Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

“Be a Scrooge!”

“Don’t be a Scrooge”

It’s a line we hear really all year long but certainly more during the holiday season. But what exactly does it mean?

Scrooge (skro͞oj) n.

A mean-spirited miserly person. (The Free Dictionary)

Most of you realize this reference is from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly, mean-spirit man who refuses to spend any extra money, not even for what many consider necessities (coal for a fire, for example). Contributing to charity to help the poor is abhorrent to Ebenezer, as is accepting his nephew’s kindness toward him.

After visits from three spirits (the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future), Ebenezer realizes how much of a skinflint he has become. He vows to change his ways because of what his future looks like if he does not.

None of us like to think we are a Scrooge, of course, but we often don’t have a problem throwing that term toward another person. I’ve even uses the term when someone simply isn’t being as free with their behavior and/or money as I think they should be.

Watching the movie (the one starring George C. Scott) again this Christmas, I realized that Scrooge has gotten a bad reputation and to some extent undeservedly so. In fact, I believe we all could benefit with instead using the phrase “Be a Scrooge” instead of “Don’t be a Scrooge.”

Be a Scrooge

“Scrooge” is usually used with negative connotations. Yet, he is an uncomfortably relatable character too. Everyone struggles with selfishness to some extent, and we’ve all certainly had to fight through a mean spirit from time to time. If nothing else, we certainly know and must interact with someone else who epitomizes a “Scrooge.”

In the story, Ebenezer becomes a “Scrooge” gradually. He wasn’t always that way. Life circumstances combined with his own choices created the person he became. We all can relate to this idea of gradual change.

But remember…  he didn’t stay that way.

While we don’t want to forget that aspect of Scrooge in the sense that we want to remember not to let ourselves become that way, there’s also inspiration to be found in this character who completely changes his ways. After all, by the end of “A Christmas Carol,” this is what was said of him…

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the old City knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world.”

Instead of being an icon of what not to become, can we instead think of Scrooge encouragement of what can happen to anyone?

People Can Change

We’re all likely guilty of thinking someone can never change. Maybe we’ve even felt that way about ourselves. Yet, I’m certain every one of us can also find someone who has changed dramatically for the better. And, likely, many of us have also experienced personal transformations along those lines too.

I’ve seen it happen recently in someone I love very much and who I thought lost to the world. He had an experience with the Holy Spirit and became a completely different person almost overnight. I’ve experienced it in myself too. After 25 years struggling with depression, I no longer live under its vice grip because of the transformative power of God in my life.

Unfortunately, while we see people change and are glad for it, the memories of what used to be — broken trust, abundant lies, negativity, depression — don’t just go away. In fact, fears of these coming back often linger for quite a long time if they ever go away. Because this happens so easily and even naturally, we have to determine not to focus on how the person used to be. Instead, we can choose to focus forward and enjoy the person they are becoming.

Let’s determine not to miss the fact that people can change and to remember to include ourselves in that possibility too. Determine to have this hope. Refuse to give up on yourself or on anyone else. Pray more than preach, and trust that God is working in their — and your — lives.

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

I Don’t Know

Many Meanings

The phrase can mean you’re not sure which choice is best or the one you want.

“I don’t know if I want that one or the other one.”

It can mean you have a preference but may want to let the person asking decide.

“I don’t know if that’s the best choice, but it’s up to you.”

It can also be a lazy answer because you don’t want to put forth the effort to think about the best decision.

“I don’t know why I did that.”

Saying “I don’t know” can mean you know the right choice, would rather make a different choice, and your will and your conscience are duking it out.

“I don’t know if I’ll tell her or not.”

It can also mean you really don’t know the answer.

“I don’t know why that happened.”

Saying “I don’t know” can send the message that you do not understand something or that you aren’t happy about something. It can be a way to avoid a conversation you don’t want to have because of laziness or discomfort.

Maybe you’re really not sure and just need time to think. Or, maybe you don’t want to tell the truth for some reason. Could be you know the response your real answer will get, so you don’t give it.

There are a lot of reasons to say “I don’t know” when asked something. And likely, we’re all guilty of all using each one at some point.

What Experience Shows

Here’s what my experience says about the use of “I don’t know.”

  • Most of the time, you either really do know and don’t want to tell the truth, or you’re too lazy to make a responsible decision.
  • If you truly don’t know, waiting is usually the best choice. Waiting is active though and involves seeking wisdom. Don’t move forward if you don’t have to without knowing until you’ve prayerfully sought the right path.
  • Sometimes, you really don’t know, and that’s okay if it’s from an honest place and not a lazy or deceptive one. Again, just wait it out. Sometimes, not knowing means you’re not supposed to act.
  • Simply waiting when you really don’t know is usually the best option. Many times, the situation will resolve itself or present the right choice if you just don’t force a decision and wait for it to present itself.
  • Sometimes, you have to make a decision even when you don’t know what to do. Pray about it, then make the best decision you can. God doesn’t expect perfection. Plus, there’s often simply not a right or wrong decision.

