Cogito Ergo Sum

“I think, therefore I am.” – René Descartes

Because I think, I exist. That’s the sentiment behind this saying. Unfortunately, thinking no longer has value for many people.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room.” – Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Catholic theologian

Researchers tested Pascal’s thinking by giving individuals a choice between 15 minutes alone with only their thoughts or giving themselves an electric shock.

67% of men and 25% of women chose the electric shock (Sciencemag.org)

What would you choose? Do you struggle being alone with your thoughts?

“Thinking is the hardest work anyone can do, which is probably why we have so few thinkers.” – Henry Ford, American industrialist

Pascal (1623-1662) and Ford (1863-1947) spoke these words in cultures very different from today’s culture. Yet, as research shows, thinking seems to still be a struggle for many.

Our culture seems to be filled with people who don’t want to think much and who seem happy having their thoughts decided for them, usually via electronic channels. People are also very conditioned to being distracted, and this pushes their thinking in often multidirectional ways.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

What does it mean, then, if someone doesn’t think for himself or can’t even be alone with his thoughts? What does that make him become? If someone would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with his own thoughts for just 15 minutes, what type of person is he becoming?

Food for thought.

Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.

Go ahead! Be stubborn!

Bad Stubborn

Most of the time, stubbornness is seen as bad. It seems self-serving, whether a front for pride or a display of arrogance.

Unwilling to change.
Can’t admit when wrong.
Refuse to see another way.

I’ve been stubborn to the point of hurting others. My stubbornness has also resulted in missed opportunity and delayed growth.

Maybe you can relate.

Good Stubborn

There are times when stubbornness is good. Though it’s still somewhat frustrating to others, it’s easier to understand and appreciate.

Refusal to give up.
Pushing through.
Making it to the end despite pain.

God tells Ezekiel to be stubborn in this way. More accurately, God makes Ezekiel stubborn.

“But see, I have made you hard and stubborn too – as tough as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as a rock. So don’t be afraid of them, or fear their sullen, angry looks, even though they are such rebels.” (Ezekiel 3:8-9, TLB)

In order for Ezekiel to overcome fear and say what God wanted him to say, Ezekiel needed to be stubborn. Before this stubbornness took effect, though, God had one requirement of Ezekiel.

“Then he added: “Son of dust, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first; listen to them carefully for yourself. Then, afterward, go to your people in exile, and whether or not they will listen, tell them: ‘This is what the Lord God says!’” (Ezekiel 3:10-111, TLB)

Godly Stubbornness

We can take some valuable lessons about stubbornness from this account.

  1. Be stubborn in fulfilling the purposes God sets before you.
  2. Fill yourself with God’s words to help keep you stubborn.
  3. Obey God’s words in your stubbornness.

Then, without fear, stubbornly pursue God’s will.

Mighty Waves

The Bible often uses nature to illustrate God’s power and glory. By no means do we fully grasp the extent of that power, but certain verses do help us have some sense of the vastness and strength of His power.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

For me, waves speaks profoundly about the vastness and awesomeness of God’s power.

“You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” (Psalm 89:9)

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8-11)

So, when I read that “Ocean Waves are Officially Getting Stronger,” and how this is associated with the strength of the wind and rising water temperatures, I actually find comfort even though this means the waves are also becoming more destructive.

The comfort comes because I am reminded of just how powerful God is. It brings me back to a place of awe and wonder over his might. And I once again find myself at a loss for words to describe Him.

“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’ (Luke 8:22-25)

Cultivating Perseverance

Recently, I’ve felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with persevering.

Maybe that’s why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.

Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.

  1. Distractions are weighing me down.
  2. My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
  3. Discipline brings strength.

Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.

Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.

Become Effective By Being Selective

In The Purpose Driven Life, Day 3, Rick Warren begins by asking this question:

“What drives your life?”

In the discussion, Warren talks about “quiet desperation” and “aimless distraction.” All of us can probably describe what each of those means and be able to give examples of what they look like within our own lives.

