me” cry, I lived constantly worn out and depressed.

Then I pursued — and found — a simple life. You can too. How?

  1. Learn the value of small steps. Educate. Try. Assess. Educate more. Try again and again and again.
  2. Learn to rest. Develop an appreciation for quietness. Realize that life doesn’t need to constantly be filled with noise and activity.
  3. Learn to say “No.” A quality “yes” only comes by saying “no.” We just can’t do anything well without letting other things go. Lisa TerKeurst addresses this well in her book The Best Yes.
  4. Learn the value of reading. Scripture first & often. Then, lots of positive and uplifting books that feed and inspire you. Refuse to say, “I can’t.” It’s an excuse to avoid the hard work. Reading trains your mind to think like nothing else can.
  5. Learn to prioritize. Most decisions involve good, better or best, not good or bad. Find out what’s most important, and make it the most important.

The simple life still comes as a struggle for me, but I’ve tasted it enough to know not to let it go. I’m holding on the best I can, often returning to what brought me there.

Listen to the clues. Slow down. Pursue balance. Step out of the chaos. Feed your soul. Struggle for simplicity. It’s worth the effort.

DISCUSSION: How do you struggle for simplicity?

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

The word “upgrade” leaped to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past several of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another.

Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point, we all feel the need for a new direction or even a new beginning. Whether we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades offered serve only to give us that “fresh” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. Fortunately, one area exists where an upgrade comes guaranteed to positively impact all of life.

An attitude upgrade brings a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, brings renewal to anyone’s outlook.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

Developing and maintaining a godly attitude could be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Be teachable, flexible and willing to change. Allow yourself to be renewed by staying open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) Let go of pride and admit areas of struggle. Confess the areas your attitude slides, and open yourself to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Choose positive input and allow it to push out the negative. Remember that a key in any discipline involves constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. The Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. That choice may need made place every minute at times, but we allow our emotions to only exist as gauges and not pilots.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment provides tremendous motivation when we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, and other Christians as well as non-Christians pay attention to our attitudes. We are setting examples and sending messages through our attitude, action and words.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) is particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

We all need attitude upgrades. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing serves to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn upgrades our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

Assessing Your Armor-Wearing Habits

Spiritual Heaviness

About every other time I get my teeth cleaned, the hygienist takes x-rays of my mouth. Before she takes them, she puts a lead blanket over my torso to protect my vital organs from radiation. The blanket is heavy, though not uncomfortable since it’s only on me for a matter of minutes. The heavy feeling of the vest, sort of blanket-like but not quite, reminds me of what my spirit feels like when a spiritual heaviness hits even though my daily habits haven’t really changed.

The Panoply of God

Armor of God Word ArtWhen a spiritual heaviness hit me recently, I did my usual self-check. I was exercising regularly & eating well. I was keeping to my daily and weekly spiritual disciplines. Life had thrown us some punches recently, but they by no means were serious enough to create doubt about God’s goodness. If anything, they reemphasized how blessed I truly am.

Yet the heaviness remained.

Reevaluating the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18 for Becoming a Defensive Christian led to a better understanding of what might be happening, the weakness in my defense so to speak. Verse 11 provided some particularly helpful insights.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Words used in other translations in place of “full” include “all of,” “whole,” “complete,” and my personal favorite “panoply.” The definitions of these words together create a better understanding of what is meant by their use in Ephesians 6:11.

  • Full — containing or holding as much or as many as possible; having no empty space.
  • All of — the whole of
  • Whole — comprising the full quantity, amount, extent, number, etc.; without diminution (diminishing, lessening, reduction) or exception; entire, full or total
  • Complete — having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full
  • Panoply — a complete or impressive collection of things

In the context of this verse, we see that the armor God gives us to put on should be complete, that all the parts should be worn and none neglected. The armor exists not as separate, single pieces; instead, the individual pieces together comprise the whole armor.

Assessing Your Armor-Wearing Habits

In considering the armor of God as a whole rather than only looking at the individual parts, several aspects arise that help make an armor-wearing assessment productive. Start your assessment by asking yourself a question: Can you use the following words to describe your armor-wearing habits?

  1. Consistent: Nowhere are we told to ever remove the armor. Yet, the assumption seems to be that we will remove all or parts of it at times. So, the “put on” exists as a perpetual call for consistency in doing so.
  2. Complete: Already detailed above but certainly worth reemphasizing, we are vulnerable if we do not put on every piece of armor. The directive is ALL, not some.
  3. Christ-like: If you list every piece of the armor and the spiritual qualities they represent, you’ll see the all of who Christ is and what he did. In other words, putting on the full armor involves a decision to become more Christ-like.

