5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

Many people live in the past. Some long for the glory days while others staunchly resist any change. Others live planning for the future and focusing on “what ifs.”

Remembering the past and learning its lessons is healthy, just like planning for the future is wise. Yet, dwelling in the past causes stagnation, and being obsessed with the future leads to missed opportunities, usually those involving relationships.

Balance must exist.

Instead, the past too often fades into the future with barely a glimpse at the present. At the same time, living only for the moment can become a dangerous thought pattern. When learning from the past and planning for the future are ignored, a dangerous self-centered pattern of behavior tends to grow.

But when living in the now involves applying lessons learned from the past along with using possible future destinations as tools for guidance, the present becomes an exciting time filled with ministry. It allows you to live what Paul writes about in Ephesians 5:15-16.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Focusing on the now allows for creating memories that enhance the past and create excitement for the future. We become motivated by the goal and guided by the past while at the same time remaining focused on the moment.

Principles for Living in the Now

We can choose to let the past consume us with fear of change. Or, we can let the future cloud our vision of the present as we constantly gaze into the distance.

A better option? Choose to live in the now, being guided by the past and motivated by the future.

The following 5 principles encourage that balance to happen in a way that helps us seize opportunities presented every day without letting our free will constantly put up obstacles from our past or our imaginations.

  1. Give relationships priority. We shouldn’t push people away because they don’t fit into our schedule. We need to love as Jesus loved, and he made time for the people placed in his daily activity. Living in the now allows us to see and to act on the opportunities presented to us.
  2. Determine not to give up too quickly. Jesus tells us that we can do “greater things” than He did (John 14:12). So why aren’t we? Perhaps it’s because we often give up too quickly. Determine to push through even if that means simply persevering for the day in front of you.
  3. Discipline your free will. God never permits sin. Deliberate sin always hurts His heart. And while he does not give us permission to sin, He does allow for our free will to make our own choices. Using the past as a guide and the future as motivation, disciplined free-will creates a productive now that is pleasing to God.
  4. Understand that people are afraid. As opportunities to minister arise, we must understand that how fear drives people. Rejection is often a person giving in to all-consuming fears rather than a rejection of us. For this reason, be ready to minister over the long haul. Take the opportunities in the now knowing the road is paved with perseverance.
  5. Pursue simplicity. Distractions abound to draw our attention from the present. Frustrations and over-commitment steal our focus causing us to fail to enjoy living in the now, and life quickly becomes complicated. Focus on simplifying life and discover an unencumbered life able to take the opportunities God presents.

As we learn to focus on the now and not just on what we plan to do or what will be, we begin to realize that compassion and ministry are very tangible. We realize we can always do more with the gifts God gave us.

Living in the now allows us to show Christ in us more through actions instead of just with words. When we live in the now, we see more of the opportunities he gives us for ministry, and we begin to fulfill His will for us as disciples.

“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

Be Still & Know

Be Still

In high school, I stepped between two girls getting ready to fight one another. One was my friend. I don’t remember the other girl. With fist raised and poised to fire, my friend  would hit me if she let it fly. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Only because it’s you.” Then she walked away.

In Psalm 46:10, the “be still” phrase gets at stopping this same sort of activity. The original word — rapa — means to “slacken, let down, cease.” It’s used in the sense of someone stepping between two warriors in battle and telling them to stop fighting, to stop their frantic activity.

So, the idea to “be still” goes beyond just taking a little time to relax. Beyond stopping the frantic pace, acknowledgment of the pointlessness of the activity is also important. In other words, we must stop and realize that our frantic activity will not produce any positive outcome.

Are you Frantic?

Frantic is one of those words that sounds ridiculous the more you say it. And when you consider all of what it means, it’s equally absurd to live in that state.

Frantic (adj.): desperate or wild with excitement, passion, fear, pain, etc.; frenzied

Interestingly, Jesus’ parents were once frantic in their search for him.

