I Don’t Know

Many Meanings

The phrase can mean you’re not sure which choice is best or the one you want.

“I don’t know if I want that one or the other one.”

It can mean you have a preference but may want to let the person asking decide.

“I don’t know if that’s the best choice, but it’s up to you.”

It can also be a lazy answer because you don’t want to put forth the effort to think about the best decision.

“I don’t know why I did that.”

Saying “I don’t know” can mean you know the right choice, would rather make a different choice, and your will and your conscience are duking it out.

“I don’t know if I’ll tell her or not.”

It can also mean you really don’t know the answer.

“I don’t know why that happened.”

Saying “I don’t know” can send the message that you do not understand something or that you aren’t happy about something. It can be a way to avoid a conversation you don’t want to have because of laziness or discomfort.

Maybe you’re really not sure and just need time to think. Or, maybe you don’t want to tell the truth for some reason. Could be you know the response your real answer will get, so you don’t give it.

There are a lot of reasons to say “I don’t know” when asked something. And likely, we’re all guilty of all using each one at some point.

What Experience Shows

Here’s what my experience says about the use of “I don’t know.”

  • Most of the time, you either really do know and don’t want to tell the truth, or you’re too lazy to make a responsible decision.
  • If you truly don’t know, waiting is usually the best choice. Waiting is active though and involves seeking wisdom. Don’t move forward if you don’t have to without knowing until you’ve prayerfully sought the right path.
  • Sometimes, you really don’t know, and that’s okay if it’s from an honest place and not a lazy or deceptive one. Again, just wait it out. Sometimes, not knowing means you’re not supposed to act.
  • Simply waiting when you really don’t know is usually the best option. Many times, the situation will resolve itself or present the right choice if you just don’t force a decision and wait for it to present itself.
  • Sometimes, you have to make a decision even when you don’t know what to do. Pray about it, then make the best decision you can. God doesn’t expect perfection. Plus, there’s often simply not a right or wrong decision.

A lot of scripture get at these truths, so we can know for sure what God desires when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t know.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

God wants us to trust in and lean on him. He wants to give us wisdom for our decisions. He wants us to know which paths to take. And he wants us to have and experience good things.

Trust. Ask. Receive.

Why Are YOU Saying it?

“I don’t know” often shows authenticity and can be a builder of trust and an encouragement. After all, no one likes it when someone acts like they know it all and refuses to admit that sometimes, the truly don’t know the answer.

The next time you find yourself going to “I don’t know” for your answers, ask yourself if that’s really true. Seek out your true intentions. Here are some common ones.

  • Not brave enough to make a decision.
  • Afraid to make the wrong decision.
  • Don’t trust yourself to make the right decision.
  • Afraid of not being accepted if you answer truthfully.
  • Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Easier than saying “I’m afraid.”
  • Don’t want others to disagree with you.

It’s okay to not know sometimes, but it’s not okay to always not know. It’s not okay if your go to answer is consistently “I don’t know” because you’re hiding the truth.

Instead of automatically answering “I don’t know,” get into the habit of asking God for wisdom. Ask him even when you don’t have a specific situation or question. Make this asking a daily habit, and then seek to know him because knowing him more is the only way truly have the wisdom you need.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

The word “upgrade” leaped to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past several of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another.

Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point, we all feel the need for a new direction or even a new beginning. Whether we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades offered serve only to give us that “fresh” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. Fortunately, one area exists where an upgrade comes guaranteed to positively impact all of life.

An attitude upgrade brings a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, brings renewal to anyone’s outlook.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

Developing and maintaining a godly attitude could be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Be teachable, flexible and willing to change. Allow yourself to be renewed by staying open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) Let go of pride and admit areas of struggle. Confess the areas your attitude slides, and open yourself to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Choose positive input and allow it to push out the negative. Remember that a key in any discipline involves constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. The Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. That choice may need made place every minute at times, but we allow our emotions to only exist as gauges and not pilots.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment provides tremendous motivation when we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, and other Christians as well as non-Christians pay attention to our attitudes. We are setting examples and sending messages through our attitude, action and words.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) is particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

We all need attitude upgrades. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing serves to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn upgrades our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

Mountaintop Experiences

Mountaintop1Skiing in Colorado always provides some pretty amazing views. The top of the mountain is the best, of course, and I often want to just stand there a while to enjoy the scenery and to rest. But the point of skiing is going down the mountain.

