Archive - Devotional RSS Feed

My Prayer for Sandy Hook, Newtown, and My Hometown of Chardon

It’s taken some doing, but I’ve begun to share my thoughts on the massacre at Sandy Hook given my rather unique position as a former school principal and a resident of Chardon, site of a small-town school shooting earlier this year.

Click here to read my story and my prayer for them at Patheos. May it move you to pray, as well.

Enter your email address to get my e-book Finding the Curve: The Secret to Explosive Personal Growth for free:
Delivered by FeedBurner

Why Some People Almost Always Get Prayer Requests Answered

I know the feeling. You pray to God for something — likely a very good thing — and it just doesn’t seem to get answered. Meanwhile, it seems that some people almost always get their prayer requests answered. What’s up with that?

photo: asenat29

Maybe it’s because you’re not investing the time and energy into your prayer to see How to Get the Greatest Return on Your Investment.

Maybe it’s something more.

Lately, I’ve been able to tell some really cool stories of how God has answered our specific prayer requests as we continue this walk of faith into ministry. You know, the kind where we put our request out there and God comes through — just at the eleventh hour — with a phone call or other unexpected answer.  The kind of requests that when we pray we’re wondering if we really should be so demanding of our heavenly Father. It almost feels as if our prayer is, well, rude.

Getting Rude with God

But maybe it needs to be. Not rude, necessarily, but at least stubborn, persistent, and — yes — demanding of the promises of God.

The Bible is full of such advice for Christians to be, as the classic saints have called it, importune in our requests to see them answered. Consider this parable from Jesus Himself:

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?

The widow received her answer because she was rude, by our standards. She persisted in her righteous request until her prayer got answered. And that’s what Jesus told us we should do and not “lose heart.” Like Jacob, who wrestled with God, refusing to let go until he got the blessing, we must grapple with His divine promises. E.M. Bounds says our approach should be the same as Jacob’s:

Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God. It is the contest, thrill, and victory of faith; a victory not secured from an enemy, but from Him who tries our faith that he may enlarge it; that tests our strength to make it stronger. [emphasis mine]

Three Tips to Get Your Prayer Requests Answered

Allow me to share three simple keys that I have discovered — not that I have mastered these. I offer them as a fellow student in God’s school of prayer. But I think they have a lot to do with why some people almost always get their prayer requests answered:

  1. You have to ask. Duh. “You have not because you ask not.” “Ask and it will be given.” We’ve heard it all before, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually taking the time to ask for specific answers to specific requests. Only you know if you do. Make time to ask. If not we end up like the husband who can’t figure out why his wife hasn’t prepared dinner at 6 PM like he forgot to ask her to do. Not that I’ve done that, of course. I’m just using a bizarre, imaginary example.
  2. You have to believe that God will answer. “Let him ask in faith, with no doubting… and it will be given him.” “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” Believing — deep within the core of your being — is what faith is all about. And it’s not just belief that He can, but that He will. [See my post Is What You're Attempting for God Too Big to Fail? ] If you want a soul check on this point, ask if you are acting as if God is going to answer or are you focusing on putting contingency plans in place for when he doesn’t answer your prayer requests?
  3. You have to persist in your asking. We are to pray always and not lose heart. Why do some seem to always get their prayer requests answered? They are always praying. Again. And again. It’s not that they drop their prayer package on the doorstep, ring the bell, and run for the woods. They camp out on the heavenly porch, chain themselves to the knob, and beat endlessly upon the door — until God answers their prayer requests.

Whether we like it or not asking is the rule of the Kingdom. “Ask, and you shall receive.” It is a rule that never will be altered in anybody’s case. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the elder brother of the family, but God has not relaxed the rule for Him…. If the royal and divine Son of God cannot be exempted from the rule of asking that He may have, you and I cannot expect the rule to be relaxed in our favor. ~ C.H. Spurgeon

Where does that leave you? Rudely pounding on God’s door or running away embarrassed into the woods? Or is that you I see relaxing under the tree in heaven’s front yard?

