Surrounded

The song “Fight My Battles” by Michael W. Smith annoyed me the first several times I heard it. I mean, it’s the same wording over and over and over again.

“This is how I fight my battles…”

“It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you…”

Then there’s a Groot-like change up to give us the song’s only other line.

“This is how we fight our battles…”

Then one day I rediscovered some scripture that helped me connect with the song in a new way.

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5, NIV)

“Just as Jerusalem is protected by mountains on every side, the Lord protects his people by holding them in his arms now and forever.” (Psalm 125:2, NIV)

“The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 121:8, NASB)

The idea of being surrounded by an enemy (trouble, stress, depression, whatever…) is overwhelming. But then I realize that between me and that whatever is God. The Matthew Henry Commentary describes the idea this way.

“Wherever we are, we are under the eye and hand of God.”

These verses brought the song, “How I Fight My Battles,” alive for me. Now, it exists as a soul chant when life gets rough, a repetitious remembrance of these verses and how God promises to exist in my life.

I invite you to grab onto the words too and let them breathe life into your weary soul as you realize that you are surrounded by a Holy God, and He’s fighting for you.

Hope in Aging

Revisiting Aging

Maybe it’s because middle age is bearing down. Maybe it’s because my youngest is now a senior in high school. Perhaps the struggles of my aging parents are the reason. Or, maybe it’s simply the increase in body aches and inflexible muscles. Could also be my going back to school and wondering if it’s crazy to do so at my age. Probably, it’s all of these combined.

Whatever the reason on any given day, aging and the fleetingness of time has become more of a focus for me. I can easily get overwhelmed and even depressed about it. To prevent that, and further, to embrace what lies before me in the second half of my life, I turn to what the Bible says about aging and time and purpose.

It’s a topic I revisit more frequently with every passing year. Fortunately, the Bible offers much in the way of wisdom about aging. In my revisiting, then, I find tremendous peace.

Startling Aging Facts

Statistics tell me that a lot of people struggle with aging:

  • The highest suicide rate is among adults ages 45-54.
  • The second highest is adults over 85.
  • Younger groups have consistently lower rates.

Even worse, they show that many give up on that struggle. They simply lose hope.

The Bible and Aging

Fortunately, the Bible offers a lot of hope for those at any stage in this struggle.

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

These verses remind me that, as a Christian, there is honor and blessing in growing old. They tell me that while my body may be weakening, I am growing in wisdom and my spirit is being renewed every day.

God, through his word, focuses me on hope. He focuses me on Him.

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him.’” (Psalm 92:12-15)

Looking Ahead

There are circumstances beyond our control that contribute to decline as we age. Physical decline and possibly even mental decline will happen. Spiritual decline doesn’t have to happen though.

Doing what I can to age gracefully in the temporary dwelling of my human body, I grasp what God’s word says about how he wants me to flourish in old age. I hold on to the fact that my spirit will live on into eternity and never grow old.

Capturing Thoughts

Continual Drawing

There’s sometimes little rhyme or reason to how my mind works. I just don’t get how I dwell on certain things but let others go easily. Frustrating, especially when nothing I do can get me off a specific thought track at times.

Some days more than others, my thoughts seem to control me. They distract me from what matters most and focus me on what matters little.

Years ago, this distraction sometimes lasted months. It often led into the pit of depression. Now when it happens, I sooner rather than later end up wandering in Scripture until the focus on what matters most returns. That speaks not to any effort on my part but instead to the continual drawing of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Parsing it Out

Especially when I struggle with errant thoughts, I spend some time parsing out this verse:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

When I do this activity, I usually start by going to Bible Hub where I can get a verse listed in several translations one after another. Reading through these helps me better grasp the focus of a verse.

Drew Reichard in his post, “What Does the Bible Say about Refugees and Foreignerson Biblegateway.com explains why this is important and helpful.

