Making Room for Christ

nativityThe Christmas Story

Since about 47% of Americans attend Christmas Eve church services, almost half the people living in the United States are familiar with the Christmas story (found in Matthew 1-2 and in Luke 1-2). Many likely know it almost by heart.

Personally, I’ve heard the Christmas story from every possible perspective — the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the innkeeper, even the stars in the sky and the animals in the stable. Uncountable modern tellings focus on the meaning of Christmas from every point of view, including through favorite Christmas carols such as Joy to the World and Silent Night.

One version delves into the idea of “no room” at the inn in Jerusalem. For whatever reason, it could not accommodate a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

This physical circumstance connects to the spiritual reality that even before Jesus’ birth, people failed to make room for Him amidst busyness and rush.

No Room

The hurry and bustle of the holiday season distracts so many from making room for Christ. Really, busyness prevents a focus on Him year round. From before His birth to Christmas today, there seems to be the all-to-common state of “no room” for Jesus.

The solution lies with a new perspective and deliberate effort. He won’t force His way into our lives, but He certainly provides ample opportunity for us to welcome Him of our own accord.

Make Room

Welcoming Christ into a busy life starts with hearing the voice of the Lord through the holiday noise. It involves a deliberate seeking of His peace amidst the all-consuming busyness during the holidays and beyond.

This approach begins with a change of focus as we ask God to speak to us and then as we add intentional effort to hear his voice. That requires stopping physically, mentally, spiritually and, especially in our modern culture, electronically.

Consider the words of Psalm 46:10 in several versions to understand how this best happens:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (NIV)

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting — and know that I am God.” (Holman)

“Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God.” (God’s Word Translation)

“Desist and know that I am God.” (Young’s Literal Translation)

Making room for Jesus involves removing ourselves from the intense volume of the world. It means reorganizing our lives to make room and de-cluttering to get rid of distractions.

God does still speak to us. He still offers peace. And He still provides wisdom. Our part in the equation requires enabling ourselves to hear Him. In doing so, we not only “know” He is God, we understand the perspective of many on that first Christmas — the shepherds, the wisemen, Mary & Joseph — who rearranged their lives to usher in the Christ child.

QUESTION: What do you need to remove or rearrange to make room for Christ now and in the coming year?

 

Pursuing Encouragement Through Fellowship

As an introvert, spending time alone comes quite easily for me. As a writer, aloneness is often required for productivity. Even though my career and my personality promote solitude, and I really do like the peace and quiet, I cannot escape the need for regular connection. If I go too long with out it, which happens periodically, I become discouraged and even depressed almost without realizing it’s happening.

Everyone needs connection, whether they admit – or realize – it or not; in fact, it’s one of the primary ways God encourages believers. We’ve already talked about how He encourages through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. Let’s now look at the role fellowship with other believers plays in encouragement.

Fellowship

Encouragement Through Fellowship

Scripture says quite a lot about encouragement, and much of it focuses in on the encouragement received through fellowship. For example, encouragement through fellowship…

While I believe each of these to be accurate simply because I trust the inerrancy of God’s word, experiencing encouragement in action takes this knowledge to, well, a more encouraging level.

Barnabas’ Example

A man in the early church named Joseph was given the nickname Barnabus.

Barnabas

Barnabas encouraged Paul by helping him gain acceptance into the church even after he persecuted it (Acts 9:27). Barnabas also encouraged Mark by helping him gain a second chance after serious failure (Acts 13:13 & Acts 15:39).

While I love how Barbabas encouraged others by helping them move forward after serious mistakes, I love even more that he was willing to take a back seat to others. When others give of themselves for our benefits, we are encouraged. When they put their reputation on the line, that usually provides motivation for doing our best.

If you look at the list above for how believers receive encouragement through fellowship, it’s not hard to see how Barnabas lived out each of them. And I’m pretty sure, based on the Barnabas’ in my own life and that I’ve watched in the lives of others, that he not only encouraged those he was directly involved with but also anyone who witnessed him in action. Encouragement has a tremendous ripple affect after all.

So even though spending time alone comes quite naturally for me and in fact energizes me in ways that extroverts cannot understand, I also know that being with others is essential for my spiritual health. And while I read Scripture that tells me how and why encouragement comes through others, it’s the actual encouragement in action that solidifies my belief in this truth.

DISCUSSION: How have you witnessed encouragement in action through the lives of other believers?