A lot of scripture get at these truths, so we can know for sure what God desires when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t know.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

God wants us to trust in and lean on him. He wants to give us wisdom for our decisions. He wants us to know which paths to take. And he wants us to have and experience good things.

Trust. Ask. Receive.

Why Are YOU Saying it?

“I don’t know” often shows authenticity and can be a builder of trust and an encouragement. After all, no one likes it when someone acts like they know it all and refuses to admit that sometimes, the truly don’t know the answer.

The next time you find yourself going to “I don’t know” for your answers, ask yourself if that’s really true. Seek out your true intentions. Here are some common ones.

  • Not brave enough to make a decision.
  • Afraid to make the wrong decision.
  • Don’t trust yourself to make the right decision.
  • Afraid of not being accepted if you answer truthfully.
  • Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Easier than saying “I’m afraid.”
  • Don’t want others to disagree with you.

It’s okay to not know sometimes, but it’s not okay to always not know. It’s not okay if your go to answer is consistently “I don’t know” because you’re hiding the truth.

Instead of automatically answering “I don’t know,” get into the habit of asking God for wisdom. Ask him even when you don’t have a specific situation or question. Make this asking a daily habit, and then seek to know him because knowing him more is the only way truly have the wisdom you need.

Live In Peace With Everyone

“Do all you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NLT)

Easier said than done. Especially when nothing you do or say is acceptable. Especially when the other person wants nothing to do with you. Especially when your moral compasses are pointing in different directions.

Many people live this out by acting like nothing is wrong. Fake pleasantries. Small talk. Avoid any words of depth. Tolerate. I get being civil, cordial and amicable, but even those can be taken to the extreme and used as avoidance techniques.

When others are not peaceable, I retreat. I keep outwardly silent and avoid interaction. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure retreating isn’t living out the scripture any more than is pretending everything’s okay.

And sometimes, I’m the one not being peaceable. I’m the one making things difficult.

Do All You Can

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

Those beginning words are key. After all, sometimes we do all we can, and a relationship still falls apart, and people still don’t get along.

Because it’s not always possible, and it doesn’t just depend on you.

Live at Peace

Scripture has a lot to say about living at peace, though. And when it comes to doing your part, it tells us that it’s not always an easy road to take.

“Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

See the commonality in all of these Scripture? Living at peace involves work. It takes effort.

What might this effort look like?

  • Don’t get even.
  • Let emotions fade.
  • Don’t start an argument.
  • Don’t provoke.
  • Don’t prolong a controversy.
  • Don’t push buttons.
  • Keep quiet.

Doing all you can looks very different from one relationship to the next. Plus, there are many other ways to work at living in peace with everyone not mentioned here. Too many to list.

So, let’s end with Paul’s words of advice and encouragement to help us in this endeavor to do our part in living at peace with everyone.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourself united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Expecting Encouragement

Feeling Encouraged

Encouragement can feel a variety of ways. When I’m encouraged, I’m any number of the following…

  • Motivated — Appreciated — Energized — Hopeful
  • Validated — Inspired — Reassured — Comforted
  • Supported — Positive — Enthused — Supported

When I’m encouraged, I’m more patient as well as more motivated to pursue peace with others. Encouragement just makes me an all-around better person. Does it do the same for you?

Expecting Encouragement

When I expect encouragement from other people, I’m always disappointed. They never meet my expectation, usually because they’re too high and/or because they just don’t know what they are and have no way of knowing. Also, I want encouragement from others to be authentic, a genuine part of who they are, and not from a place of obligation and should.

When I expect encouragement from God, I’m never disappointed. He goes beyond my expectations and far surpasses anything I can hope or imagine.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Beyond Expectations

What does it mean to not only receive encouragement from God but to have what He gives go well beyond what we can think of or even imagine? Maybe you are like I once was and how Han Solo so perfectly expresses…

“I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.” (Star Wars: A New Hope)

God’s encouragement always seems to be surprises and unexpected even when they happen every day.

  • A sunrise or sunset
  • Ocean waves
  • A child’s laughter
  • A smile from a stranger

Even though He so faithfully and consistently doles out encouragement, I still find myself surprised by it.