“Each translation is an attempt to capture both the idea and the accurate wording as they were originally written; but there are differences, so reading versions side-by-side can add to your understanding of the text.”

Here’s what the process basically looks like in my journal for 2 Corinthians 10:5.

  • Demolish arguments and every pretension = destroy every proud obstacle = destroy arguments and every lofty opinion = tear down arguments and every presumption = overthrowing arguments and every high thing = casting down imaginations and every high thing = every bit of pride.
  • That sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = raised against the knowledge of God = that sets itself up against the knowledge of God = that keeps people from knowing God = lifting itself up against the knowledge of God = that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.
  • We take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ = We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ = take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Doing this helps focus my thoughts. It helps God’s truth saturate my thinking and establishes it once again in what matters most.

Yes, I know this verse refers to spiritual warfare and not relying on human ingenuity or manmade plans to bring victory. I realize it’s getting at what keeps those who don’t yet know Christ from knowing him, things like secular humanism, cults, false religions, etc.

But a broad truth within it, the idea of making every thought obedient to Christ helps bring my errant thoughts back into submission to God’s truth. In other words, my thinking focuses back where God wants it.

Going Deeper

When studying a single verse, respect the importance of understanding the context by reading the verses surrounding it too. This is one way to go deeper into the meaning and application of a verse.

I also like to go deeper into the truth of a verse by reading the verses that connect with it in some way.

This is what going deeper by looking at other scripture looks like for 2 Corinthians 10:5:

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Taking connecting verses like these, I write them out in my journal then jot down some personal application points. I also note connections among the various verses I’ve written down.

By no means does this type of study make up my entire Bible study approach. Generally, this is just a great refocusing activity for me when I’m struggling.

Thinking About Time Travel

Time Travel Theories

“I’ve been thinking about time travel.”

My youngest son told me this one day after a not-so-exciting day at work. He also said we should watch all the movies we own that have time travel in them to see the different ways it’s handled.

Of course, I’m all in.

Scientific American says time travel is not ruled out by our current laws of nature.

“According to current physical theory, is it possible for a human being to travel through time?

Perhaps surprisingly, this turns out to be a subtle question. It is not obviously ruled out by our current laws of nature. Recent investigations into this question have provided some evidence that the answer is no, but it has not yet been proven impossible.”

Since it’s not proven impossible, why not understand what may be possible, right? So, I sent my son a graphic outlining the three main theories of time travel.

  1. Fixed timeline as seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban.
  2. Dynamic timeline as seen in Back to the Future.
  3. Multiverse as seen in Star Trek (2009).

I apologize if you have not seen these movies, and my examples do nothing to help you understand these theories. Fortunately, not relevant for my main point. What is relevant is the Biblical discussion that took place as a result of our discussion.

Time Travel in the Bible

There are no Biblical accounts of actual time travel as these theories describe. However, the Bible does accounts of time being manipulated by God.

These stories provide a terrific basis for discussing what God can do. They illustrate well the wide expanse of his power. After all, He can manipulate time.

Take some time to read through these accounts. Then find someone who has watched some time travel movies, and have a fun discussion about what’s possible with God.

“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.

Live Long & Prosper

Most people, even if they’ve never watched Star Trek, associate “Live long and prosper” with this iconic show/movie. More specifically, they associate it with one of the most well-known characters in science fiction, Spock.

Usually accompanying a Vulcan hand gesture, the phrase actually finds its origins in the Bible.

“Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

The Bible in Star Trek

Leonard Nemoy, the original Spock, had a childhood memory of visiting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston, MA. “Live long and prosper” was given as part of a blessing along with a hand gesture similar to the now-famous Vulcan one associated with the phrase.

The gesture is actually the shape of the first letter of several Jewish words.

