Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diligent, Peaceable & Occupied

The posts “Pursuing a Quiet Life” and “Balanced Goal Setting” give perspective on living out Paul’s directive for early Christians regarding focus and ambition.

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation deepens our application of this advice as we consider our own forward growth.

“And that you would be diligent, peaceable and occupied with your business, working with your hands just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

This version gives three descriptors to consider as we pursue a quiet life. (Note that in “Pursuing a Quiet Life” we looked at how “quiet” reflects an inner attitude rather than an outer physical state.) The Aramaic version of this verse also helps dial in a bit on the inner attitude that drives Paul’s directive.

First, a few definitions:

  • Diligent — constant in effort
  • Peaceable — inclined to avoid strife; not argumentative or hostile
  • Occupied — filled up; engaged mind, attention and energy

If we combine these definitions, we come up with a comprehensive view of the attitude we’re seeking when we think of a “quiet life” in the sense that Paul is encouraging it.

Make a constant effort to avoid arguing and hostility and to engage your mind, attention and energy in the work you’ve been given to do.

What does this constant effort look like in a practical way? In other words, how can we live quiet lives by being diligent, peaceable and occupied?

  1. Do your part to get along with others. You can only control and change yourself. (Romans 12:18)
  2. Focus on the work God gives YOU. When you do, you’ll have a lot less time to criticize others. You’ll also be much more productive this way. (Romans 12)
  3. Let grace carry you through your mistakes. When you make mistakes, learn from them, forgive yourself, and move forward in the grace of God. (1 Peter 1:13)
  4. Verbalize thankfulness in your victories. Realize that God does work good for those who love him, so give him the credit for working good in your life. (Romans 8:28)
  5. Pursue a quiet life in increasing measure. Refuse to let the chaos of the world infiltrate your attitude. Instead, secure your spirit in the peace that passes all understanding but that can also draw others to Christ. (Philippians 4:7)

When our energies focus in these ways, we’ll find our lives increasingly productive and effective. In addition, we’ll discover that the work we’ve been given — loving others and living to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-11) — happens through the living of quiet lives in our own unique ways.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can we increase our efforts to live diligent, peaceable and occupied lives?

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Are Your Relationships Silver or Gold?

The Role of Thankfulness in Relationships

For the most part, my time spent in the Girl Scouts exists in my memory as a huge disaster. I’ll spare you the details and just tell the one positive I remember related to this short song learned in Girl Scouts so many years ago.

Silver & gold

As friendships change and grow with the seasons of life, marking each one with value and purpose helps appreciate the always fluctuating nature of relationships. In recent years, teaching this principle to my boys helps them as they transition into adulthood and see their own relationships impacted accordingly.

Realizing that relationships really reflect the stages of our lives helps understand their role in life’s seasons. But more importantly, our relationships provide the medium through which we express the love within us that grows out from our relationship with Christ as He continually develops our new natures. As we practice Making Allowances, learn to Love Others AS Ourselves, apply Wisdom in Relationships and Dress for Success in Relationships, we reflect the increasing love of our continually renewing relationship with Christ.

This understanding cultivates thankfulness for every relationship, however brief, experienced through the years. And that thankfulness creates a tie that truly does bind.

Tied by Thankfulness

Thankfulness unifies. As we read through Colossians 3, noting where thankfulness is mentioned, it seems clear that thankfulness seems to describe a characteristic of all the “clothing” talked about in this scripture.

Colossians 3:15-17 especially gets at the role of thankfulness in our New Nature Relationships.

Thankful

Every time we’re told to live out our new natures, a call to thankfulness is also issued. This tells us that not only do we need to take off the clothing of our old nature (v. 9) and put on the clothing of our new nature (v. 10), we are to also demonstrate thankfulness while we live lives where the love of Christ flows out from within us into our New Nature Relationships.

DISCUSSION: How can we infuse our New Nature Relationships with thankfulness?

Dress for Success in Relationships

494936_88709934While my13-year-old may not always, hopefully most of us put on clean clothing regularly. Feeling clean and fresh often motivates in a positive direction for the day ahead. In fact, one of the main suggestions for recovery from depression involves showering and putting on clean clothes every day.

Wearing clothing appropriate for the situation is also important. I won’t exercise in a dress, and I don’t wear my exercise clothes to church. Also, consider the fact that students often perform better on tests when they dress up. Appropriateness in what we wear impacts how we feel about ourselves and shows the importance we place on an activity.

Another example involves getting new clothes, which often revives a stale season of life. Most women (along with their husbands) understand that a new piece of clothing can brighten a woman’s day.

