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.

Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

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?

Study to Stay Steady

How to Identify Counterfeits

Do a quick internet search for “how to identify counterfeits” and one fact becomes abundantly clear… there a lot of counterfeits out there.

  1. Money
  2. Food
  3. Textbooks
  4. Bags
  5. Watches
  6. Cameras

Counterfeits are usually a much lower quality and don’t last as long as the authentic item, and they simply do not live up to the value of the original item over the long term.

When you want to purchase an authentic item, awareness of counterfeits is important along with a good knowledge of the original. You could also learn different anti-counterfeit measures unique to each item.

All approaches for identifying counterfeits stem from the original product. In other words, the ability to identify a counterfeit is based on knowledge of the authentic.

This holds true in religion too. Counterfeits continually work to distract and pull people away from the authentic doctrine found in the Bible. I don’t know if I could tell a difference between a genuine designer bag and a knockoff, and I’m not sure I care all that much. I do know, however, that I want the truth on which I base my eternity to be authentic.

Discerning False Doctrine

Early church leaders wanted to be sure of the same thing. They wanted people to be aware of the existence of fake Gospels — of false doctrine — so they could base their lives and their eternities on the truth of the Gospel of Christ alone. As a result, the church leaders taught about the difference between counterfeits and the authentic gospel frequently.

What Paul and the other apostles taught those in the early church about false doctrine holds true for us still today. Let’s look at a few of those points to help us discern the real Gospel from any of the many fakes rampant still today. Notice that the approach stems from knowledge of the authentic Gospel of Christ as taught in the Bible.

Any teaching and any person sincerely professing true doctrine — that found in the Bible will consistently do the following:

  1. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. (1 John 4:2)
  2. Bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16)
  3. Have words and actions that complement each other & Scripture. (Titus 1:16)
  4. Are consistent in what they preach and practice. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
  5. Only preach Christ crucified. (Galatians 1:8-9)

Together — along with the activity of the Holy Spirit — these points help believers know false doctrine when they see and hear it. Yet, knowing doesn’t always keep deception at bay. Without a systematic and consistent approach to studying doctrine, even the most dedicated Christian can (and has) fallen prey to false doctrine that goes against what the Bible teaches.

Study to Stay Steady

Talk to people who were once dedicated to living the Bible and the Gospel it teaches and who have since fallen away from that lifestyle and their beliefs, and you’ll find at least one consistent thread within every case… a neglect of Bible study.

Any Christian, no matter how long they’ve been a believer, must study to stay steady. They must maintain a consistent habit of Bible study throughout their lifetime in order to avoid wandering away from the true Gospel.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Ephesians 4:14)

Diligence in studying Scripture is key to the maturity of faith. It’s crucial for steadiness and for staying focused on the authentic Gospel. If you think you can avoid false doctrine by willpower alone, you’re deceiving yourself. Only by knowing the authentic Gospel as taught in Scripture can a person remain steady in Godly character and growing in faith.

For more on this topic, read What is false doctrine? Found at GotQuestions.org.

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.

Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

Live In Peace With Everyone

“Do all you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NLT)

Easier said than done. Especially when nothing you do or say is acceptable. Especially when the other person wants nothing to do with you. Especially when your moral compasses are pointing in different directions.

Many people live this out by acting like nothing is wrong. Fake pleasantries. Small talk. Avoid any words of depth. Tolerate. I get being civil, cordial and amicable, but even those can be taken to the extreme and used as avoidance techniques.

When others are not peaceable, I retreat. I keep outwardly silent and avoid interaction. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure retreating isn’t living out the scripture any more than is pretending everything’s okay.

And sometimes, I’m the one not being peaceable. I’m the one making things difficult.

Do All You Can

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

Those beginning words are key. After all, sometimes we do all we can, and a relationship still falls apart, and people still don’t get along.

Because it’s not always possible, and it doesn’t just depend on you.

Live at Peace

Scripture has a lot to say about living at peace, though. And when it comes to doing your part, it tells us that it’s not always an easy road to take.

“Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

See the commonality in all of these Scripture? Living at peace involves work. It takes effort.

What might this effort look like?

  • Don’t get even.
  • Let emotions fade.
  • Don’t start an argument.
  • Don’t provoke.
  • Don’t prolong a controversy.
  • Don’t push buttons.
  • Keep quiet.

Doing all you can looks very different from one relationship to the next. Plus, there are many other ways to work at living in peace with everyone not mentioned here. Too many to list.

So, let’s end with Paul’s words of advice and encouragement to help us in this endeavor to do our part in living at peace with everyone.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourself united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Love Holds the Key

Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.

Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Be on guard.

Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.

Stand true to what you believe.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.

Be courageous.

Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.

Be strong.

True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.

Everything done in love.

Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.

As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.

“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.

Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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