5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Successful Transitions

Essential Transitions

In writing, transitions help establish logical connections between sentences, paragraphs and ideas. They go a long way in helping create a piece of writing that flows. Unfortunately, many writers neglect spending much time on transitions.

“Often, writers work on scenes but neglect transitions.” (10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style)

Transitions in our lives really aren’t much different from transitions in writing. They help us handle change by connecting one area of life to another. Transitions help us move along and make progress rather than living a stuck life. They serve to create a unified whole.

When I relate how scenes in a story work as related to life, I think of the seasons of life and how I expect or picture them to play out. Those scenes get my focus, and I often forget that my mind, body and spirit need time to adjust from one season to the next.

Without proper transitions, I resist the change that comes with every new season even when it’s expected. When embraced, transitions help me adjust as life’s seasons move from one into another. They help me learn and grow within and through the change.

Transitions do this by drawing me into the wisdom necessary to navigate the progression of life’s changing seasons. They increasingly connect me with God and His plans for every season of my life.

Successful Transitions

Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann describes change and transition as a process where we go from being orientated where we feel secure to being disoriented and in a state of insecurity. As we successfully transition and let Jesus anchor us and give us meaning, we become secure again and find a state of new orientation.

Successful transitions require that we take steps to get and stay anchored in Christ even as the change around us makes the seas of life choppy and overwhelming. Those include…

  1. Waiting. Letting God work out the details and orchestrate the transition.
  2. Praying. Talking out struggles with God and listening for His wisdom.
  3. Focusing. Reading about hope as detailed in Scripture.
  4. Praising. Staying thankful and grateful regardless of surrounding circumstances.
  5. Preparing. Waiting in the activity God gives us to do during the transition.

Transition can be thought of as a state of progress toward perfection. We won’t be perfect until heaven, but the seasons of change in our lives are the path in our journey toward that final destination.

Neglecting Transitions

A life of forward progress requires that we realize change is inevitable and the key to growing through it lies within the transitions. Neglecting the transitions in our lives usually means a resistance to change, which exists because transitions are often difficult and uncomfortable.

Neglecting transitions skips over that which is necessary for us to connect with God and to embrace the changing seasons as He has made them. Without transitions, we find ourselves overwhelmed by change. Eventually, if we fail to transition, we end up living life like we’re drowning in a sea of change that’s is swallowing us up. And at some point, we’ve simply given up trying to swim.

That’s no way to live. What’s more, we’re not meant to live that way. God has a better way.

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

Spending Time With God

My husband and I have been married for 24 years, and we dated for 6 years before getting married. At this point, we know each other pretty well. Likes. Dislikes. Annoyances. Goals. Dreams. Fears. We started finishing each others thoughts after the 20-year mark, and we can anticipate needs and expectations better than ever before.

By spending time together, talking or just doing life together, my husband and I have gotten to know each other quite well. Of course, going through tough times together has a tremendous amount to do with how well we know each other too.

The intimate connection between a husband and a wife gives one of the best pictures of the intimacy — the knowing — that God desires with us. In fact, God actually uses the marriage relationship to tells us about Christ’s relationship with the church in Ephesians 5:22-32.

The Activity of Knowing God’s Will

You don’t have to be married to understand what God desires. God wants to know us, and he wants us to know him. Scripture is very clear on that.

Knowing God’s Will begins with the Gospel of Christ, that we know with utmost certainty. To grow in that relationship, we can look to the example of a good marriage. The knowing of another person that happens in marriage gives insight into the specific activity that results in knowing God and his will.

That activity? Spending time together.

Just You & God

Spending time with other people (children, extended family, friends) is necessary and beneficial. However, time for just my husband and me has proved crucial for the success of our marriage. The same is true in our relationship with God.

Spending time with God helps you learn what he wants, what he expects of you and what pleases him. It helps you anticipate his desires and to understand what he wants you to avoid. Spending time with God also helps you know the right decisions to make.

As with any other person, spending time with God is the best way to know him better. The Bible calls spending time with God “abiding” in him.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Abiding — spending time — with God begins with some very basic habits like reading your Bible (God’s spoken word) and praying (talking to God) daily. It involves just sitting in his presence and listening for his voice. And it also means praising him for who he is and what he does. Knowing God and his will also results in our actions reflecting what we know.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let. Him who boasts in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

We need to interact and communicate with the people in our lives to have a good relationship with them. Likewise, we need to interact and communicate with God if we want a good and growing relationship with him. As we do, he promises to reciprocate.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.