What tips on persistent prayer have I missed? What stories do you have of answers to your own ”importune” prayer? Leave a comment to help us all live with abundant faith.

Enter your email address to get my e-book Finding the Curve: The Secret to Explosive Personal Growth for free: Delivered by FeedBurner

When His Ways Are Not Our Ways

My last post made a bold statement: “If God doesn’t come through, we’re screwed.” I meant it. In fact, I think we should all always be attempting something that is too big for God to let fail.

But maybe it needs a slight correction.

But Jen, one of the wonderful readers in this faith-walker community, shared these thoughts with a pithy comment:

“But the reality of our situation is this: If God doesn’t come through, we’re screwed.”

Is this really true?  Will you truly be stuck with no place to go and no power to move in any direction?

So much of how we experience life is determined by our thinking about the situations we find ourselves in.  I’ve been extremely poor and happy at the same time.  I’ve been blessed by learning that poverty and failed plans are not the end of the physical or spiritual World.

It might be more true to state: “If God comes through, we’re screwed.”  You will miss the opportunity to experience life in its bare bones form.  You will not need to learn to accept the help you truly need from others in your community.  Your children will not need to truly internalize that their lives are not worthless just because they have no monetary worth – even when they are looked down on by many of those who “have it made” and can wear new clothing and own cell phones.  You won’t experience the true joy of a Thanksgiving feast after months of eating woody green beans for dinner several times a week.  You won’t know deep in your bones that failure is not the end, but can often be a transformational beginning. You won’t know what your safety net feels like until you’ve bounced on it.

Thanks to Jen for her courage to speak up.  I needed the reminder that God’s version of  ”coming through” might look different from my own version of it. If God does provide as I want Him too, will I miss out on a greater blessing? I can pray vigorously and expect confidently yet still keep the understanding that He may have a better plan beyond what I can imagine.

Hear, O my people, and I will warn you — if you would but listen to me…. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me…. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.   (Ps. 81:8-12)

What do you think of her comment? I think she may be on to something. Share your thoughts with a click here.

What If God Wants Me to Fail?

It’s one of those thoughts we all have even though we’re pretty sure we shouldn’t. When we step out of the boat, it’s not that we believe God can’t answer our prayers. But what if, for reasons known only to Him, he chooses not to. What if God wants me to fail?

Job boldly put it out there: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)  I really don’t want to die. I don’t want to fail. Yet the Bible is full of faithful believers called to suffer: Job, Paul, Peter, Stephen — and countless millions of martyrs throughout history.

Now that I’m out of the boat, what if He chooses to let me drown for His greater glory? Will I be OK with that?

Would you?

There Is No Faith without the Risk of Failure

As most readers know, we’ve recently stepped out of the boat and into the unknown as we seek to build a life of ministry helping people grow by connecting real life with real faith.

It’s scary stuff. I start out pretty boldly each morning. But usually by lunch time, I’m feeling that anxious war within. And the one question that continues to nag at our souls as we pray for God to be glorified is this: I know He can but that doesn’t mean He will. After all, what makes me any better than all those other more faithful ones who perished in His service.

Now before some of you accuse me of being morose or depressed, we should also acknowledge the bountiful promises of God:

  • My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.   (Phil. 4:19)
  • Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.   (Matthew 6:31-33)
  • Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Matthew 11:24)

Both messages come from Scripture. God is good. Always. And sometimes he chooses to let us fail. So we’re left to reconcile these two as best we can. We pray boldly while we prepare our hearts for His sovereign answers.

