Face Over Hands

Face First

Seeking God’s face means getting to know Him and not only looking to what He gives to and does for us. This involves an honesty of intention in our searching.

Seek 1

Quite a few places in scripture emphasize the idea of seeking God’s face over his hands. Psalm 27:8 tells us God creates a longing in our hearts for connection with Him. Psalm 104:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:11 are duplicate words of David’s seeking God’s presence and his strength continually.

1 Chronicles 28:9 gives us much of what we need to understand the importance of seeking His face:

“And Solomon, my son, get to know the God of your ancestors. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord sees every hear and understands and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”

How can we apply this directive to know God – to truly see His face over what He does for us – in our lives today?

  1. Sincerely seek God’s face. Reading the Old Testament is a great way to get to know God’s character as he interacts with his people.
  2. Worship him. When he does show is hand, recognize what he has done and be grateful to him for it.
  3. Serve him. Reading the New Testament gives much in the way of how to serve God. Never stop studying this.
  4. Give your whole heart. Continually allow God to show you what you have placed above him on your priority list.
  5. Keep your mind teachable. Turn to God for direction on how to live your life & be open to having your faith challenged.
  6. Don’t neglect God. We get busy so easily. Knowing this, we can build in habits that ensure our regular attention toward him.

Seeking God’s face — his character, who he is as a person — really involves simply choosing to spend regular and consistent time with him. It involves listening to him, talking with him, and caring about his desires.

As we get to know God better and better, we realize the role faith plays in that relationship. We begin to understand that we must trust that he rewards those who honestly seek him…

Seek 2

…and this means seeking him and letting him decide what happens next. We must trust that he’ll do what’s best for us. This growth of trust results in more seeking of him and less asking for his hand to move in our lives.

Now is always the best time to seek God. Don’t wait for a better time because there isn’t one. Putting it off means making any further seeking more difficult because it increases our distance and the stuff we put between us and God. Fortunately, God doesn’t move or hide; he’s always right where he is at this very moment ready for us to seek and find him.

DISCUSSION: What keeps us from truly seeking God’s face, his character? Why do we so easily seek God’s hand, what he does, instead?

The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Intercession 3

Check Your Contacts

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

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

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

Relationships as Opportunities for Prayer

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

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

Intercession 1

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

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

Intercession 2

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

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

 

The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

Socialize Your Blues Away

Defeating the Winter Blues

social interaction 1In the post “Defeating the Winter Blues,” tip #7 mentioned the importance of socializing for the purpose of helping defeat the winter blues. This post delves into that point a bit more and gets at what the very obvious social nature of extroverts can teach those of us who struggle with and even avoid socializing.

I’m an introvert by nature who has occasional bouts of shyness too. Plus, I’m a writer and love to read. In other words, my natural tendencies and interests gear me toward social isolation. Balancing this area of myself, which I realize is both a strength and a weakness, requires a lot of deliberate effort.

Antisocial Tendencies and Depression

The journal of Clinical Psychology says, “Social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems.”

My own experience confirms this research. The more antisocial I am, the more I struggle with mood and the easier I become depressed. On the other hand, the more consistently I engage in social interaction, the easier it is to maintain an optimistic and hopeful perspective. This truth also exists infused into my Christian walk.

The Socially Interactive Christian

Even though the words “though shalt interact with others” do not exist in Scripture, you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to realize that it’s a book about relationships. The 10 Commandments start with directives in our relationship to God and end with commands regarding our relationship to others. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:9 takes these commands and connects them with all we are to be and do as God’s children.

social interaction 2

Love requires action, which requires interaction with others. I’ve yet to find a way to truly love another person without human interaction. In my mind, and experience again supports this realization, I need social interaction in order to truly and fully live out God’s Word to love Him and others.

The Extrovert Example

In my experiences with social interaction along with my studies of personality styles, I wondered if extroverts, who seem to actually need social interaction, struggle much with depression. I even researched the topic and found little specifically – and nothing truly helpful – regarding extroverts and depression.

While I’m certain that some extroverts do struggle with depression, I don’t personally know any. Or, more accurately, I have not seen a true extrovert show visible signs of depression. Maybe extroverts are just better at hiding depression. Or, perhaps, they truly get depressed a lot less frequently or possibly just less severely than do introverts.

