Not All Who Wander Are Lost

“All That is Gold Does Not Glitter”
All that is gold does not glitter.
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

This is repeated two times in the Lord of the Rings book series by J.R.R. Tolkein and once in the movie produced by Peter Jackson. It speaks to significant plot lines in both. At the same time, it also speaks to some larger life truths. For example:

  1. Appearances don’t tell the whole story.
  2. Wanderers often have a purpose.
  3. Endurance and vitality exist even in the aged.
  4. Renewal and hope are always possible.

These deeper themes illustrate one of the reasons Lord of the Rings is my favorite movie and book. They get me thinking about purpose even within my Wanderlust. Just some thoughts as my life exists in major transition right now.

Remember! Don’t forget!

A “to do” list. Phone alerts. Emails when a bill is due. Push notifications.

We need constant reminders, don’t we? I know I do. Otherwise, I forget all too easily.

Unfortunately, forgetting is a more pervasive problem for me than just with my everyday tasks. It happens with bigger things too. I forget the good that has happened in my life. I need reminders.

It’s why I journal. It’s why I keep lots of family photographs displayed. It’s why I wear this bracelet.

This need for reminders is why God had His people in the Old Testament create memorials, usually with stones.

“Then Joshua called the twelve men he had chosen, and he told them, “Go into the Jordan ahead of the Covenant Box of the Lord your God. Each one of you take a stone on your shoulder, one for each of the tribes of Israel. These stones will remind the people of what the Lord has done. In the future, when your children ask what these stones mean to you, you will tell them that the water of the Jordan stopped flowing when the Lord’s Covenant Box crossed the river. These stones will always remind the people of Israel of what happened here.” (Joshua 4:4-7)

This human tendency to forget is also why so many writers and prophets in the Old Testament repeated “remember” and “do not forget” so much. It’s why God’s people needed – it’s why we need – to be reminded over and over again of who God is, what he’s done, and what he promises to do.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

Don’t berate yourself for forgetting so easily. I have to remind myself of this often too. Instead, accept that forgetting easily is a reality of human life, then circumvent it as much as you can with memorials. Purposefully find ways to focus on God, not your feelings or the drama of the day. Simply remember His mercy and grace and make a habit of looking for them and for expecting them to happen again and again.

Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“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)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

“What if we’re the aliens?”

In my eclectic article reading, I came across one that said the likelihood of the existence of aliens has not been ruled out by science. However, if there is intelligent, alien life like what we see in the movies, they likely wouldn’t bother with us. They would be so much more intelligent that it would be like if humans were to invade an anthill for the resources it would provide.

After telling my sons about this article, my youngest said…

“What if we’re the aliens? What if the meteor scientists say came 65 million years ago was really us coming to earth on a space ship from another planet?”

Of course, we don’t really believe this, but enjoy discussing creative ideas like this. The movies we enjoy watching together certainly fuel this activity too.

What’s coolest, though, is how talking about off-the-wall topics like this often fuels discussions about (or at least mentions of) Biblical topics too. It’s happened many times for us over the years.

“We actually are the aliens.”

After my son’s comment, I said something about how the Bible actually calls us aliens. Both my boys knew this already because I’ve said it before, but because they’re teenage boys, I repeated myself.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Verses related to this topic include John 15:18-19 & 17:16.

These verses stress that we are not to fit in with the culture around us, living like those who have not make Jesus their Lord. They get at the idea that this world is not our permanent home, and we are not to give in to what the flesh desires because it is often not what the soul needs.

These verses encourage Christians to live Godly lives in a pagan (one that doesn’t adhere to the Bible) society. Such a timely message for two teenage boys, one wanting to finish out his high school years in victory and the other in the midst of adapting to the very worldly culture at college.

Now that I think about it, when isn’t it a timely message?

For more in-depth discussion and application points on this topic,
check out the post Aliens Among Us.

Repetition Means Pay Attention

Key Study Technique

One of the best ways to learn from Scripture, no matter what part you’re reading, is by looking for repeated words and phrases. In fact, noticing such patterns while reading the Bible is a key study technique.

Repetition exists at verse, chapter and book levels. Some also connect through all of Scripture too.

There’s always a significant reason for the existence of repetition in the Bible. In fact, it has a great deal to teach us. Whenever we see a repeated word, phrase, activity, behavior, etc. know that there’s something we need to notice.

