Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

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Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

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Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

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Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

Discover Encouragement and Overcome Discouragement

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.

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing to Win

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

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

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

Seize Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Work Hard & Stay Humble

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

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

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

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

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

Focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

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The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

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In Michigan, there’s always some sort of road construction going on somewhere. They say you can’t drive more than 6 miles from any point in Michigan without coming to a lake (there are 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan), but I think that’s true with construction too. Road construction seems to take forever too. As soon as one area is finished, another begins. 

Construction on our character happens the same way. Always an area needing work, and progress often seems minuscule if existent at all. 

Then I think back over my life and take stock of the changes, the maturity and growth. Most of it happened gradually and seemed nonexistent until suddenly fresh demarcation lines appeared and the orange cones disappeared.

Construction — on roads or on character — frustrates me, and is only eased when I consider what happens when it doesn’t take place. The sides begin to crumble, then the cracks creep into the center and make the path bumpy and rough. Eventually, rough roads are avoided altogether.

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

road-signs-construction-1-1503521-1278x832Let’s begin by acknowledging that construction, while necessary and beneficial, is also uncomfortable and inconvenient. Let’s accept these truths and move forward into growth. With that baseline, we can begin to appreciate the process and operate in a way so as to not impede progress and possibly even help make it happen more smoothly.

To actually thrive — and maybe even welcome — construction, practice the following habits:

  1. Have patience. Getting impatient in the middle of construction holds no benefit whatsoever. Instead, it makes the wait seem longer and more unbearable. Take a deep breath and use the time to relax, think and pray. Take this opportunity to learn that you just can’t control everything. Realize that more often that not, waiting in patience produces the best results for everyone involved.

    “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

  2. Don’t rush progress. Trying to force progress usually harms rather than helps. Instead, take the pace the construction zone sets to allow time for navigating the rumble strips, lane changes and detours that accompany most construction projects. Refuse to only live life at the pace you decide, and consider that perhaps another speed might be better for your current season and that the obstacles placed in your way are beneficial instead of inconvenient.

    “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

  3. Stay aware. Awareness creates a safer space for construction and includes noticing internal and external signage as well as realizing the status of other people as they also make their way through the construction. Awareness also provides wisdom by making sure the construction process not only goes smoothly but that the work done remains the highest quality.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

  4. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll travel through areas with construction, planning ahead simply makes sense. Sometimes that means allowing extra travel time while other times it means taking an alternate route. Planning ahead smooths out the construction process by avoiding having to rush as well as by making the process of interacting with others happen in at least a neutral and hopefully a more beneficial way than it would if you had to fight the clock.

    “A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  5. Consider the results. Sometimes, the only way to endure a long season of construction comes by considering the end results — the smooth roads. Think of how good driving down a new road feels, how smooth it is. When time for proper construction is allowed, the end result is preferable in every way to the old. During this process, determine to be kind, knowing that everyone gets through the construction eventually and realizing that the consequences of not doing construction is far worse than the inconvenience it brings.

    “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

under-construction-icon-1242121Because of the heavy use along with the extreme temperature changes, Michigan’s roads will always need regular maintenance. The same holds true for my character, and yours too. Until Heaven, imperfection and sin will continue making our paths rough and in need of construction.

When it comes to any type of construction, we have to adopt the philosophy of progress over perfection. As we establish this mindset, we learn to be patient with others and with ourselves. We realize the importance of putting relationships above our need to control and manipulate the situation, and we instead allow the construction to continue as it needs to for the benefit of all those traveling toward perfection.

DISCUSSION: What can you change about how you travel through construction zones?

Stability Amidst Constant Change

Serenity Prayer

Strange Things Are Happening

Wrinkles. Slowing metabolism. Almost constant aches and pains. Physical changes resulting from aging.

Driving. Dating. Independence. Teen boys growing into adults. Life’s seasons usher in change.

Friendships fade. Marriages end. Busyness distracts. Life’s choices result in the rippling impact of change.

“Strange things are happening.” So goes the song in Toy Story to reflect the pain accompanying life’s inevitable changes.

