A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“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)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

Diligent, Peaceable & Occupied

The posts “Pursuing a Quiet Life” and “Balanced Goal Setting” give perspective on living out Paul’s directive for early Christians regarding focus and ambition.

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation deepens our application of this advice as we consider our own forward growth.

“And that you would be diligent, peaceable and occupied with your business, working with your hands just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

This version gives three descriptors to consider as we pursue a quiet life. (Note that in “Pursuing a Quiet Life” we looked at how “quiet” reflects an inner attitude rather than an outer physical state.) The Aramaic version of this verse also helps dial in a bit on the inner attitude that drives Paul’s directive.

First, a few definitions:

  • Diligent — constant in effort
  • Peaceable — inclined to avoid strife; not argumentative or hostile
  • Occupied — filled up; engaged mind, attention and energy

If we combine these definitions, we come up with a comprehensive view of the attitude we’re seeking when we think of a “quiet life” in the sense that Paul is encouraging it.

Make a constant effort to avoid arguing and hostility and to engage your mind, attention and energy in the work you’ve been given to do.

What does this constant effort look like in a practical way? In other words, how can we live quiet lives by being diligent, peaceable and occupied?

  1. Do your part to get along with others. You can only control and change yourself. (Romans 12:18)
  2. Focus on the work God gives YOU. When you do, you’ll have a lot less time to criticize others. You’ll also be much more productive this way. (Romans 12)
  3. Let grace carry you through your mistakes. When you make mistakes, learn from them, forgive yourself, and move forward in the grace of God. (1 Peter 1:13)
  4. Verbalize thankfulness in your victories. Realize that God does work good for those who love him, so give him the credit for working good in your life. (Romans 8:28)
  5. Pursue a quiet life in increasing measure. Refuse to let the chaos of the world infiltrate your attitude. Instead, secure your spirit in the peace that passes all understanding but that can also draw others to Christ. (Philippians 4:7)

When our energies focus in these ways, we’ll find our lives increasingly productive and effective. In addition, we’ll discover that the work we’ve been given — loving others and living to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-11) — happens through the living of quiet lives in our own unique ways.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can we increase our efforts to live diligent, peaceable and occupied lives?

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

By the Grace of God

1 PeterHow many Bibles do you have in your home? How many churches are within a 5-mile radius of you? How many Bible studies/devotions do you have?

Now consider the number of people in your church. What about the number of other believers you know at work? At least in America, we aren’t yet short on people who at least know of God and many of us are blessed to be able to regularly interact with godly people who encourage us.

Add to these numbers the available resources on the Internet and television, and it’s safe to say we don’t lack for opportunity to learn about God.

I love to learn about God, about His promises of blessings and how He has a plan for my life and that His plan is for a future and a hope. But I must admit that this sometimes replaces actually knowing God.

Consider Job

In Job 1:1, God said to Satan,

“Have you noticed my servant Job? Look at this man of integrity, the finest in all the earth, who fears God and rejects all evil (Job 1:8).”

But while Satan considered Job by saying he was who he was because of His riches and prosperity, let us consider Job and why God felt confident allowing Satan to test him.

Ephesians 1Job amazes anyone who takes the time to study his life. He lost everything… wife, kids, wealth, health… and still remained a man of integrity, still feared God and still rejected evil. No matter what happened, Job simply refused to turn from God. If you haven’t read the full story, please do so. It’s an amazing one and so full of impact that James references him as a prophet.

“For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy” (James 5:10-11).

In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge points out a fact about Job that not only had I not considered before but that struck me as tremendously profound.

“The thing that’s stunningly amazing is that Job survived his ordeal without the aid of written Scripture, without the support of godly friends, and without anyone who could speak the prophetic word of the Lord to him.”

Job was the first book of the Bible to be put on paper. As such, Sorge notes that

“it’s fascinating to consider what was the first message that the Holy Spirit wanted to establish with quill and ink.”

Job went through tremendous trials, unimaginable heartache and significant loneliness before getting any understanding of God’s working in his life. And, it turns out, Job went through all of this alone with literally just his faith in God to sustain Him.

How is this possible?Ephesians 2

How could Job “patiently endure” so much and never turn from God?  Without a study Bible or a Bible dictionary or a church to go to or encouraging friends or a devotional or the Internet (gasp!), how did he make it?