Learning from Others

Repetition in Scripture often helps us see patterns of behavior. We may not right away realize why a pattern exists, but studying them in the lives of those who went before us almost always leads to significant revelations we can apply to our own lives.

For example, two overarching themes in the book of Judges shown through repeated or similar phrasing teach us a couple of significant lessons.

“Israel did evil in the Lord’s sight.” (Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; & 13:1)

Israel cried out to the Lord for help, and God raised up a judge to lead them. (Judges 3:9, 13; 4:3-4; 6:6-7; 10:10; & Ch. 13)

“There was peace.” (Judges 3:11; 4:30; & 5:31)

This pattern is found at least 5 times in Judges. The repetition shows us that…

  1. Disobedience ALWAYS brings judgment.
  2. God is ALWAYS faithful.

Judges also uses repetition to show the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as experienced in the lives of Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah and Sampson.

The repeated words and phrases we see in Judges, a book filled with drama and intrigue, exemplifies the impact of repetition throughout Scripture. But, we can easily expand our look beyond the book and see repetition used throughout Scripture.

Consider these examples of repetition in the Bible:

  • Wisdom references found throughout Proverbs.
  • “Blessed are…” and other repeated phrases in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)
  • Stories found in each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)

Studying these patterns in Scriptures can amplify your understanding of what God desires for his people. It can also help you better understand God’s character.

Pay Attention to the Repetition

Repetition exists in Scripture for emphasis. Often, it emphasize a lesson or application God wants us to learn and apply as in the examples given above. It is also sometimes equivalent to why we bold and italicize text today. For example…

“Holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:30 & Revelation 4:8)

Whatever the specific reason, repetition in the Bible always means pay attention. Make a habit of marking them in your Bible. Not only will you get better at noticing them as you establish the habit, but you’ll also be enriched by discovering why each one exists.

Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

The Joy of Discovery

“There is no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek)

I love to know stuff. Not the stuff of gossip, the nitty-gritty, intimate details of people’s lives, but interesting facts and stories within science, technology, medicine, history, space exploration, etc.. Really, almost any topic.

Making Connections

Making connections. Being inspired. Finding practical application. All motivate me to learn, discover, observe and explore.

Above all, though, I love making connections between that which comes from man’s discoveries and what Scripture tells us about God. Specifically, I’m drawn to those connections that help me better understand and apply God’s Word to everyday life.

And it’s not just non-fiction that does this. Fiction helps make connections and discover application just as much and in some ways more so than non-fiction. The best fiction comes saturated with truth, whether the infused truth is from science or medicine or history or human behavior. Then it proceeds to help me better understand life this side of Heaven and even into eternity itself.

Even fantasy fiction (think Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) makes worthwhile connections. Though the truth it’s filled with — morality, bravery, connection, selflessness — is set in a completely made-up world, it still inspires me and elevates my knowledge.

Drawn By Discovery

I’m drawn by the discovery of the unknown. Great stories. Knowledge and information I didn’t have before. Inspiration. Motivation.

Discovery of the unknown so often means finding what I need in a way that makes me want to be better and do more. And, ultimately, it’s a gain that draws me to understanding more of and drawing me closer to my Creator.

Frustrating, But Worth It

Trivia fits well within my thirst to know stuff. On the one hand, I love trivia, at least when I know the answers. Trivia most of the time, however, frustrates me because it seems to point out what I don’t know well more than it shows what I do know. If I think about it too much, I actually get discouraged by how little I really know based on all there is to know.

Bible study does the same. The more I study it, the more I realize I don’t know, and that sometimes frustrates me. At the same time, pushing through that lack of knowing reaps rewards beyond what I could imagine. Every time.

Where I instead try to focus, rather than on how much I don’t know, is on the joy of discovery. I try to keep my intent on moving toward the time when nothing is hidden or not understood anymore.

“For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].” (1 Corinthians 13:12AMP)

Convenient Confusion

what-to-do-3-1239436-1598x1065Whey my boys were younger, they were quick to say, “I’m sorry” when they messed up. Sometimes, they said it for the millionth time about the same mistake. When this happened, my response sounded something like…

“I know you’re sorry, and I forgive you. I will always forgive you. But being sorry really means little for you if you do nothing to change your behavior.”