When I think of the pre-battle scenes in some of my favorite movies (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avengers), I remember the emphasis made of putting on armor or battle gear of some sort. The scenes remind me that even the most seasoned warriors prepare to face their enemy by putting on what they know will protect them from attack.

We are warriors too, and we must realize the importance of consistently gearing up for the unseen battle that can cause heaviness and steal our focus. Unlike in the movies, though, our battle in the spiritual realm doesn’t end or even abate, which means we must keep our armor on at all times.

But we’re human, and we won’t, so we need to remember to consistently put on all the pieces and realize that we put on Christ at the same time. In no other way are we at all prepared to take a stand against the enemy’s schemes.

DISCUSSION: How well do your armor-wearing habits reflect the qualities described above?

Go, Set A Watchman

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

Watchmen of Old

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

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

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

God’s Appointed Watchmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believers as Watchmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains elusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my boys also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom God regularly offers.
  6. Take small steps. Staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convinced me that focus is not a special talent like athleticism but is instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past six years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner and in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other teenage boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 6 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

Below is a guest post by Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure and become fully alive.

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

My heart is prone to forget. For seven years, my wife has struggled with a chronic health condition known as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) – a form dysautonomia. From 2008-2011, we traversed the specialty medical circuit – VCU, Vanderbilt, Toledo, and the Mayo Clinic – as Karen underwent test after test, consultation after consultation.

Over time, it became apparent that she would be forced to manage the disease rather than be cured of it. Through the days, months, and years of pain and struggle, Karen has shown incredible strength and resolve. And as her condition became our new “normal,” our attention turned to growing our family.

Some doctors opined that we should hold off on having children. However, Karen’s POTS specialist in Toledo encouraged us to pursue pregnancy, stating that many POTS patients do really well while pregnant.

Yet after three miscarriages, we contemplated whether or not we should simply give up. Thankfully, we didn’t lose complete hope, even in the midst of some extremely dark days. Eventually, Karen got pregnant once again, and this time, everything seemed to be on track right up through the first several hours of labor.

I have a saying that few things in our lives seem to come easy, and the delivery of our son would be no exception. About 4:30 AM, the doctor burst into our room, jarring me out of my light nap. With a deep concern in his voice, he confirmed that both Karen’s and the baby’s heart rates were unstable. They needed to perform a C-section right away. After the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, she gave birth to our beautiful, healthy son.

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Prone to Forget

Six months later, my heart is prone to forget about the struggle and pain. I am more apt to go about our daily routine of diaper changes and battling acid reflux without spending a moment recognizing God’s blessing of a beautiful baby boy.

Similarly, my heart is prone to lose sight of the cross and the brutal sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. I am so self-absorbed that I am more concerned about paying the bills than God’s work throughout the nations. I can stand in awe of God’s blessing one day and have completely forgotten about His favor a mere 24 hours later.

Maybe that is why the apostle Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing…” or why the Psalmist prayerfully offers, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

There are so many distractions in our world that it takes discipline to remain in firmly entrenched in God’s presence. Spiritual discipline. That’s not a phrase we hear bandied about too much anymore, even within the walls of the church. Discipline sounds so twentieth century. We live in the century of instantaneous pleasure and success.

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about spiritual discipline because my heart is prone to wander and is filled with inconsistencies. Nevertheless, an ongoing relationship with God cannot exist without spiritual discipline. Discipline is a word we often associate with routine and boredom. Yet by adding a little variety, we can keep our relationship with God alive and vibrant.

Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

We don’t have to sit in the same location to pray or read the Bible. We don’t have to attend the same church service and sit in the same pew we have been sitting in for the last 20 years. If your spiritual walk feels stale, it’s probably because it is. The goal of spiritual discipline is not discipline in and of itself, but to draw into a more intimate walk with the Father.

What are some ways we can add variety to spiritual disciplines?

Worship – This can take on so many forms. Why not look for creative and meaningful ways to worship? Work is worship. Art is worship. Singing is worship. The key is whether the worship points back to God or to self.

Prayer – I like to pray while I am walking on a nature trail. Sometimes I talk to God while driving. Other times, I prefer to pray just sitting in silence. We may need to break away for an hour and spend time with God in His Creation.

Acts of Service – There are an infinite number of ways to serve the church and community. They key involves utilizing our unique calling in a variety of others-centered ways.

Bible Reading – There are numerous, sound Bible translations available to us, and it may help to switch up every once in a while. In addition, we have limitless books, courses, Bible studies, and workbooks available at the click of a mouse. These resources provide a helpful way to inject life into devotional times.

DISCUSSION: Is your heart prone to wander? What other ways can we add variety to spiritual disciplines in order to make our hearts come alive?