Each of us also knows how these really mean that we’ve lost focus on what drives our lives. A truly frustrating state of mind, to be sure.

While we could look at this topic from a variety of angles, let’s focus on only one. In Warren’s words…

“You become effective by being selective.”

Taking on too much. Worrying. Being too busy. People pleasing. Mediocrity. Following feelings. Seeking acceptance from the world. Approval seeking. Making comparisons.

That’s my list. It’s what overwhelms me if I’m not selective. If I fail to focus and instead follow fads and feelings, I’m not at all effective. Instead, I’m depressed and frustrated, all because I’m not being selective.

Being selective means choosing best over good enough. It means pursuing expertise instead of being a generalist. Most important, for Christians being selective means letting God decide who, what, when, where, why and how.

How does this happen?

God’s word to Joshua when he was likely feeling overwhelmed be being thrust into leadership and given an overwhelming task to accomplish gives us the instruction we need.

“Keep the law always on your lips. Meditate on it day and night, careful to do everything it says. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

For the Christian, then, being selective means:

  1. Knowing God’s Word fully.
  2. Studying God’s Word continually.
  3. Obeying God’s Word completely.
  4. Leaving the results up to God.

Being selective involves walking a God-directed path. We can only know the steps to take, though, if we know God’s directions. Only then will we be effective in truly eternal ways.

The Worst Lie You Can Tell

Years ago, my college Intrapersonal Communications teacher started a class session with this statement:

“You cannot lie to yourself.”

He explained that this is because we eventually believe what we continually tell ourselves. In other words, even though what we’re saying may be a lie, our minds eventually accept and act on it as truth. Essentially, then, we can reprogram our thinking with lies.

What’s more, research actually supports this assertion.

“Humans are masters of self-deception. We fool ourselves into believing things that are false, and we refuse to believe things that are true.”  (How Do I Know When I Am Lying to Myself?)

Self-deception also comes up often in literature.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses respect for himself and for others. And having no respect, he ceases to love.” (The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky)

“Self lies are the worst lies…” (Richard Bach)

Most significantly for Christians, the struggle with lying to ourselves is also confronted in the Bible.

“Keep my from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your law.” (Psalm 119:29)

Self-deception is the worst type of lie because it reprograms how we think, and the way we think determines the reality of our lives. For this reason, we need to regularly let our minds be renewed.

“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)

Our culture seems to condone self-deception. The follow-your-feelings, seek-your-own-truth pattern of the world seeks to conform our thinking. It’s telling us that lying is acceptable if it fits with your personal truth.

Refuse to conform to this worldly pattern. Regularly assess your thinking by getting in God’s word and letting it transform you. Know God’s will, so you can regularly cast down any thinking that conflicts with it.

“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32-32)

More Course Corrections

As discussed in Course Corrections, a pilot makes course corrections throughout a flight. If he doesn’t, the aircraft will gradually get off course and eventually become drastically so to the point of significant consequences.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit helps us make course corrections to keep us from getting drastically off course in our lives. As we tune in to those promptings, we’re able to make course corrections sooner rather than later. So, we make them when we’re only slightly off track rather than well on our way to being lost.

The Holy Spirit’s Role

Jesus, when explaining why he had to leave his disciples, told them about the Holy Spirit:

“When he comes, he will prove the world to be wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:18)

In other words, he’ll reveal sin (indicate what needs to go) and guide into right living (indicate what needs to be added). One of the Holy Spirit’s main purposes in our lives, then, is to reveal the course corrections we need to make.

Our Role

Our role is to pay attention, make adjustments and let the Holy Spirit work in us. The sooner we do this, the smaller the needed adjustment and the more likely we are to avert tragedy. Life is already full of struggle. Why make it worse by failing to make the course corrections we know are needed?

Knowing this, we can:

  • Be thankful for the Holy Spirit’s course corrections.
  • Pray for increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
  • Seek connections with others who desire to continuously course correct.
  • Obediently and immediately make course corrections.

“If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25)

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.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.