A Few Tips to Keep Our Focus

Here are a few steps I’ve found while on this faith journey. Maybe they can be of help to you:

  • Seek God’s Glory Alone. It’s only when we truly desire His best that we can truly say, “He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  When we reach that place of humility before Him, one is truly just as acceptable as the other. I’m not saying I have arrived, just that we should all be trying to get there.
  • Ask in Faith without Doubting. Why? We’re told to do it. ”Let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” (James 1:6)  The asking is our task. The answering is God’s. All too often we assume his role in the process then wonder why we feel overwhelmed. We forget too quickly that it is God’s glory on the line — not ours — when His people are in need.
  • Pray Big Prayers. My friend P. Andrew Sandlin keeps reminding me of this need, though I confess I struggle to understand all it means. I know it means to go boldly before the throne of grace and “claim the crown, through Christ, my own.” But it also means my prayers must be about the Big Kingdom picture and not just about my petty needs.
  • Train Yourself to Surrender. Paul warns us that we’ll get a good workout becoming godly. He wasn’t kidding. Often it’s laying down our own pride that takes the most diligent effort. Start by making it a morning habit to crucify yourself, take up your cross, and follow.
  • Ever Be Willing to Answer “Yes.” What if He does chooses to let you fail, will you still trust Him? That is the question He wants answered. Do you trust Him enough to lay your future on the altar and lift the knife in obedience to Him? What if he doesn’t provide a substitute? When the temptation comes to draw back in fear — for that is what it is — will you hold to who He is or flee to who you think you are?

I wonder sometimes if Abraham told Sara about God’s call to sacrifice Isaac — the future of their family. If he did, how did she handle it? I tend to think he kept it to himself. I understand why. It’s hard to let God strip us of who we think we are. But it’s only through the testing that we become as gold. The fires of faith make us jewels fit for the King. There is no other way to be found worthy of the high calling that is in Christ Jesus.

Maybe you’re trying to do too much. Stand down. And watch God step up — or not. It’s His glory. It’s His world. It’s His call.

And we must be OK with that.

Lest that stark reality tempt you to lose heart:

The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chron. 16:9 NKJV)

God is constantly on the prowl for the chance to show His power on behalf of those who are willing to answer simply: “Yes.”

No matter what.

Do you ever struggle with the fear of following Christ into the unknown? What thoughts do you have about this tension that comes from surrendering yourself completely to the outcome of God’s choosing? Share your story or comment here to help us all grow.

photo by: The 5th Ape

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: Sharpen the Saw

My series concludes on whether or not Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are Biblical. I’ve always appreciated his wisdom in my life and noted its impact in this tribute to a great man here. I’ve also appreciated two other books in my family that applied these habits: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. I highly recommend both.

But today we turn our attention to the seventh habit. It’s all about staying in shape so we can keep the the other six.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Covey often told a story to illustrate the wisdom of this habit:

Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to fell a tree. You’re sawing through this huge, thick tree trunk. Back and forth, back and forth you pull the heavy saw. You’ve been laboring at it all day long. You’ve hardly stopped for a minute. You’ve been working and sweating, and now you’re about halfway through. But you’re feeling so tired that you don’t see how you’re going to last another five minutes. You pause for a minute to catch your breath.

You look up and see another person a few yards away who has also been sawing a tree. You can’t believe your eyes! This person has sawed almost completely through his tree trunk! He started about the same time you did and his tree is about the same size as yours, but he stopped to rest every hour or so while you kept working away. Now he’s almost through, and you’re only halfway there.

“What’s going on?” you ask incredulously. “How in the world have you gotten so much more done than I have? You didn’t even stay with it all the time. You stopped to rest every hour! How come?”

The man turns and smiles. “Yes,” he replies. “You saw me stop every hour to rest, but what you didn’t see was that every time I rested, I also sharpened the saw!”

Everyone who hears that simple story can see the wisdom of the plan. Of course, it makes more sense to be sure our tools are sharp. Of course, more effort doesn’t necessarily mean greater success. Of course, we won’t be as productive if we don’t take time to intentionally sharpen ourselves for God’s use. But we still often live as if we will.

Is It Biblical to Sharpen the Saw?