Sorge helps answer the question by saying,

“The fact that Job came through with his faith intact is testimony both to the grace of God on his life and to the eminent stature of his spirituality.”

The grace of God absolutely answers this question. And the answer forces me to confront aspects of my own spirituality, namely the lack of recognition of God’s grace in my own life – or maybe it’s more that I take His grace for granted – and the over-dependence on tools for knowing about Him. I’m not saying these tools are bad, but I am saying they can distract from simply basking in His grace.

Don’t get rid of your Bibles and study tools or stop using those awesome Internet resources, and certainly don’t stop connecting with other godly believers. These are all good, useful and worthwhile. But perhaps, like me, you need to become more aware – or re-aware – of His grace. Perhaps spending more time recognizing and thanking Him for His grace in your life before delving into those tools will make them even more effective. Perhaps.

DISCUSSION: In what other ways does a focus on the tools distract us from focusing on God’s grace?

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger is reading, and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other active participants include Dusty, Glynn, Joell, and Rick at present.

How to… Age Gracefully

The word graceful, when sticking purely to the dictionary definition of the word, characterizes a beauty of movement, style, form and execution. Being graceful holds the tendency to be elegant and smooth. Graceful also seems to suggest ease and wealth to some extent. Being graceful also carries with it charm, good taste, kindness and generosity of spirit. To me, the world’s view of being graceful gets at a sort of charisma someone either has or doesn’t have.

While there certainly are many characteristics of being graceful that appeal to me, especially kindness and generosity of spirit, the idea of being what the world considers graceful remains elusive. Honestly, graceful has never been a word used to describe me.

But that doesn’t mean that living gracefully isn’t a huge part of who I am. In fact, the presence of grace in my life determines everything about me. Without grace, my life would be absent of hope.

In Approaching Halftime, I listed four life lessons that are helping me to live in God’s grace. His grace drives my life in a way that allows me to truly age gracefully. Because of His gift of grace, my life can be one of impact and meaning that would otherwise not exist or at least be only temporal.

Knowing the impact of the grace of God in my life, I can dive into life with the freedom that only His grace can bring. To me, that is the essence of living gracefully.

God’s grace in my life equates to his favor (Genesis 6:8) and His forgiving mercy (Romans 11:6). His grace is the source of my salvation (Acts 15:11). His all-abundant (Romans 5:15-20) and all-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) grace is something I can abound in (Romans 5:2), be strong in (2 Timothy 2:1) and grow in (2 Peter 3:18).

So how does all of this translate into aging gracefully? For me, aging gracefully, as in living my life in a way that truly shows the presence of God grace, means deliberately planning my way knowing that His constant guidance directs my every step (Proverbs 16:9). With that, I offer the following “plans” for aging gracefully in the second half of my life.

  1. Embrace aging and use it to inspire & instruct others. (Titus 2)
  2. Get to know God better than ever before. (2 Peter 3:18)
  3. Step outside my comfort zone regularly. (2 Kings 5:1-16 & Matthew 14:22-33)
  4. Share how God’s favor has worked and continues to work in my life. (Genesis 6:8)
  5. Seek to show His power through my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I considered setting SMART goals for these “plans,” but that approach didn’t seem quite right. At that point, God used a comment by @tnealtarver from A Curious Band of Others on my post Approaching Halftime to redirect how I approach accomplishing them. In his comment, Tom said, “I just read the opening chapter of Deb MacComber’s “God’s Guest List“yesterday. She said she wrote out a list of 30 people she wanted to meet and she did meet them. Many were major disappointments. Then she felt God prompt her to create another “30 People to Meet” list. This time she would leave the lines blank and allow God to fill them in. I think that might be good advice for goals as well.”

Because God’s grace abounds in my life, it turns out that grace really is a word that can be used to describe me. In fact, when it’s His grace that gets the glory, embracing the idea of aging gracefully becomes not only a way to help me come to terms with inevitable aging, but it also helps keep Him as the focus of all that I am and do.

And as the “how to” accomplish the plans listed above are left blank, a new excitement is brewing in my spirit. Could it be that I’m finally looking forward to the 40s? No, I’m sure it’s not that!

DISCUSSION: Are you aging gracefully? How has God’s grace worked in your life?