Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.

Overcoming Overload with Balance

balanceLast month’s focus on technology was interesting because I didn’t realize the impact of technology in the details of my life. I didn’t realize how out of balance I truly was regarding my use of technology and my need for almost constant access and information.

I certainly don’t think technology is evil. I love the relationships, the access to information and the freedom to share thoughts and ideas. Yet, I also realize the need to master or be mastered by technology and its incessant call. I understand that I must refuse to follow the crowd and instead choose my own focus. In doing so, I can overcome information overload by focusing on creating balance.

Laying Down the Gauntlet

Just like overload looks different on every person, so does a balanced solution for overload. In Managing Overload with Boundaries, we discussed basic principles as a guide in creating a plan for awareness, prevention and management of overload.

In today’s post, I am issuing a challenge, playing off our focus last month on technology and playing into this month’s focus on balance.

CHALLENGE

The challenge is this: Decide one way you can begin to become the master over technology in your life rather than a slave to it. Think of some change you can make that clearly says, “I refuse to follow the crowd and will decide for myself how to use technology & how to manage the information it constantly presents.”

To help, let’s look at examples of others working to create balance in their lives:

These examples and suggestions hopefully serve to get your creative juices flowing as well as to inspire and motivate.

Choose to Think

With the gauntlet laid down, consider this quote from Rick Dawson of Planned Peasanthood, someone who always hits home with truth…

“God gave us the ability to think – we have to choose to do so, on a minute by minute basis sometimes, if we don’t want to be overwhelmed by the ‘drinking from the firehose’ condition of living in an always on, 24/7/365 world. In its own way? It can set us up for the same sort of response that primitive man had – always afraid, always on guard.”

Choose to get grounded with God, and let Him prioritize your day. Trust God to get you the information and connections you need instead of obsessing over the constant inflow from technology. Find YOUR balance by choosing to think based on the guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit.

While I see the convenience of technology, I simply cannot shake the fact that it never satisfies my deep need for connection. And for that reason, I choose today to pick up the gauntlet.

DISCUSSION: Will you pick up the gauntlet too? If so, how?

Dress for Success in Relationships

494936_88709934While my13-year-old may not always, hopefully most of us put on clean clothing regularly. Feeling clean and fresh often motivates in a positive direction for the day ahead. In fact, one of the main suggestions for recovery from depression involves showering and putting on clean clothes every day.

Wearing clothing appropriate for the situation is also important. I won’t exercise in a dress, and I don’t wear my exercise clothes to church. Also, consider the fact that students often perform better on tests when they dress up. Appropriateness in what we wear impacts how we feel about ourselves and shows the importance we place on an activity.

Another example involves getting new clothes, which often revives a stale season of life. Most women (along with their husbands) understand that a new piece of clothing can brighten a woman’s day.

While these changes of clothing are temporary, many seek long-term happiness in changing what they wear physically. In reality, though, our physical clothing has limited impact on our long-term reality.

New Nature Clothing

Our spiritual clothing works in similar ways to our physical clothing, but it holds far greater and more long-term impact. In fact, when our internal clothing reflects that of our new nature in Christ, we discover an eternal perspective that transforms our living, growing and connecting.

Consider how, based on Colossians 3, our new nature clothing impacts us not only individually but also in every relationship.

  • New nature clothing represents a growing knowledge of Christ. (v. 10)
  • The right spiritual clothing creates peace that rules the heart. (v. 15)
  • Style and social position don’t matter with new nature clothing. (v. 11)
  • Continued thankfulness renews & refreshes the “outfit.” (vv. 15-17)
  • Love completes the “look,” bringing unity to the whole “outfit.” (v. 14)

We don’t make our own clothing much anymore but instead have to purchase what we want to wear. Our new nature clothing was also purchased and not something we make on our own. Only through Christ do we have this “clothing” to wear. And not only did He purchase this clothing for us, it never wears out… it never needs replaced.

Renewed

Renewal & Relationships

So how does this continued renewal of our new natures by the spiritual clothing we put on impact our relationships? Our new nature clothing affects the atmosphere of the inner self which then creates the pervading mood that others see and that governs our relationships. In other words, how we dress our hearts determines how we live out love through our relationships.

Relationships provide the opportunity to express the love that our relationship with Christ generates. Only when we clothe ourselves in the new nature clothing of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, thankfulness and love that only come through knowing Jesus do we then have a demeanor that serves to positively cultivate New Nature Relationships.

DISCUSSION: How does your new nature clothing impact your relationships?

Idle Words

In a say-what’s-on-your-mind culture, words get flung around, overlooked and trampled like a penny on the ground. Does this mean that our words are becoming obsolete like the penny?

Some people seem to talk just to hear the sound of their own voices. Some talk to draw attention to themselves, good or bad. Others talk in an attempt to prove intelligence, and still others talk as if searching for their own value.

For certain, the more words spoken, the less words heard. At least, the more I talk, the less my kids listen and the more they seem to grow distant. The value of words seems to decrease the more words spoken.

If the value of words is declining, why bother?

Why bother thinking about if Words Matter, if Tone Matters, or if Timing Matters? What’s the point of considering why you should Check Your SourceHere’s why:

Idle 1

That’s right, EVERY word. Not some. ALL OF THEM. Every lazy, thoughtless, pointless word. Every emotionally-wrought word. Every utterance coming out of our mouths. That’s why we bother with considering our words carefully.

Jesus also adds this statement about the impact personally of our words.

Idle words 1

Perhaps Jesus’ words here are why James says,

Idle 3

Not only do the words we speak as well as how and when we speak them either strengthen or damage relationships, they also determine the status of our lives after we die. Yes, Jesus is ultimately referring to our words about Him, but doesn’t every aspect of ourselves reflect on our relationship with Him? Our words tell of the state of our inner lives, our hearts, and it is this condition with which God is most concerned.

