Spiritual Restoration

Health Benefits of Nature

Research shows that spending time in and near nature has a significant positive impact on a person’s quality of life. Business Insider actually lists eleven ways nature does this.

  1. Improved memory
  2. Improved mental energy
  3. Stress relief
  4. Better vision
  5. Reduced inflammation
  6. Improved concentration
  7. Sharper thinking & creativity
  8. Anti-cancer possibility
  9. Immunity boost
  10. Better mental health
  11. Less chance of dying early

Sitting on my deck under a shade tree. Going for a walk or jog at least once daily. Regular bike rides. Kayaking. Hiking. Just some of the ways I’ve learned the truth behind what this research shows.

Ecological Restoration

Our connection with nature goes beyond the health benefits it brings though. In fact, nature can actually teach us some valuable ways to amplify the above benefits. It can also show us how to use them to restore us from a damaged state.

One of those ways is through the concept of ecological restoration. If you visit public parks or nature centers, you’ve likely come across this term on a sign or in a brochure at some point. Ecological restoration is…

“The practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action.” (Ecological Restoration Alliance)

The goal of ecological restoration is to revive the native habitat and its ecological functioning. Examples include:

  • Removing or controlling non-native plants & wildlife
  • Erosion control measures
  • Reintroduce or reinforce native species
  • Controlled fires to promote mature growth, limit insect growth & prevent disease

Ecological restoration is “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates recovery.” The purpose is to restore the ecosystem to what it was before it was disturbed or to an improved state from what it was previously.

An ecosystem usually needs restoration when humans have in some way negatively altered it. Those ways include littering, pollution and even destruction in some way.

I realized that I often feel like I need the type of restoration described here. I sometimes feel like I’ve been destroyed or damaged by my culture and just life in general enough that I need to take deliberate steps to stop the damage and discover and/or create a restored state.

Essentially, ecological restoration boils down to removing negative elements and influences and placing in positive ones. Sometimes, that includes using what at first seems detrimental — fires for instance — to clean out those bad elements to allow the good ones room to flourish.

Is that really any different from what God wants to do for us?

Spiritual Restoration

Everyone needs spiritual restoration to some degree from time to time. From outright moral failure to neglecting time with God because of busyness to an unexplainable dry season, we all need some sort of intentional activity to aid in our continual restoration.

Fortunately, Scripture contains a slew of wisdom for the purpose of our spiritual restoration. And since we can’t go into detail on all of what it offers here — it is living and active after all (Hebrews 4:12) — we’ll focus on a few passages that emphasize nature’s overall role in the process.

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5)

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Nature tells us about God. It lets us know who He is and what He’s capable of doing based on what He’s already done. And this knowledge lies at the heart of any type of restoration we need.

Research on the health benefits of nature really just supports what Scripture already tells us. Nature, God’s creation, connects us with him in ways that give our lives vitality like nothing else can. It restores like nothing else can. We only need to expose ourselves to it.

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” (George Washington Carver)

Shipwrecked Faith, Part 2

In Shipwrecked Faith, Part 1, we defined a shipwrecked faith and talked about how the struggle to avoid one is real for everyone. In this post, we’ll look at avoiding shipwreck as well as how to recover from one.

How can you avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Paul’s advice to Timothy to “fight the good fight” is still wholly applicable for us today. More specifically, he told Timothy to be aware of false teachers, which basically means anything that doesn’t line up with living out your faith according to the Gospel. It’s anything that veers you away from living a holy life and not offending God. Refusing to follow false teaching and insisting on living out the Gospel results in avoiding a shipwrecked faith.

For an even more detailed answer, let’s look at what Paul says next. He tells Timothy that those who suffered a shipwrecked faith failed to keep a good conscience. They knew the truth of the Gospel but chose to live contrary to it. They made a deliberate choice.

Think of your conscience like the ballast for a ship. Without proper ballast, a ship is unbalanced and cannot be maneuvered accurately. So, a captain can know the right path to take but not be able to steer the ship that way if the ballast isn’t working like it should. Likewise, we cannot live out the Gospel, our faith, if our conscience has been discarded.