I’ve been hiking in Colorado too, and making my way to 11,000 feet took tremendous effort (getting to the top for skiing is easy) but was well worth the effort. For both skiing and hiking, though, getting to the bottom took effort.

Whether skiing or hiking, I simply could not stay on the mountaintop forever. Even though I kind of wanted to, and even though the view was amazing and I felt at complete peace, staying there indefinitely just didn’t make sense. The mountaintop is meant as a goal, not a dwelling place.

In Luke 9:28-36, we see that Peter wanted to capture his mountaintop experience and dwell there for a while too.

“…Jesus… took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

Peter got caught up in the mountaintop experience just like I have on more than one occasion. He likely felt the peace of the moment and didn’t want to give that up for lesser views.

Mountaintop2Dwelling on the Mountaintop

When we have mountaintop experiences in life, we want to stay and enjoy the view for a while. We do this because…

  • We feel God’s total control of every aspect of life.
  • We feel certain about the reality of the supernatural.
  • We know the memories of the mountaintop tend to fade once we leave.

So we want to stay, and sometimes we do stay. We want constant reminders of who God is and the constant feeling of the peace He provides.

Unfortunately, we sometimes stay much longer than we should, and we end up missing God’s intentions when we dwell there too long. After all, the effort of life — of becoming holy and perfected — happens on the up and down and, of course, in the valley.

“… [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardships (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, AMP)

Leaving the Mountaintop

The mountaintop serves as a goal. It drives us forward. But once we reach it and experience the peace it brings, we must at some point return to the mission field. That’s why Jesus and his disciples had to leave. Jesus’ mission — His death and resurrection — could not take place if he stayed on the mountaintop. It was still before him. Likewise, the disciples mission, which Jesus gave them (and us) later at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), was still before them too.

What’s more, reaching a mountaintop does something inside us that can only work itself out in effectiveness as we traverse the side of the mountain and venture into its valley. That’s because mountaintop experiences…

  • Are a testimony to God’s work in our lives.
  • Continue to revitalize us in the valleys as we practice Active Remembering.
  • Point us toward ministry by helping us see God’s vision for what lies ahead.

We simply cannot dwell too long on the mountaintop trying to hold on to that experience if we want its effectiveness to spread to all areas of our lives. We can, however, take the feelings and lessons of the mountaintop experience with us as we journey down allow it to fuel the mission of our lives.

DISCUSSION: When have you dwelt too long on the mountaintop? When have you allowed a mountaintop experience to fuel your life’s mission?

Spiritual Fitness

dumbbell-1306867-1599x1066My home gym contains everything I need stay in good physical shape. The treadmill, elliptical and boxing bag give me great cardio workouts. The kettle bell, weights and stability ball provide strength training and toning.

A healthy diet filled with the right balance of fruit & vegetables, carbohydrates & protein also contributes to my overall physical health. Avoiding unhealthy foods is a big piece of the puzzle too.

Health experts say that neither exercise or diet alone do the trick. Both are needed to be physically healthy. They also say we must not just do good for our bodies but also avoid the negative — unhealthy foods, overexertion, being sedentary, etc.

In general, we understand the need to operate at our best physically and that it impacts our productivity. We also know that being unhealthy causes our bodies to become overloaded and toxic. Most people at least acknowledge the importance of improved health through eliminating negative habits and increasing positive ones.

No doubt being healthy and strong physically holds tremendous value; however, that value has limits because our physical bodies have limits. Our spiritual health, on the other hand, holds infinite importance since it goes into life beyond the physical we see now and into eternity.

“Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding a promise for both this present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Knowing this, how can we make spiritual health a priority?

