Hear. Listen. Understand.

Hear

Most people are very good at hearing. We know the right stance and facial expressions and even the appropriate verbal responses to confirm our hearing. But hearing remains only a physical act if we fail to fully engage in the process.

My 14-year-old has perfected the art of hearing. Eye contact. Mostly stationary. “Yeah” and “Uh huh” in the right places. Yet, his behavior later often confirms that he stopped with only hearing my words.

Listen

Once we hear, the next step involves truly listening. This means we choose not to form our response while another person talks. It means we decide to give value to the words we hear because we value the person saying them. Listening means we recognize that the words hold meaning and purpose beyond their initial point of origin.

As my boys mature, they move beyond only hearing my words and into listening for value. They attempt to apply instruction not just in my presence but as a choice for responsible behavior. They seem to grasp, at least at times, what many adults seem to be conveniently confused about, that those with experience and who love us quite possibly have valuable instruction to help better our lives.

Understand

Next comes understanding. After we hear and choose to truly listen, application starts to become a reality through our habits, and understanding grows. As understanding blossoms, the activity of hearing and listening changes from surface value to one of depth. A sure sign of understanding involves a person seeking out opportunity to hear and listen rather than waiting for them.

When my boys seek out my or their father’s advice, we see signs of this process happening. When a student takes notes and asks questions of a teacher, understanding is being sought. When someone spends additional time, perhaps in meditative prayer, reading or studying, they show a desire for the process of hearing, listening and understanding to become habit.

Jesus encourages this process in Matthew 13 as does Isaiah in 6:9-10. Lots of other places in Scripture emphasize the point too. Only when someone truly gives himself to hear, listen and understand does he finally see the significance of the repetition.

“Then the godly will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom: Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:43)

DISCUSSION: How does the “hear, listen & understand” process exist in your life?

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The Cure for Loneliness

Psalm 1391Many POWs tell stories about endless nights in dark, dank cells. They tell about discouragement over lack of compassionate human contact. Their stories reek of loneliness.

Most of us might struggle relating to a POW’s story of loneliness. After all, we live surrounded by people and comforts and activity, enough to keep the odor of loneliness far away.

If loneliness plagues you, you realize you don’t need a prison cell to experience it. Loneliness knows no social bounds. It hits in rooms full of opportunity for interaction and satisfaction. In fact, rooms filled with other people often seem more lonely than your own, empty living room.

And if loneliness seems to be your best friend at times, you know the weapon it often becomes in the enemy’s hands. He knows we’re less of a threat when we’re lonely. He knows loneliness brings an inner focus that drives feelings to run over facts. He knows that helplessness, depression and discouragement flourish in the confines of loneliness. If he can keep loneliness prominent, he knows he can keep us from effectiveness.

The Cure for LonelinessPsalm 1393

As with so many maladies that compromise the health of our psyches (the human soul, spirit & mind), understanding loneliness allows us to make tremendous progress toward victory over its, and the enemy’s, impact on the effectiveness of our lives. With that, let’s gain understanding of loneliness with the goal of making progress toward its defeat.

To defeat loneliness, we must understand that…

  1. Some parts of life are meant to be lived alone. Jacob’s transformation (Genesis 32:23-30). Joseph’s weeping (Genesis 43:30, 31). Jeremiah’s witnessing (Jeremiah 15:17). Nehemiah’s vigil for direction (Nehemiah 2:12-16). All give examples of situations a person often must walk through alone.
  2. God consistently addresses loneliness with companionships. God made Eve for Adam because it wasn’t good that he was alone (Genesis 2:18). God gave Elisha to Elijah to dispel the loneliness of depression (1 Kings 19:14-18). And God creates families to help overcome loneliness (Psalm 68:6). With unmistakable consistency, God dispels loneliness by creating opportunity for companionship.
  3. Companionship provides the greatest offensive for loneliness.  Companionship gives significant advantages, not the least of which involves ridding our lives of loneliness. Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 lists the benefits of companionship, including encouragement and increased effectiveness. Even Christ desired companionship during the greatest trial of his life. Though he failed to receive it, Matthew 26:36-45 clearly shows his longing for companionship as a source of encouragement as he walked a very lonely path.
  4. No matter how we feel, we’re never truly alone. The words of Matthew 28:20 likely sound somewhat familiar to most Christians… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Many find great comfort in this statement. The words of David in Psalm 139 describe the depth of this reality in every Christian’s life… “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7) The more this truth fuels a person’s faith, the less room that exists for loneliness.