In order for this truth to be fully applicable to our lives, we need to understand what exactly our conscience is and is not. Your conscience does not define right and wrong. For the Christian, the Gospel does that. Instead, your conscience directs how you live out your faith, whether according to the Gospel or contrary to it.

Let’s break down the truth of what Paul tells Timothy. How can we live out the truth of the Gospel by keeping a good conscience and thus avoid a shipwrecked faith?

Preserve a Good Conscience

Preserving a good conscience means refusing to drift. Recognize that drift begins imperceptibly and happens gradually, especially if we fail to consider it as a possibility.

Drift happens through compromise. Compromise comes when we tolerate what we should not tolerate, things like torn sails, overloaded ships, complacency and arrogance. It happens when we refuse to challenge the sin in our lives. Sin destroys a good conscience and leads us away from living out the Gospel.

The blood of Jesus can restore a good conscience. Under the blood, there’s no guilt, shame or fear of punishment. In Christ, we have peace and rest as our consciences once again function properly, and we become able to live our faith in the Gospel.

Preserving a good conscience also involves keeping short accounts with God and others. This means following a continual process of confession, repentance and forgiveness. It means again and again returning to the Gospel.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Determine to Be Separate

Being separate from the world requires that we know God’s Word. We must meditate on it regularly and actually fear not obeying it. We need to cast it as our anchor again and again and wait for God to show us the way through it.

Being separate also involves declaring Christian warfare. That means we decide to keep up the struggle of becoming righteous rather than giving in to the world, flesh and Satan. We decide to refuse the easy and and to instead fight for our faith.

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Finally, being separate means knowing without a doubt what you believe…

If we truly hope to be separate, we must continually return to these Gospel truths and choose to live them out regardless of what others think, say or do. Separate is necessary if we hope to avoid the drift of our conscience.

Keep An Active Faith

An active faith is one that is alive and growing and focused living out the many directives detailed in Scripture.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee from these things; aim at and pursue righteousness [true goodness, moral conformity to the character of God], godliness [the fear of God], faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11, AMP)

Paul’s advice to Timothy here gives clarity on how to live an active faith… flee from the bad (anything contrary to the Gospel) and pursue the good (that which conforms to and confirms the Gospel). An active faith refuses to be lazy and instead insists on actively living out the Gospel in every way possible.

What if your faith is already shipwrecked?

What if you’re already adrift and off course? What if your conscience has already been thrown overboard and left behind? What if your faith has run aground and the waves are tearing it apart?

What if you’re in a place where you’re refusing to take responsibility and instead continually blaming others for your circumstances? What if you’re already ignoring the limits God provides? What if you’re already compromising convictions?

The answer is the same no matter how far gone you feel you are right now.

Return to the Gospel. Get to know God’s truth again and rededicate yourself to living it out.

  • Rebuild your conscience based on faith in the Gospel.
  • Reestablish your conviction to live separately.
  • Reactivate the activity of your faith.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)

Easter Memories

Easter Memories

Easter Sunday holds a prominent place in my childhood, church-going memories. The smell of Lilies. New clothes. The Easter bonnet my mom wanted me to wear and that I hated. Easter breakfast after a sunrise service. Traditional church service. All good memories.

As an adult, Easter memories still rest strongly in my mind. Same smell of Lilies. Spring colors. Easter hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” that I’ve never not known. Easter dinner followed by a rather competitive egg hunt at the in-laws.

Outside of the usual Easter routine are several Easters spent away from home, including one on a mountaintop at sunrise in Vermont. Another involved the first half of the day riding in a car traveling home to Michigan from Missouri. No Lilies. No Sunday best attire. Worship via the radio (one of the songs was “Crown Him with Many Crowns), and McDonalds for Easter dinner. We did make the annual hunt though.

As I grew and matured, Easter eventually evolved from a once-a-year Sunday celebration to a year-round sense of purpose. Celebrating the risen Christ exists now as a way of life, a year-long state of mind rather than a capstone day in the church year.

Ticket to Heaven

A lot of the same elements still exist, but my view of the reason behind the celebration itself evolved away from simply a focus on the objects that represented it. I no longer only saw Easter as just a day to acknowledge that a far-away God sent his Son to die for my sins. I began to see beyond simply having a ticket to heaven.