Like the way I have stocked my home gym for physical fitness, having the right tools and equipment on hand is important for spiritual fitness too. In addition, establishing healthy habits — simply using the available tools — also contributes to spiritual fitness.

With that in mind, consider the following as a sort of spiritual fitness guide:

  1. Know Your Bible Religious Stock ImagesRead the Bible. Open it regularly and read the valuable instructions included inside for living a godly life. Take this knowledge a step further by receiving instruction from godly pastors and teachers to help propel you into higher levels of spiritual fitness much like a personal trainer can take you to another level physically.
  2. Prioritize life around God. Making God one of your priorities puts him at the level of other priorities that fill your time. Instead, plan around God’s will. This puts Him at a higher level and shows He is not an item on our “to do” lists but rather the director of how we spend our time.
  3. Do an attitude check. Regularly assess the state of your heart, your intentions. Does what’s going on inside of you fit with what the word of God indicates about what our attitudes should look like? (Print and read ”Attitude – The Aroma of Your Heart” for a scripture study on what the Bible says about attitude.)
  4. Schedule fellowship. Growth happens best in the company of others. You can read books about personal growth, and you can read scripture about love. You can certainly pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to work in you for change. But what does doing these things really mean if we don’t interact with others? And, we can’t expect fellowship to happen by itself, especially in our busy culture. We must intentionally and deliberately put fellowship on our calendars on a regular basis.
  5. Pursue spiritual health. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. If you’re doing nothing to change the path of your life, then do something. Set a goal. Have some area in which you are pursuing a more spiritually fit existence. Remember that small steps add up over time to make a huge difference.

Spiritual fitness involves an intentional effort on our parts, as does physical fitness. So take some time today to ask yourself if spiritual fitness is a priority in your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you made God the director of your schedule rather than just an item in it?

Consumed With “Shoulds”

mercy not sacrificeAll to often, I become easily consumed with thoughts of what I “should” do to truly be a good wife, mother, friend, writer, church member, daughter, Christian, etc. Those ideas are usually based on what others say, think and do and how I appear in comparison. Of course, this comes all filtered through my own perceptions and assumptions. And this line of thinking always leads to internal defeat as I realize my desire to promote self and feel good about where I fall in the lineup.

In this way of thinking, activity becomes the focus. The more activity, the better. But I always end up feeling restless and unsettled. Never arrived. Never content. Why?

When my heart’s focus lies with appearances, with going through the motions of “shoulds,” I’ve filled my life with activity (with busyness) that appears meaningful but really exists as quite the opposite. Seems a lot like a focus on the rule following of the Pharisees, doesn’t it?

Filling our lives with the activity of sacrifice (busyness) provides ample distraction from addressing the true condition of the heart. Being busy (offering sacrifices)results in appearing accomplished but fails to consider the state of our intentions and motivations.

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

Jesus used the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12-13 & 12:7) knowing the generational familiarity it held for his listeners. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way:

God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.”

Old Testament connections to this are many… 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-19, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, & Micah 6:6-8. All get at this tenant point of Scripture… our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.

These Scripture represent the truth of what God asks of each of us. He doesn’t first ask for busyness (sacrificial activity) but for a sincere faith and devotion to him. He asks for loyalty and obedience. He asks that we are fair, just, humble and merciful. Only then is anything we do — our activity & our busyness — pleasing to him.

Isaiah 1:11-17 gives a succinct path for learning to live out this pattern of being over doing.

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

Of course, God exists as the object of these action steps. He exists as the focus of our activity. And as we seek to live this pattern, we find that the busyness of the world falls away. The “shoulds” disappear from our radar, and we move into the rhythm he meant for us to follow.

No longer do we focus on offering sacrifices — keeping ourselves busy with going and doing — but we instead find ourselves living in a way that naturally loves and serves. Only then do we live driven by our heart’s inward faith instead of trying to create the perception of an inward reality that we think makes us acceptable.

DISCUSSION: How does the truth “obedience over sacrifice” become a reality in the life of a believer?