Change brings new excitement along with nostalgic longing to relive moments and feelings. And of course, regret shows up in the process of change too.

My heart aches from change at times. I can’t keep up, and my comfort zone feels tight.

“They say that change is good, but it isn’t.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)

Out of control weight gain. Families growing apart. Estrangement. No, change is not always good.

But it is inevitable. Sometimes we can shape the change as it comes. Sometimes, we simply have to choose how we let change shape us.

The only constant in life is change. At least, that seems to be truth when the focus lies with how change challenges our comfort and expectations. We must learn to expect the unexpected and deal with change as it comes at us. Right?

Fortunately, we have another option.

Change As A Catalyst For Transformation

My oldest resists change. He’d like the same meal routine week in and week out, and he’d also like to stay well within the realm of the known and expected at all times. Change visibly shakes him, but he eventually accepts and embraces it even if never becoming completely happy about it.

My youngest adapts quickly to change. He even seems to need it and to resist much structure. Change motivates him to activity, much like my morning cup of coffee wakes me up, but he fades quickly until more change comes.

Two extremes, yet neither fully functional. Expected, I suppose, in teenagers. Maturity will hopefully bring balance.

How do you react to change when it happens in your life?

While each of my sons reacts differently to change, both ultimately use it as a catalyst for progress and growth. They don’t stay stuck in their comfort zones.

Stability In The Unchanging

Though my boys respond to change in two very different ways, they both grow and mature through it because they also know stability. They have structure and consistency in their lives as much as two imperfect but being perfected parents can offer.

That stability only exists in our family because God provides it. My husband and I don’t. Our routines don’t. The presence of an unchanging, holy God gives the only real stability and consistency that can exist in a world where all else seems to live in the unexpected even with our desperate attempts at controlling everything.

  • Stability in a God whose character never alters.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

  • Stability from promises that never fade or fail.

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

  • Stability like a rock.

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3)

  • The only light to guide in the storm of inconsistency and instability that is life this side of Heaven.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Change is inevitable in this world. So too is God’s unchanging nature. Where do you place your focus?

Put Your Behind in the Past

Lion King

In this scene, Simba finally moves forward after attempting to forget his past. He realizes forgetting is not only impossible, but doing so denies who he is as well as holds impact well beyond himself.

Our youngest son came to us when he was 9 years old. He brought with him a rough start to life filled with more disappointments, struggles and hurts than most people face in a lifetime. In the six years since he’s been our son, we’ve worked to undo the damage and bring him to a place of continued forward growth academically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

future-or-go-back-221x300One prevailing principle in his progress is the idea of learning from the past and then moving on. We deliberately talk often about how he can choose to overcome his past or let it define him. With every struggle we encounter, we talk in detail about the choices he made in that particular situation and how he can make adjustments for future decisions.

We also talk about how he can better handle life’s situations without reacting and letting emotion control him. Finding positive choices helps him grow and heal. These 5 questions help immensely in that process.

  1. Did you ask for forgiveness? While granting forgiveness remains out of his control, asking begins the healing process. Related, we also make sure that he forgives where needed too, and we reference Ephesians 4:32 in that discussion.
  2. What can you control? The answer is always “myself.” This brings understanding about focusing on controlling his own attitude, actions and words.
  3. What can’t you control? The answer to this is always “others.” You can only control yourself, not others.
  4. What could you have done differently? This question helps him understand that while he may not have meant for something to happen, his actions or reactions set the stage for something to happen or somehow made a situation worse. The idea of a ripple effect is crucial for growth.
  5. What can you do to control your anger/frustration in the future? We then spend a few minutes discussing ideas, which usually include praying, taking a deep breath, walking away, taking a break, journaling and quoting scripture. Having tools he can use when struggles happen again is crucial to prevent repeating the same mistakes.

These discussions with our son also include talking about self-control and its importance, and we focus on how he can build trust through respect and obedience. We then end the discussion with a prayer and “hugging it out.”

