Seeking Silence

Too often these days, maybe even constantly, the sounds of busyness overwhelm our attention. Yet, we often don’t even notice it’s happening.

Not only have most of us forgotten what quiet sounds like, many no longer desire it or even think it’s possible to enjoy. How often have you heard, or maybe even said yourself, something like, “I have to have music or the TV on” or “It’s just too quiet” or “I can’t sleep without noise”?

So many of us have become accustomed to life’s noises, so much so that the idea of being alone with our own thoughts is undesirable at best and anxiety producing at worst.

Yet, science backs the notion that silence is good for us.

  1. Silence relieves stress and tension.
  2. Silence replenishes our mental resources.
  3. Silence helps us tap into our brain’s default mode network.
  4. Silence can regenerate brain cells.

“In a loud and distracting world, finding pockets of stillness can benefit your brain and body.” (Why Silence is Good for Your Brain)

Saying “I can’t stand quiet” or some version of this only verifies that you’re suffering from this “modern plague.” The symptoms?

  • Constantly distracted
  • Mental fatigue
  • Struggle to focus
  • Struggle to solve problems
  • Struggle to come up with new ideas.

If you’re still not convinced you suffer from this malady, consider that Jesus regularly sought solitude.

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” (Mark 6:30-32)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46)

If the Son of God needed peace and quiet, and he lived in a less noisy culture in many ways than we do, isn’t it likely we need peace and quiet too?

Misplaced Determination

Ever come across someone who refuses to admit they’re wrong? What about someone determined to do only what they feel like doing regardless of how it impacts others? If we’re all honest, we’re all guilty of doing both. Living this way habitually eventually leads to a loss of a moral center characterized by a rebellious, vague, everchanging lack of focus.

Determination can be good or bad. It all depends on the object, the focus, of that determination.

“They are determined with faces set like stone; they have refused to repent.” (Jeremiah 5:3)

Refusal to repent results from selfishness and pride. The desire to follow feelings only drives selfishness. Unwillingness to admit when wrong or even to consider being wrong a possibility comes from pride.

Humility is a learned attitude. It comes with experiencing the relational benefits of a humble attitude. This is especially true in contrast to the relational consequences that accompany pride and selfishness.

Humility is a matter of focus too. It’s a matter of properly directed determination. It’s about allowing yourself to be led versus insisting on leading self.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon Jinn, Star Wars)

Cultivating Perseverance

Recently, I’ve felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with persevering.

Maybe that’s why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.

Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.

  1. Distractions are weighing me down.
  2. My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
  3. Discipline brings strength.

Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.

Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.

Become Effective By Being Selective

In The Purpose Driven Life, Day 3, Rick Warren begins by asking this question:

“What drives your life?”

In the discussion, Warren talks about “quiet desperation” and “aimless distraction.” All of us can probably describe what each of those means and be able to give examples of what they look like within our own lives.

Each of us also knows how these really mean that we’ve lost focus on what drives our lives. A truly frustrating state of mind, to be sure.

While we could look at this topic from a variety of angles, let’s focus on only one. In Warren’s words…

“You become effective by being selective.”

Taking on too much. Worrying. Being too busy. People pleasing. Mediocrity. Following feelings. Seeking acceptance from the world. Approval seeking. Making comparisons.

That’s my list. It’s what overwhelms me if I’m not selective. If I fail to focus and instead follow fads and feelings, I’m not at all effective. Instead, I’m depressed and frustrated, all because I’m not being selective.

Being selective means choosing best over good enough. It means pursuing expertise instead of being a generalist. Most important, for Christians being selective means letting God decide who, what, when, where, why and how.

How does this happen?

God’s word to Joshua when he was likely feeling overwhelmed be being thrust into leadership and given an overwhelming task to accomplish gives us the instruction we need.

“Keep the law always on your lips. Meditate on it day and night, careful to do everything it says. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

For the Christian, then, being selective means:

  1. Knowing God’s Word fully.
  2. Studying God’s Word continually.
  3. Obeying God’s Word completely.
  4. Leaving the results up to God.

Being selective involves walking a God-directed path. We can only know the steps to take, though, if we know God’s directions. Only then will we be effective in truly eternal ways.

Onward & Forward

“The righteous will move onward and forward, and those with pure hearts will become stronger and stronger.” (Job 17:9)

Job’s friends were pretty tough on him. They were wrong in their accusations too. Yet, Job kept focusing on God. Job knew that God’s ways were the only sure steps he could take.

So, Job moved “onward and forward” and became “stronger and stronger,” knowing God was faithful. Even amidst devastation, Job sought God.

Sometimes, one step onward and forward is all we can take. We can trust that God will strengthen us as we keep our focus on Him.

“The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:10)

Paying Attention

Ever been told to “pay attention”? Ever tell someone else to “pay attention”? We can all probably answer “yes” to both of these questions.