The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

How to Live a Long, Good Life

It’s NOT About the Numbers

scaleCurrent weight. Weight lost. Weight gained. Calories burned. Calories consumed. Miles ran. Miles biked. MPH. All numbers that could easily steal my life’s focus. Add into the mix comparison to the numbers of others, and I’m stuck in not being skinny enough or fast enough or in any way good enough.

But the number that messes with my focus worse than any of these is my age. This number derails me the easiest because I can do nothing to change it. My age will increase regardless of what I do and don’t do.

StopwatchAs explained in Aging Gracefully, I struggle with aging. Within that struggle though, I am determined to age gracefully. I want my years this side of Heaven to be meaningful and effective. This requires a right focus, one that pleases God, one where numbers don’t consume me.

Unfortunately, my focus still too easily gets caught by the advertisements and books and news articles toting the keys to longevity. What the world says about living a long, good life catches my attention pretty much every time it enters my awareness.

What does the world say about living a long, good life? Here are two examples representing the world’s view well:

  • Martha Stewart (She’s now 71!) says to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active, get quality sleep, wear sunscreen, collaborate with a good primary care doctor regularly, find your passion, connect with others, stop complaining & stay curious.
  • The Huffington Post says to avoid 7 things in order to age gracefully: Wearing too much makeup, eating too much salt, negativity, watching too much TV, too much sun, stress & overindulging.

Most similar sources say basically the same things, and they’re not wrong. The problem I have with this advice is that it never seems like enough. When I focus on what my culture and science says to live a long, good life, I never find lasting peace. The only satisfaction I’ve ever found, the kind that left me truly feeling peaceful with my life’s focus, is that shaped by my Creator’s intentions.

What does the Bible say about living a long, good life?

They key difference between what the world says and what Scripture says about living a long, good life is that Scripture points to a life not defined by the number of years but instead by satisfaction with days lived. And the only times I’ve been satisfied with my days lived are when God is satisfied with them.

God’s satisfaction with my days comes through living out His Word, which tells me that a long, good life comes when I…

  1. Control my tongue. (Psalm 34:12-14, 1 Peter 3:10)
  2. Avoid evil. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  3. Do good. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  4. Pursue peace. (Download Pursuing Peace study)

In a practical “How do I live this out?” sense, the difference between the world’s view and God’s view of living a long, good life involves focus. When I focus on what the world says, my focus goes toward myself. When I hone in on what God says, my focus aims directly at pleasing Him. My focus determines my reality.

So while the physical aspects of our lives DO have some value, and measuring them at times can be helpful toward our productivity (which we’ll talk about next week), priority goes toward godliness, toward living to please God, which has value not just now but into eternity (1 Timothy 4:8).

DISCUSSION: What do you see as the key difference between the world’s and God’s views on living a long, good life? What other principles does Scripture give for living a long, good life?

Back to the Basics

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

THE PRECIPICE_coverToday’s post is by TC Avey, a Christian devoted to God, family and friends. TC is passionate about encouraging Christians to live lives dedicated to Christ as well as helping them understand the importance of preserving our national freedoms through knowledge and love. She blogs at Wisdom of a Fool. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.

Technology is awesome.

It allows us to do a plethora of wonderful things. Yet, it can also become a god.

If we aren’t careful, we can place more trust in gadgets, science, and modern conveniences than we do in the Creator of the World.

Rarely do I think we mean to do this (at least those who profess to be Christian); it just sort of happens…so slowly we don’t even realize it until its roots are deep.

But if one is willing to take a close look in their hearts, they can see this “god” in various ways:

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When an emergency happens, what do you do first? Pray or call for help?

When your feelings are hurt, who do you turn to? God’s comfort or man’s distractions?

When your world is on fire, where is your refuge? The Cross or an object/place?

When you’ve reached the bottom of your strength, how do you go on? In Christ’s name or a doctor’s?

An honest review like this will cause most people to say, “OUCH.” I know it does me.

But it’s this type of scrutiny that is needed if one is to get back to the basics in their relationship with Christ.