Covey noted that the law of entropy governs the universe. Consequently, everything left to itself runs down. The Bible certainly supports that claim. A a result of the Fall, everything was plunged into death. Even creation itself feels the impact of our rebellious ways.  Solomon tells this story to make the point:

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. (Prov. 24:30-31 ESV)

Without patient care and diligent labor, the lazy man’s house soon looks like a service project waiting to happen. Solomon later added, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” (Prov. 27:23 ESV) Implicit in this command is the understanding that if you don’t give them careful maintenance, your flocks (resources) will scatter — or worse.

Using the four areas of life that Stephen Covey used, we quickly see much obvious alignment with this habit and Scripture:

  • Physical. Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods to help keep you near your physical peak could only position you for greater service for Christ. The Bible says bodily exercise profits little compared to spiritual things — but it does profit. Let’s face it, when we’re not in shape physically we’re more prone to sleep through ministry opportunities than to seize them for Kingdom work.
  • Social. Building deep friendships, cultivating family relationships, and serving others all fit the description Covey gives for thus practice. As we’ve touched on in previous posts, we more fully reflect the image of God when we engage in relationship. And serving others? I’d have to quote half the Bible.
  • Mental. “In the beginning was the Word [Logic]” John opens his account of the life of Christ with this statement that the logos, or ultimate thought, is God. As an intellectually oriented fellow, I enjoy thinking about that one — no surprise there. We cultivate this area by reading, thinking, reflecting, planning — all topics we’ve touched on before in this series for Scriptural support.
  • Spiritual. Prayer, Scripture reading, meditating on the thoughts of others — Ok. That’s the easiest one yet. In my life, that take the form of daily time doing all of those each morning, long before anyone else is stirring. I’ve made it a habit — one that I must continually guard to keep it from slipping away.

The Question for You

The questions is are you being intentional about scheduling these vital renewal practices into your day, week, and month? Or are you allowing the tyranny of the urgent (Quadrant 1 activities) to rule your life?

Habit 1: Be Proactive. Remember, you’re in charge of you.

What’s it going to be?

In which of these areas have you had the most success? What regular habits have you developed to keep yourself sharp? Leave a comment with a click here to share what you’ve learned.

Feeling Frustrated? Maybe
You Should Quit Trying

Imagine devoting your life to trying to do something that could never be accomplished. Suppose your mission in life were to stop the sun from coming up each day. We can safely predict how that would work out for you. Every day. Leave you feeling pretty frustrated, I suspect. What if instead of becoming frustrated with your lack of progress at the impossible, you simply quit trying?

One reason you may be feeling frustrated is that you’re trying to do what can’t be done — at least not by you.

Photo via http://www.upgradereality.com/progress-and-the-future-of-our-world/

Maybe you feel like King Saul. That’s right, the bitter, dissilusioned, psychotic king of Israel back in the day who was — to put it mildly — a bit frustrated. Most readers will know the story well. After his own sinful behavior, Saul lost the promise of the throne when God removed it from his heirs and gave it to David, the whipper-snapper giant-killer. Saul was none too pleased. He devoted his entire existence to trying to kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son who got quite good at dodging spears himself, reveals something quite telling about Saul:

And he [Johnathan] said to him [David], “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” (1 Sam. 23:17 emphasis mine)

So Saul knew David would be the next king. It was a done deal in Saul’s mind. He confirms as much later. (1 Sam. 24:20) Nevertheless, Saul still focused every fiber of his being to trying to stop it from happening.  He knew it was inevitable, but he devoted his life to stopping it. No wonder he became so frustrated. Apparently, envy knows no sanity.

Lest you think it’s only the unstable and paranoid-delusional that struggle with being frustrated trying to do what can’t be done, consider Solomon. Yep, that one — wisest guy on earth and all that. Turns out wise and smart are not synonyms after all. After Solomon married a thousand women and pursued their false gods, God promised to take most of the kingdom from him, as well, and give it to Jeroboam. Solomon didn’t take that news well either. Although he knew it was beyond his capacity to change the decree of God — being wise and all — he also devoted his life to seeing Jereboam killed. Oh, the frustrating irony considering Solomon’s father was David.

Desperate people do stupid things.