Today, Easter now represents a relationship with Jesus.

Reasons for Change

Over the years, experiencing struggles and letting Christ lead me to victory in and through them matured my faith. Faith remains a simple but crucial act of the spirit. However, it now lives in a maturing state as the Holy Spirit’s leads and guides into the relationship that now permeates my existence.

My view changed also because worship changed. Some songs stayed the same, yet my participation exists very differently today than in my childhood and even early adulthood. Increased involvement in worship somehow increased the depth of the Easter message.

My understanding of God’s love for His Son also grew when I became a parent. Would I sacrifice one of my sons to save another person’s life? No, I wouldn’t. Yet, God did just that. Being a parent gives some inclination of how much He loved me to give up His only Son. Something I would never do.

My Best Friend

Somewhere within all this change, I realized Jesus also wanted to be my friend in addition to being my Savior. In other words, Jesus became a real person in my life.

Jesus became my best friend as my view of Easter grew. This satisfied a deep longing I remember having even as a young child.

I’m not sure I can adequately express what Easter now means to me or how it exists as a state of mind rather than a yearly holiday. All I can do is share this testimony and invite others to open their hearts to the transforming power of the Easter story too.

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?

Unbroken Perseverance

Unbroken

Toward the end of the movie Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is again being tortured by a Japanese prison camp officer. This man, known as “The Bird,” took a special interest in Louis.

Even after Louis broke his ankle, The Bird forces him to hold a railroad beam above his shoulders. The Bird ordered Louis shot if he dropped it.

When Louis’ strength waned after a half hour holding the beam, something clicked inside of him. His eyes gained a look of focused persistence, he took a new grip on the beam, and then he pushed it up as high as he could.

The rest of the POWs watched as The Bird falls to his knees with the realization that no matter what he does, he cannot break Louis.

Perseverance

This scene reminds me of the instructions the writer of Hebrews gives after talking about how God disciplines those He loves.

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:12)

Scripture speaks in many places about perseverance. It even tells of the benefit believers gain from it.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

Perseverance also plays a significant role in our individual spiritual growth. It serves as critical in our progress toward what God promises.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Responsibility

Our perseverance isn’t only for our benefit though. After being told to take a new grip, stand firm and mark a straight path, the writer of Hebrews tells us our endurance also sets an example for others.

“Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

We simply cannot live with just our own survival in mind. Others — our kids, spouses, friends, family, coworkers — see and follow our example. We have a responsibility to show them how to follow Christ.

This responsibility exists in our daily lives as we faithful serve Him. It exists when we refuse to let distractions consume us. And, it exists in the trials that would pull us into the muck and mire if we fail to take a new grip.

We fulfill that responsibility when we stand, even if on shaky legs, and focus our attention on Christ. We set an example when we follow that straight path regardless of what life sends our way. As we choose to persevere no matter what, others follow our example. In doing so, they discover new strength for their own efforts to persevere.

Be Still & Know

Be Still

In high school, I stepped between two girls getting ready to fight one another. One was my friend. I don’t remember the other girl. With fist raised and poised to fire, my friend  would hit me if she let it fly. Instead, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Only because it’s you.” Then she walked away.

In Psalm 46:10, the “be still” phrase gets at stopping this same sort of activity. The original word — rapa — means to “slacken, let down, cease.” It’s used in the sense of someone stepping between two warriors in battle and telling them to stop fighting, to stop their frantic activity.

So, the idea to “be still” goes beyond just taking a little time to relax. Beyond stopping the frantic pace, acknowledgment of the pointlessness of the activity is also important. In other words, we must stop and realize that our frantic activity will not produce any positive outcome.

Are you Frantic?

Frantic is one of those words that sounds ridiculous the more you say it. And when you consider all of what it means, it’s equally absurd to live in that state.

Frantic (adj.): desperate or wild with excitement, passion, fear, pain, etc.; frenzied

Interestingly, Jesus’ parents were once frantic in their search for him.

“His parents didn’t know what to think. ‘Son,’ his mother said to him, ‘why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.’” (Luke 2:48)

I find comfort knowing that the mother and father entrusted to raise the Son of God were also frantic parents at times. Makes my sometimes frantic parenting seem a little less unreasonable.