God encourages through the people we know as well as through the daily events in our lives too. He encourages us in many unusual ways too. Take a minute and think about the ways God has encouraged you recently in through these areas.

Really, there are simply too many ways to list. You just don’t always realize that until you get going. I find that once I start to list them, I have a hard time stopping. I’ll simply list how scripture says we are encouraged by God:

1. Through the Holy Spirit

“The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

2. Through Scripture

“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” (Romans 15:4)

3. Through our position in Christ

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?” (Philippians 2:1)

When I experience all the emotions that can accompany being encouraged, I better understand what Isaiah meant when he wrote what has become one of the most quoted passages of Scripture.

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

While I’m changed in many ways when I am encouraged by the Lord, the biggest impact comes in a desire to encourage others. Encouragement is just one of those gifts you don’t want to keep for yourself.

Check Your Posture

Future Signs

Watch the news, and you’ll see the signs Jesus talked about in Luke 21:5-38. They’re happening all around the world. Examine your communities and even your own family, and you’ll see them too.

Wars. Earthquakes. Famine. Epidemics.

Persecution. Betrayal. Hate. Destruction.

Amidst what seems discouraging and disheartening, Jesus also offers instruction and encouragement.

“By standing firm, you will win your souls.” (v. 19)

“Stand straight and look up.” (v. 28)

“Don’t let the day catch you unaware.” (v. 34)

“Keep a constant watch.” (v. 36)

These directives to his followers refer to awareness regarding a specific event in the future — Jesus’ second coming.

Check Your Posture

His words also get at what should be our current and constant posture.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

Even on bad days when the world seems against us and others are turning from God. Even when we feel alone and abandoned, like no one else sees the signs of the end. Yes, even when we’re hated and persecuted, and we pray for escape.

Stand firm and straight. Don’t cower in discouragement. Look up. Focus on the one who redeemed your soul. Stay aware and watchful. Know that Jesus will return, and you will stand before him.

Be Encouraged

Be encouraged by what’s to come because you know Jesus, and he knows you. Use the opportunities these end times present to be a witness to the truth of where your focus lies.

Jesus offers words of encouragement for just this purpose. His words are as true today as they were when he spoke them over 2,000 years ago.

“This will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry about how you will answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply.” (v. 13-15)

Take a few minutes to read Luke 21:5-38 and take in what Jesus predicts about the future and the place of his followers in it. Let it encourage you as you consider the dark times in which we live. Let it renew and refresh your faith as you focus on him.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

How to Avoid Bad Advice

Bad Advice

Lots of examples exist in scripture of individuals who followed bad advice. It begins with Adam taking Eve’s advice to eat the piece of fruit (Genesis 3). And it goes at least through Peter’s decision to follow the crowd (John 18).

Probably the most concentrated source of examples are found in 1 and 2 Kings as well as 1 and 2 Chronicles. Most of the kings chronicled were not good kings, and a good deal of their errant ways can be traced to their decision to follow bad advice.

Advice has a way of sending a person in either a good or bad direction. In other words, the advice we receive from others often impacts the decisions we make. Sure, following any advice, good or bad, is a choice. However, we cannot diminish the impact of the company we choose to keep either.

Wisdom Protects

How can we protect ourselves from bad advice? Psalm 1 gives the answer.

1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.

Following bad advice is easy when a person spends too much time around the wrong people. Notice the words used in verse 1.

Walk. Stand. Sit.

They indicate more than just a passing state. They show dwelling and spending time. Apply this idea to the examples discussed above of those who followed bad advice, and it is easy to spot the walking, standing and sitting that led to following bad advice.

Protecting ourselves from bad advice involves turning our focus to what God says. Look at verse 2.

Delights. Meditates. Planted.

If you study examples of those who followed good advice — Esther (Book of Esther) & King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23 & 2 Chronicles 34-35) for starters — you’ll these words in action. Their lives show the impact of choosing to focus on God’s words and desires and how that results in following good advice and avoiding bad.

You see, knowing what God wants by spending regular time in prayer and studying Scripture results in receiving wisdom, which allows us to know bad and good advice when they come at us. What’s more, knowing God’s heart helps us to better choose the company we keep in the first place.

Ask God

Psalm 1 also tells of the benefits of delighting, meditating and being planted in God’s wisdom.

3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither; and it whatever he does, he prospers.

The examples of those in Scripture who followed good advice based on their dwelling in God’s wisdom bear the truth of this verse. I encourage you to read through their stories and study their lives. Not perfect people, but people who continually sought God and the wisdom he freely gives.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

Many people live in the past. Some long for the glory days while others staunchly resist any change. Others live planning for the future and focusing on “what ifs.”