Preventing Decision Fatigue

Decisions

The best way to become overwhelmed with decisions, to experience Decision Fatigue, comes through doing absolutely nothing to prevent it. People who consistently make good decisions & maintain consistent self control structure their lives to conserve willpower (their decision-making energy). In other words, they employ habits that allow for consistent regulation of decisions.

Scripture has a lot to say about decision making to help each one of us make better decisions and better direct our decision-making energy.

1. Develop a habit of preparedness. (Matthew 24:44)

Preparing requires spending time with the Father and learning His will. It means letting the Holy Spirit guide and direct decisions. Preparedness involves taking care of the physical self, which helps maintain a long-term focus instead of being driven by immediate needs.

2.) Simplify. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Many of us become overwhelmed because of unnecessarily complicated (heavy) lives. Simplifying means automating where possible and releasing where necessary. Very few things are truly mandatory, things we truly HAVE to do. Decide non-negotiables and then use energy for bigger decisions.

3.) Learn to say “no.” (Luke 10:41-42)

We don’t have to accept every opportunity presented. In fact, opportunities often distract from God desires for us. Many of our decisions involve deciding among good, better and best, not between good and bad. Jesus emphasized this when he said that what Martha wanted to do wasn’t bad, but what Mary chose was better. Know “How to Make Consistent Progress” by focusing on your purpose as Jesus did, and you’ll have a clear idea of what to say “no” to and what to accept by way of opportunity.

4.) Let others do their part. (Exodus 18:23-24; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:27)

Jethro advised Moses to delegate, so Moses wouldn’t get worn out and the people frustrated. The disciples needed to delegate in order to focus on their parts and still ensure needs were met. The concept of the body of Christ tells us we all have our own work to do, which also tells us some decisions just aren’t ours to make. We must allow others to fully do their parts too.

5.) Refuse to second guess. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Just as the the disciples did when Jesus called them into ministry, make the best decision you can and fully commit to it. Second guessing wears you and your ability to make good decisions — or any decisions at all — down.

6.) Develop an eternal focus. (Psalm 61:2)

Developing an eternal focus involves prioritizing toward that which benefits eternally rather than just temporally. It means getting our focus off self and off of what satisfies only in this world and onto our Creator who knows what is best for us.

Overcoming Decision Fatigue

The path to overcoming and preventing Decision Fatigue requires unique steps for each individual, yet all can apply the same biblical concepts. For every person that means…

  • Examining hearts & removing idols of self-reliance.
  • Learning to say “no” to good and trusting God’s leading toward best.
  • Consulting with God regularly.
  • Being intentional about self-care.
  • Setting boundaries.
  • Living within God’s will.
  • Living in community.

Do you feel overwhelmed thinking about where to start?

Let that overwhelm draw you to Christ and to his power. Remember that the resurrection of the dead revealed God’s unsurpassable power, and that we have access to that same power (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Ask God where to start. Ask Him how to become less overwhelmed with decision-making. Let Him gradually lead you to a place of focus where you feel His peace and where you can live with joy and effectiveness rather than in overwhelm.

Going Public

FearFor many people, myself included, telling others about Jesus seems a bit like telling people about Amway. At least, the discomfort (fear?) ahead of time feels similar, and the reaction received is also strikingly similar. (I’m not at all proud of this truth, by the way.)

But that’s stupid. Isn’t it? I mean, Jesus is the best news ever, but people seem to receive words about him with as much disdain and skepticism as they do multi-level marketing.

Not exactly sure why this is, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Loving Jesus is a lifestyle, it’s actions, and not simply the words we use. As I thought about this and realized my struggle in this area, the Holy Spirit turned on a light that showed how sharing the Gospel — talking about Jesus — really is not difficult.

  • Focus on Gratitude — Letting people know what Jesus has done for you comes from a place of gratitude, not fear. So, if you feel fear, try focusing on being thankful.
  • Remember Your Anointing — Isaiah said it first, and Jesus quoted him. They said the “anointed” would proclaim the good news to the poor. We also know that the anointing abides (dwells) within us (1 John 2:27). So, no matter how we feel about our abilities or how about we’ll be received, the anointing exists to qualify each one of us.

Public 1

  • Focus on What You Know — What you know best is what Jesus has done for you. Simply speak to what you know about him personally.
  • Don’t Force It — Don’t focus on where you see others headed without Jesus, at least not at first. Let them see Jesus in you first and wait for the opportunity to go further.
  • Create Awareness — Do this by the way you live life with Jesus. Let his peace and power be seen in and through you amidst the chaos of life, and let others be drawn to him as they desire that same peace and power. Trust the Holy Spirit to do the drawing.

