Keep It Simple

What does God want me to do on a day-to-day basis?

How does he want me to live?

What is His will for my life?

 

The Bible certainly provides much detail in answer to those questions. Sometimes, though, I just want (need) a simple answer.

Some days get so overloaded I feel overwhelmed and like I’m barely keeping up. On those days, I want a basic answer to help me refocus. Fortunately, we can find those in the Bible too.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This verse comes at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. So, it’s part of his final instructions. I always look at the end of Biblical letters, verses like this one, as “if you remember nothing else of what I said, remember this.” Or, “if you want a starting point, here you go.” That’s how I usually take those instructions.

In other words, I see final words like these as ways to not over-complicate God’s will for us. Yes, there are more details we can and should delve into. At the same time, instructions like these help me keep a simple focus, something I need help with when life feels overwhelming.

Be joyful.

Keep praying.

Be thankful.

 

Even on my worst days, simple instructions like these serve to refocus me on God’s will. Even the slightest turn of my focus more fully on him serves to encourage my spirit and lessen the burden of overload.

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Get Back to Grace

Abundant Grace

Do you speak words of hope or condemnation? What about your thoughts? Do you, like me, sometimes find your words and thoughts gravitating toward the negative and critical? If so, maybe you need to get back to grace.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

The grace I’ve abundantly received from Christ drives my own refocus on grace. He gives more than enough for me to give to others.

Focusing on Grace

In my experience, the journey back to grace involves being deliberate in my thought life.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This refocus also means making gratitude a consistent habit.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Blossoming Hope

As you return to grace, you’ll discover hope blossoming in every area of life.

“Set your hope on grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13)

This happens as we realize what grace makes possible.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Getting back to grace means getting back to the Gospel of Jesus. Return there often. Let your hope be continually renewed. As you do, you’ll find your perspective towards yourself and others transformed. You’ll find encouragement and joy in abundance.

Respond or React

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting. Below is a summary of what he says.

Reacting and responding may look the same at times, but they certainly feel very different from one another. In review of my most memorable times of reacting and responding, I definitely find this to be true.

When I think of those times when I’ve responded instead of reacted versus those when I’ve reacted instead of responded, some patterns emerge. Before delving into those patterns, understand that everyone has reacted when they should have responded. To do so is part of what it means to be human.

It’s those times, seasons really, when we seem to live in reactionary mode that are cause for concern. During these seasons, the following are usually true for me and need dealt with in order for me to move back into respond mode.

Busy and Overwhelmed

When I have too much to deal with mentally or physically, my overall quality goes down in pretty much every area of life. Often, this happens because of Decision Fatigue when there’s just too much stress for me to process life with any clarity and focus.

Off Track

Being off track is basically a loss of focus. It means I’ve stalled and am no longer moving forward. It means I need to get back on track before I’ll be able to be consistently healthy and productive again. Essentially, since focus determines reality, this is a time to Reset Your Focus.

Reacting instead of responding has become a sign that something is off in my life. I now use it as an opportunity to take stock and see where I need to adjust or even reset in some way.

Sometimes, it means I need to simplify again. Others, it means I’m letting my feelings instead of the facts dominate my thinking. Whatever the root cause, a time of evaluation — usually accompanied by resting — helps me see what needs adjusted.

Always, this process includes lots of prayer. At the source of this prayer during these assessment times in my life are a few key Scripture that I’d like to end with and to encourage for meditation.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Truth. Wisdom. Discipline. Discernment. (Proverbs 23:23)

Learning to Be Wise

Drawn to Wisdom

Some people seem naturally wise to me. Since they seem to always know how to act and what to say and do in every situation, I’m drawn to these people. I want to be like them.

A friend recently told me about celebrating her 70th birthday in between two major hospital stays. She said that what she’s realizing most of all these days is that so much of life is not in our control, but we can choose to become wise. In other words, she reminded me that wisdom is learned.

How to Learn Wisdom

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about wisdom. Here are just a few verses from chapter 9 that specifically talk about how to learn wisdom.

“Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.” (Proverbs 9:6)

“Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more.” (Proverbs 9:9)

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom, then, is learned by focusing on it and by choosing to neglect foolishness. It’s learned by humbling yourself under Godly teachers. And, it’s learned by respecting and revering God.

Acquire Wisdom

No longer do I simply wish to be like my wise friends, though I still am drawn to them. I’ve read these verses before, but they’ve clicked for me in a new way because now I’m choosing to pursue to acquire — wisdom.

The word “acquire” helps me understand what this choice to pursue wisdom actually means.

“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.” (Proverbs 4:5, NASB)

When you acquire something, you gain it for yourself through your actions and effort. You then possess or own that something. It becomes yours.