Now that my boys are teenagers, I still expect them to repeat mistakes from time to time in some areas, but I also realize progress should exist. They love Jesus, but they’re certainly in training still in so many ways. I have to constantly keep telling myself…

“Progress over perfection.”

Unfortunately, many adults act much like teenagers at times, though there should be marked maturity well beyond that found in most teenagers. These adults live in convenient confusion and believe saying “I’m sorry” stands on its own without being followed by a changed life.

I’m certainly guilty. I’ve relied on my words to carry me a bit much too at times. Yes, I too have been conveniently confused, thinking that filling my life with learning and knowing stuff somehow means trusting Christ. The truth is, though, trusting Christ really means doing what He says. It means following His directions and not pretending to be confused over what God’s Word says.

James addresses this very topic in James 1:22-25.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.”

Let’s consider these truths from a few other perspectives:

“No man is better for knowing that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. Nobody is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell, there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.” (A.W. Tozer)

”It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and get God’s blessing. It is not the hearing but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.” (Warren Wiersbe)

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand.” (Mark Twain)

Consider the following questions for self-evaluation to know where convenient confusion might be plaguing you.

  • What am I hearing from God and not putting into action?
  • How might I be sinning by pretending to be confused?
  • Have I stopped listening to Him in some area because I know I’m not obeying?

As you consider these answers, actively look for ways to move from being a hearer only to also being a consistent doer. What might some of those ways be for you?

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Put Your Behind in the Past

Lion King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory (neuromuscular facilitation)…

“occurs when you have repeated an action enough times to have etched that pattern into your brain. The action becomes automatic, requiring no conscious input on your part.”

memoryGetting dressed, walking and tying your shoes are examples of activities completed by muscle memory. To get a feel of just how comfortable you are in your muscle memory, try changing your routine in any of these activities. Put your clothes on in a different order than usual. Try imitating how someone else walks. Change the way you tie your shoes. You’ll find just how comfortable muscle memory makes you feel and how hard it is to change it.

We also have negative habits established in muscle memory. Clenching your jaw and poor posture are examples. Take that a step further to our thought processes. Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t…” all too easily before even trying something new or changing a routine? These negative habits and thought patterns are examples of muscle memories too.

We need muscle memory to automate tasks that we don’t need to give mental energy toward, which allows us to redirect that energy toward that which requires active thinking and processing on our part. Our lives are filled with muscle memory activities, some of which make our lives easier and some of which present struggles we need to focus on and overcome in order to grow and mature. Muscle memory can both free us for bigger tasks and keep us from attempting them.

Spiritual Muscle Memory

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Consider reprogramming your spiritual muscle memory. If prayers feel aimless and/or worship seems a dry routine, perhaps muscle memory needs changed. And if loving others seems like a forced “should,” then changing spiritual muscle memory might lead to transformation.

The following elements, adapted from what psychologists and athletes alike use when breaking down old muscle memory habits to create new ones, hint at beginning steps for changing spiritual muscle memory:

  1. Repetition. Too often, a positive habit fails to get established in muscle memory because we fail to repeat the process enough times. Only through repetition can we effectively rid ourselves of bad habits and replace them with good ones.
  2. Consistency. Once you find out what works, stick with it. Keep doing what works (repetition) to establish it as a habit.
  3. Comfort. Creating new muscle memories and letting old ones go creates discomfort. Keep comfort zones for times of rest and recuperation that generate energy needed for the discomfort of stretching and growing.
  4. Brokenness. Sometimes, we must break down what is not working in order to create a new habit that will make us stronger. This gets at the idea of rooting out  bad habits holding us back and replacing them with new ones that helps us grow.
  5. Variety. Just like we need comfort in order to work through discomfort, we also need variety in order to not get swallowed up in the repetition of consistency. Establish consistent habits but allow for variety within them.

What can you immediately apply from this list to help you move forward and go deeper in your relationship with God? The principles of breaking down and establishing muscle memory were deliberately discussed generally to allow for more unique individual application. Take some time to consider how you can personally apply these principles, and share your ideas in the comments.

Note: This month’s focus lies with taking aspects of our physical selves and making spiritual connections. Also, this week begins a summer schedule for Struggle to Victory with a scheduled post every Tuesday and periodic posts at other times throughout the month (my attempt at being a bit more spontaneous). I’m open to publishing guest posts as well, so leave any interest in writing one in the comments below.