Voting My Conscience

ballot-1440045-1599x1068For the past 26 years, my voting choices revolved mostly around what the two main parties offered. My husband and I did venture outside of those one presidential election, but we ended up feeling like our votes were completely wasted.

Research for my voting choices has up to this point involved listening to a few individuals I respect and knew did their research along with reading one or two seemingly objective sources that placed the candidates side by side.

My point is that while I voted my conscience all those years, I didn’t really base it on much information. I’m not proud of that, by the way.

Honestly, I’ve never felt inclined to do much more than I did. Until now.

For months now, I’ve believed my choice involved horrible or not quite as horrible. Two choices. That’s it. Turns out, there are other choices. Actually, the choices are boundless when you consider write-in votes.

ballot-box-1519379-1599x1068I still don’t know who will get my vote for president in a few weeks, though I do know one for sure who will not. However, I do feel as though I’m not forced into voting just to keep someone else out of office.

Never before have I posted anything political on this blog, but I am bothered by this election like none before it. With that, I offer some information I’ve found quite helpful, and it comes from a blogging friend of mine.

The full post is reprinted below, but I encourage you to also visit Wisdom of a Fool and leave a comment there. Also, there are several links within the post I encourage you to visit. If you aren’t yet, won’t you join me in becoming an informed voter?

Who are McMullin, Stein, and Johnson: and what could they mean to you?

If you’re like many American’s today you value your right to vote but feel trapped between a rock and a hard place—you don’t like either of the primary political party candidates.

And if you’re like many others (on both sides), you might be tempted to simply vote for your affiliated party even if you don’t like that candidate simply because you REALLY don’t like the opposition.

But what if you had another option?

What if a third party candidate better represented your beliefs?

Now, you might be thinking that’s a wasted vote (after all, that’s what the media is trying to make you believe).

History (and our constitution) disagree.

4 Times in American History neither candidate reached the needed 270 electoral votes to become president. If you’d like information on that please click here.

So what happens if neither candidate reaches the needed 270 electoral votes?

The National Achieves and Records Administration: US Electoral College says:

“If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.”

Here are 3 other options:

Evan McMullin– Is a constitutional conservative. For 10 years he worked for the CIA spearheading counterterrorism in places such as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Later he used his Master’s in Business to help industries such as energy, biotech, technology and more.

Here are a few of the issues he is focused on.

  1. Military- “…we will rebuild the military and give our service members the tools they need to defend our freedoms and our way of life—while also protecting Americans’ hard-earned dollars.”
  2. Economy-“…make the tax code fairer and simpler, helping to spur business innovation, especially the growth of small businesses… Small businesses should pay closer to 25 percent of their profits in taxes, whereas now there are many that must pay almost 40 percent. Right now America also has the highest corporate tax rate – 35 percent – of any advanced economy.”
  3. Healthcare– “…repeal Obamacare as soon as possible, replacing it with a more streamlined, pro-market approach to insurance…encourage competition and innovation by putting patients, families, and doctors for first.”
  4. Government Accountability– “…support House Joint Resolution 100, a proposed constitutional amendment for the re-empowerment of the states. This amendment would enable a two-thirds majority of the states to repeal any Executive Order, regulation, or administrative ruling issued by the executive branch.”
  5. Immigration– “The path to reform begins with securing our borders. Once they are secured, there should be a process of earned legalization for the illegal immigrants who are already here. There is simply no efficient way to deport 11 million individuals; doing so would break apart families and likely cost $100 billion. Furthermore, legalization is not amnesty.”
  6. Trade- “…supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress.” SIDE NOTE-This is NAFTA on steroids. While there are many benefits of NAFTA, the disadvantage of it includes “…destroying half a million American jobs and lowering U.S. wages. In addition, NAFTA increases the S. trade deficit.”To learn more about NAFTA (pros and cons) click here.
  7. National Debt– “…enact reforms that make these essential programs more efficient while fighting pervasive fraud and abuse…simple truth that you can’t keep spending money you never had.”

To learn more about McMullins Platform click here.

Dr. Jill Stein– 2012 Green Party candidate for president. Wants to revitalize democracy. She’s a mother, physician, and an environmental-health advocate.