With that, I’m determined to do what is necessary to acquire wisdom. I want to possess it, to own it. Let it become a part of who I am, Lord.

A Passion for Seeking Wisdom

As Christians, we believe the Bible gives us all we need for right living. As God’s inspired word, it tells us all we need to know to love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31). The Holy Spirit is our partner in this and helps us understand and navigate God’s word (John 16:13).

Sometimes, though, the answers to life’s questions don’t obviously appear in Scripture. We know we need to pray and let the Holy Spirit work in us for understanding, but that understanding often takes longer than we’d like. We also have to admit that sometimes, even after seemingly endless study and prayer, the answer remains, “I don’t know.”

There are many clear answers in the Bible. Some answers aren’t as clear as we’d like. Either way, we know we have what we need to live and think as God desires. The book of Proverbs is a great example of this mix. Much of its content and application is clear. Others, not so much. Some, it often seems to me, is both. And there’s good reason for this mix.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Take Proverbs 2 for example. My study Bible titles this chapter as “The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security.” Essentially, the chapter’s main ideas is that pursuing wisdom will lead you to the right course of action every time.

Here’s my summary of the first half of the chapter.

“If you receive my words and store them up… if you turn your ears to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding… if you seek insight as much as you seek the things this world values most… then you will understand how to respect God and find the wisdom of God… He will give you knowledge and understanding and success and protection. You will know every good path to take because wisdom and knowledge will be a part of who you are. Discretion and understanding will protect and guard you.”

What I hear God telling me is to make seeking wisdom through His word a habit. He’s telling me to let His Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to me through the Bible and through other people. When I do this, not just when I’m struggling but also when I’m not, He promises to show me the right steps to take just. He promises to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

God is saying that we should expect to hear wisdom and gain understanding when we make seeking it from Him a habit. We need to look for it continually and make an effort to understand what He’s revealing to us (meditate on it). We must ask for insight and understanding. He promises to give it to us.

Application

If you’re still not sure how to get the wisdom of God and what it means for your life, read the entire book of Proverbs. While there are a lot of specifics in it, focus just on the directives specifically about wisdom. Consider listing them in a journal. I promise you’ll come away with a greater understanding of the wisdom of God along with a greater passion for seeking it.

A Godly Teacher

A Godly Teaching Philosophy

Recently, I had to write my teaching philosophy for a class I was taking. It’s actually something all teachers are supposed to create for help in finding a teaching job. For my philosophy, I tried to honestly focus on what was important to me as a teacher and on what I wanted students to take away from any class I taught.

Shortly after writing my philosophy, I revisited the end of Ecclesiastes and saw what reads like a teaching philosophy ordained by God.

“Because the teacher is wise, he taught the people everything he knew. He collected proverbs and classified them. Indeed, the teacher taught the plain truth, and he did so in an interesting way. A wise teacher’s words spur students to action and emphasize important truths. The collected sayings of the wise are like guidance from a shepherd. But, my child, be warned; there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting!” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)

As a Christian teacher, regardless of the topic being taught, I certainly want to live out this philosophy. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the college classroom or a Sunday school class. In fact, these verses really reflect what God desires of every teacher, from a parent teaching a child to a trainer in the workplace to a formally-educated teacher.

8 Actions of a Godly Teacher

These verses provide a lot of practical application for any teacher, even if not formally one.

  1. Learn to be wise. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Wisdom is a choice. No one has to remain ignorant.
  2. Teach what you know. I must deliberately tell myself to stick with what I know. In fact, I had to learn that it was okay to say “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” People respect that sort of honesty. I learned a lot following through with that response too.
  3. Teach the plain truth. Don’t need to be the most original or creative person. Just teach the necessary information. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. Be interesting. For me, this means collecting stories to tell. It means connecting teaching points with the movies I watch and the books I read. Everyone has interesting applications they can make just from what is already going on in their lives.
  5. Spur students to action. This begins with being a person of action myself. Then, I try to encourage students to always do their best. We connect what they’re learning with their lives, and they hopefully leave with a motivation to apply what they learn.
  6. Emphasize important truths. With every lesson taught, there are certain “if they learn nothing else” sort of points. In other words, students must learn these truths even if they remember nothing else. Because they are so important, teachers usually emphasize these truths in multiple ways.
  7. Guide like a shepherd. A shepherd protects and leads his sheep to refreshment. He’s both gentle and firm. A teacher can find a lot of success simply from applying the approach a good shepherd takes with his sheep.
  8. Keep it simple. I tend to over-complicate just about everything and must deliberately tell myself to keep things simple. There’s even a sign on the wall in front of my desk says, “Simplify” to continually remind me to do this. Simple doesn’t mean easy or trivial, but it does involve focusing on clarity.

