Choose Your Focus

“Focus determines reality.” (Qui Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

I decided a long time ago to not let others determine what I believed and how much I believed. In other words, my faith in God is between me and God; there’s not third party.

Sticking to this is not easy, nor am I perfect at doing so. Why?

  • It’s easy to let hurt steal your focus and deflate your faith.
  • It’s easy to doubt because of what others do or fail to do.

Rather than simply deciding to stick to it, which I continually fail at doing, I am determining to continue returning to it. That determination is continually renewed, and I am able to go back to living this decision, only as much as I remember and follow what Scriptures says about it.

1.) Focus your thoughts.

“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)

2.) Focus your faith.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

3.) Focus your spirit.

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

My faith focus comes from a deliberate choice to focus on Jesus. Once that choice was made, my life then became one of progressively living out that focus through my attitudes, actions and words. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m making my way in that direction.

Join me?

New Year’s Resolutions

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

The Full Armor of God

Think of the Armor of God as more than a list of helpful tips. Consider it as a recipe for an impenetrable Defense against the schemes of Satan (liar, thief). Think of it as how we block Satan’s access and withstand his attacks.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Paul gives this visual reminder to help us know what is essential to surviving and winning the battle with Satan. So, consider that if you feel like you’re losing, you might not be wearing your armor.

After describing the Armor of God and imploring Christians to put it on, Paul adds an emphasis on prayer.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Why would he emphasize prayer like this?

Because no matter how complete the armor, no matter how skilled the warrior, and no matter how much courage or bravery, battles are lost when communication with the commander is lost. In other words, in every battle, spiritual or physical, communication with the commander is essential!

This visual of the Amor of God helps me in the middle of the night when my thoughts keep me awake by helping me focus on God instead of the darkness. It also helps me during my daily prayer time to reaffirm my focus by helping me make a statement of faith. Finally, it helps me throughout the day too when I need to boldly proclaim the reality of God in my life.

Are you using the armor God gave you?

What Could Go Right?

You’ve probably heard some form of this quote in a movie, usually said with a twinkling eye:

“What could go wrong?”

After all, what would be the fun in a plot line that didn’t have adversity and where everything goes according to plan?

Unfortunately, we often get too fixated on what could go wrong in real life too. Some of us, whether because of personality, a tough upbringing, or being hurt one too many times, just seem to have an unquenching need to identify and prepare for all that could go wrong.

Too bad doing so is impossible. I’ve tried. You simply cannot plan for every contingency.

You can, however, wear yourself out and stress yourself to insanity by trying. With that also comes the added frustration of wasted time since most of what we think could happen never does. Yet, those few times where over-planning produced helpful results keeps you hanging on to planning for all that could go wrong.

What if you flipped the script and instead asked?

“What could go right?”

How would asking this instead change your outlook? Your approach to planning? What might you do and think differently? How might it make you feel? How would it change your expectation of people and events?

As for me, I’m purposing to ask, “What could go right?” more often. I hope it eventually becomes my default.

I’ll still plan, but I won’t let my focus be directed by what could go wrong. I’m determined to choose to consider what could go right instead.

Taking this idea one step further, I want to look back on events – even just normal days, whatever those are – and be grateful for all that went right. In other words, I want to break the habit of ruminating on how things could (should?) have gone.

Join me?

Steal, Kill & Destroy

“The thief comes to steal, kill & destroy.” (John 10:10)

The word “steal” used in John 10:10 is not just a taking of something. It involves deception and misleading too. This verse is basically saying that the thief (Satan) wants to distract and trick us, so he can steal what’s most valuable to use.

What valuables? Peace. Joy. Hope.

He doesn’t just take them either. He kills and destroys them… if we let him. When we’re distracted, that’s exactly what we’re doing too… letting him steal from us.

Satan uses distraction and trickery to steal certain things from us because we won’t just give them to him. He cannot get close enough to certain valuables unless we’re not paying attention to them because we’re focused on something else.

What distractions? Hurt. Disappointment. Sadness. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment.

What should we do?

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil… praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication…” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

In other words, daily put on… truth, righteousness & peace.

And pick up… faith, salvation, & God’s word.

All the while… pray, pray, pray.

This daily routine – more than that, really, a way of living – protects us from the “strategies and tricks” of the devil. It keeps us alert, so we protect what’s most important to us.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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 10:3-6)

Change

Change

If you’ve ever watched the Big Bang Theory, you know that Sheldon, one of the main characters, hates change. In fact, he goes to extreme lengths to stop and/or undo any changes to his routine and to the people in his life. Over the course of the show’s many seasons, though, it becomes evident that even a genius cannot stop change.

Some people embrace change. Some resist it vehemently. Others just roll with it. Most of us are a mix of all these approaches.