Snapshot of her platform:

  1. Jobs as a Right– “…replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.”
  2. Health Care as a Right– “Establish an improved “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings.”
  3. Education as a Right– “…Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.”
  4. A Just Economy– “Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage. Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve. Reject gentrification as a model of economic development. Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses. Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Create democratically run public banks and utilities. Replace corporate trade agreements with fair trade agreements.”
  5. Protect Mother Earth– “Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines. Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe. Protect the rights of future generations.”
  6. Freedom and Equality– “Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands, and create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants. Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.”
  7. Peace and Human Rights– “…End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases…”

To learn more about Stein click here.

Gary Johnson– Libertarian Candidate. Two term Republican Governor of New Mexico. A business owner who describes himself as “fiscally-conservative and socially-liberal.”

Here are a few of his beliefs:

  1. Taxes– “…elimination of special interest tax loopholes, to get rid of the double-taxation on small businesses, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that determines your tax burden by how much you spend, not how much you earn.”
  2. Civil Liberties– Supports Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights
  3. Immigration– “we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society .Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.”
  4. Environment– Believes in Climate Change. “…believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda.”
  5. Education– “…believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. Common Core and other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools are costly, overly bureaucratic, and actually compromise our ability to provide our children with a good education.”
  6. War on Drugs-“…remove cannabis (Marijuana) from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol…do not support the legalization of other recreational drugs that are currently illegal. It is, however, their belief that drug rehabilitation and harm-reduction programs result in a more productive society than incarceration and arrests for drug use.”
  7. Wasteful Spending– “…pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases. No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.”

To learn more about Johnson’s platform click here.

While no candidate is perfect, perhaps one of these lesser known candidates better represent your beliefs and concerns. If so, I encourage you to not buy into the lie that you must vote for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. But if you like them, vote for them. It’s your choice.

You are given one vote and are free to vote however you choose.
And your vote matters.

Michelle Obama recently gave a powerful speech that highlighted how important each vote is. In 2012 Barack Obama won the election by a small number of votes in certain states. Hilary Clinton recently showed a few maps of just how powerful each vote is.

Examples: If 13 people would have stayed home in Florida Obama wouldn’t have won that state. Likewise he won Ohio by 19 votes, Wisconsin by 34 votes. Breaking it down by precinct – If 7 Obama Voters in each precinct had chosen to vote for Romney in the state of Florida, Obama would have lost that state.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS- To see more click here.

If you do like one of these candidates and they are not on your state’s ballet you can WRITE IN YOUR VOTE. So just because you don’t see your preferred candidate on the ballet doesn’t mean he/she is not an option. It means you must WRITE in the name you want to vote for.

I encourage you- Vote your Conscience. 

SIDE NOTE- McMullin has a real shot at winning Utah. For more click here or here.

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

Convenient Confusion

what-to-do-3-1239436-1598x1065Whey my boys were younger, they were quick to say, “I’m sorry” when they messed up. Sometimes, they said it for the millionth time about the same mistake. When this happened, my response sounded something like…

“I know you’re sorry, and I forgive you. I will always forgive you. But being sorry really means little for you if you do nothing to change your behavior.”

Now that my boys are teenagers, I still expect them to repeat mistakes from time to time in some areas, but I also realize progress should exist. They love Jesus, but they’re certainly in training still in so many ways. I have to constantly keep telling myself…

“Progress over perfection.”

Unfortunately, many adults act much like teenagers at times, though there should be marked maturity well beyond that found in most teenagers. These adults live in convenient confusion and believe saying “I’m sorry” stands on its own without being followed by a changed life.

I’m certainly guilty. I’ve relied on my words to carry me a bit much too at times. Yes, I too have been conveniently confused, thinking that filling my life with learning and knowing stuff somehow means trusting Christ. The truth is, though, trusting Christ really means doing what He says. It means following His directions and not pretending to be confused over what God’s Word says.

James addresses this very topic in James 1:22-25.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.”

Let’s consider these truths from a few other perspectives:

“No man is better for knowing that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. Nobody is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell, there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.” (A.W. Tozer)

”It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and get God’s blessing. It is not the hearing but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.” (Warren Wiersbe)

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand.” (Mark Twain)

Consider the following questions for self-evaluation to know where convenient confusion might be plaguing you.

  • What am I hearing from God and not putting into action?
  • How might I be sinning by pretending to be confused?
  • Have I stopped listening to Him in some area because I know I’m not obeying?

As you consider these answers, actively look for ways to move from being a hearer only to also being a consistent doer. What might some of those ways be for you?

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