Remembering the past and learning its lessons is healthy, just like planning for the future is wise. Yet, dwelling in the past causes stagnation, and being obsessed with the future leads to missed opportunities, usually those involving relationships.

Balance must exist.

Instead, the past too often fades into the future with barely a glimpse at the present. At the same time, living only for the moment can become a dangerous thought pattern. When learning from the past and planning for the future are ignored, a dangerous self-centered pattern of behavior tends to grow.

But when living in the now involves applying lessons learned from the past along with using possible future destinations as tools for guidance, the present becomes an exciting time filled with ministry. It allows you to live what Paul writes about in Ephesians 5:15-16.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Focusing on the now allows for creating memories that enhance the past and create excitement for the future. We become motivated by the goal and guided by the past while at the same time remaining focused on the moment.

Principles for Living in the Now

We can choose to let the past consume us with fear of change. Or, we can let the future cloud our vision of the present as we constantly gaze into the distance.

A better option? Choose to live in the now, being guided by the past and motivated by the future.

The following 5 principles encourage that balance to happen in a way that helps us seize opportunities presented every day without letting our free will constantly put up obstacles from our past or our imaginations.

  1. Give relationships priority. We shouldn’t push people away because they don’t fit into our schedule. We need to love as Jesus loved, and he made time for the people placed in his daily activity. Living in the now allows us to see and to act on the opportunities presented to us.
  2. Determine not to give up too quickly. Jesus tells us that we can do “greater things” than He did (John 14:12). So why aren’t we? Perhaps it’s because we often give up too quickly. Determine to push through even if that means simply persevering for the day in front of you.
  3. Discipline your free will. God never permits sin. Deliberate sin always hurts His heart. And while he does not give us permission to sin, He does allow for our free will to make our own choices. Using the past as a guide and the future as motivation, disciplined free-will creates a productive now that is pleasing to God.
  4. Understand that people are afraid. As opportunities to minister arise, we must understand that how fear drives people. Rejection is often a person giving in to all-consuming fears rather than a rejection of us. For this reason, be ready to minister over the long haul. Take the opportunities in the now knowing the road is paved with perseverance.
  5. Pursue simplicity. Distractions abound to draw our attention from the present. Frustrations and over-commitment steal our focus causing us to fail to enjoy living in the now, and life quickly becomes complicated. Focus on simplifying life and discover an unencumbered life able to take the opportunities God presents.

As we learn to focus on the now and not just on what we plan to do or what will be, we begin to realize that compassion and ministry are very tangible. We realize we can always do more with the gifts God gave us.

Living in the now allows us to show Christ in us more through actions instead of just with words. When we live in the now, we see more of the opportunities he gives us for ministry, and we begin to fulfill His will for us as disciples.

“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Reset. Focus. Prioritize. Encourage.

Reset

When anyone’s cell phone seems to “glitch” as my oldest son calls it, my husband immediately says, “Did you turn it off and back on?” He knows that will reset the phone and usually result in a return to normal functioning.

In computer terms, a reset clears pending errors or events and brings a system to a normal or initial state condition, usually in a controlled manner. (Reset (Computing), Wikipedia)

Recently, I found myself reviewing the basics in every area of my life. A significant life trial has turned me back to the foundations of my operating system. I can’t exactly turn my whole life off and then back on again, but I can return to the basics in a way that sort of works like a system reset.

Focus

Every trial over the past 7 years has brought me back to a truth the Holy Spirit revealed to me when I entered what I call the beginning of the end of depression’s hold in my life.

“Do not remember the former things, or ponder the things of the past. Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even put a road in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

This verse serves to refocus me on what God is doing and is going to do. Yes, we need to remember what He’s done for us, but only in a way that reminds us of what He will do for us.

Prioritize

When life gets overwhelming (busyness, concern for loved ones, hard times financially, etc.) the basics provide stability. They exist as automatic priorities that can remain consistent even when all else seems unstable and falling apart.

For me, prioritizing involves letting three simple truths keep my mindset focused on what God desires.

As God reminds me of the power I am yet to see Him display, I return to these truths knowing they are guiding principles to give my life stability. All the details of my life flow through these basics.

Encourage

Let the basics guide and direct you. They provide a foundation on which you can build and move forward, and they can encourage you when you feel defeated. The basics provide a system reset that might not erase the trials you need to endure, but they will allow you to operate from a place of stability.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Even though I don’t fully understand why these basics serve to encourage me so much, especially during really tough trials, I choose to trust in the future God has planned.

Because he has faithfully brought me through so many trials already, I know he will do so again. Because he has done the impossible over and over again in my life, I wait for the impossible to spring forth again.