Yes, Jesus and the Gospel of salvation seem too good to be true. The idea that our past can be erased and that we can be made new and pure is amazing. The fact that it’s free to us is baffling. In today’s culture, many people want something for nothing but avoid that which truly is free to them. Salvation is free to everyone, but making him Lord requires giving all of what we are.

“If you live for Jesus as a secret agent, you’ll eventually wake up as a double agent.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

Don’t keep Jesus a secret. Don’t try to live for him on the inside and neglect doing so on the outside for fear of what others might think. The Great Commission says to “go and make disciples.” This “go” really means “in your going,” in other words, “as you go about your life.”

For me, this means as I write and teach. It means as I parent my two boys and as I fulfill my marriage covenant. It means taking the opportunities God gives to share Him and realizing these opportunities often come through the way that I live life and the way I react when life runs me over.

Forcing things in my life has never turned out very well. In fact, it’s almost always gotten me overwhelmed and in places I knew weren’t meant for me (jobs, commitments, etc.) But waiting for God to open doors always leads down the path of balance.

It’s hard to resist creating my own path. After all, the worlds’ wisdom says I need to make my dreams happen. But that’s just never worked for me. Every opportunity that’s held God’s anointing came when He created the path as I waited for him to do so. Taking steps down the path he creates isn’t always easy and require a lot of effort on our part, but they will always lead to a place where going public about Jesus comes from who we are in him and not from forced “shoulds.”

DISCUSSION: How do you feel about “going public” about Jesus?

Hear. Listen. Understand.

Hear

Most people are very good at hearing. We know the right stance and facial expressions and even the appropriate verbal responses to confirm our hearing. But hearing remains only a physical act if we fail to fully engage in the process.

My 14-year-old has perfected the art of hearing. Eye contact. Mostly stationary. “Yeah” and “Uh huh” in the right places. Yet, his behavior later often confirms that he stopped with only hearing my words.

Listen

Once we hear, the next step involves truly listening. This means we choose not to form our response while another person talks. It means we decide to give value to the words we hear because we value the person saying them. Listening means we recognize that the words hold meaning and purpose beyond their initial point of origin.

As my boys mature, they move beyond only hearing my words and into listening for value. They attempt to apply instruction not just in my presence but as a choice for responsible behavior. They seem to grasp, at least at times, what many adults seem to be conveniently confused about, that those with experience and who love us quite possibly have valuable instruction to help better our lives.

Understand

Next comes understanding. After we hear and choose to truly listen, application starts to become a reality through our habits, and understanding grows. As understanding blossoms, the activity of hearing and listening changes from surface value to one of depth. A sure sign of understanding involves a person seeking out opportunity to hear and listen rather than waiting for them.

When my boys seek out my or their father’s advice, we see signs of this process happening. When a student takes notes and asks questions of a teacher, understanding is being sought. When someone spends additional time, perhaps in meditative prayer, reading or studying, they show a desire for the process of hearing, listening and understanding to become habit.

Jesus encourages this process in Matthew 13 as does Isaiah in 6:9-10. Lots of other places in Scripture emphasize the point too. Only when someone truly gives himself to hear, listen and understand does he finally see the significance of the repetition.

“Then the godly will shine like the sun in their father’s kingdom: Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13:43)

DISCUSSION: How does the “hear, listen & understand” process exist in your life?

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The Cure for Loneliness

Psalm 1391Many POWs tell stories about endless nights in dark, dank cells. They tell about discouragement over lack of compassionate human contact. Their stories reek of loneliness.

Most of us might struggle relating to a POW’s story of loneliness. After all, we live surrounded by people and comforts and activity, enough to keep the odor of loneliness far away.

If loneliness plagues you, you realize you don’t need a prison cell to experience it. Loneliness knows no social bounds. It hits in rooms full of opportunity for interaction and satisfaction. In fact, rooms filled with other people often seem more lonely than your own, empty living room.

And if loneliness seems to be your best friend at times, you know the weapon it often becomes in the enemy’s hands. He knows we’re less of a threat when we’re lonely. He knows loneliness brings an inner focus that drives feelings to run over facts. He knows that helplessness, depression and discouragement flourish in the confines of loneliness. If he can keep loneliness prominent, he knows he can keep us from effectiveness.