Since research yielded little information on the topic, I decided to look more closely at my extroverted friends to figure out how they ward off melancholy moods of any severity from a funk to the winder blues or doldrums, which everyone gets from time to time, to depression. Before I get to the two points about how extroverts seem to avoid any lengthy down moods of much severity, let me share two related observations.

First, I’m surrounded dominantly in my social circles (starting with my husband and youngest son with my oldest son being in the middle and then moving into my close circle of friends) by extroverts, though I’m not sure if this was subconsciously intentional or not. Second, my extroverted friends help me tremendously in what is one of my greatest weaknesses, the desire to be alone and the growth of social isolation, by nudging me toward regular, meaningful interaction with others.

As I asked myself why my social circles are dominated by extroverts, though my few introverted friends do hold a special place in my life, I discovered two tendencies my extroverted friends ALL have in common.

  1. They’re active.
  2. They’re interactive.

Extroverts tend to be more active in general than introverts, sitting less and needing activity more. They also maintain a very interactive social life and in fact gain energy from being around others.

Since my extrovert friends seem to have more consistent victory over depression or any other sort of mood struggle or disorder and since they ALL have these two points in common, I make a deliberate decision to apply their example and incorporate consistent activity and social interaction into my life.

While I will always need more alone time than my extroverted friends and while I will always get my energy from being alone and getting more rest than them, I am constantly reminded by their consistently upbeat moods that I must also maintain a certain level of activity and interaction on a regular basis. While the amount varies from one introvert to the next, it likely exists as a greater need than most will admit.

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences with extroverts and introverts regarding activity and social interaction as well as mood?

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Setting Yourself Up for a Healthy 2015 & Beyond

 

New Years statsStatistics taken from: New Year’s Resolution Statistics from Statistic Brain.

On the one hand, I really dislike new year’s resolutions. All too often, they seem to set people (myself included) up for failure and increased self-abasement. Consider the following statistics related to new year’s resolutions as support of this fact:

45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions.

8% of Americans succeed in keeping their resolutions.

24% never succeed in keeping their resolutions.

These statistics hold little encouragement or motivation toward setting New Year’s Resolutions. Now consider this related statistic:

People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them.

While the failure statistics speak loudly, a focus on the probability for success can determine the reality for meeting desired change. To help increase your chances of success, be sure to set resolutions that take steps toward a healthier you, that help you focus on that which leads to a reality of more joy, and that build and repair relationships.

If you don’t like the idea of “New Years Resolutions,” call them something else, like goals or say you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle. Either way, creating resolutions/goals, whatever you decide to call them, can significantly increase your chances for having a healthy 2015 & beyond.

Consider the following tips for helping increase the probability of success for your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions.

  1. Pray before you set any resolutions. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the resolutions that direct you down the path of God’s will for His glory, not yours. (Proverbs 16:9)
  2. Keep it simple. Simple does not necessarily mean easy, but it does mean more focused and true to who you are in Christ. A mistake many people make with goals and resolutions involves setting too many or not making them specific enough. Instead, consider setting a few (1-3) specific resolutions over 10 more general ones.
  3. Use the small-steps approach. Never underestimate the power of small steps to add up over time to make a huge difference.
  4. Write down your resolutions. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California did a study on goal setting with 267 participants. She found that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down (See the article “What the Science of Goal Setting Tells Us about Accomplishing More of What Matters Most” by Michael Hyatt for more on this topic.).
  5. Pray over them frequently once they’re set. Put your written goals somewhere you’re likely to run across them frequently.

Now that we’ve covered the positive side of setting goals and given statistics supporting the benefit of making them, let’s take a look at some criticisms of goal setting and how we can combat these potential negatives.

  1. Resolutions too often focus on weaknesses rather than strengths. To combat this, be sure to set resolutions that build on strengths. Instead of focusing on fixing the past, focus on creating a better you in the future. Live forward, not backwards.
  2. Our goals often come from a place of comparison to others. Avoid this mistake by looking at who you are and who God wants you to be, not how you stack up in any way against another person.
  3. Goals & resolutions often set us up for inevitable failure. Get at root causes instead of symptoms. Start by simplifying life and reducing busyness and by gradually working toward creating a healthier lifestyle.

Personally, I’ve fallen pray to each of these criticisms in year’s past. Only by taking more time and prayerfully considering my resolutions before I set them have I been able to combat these criticisms which are all-too-easily a reality when nothing is done to prevent them.