As Christians, though, we have tools for coping with change that the rest of the world does not have.

Coping with Change

I find comfort in knowing that change is also Biblical, that it’s God’s idea.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Rev. 21:5)

In addition, focusing on the fact that healthy change leads to dependence on God helps direct my mindset during change of any size and amount. This doesn’t come naturally or easily, though. It takes deliberate intent.

Elements of Healthy Change

Though there are many more, elements of healthy change consist of focusing on the following elements:

1. Contentment

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Contentment doesn’t come naturally for most people. Instead, it’s something we learn. Even one of the greatest missionaries ever admits to having to develop contentment.

 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

The key to contentment, as evidenced by Paul’s testimony, is that it rests upon God, not upon our circumstances.

2. God’s Sovereignty

As believers, we can find peace in knowing that God is working for our good regardless of ourcircumstances.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

God knows the beginning from the end, and we can full trust him at all times for this reason.

3. Trust

One of my mottos is “Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.” As hard as I try to live up to this, I sometimes fail. God, on the other hand, never fails to do what he says he’ll do. He is infinitely trustworthy. We can completely place our trust in him to care for us even with tumultuous change taking place.

 “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)

4. The Future Kingdom

Placing my present circumstances, even when they feel like chaos, against eternity brings a sense of peace and stability within the emotional roller coast of change.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Our goal is upward. For this reason, we press on even when we feel like giving up.

Change is Inevitable

Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad. It’s often stressful, which is also both good and bad. We do need stress to grow, after all. Change is also often unexpected, but it’s also sometimes planned and expected with life usually consisting of a mix of both.

For sure, though, change is inevitable. Our aging bodies are evidence of this truth. So, as we continue to experience change physically, mentally, and spiritually, let us be sure to focus on the tools God gives us.

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:4-6)

IN Not OF the World

While not a direct quote, quite a few verses in the Bible focus on what it means to be IN the world but not OF the world.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:14-16)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15)

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

IN the world but not OF the word means…

  • Being chosen by Christ
  • Being hated by the world
  • Being protected by God
  • Not being attached to the things of the world
  • Not associating with those who call themselves Christian but who live like the world

Essentially, IN not OF the world means pursuing God’s will and not conforming to the world’s patterns or ways of doing things.

“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)

Two definitions at this point are helpful.

  1. The world = the world system and philosophy headed by Satan.
  2. Conform = act in accordance or harmony; comply; act in agreement with the prevailing standards, attitudes, practices, etc.

These definitions help bring an even deeper understanding of what being IN not OF the world means for Christians.

Conforming to the world makes you an enemy of God.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Being transformed to God’s will, however, puts you in a place of victory over Satan and the world.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Being transformed puts you in a place where you can receive that which the world cannot give.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

No Middle Ground

How do we open ourselves up to the transformation that involves mind renewal and being on the path to God’s will?

  1. Recognize the enemy. (Ephesians 6:12)
  2. Rely on God’s power. (Romans 8:37)
  3. Overcome by the blood. (Revelation 12:11)
  4. Choose to be separate. (2 Corinthians 6:17)

We must choose to step out of the “course of the world” (Ephesians 2:25). To not do so, to take no action either way, is to choose conformity to the world. There is no middle ground.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, 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)

“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)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Remember! Don’t forget!

A “to do” list. Phone alerts. Emails when a bill is due. Push notifications.

We need constant reminders, don’t we? I know I do. Otherwise, I forget all too easily.

Unfortunately, forgetting is a more pervasive problem for me than just with my everyday tasks. It happens with bigger things too. I forget the good that has happened in my life. I need reminders.

It’s why I journal. It’s why I keep lots of family photographs displayed. It’s why I wear this bracelet.

This need for reminders is why God had His people in the Old Testament create memorials, usually with stones.

“Then Joshua called the twelve men he had chosen, and he told them, “Go into the Jordan ahead of the Covenant Box of the Lord your God. Each one of you take a stone on your shoulder, one for each of the tribes of Israel. These stones will remind the people of what the Lord has done. In the future, when your children ask what these stones mean to you, you will tell them that the water of the Jordan stopped flowing when the Lord’s Covenant Box crossed the river. These stones will always remind the people of Israel of what happened here.” (Joshua 4:4-7)

This human tendency to forget is also why so many writers and prophets in the Old Testament repeated “remember” and “do not forget” so much. It’s why God’s people needed – it’s why we need – to be reminded over and over again of who God is, what he’s done, and what he promises to do.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Don’t berate yourself for forgetting so easily. I have to remind myself of this often too. Instead, accept that forgetting easily is a reality of human life, then circumvent it as much as you can with memorials. Purposefully find ways to focus on God, not your feelings or the drama of the day. Simply remember His mercy and grace and make a habit of looking for them and for expecting them to happen again and again.

Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.