The Cure for LonelinessPsalm 1393

As with so many maladies that compromise the health of our psyches (the human soul, spirit & mind), understanding loneliness allows us to make tremendous progress toward victory over its, and the enemy’s, impact on the effectiveness of our lives. With that, let’s gain understanding of loneliness with the goal of making progress toward its defeat.

To defeat loneliness, we must understand that…

  1. Some parts of life are meant to be lived alone. Jacob’s transformation (Genesis 32:23-30). Joseph’s weeping (Genesis 43:30, 31). Jeremiah’s witnessing (Jeremiah 15:17). Nehemiah’s vigil for direction (Nehemiah 2:12-16). All give examples of situations a person often must walk through alone.
  2. God consistently addresses loneliness with companionships. God made Eve for Adam because it wasn’t good that he was alone (Genesis 2:18). God gave Elisha to Elijah to dispel the loneliness of depression (1 Kings 19:14-18). And God creates families to help overcome loneliness (Psalm 68:6). With unmistakable consistency, God dispels loneliness by creating opportunity for companionship.
  3. Companionship provides the greatest offensive for loneliness.  Companionship gives significant advantages, not the least of which involves ridding our lives of loneliness. Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 lists the benefits of companionship, including encouragement and increased effectiveness. Even Christ desired companionship during the greatest trial of his life. Though he failed to receive it, Matthew 26:36-45 clearly shows his longing for companionship as a source of encouragement as he walked a very lonely path.
  4. No matter how we feel, we’re never truly alone. The words of Matthew 28:20 likely sound somewhat familiar to most Christians… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Many find great comfort in this statement. The words of David in Psalm 139 describe the depth of this reality in every Christian’s life… “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7) The more this truth fuels a person’s faith, the less room that exists for loneliness.

Psalm 1397Even with a scriptural understanding of loneliness, many (myself included) still struggle with feeling lonely on a regular basis. How can this be true when God so clearly shows us his heart’s desire for our lives to remain absent of loneliness? The answer, perhaps, likes with understanding true companionship.

Understanding Companionship

When I feel lonely, even when sitting in the middle of a group of people, the reason usually lies with feeling disconnected. You see, loneliness goes well beyond a physical state and instead exists as a state of the mind. Only true companionship (affiliation, camaraderie, togetherness, union) truly dispels loneliness, not being in the physical presence of others. Consider the antonyms for loneliness to help understand this truth:

Together. Adopted. Cherished. Defended. Maintained. Supported.

Companionship, not simply proximity to others, provides the solution to loneliness by creating true connection that brings encouragement through valuing, accepting and protecting another. Only when we feel a togetherness and a belonging that creates a knowledge of encouragement and support do we truly see loneliness running off into the distance.

Psalm 13918The word fellowship, which also defines companionship, takes this reality to yet another depth by giving the idea of actually traveling together. There’s a reason we fellowship with one another and gather in fellowship halls. This idea of companionship as a way to travel through life together exists as a need at the core of our existence. When we truly experience companionship, when that deep need within us gets met, only then does loneliness become a distant memory.

DISCUSSION: How do we create or find the type of companionship that dispels loneliness?

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5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

God's way 1One spouse quits a marriage. A child rebells. A friend refuses to reconcile differences. A boss pushes productivity levels.

We all – likely too often – find ourselves in situations like these where we feel stunned, frozen and helpless, and we hear these words come out of our mouths in desperation, “I don’t know what to do.”

Ever felt that way? Ever said those very words?

When this happens, I must admit that what I initially want to do is turn on the television or open a book and get lost in a made-up world. You know, pretend my life — and especially my problem — doesn’t exist. I’ve chosen that path many times before, and it works… but only temporarily. Eventually, panic comes back.

Recently when I said the words “I don’t know what to do,” I actually received a helpful answer, one that changed my way of thinking about situations that leave a person feeling at a loss, especially when that person is a Christian. That response? “Do what you can. Do what you know to do.”

My pastor gave me this advice and then elaborated a bit and reminded me that as Christians, we have some very specific activity we always know to do even when a situation seems impossible.