“His parents didn’t know what to think. ‘Son,’ his mother said to him, ‘why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.’” (Luke 2:48)

I find comfort knowing that the mother and father entrusted to raise the Son of God were also frantic parents at times. Makes my sometimes frantic parenting seem a little less unreasonable.

Of course, we have plenty in our lives beyond parenting that can make us frantic… Cleaning the house like crazy to get ready for guests. Scrambling madly at the end of the quarter to meet quota. Racing from one task to the next hoping to be somewhere on time once in a while. We’ve all felt frantic at some point, and I’m guessing no one really enjoys it.

Mental Time Out

While we can’t always avoid being frantic — though we often can with some planning and simplifying — we can choose to not live in it. We can choose to not let it be our standard mode of operation. To do so, however, we must intentionally cease and decide to “be still.”

In the broadest sense, this means we need mental time outs. Especially in the busiest times of life, we need mental down time. Our brains need periods where they don’t actively focus or engage and can just wander. In fact…

“Time off is what your brain thrives on.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

What’s more, our bodies usually give us signs that we need this time off.

  • Can’t think straight
  • Under-accomplishing
  • Forgetful
  • Making mistakes

Again, we all have moments where these happen, but we need to pay attention when patterns emerge, when we begin to dwell there. After all, we can reap some pretty amazing benefits if we allow ourselves to “be still” on a regular basis.

“After you take a mental time-out, you’re better at creative thinking and coming up with clever ideas and solutions.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

& Know

Looking at that start of Psalm 46:10 again, but this time in several versions, helps draw out this idea of down time or time outs.

“Be still…” (ESV)

“Cease striving…” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting…(Holman)

“Be in awe…” (ISV)

“Let go [of your concerns]!” (God’s WORD ®)

“Let be…” (JPS Tanakh 1917)

Long before research proved we needed time to reflect and sort things out mentally, God told us as much. And while the mental experts say to let our minds wander, God’s word gives further instruction as to how to truly give our minds the crucial rest they need. We find the answer in the second part of the “be still” phrase that begins Psalm 46:10.

“…and know that I am God.”

What does knowing God is God do for our efforts to stop the frantic in our lives? Matthew Henry tells us in his commentary on Psalm 46:6-11:

“This shows the perfect security of the church, and is an assurance of lasting peace… in silent submission let us worship and trust our almighty Sovereign. Let all believers triumph in this, that the Lord of hosts… has been, is and will be with us; and will be our refuge. Mark this, take the comfort and say, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us? With this, through life and I death, let us answer every fear.”

This hits home because, truly, what is the source of our frantic activity? Fear. Fear of not doing, being, saying, making and creating enough.

I’m not sure how this exactly plays out in your life, but I know for me having God as my constant stability gives me what I need to “be still” even as life races on around me. Sure, some days are more difficult than others, but I know that going to that still place where I know God is God keeps the frantic from consuming me.

Select Your Thoughts Like You Select Your Clothing

Enclothed Cognition

What determines the clothing you’ll wear each day? Weather? Activity? Fashion? Cost? Mood? Comfort? All of the above?

“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.” (Eat. Pray. Love. by Elisabeth Gilbert)

Since I work at home, I could wear sweats most days. I don’t, though, because I struggle getting into a work mindset if I dress too casually. I usually plan my clothes well ahead of time, based mostly on comfort but also largely on the task at hand.

We all give some mental energy to the clothing we wear. Those choices are impacted by many factors, the combination of which are unique to each individual.

In Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat, the New York Times explains that studies show people are better test takers when they dress up. Researchers call this “enclothed cognition,” saying it’s the effect of clothing on our cognitive processes.

“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

Research proves that clothing impacts thoughts. The Bible shows that this truth extends far beyond our physical dress and into our spiritual dress as well. Essentially, both show that there’s definitely an intimate link between our clothing and our thinking.

Spiritual Clothing

“Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14)

“Dress yourself in humility” (1 Peter 5:5)

“Since God chose you to be a holy people he loves, you must clothe yourself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Our spiritual dress impacts our thinking. Where we allow our thinking to dwell affects our actions. We simply must continually consider how to dress ourselves spiritually if we are to please God with our attitude, actions and words.