Every wonder why we so often struggle to pay attention? If pressed to give a short answer, I would say, “comfort and distraction.”

Distraction probably makes sense to most. We struggle paying attention often because we have so much other stuff vying for our focus.

Comfort, though? For me, yes. Often, actually.

Too Comfortable?

A significant, often overlooked, danger to/enemy of our attention is comfort. Comfort with the world and with our own level of growth.

When we get too comfortable, we let our guards down. As a result, things (habits, activities, people, etc.) get into our lives – and become distractions – that shouldn’t. We then begin to pay attention to those distractions and make them our focus.

If you’re struggling to visualize this happening, read through the book of Judges. It’s filled with examples of how God’s people got comfortable and failed to pay attention over and over and over again.

Do An Assessment

To avoid the damage that can happen when you fail to pay attention, take time to assess your own attentiveness to the things of God regularly. The following questions can help:

  1. Do I regularly read and meditate on Scripture? Am I dwelling on it or rushing through?
  2. Are my prayer times forced and obligatory?
  3. How are my reactions? Am I quick to rush to conclusions? Do I make decisions based on far too many assumptions rather than taking time to get the facts?
  4. Is my attitude like a roller coaster?
  5. Am I always in a hurry? Do I constantly push others to step up the pace too?

Let the Holy Spirit show you where you need to make adjustments. Let God guide you to a place of focused attention that propels your productivity for Him.

Bookends of Readiness

Bookends keep books upright. They help keep them organized and in good condition too. Bookends of readiness for sharing the Gospel function much in the same way.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

The books in the middle make up the “defense” and “reason” for the hope that you have. Essentially, that is your testimony. The bookends?

  1. Sanctification
  2. Meekness & fear

Sanctification (holiness) keeps a believer ready to evangelize by lending authenticity to his witness. Meekness and fear indicate humble patience along with recognition of who God is and the truth of what the Bible says about Him. The Elliot Commentary explains it this way:

“Recognize, in word and deed, His full holiness, and therefore to treat Him with due awe.”

The bookends of sanctification on one side and meekness and fear on the other hold up our defense – our witness – by keeping the focus on God.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:23)

“And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23)

Progress Over Perfection

Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because I get easily frustrated over my apparent lack (or absence) of progress as well as the lack (or absence) of progress I see in others, I need reminded of what God says about how we are to grow spiritually.

To that end, this post is simply my collection of Scripture emphasizing the idea of focusing on progress over perfection.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the LORD’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.(Ephesians 4:15)

“Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18)

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Even though I know this emphasis placed on progress over perfection this side of Heaven, I still get discouraged when I fail to see any forward activity. Knowing I have this tendency, I also daily pray this prayer…

“Father, forgive me for my weak faith. Help me to trust You even when I don’t see You working.”

Coupled with regular gratitude for the progress I have seen over the years and for His faithfulness through it, my focus continually returns to the almighty God. And, as always, focus determine reality, and I then see more of him working for progress in my life and in the lives of others.

Stability Within Change

Changing Seasons

While the extremes vary, everyone experiences changing seasons no matter where they live. Even Hawaii changes seasons, though not an extreme difference and only between two different seasons (summer and winter).

If you think changing seasons are unchangeable events, think again. Climate change experts say that the timing of seasons is now changing.

The Earth’s seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds. This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say. (Timing of Seasons is Changing)

Yes, even the changing seasons are becoming more unpredictable, though if you live in a place like I do (Michigan) that has always been the case.

Our season changes are extreme, and you simply love or hate it. I’ve actually heard of people missing the extreme changes after moving to a place with less seasonal change. Also, every time we enter a new season, someone (often a person who has lived in the area for many years) expresses surprise over it happening.

If you live in an area of extreme seasonal changes, you have to admit to the beauty of every season. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to see when it’s hot and humid or rainy or bitter cold or there’s a foot of snow on the ground or you experience rain, fog, snow and cold with a 40-degree temperature drop all in one day.

Change – unexpected or not – keeps life interesting.

Life’s Seasons

Our lives have seasons too, some expected and some not. Some people embrace the change, some resist; most do both, and all are at times surprised when change takes place.

Staunchly resisting change is futile as well as unhealthy. We all know this both by observation and experience, but it doesn’t stop us from stubbornly resisting change at times.

Why do we sometimes resist the changing of life’s seasons and other times embrace them? Why do we in our hearts often wish things wouldn’t change?

The answers to these questions are unique to every person. What we all have in common, though, is the need for stability within change.

Stability Within Change

Stability within change is essential for thriving as the seasons inevitably change in our lives. For Christians, this means focusing on God who does not change.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 )

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

As the seasons of life morph in both expected and unexpected ways, I am learning to lean heavily on Jesus. The hope he gives keeps me stable amidst the changes of the many extremes in my life.

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:19

Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.