Think of Peter flailing away in the garden as Jesus is betrayed. Or Jonah hopping on a ship. Or any of a hundred sordid tales from the today’s headlines of spouses or parents who snapped and killed those closest to them.

But we are all desperate at times. We all get frustrated when we try to do what can’t be done. So we all do stupid things.

Sure, we might not hurl spears at our children, but we fire verbal missles that wound more deeply. We might not consult with witches to summon the spirit of a dead prophet as Saul later did, but we seek counsel from humanistic sources to deal with our frustration. We might not try to kill those that trigger the frustration — not physically anyways — but we harbor bitterness that oozes out of us whenever opportunity knocks. Maybe lately it’s been knocking often.

Why do we do these things? Could it be we’re feeling frustrated trying to do what can’t be done? There’s an endless supply of impossible things we might be attempting. Here are a few common ones that can frustrate us when we think it’s within our power to do them:

  • Changing our spous’s heart
  • Making our kids love God — or us
  • Pleasing eveyone.
  • Denying the aging process.
  • Getting someone to forgive you. Or like you.

The list can be endless, but I suspect we all have a few we’re chasing. And we’re frustrated because of it.

Saul did manage to quit trying for a little while. It only happened when David confronted him. Maybe God’s using this post as that message for you. I don’t know. He’s sure using it that way with me.

Are you trying to do what you can’t be done? What seems to cause the most frustration in your own life? Leave a comment with a click here.

So What Do I Do Now?

Ever reach a place in life when you didn’t know what to do next? Maybe you had a few options, as if “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” You may find yourself at those times asking, “So what do I do now?” I don’t know about you, but I wish I had one of those Magic 8-balls then to help me decide.

photo: greeblie

David reached one of those places that had a fork in the road — but he did have the 8-ball to help him decide. Well, not the actual 8-ball, of course. Don’t be silly. They didn’t have batteries then. And those things are made in China, not Israel.

But he did have seemingly magical rocks that God had given to help discern His will.

We find the story in 1 Samuel 23. David is running for his life from the envious, bitter, and psychotic King Saul. Who hasn’t had one of those days, right? Along the way, however, David pauses to do a good deed. He frees the inhabitants of Keilah from the perennial Israelite archenemy, the Philistines. While reveling in the victory, David gets some bad news. King Saul has heard of his success and is on the way to kill him.

Nice.

David has a decision to make: 1) Run away. Again. or 2) Trust the grateful citizens of Keilah to defend him.

He asks God, “So what do I do now?”

David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest,  “Bring the ephod here.” Then said David, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” (1 Sam. 23:9-12)

God “spoke” to David most likely through the use of two stones called the Urim and Thummim that were kept in the priestly attire of the ephod. Most theologians speculate that the stones were used much like dice or the casting of lots. As Proverbs tells us, even such simple things as the roll of dice are firmly in God’s control:

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov. 16:33)

David asks. God answers. Simple enough.

So if God could answer right away with a simple roll of the rocks, why does He often make us wait for the answer to that vexing question: “So what do I do now?”

Here’s a thought:

When God says, “Wait,” He isn’t trying to make us miserable. He doesn’t delay because he is temporarily out of supplies and needs to replenish His storehouse. The wait isn’t for His benefit; it’s for ours…. Big picture people understand that God uses waiting to prepare His people for the right answers to their prayers.  ~ Doug Carter, Big Picture People (emphasis mine)

What if the reason God doesn’t quickly answer has more to do with us than with him? Could it be that we are not ready for His answer? Could he be testing us to ensure we do indeed emerge as gold on the other side of the refining fire?

The words of a song sung by Christian recording artist Steve Green seem a good fit here:

 I don’t need to have the plan in hand, I don’t need to have the end in sight. All I need to do is follow You wherever You lead and do what you ask me to.

Do you also find it difficult to wait for God to show you the way? What have you learned through that process? Share a comment to help us all grow. 

Who Else Wants to Feel Free?

