5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

Identity Crisis

Identity Determines Focus

Protecting your identity is a big deal these days, and for good reason.

  • 10 million Americans yearly are victims of identity theft.
  • Identity theft happens every 10 seconds.
  • Identity theft costs $50 billion yearly.

In addition to identity theft, there are also false identities to consider. From fake IDs to manipulating what people think of you online to the luring of children and teens through social media, false identities wreak havoc and destroy lives in many ways.

Mistaken identity wrecks lives too. With one mistaken-identity arrest daily, there are hundreds of individuals now in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

A person feels violated when their identity is stolen. They are rightfully angry when someone hurts them or someone they love by manipulation through a false identity. And stories of mistaken identity never cease to baffle comprehension.

What is Identity?

Though our physical selves and identifying information are a big part of our identity, they are not the whole of it. Not even close.

Identity is the core of who you are as a person. It creates your values, which shape your beliefs, which direct your actions. Identity creates your focus, and your focus determines the reality of your life.

Identity is shaped by our early life experiences, by the roles we have and by what we think others think about us. It’s also shaped by our relationships, our aspirations, our personality and our interests.

Identity Crisis

“A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aim or role in society.”

We most often associate identity crisis with teenagers and midlifers. Yet, it happens many other times and for various other reasons too.

We often see identity crisis as a result of an empty nest, job loss and retirement. We’re also now seeing more and more people increasingly confused about their sexual and gender identities for reasons that are highly debatable.

At the heart of any identity crisis lies identity theft, false identity and mistaken identity. We too often let our past define us, or we let what someone did to or said about us shape our identity. We also too often let what our culture says we should look like impact our identity.

I struggled with my identity as a teenager and then again when my parent’s divorced. I went into crisis when I became a mother and also when that same child left for college. The onset of mid life isn’t being too kind to my identity lately either.

What I have progressively discovered through this struggle is that I let the wrong things and people (and wrong doesn’t mean bad) define my identity, who I was at my core. As I increasingly focused on my Identity in Christ, however, I found a firm foundation, one that doesn’t change.

All those other things that gave me an identity vulnerable to crisis changed over time based on my mood or choices. Once I discovered and then better understood and focused on My True Identity, that instability began to gradually disappear.

Identity in Christ

An identity in Christ doesn’t ever change because it doesn’t depend on us in any way. We can take our focus off of that identity, however, since our focus determines our reality.

We’ll go into more detail on an identity in Christ in next week’s post. For now, meditate on the fact that the only secure identity to be had is one founded and secured in Christ.

“For no man can lay a foundation other than that one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)

“Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

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.

Knowing God, Part 1

6 Degrees of Separation

Know anyone famous? Want to know anyone famous? According to the theory “6 degrees of separation”…

“All living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other.”

That means, the famous person you want to meet is only six steps — or degrees — away from you. So, Harrison Ford or John Travolta (or whoever it is you want to meet) are connected through five or less other people. Not sure you buy into the theory?

Consider this…

I met a guy in the grocery store a while back who is friends with Harrison Ford. Had I been able to get the guy’s name and number, you would be connected to Harrison Ford through just two people.

Here’s another example. I worked with a guy years ago who is friends with John Travolta. Had John’s number in his cell phone. So, that means you are connected to John Travolta through just two people.

Don’t take my word for it, though, the theory actually has scientific merit too.

“Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people, and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on, the math shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected to 7.26 billion people — more than are alive on earth today.” (Are We Really All Connected by Just Six Degrees of Separation?)

Experiments have been carried out to give the theory even more credence. Not only that, but the shoot-off game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” provided additional scientific data to strengthen the theory.

Who You Know Matters

Let’s personalize this a bit. When someone wants to find a job today, how valuable is it that they know someone at the company where they’re applying? Almost all of my own work right now exists as the result of knowing someone, not of me actively seeking the work. Even in the Bible we see that who you know matters. Consider Moses and Daniel as examples of this.

Who we know matters. It matters to us in a variety of ways from personal and professional to satisfying a need within us to connect with people who make us feel important.

A Need to Be Known

All people have a need to know and value themselves and to be important to others. Psychologists call this the Relational Value/Social Influence need. Being known is important to us because of how it connects with our individual experiences, private thoughts and public image. This knowing has a tremendous impact on our character structure and well being.

Timothy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage makes a poignant statement about the power of this need.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is… a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This statement is even more profound when we remember that Scripture uses marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Those of us in Christian marriages understand the value of that relationship for better understanding how our relationship with Christ is to exist.

Yet, no matter how good our marriages or any other relationships are, we never have 100% knowledge in them. We aren’t fully known, and we don’t fully know others. The fact is that any knowing outside of God never fully satisfies.