An Over-Riding Philosophy

If we take these ideas one step further, into the next verse in Ecclesiastes, we find an over-riding philosophy that brings focus to all these actions.

“Here is the conclusion of the matter; fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

When a person respects God and seeks to obey him, all his attitudes, actions and words line up with what God desires. And, we see that doing so is not even an option… it’s a calling and a commission… for all of us.

Hope in Aging

Revisiting Aging

Maybe it’s because middle age is bearing down. Maybe it’s because my youngest is now a senior in high school. Perhaps the struggles of my aging parents are the reason. Or, maybe it’s simply the increase in body aches and inflexible muscles. Could also be my going back to school and wondering if it’s crazy to do so at my age. Probably, it’s all of these combined.

Whatever the reason on any given day, aging and the fleetingness of time has become more of a focus for me. I can easily get overwhelmed and even depressed about it. To prevent that, and further, to embrace what lies before me in the second half of my life, I turn to what the Bible says about aging and time and purpose.

It’s a topic I revisit more frequently with every passing year. Fortunately, the Bible offers much in the way of wisdom about aging. In my revisiting, then, I find tremendous peace.

Startling Aging Facts

Statistics tell me that a lot of people struggle with aging:

  • The highest suicide rate is among adults ages 45-54.
  • The second highest is adults over 85.
  • Younger groups have consistently lower rates.

Even worse, they show that many give up on that struggle. They simply lose hope.

The Bible and Aging

Fortunately, the Bible offers a lot of hope for those at any stage in this struggle.

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

These verses remind me that, as a Christian, there is honor and blessing in growing old. They tell me that while my body may be weakening, I am growing in wisdom and my spirit is being renewed every day.

God, through his word, focuses me on hope. He focuses me on Him.

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him.’” (Psalm 92:12-15)

Looking Ahead

There are circumstances beyond our control that contribute to decline as we age. Physical decline and possibly even mental decline will happen. Spiritual decline doesn’t have to happen though.

Doing what I can to age gracefully in the temporary dwelling of my human body, I grasp what God’s word says about how he wants me to flourish in old age. I hold on to the fact that my spirit will live on into eternity and never grow old.

Capturing Thoughts

Continual Drawing

There’s sometimes little rhyme or reason to how my mind works. I just don’t get how I dwell on certain things but let others go easily. Frustrating, especially when nothing I do can get me off a specific thought track at times.

Some days more than others, my thoughts seem to control me. They distract me from what matters most and focus me on what matters little.

Years ago, this distraction sometimes lasted months. It often led into the pit of depression. Now when it happens, I sooner rather than later end up wandering in Scripture until the focus on what matters most returns. That speaks not to any effort on my part but instead to the continual drawing of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Parsing it Out

Especially when I struggle with errant thoughts, I spend some time parsing out this verse:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

When I do this activity, I usually start by going to Bible Hub where I can get a verse listed in several translations one after another. Reading through these helps me better grasp the focus of a verse.

Drew Reichard in his post, “What Does the Bible Say about Refugees and Foreignerson Biblegateway.com explains why this is important and helpful.

“Each translation is an attempt to capture both the idea and the accurate wording as they were originally written; but there are differences, so reading versions side-by-side can add to your understanding of the text.”

Here’s what the process basically looks like in my journal for 2 Corinthians 10:5.

  • Demolish arguments and every pretension = destroy every proud obstacle = destroy arguments and every lofty opinion = tear down arguments and every presumption = overthrowing arguments and every high thing = casting down imaginations and every high thing = every bit of pride.
  • That sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = raised against the knowledge of God = that sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = lifting itself up against the knowledge of God = that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.
  • We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ = We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ = take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Doing this helps focus my thoughts. It helps God’s truth saturate my thinking and establishes it once again in what matters most.

Yes, I know this verse refers to spiritual warfare and not relying on human ingenuity or manmade plans to bring victory. I realize it’s getting at what keeps those who don’t yet know Christ from knowing him, things like secular humanism, cults, false religions, etc.

But a broad truth within it, the idea of making every thought obedient to Christ helps bring my errant thoughts back into submission to God’s truth. In other words, my thinking focuses back where God wants it.

Going Deeper

When studying a single verse, respect the importance of understanding the context by reading the verses surrounding it too. This is one way to go deeper into the meaning and application of a verse.

I also like to go deeper into the truth of a verse by reading the verses that connect with it in some way.

This is what going deeper by looking at other scripture looks like for 2 Corinthians 10:5:

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Taking connecting verses like these, I write them out in my journal then jot down some personal application points. I also note connections among the various verses I’ve written down.

By no means does this type of study make up my entire Bible study approach. Generally, this is just a great refocusing activity for me when I’m struggling.

Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.