I can’t be the only one. At least I hope not. I live in a country that has long been a defender of freedom. I serve a Savior who died and rose to give me freedom. And yet all too often, I don’t feel all that free.

Photo via http://sevensentences.com/2011/03/13/the-unholy-sabbath

It’s not the usual chains one might imagine. For some, their family feels like an unwelcome weight. Not for me. For others it’s pressure from peers or friends. I suppose there’s some of that in all of us. But the tyrant I seem to fear most is — me.

As the words of poem by James Russel Lowell that I memorized in childhood remind me:

Our fathers fough for Liberty,

They struggled long and well,

 History of their deeds can tell-

But did they leave us free?
Are we free from vanity,

Free from pride, and free from self,

Free from love of power and pelf,

From everything that’s beggarly?
Are we free from stubborn will,

From low hate and malice small,

From opinion’s tyrant thrall?

Are none of us our own slaves still?

 

Most of the frustrations in my life come from the expectations I place on myself. I had a plan for the day. I got off plan. Therefore, I must be mentally scourged for failing. Dishing out that penalty takes more time, of course, which leads to even greater angst.

I had a list of things to accomplish in the day. The list was impossible in the space of anyone’s twenty-four hours. Still, impossible is no excuse for failure, right? So I end the day condeming myself and sighing that I just can’t seem to get anything done, in spite of the fact that I accomplished more in a day than most would think of attempting.

It’s still not enough. It’s never enough.

I am a cruel taskmaster.

My hope lies in the freeing words of Christ. “No man can serve two masters.” I can’t serve both God and me. I must choose. My load is oppressivly heavy. I can’t bear it. I’ve figured that out. And even when I think I just might be able to pull it off, I pile on more just to keep myself in my place. Weird, I know. But maybe we’re more alike than I know.

Christ invites us to take a different burden — His. His yoke is easy because He is shouldering most of the weight. As I respond to his invitation to rest, I walk alongside Him as a friend. “No longer do I call your servants but I have called you friends.”

Only when I call myself what I am — a dictator — and turn to Christ can I feel true freedom.

Enough of this failing to meet my own shifting standards. I’m committing to serve only one Master whose commands are fixed and whose forgiving love never fails.

Now the hard part – living it today.

Can you relate to this pressure to please your own impossibly high expectations? How does your faith move you to depend less on your self and more on God? Leave a comment to share the growth.

5 Ways to Start Your Day in the Right Way

It’s not easy to start your day in the right way — partly because the “right way” is different for all of us. Some people claim to be ”morning people” while others “night people.” Either way, how you start often determines the course of your entire day. And each day determines the course of your life. So we probably should be intentional about getting it right. The old proverb rings true in the morning: “Blessed is he who aims at nothing – for he will surely hit it.”

Photo via http://healthierhappierjeffie.wordpress.com/tag/wellness/

We’ve all had them — those rough mornings when nothing seems to go our way. We stub our toe on a train set left on the floor. Someone forgot to set the timer on the coffee — I’m not naming any names. Or — God forbid — there is no coffee! Yikes!! At times like those, it can be good to have morning habits in place to lauch your day in the right direction.

Habits can be both our best friends or worst nightmares. But as Albert Camus wisely noted, “Man’s first faculty is forgetting.” So I use habits in the morning when I’m still groggy to nudge me in the right direction.

Maybe these 5 ways I use will help you start each day:

  1. Choose your first thought. There’s a reason we claim to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed when we’re having a bad day. It all begins at the moment we wake up. For  some years now, I’ve tried to intentionally ensure that God is the first thought I have each morning. I’m not always successful. Before my feet touch the floor, I pray simply, ”God, this day is yours. Use me as you see fit.” It’s not always those exact words, of course. Sometimes it’s more like a spiritual nod to my Creator as I fumble through the darkness. What it does is begin to align my selfish thoughts in the right direction — before a host of others crowd Him out.
  2. Choose a place to start. There’s something comfortable about starting each day in familiar surroundings. I grab a cup of joe and head to the family room sofa, right next to the floor lamp so I have ample light for reading. You might use tea — or nothing. But having a set location in which you get your bearings each day will likely be useful. It reduces the new stimuli that we must process to start each day. Free from distractions, we can focus on getting the main things to be the main things.
  3. Choose to grow first. My life mission statement claims as my foremost purpose “to pursue growth.” It only makes sense that I take care of at least some of that mission first, before life crowds it out. I start  as quickly as possible with reading the Bible — again, trying to beat any other thoughts that might try to stir ahead of this divine input. Recognizing that apart from Him I can do nothing, my day starts with God. For more ideas on how to do that, check out my posts on How to Read the Bible Every Day and Enjoy It and 3 Proven Plans to Read the Bible Every Day.
  4. Choose to ask for wisdom. ”If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” That would be me. The lacking part anyways. Prayer follows the reading as I confess my own inability to do much of anything without seriously messing it up. Whatever specific tasks may await me that day get special attention, of course, but this habit forces alignment with the reality that there are more important things than me in the universe.
  5. Choose to eat breakfast with your family. One of the highlights of my morning — even if I don’t always act like it — is gathering as a family to eat. We make it a priority at dinnertime, as well, but breakfast starts our day together. As we finish our food, I share something from the Bible, perhaps a Proverb or a Bible story which we discuss briefly — for no more than five minutes max. Then we’re off to start the day.

I’ve found these habits helpful, but would love to hear how you start your day in the right way.

How do you get your day going? Share your secrets — or your struggles — with a comment to help us all grow.

5 Ways to Stop Envy Before It Starts

It’s been called the green monster. Invidia in the Latin texts. A deadly sin. And a common one.

Photo via http://pastorerickson.com/?p=2211

Envy. It’s what’s for dinner — or at least it’s what’s often in our hearts by the time we get to that point of the day. By then, we’ve usually encountered someone having some success. More than we’re having, at least.

And that’s all it takes.

I confess to wrestling with this one. I think most writers — any creative souls really – know the struggle within when another is praised. When another succeeds. When someone else arrives there ahead of us.

It might be subscribers, followers, book sales, publicity, adulation of any kind that triggers our envious demons. Most of us, however, especially as people of faith, know that open envy would blatantly violate God’s commands — and other’s high opinion of us. So we choose a different, more sophisticated route that lets our green monster nibble around the edges of another’s success:

  • “Well sure, he has that high-visibility position. If I had that….”
  • “What do you expect when she has that publisher? How could she not….”
  • “But he doesn’t have children or a family, so he has time. Who wouldn’t if….”

What are we doing if not creatively dumbing down the standards for success to what we think is our level? Mind you, the excuses we tell ourselves often are not true. But that seldom matters at the time. Neither does our ignoring our own blessings as a result. As Shakespeare penned in Sonnet 29:

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least.

Here are 5 ways to stop envy before it starts:

  1. Call it what it is. Sin. When you catch yourself excusing another’s success, point it out to yourself. Then confess it. After all, we can’t avoid what we can’t identify. We’ll be knee-deep in the muck of envy before we realize it. By then we’ll need the rest of the day just to get out.
  2. Be generous. Train yourself to intentionally help others, especially those who can’t seem to help you in return. If we simply stop being envious, we are but envious trolls who aren’t being envious — at that moment. But if we intentionally move in the opposite direction, we’re becoming something quite different. Something new.
  3. Find someone else to celebrate every day. It’s good for them. It’s good for you. Commit each day to shine a spotlight on somebody. I try to use Twitter as one way to highlight a new someone every day. It’s like eating your spinach but with eternal health benefits.
  4. Remember you are in charge of you. When we try pulling others down to our level, we’re simply pointing out that we are the ones unhappy with ourselves. So whose fault is that, really? Do something about it. Embracing a victim mentality only makes it easier to justify envy the next time around when we’re still stuck in the same spot.
  5. Perform for an audience of One. No, I don’t mean you. Os Guinness noted well in his book The Call that only one opinion really matters. Scriptures remind us that comparing ourselves among ourselves, we are not wise. The moment we start the slide toward invidia, we enter an ominous downward spiral of lies: “Because they succeeded, I quit. Because I’m not them, I refuse to be me.” Of course, you never could become them and you cannot but be you.