Everyone desires to know and be known because God created us for relationship. More specifically, he created us for relationship with Him.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)

And as our creator, only he can know us fully. In fact, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Knows Us Intimately

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” (Attributed to Socrates)

As Christians, we believe that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). However, we can still agree that knowing yourself does bring a depth of wisdom essential for living life in a successful way.

Psychologists say that knowing yourself brings the following benefits:

  • Happiness.
  • Less inner conflict.
  • Better decision making.
  • Self control.
  • Resistance to social pressure.
  • Tolerance and understanding of others.
  • Vitality and pleasure.

Yet, we can’t even know all there is to know about ourselves. The Johari Window illustrates this truth well.

Only God can truly know all there is to know about each one of us. And He can do this because, well, He did create us after all.

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance. And in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

God created us. He knew us before we had physical form and even orchestrated the days of our lives before one of them began. He knows us intimately. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to knowing ourselves better is to know God better.

Next week we’ll explore exactly how we can know God.

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.

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Research proves sleep is important. In fact, it plays an essential role in a person’s ability to be productive and healthy.

While experts say that everyone needs 7-8 hours of solid slumber every night, many individuals argue they can be at their best with less. Regardless, the fact remains that a good night’s sleep, however you define that, is essential.

While I still sometimes struggle getting a good night’s sleep, doing so is no longer a constant struggle like it used to be. Most nights, I now sleep a full 7 hours and wake feeling refreshed. This doesn’t happen by chance. I’ve learned that I have a great deal of control over how well I sleep, something I didn’t always believe to be true.

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips are mostly based on my personal struggle with sleep over the years. However, what I learned by trial and error is actually supported by what experts recommend too.

  1. Consider supplements. Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but I never liked the results and side effects. Some people take melatonin every night before bed to help them fall asleep quickly. For me, drinking tea with valerian and/or chamomile works best. Everyone is different, and it’s okay to experiment a bit in order to find out what works.
  2. Evaluate your environment. While my husband can sleep with the lights on or off and with noise or quiet, I need almost total darkness and complete silence. The temperature of the room matters too. I don’t like to be too cold, but my mother loves to have the window open when it’s freezing outside. Getting a consistent environment can go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep.
  3. Experiment with tools. Tools for sleeping include eye masks, ear plugs, white noise (a fan, for example), a body pillow, and an electric blanket. Again, play with these different tools to see what helps you sleep better. While the electric blanket is the only one I use at home (we live in Michigan, and the nights can get quite cold, especially when my husband is traveling for work), I do use ear plugs sometimes when traveling (like when camping). I have also used an eye mask in the past when I wanted to take a nap or could not control the room’s lighting.
  4. Change your bedtime routine. Caffeine and alcohol or wine too close to bedtime can affect how a person sleeps, and so can viewing any type of media screen (television, smart phone, computer, etc.). Think about what you do after 8:00PM that may be contributing to your sleep problems.
  5. Think about how you rest. Some people struggle sleeping at night because they replay their day over and over again in their minds. They struggle with how to relax. Counteracting this happens in a variety of ways. Ideas include writing down thoughts before going to bed and finding ways to relax during the day to prevent stress building up. Some people find that a power nap every afternoon helps them relax and feel less stressed at the end of the day. Others use full-body muscle relaxation techniques, and still others employ stretching and exercise to reduce stress.

Find What Works for You

The combination of techniques is unique to every individual. In addition, work toward as much consistency as possible with your routine. This includes getting up and going to sleep at about the same time every day, even during vacation and on weekends.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep include increased productivity, consistent energy levels and improved relationships. It also results in a more positive outlook on life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is an essential building block for EVERY area of life.

Don’t neglect this crucial proponent of good health. Simply put, being well-rested is one of the best ways to be ready to “make the most of every opportunity.” (See Ephesians 5:15-16). This was a huge motivation for me to improve my sleep routine. Getting a good night’s sleep goes a long way in helping me to be consistently at my best.

If you consistently sleep well, how do you make that happen? If you don’t, what will you try to hopefully change that?

5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

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

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

Balance must exist.

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

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

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

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

Principles for Living in the Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awareness of Trust

Awareness of Trust

Seems like trust always stays in our awareness in some form. From trust with the media and politicians to trusting with friends and family, it’s something we don’t give a lot of thought to until it’s damaged in some way.

Paul J. Zak in The Neuroscience of Trust, says this regarding trust in the workplace:

“In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.”

Zak’s assessment of trust in the workplace seems to fit well with trust everywhere else too. Trust increases the good in our lives, especially with regard to our relationships.

Over the years, I’ve given a good deal of attention to the topic of trust. I thought it was time to bring all of those posts together into one place for anyone wanting to delve into how trust exists in their own lives.

I trust these posts will help you in your efforts to increase the happiness and decrease the stress in your life as you work toward greater trust in your relationships.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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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.

winner

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.