Over the past six years, these questions have become automatic not just for addressing issues with our teenage boys but for tackling the struggles in our own lives. They provide an intentional way to Put Your Behind in the Past and allow you to learn the value of Going Backward So You Can Move Forward.

DISCUSSION: What techniques do you have for learning from your mistakes?

The Reality of Your Focus

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Notice the Theme

In Star Wars I: Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn directs young Anakin toward a way of thinking that really drives the entire movie series:

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

This theme actually runs throughout many books and movies. In most cases, it stands out with little effort put toward seeing it. As a Christian, I also see this theme throughout Scripture.

The truth that “focus determines reality” stands out the most in the Old Testament as God’s people continually struggle with focus, casting it from God Almighty to foreign god’s multiple times.

“This disaster happened because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt and because they had worshiped other gods. They had lived according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced.” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

The theme also comes alive in Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” (Proverbs 4:24)

“Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then your will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:2-5)

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

The theme shows up in the New Testament too.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Applying the Theme

FocusThis theme of “focus determines reality” has become one of continual application for me. And even though I regularly visit its status in my life, I still intentionally hone in on it a bit more at the start of every new year. This year, that deliberate focus came out in the form of three separate posts.

Pursuing a Quiet Life — A peaceful inner life permeates the outer, physical state of a person. It’s a deliberate effort that benefits not just our own lives but the lives of the people around us too by witnessing to the impact of the presence of God in a person’s life.

Balanced Goal Setting — We certainly should pursue our ideas and make plans as best we can. We also need to keep in mind that He ultimately accomplishes His will regardless of what we plan. With that, we need to leave room for the unexpected and be willing to love and pursue His will over our own.

Diligent, Peaceable and Occupied — These words give a deeper understanding toward what it means to focus on developing and living a quiet life. This focus also helps us accomplish the work God gives each individual in a productive and effective way.

My prayer is that this theme permeates your life too as you realize the importance of deciding your focus in the determination of your reality and how doing so falls within God’s design and plan for your life.

DISCUSSION: How have you seen the theme “your focus determines your reality” played out in your own life?

Note: For more Scripture examples, see “What the Bible says about staying focused.”

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Intercession 3

Check Your Contacts

Every couple of years, usually when I upgrade my smartphone, I perform a thorough cleaning of my contact list, mostly removing outdated contacts (past year’s teachers, duplicate information, etc.). Between those times of major renovation, I periodically go through the list to make updates to photos and other information.

Recently when making updates, I paused as I realized the unusual number of people no longer an active part of my life. Some moved away, and we simply grew apart as a result. Others, the circumstances that disrupt life just sent us in different directions.

A part of me will always be sad, I think, about faded relationships. While bridges aren’t burned, things will never return to the way they were either. Impossible, really, when the people involved change along with their priorities and focuses. If I dwell on these feelings, I get stuck in the past focusing on regrets instead of remembering the positives.

Relationships as Opportunities for Prayer

As I went through my list this time, I also began seeing the relationships represented more as opportunities than just a list of people I know. I’m seeing it more as a prayer list, which allows me to still be a part of each person’s life even when connection fades. I’m finding tremendous peace in this because no matter what happens in my life or theirs, a prayer connection can always exist.

More specifically, there will always be intercession (prayer to God on behalf of another), and this can actually be the maintenance plan for every relationship we have, regardless of its current state of elasticity. Oswald Chambers said we should

Intercession 1

This means that the focus goes to God, not to the individuals involved. It means we look to Him to work in each individual’s life, and that we rely on His work, not our own, in their lives. In this sense, prayer exists as the way we can be the most helpful to the people we know regardless of the status of the relationship.

Does this undertaking of intercessory prayer seem overwhelming to you? It does to me. In fact, I feel the heaviness of my inability to follow through in an effective way. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my own ability in praying for others.

Intercession 2

Paul doesn’t say to pray perfectly, and he doesn’t say to do it eloquently or only when I know the situation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, as best as I am able to do so, I am to pray for others in whatever way comes to mind. In other words, be obedient and let God do his thing.

DISCUSSION: How does intercession live and breathe in your life? What Scriptures come to mind as guides for how we can pray for others?