Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Knowing God, Part 2

In “Knowing God, Part 1,” we discussed the need all people have to know and value themselves and to be important to others. We also looked at how only God can fulfill that need and how only He fully knows us. Let’s now explore the journey we get to take toward knowing God.

God is Knowable

God knows each one of us intimately. He formed us and planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He gave us purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). All of that is truly astounding, but there’s more.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God is unfathomable, beyond measure, infinite and unending. At the same time, He is also knowable and approachable.

“I too… do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17)

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Even though God is far too big for us to fully know Him, He invites us to journey toward knowing Him more. He also tells us how to do it. Even more astounding, He actually reciprocates our efforts.

How to Know God

Our faith lives revolve around an increasing knowledge of God. And while it truly is impossible to fully know Him, every day is an opportunity to know Him more than we did the day before. We don’t have to figure out how to do that either. God tells us.

Jesus is the only way to know God.

Any other proposed path to God is preposterous and leads to eternal destruction.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Only after we admit our sin, believe Jesus died to save us from that sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior can we begin the journey of knowing God.

Scripture is God’s word and His revelation of Himself to us.

A love for God’s Word is essential in knowing God. The Bible tells us who God is and what He desires of us, what He promises and what His will is. In that, it tells us how to know Him.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is Jesus Christ. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)

Reading the Bible fully and regularly is essential for knowing God. It’s akin to how we know our spouse or best friend by spending time with them. Scripture is our training manual for living how God desires. It does this both through clear instruction and through the examples given in the stories about how He interacted with His people.

Obedience shows we know God and leads us to knowing Him more.

Obedience is also crucial to our knowing God better and better. In fact, obedience is proof that we know God and at the same time leads us to knowing Him more.

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought to Himself walk as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:4-6)

The more we know God, the better able we are to do what He desires. At the same time, when we act in obedience without understanding, out of that flows knowing God more too. In other words, knowledge and understanding of God both fuels and results from our obedience.

All Worthwhile Knowing

The only times I’m ever satisfied with knowing and being known are when that knowledge flows out of knowing God. My marriage and friendships only bring real satisfaction when they exist based on what God desires. When my life’s focus remains on knowing God first and foremost, all other knowing gains tremendous value, purpose and motivation.

  • The only way good works have meaning is by knowing God and doing what He desires (Ephesians 2:10).
  • The only way I can consistently be light and salt in this dark work is through obedience to what God wants (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • The only way to truly love others, regardless of their attitudes, actions and words, is to first love God (Matthew 22).

Knowing God motivates us to live for His desires rather than our own. Knowing Him changes our want to; it changes our focus. Knowing God is the only way to meet the need we all have to know and be known.

Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems odd. After all, stones are hard, dead and cold, and not alive. Builders use stones, sure, but that connection to our spiritual lives is difficult to grasp.

Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience). They were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. So, his original readers understood this analogy at a deeper level since they were unable to even go to the temple because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Peter’s words presented a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple provided a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. Then Christ came replaced this system.

Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make that shift in thinking. They could go from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices became unnecessary.

Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones creating the temple building. They held an immense reverence for the temple building itself as well as an understanding for what Peter’s analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way.

“The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.”

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to our Christian walk.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value. They give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. This happens as we realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we instead offer what we have…

“…with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

Note: This post was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

Give In To The Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee.

These foods and drinks make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower.

Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still often find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say we crave certain foods because they offer comfort by bringing back positive memories, calming us in some way or somehow helping relieve stress.  Other experts believe food cravings indicate some sort of vitamin deficiency or chemical imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

Regardless of their source, we all understand the power cravings hold over us. We also understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only benefits us, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

A Craving for God’s Word

A craving for God’s word exists in a desire for growth that, when fed, shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to crave God’s word.

As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop an increasing passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to joy, something that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time like you do morning coffee.

Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise like it is for chocolate.

What about expressing love to the family of God like we do for our favorite desserts?

What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known.

God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can correct any imbalance.

Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change, and as choices change, lives change.

When this transformation takes place, a new person emerges. That person focuses on building up and encouraging others, pursues love, mercy and grace, and seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. This life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because it takes only once…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.

Dependent Independence

Leaving Season

This post is not about divorce. However, we must take a quick glance through it in order to get to our focus. When asked about whether divorce was okay, Jesus said the following:

4 “Have you not heard that he who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

These verses were always tied to a single event for me… a wedding ceremony and the lifelong commitment being made. Now, however, they connect more to a season of life, especially the words “shall leave.”

Empty Nest

Children leaving home results in an empty nest. And for many parents, this produces what is known as empty nest syndrome.

“Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.”

This syndrome is not something that just suddenly appears, though. In fact, the season begins well before children physically leave home permanently.

Sure, an empty nest is the definitive sign that it’s happened, but the process starts sometime in the teen years. For me, it began with both my boys at the same time even though they are two years apart. While the process can be quite difficult, it’s also a natural and healthy part of life.

Parents see it as their children pulling away. Some see it as a failure of their parenting. I saw it at first as something wrong and out of place.

In this season, teens want to socialize more with friends than with family. They become increasingly private. They want to make their own decisions and don’t want others to control their lives. They begin to decide what they believe is right and wrong and to live by those beliefs rather than by what their parents believe.

Psychological Autonomy

Technically, it’s called psychological autonomy, and there are three aspects of it when referring to teenagers.

  1. Emotional autonomy = changes that occur in the adolescent’s close relationships, most notably with parents.
  2. Behavioral autonomy = has to do with the ability to make independent decisions and to carry through with them.
  3. Value autonomy = involves the development of a set of principles about right and wrong that guide one’s thinking and behavior.

This process can lead to healthy adult relationships with adult children. Or not. In our culture, it seems the adult parent/child relationship often doesn’t mature to the leaving point. Or, there’s a constant disconnect and the relationship simply feels broken.

The key for surviving this season, I’m discovering, is remembering the parenting goals my husband and I set years ago. We swaddled these goals in prayer for many years and now need to trust what God is doing with them.

Dependent Independence

My husband and I agreed long ago that we wanted to teach our boys to be independent and to love God. If we did nothing else in the years they are ours to shape, we wanted to accomplish those two things.

This independence we want for them, though, requires dependence.

We want them to be strong men who make confident decisions. We hope they will take responsibility for their attitudes, actions and words. We also want them to understand that they alone make those choices. Sure, influences abound, but they choose.

At the same time, we want their independence from us and others to be directed by dependence on God. Our prayer is that they lean on Him in every detail of their lives and allow Him to direct their paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this way, they may be living in this world, but they don’t have to be of it (John 17:14-15). Hopefully, we gave them the roots they need to move confidently into the dependent life God desires for them.

Now, we have to let them work through the leaving process. Even though we still want to protect them, guide them, lead them… we are seeing the need to step out of the way and to now walk beside instead of in front of them. Sometimes, even, we’ll need to follow behind.

Teach and Trust

Only in the beginning stages of this leaving season, I have much to learn. More pain to experience too, I’m sure. At the same time, I rejoice in knowing that my faith is growing in the process as I learn to more fully trust God with my children. I also realize how crucial this whole process is for them to grow in their faith and to trust God more too.

“Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

We’ve taught them to love Jesus, though our teaching came out quite imperfectly. Now we must trust they will follow that path. Our trust isn’t in them, though, it’s in God. It’s time to more fully trust Him to lead them down the path of independence from us and to increased dependence on Him.

Faithfulness & Mercy

Bike Rides

My favorite routes for long bike rides are on the country roads jutting north and east from where I live. Though I must contend with the occasional dog chasing me down the road and irrigation spray going over the road, the rides are mostly peaceful with little traffic.

Bike rides give me space from activity and the world, and I purposefully do not listen to music or podcasts when riding for this reason. I want my thoughts to flow freely. More specifically, I want them directed by the Holy Spirit without distraction.

Rainbows

Not long into a recent ride, a particular person came to mind. My thoughts revolved around significant concern for his future. I expressed substantial fear and a fair amount of trepidation too.

When I finished my prayers for this person, I looked up from the road in front of me and at an irrigation system in the field beside me. The rainbow in the spray focused my thoughts immediately on God’s promises. It reminded me that He alone is faithful and to trust His work in that person.

I thanked God for assuaging my disquietude. He took my focused uneasiness and replaced it with his unexplainable peace.

Later in the ride after my mind had moved on to another topic, I passed another irrigation system. This time, a rainbow moved along the spray as I rode by.

As I watched the rainbow move, I realized the Holy Spirit had more to say me about God’s faithfulness and his mercy. That more struck me in a powerful but simple way.

Irrigation

A rainbow’s natural habitat is usually in the sky. Twice on that ride, though, it lived in a man-made device. This location change provided a much-needed perspective change for me.

The rainbows in those irrigation systems helped me understand that sometimes, quite often actually, God’s faithfulness and mercy show through people. More specifically, He wants these qualities to show more through me.