Of course, we have plenty in our lives beyond parenting that can make us frantic… Cleaning the house like crazy to get ready for guests. Scrambling madly at the end of the quarter to meet quota. Racing from one task to the next hoping to be somewhere on time once in a while. We’ve all felt frantic at some point, and I’m guessing no one really enjoys it.

Mental Time Out

While we can’t always avoid being frantic — though we often can with some planning and simplifying — we can choose to not live in it. We can choose to not let it be our standard mode of operation. To do so, however, we must intentionally cease and decide to “be still.”

In the broadest sense, this means we need mental time outs. Especially in the busiest times of life, we need mental down time. Our brains need periods where they don’t actively focus or engage and can just wander. In fact…

“Time off is what your brain thrives on.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

What’s more, our bodies usually give us signs that we need this time off.

  • Can’t think straight
  • Under-accomplishing
  • Forgetful
  • Making mistakes

Again, we all have moments where these happen, but we need to pay attention when patterns emerge, when we begin to dwell there. After all, we can reap some pretty amazing benefits if we allow ourselves to “be still” on a regular basis.

“After you take a mental time-out, you’re better at creative thinking and coming up with clever ideas and solutions.” (Shape Magazine / March 2017)

& Know

Looking at that start of Psalm 46:10 again, but this time in several versions, helps draw out this idea of down time or time outs.

“Be still…” (ESV)

“Cease striving…” (NASB)

“Stop your fighting…(Holman)

“Be in awe…” (ISV)

“Let go [of your concerns]!” (God’s WORD ®)

“Let be…” (JPS Tanakh 1917)

Long before research proved we needed time to reflect and sort things out mentally, God told us as much. And while the mental experts say to let our minds wander, God’s word gives further instruction as to how to truly give our minds the crucial rest they need. We find the answer in the second part of the “be still” phrase that begins Psalm 46:10.

“…and know that I am God.”

What does knowing God is God do for our efforts to stop the frantic in our lives? Matthew Henry tells us in his commentary on Psalm 46:6-11:

“This shows the perfect security of the church, and is an assurance of lasting peace… in silent submission let us worship and trust our almighty Sovereign. Let all believers triumph in this, that the Lord of hosts… has been, is and will be with us; and will be our refuge. Mark this, take the comfort and say, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us? With this, through life and I death, let us answer every fear.”

This hits home because, truly, what is the source of our frantic activity? Fear. Fear of not doing, being, saying, making and creating enough.

I’m not sure how this exactly plays out in your life, but I know for me having God as my constant stability gives me what I need to “be still” even as life races on around me. Sure, some days are more difficult than others, but I know that going to that still place where I know God is God keeps the frantic from consuming me.

Defeating Discouragement

Promise of Deliverance

After about 400 years of being in Egypt, God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites. The Egyptians respond to Moses’ announcement by increasing the work the Israelite slaves had to do each day.

After this, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites that He promised to deliver them. He tells Moses to remind them about His covenant with them (Exodus 6:2-4). Unfortunately, the Israelites do not respond positively to this reminder.

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” (Exodus 6:9)

Their present circumstances so discouraged them, they could no longer hear God.

Defeated by Discouragement

We too can become so discouraged (beaten down in spirit) because of what we see as impossible burdens that we cannot hear from God anymore.

An unsaved loved one. A rebellious child. Bad luck. Lack of progress. Physical illness. Mental illness.

The circumstances of life can wear us down and often lead to us no longer hearing God. As the discouragement increases, we sometimes become convinced it will never end.

Or, we might still hear God speaking, but we let those who are discouraged impact our response to His voice.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go back to Pharaoh, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt.’

‘But Lord!’ Moses objected. ‘My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect  Pharaoh to listen? I’m no orator!’ (Exodus 6:10-12)

To many, staying enslaved seems easier than going through the process leading to freedom. Getting out from under discouragement is hard work, and the unknown often feels more uncomfortable than the known even if the known is not good.

Defeating Discouragement

When we get too easily taken up by our troubles that we no longer believe God’s promises, discouragement has the upper hand. But Scripture offers several steps for getting out from under the blinding burden of discouragement.

