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.

Are You Strong Enough to Admit You are Weak?

What is weakness?

Dictionary.com defines weakness as…

“Lack of strength, firmness, vigor or the like; feebleness.”

“An inadequate or defective quality, as in a person’s character; slight fault or defect.”

While I understand these official definitions, I better connect with the following one:

“Any limitation you can’t change by yourself.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

I like the third definition of weakness because it gives hope. For me, the official definitions give too much of a discarded sense to the idea of weakness. Sure, weaknesses limit, but they also afford the possibility for improvement.

Improving Through Weaknesses

The best way to improve through weaknesses is by admitting they existConsidering my own weaknesses, while not pleasant to acknowledge within and then admit outwardly, takes me down a path of self-evaluation. This path, one we all must take if we expect to grow, also requires that we recognize how automatic our weaknesses seem to operate in our lives until we directly address them.

Walking With a Limp

Jacob walked with a limp, and it served as a reminder of His encounter with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) that served to keep him humble.

Both Jacob and Paul moved forward in spite of their weaknesses. They did so by depending on God for strength, which Paul helps us better understand with these words…

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So, now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As with Jacob and Paul, our weaknesses can remind us of our dependence on God and can counteract the dangerous state of independence. In fact, the power of God will increasingly dominate your life the more you acknowledge your weaknesses and let Him be glorified as you limp through life.

Weaknesses Provide Opportunity

Our weaknesses can motivate us to keep in daily contact with God as we learn to rely on Him to overcome our limitations. Ministry opportunities also increase when we become aware of our weaknesses and allow God to use them. Weaknesses connect us with others who have similar weaknesses, and together we get to learn to let God use our weaknesses for His glory.

Weaknesses Promote Fellowship

As we become more aware of our weaknesses, we also become more aware of those who can partner with us. God works through others in amazing ways, including through balancing each other through strengths and weaknesses.

Being strong enough to admit you are weak means admitting the existence of your weaknesses. It means understanding that these weaknesses will not go away, that we really don’t want them to, and that only the power of God can turn them into great triumphs.

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.

Digging In to Scripture

The Value of Research

As a writer, I fully understand the value of research and knowing my topic well. Regardless of length or type of work, research allows me to better know my writing topic.  When I struggle at any point in a writing project, research always produces the breakthrough I need to move forward.

This same approach plays a significant role in my faith walk too. Regardless of the struggle or challenge, seeking God’s will by digging into scripture always strengthens my faith.

I’m referring to going beyond daily devotions. I’m getting at digging into all the scripture related to the struggle or challenge and refusing to stop until your faith revitalizes. It may take several hours, days or even longer, but the time spent won’t be in vain.

If you refuse to quit and push through, you’ll come through the stronger because you’ll know God and his will better than ever before.

Steps for Digging In to Scripture

Below are my basic steps specific to digging in to scripture. Take them and make them your own!

  1. Make a list of related scripture and read through them. Make note of the ones that most connect with your struggle. I usually find them with the concordance in my Bible or by doing a Google search. If doing a Google search, only look at Scripture at this point. Stay away from any articles or commentaries. Just you and God for now.
  2. Write out the scripture that stood out to you. Don’t question why some click while others don’t. Just go with it. It’s the Holy Spirit working.
  3. Make bullet points for each scripture. Write down any thought or connection you make with the reference. No editing. Just record what comes to mind.
  4. Meditate on each Scripture. I often take walks or go for bike rides or even take a nap where I fall asleep thinking about the Scripture as related to my struggle or topic. Just spend time directing your thoughts toward the Scripture you’re studying.
  5. Read through the Scripture and your notes again. Make note of additional thoughts and revelations.
  6. Pray using the Scripture and your notes. Talk to God about what you’re studying. You may have more notes to take during this step.
  7. Listen for God to speak to you. Again, go for a walk or bike ride, but this time just listen for God’s whisper in your mind. Don’t make yourself think anything.
  8. Seek outside sources. Only do this after you’ve spent significant one-on-one time with God. These sources include commentaries, sermons and articles about the scripture and topic you’re studying.
  9. Talk out what you’re studying. Again, only do this after lots of one-on-one time. Find a good listener and share what you’ve discovered. Then, let that person give you some input.
  10. Consider journaling. This works best if you do it throughout the process. I actually do these steps in my journal.

The key in this process lies with refusing to quit. Keep reading through the scripture, and keep meditating on them too. Push through and continue digging in even if you don’t feel or hear anything at first. God will speak to you. Expect it to happen.

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

Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

Projection, Amplification & Perception

faults

My teenage boys sometimes talk about certain people who consistently annoy and frustrate them. While I usually encourage them to try and see the good, some positive, in those people, I also let them know I understand the struggle.