Clean Clothing

Whether physical or spiritual, dirty clothing is easy to spot. Stains and smells almost always give them away. A washing machine and some detergent keeps our physical clothing clean. Likewise, our spiritual clothing receives cleaning too.

Unlike physical clothing, though, our spiritually clothing doesn’t wear out and become permanently stained.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

How are we renewed daily?

  1. Encouraged by the hope of eternity. No matter what happens in this life, we have the promise of eternity. Be encouraged by and focus on this truth.
  2. Strengthened by the resurrection power of Christ. Christ conquered death. Is there anything going on in your life more powerful than death?

A transformation of the mind happens when we focus on and allow the Holy Spirit to work this daily renewal within us. The result?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

We get to choose what we wear, both physically and spiritually, which determines our thoughts. And a power greater than death washes clean any stain that gets on the spiritual clothing we choose to wear. This daily renewal serves to transform our thinking, which leads us to pleasing God with our attitudes, actions and words.

Discover Encouragement and Determine Reality

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

Vacation Brain

vacation brainWhen I came back from my first cruise, I literally felt like I was still on the cruise ship at times with its constant swaying. This lasted a few weeks after the cruise. I even woke up in the middle of the night from what I can only describe as my brain trying to connect with my shipless reality.

Having this swaying sensation in the absence of being on a boat led me to realize that sometimes our minds can get stuck cruising while the rest of our bodies struggle to go through the motions of life. This creates and out-of-balance state that I call “vacation brain.”

Defining Vacation Brain

The Urban Dictionary offers two definitions for “vacation brain.”

“The 1-2 days before vacation when you can’t get much work done because your brain is already on vacation.”

“When you feel like you’re on vacation but you actually aren’t.”

Those definitions make sense, and I’ve experienced both, but allow me to offer a third definition. Vacation brain is…

“Failure to live your life in a deliberate way that leads toward balance physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Let’s face it, if we live our daily lives the same way we live when we on vacation, we’d all be in serious trouble.

The Symptoms of Vacation Brain

The symptoms of “vacation brain” exist within what I call a “cruise ship lifestyle.” Here are the ones that stand out most to me.

  • Increased comparisons
  • God neglect
  • Flesh focus

The posts, Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain and Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? delve deeper into how this topic relates to the influence of culture and also discuss the application to our everyday lives. For this post, let’s discuss some ideas to remedy this unhealthy state of existence.

The Remedy for Vacation Brain

The best remedy that I know of for “vacation brain” comes from Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I came home from my first cruise vacation and started feeling the shipless swaying sensations, I knew that concentration and focus would be a struggle for me until the sensations went away. (On a side note, Mal de Debarquement Syndrome does not go away for some people.)

We must stay keenly aware that vacation brain can easily become a part of our everyday lifestyles if we don’t deliberately choose to not let that happen. Consider the following for helping keep vacation brain from becoming a lifestyle.

  1. Renew. Renew the routines and habits that work well and discard or revamp what doesn’t.
  2. Read. I need to get as much positive input as possible, so I read God-focused blogs in addition to my Bible. Reading is one of the best ways to renew your thinking.
  3. Reconnect. While my husband and I connected a great deal on our cruise, I missed my friends and the rest of my family. Reconnecting help to refocus.
  4. Review. Review your priorities. Checking your calendar and your checkbook can help with doing this.
  5. Refuse. Vacations should be relaxing. They should help create new perspectives or reestablish old, helpful ones. Refuse to let the benefits of vacation be erased.

Almost immediately upon our return from our first cruise vacation, we had to deal with some significant life issues. I found myself wondering if the relaxation of vacation would dissipate more quickly than it came. Then I realized that vacations don’t create a state of peace that will live on indefinitely; instead, they should hit a reset button that helps us re-balance in a way to better deal with life’s coming challenges.