Psalm 1397Even with a scriptural understanding of loneliness, many (myself included) still struggle with feeling lonely on a regular basis. How can this be true when God so clearly shows us his heart’s desire for our lives to remain absent of loneliness? The answer, perhaps, likes with understanding true companionship.

Understanding Companionship

When I feel lonely, even when sitting in the middle of a group of people, the reason usually lies with feeling disconnected. You see, loneliness goes well beyond a physical state and instead exists as a state of the mind. Only true companionship (affiliation, camaraderie, togetherness, union) truly dispels loneliness, not being in the physical presence of others. Consider the antonyms for loneliness to help understand this truth:

Together. Adopted. Cherished. Defended. Maintained. Supported.

Companionship, not simply proximity to others, provides the solution to loneliness by creating true connection that brings encouragement through valuing, accepting and protecting another. Only when we feel a togetherness and a belonging that creates a knowledge of encouragement and support do we truly see loneliness running off into the distance.

Psalm 13918The word fellowship, which also defines companionship, takes this reality to yet another depth by giving the idea of actually traveling together. There’s a reason we fellowship with one another and gather in fellowship halls. This idea of companionship as a way to travel through life together exists as a need at the core of our existence. When we truly experience companionship, when that deep need within us gets met, only then does loneliness become a distant memory.

DISCUSSION: How do we create or find the type of companionship that dispels loneliness?

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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?

Infused with Alacrity

Have you ever been annoyed by someone’s enthusiasm? When someone consistently lacks authenticity and instead exists wrought with emotion & absent of action, do they grate on your nerves? When a person seems full of inflated enthusiasm that flares quickly and fades even more quickly, do you find yourself rolling your eyes in frustration at having to again waste your time?

Perhaps you’ve been that person who has episode after episode of enthusiasm that quickly waxes and wanes, and you wonder what’s keeping you from finally following through… just once.

Perhaps the key involves alacrity.

Alacrity 1

What is Alacrity?

Alacrity involves having a cheerful readiness, promptness or willingness as well as having a liveliness and briskness to what you do. Synonyms for alacrity include eagerness, keenness, fervor, zeal, sprightliness & agility.

The Latin origin of alacrity — alacritus — combines “lively” and “tasty” and gives the idea of an enthusiasm that “tastes good” to the point of craving more.

We’ve all experienced this type of enthusiasm — the type resulting in action with far-reaching impact. This type of enthusiasm is followed by well-thought-out planning built on garnered wisdom carefully crafted into an exciting vision. That’s enthusiasm infused with alacrity.

Regardless of whether you struggle living out your enthusiasm with significant, meaningful action, or if you simply want to take your enthusiasm to another level, focusing on alacrity might be the key.

Alacrity 2

Boaz & Alacrity

While studying the book of Ruth, I came across the term alacrity in an unexpected place. Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives the name Boaz the meaning “alacrity.”

In other references, the name Boaz is defined with the words swift, strong, powerful, mighty, fierce, safety, protection and quick. All of these sort of skim the edges of the meaning of alacrity, but they don’t explain how the word fits with the man Boaz in the story of Ruth.

So I reread the book of Ruth with the idea of alacrity in mind, and the term came alive in a way that stuck… a way that is helping me infuse my enthusiasm with alacrity.

(Note: If you don’t know much about the book of Ruth, I encourage you to read through its four short chapters now with the idea of alacrity in mind.)

Alacrity 3

Infused with Alacrity

Alacrity comes alive in Boaz’s example. Based on this example, let’s look at how alacrity can be infused into a person’s enthusiasm and become carried out through that person’s attitude, actions and words.

Alacrity becomes infused in a person’s character when they…

  1. Look out for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4) Boaz made sure Ruth – and by extension Naomi – were taken care of in a right and proper way. Alacrity showed through in his willingness to help others.
  2. Are motivated by compassion. (Colossians 3:12) At first, Boaz’s motivation came simply when heard how Ruth took care of her mother-in-law. Alacrity showed through in his eagerness to help another person.
  3. Fulfill responsibilities. (Galatians 6:4-5) Once Boaz discovered his responsibilities as “kinsman redeemer,” he moved into action to immediately and fulfill them. Alacrity showed through in his readiness to meet requirements.
  4. Live deserving of esteem. (1 John 3:18) This doesn’t mean seeking respect; instead, it involves living worthy of respect from others. Alacrity showed through in Boaz’s agility, or natural willingness to live with godly character.
  5. Go above and beyond. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24) Boaz took initiative. He made the decision to act & then went well beyond expectation & obligation. Alacrity showed through in an enthusiasm that “tasted good.”