  1. Admit dependence. Realize you can do nothing without God. (John 15:5 & Psalm 62:5)
  2. Focus on facts over feelings. Feelings are often blind guides. Refuse to indulge them and always remember that focus determines reality. (2 Corinthians 1:20 & 4:17-18)
  3. Receive comfort. Don’t deprive yourself of the comfort God makes available through His Word and His divine care and direction. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 & John 14:26)

The fact is that discouragement often grows before it dissipates. That’s life. It’s also why we cannot depend on ourselves or our feelings to relieve our discouragement.

“In the process of deliverance, things often get worse before they get better. ‘Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage’ (Exodus 5:9) often restricts us from hearing and receiving what would help us live.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy, January 19th)

Refuse to let circumstances steal your focus. Refuse to let feelings dictate activity. Choose to live based on the secure and enduring promises of God.

The Only Solution to Worry

Worn Out from Worry

Couldn’t sleep the other night. Worry consumed my mind. Racing thoughts kept me awake even though fatigue pulled at my eyelids.

The next day, worry destroyed my schedule. All-consuming thoughts stole my focus.

As a result, I became completely worn out from worry.

Worry Stones & Dolls

You can buy small, oval stones called worry stones. They’re smooth and just the right size to hold in your hand and stroke with your thumb. The idea is that this activity helps reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

The Guatemalans created worry dolls as a remedy for worrying. Mayan legend says a person who couldn’t sleep would tell their worries to worry dolls, and then place the dolls under their pillow. The dolls supposedly took the person’s worries away to allow for restful sleep.

I get the idea behind worry stones and dolls. It fulfills the need to release nervous energy. While I don’t have a stone or a doll to easy my worries, I do turn to cleaning and exercising in an attempt to push them away.

Problem is, this activity only puts a band aid on the problem. They help, sure, but they do little to actually remedy my habitually worrisome mindset.

The Only Solution for Worry

When I am discouraged and bogged down by life’s cares, I begin to worry in an attempt to avoid or solve anticipated threats. As a result, I only meet with frustration and uncontrollable negative thoughts.

Eventually, though, I do hear the Holy Spirit’s voice through the noise and am led to the only solution for my worry.

“Do not be anxious (do not worry) about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB)

“Cast all your anxiety (worries) on him (Christ) because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NASB)

“Cast all your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22, NASB)

In both the Old and the New Testaments, we find the only solution to worry (anxiety) spelled out. We’re told time and time again (also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Philippians 4:7) that we don’t have to carry the weight of our problems and cares.

We’re promised…

God will sustain us. He cares for us and will never let us fall.

Scripture tells us that God is able and willing to be our strength and support mentally, physically and spiritually. It also tells us that his care (love) for us is His motivation for doing so.

A Common Struggle

Though we often feel alone in our struggles, especially when worry runs rampant through our minds, we have to realize at some point that this simply isn’t true.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB)

The temptation to worry is a common struggle.  Fortunately, we are given ways of escape and endurance. We simply do not have to succumb to the temptation to worry. And while we can’t directly change how we feel, we can change our thoughts. Our feelings, which are products of our thoughts, then change too.

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. ” (Philippians 4:8, AMP)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2, NASB)

We have a choice where we allow our thoughts to focus. We simply do not have to allow them to dwell on negativity and worry.

How to Cast Your Worries on Christ

The only way I know to truly cast my worries on Christ and to direct my thoughts towards that which is excellent and worthy of praise is to…

  1. Pray often. Often means frequently throughout the day.
  2. Read God’s Word. Fill my mind with truth daily, and more so as struggles amplify.
  3. Meditate on God’s Word. Let it become the compass for my thinking.

Worry pulls at your mind the more you give into it and let it consume your thinking. But as you take steps, however small, to direct your thinking toward God’s goodness, mercy and grace, your thoughts transform. And as thoughts transform, feelings do too.

Persevere & Refuse to Give Up

These small steps — praying, reading & meditating on Scripture — add up over time to make a huge — a transforming — difference in a person’s life. Keep taking those small steps.

Persevere through the temptation to worry. Refuse to give up and give in to negativity. Pursue truth and excellence and loveliness and purity and wholesomeness.

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

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.