DISCUSSION: What other suggestions do you have for remedying vacation brain? Why do you think vacations are so important, maybe even crucially essential, for our lives?

Going Backward So You Can Move Forward

MistakesUnfortunately, my history with backing up a vehicle is somewhat embarrassing. Here’s the rather humbling list:

  • Backing into the school van during driver’s training while learning to parallel park (another driving challenge for me).
  • Backing into my brother’s car early one morning when I was 16 (never told him about that).
  • Backing a rental car over a huge boulder and needing several large men to lift it off (never told my husband about  that one… he knows now though).
  • Breaking the passenger rear view mirror on my husband’s truck when I hit the side of the garage backing out (he definitely knows about that one).
  • Scraping the back passenger side of my Jeep when I backed into a trailer parked in our driveway.
  • Backing into a moving car in a Barnes & Noble parking lot.
  • Hitting a car parked in my own driveway when I backed out of my garage.

While I haven’t had any auto accidents while driving forward, backing up obviously causes me problems. As God does so often in my life, He’s using this physical pattern to show me a spiritual truth.

dodinksy

5 Principles for Moving Forward

The same mistakes causing my backward vehicular accidents mirror those I struggle with spiritually and mentally. For example, my lifelong struggle with depression continues to haunt me, though less so as the years roll by.

Out of this realization comes five principles I must regularly and deliberately apply to prevent my backing up from delaying forward progress.

  1. Don’t let hurry motivate. I backed into my brother’s car because I couldn’t see through the frost on my window, which I failed to clean off because I was in a hurry. Failing to plan ahead led to this mistake. A little planning ahead can prevent many of life’s blunders.
  2. Be sure to see when looking. The Barnes & Noble incident happened simply because I did not see the car when I looked before backing up. This is akin to my kids not seeing the milk right in front of them in the refrigerator. Sometimes we get so into the routines of life that we fail to see the obvious. Slowing down and taking time to really look helps prevent mistakes.
  3. Realize that others are often hurt by our mistakes. Backing into a car in my own driveway left me with a lot of guilt over the inconvenience I caused others. Realizing that our mistakes hurt others hopefully motivates us to develop habits that put us in a place of helping them instead.
  4. Take ownership. When I backed into the trailer in our driveway, it of course wasn’t my fault. I mean, the trailer isn’t usually there, and it was below my view enough that I couldn’t see it when I looked. In this and many of my backing-up incidences, my first instinct involved blaming someone else for the mistake. Yet, because I know I can only control me, I must take ownership and admit my mistakes and their root causes if I am to break the negative patterns in my life.
  5. Let go of pride & embarrassment. Each of these backing-up incidences caused me embarrassment. In my pride, I worried too much about what others thought of me. I had to humble myself by going through the above process in order to get out from under the weight of my mistakes.

I love the parallel parking technology in newer vehicles today, and I would really like it on my next vehicle. However, if someone came up with a vehicle that backed up all by itself, that would be necessity.

Unfortunately, there really aren’t any workarounds for backing up. We must look behind us from time to time in order to learn from our past and then move forward in a way that allows  the past with its mistakes to positively shape the future. In other words, we each need to learn how to Put Your Behind in the Past. If we don’t, we’ll continually make the same mistakes and essentially relive our pasts instead of grow beyond them.

DISCUSSION: What patterns of mistakes do you have in your life? How can you learn from them in order to move forward?

Pursuing A Quiet Life

Focusing on Quiet

The Christians in Thessalonica were accused of stirring up discontent (Acts 17:6-9). So Paul encourages them to live respectable and modest lives for the purpose of putting to rest any lingering suspicions. He tells them to continue living to please God by pursuing a holy life and loving others and also challenges them to do these in increasing measure.

Quiet life

Before giving them instructions for moving forward, Paul first tells these early Christians what they are doing right. His example reminds us of the importance of recognizing where we stand with pleasing God before we move forward.

Then, Paul gives instructions for where to focus future efforts along with providing reasons for doing so.