I cannot show them in perfection as they appear when looking directly at God himself. However, His faithfulness and mercy can show to others in my attitudes, actions and words. As I lean on God’s perfect faithfulness and his unending mercy, I am more faithful. I also show mercy more than I could without Him.

In fact, without leaning on those qualities in him, I am incapable of showing faithfulness and being merciful most of the time. Instead, I’m ready to give up when someone fails, and I want to disconnect when they refuse to change like I think they should.

The rainbows on my bike ride reminded me about the faithfulness and mercy of God and how receiving them should impact my interactions with others. But the Holy Spirit had more for me. I needed to grasp yet another point.

Focus

Remember the person I began the ride praying for? God wanted me to remember that he was directly showing that person faithfulness and mercy too.

Even though I often feel hopelessness for that person, God never stops pursuing him. Even when I want to give up and walk away, to not forgive again, God rushes in. He shows His presence and gently enlarges that person’s capacity until he finally lets God in even more.

I saw this happen recently, yet I failed to focus on the activity of God in that person’s life. I kept focusing on that person’s past mistakes instead of God’s current work in him.

I knew God had moved in this person’s life, and I still let concern, fear and trepidation flood my thoughts. I knew God had gotten to him in some compelling ways. Yet, I still allowed past mistakes to infect future potential. Through the irrigation rainbows, God reminded me of the work He was doing. He clearly showed His promise of faithfulness and mercy at work in that person.

Reminders

Regardless of what our culture has done with the rainbow, Scripture stands clear on what it means. It assures us of why God allows its colors to display His majesty. It remains a powerful reminder of who He is.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.’ So God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.’” (Genesis 9:12-17)

God doesn’t need reminding. He gives rainbows to remind us, to again emphasize His faithfulness and mercy despite the activity of mankind.

God keeps his promises. He is merciful and faithful. What he says he will or won’t do, you can be assured of without a doubt. We cannot say that about anyone else. So when I struggle with human failure, my own or others, I focus again on these reminders of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

I Don’t Know

Many Meanings

The phrase can mean you’re not sure which choice is best or the one you want.

“I don’t know if I want that one or the other one.”

It can mean you have a preference but may want to let the person asking decide.

“I don’t know if that’s the best choice, but it’s up to you.”

It can also be a lazy answer because you don’t want to put forth the effort to think about the best decision.

“I don’t know why I did that.”

Saying “I don’t know” can mean you know the right choice, would rather make a different choice, and your will and your conscience are duking it out.

“I don’t know if I’ll tell her or not.”

It can also mean you really don’t know the answer.

“I don’t know why that happened.”

Saying “I don’t know” can send the message that you do not understand something or that you aren’t happy about something. It can be a way to avoid a conversation you don’t want to have because of laziness or discomfort.

Maybe you’re really not sure and just need time to think. Or, maybe you don’t want to tell the truth for some reason. Could be you know the response your real answer will get, so you don’t give it.

There are a lot of reasons to say “I don’t know” when asked something. And likely, we’re all guilty of all using each one at some point.

What Experience Shows

Here’s what my experience says about the use of “I don’t know.”

  • Most of the time, you either really do know and don’t want to tell the truth, or you’re too lazy to make a responsible decision.
  • If you truly don’t know, waiting is usually the best choice. Waiting is active though and involves seeking wisdom. Don’t move forward if you don’t have to without knowing until you’ve prayerfully sought the right path.
  • Sometimes, you really don’t know, and that’s okay if it’s from an honest place and not a lazy or deceptive one. Again, just wait it out. Sometimes, not knowing means you’re not supposed to act.
  • Simply waiting when you really don’t know is usually the best option. Many times, the situation will resolve itself or present the right choice if you just don’t force a decision and wait for it to present itself.
  • Sometimes, you have to make a decision even when you don’t know what to do. Pray about it, then make the best decision you can. God doesn’t expect perfection. Plus, there’s often simply not a right or wrong decision.

A lot of scripture get at these truths, so we can know for sure what God desires when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t know.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

God wants us to trust in and lean on him. He wants to give us wisdom for our decisions. He wants us to know which paths to take. And he wants us to have and experience good things.

Trust. Ask. Receive.

Why Are YOU Saying it?

“I don’t know” often shows authenticity and can be a builder of trust and an encouragement. After all, no one likes it when someone acts like they know it all and refuses to admit that sometimes, the truly don’t know the answer.

The next time you find yourself going to “I don’t know” for your answers, ask yourself if that’s really true. Seek out your true intentions. Here are some common ones.

  • Not brave enough to make a decision.
  • Afraid to make the wrong decision.
  • Don’t trust yourself to make the right decision.
  • Afraid of not being accepted if you answer truthfully.
  • Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Easier than saying “I’m afraid.”
  • Don’t want others to disagree with you.