Back to the Basics is one of the themes in my book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends.

Life is fast paced.

Technology enables man to do more, be more and have more.

It also provides man with vast understanding, almost limitless access to anything a heart could ever desire, and even extends lifespans.

It showers us with possibilities, helps us to connect with others around the globe, and gives us almost instant satisfaction in having our needs fulfilled.

Technology can be a great thing, but it should never be our god.

It should never serve as a substitute for our Healer, Provider, Comforter or Salvation.

Often people have grand intentions, but when technology takes the throne of our time and energy, those intentions go out the window with God.

God is a gentleman. He will not force himself upon the thrones of our lives. However, as Creator and Sustainer of the World, He does speak to us in various ways.

The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to His people through calamities.

One such event is the Tower of Babel.

Man began thinking too highly of himself and God created confusion of speech and helped the people get back to the basis their need for God.

Today, our world is on a tipping point. God is calling out. But can we hear Him over our Bluetooth devices?

The Precipice can help readers identify where they place their trust and evaluate who their God is.

God is a jealous God. He won’t play second fiddle to anyone or anything.

I urge you, get back to the basics. God should be your “all in all.”

Yes, enjoy technology. It’s great. It’s a gift. But don’t let it be your god.

Only the living God can satisfy your soul and your endless quest for “more.”

DISCUSSION: How has technology become a “god” in your own life? What changes can you make today to put God over technology?

NOTE: If you purchase The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends in its first week of publication on Amazon, you will also receive a BONUS PACKAGE if you email your receipt to the author BEFORE APRIL 14TH!

Phone image courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Thinking on Words

A friend recently said she planned on “wafing” at work the next day. At first, her word left me floundering to understand her meaning. But when I thought more about my friend and her approach to work, I somehow knew what she meant. The relationship created the meaning necessary to understand her words.

My friend also said that putting the word in quotes made it okay to use even though it is not a word. If that’s the case, then a lot of words need quotation marks.

Our conversation got me thinking about how people in general use words, both intentionally and unintentionally, how we create the meaning of the words we use, both real and made up, as well as the impact of relationship on the meaning of our words.

So, strap in, hold on, and journey into my thought process on the topic of words.

Words

Did you realize“unforgiveness” isn’t really a word? Not in my dictionary, anyway. “Impactful” isn’t either. Kind of disappointed since I use those words often.

Technically, adding “un” before “forgiveness” means taking back or undoing forgiveness. A very “churchy” (yes, another non-word) word, the assumed meaning of “unforgiveness” involves not forgiving or refusing to forgive, not so much an undoing of forgiveness given because of it not actually being given in the first place.

Impactful,”used to portray major impact or effect, is actually in some “online” dictionaries, but it’s not an official word according to Dictionary.com. And anyway, why not just use influential or effective? Unfortunately, I’ve used “impactful” so much over the years that I naturally think of it when describing something with great impact.

How many other words do I use frequently that don’t actually exist?

Words4

People constantly make up words. Some eventually become official words. (I’m still not over “ain’t” officially becoming a word.) Don’t we have enough words? Are we just too lazy to learn the ones we already have, so we make up new ones instead? Isn’t that kind of like being unable to find that thing you know you have somewhere, so you buy a new one instead of taking the time and making the effort to look for it?

Marketers, Tweeters (technically a real word) and “Facebookers” make up words all the time. Where do you think the Word of the Year “selfie” came from? (In case you’re wondering, second place went to “twerking.” Sorry, Miley!)

Ginormous” and “bestie” were also spawned “online” with “selfie.” The word “ginormous” combines gigantic and enormous, related synonymously, so why not just use one of the legitimate words? Can something truly be so gigantic and enormous that it needs both words to be described? Once something reaches enormous, does it need to be more? Or, is this simply our human tendency to add dramatic flare to everything?

Maybe my obsessive need to eliminate the little squiggly line under words creates an over-sensitivity to word choice. Or maybe my frustration over increasing laziness with the words we speak, over taking the time to communicate clearly and accurately, creates a need to consider the details of the words I use and the intentions behind them.