Alacrity 4

Alacrity Challenge

Does your attitude exude enthusiasm in a way that equips others?

Does it result in effective and complete action with long-term impact?

Do you live a life of integrity and effectiveness in a way that goes beyond the minimum required of you?

Do you use the opportunities before you and the gifts, talents and abilities God gives you to make a difference in the lives of others?

If not, what can you do differently to infuse alacrity into your enthusiasm?

Study it out: Read the book of Ruth. What other ways can you see alacrity come through in Boaz’s attitude, actions and words?

Setting Yourself Up for a Healthy 2015 & Beyond

 

New Years statsStatistics taken from: New Year’s Resolution Statistics from Statistic Brain.

On the one hand, I really dislike new year’s resolutions. All too often, they seem to set people (myself included) up for failure and increased self-abasement. Consider the following statistics related to new year’s resolutions as support of this fact:

45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions.

8% of Americans succeed in keeping their resolutions.

24% never succeed in keeping their resolutions.

These statistics hold little encouragement or motivation toward setting New Year’s Resolutions. Now consider this related statistic:

People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them.

While the failure statistics speak loudly, a focus on the probability for success can determine the reality for meeting desired change. To help increase your chances of success, be sure to set resolutions that take steps toward a healthier you, that help you focus on that which leads to a reality of more joy, and that build and repair relationships.

If you don’t like the idea of “New Years Resolutions,” call them something else, like goals or say you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle. Either way, creating resolutions/goals, whatever you decide to call them, can significantly increase your chances for having a healthy 2015 & beyond.

Consider the following tips for helping increase the probability of success for your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions.

  1. Pray before you set any resolutions. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the resolutions that direct you down the path of God’s will for His glory, not yours. (Proverbs 16:9)
  2. Keep it simple. Simple does not necessarily mean easy, but it does mean more focused and true to who you are in Christ. A mistake many people make with goals and resolutions involves setting too many or not making them specific enough. Instead, consider setting a few (1-3) specific resolutions over 10 more general ones.
  3. Use the small-steps approach. Never underestimate the power of small steps to add up over time to make a huge difference.
  4. Write down your resolutions. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California did a study on goal setting with 267 participants. She found that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down (See the article “What the Science of Goal Setting Tells Us about Accomplishing More of What Matters Most” by Michael Hyatt for more on this topic.).
  5. Pray over them frequently once they’re set. Put your written goals somewhere you’re likely to run across them frequently.

Now that we’ve covered the positive side of setting goals and given statistics supporting the benefit of making them, let’s take a look at some criticisms of goal setting and how we can combat these potential negatives.

  1. Resolutions too often focus on weaknesses rather than strengths. To combat this, be sure to set resolutions that build on strengths. Instead of focusing on fixing the past, focus on creating a better you in the future. Live forward, not backwards.
  2. Our goals often come from a place of comparison to others. Avoid this mistake by looking at who you are and who God wants you to be, not how you stack up in any way against another person.
  3. Goals & resolutions often set us up for inevitable failure. Get at root causes instead of symptoms. Start by simplifying life and reducing busyness and by gradually working toward creating a healthier lifestyle.

Personally, I’ve fallen pray to each of these criticisms in year’s past. Only by taking more time and prayerfully considering my resolutions before I set them have I been able to combat these criticisms which are all-too-easily a reality when nothing is done to prevent them.

Remember that this blog as a whole focuses on struggling to victory BECAUSE focus determines reality. With that, ask yourself what reality you want to struggle toward this next year. And remember, too, that a reality of true joy and one where truth determines focus lies at the heart of a struggle that truly leads to victory.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on setting New Year’s Resolutions as way to have a healthy new year & beyond?

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Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape the fact that Scripture also clearly advocates for a right relationship with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, building up the body of Christ, and for unity and peace by way of example for non-Christians.

The holidays have a way of amplifying the state of relationships, and, unfortunately, to make bad ones worse and cause good ones to struggle. Why is this? Likely, much of the strain comes from already struggling finances, expectations and disappointments that seem to surface at their highest intensity during the holidays.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered and approached rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes. What might this look like? Consider the following notes provided by my pastor during a teaching on Proverbs 3:5-6 and infused with my own thoughts and reflections.

My pastor titled his lesson, “Staying Healthy Through the Holidays,” and it largely inspired this series.