It’s okay to not know sometimes, but it’s not okay to always not know. It’s not okay if your go to answer is consistently “I don’t know” because you’re hiding the truth.

Instead of automatically answering “I don’t know,” get into the habit of asking God for wisdom. Ask him even when you don’t have a specific situation or question. Make this asking a daily habit, and then seek to know him because knowing him more is the only way truly have the wisdom you need.

Digesting God’s Word

Most of us read Scripture for our own specific purposes. We search for knowledge, inspiration, direction, comfort and wisdom. We have a problem, and we want guidance on how to handle it. Or, we’re anxious or sad about something, and we want God’s peace. God does certainly meet those needs through His Word.

What if instead we read the Bible with God’s purposes in mind before seeking our own? What if we let God’s Word change us as God intends rather than going in with a specific purpose to fulfill?

You Are What You Eat

Think of it in terms of the healthy way to approach your diet. When we focus on what will best nourish us, we’re healthier and have more energy than if we only eat what satisfies our cravings and stops or prevents hunger pains. We also ward off many sicknesses and diseases this way too.

Even more significant is that researchers have discovered that nutrients in food change how proteins are produced in almost every gene in our body. In other words, what we eat changes us at our most basic level.

You Are What You Read

This truth carries into what we read as well. What we read does the same for our mental health as what we eat does for the body. Research shows that reading…

  • Can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.
  • Slows mental decline in general.
  • Can improve your memory.
  • Improves concentration.
  • Lowers stress.
  • May help with depression.
  • Helps you sleep.
  • Gives you better analytical skills.
  • Makes you more empathetic.
  • Causes heightened connectivity in the brain that persists after you stop reading.

What you ingest and then digest mentally programs your thinking. Sure, personality and nurturing play a role along with genetics and upbringing in developing how you think. But much of that can be reprogrammed by what you read.

Digesting God’s Word

Perhaps this truth about reading is why several places in Scripture emphasize actually digesting God’s Word. Here’s one example.

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s armies.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Additional examples include Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 and Revelation 10:8-11. Notice the impact of digesting God’s Word, of letting it nourish our inner beings, in each of these examples.

Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book expresses the impact that digesting God’s Word can have on a Christian by saying…

“Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images become practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.”

When we read and digest God’s Word, it shows in our actions. We can’t help but be changed by what we read when we truly participate in the process. That means it’s more than a daily habit. It’s sustenance for our spirits.

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

How to Avoid Bad Advice

Bad Advice

Lots of examples exist in scripture of individuals who followed bad advice. It begins with Adam taking Eve’s advice to eat the piece of fruit (Genesis 3). And it goes at least through Peter’s decision to follow the crowd (John 18).

Probably the most concentrated source of examples are found in 1 and 2 Kings as well as 1 and 2 Chronicles. Most of the kings chronicled were not good kings, and a good deal of their errant ways can be traced to their decision to follow bad advice.

Advice has a way of sending a person in either a good or bad direction. In other words, the advice we receive from others often impacts the decisions we make. Sure, following any advice, good or bad, is a choice. However, we cannot diminish the impact of the company we choose to keep either.

Wisdom Protects

How can we protect ourselves from bad advice? Psalm 1 gives the answer.

1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.

Following bad advice is easy when a person spends too much time around the wrong people. Notice the words used in verse 1.

Walk. Stand. Sit.

They indicate more than just a passing state. They show dwelling and spending time. Apply this idea to the examples discussed above of those who followed bad advice, and it is easy to spot the walking, standing and sitting that led to following bad advice.

Protecting ourselves from bad advice involves turning our focus to what God says. Look at verse 2.

Delights. Meditates. Planted.

If you study examples of those who followed good advice — Esther (Book of Esther) & King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23 & 2 Chronicles 34-35) for starters — you’ll these words in action. Their lives show the impact of choosing to focus on God’s words and desires and how that results in following good advice and avoiding bad.

You see, knowing what God wants by spending regular time in prayer and studying Scripture results in receiving wisdom, which allows us to know bad and good advice when they come at us. What’s more, knowing God’s heart helps us to better choose the company we keep in the first place.

Ask God

Psalm 1 also tells of the benefits of delighting, meditating and being planted in God’s wisdom.

3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither; and it whatever he does, he prospers.

The examples of those in Scripture who followed good advice based on their dwelling in God’s wisdom bear the truth of this verse. I encourage you to read through their stories and study their lives. Not perfect people, but people who continually sought God and the wisdom he freely gives.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)