Remember that this blog as a whole focuses on struggling to victory BECAUSE focus determines reality. With that, ask yourself what reality you want to struggle toward this next year. And remember, too, that a reality of true joy and one where truth determines focus lies at the heart of a struggle that truly leads to victory.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on setting New Year’s Resolutions as way to have a healthy new year & beyond?

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Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape the fact that Scripture also clearly advocates for a right relationship with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, building up the body of Christ, and for unity and peace by way of example for non-Christians.

The holidays have a way of amplifying the state of relationships, and, unfortunately, to make bad ones worse and cause good ones to struggle. Why is this? Likely, much of the strain comes from already struggling finances, expectations and disappointments that seem to surface at their highest intensity during the holidays.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered and approached rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes. What might this look like? Consider the following notes provided by my pastor during a teaching on Proverbs 3:5-6 and infused with my own thoughts and reflections.

My pastor titled his lesson, “Staying Healthy Through the Holidays,” and it largely inspired this series.

  1. A healthy family is committed and caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. An environment of respect needs cultivated. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Family convictions must be developed and deliberately lived out. These convictions must be stated and then allowed to shape traditions.
  4. Family dynamics change from year to year, and flexibility is required to maintain relationship through those changes. Purpose to adapt as people grow and mature and as numbers increase and maybe even decrease at family gatherings. Refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Assumptions can kill relationships. For this reason, make a point to respectfully express your feelings. Don’t take for granted that others know how you feel about them. Let them know verbally (say it) and physically (hugs, smiles, etc.).
  6. Many relationships fold under the weight of responsibility, which often increases during the holidays. Be sure to share responsibilities with others, which means not only asking what you can do to help but also asking for help too.
  7. This one may offend the technology-addicted, which is almost everyone these days… Engage people and be fully where you are. That means putting down the smart phone or tablet and making eye contact with people in the same room as you. And be sure to have alacrity, so your loved ones know you truly don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Like assumptions, expectations can also be relationship killers. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.
  9. As Scripture clearly points out, people are a priority. Because it’s important to God, be faithfully devoted to what will last… loving others.

Depression hits its height for many people during the holidays. So does family contention. And most likely, these two realities are closely related the the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year. Fortunately, a deliberate choice by the individual Christian can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you, and this directive certainly includes our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What are your recommendations for healthy relationships during the holidays & beyond?

Relationships 2

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Spiritually Healthy During the Holidays & Beyond

Light 1Focus Determines Reality

In previous years when the holidays approached, my thoughts immediately went toward negative memories. The cat using the presents under the tree as a litter box. My parents telling me they were divorcing. No decorating or celebrating the first Christmas after the divorce.

Seems silly, really, since those years represent far fewer Decembers than ones with neutral or even positive memories. But since my focus dwelt there, my holiday reality existed in the negative for many years. This meant that depression easily met me each holiday season as well.

Slowly, as I learned how to be Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, I discovered a desire and ability to choose my focus rather than just allowing it to happen.Light 2

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life, but it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point, because it definitely did. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus always wants to change the focus of our lives toward one of living for God. But He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus. We must let Him change how we think, which changes our focus, which then changes our reality.

And often, our “letting” involves those activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, “letting Christ” simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health. What might those activities include?

  1. Not neglecting the basics. This is never a good idea but especially not during the holidays. Personally, I get knocked off kilter much easier during the holidays, so keeping to a routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial.
  2. Renewing the Christmas story. The longer you’ve been a Christian, the more difficult having a wonderment about the Christmas story may seem. Yet, seeing it with fresh perspective can help renew your spirit. I do this by reading a Christmas book every year. Can be fiction or nonfiction, but it must have the Gospel message.
  3. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with everything from gift giving to party preparation. Consider it with clothing and schedules too. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  4. Pay attention to physical health. Staying Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond is so very difficult with all the parties and special family gatherings focused around food. While indulging may feel good in the moment, the later consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices before you make them.
  5. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going  and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible. Make Romans 12:18 a goal for all of your relationships this holiday season.

Focusing more on Christ, the Christmas story and beyond, even when feelings or circumstances work to steal that focus, creates habits that work toward a purpose beyond ourselves. Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making right choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled holiday season. And each year, living spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you obtain or maintain joy and stay spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond?

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For another take on how to stay healthy during the holidays, check out the post “How to Keep Emotionally Healthy This Holiday” by Laurie Wallin. While you’re there, take some time to look at the rest of her blog where she writes about how to “live with joy and confidence no matter what life brings.”