A blog friend and regular commenter on this site expresses the idea this way:

Idle words 2

Knowing that my words convict or justify me, that they define my character, and that I will be held accountable for every single one of them, motivates me to constantly use caution with my words as well as to continually improve their value. But then I read James 3 and feel defeated, just one verse of it actually.

Idle 4

Does this mean my efforts to guard my words are useless? Am I in a battle I cannot win? As long as I seek to fight it under my own power, yes it does and yes I am. Fortunately, God is in the business of making the impossible happen (Matthew 19:26).

In fact, His Word says a tremendous amount about tongue taming, which indicates its importance, and much of that instruction revolves around a few key points to help us obtain that goal. We’ll look at those instructions next time when we close out our detailed look at words.

DISCUSSION: How do you feel about the impossibility of ever taming your tongue?

Tone Matters

Currently, my biggest struggle with tone of voice manifests through my youngest son. While my oldest son and my husband tend to focus more on words said and to give less credence to tone and body language than most people, my youngest soaks in my tone and often emulates it and my body language when talking to others.

My youngest son replaying my tone and body language feels strange but has increased my awareness of the impact of my tone of voice. This has led me to realize how much tone of voice not only impacts relationships but how it reflects the atmosphere that exists in the inner self.tone 2

The style or manner in which words are said make up a person’s tone of voice. Tone involves the delivery of words by expressing emotions and opinions. Tone determines perception also, such as whether an individual appears weak, confident, boring, etc..

Research reveals the significant impact of tone of voice by showing that 90% of our communication comes through nonverbal cues, including tone of voice. That means that the actual words said have only a 10% impact on our communication.

Not only is tone a powerful element in communication, it also presents an effective gauge of a person’s inner atmosphere. When we’re tired, frustrated, overwhelmed or have some other powerful emotion flowing through us, our tone often reveals that inner state. In fact, concealing that emotion usually becomes impossible for most people. And the better someone knows you, the harder hiding emotions in our tone becomes.

Tone 1

When I hear my boys talking (bickering) with each other, I’ll often remind one or both to “Watch your tone.” I do this because I know that a change in tone often results in a change in attitude of all parties involved. In fact, let’s go so far as to say that the words said mean little to nothing when the tone says something else or something more powerful.

With the significant impact of tone of voice in the forefront of our thoughts, consider the following truths about how we say what we say and how their application can change our relationships as well as the atmosphere of the inner self.

  1. Gentle words can disarm anger, resentment and vengeance. (Proverbs 15:1)
  2. Gentle words have healing powers. (Proverbs 15:4)
  3. A mind set on things above comes through in our attitude, which is reflected in our tone of voice. (Colossians 3:1-10)
  4. Tone that reflects truth promotes healthy communication, but tone driven by emotions leads to communication breakdown.
  5. Tone often says more about the speaker than it does about the situation or the receiver.

Sarcasm comes naturally for me, but it only lessens as I refuse to give it a regular voice in the world. The journey to this particular victory lives as a constant reminder of the power of tone of voice. Because sarcasm failed to encourage and thus went against God’s intention for my relationships, I am motivated to keep a tight reign on not just the words I say but how I say them as well.

Painful lessons regarding my tone of voice led me to realize that how I say something certainly impacts others, but at the root it really reveals what’s going on in my heart. So when I use a wrong tone, I first correct it if possible and then apologize for it when necessary. I also seek to pinpoint what’s going on within myself that led to a tone that was not only less than encouraging but that was actually only my emotions out of control.

When I change my tone, my inner attitude changes, and my emotions level out. I can also see the same happening with whomever I am communicating with at the time. In that, I witness the truth that words truly can heal or destroy (Proverbs 12:18) largely through the tone in which they are said.

DISCUSSION: What impact has tone of voice had in your communication?

For more details on this topic, check out the posts Thinking on Words and Words Matter.

Sunday Reflections – Light the Fuse!

Some people use lighters, some cigarettes and some matches. Others buy “punks” made specifically for lighting fireworks. No matter what you use to light fireworks, you need a spark of some sort. You also need air (oxygen). Without either of those elements, the fireworks simply won’t light. And when they won’t light, they are called duds and hold little value.

What lights your fuse?

In a spiritual sense, what gets you excited? What motivates you, essentially lighting your fuse? As a Christian, nothing motivates me more than the value I have in Christ. Consider the following:

“”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)

“You were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

These verses tell me of my value. They tell me I am one-of-a-kind. Some days, I don’t agree. I don’t think I’m valuable, special or unique. Fortunately, God’s opinion of me is more accurate (precisely so, actually) and real than my opinion of me. He’s perfect, after all.

What fuels your spark?

Without air, a spark will die, never reaching its purpose. Air, specifically oxygen, is the single most important element in the physical sense for humans. We can live 40 days without food, 3 days without water, but only minutes without air.

Spiritually, not only does our Creator stand as our greatest motivator because of the value He gives us, He also provides the “air” needed to fuel the fuse once it’s lit. Consider the following:

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” (Ezekiel 37:9-10)

“With that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

Our very life breath finds its source with God, the One who can even rise up dry bones and breathe life into them once again. And if that doesn’t “fan the flame” (2 Timothy 1:6) for you, realize that He also breathes His Holy Spirit on use to give us amazing power to do that which He created us to do.

We can’t earn God’s love. He gives it freely. In fact, He loves us so intensely that He wants us to always be with Him (John 14:3)… forever (Psalm 23:6). His love shows through in how He values us, motivates us and fuels us… and that love is a faithful love that will always remain (Isaiah 54:10).