What’s the focus? Lead a quiet life.

How do we keep that focus? Mind your own business and work with your hands.

Why should we focus there? To win the respect of and not be dependent on others.

Struggling with Quiet

Many people struggle with the idea of a “quiet life.” This could be largely because our culture promotes anything but living quietly. Added to this are Jesus’ own words telling us to “go and tell,” which sort of feels like a push to not live quietly. (Matthew 26:16-20)

The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines “quietness” this way:

“A calm, peaceful and restrained attitude to life and way of approaching God frequently commended in Scripture even in adverse circumstances. It is also a condition experienced by God’s friends and enemies when confronted by His majesty.”

In other words, a “quiet life” is an attitude rather than physical state of being. This means speaking out against injustices and proclaiming the Gospel still fall under the activity of a Christian, but they come from an attitude that reflects a quiet inner life.

David gives us a great visual for understanding this type of inner quiet.

“Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” (Psalm 131:2)

Pursuing Quiet

Reading 1 Thessalonians 4:11 in several translations helps to further understand what Paul meant by encouraging the pursuit of a “quiet life.”

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” (NIV)

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life.” (NLT)

“Aspire to live quietly.” (ESV)

“Strive earnestly to live quietly.” (Berean Literal)

“Ye study to be quiet.” (King James)

“Seek to live a quiet life.” (Holman Christian Standard)

Pursuing a quiet life exists as a deliberate effort on our part, and it won’t happen unless we choose to make it happen. Not only that, but the benefit lies largely with the impact we have on others.

“…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

Consider this pattern given by Paul to the Thessalonian Christians for moving ahead in your own walk with the Lord. Take time to assess where you are now, and adjust your focus according to God’s desires. Then, take steps toward achieving that inner quiet that speaks volumes about the presence of God in an individual’s life.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” (Isaiah 30:15)

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for pursuing a quiet life? How do you view the impact of such a life?

Purposeful Remembering

Don’t Forget to Remember” looked at the thread of “remembering” found throughout Scripture. Understanding this thread helps instruct us in why, what and how remembering should take place in our lives. In other words, a Scriptural understanding helps remembering become real and take on a living purpose as it goes from mere belief to activity in our lives. Let’s look at what this activity might look like in a practical way in the life of a Christian.

1.) Remember God, His activity & character, in spite of our activity & character.

The point of remembering as a thread throughout Scripture involves a focus on what God has done and continues to do in spite of what man has done and continues to do (human nature has not changed, after all). The Old Testament chronicles God’s character interacting with man’s character, and studying it helps us remember His forgiveness, faithfulness, promises & deliverance in spite of man’s continual pattern of rebellion.

Great Commission

2.) Remember Jesus words and actions, and let them shape our words and actions.

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples remembered what He had said and done (John 2:22 & John 12:16), and this motivated them to do what He had called them to do, to fulfill the Great Commission. Reading Scripture can do the same for us still today.

3.) Remember & use the tools we are given to keep our remembering active.

Those tools include the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), who helps us remember Jesus’ teachings, God’s truths and God’s will as well as God’s working in our lives. The Holy Spirit dwells in us beginning at salvation and remains active in the life of the believer whose job is to simply not quench Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Another tool, Scripture (2 Peter 3:1-2), brings us the words of the prophets, Jesus’ teachings and Spirit-inspired instruction through Godly men. Regularly remembering and studying these words gives us valuable insight & instruction for everyday life.

A third tool, communion (Luke 22:19) reminds us of atonement and redemption. It reminds us of Jesus’ love & friendship to the point of His willingness to die for us. This remembering hopefully helps keep us humble.

4.) Let God direct our remembering.

We must sort through the mess of what our culture has done with remembrance and instead deliberately choose to let our remembering be directed by truth. To do that, we must let God direct our remembering (Proverbs 16:30). If we don’t, we too easily get overwhelmed & tend to forget to remember Him and what He’s done in our lives.