  1. God's Way_scripturePray. From short, spontaneous prayers like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) prayed when King Artexerses gave him opportunity to share his troubles to lengthy sessions such as the one recorded in Psalm 88, prayer always exists as an option.
  2. Ask for prayer. Quit thinking you have to go through troubles alone… God wants us to pray for and with each other (James 5:16).
  3. Read Scripture. Get God’s thoughts on situations from the everyday ones to the impossible ones. Psalm 119:105 says God’s Word is a light for our path, so turn on the light!
  4. Watch where you lean. My own understanding when in a struggle, at least initially, is usually wrought with emotion. And when I’m emotional, I don’t think clearly and can’t see anything but the problem. Getting God’s perspective, through Godly counsel and Scripture, gives us a place of strength on which to lean. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  5. Give thanks. So many examples of prayer in Scripture involve spending time thanking God. If you’re not sure why this is, spend a few minutes simply giving thanks for all He’s done for you and all He promises for His people, and you’ll soon realize why giving thanks is such an important activity during a struggle. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  6. Guard your thoughts. Doubt and loneliness rise up at their strongest during a crisis. Don’t allow your thoughts to dwell in the pit. Instead, focus on God’s promises recorded in Scripture. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  7. Wait. Looking again to Nehemiah, we know he waited four months from the time he felt a burden for his people in Jerusalem until the opportunity to ask for the King’s help. Nehemiah didn’t force the issue; instead, he kept doing his job (what he knew to do) and trusted that God would give him the opportunity to act. (Nehemiah 1-2)

Unfortunately, my quality of thinking easily goes down the drain when the emotions of a helplessness hit (especially if I’m tired or hungry and definitely if I’m both). I need reminded of right thinking, which then makes way for the peace of God.

When we finally realize that the statement, “I don’t know what to do,” simply isn’t true for Christians, we see a whole new place of victory even during the struggles of life.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains allusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned about establishing and keeping focus in that process:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my kids also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Remove blockades (don’t “hinder”) the Holy Spirit’s ability to work in your life. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom He offers.
  6. Take small steps. Returning and staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convince me that focus is not a special talent like running speed but instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past five years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other 13-year-old boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 5 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Restoring Relationships

JosephIf anyone held good reason to not trust others, it was Joseph. Not only did his brothers betray him (Genesis 37), but Potipher’s wife lied about him (Genesis 39), and the cup-bearer forgot his promise to Joseph (Genesis 40). Many people would give up after betrayal by family. Most of the rest would give up after being lied about and thrown in jail. And the third incident would secure the existence of bitterness and anger for anyone remaining.

But not Joseph. He bloomed where he was planted, and his faithfulness in every circumstance proved and strengthened his character. As a result, Joseph was trusted with greater responsibility every step of the way.

The story of Joseph provides a familiar setting worth revisiting in terms of what it teaches about restoring relationships. Please take a few minutes to read through Genesis 42-45 with this theme in mind before proceeding.

Lessons from Joseph on Restoring Relationships

Joseph gives a terrific example on many fronts, including solid character, perseverance and trusting God. His story, especially the ending, also provides a terrific lesson on the restoring process relationships can undergo providing those involved admit mistakes, forgive where necessary, and have the right focus. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at 5 lessons Joseph has for us regarding restoring relationships.

  1. Keep restoration as an option (Genesis 42:8). Joseph instantly recognized his brothers, while his brothers failed to recognize him at all. Sure, they assumed him dead for many years, but I find it strange they didn’t notice something… anything… reminding them of Joseph. Perhaps this comes simply because Joseph never lost hope for restoration with his family, while his brothers never had it.
  2. Provide opportunity for building trust (Genesis 42:14-17; Genesis 44). Joseph immediately provided opportunities for his brothers to build and earn trust with him. He gave them ways to show they had changed for good, and they certainly showed they had truly learned from their mistakes.
  3. Recognize and express emotion, but refuse to let it control actions (Genesis 42:24; Genesis 43:30-31). Don’t you love how Joseph truly felt emotion over first seeing his brothers and then over the prospect of restored relationship with them? Yet, he refused to let that emotion cloud the trust-building process and instead moved forward practically.
  4. Get God’s point of view (Genesis 45:5). Joseph continually focused on God, and I believe this allowed him to not just forgive his brothers but to work toward restored relationship with them. Joseph saw the big picture of how God used the bad in his life to work for good, and he refused to get bitter over the betrayal of those he trusted.
  5. Give God the glory when restoration succeeds (Genesis 45:6-7). Joseph gave God the credit for working in the whole of his life. He refused to focus on the human aspect of his situations and instead focused on God. Doing so also helped seal the deal for restoration as he purposefully eased the guilt his brothers felt.

The story of restored relationship between Joseph and his brothers gives me hope for the same story of renewal in my own life. It also helps me believe that people can truly change even after significant breeches of trust, especially when those they hurt choose to focus on God and believe that He truly does work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

DISCUSSION: What else can we learn about restoration from Joseph? What other examples can you think of in Scripture?

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