No wonder we’re frustrated.

Do you find it challenging to stop envy before it starts? When do you find yourself quick to belittle another’s success? Thanks for leaving a comment here to let the rest of us know we’re not the only ones with this problem.

Learn the Secret of the Drip

I have a secret. I have several actually.

I call this one the secret of the drip. Shhhh. Here it is:

There’s a big difference between doing the right thing and doing the right thing consistently.

One gives you the occasionally acceptable.

The other produces greatness. The kind that makes us gasp –  ”Wow!”

I know. It’s not incredibly profound. But it is overlooked.

A lot.

Compare the impact:

  • Reading the Bible with my kids once a month when the urge strikes or every day for 5 minutes at breakfast.
  • Scheduling a date with my wife every so often or taking 5 minutes each evening to listen to the contents of her day.
  • Splurging on healthy foods when guilt consumes me or drinking 5 bottles of water each day.
  • Catching the news at eleven when you happen to be awake or subscribing to and reading 5 key blogs on current events or issues each day.
  • Grabbing a dictionary to look up a word you don’t know or spending five minutes each morning learning 5 new words.
  • Talking about putting yet another book on your non-existent reading list or spending 5 minutes learning how to download audio books to your iPod for the drive. Or the run. Even better.
  • Shooting a respectable percentage at the free-throw line or being known as “Money” because you spent 5 minutes on it every practice for 5 years.

The list goes on. Fill in your own examples from life or work. 

Where have you have figured out how to do something right?

Great.

Now do it consistently for ninety days without excuses. See if your growth in that area doesn’t become exponential.

See if you don’t become a fan of the secret of the drip.

The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Prov. 13:4)

Let us not become weary …  for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9)

All it takes is to learn the simple, persistent power of the drip.

How can you use this secret of the drip in your own life? What tips do you have for others to learn from your successes and failures? Leave a comment to share the growth!

Enter your email address to get my e-book Finding the Curve: The Secret to Explosive Personal Growth and regular updates for free:
Delivered by FeedBurner

 

As Long As I Don’t Look Up

Last week I walked the streets of New York City. Not all of them. But a few. As I was walking, I realized that I could have been walking in just about any bigger city based on what I saw around me. Busy people, but mostly pleasant. Lots of cars, but none colliding. One gentlemen handcuffed against a wall — but that happens here in Cleveland.

At any moment, I could have thought that I was just about anywhere but the biggest city in the nation.

As long as I didn’t look up.

At the street level, most of the blocks look the same. People. Cars. Shops. Construction. Taxis. More taxis. More people. No big deal. I was getting it down pretty good. I could have been anywhere but the Big Apple.

As long as I didn’t look up.

When I did stop to look up, I realized just how small I was. When I did stop to look up in all directions, I realized just how big the Big Apple really is. Tall buildings as far as I could see. When I first saw the new One World Trade Center Tower disappearing high above into the morning fog, my illusion of being the center of the universe was gone — in a New York minute?

When I flew out of Newark and glimpsed the vast city of more than 8 million below, I was reminded that I am not all that. Even if I could tell myself the opposite while walking the bustling streets.

As long as I didn’t look up.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” The prophet Isaiah relayed his vision of the transcendent glory of God. It leaves him speechless. In that sobering moment, he is undone. Isaiah must have been tempted at times to think that he was something, too.

As long as he didn’t look up.

Before we start pointing fingers too vigorously in the direction of life’s other scurrying pedestrians, when was the last time you took the time to stop?

And look up.

“God is God and I am not.” But I can fool myself for a while.

As long as I don’t look up.

 

What scenes, places, or stories remind you of your place in God’s universe? How do you remember to take the time to look up? Leave a comment to share the growth!