While these changes of clothing are temporary, many seek long-term happiness in changing what they wear physically. In reality, though, our physical clothing has limited impact on our long-term reality.

New Nature Clothing

Our spiritual clothing works in similar ways to our physical clothing, but it holds far greater and more long-term impact. In fact, when our internal clothing reflects that of our new nature in Christ, we discover an eternal perspective that transforms our living, growing and connecting.

Consider how, based on Colossians 3, our new nature clothing impacts us not only individually but also in every relationship.

  • New nature clothing represents a growing knowledge of Christ. (v. 10)
  • The right spiritual clothing creates peace that rules the heart. (v. 15)
  • Style and social position don’t matter with new nature clothing. (v. 11)
  • Continued thankfulness renews & refreshes the “outfit.” (vv. 15-17)
  • Love completes the “look,” bringing unity to the whole “outfit.” (v. 14)

We don’t make our own clothing much anymore but instead have to purchase what we want to wear. Our new nature clothing was also purchased and not something we make on our own. Only through Christ do we have this “clothing” to wear. And not only did He purchase this clothing for us, it never wears out… it never needs replaced.

Renewed

Renewal & Relationships

So how does this continued renewal of our new natures by the spiritual clothing we put on impact our relationships? Our new nature clothing affects the atmosphere of the inner self which then creates the pervading mood that others see and that governs our relationships. In other words, how we dress our hearts determines how we live out love through our relationships.

Relationships provide the opportunity to express the love that our relationship with Christ generates. Only when we clothe ourselves in the new nature clothing of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, thankfulness and love that only come through knowing Jesus do we then have a demeanor that serves to positively cultivate New Nature Relationships.

DISCUSSION: How does your new nature clothing impact your relationships?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving_main5minutesforfaith125-2All this month at 5 Minutes For Faith, contributors shared reasons for being thankful. So for today’s post, I’d like you to take some time to visit that site and read through the variety of reasons different people are thankful. Chances are good, you’ll come away more thankful yourself!

Also, please take a minute to list some reasons you are thankful in the comments below.

Thankfulness just feels good, doesn’t it?!

“I am thankful for…”

Wednesday’s post, Cultivating Thankfulness, provided some suggestions for encouraging a thankful attitude within your family.  Starting November 1st, my family and I kept a thankfulness journal with each of us listing something we are thankful for every day up until Thanksgiving Day. And, as promised, below are some of my favorite entries.

I am thankful to be working for a company that puts God & family first. – Daddy

I am thankful for an awesome youth group and a good time at youth convention. – Jonathan

I am thankful for my parents who love me. – Richard

I am thankful for my two sons who love Jesus. – Mommy

I am thankful for parents who taught me the value of hard work. – Daddy

I am thankful for Godly parents. – Jonathan

I am thankful for parents that love me and punish me even if it hurts really bad. – Richard

I am thankful that my parents took me to church when I was growing up. – Mommy

I am thankful for an encouraging run group. – Daddy

I am thankful for a dad who makes good pancakes. – Jonathan

I am thankful for a dad who makes good food. – Richard

I am thankful for clothes to wear and food to eat. – Mommy

DISCUSSION: As you can see, thankfulness doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. Cultivating a thankful heart is about appreciating the small things as much as the big. What are you thankful for?

Sunday Reflections – Cultivating Thankfulness

Beginning November 1st, my family and I started keeping a Thanksgiving journal. We have written something we’re thankful for in this journal every day. On Friday, I’ll post some of my favorites. For today, I want to challenge you to consider doing some sort of thankfulness activity with your family.

They key to a meaningful thankfulness activity is getting past the usual “I’m thankful for my family” kind of general comment that most people say when under pressure on such occasions. While being thankful for one’s family is important, getting into the details of life with the deliberate intent to be thankful can truly change a person’s heart.

Here are some suggestions you can try to help facilitate a more in-depth atmosphere of thankfulness in your home:

  1. Have every person write down 10 or more “I am thankful for…” statements. The more, the better. This exhausts the usual “I’m thankful for my family” type of statements and forces a look into the details of life.
  2. Make a list of all the usual “I am thankful for…” statements ahead of time (hint: they are usually the first five that most people think of) and make these off limits when having everyone come up with their own thankfulness statement.
  3. Focus the thankfulness activity on the people in the room. Have each person write three “I am thankful for…” statements about each person participating.

A thankful heart doesn’t come naturally for most people, if truly for anyone. A thankful heart must be cultivated.

This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself and your family to be more thankful in the days, months and years ahead. Consider making one of the above or another thankfulness activity a part of your Thanksgiving family tradition. Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

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