  • Shaddai — a name for God
  • Shalom — hello, goodbye and peace
  • Shekhinah — prayer that inspired the salute

Nemoy, mesmerized by the sound and look of the prayer, never forgot it. When a Star Trek script had Spock go home to Vulcan, Nemoy wanted to find a touching way to help further develop Vulcan sociology. He wanted a special greeting for the Vulcans and suggested the prayer gesture from his childhood. The gesture and the phrase took off from there.

“People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.” (Leonard Nemoy)

A General Truth

After discovering this connection between Star Trek and the Bible, I realized that the general truth it expresses is actually a thread throughout Scripture. Since, Repetition Means Pay Attention when it comes to Bible study, let’s look at a couple more verses expressing the same sentiment.

“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:23-27)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:3)

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)

Go Deeper

The thread of this idea of long life and prosperity does not end with the Scriptures we’ve looked at in this post. Far from it, actually. To help you delve deeper, check out the following links:

Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.

Don’t Forget to Remember!

Remembering our history as a culture, as individuals and related to our faith is important. To Remember?!, especially as Christians, exists not simply as an act of recollection but also as a habit that propels us into action.

Forget 1

In the Old Testament, the directive to “remember” sometimes comes phrased as “do not forget.” The concept runs throughout the New Testament as well, and both direct our attention and priority within our remembering.

Pulling out just a few examples helps grasp the importance God places on not just remembering but on allowing that recollection to guide our activity. It also helps take our understanding of “remembering” to a deeper level.

Old Testament

Deuteronomy is often called a “book of remembrance” by Bible scholars. The phrases “remember” and “do not forget” come frequently enough to spot during even a casual reading.

Psalms present the words “remember” or “do not forget” about 70 times, depending on the version.  Psalm 78 is a good example.

New Testament
Forget 2

The Gospels hold many instances where the disciples remember what Jesus said & did. This remembrance then drove their activity (John 2:22 and John 12:16). In addition, Jesus himself even directed them toward remembrance (John 16:4).

Studying this thread of “remembering” in Scripture gives tremendous instruction as to why, what and how that activity should take place in our own lives. It also helps discover significant purpose in our remembering, transforming it into Purposeful Remembering.

Invisible?

 

Do you ever feel invisible?

I’m not talking literally, like superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. I’m talking the type of invisible you feel when others fail to notice you in some way.

This happens when you’re driving, and someone pulls in front of you as if you aren’t even on the road in your vehicle. It happens when you’re at the grocery store and people walk in front of you as you’re walking down the aisle, and you have to stop abruptly to prevent yourself from running into them.

Worst of all, though, is when someone you are talking with suddenly starts having a conversation with someone else. Sometimes, it’s when two or more people you were talking to suddenly only talk to each other and make it quite obvious that you are not a part of that conversation.

Another type of invisibility involves your contributions. This happens when you consistently and faithfully go about your commitments, and no one really says anything. Until you make a mistake. Then they say something.

Ever had any of these happen?

Feeling invisible in these ways frustrates me and is one of the quickest routes to a bad mood that I find difficult to shake. I mean, I’m sure all of these people overlooked me on purpose.

Do you ever wish you were invisible?

Now I AM talking about the superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. (As an aside, scientists have discovered how to actually make something invisible See the video here.)

Where would you go? What would you do?

Maybe you would listen in on conversations to find out what people really think of you. Think about it. You could get someone all riled up, leave the room to put on whatever it is that makes you invisible, and then follow that person to find out if you become the topic of a conversation.

Or maybe you would start messing with people. You could blow in someone’s ear, throw sunflower seeds at someone or even follow them around until they get the feeling that they are being watched.

The Invisible God

Really, much of what significantly impacts our lives is invisible. Sound waves. Heat waves. Wind. Oxygen. You see the impact, sure, but not the element itself. Actually, we could not continue to function or even exist without the invisible.

Interesting that the idea of invisibility, whether in fiction or real life and depending on its various forms and conditions, can both benefit as well as negatively impact our lives.