5.) Forget self. Remember God.

The book of Deuteronomy tells God’s people to remember their slavery and their rebellion, to remember where they were before God’s intervention. Paul takes this idea further in Philippians 3:13:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”

Much of the OT Scripture about remembering focuses on remembering man’s rebelliousness for the purpose of again remembering God’s faithfulness, His promises and His leading. Paul amplifies the point by telling us not to dwell on our past as we do this recalling, but to instead focus on God’s activity in our lives in spite of our mistakes and rebelliousness.

This purposeful, or maybe deliberate is a better word, remembering helps us take remembering from being just an activity of recollection to being an avenue through which we grow closer to God by learning to depend more on Him as we realize he will never fail us even when we fail Him.

In next week’s post, we’ll complete this series with a look forward as we talk about “Active Remembering.”

DISCUSSION: How does remembering God’s activity in your life — and being purposeful about this remembering — impact you today?

Decision Fatigue

Choice Overload

Choice 1As my least favorite domestic activity, grocery shopping looms on the horizon of my schedule like an approaching storm during a picnic. Never finished, I almost always start a new list before the bags get unpacked and the kitchen storage filled. Add to that the usual dissatisfaction with items both purchased and forgotten, the tempest continually stirs.

Worse than its constant, unfinished state is the vast number of choices that come with the endeavor. All these elements combine to make grocery shopping the bane of my domestic duties.

Maybe grocery shopping doesn’t pique your anxiety like it does mine, but I’m guessing you relate in some way to the reality of decision overload. In fact, the United States exists as a culture of choices with so many options that we get stressed out simply by the sheer number of decisions coming at us almost nonstop in almost every aspect of life.

The Impact of Overwhelm

Choices 2We all understand the importance of making good decisions. Unfortunately, the ability to make the right decision matters little when overwhelmed with too may choices. Research proves that the more decisions made and the more options within those decisions, the less able a person becomes to make good decisions of any size.

In other words, as we make more and more decisions, we also make poorer and poorer decisions. And often, much of our decision-making energy goes toward a lot of small, often trivial, decisions, and this serves to increase the chances of the bigger decisions becoming epic failures.

Our ability to make decisions works much like a muscle that gets fatigued with use. Think of it this way, “decision fatigue” or “choice overload” is why…

  • Coaches and quarterbacks often make poor decisions late in games.
  • Judges grant parole less often as the day goes on.
  • Parents give in to their kids incessant pestering.
  • People make unhealthy dinner choices after a long day at work.
  • Exercise gets nixed for the couch & the television in the evening.
  • Families struggle with finances after habitually impulsive decisions.
  • Great men & women of God make worldly choices in their personal lives.

Decision fatigue also explains why many people become easily frustrated and irritable since a person’s brain becomes less able to regulate behavior the more decisions made. Thus, this fatigue also affects how we love others.

The Outcomes of Decision Fatigue

One of two outcomes generally results from decision fatigue. First, a person becomes reckless & impulsive and simply fails to expend the energy to think before making decisions. This creates a pattern of destructiveness that ends up making most problems worse.

The second result is doing nothing. Initially, this appears simply as the easy way out; eventually though, this route makes a person resistant to almost any kind of change since continuing unhealthy habits is simply easier than changing. When we suffer from decision fatigue, satisfying immediate needs is easier than developing the self control needed to make healthy choices.

The spiritual impact of decision fatigue comes when we just don’t have the energy left over for the bigger decisions or for seeking God’s will rather than simply following the feelings of the flesh. Instead, we spend our decision-making energy on temporal matters and either just don’t get around to deciding about eternal matters or simply don’t even consider the difference between decisions that are only important in this life and ones extending into eternity.

How does decision overload/fatigue impacts you on a regular basis.

After taking some time to analyze the existence of decision fatigue in your life, take the next step and being Preventing Decision Fatigue from happening in the first place.

Consumed With “Shoulds”

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

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

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

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

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

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

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

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

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

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

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

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

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

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