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

Blue JOY OrnamentWith Thanksgiving and Black Friday safely behind us, we move forward now fully entrenched in the holiday season. Unfortunately, for many (most?) that means overwhelm from shopping, family pressures, and expectations of joy from self and others.

Could this year be any different? Or, will an underlying melancholy once 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. Even though I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will, not can but will, result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Green JOY ornamentFocus determines reality, especially during a season where many secretly live in depression and despair.

The holidays have a way of reminding us of strained and even failed relationships, ones we must face while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink.  And within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will eventually fade in the coming weeks, leaving us once again lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different, all the while knowing deep down it likely won’t.

I apologize for this seemingly downer tone thus far, but I find this need to admit these yearly struggles in order to maintain – and for many to obtain – victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year!”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentI invite you into a journey I take every year to some extent to continue moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year, perhaps even butting up with these same confessions – and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them – again this time next year.

This journey will first address the physical struggle many face from Thanksgiving through the fading of New Year’s resolutions. Then we’ll look at ways to address our focus and how to align it with truth, light and hope as we explore the spiritual dimension of the holiday season.

The next step in the journey involves exploring the ways our relationships can actually grow and flourish during the holiday season instead of being increasingly and possibly irreparably strained. Finally, we’ll end with looking at the false hope often brought by New Year’s resolutions and how we can turn that potential failure into true change toward a more joyous and blessed life.

DISCUSSION: In what ways can you relate to the struggle described above? Perhaps you relate through your own experience of that of someone you love. How could this discussion benefit someone (you?) desperately seeking a joy-filled holiday season?

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Restoring Relationships

JosephIf anyone held good reason to not trust others, it was Joseph. Not only did his brothers betray him (Genesis 37), but Potipher’s wife lied about him (Genesis 39), and the cup-bearer forgot his promise to Joseph (Genesis 40). Many people would give up after betrayal by family. Most of the rest would give up after being lied about and thrown in jail. And the third incident would secure the existence of bitterness and anger for anyone remaining.

But not Joseph. He bloomed where he was planted, and his faithfulness in every circumstance proved and strengthened his character. As a result, Joseph was trusted with greater responsibility every step of the way.

The story of Joseph provides a familiar setting worth revisiting in terms of what it teaches about restoring relationships. Please take a few minutes to read through Genesis 42-45 with this theme in mind before proceeding.

Lessons from Joseph on Restoring Relationships

Joseph gives a terrific example on many fronts, including solid character, perseverance and trusting God. His story, especially the ending, also provides a terrific lesson on the restoring process relationships can undergo providing those involved admit mistakes, forgive where necessary, and have the right focus. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at 5 lessons Joseph has for us regarding restoring relationships.

  1. Keep restoration as an option (Genesis 42:8). Joseph instantly recognized his brothers, while his brothers failed to recognize him at all. Sure, they assumed him dead for many years, but I find it strange they didn’t notice something… anything… reminding them of Joseph. Perhaps this comes simply because Joseph never lost hope for restoration with his family, while his brothers never had it.
  2. Provide opportunity for building trust (Genesis 42:14-17; Genesis 44). Joseph immediately provided opportunities for his brothers to build and earn trust with him. He gave them ways to show they had changed for good, and they certainly showed they had truly learned from their mistakes.
  3. Recognize and express emotion, but refuse to let it control actions (Genesis 42:24; Genesis 43:30-31). Don’t you love how Joseph truly felt emotion over first seeing his brothers and then over the prospect of restored relationship with them? Yet, he refused to let that emotion cloud the trust-building process and instead moved forward practically.
  4. Get God’s point of view (Genesis 45:5). Joseph continually focused on God, and I believe this allowed him to not just forgive his brothers but to work toward restored relationship with them. Joseph saw the big picture of how God used the bad in his life to work for good, and he refused to get bitter over the betrayal of those he trusted.
  5. Give God the glory when restoration succeeds (Genesis 45:6-7). Joseph gave God the credit for working in the whole of his life. He refused to focus on the human aspect of his situations and instead focused on God. Doing so also helped seal the deal for restoration as he purposefully eased the guilt his brothers felt.

The story of restored relationship between Joseph and his brothers gives me hope for the same story of renewal in my own life. It also helps me believe that people can truly change even after significant breeches of trust, especially when those they hurt choose to focus on God and believe that He truly does work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

DISCUSSION: What else can we learn about restoration from Joseph? What other examples can you think of in Scripture?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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