Words5

Take a minute to think about the words you use. Actually, think about how much you actually think about your words. Or, do you just let the words come forth without giving them much thought?

Scripture says a lot about using care with our words, and taking the time to consider these instructions strengthens character and relationships by bringing greater awareness to the fact that the words we speak – as well as how, when & why we speak them – reflect the atmosphere of the inner self with striking accuracy.

In January, we will look at how what we say, the way we say it and when we say it holds tremendous impact. In addition, we’ll look at how who says something matters along with the impact of the amount of words we speak (how much we say or don’t say). Finally, we’ll also look at the value of controlling our words along with ideas on how to incorporate this aspect of self control into the details of our lives.

DISCUSS: Take me on a journey into your thoughts on the use of words. Tell me what you think a detailed focus on this topic should include.

Are You Willing to Not Fit In?

When I was in grade school, I never felt like I fit in. That feeling followed me into my teen and adult years. I’d love to say this problem no longer exists now that I’ve hit mid-life, that I am now secure enough in who Christ made me to be that the desire to fit in no longer plagues me. That would be a lie.

Certainly, I am more confident, but the desire to fit in still lingers and often rears its ugly head in social situations.

Over the years, I did adapt to not fitting in. At some point, I even began to seek out ways to emphasize that aspect that seemed to define me. If others are doing something, I look for ways to avoid doing exactly the same thing. From clothing and accessories to exercise and eating to social interaction, something inside me now purposes to go against the flow, even if only slightly, of what the majority does.

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Both Right and Wrong

In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says that “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” In other words, he tried to find common ground with people in order to bring them to Christ. Of course, this does not mean sinning, but it does mean getting involved in people’s lives and being authentic with them.

So, in the sense that my going against the flow sometimes causes disconnection with people I could influence, I am wrong in my approach. In fact, doing so has led to missing out on some significant witnessing opportunities. For that, I truly am sorry.

On the other hand, John 15:18-27 clearly indicates that to a great extent, Christ followers won’t fit in with the culture surrounding them. In other words, we must be in the world but not of the world (Romans 12:2). Jesus certainly set the example for us in this area by spending time with and ministering to those who needed Him most and who were often social outcasts, but He did not let them change Him.

When my intentions fall into the realm of wanting to remain separate from the material and fleshly focuses of the world, my approach to not conform and follow the crowd then seems wise.

Resist the Call of the World

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Perhaps both of these approaches need to exist. Maybe both looking for commonalities and connections need to exist alongside being an outsider. In my quest to find that balance, I realize that the outsider status must still dominate; otherwise, my impact as I connect and care becomes less effective.

Let’s look deeper at John 15:18-27 to hopefully understand the importance of an outsider status.

Being an outsider, feeling like you don’t fit in with the crowd (culture), can indicate progress towards becoming more Christ-like (v 18). Realizing that Christ chose you to be an outsider can keep feelings of rejection and aloofness from affecting your walk with Him (v 19).

What’s more, knowing that people aren’t really rejecting you but are actually reacting to their fear of the unknown creates a motivational steadfastness to perhaps amplify your outsider status (vv 20-21). You see, knowing Jesus creates a responsibility that so many people want to avoid because it means increasingly living as an outsider.

Knowing Jesus can mean breaking the death grip that the need to belong and be accepted by the world has. But a dying to self must happen, and this scares people. So, many instead choose to succumb to the call of the world and seek to eliminate any feeling of an outsider status (v 22).

Even with evidence of a better way, hate of Christ’s ways exists without any real cause except a desire to avoid the truth of Christ (vv 23-25).

Outsider Victory

God’s Holy Spirit reveals truth that reveals Jesus (v 26). As His Spirit dwells within us, our outsider status feels more and more like home, like a place of safety, peace and joy. And in that, we discover the courage to bravely tell others about the Jesus who welcomes outsiders. In other words, we become better able to care and connect in an authentic way.

DISCUSSION: What else does scripture say about how Christ followers must interact and exist in the world?

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