My oldest son terms such a person his “mortal enemy” (he watches a lot of superhero movies), and I get the meaning behind this quip. Some people just bring out something in us we’d rather not see. Yet, it’s ultimately quite important that we not only see it but understand what that something is if we are to grow as individuals.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)

At mid-life, I now realize the humbling truth of this statement. I also realize how blind to it I was as a teenager and even through my twenties. Now, though, I look for it almost automatically when I’m irritated and frustrated with someone, and doing so almost always not only brings some revelation for my own growth but also helps me be more loving toward that person.

A college professor of mine talked about this idea as “projection and amplification.” He said that not only do we project something about ourselves — a weakness, bad habit, etc. — onto another, but we amplify it in them too. Doing so, we think, allows that same fault within us to not appear as prominent, if others even see it at all in light of how big it is in another person.

Here’s the hard truth of what both my professor and Jung were saying and what took me years to learn…

“Your perception of me is a reflection of you.”

“We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

When we look at others, how we view them — our opinions of them — and ultimately how we treat them reveals more about who we are than it does about who they are. If we flip that, we realize that how others react to and treat us is often more a reflection of them than it is of us.

Does this realization change how you think about others?

For me, I try to understand what it is in someone who annoys and/or frustrates me that might be simply revealing a flaw or weakness in me. I attempt to let go of hurts others inflict because I realize there’s likely more going on beneath their surface than I could possibly know. I’ve simply learned that a struggle with another person can reveal much I need to learn about myself if I’m willing to see and admit the truth.

What can you do moving forward to apply this truth to your own life?

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

construction-sign-1311371-1280x960

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?

Lessons from a Blind Man

Bartimaeus

Blind Bartimaeus

Somehow, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) knew about Jesus. Knew enough to call out to Him even when those around him discouraged his doing so. In fact, their urgings to “Be quiet!” met only louder pleadings on his part. He wanted to be healed, he knew Jesus could heal him, and he probably realized this chance may not pass by him again. So Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus heard him, saw his faith, and healed him. In Jesus’ response, we get a picture of how He handled — and how we should handle — interruptions.

But that’s not the end of their interaction because Bartimaeus then followed Jesus. We don’t know how far he went with Him, but Bartimaeus’ immediate response involved following Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ response, we receive a poignant view of how to respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Responding to the Presence of the Lord

The presence of the Lord compels us to recognize our desperate need for Him. And in that need, we hopefully cry out to Jesus as Bartimaeus did. When we do, our lives become profoundly altered. Our perspectives change. The way we think changes. As a result, our actions change. When we respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives, we…

  1. Refuse to let circumstances stop us from calling out to Him.
  2. Refuse to let others deter us from calling out to Him.
  3. Realize that Jesus welcomes our interruptions.
  4. Realize that Jesus often asks us to play an active role in His ministry to us.
  5. Become willing to throw aside whatever might hinder our going to Him.
  6. Learn that interruptions often bring the most effective ministry opportunities.
  7. Learn to speak honestly to Him about our needs.
  8. Continue to respond by following Him even after He meets our most immediate needs.

As the way we think changes, our approach to loving others — to ministry — changes too. In essence, we become more like Jesus in attitude, action and word. One way that becomes evident is in how we deal with the unexpected happenings in our daily lives.

Viewing Interruptions as Ministry

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, as with many of Jesus’ interactions during His 3-year ministry, also shows how to handle interruptions as we live in ministry. When they came from people who sincerely sought Him, Jesus always stopped and gave his time and attention to the interruption. Actually, I’m not sure He even saw these interactions as interruptions. Others certainly did, but Jesus seemed to view them as part of ministry. Should we view them any differently?

With this thinking, the interruptions of life take on completely different meanings as they change from interruption or irritation or even frustration to ministry:

  • My teenage boys wanting to talk while I’m working
  • My husband wanting to go for a walk while I’m studying
  • A friend asking to meet for coffee when a project deadline looms
  • An extra trip to the grocery store when the food pantry needs stocked

Interruptions turned ministry create some of the most powerful interactions of love in a person’s life. Had Jesus not viewed interruptions this way, a large part of His earthly ministry — and some of the stories with the most impact for us still today — would not have happened.

The lessons in the story of Blind Bartimaeus not only indicate a counter-cultural path but also a forget-the-flesh path if we are truly to benefit from the presence of Jesus in our lives. Hearing and obeying His voice, letting it take precedence over what others say and do and even over our own circumstances not only gets us closer to Him, but it also creates an increasing desire to remain in His presence and to live ministry in the everyday events — planned and unplanned — of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you respond to the presence of the Lord? How do you respond to interruptions?

How to Retreat With Purpose

Retreat

A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.