  1. A healthy family is committed and caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. An environment of respect needs cultivated. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Family convictions must be developed and deliberately lived out. These convictions must be stated and then allowed to shape traditions.
  4. Family dynamics change from year to year, and flexibility is required to maintain relationship through those changes. Purpose to adapt as people grow and mature and as numbers increase and maybe even decrease at family gatherings. Refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Assumptions can kill relationships. For this reason, make a point to respectfully express your feelings. Don’t take for granted that others know how you feel about them. Let them know verbally (say it) and physically (hugs, smiles, etc.).
  6. Many relationships fold under the weight of responsibility, which often increases during the holidays. Be sure to share responsibilities with others, which means not only asking what you can do to help but also asking for help too.
  7. This one may offend the technology-addicted, which is almost everyone these days… Engage people and be fully where you are. That means putting down the smart phone or tablet and making eye contact with people in the same room as you. And be sure to have alacrity, so your loved ones know you truly don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Like assumptions, expectations can also be relationship killers. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.
  9. As Scripture clearly points out, people are a priority. Because it’s important to God, be faithfully devoted to what will last… loving others.

Depression hits its height for many people during the holidays. So does family contention. And most likely, these two realities are closely related the the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year. Fortunately, a deliberate choice by the individual Christian can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you, and this directive certainly includes our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What are your recommendations for healthy relationships during the holidays & beyond?

Relationships 2

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How to Retreat With Purpose

Retreat

A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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Struggling with Pride

Pride

“The Great Sin”

In one episode of the Big Bang Theory, Raj accuses Sheldon of arrogance. While funny, the clip aptly illustrates the pride and arrogance constantly oozing out of Sheldon. Perhaps, like me, you find Sheldon’s arrogance amusing because, well, you can relate yet remain certain your own arrogance pales in comparison.

While we can laugh at others prideful antics on television, we also must admit to the reality of pride’s severe impact on culture. And it’s not at all funny.

Consider the following all-to-real examples of pride:

  • Politicians pursuing personal agendas.
  • Business and financial catastrophes like WorldCom and Enron.
  • Attention-seeking TV & music entertainers.

Pride exists abundantly within Christianity too. Stories of pastors living in extravagance and debauchery along with the many examples throughout Scripture tell the tale well.

Pride touches every aspect of life and culture throughout history. And while the widespread preoccupation with self continues making light of pride and even seemingly promoting it, as Christians we cannot consider pride humorous at all. In fact, we must consider it, as C.S. Lewis did, “the great sin.”

An “Anti-God State of Mind”

Seeing pride in others is easy, but seeing it in ourselves… not so much. Consider what Lewis says to ask yourself to find out if pride is a problem for you:

“How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”

Our annoyance and frustration with others too often points to our own problem with pride by revealing a desire to elevate ourselves in some way above others. Pride is very much a struggle of the competitive nature within every one of us.

Lewis describes the struggle it this way:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Pride, as Lewis describes it, creates an “anti-God state of mind,” living within us as a “spiritual cancer.”

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

The story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector proves Lewis’ point well. Please take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the passage found in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees words and actions show that pride involves:

  1. Thinking we have any merit in our own abilities.
  2. Seeing others with contempt and disrespect.
  3. Placing ourselves above others.

Lewis’s describes this “anti-God state of mind” with these words:

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

The words and actions of the tax collector, however, give us a needed view of humility. The tax collector stands at a distance and shows that he knows he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy and grace. He can’t even look at God because of the contrast between God’s holiness and the man’s own sin.

Identifying Pride

Fortunately, Scripture provides the necessary instruction for identifying pride in our lives.

  1. Ask God to reveal your pride. We must ask God to show us our pride, because we likely won’t see it otherwise.
  2. Earnestly seek God. And remember, eradicating pride is not a one and done deal.
  3. Seek accountability. God encourages us to seek others help in eliminating sin.
  4. View humility as essential. Christ’s example of humility sets the standard.
  5. Look in the mirror of Scripture. The Redeemer Church of Dubai offers a list of “30 Biblical Indicators of Pride in Our Lives” and gives a great way to use Scripture as a mirror for identifying pride.

Pride blocks our ability to see God (Deuteronomy 8:14). Humbleness, on the other hand, involves awareness of the heart’s true condition, one of sinfulness, hopelessness and utter depravity without the redeeming work of Christ. We’ll look at humility in detail In a couple of weeks.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on pride?

Two resources in addition to Scripture played a tremendous role in this very personal study on pride: Pride & Humility by Thomas A Tarrants & The Great Sin by C.S. Lewis.

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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