Reflective Practice

Connections, Culture & Choice

Sometime during a week-long visit to Williamsburg, VA and many of its historical offerings, a pattern emerged that connected not only the places we visited but also propelled my thinking in some interesting ways.

Connections

The area presents colonial, Revolutionary War, and Civil War history. As we moved from one to another, I realized the connections – and there are many, many threads – linking them to one another.

Various threads make up my own life, and understanding their connections helps understand my own perspectives much like understanding these historical connections helps me understand the various perspectives involved in the history of our country’s beginnings.

Culture

Visiting various historical sites and museums also showed the interaction of culture, both in good and bad ways. African Americans, English, and Native Americans were the major groups, though many others were involved too.

My own culture is unclear to me. Only in a very broad sense do I understand personally what culture means. In other words, I am not sure how to define my culture.

Choice

African Americans fighting for their freedom. English settlers choosing to be Loyalists or Rebels or to remain neutral. A country choosing to war with itself.

Considering how my own choices affect not just me but those around me is important. Further, how does this idea of connections and attempts to define culture impact my choices?

Valuing Reflection

The value of understanding history became clearer to me during this visit. So did the value of self-reflection based on the concepts that stood out to me that week.

As a Christian, I want to make connections to God’s truths as explained in his word. I want to understand what being a Christian means for me culturally. I also want to develop cultural sensitivity in a way that shows love toward all people. Threaded through all of this is the idea of filtering my choices through God’s will in each of these areas.

My Point?

I’ve recently been considering how I reflect on the experiences of my life and how they shape who I am as a person. I’ve begun wondering more about my own culture and the history surrounding it. The above is simply a foray into reflection in these specific areas.

Discussion: Have you ever considered implementing reflective practices in this or other ways? Why or why not?

Weight Training

Weight training makes you stronger, but too much weight can injure you. Even carrying a weight you’re strong enough to lift can injure you if you carry it for too long.

Also, it’s not always what you carry that is too much weight. It’s often how you carry it that causes problems. Anyone who exercises much knows how important form is for preventing injury.

When we think of our spiritual lives, we understand that carrying weight we shouldn’t involves carrying negative things like unforgiveness and worry. We can’t forget, though, that a weight can also be any distraction that keeps us from obedience and hearing from God.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

This verse speaks to perseverance, both our own and the examples of the many who have gone before us. It also speaks to getting rid of that which weighs us down and hinders our ability to persevere.

Throwing off a weight can mean putting it down and moving forward without it. But that’s not always what it means. It can also mean increasing our fitness, so a weight is no longer a hindrance.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” (C.S. Lewis)

 “You will find that it is necessary to let things go simply because they are heavy.” (C. JoyBell C.)

Sometimes, yes, you need to completely put down anything that keeps you from running the race God has marked out for you. Put it down and never pick it up again.

At the same time, realize that sometimes you need to get stronger, so you can carry the weight. As you do, it will eventually not be an entanglement. How? Check out these verses about spiritual growth to go deeper on this topic.

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)

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.

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.

Enhanced Personality

“Surrendering to God doesn’t repress your personality, it enhances it.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Enhancing something means raising it and amplifying it. It means improving it in value, quality and attractiveness.

That’s what God does with our personalities, the uniqueness he gave each of us, when we make Jesus Lord. For this enhancement to be fully active in our lives, we must realize what surrender means and why it’s important.

Surrender to God means giving up control of our lives to Him. It means seeking to know and do his will.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

It also means we trust him to do what is best for us.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God desires unity, not uniformity. He wants each of us to operate in the unique combination of gifts and abilities he’s given us. In our uniqueness, then, unity and success of the body as a whole happens.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Course Corrections

Pilots make course corrections continually throughout a flight. If they don’t, the plane will end up far from its goal, maybe over an ocean and out of fuel.

Several factors cause an airplane to get off course. Wind direction & intensity. Storms. Each one only changes its path a few degrees. If left uncorrected, the degrees add up.

Doesn’t the same happen in our lives too?

We make plans, ones we know God wants, but life often gets us off of them gradually. Degree by degree, we get off track and can eventually find ourselves lost and out of fuel.

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

Fortunately, God gives us regular course corrections. We just need to pay attention and then obey what He wants us to do.

Scripture. Internal promptings. Other people. Physical symptoms. Patterns. Ideas. Revelations. Connections.

All of these are ways God gives course corrections. At least, that’s how He regularly gives them to me. I’ve also found that the more I look for His corrections, the more I’ll recognize them.

The Source

More importantly, I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit is the source of all these course corrections.

“But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-15)

The Holy Spirit’s activity in my life has been nothing short of transformational. I am thankful for God’s course corrections, especially because I can look back and see how he used them to protect me from so much pain. I invite you to discover this transformation in your own life.

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.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.