Take this beyond the scientific and into the spiritual, and consider that God – the creator of the universe… of sound, heat, wind & oxygen – is also invisible (1 Timothy 1:17 & Colossians 1:15). We also know our faith is based on what is yet unseen.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)”

Our faith and our hope are all based on the invisible. Even our true struggles take place in the unseen.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

In then follows that our focus should be more on the invisible.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

We can choose to overlook the invisible God and the unseen forces that battle around us, and we can choose to not focus on that intangible unseen force of love. Or, we can choose to take in the reality of what the invisible means for our lives and let it become a part of our reality.

How do we do this?

  1. Realize that troubles are opportunities that help us look beyond this life and to place our hope in the eternal God.
  2. Understand that our ultimate hope is that this life is not all there is and that there is life beyond what we can see.
  3. Believe that we will live with God in eternity to help us live above the pain of the present.
  4. Be directed by God’s Holy Spirit within us and protected by His armor around us. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

Would you be invisible if you could?

My boys and I periodically talk about what kind of mythical beings we would be and what powers or abilities we would have if we could. Invisibility is not one of my choices. (In case you’re curious, I would be a Jedi Elf. Think Obi Wan morphed with Legolas.) I have felt invisible before and hated it. Even more than my personal feelings, I just feel that the invisible really exists for that which is much higher than myself.

Ultimately for now, the unseen exists as a matter of faith. Without doubt — being completely sure — faith would have no place in my life. For that reason, I choose to believe in an invisible God. I choose to focus on the unseen force of love and to bank my soul on the reality of an eternity in Heaven. In that way, really, the invisible directs me and exists as more of a reality than anything tangible I can verify with my five senses.

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Reset Your Focus

What’s Your Focus?

Lost and a wrong focus happens to everyone from time to time. Busyness. Illness. Distraction. Details differ, but everyone struggles with keeping focus on what God desires for their life.

“If you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

Think of this quote in terms of focus.

  • What are you focused on?
  • What’s the ultimate goal of your life?
  • Where are you headed?
  • Is this really the focus you want?
  • Is it really the focus God wants for you?

Thinking about focus in terms of a whole life direction and then within each area (personal, professional, physical, spiritual, mental) of life is crucial for determining attitudes actions and words on a daily basis.

Reset Your Focus

Changing the direction in which you’re going (i.e. changing your focus) requires deliberate effort. If you don’t care where you’re going or what you’re focusing on, then do nothing. Something will grab your attention without any effort. But if you care, keep reading.

Focus determines reality. Change focus, change reality.

Resetting your focus in any area of life involves evaluating and then carefully choosing how you focus in three ways.

1. Make sure your actions and focus align.

The direction you’re going is determined by the decisions you make. Identify any misalignment (lost focus) by looking at your daily decisions. Do your actions reflect the focus you want? If not, make decisions that change and redirect those actions.

2. Make sure your words reflect your focus.

Words direct what people think about you. Even more significant, words direct how you think about yourself. If you’re self-deprecating, you won’t think highly of yourself and other people won’t either. How you talk about yourself will be reflected in your actions and decisions. Change the words you use by changing what you allow to influence your thinking (people, what you read, how much time you spend on your phone, etc.).

3. Make sure you’re solution focused not problem focused.

Do you constantly talk and act as if you’re a victim of circumstances? Think of it this way… who isn’t a victim of circumstance? A problem-focused person will focus on what happened to them and probably how unfair it was. A solution-focused person will focus on what they can do and say about their circumstances. They’ll look at what they need to do to make progress. They realize that circumstances may affect them in unavoidable ways, but they don’t have to define them.

Resetting your focus requires focusing on solutions and how they can bring you closer to your goals and keep you focused on what God has set before you to be and accomplish. It means taking action after prayerfully searching for answers.

Every day is full of opportunity. Choose your focus each and every day by using that opportunity to become and do what God has set in your heart.

“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9, AMP)

Want to delve deeper into this important concept of focus? Check out these other posts & resources on the topic!