Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

The Results We Crave

A friend of mine remarked this morning that she awakened much earlier than usual, but didn’t feel tired. Lately she has changed her eating habits for the better, and it is paying off. She feels great! The rest of us, meanwhile, are still dragging, hoping that cup of coffee or tea or Choffy will kick in and boost our energy.

Ultimately, the only thing that is going to boost our energy is following her example, disciplining ourselves to choose what is best for us rather than what tastes or feels best to us.

Everyone knows this about eating and exercise, but how often do we think about it from a spiritual perspective?

We marvel at someone else’s prayer life. He makes it look so easy! We neglect to admit that we can live the same life if we would just follow his simple example. Why does he have a great prayer life? Because he is obedient to God’s Word: pray continually, take every thought captive, think of these things.

We envy the faith of another. We wonder how, in all things both good and bad, she can just trust and rest. Even when her heart is breaking. Even when she’s on her knees in tears and pleading. Still her faith is not broken. Yet we forget that Jesus’ example is as clear for us as it is for her. “Not My will but Yours be done.

We wonder how this couple can make such a confident decision or that family can take the road less traveled even though every logical marker indicates that they should serve God in a more proven manner. Do we forget that the God of Abraham is our God as well?

The results of my actions will never exactly match someone else’s. I might pray just as fervently for healing, or the sale of a house, or provision, or relief as the next person. But God might grant her the answer she seeks while leaving me with results that I deem to be less than satisfactory.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t come down to physical results. It comes down to the relationship. It comes down to how consistently I weather every up and down. Every sunshiny day and every storm. Every joy and every challenge.

Yes, it comes down to how I relate to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We have everything we need to live the same biblical, relational life that the people we admire live. Will we choose to do so? Will we put in the work? Will we exert the discipline? Will we surrender?

The path is hard. The results are phenomenal. May we choose the hard path!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Urgency vs. Purpose

It is so easy to get caught up in the urgent. Do you know what I mean? We wake up each morning with thoughts about how we will spend the day. Then those little pesky things pop up, driving us to and fro. We come to the end of the day exhausted, having done and done and done and done. But when we look back, we never are really sure what it is we’ve truly accomplished.

Recently, my boss encouraged me to sit down and divide my work week into percentages. What needs to be given the highest priority? What needs to consume the least amount of time. I realized that the things that should take the least amount of time usually consume the most. Those that should consume most of my time often are given just a few moments here and there as an afterthought in the busyness of each day.

This is not just how a work day flows. I have lived through enough years without a paying job to know that a regular “mom” day works just the same. Plans are drowned out by demands until the plans seem nonexistent. We just work to survive.

I cannot help but think that God has different intentions for us. But what does it take to get there? How can we move past the survival mode to true purpose? The things that weigh us down and take up so much of our time are always going to be there. How can we thrive despite those distractions?

When I evaluated my work last week, I was reminded of the purpose of my role with Home Educating Family. I was reminded of what was most important. And I began to consciously process how to deal with the time-stealers that prevented me from accomplishing my purpose.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. There are things that must be done, of course. We must get up and face our duties for the day, whether they send us to an office, a field, a computer screen, a wrestling with children at home, or any other destination. But we do not have to allow those things to distract us from our true purpose.

So, what is our purpose? We were created to glorify God and relate to Him personally. How do we live that out each day? Well, that is where our individual personalities comes into play. I cannot tell you how glorifying God will look in your day. But I can tell you that you and I must both be very intentional about making sure it happens.

It is so easy to get caught up in the mundane. So easy to be trampled by the urgent. So easy to come to the end of a day, week, month, or even year and see that nothing has truly been accomplished.

Could it be that our goals are wrong? Could it be that we are too focused on survival to truly accomplish anything?

As this week closes, I encourage you to stop and think about your purpose. What distracts you from it? How can you fulfill that purpose without neglecting the necessary obligations that come up each day?

Finally, how can you merge those obligations with your purpose, honoring God in every action?

Posted in Elizabeth Camden, Thoughts, Thoughts from Others

Crying out Hope

I love fiction. Although non-fiction is great and purposeful, I must confess that my brain processes stories much better.

My current fiction selection is entitled Into the Whirlwind, written by Elizabeth Camden. It opens with the great Chicago fire of 1871, giving readers a close-up view of what it must have been like to watch the city go up in flames, destroying everything in its path.

One scene struck me with particular force. As a miraculous rain fell and finally ended the raging of the fire, homeless refugees surged back into the city to find whatever shelter they could. In the novel, just as the main character is plummeting toward despair, she hears a man’s voice calling out in the midnight darkness. He is speaking words of encouragement. Words of strength. Words that remind the people to not despair. They will rebuild! They will survive! God is their strength!

According to the author, there is no historical evidence that a town crier went around calling out encouragement in the middle of that very dark night. But, the words he speaks in the novel are taken from historical records of signs put out by people all over the city. Words of hope.

I love that picture of hope. And I love the reality behind it. That hope was born out of an abiding relationship with the only One who can give such hope: Jesus. It was born out of a love for Him and a trust that His love would continue, no matter how dark the circumstances. The town crier might be fictitious, but the hope is not. It truly existed for God’s children in those dark days.

But there’s something else that strikes me from this story. The town crier could have kept that hope to himself. He could have rested on that dark night, finding a place for himself and his wife to hole up and sleep so they could tackle the hard days ahead. Instead, he walked around the city crying out, strengthening others.

Now, I know that this man is fictional. But, don’t you know people who would do this? Haven’t you heard true stories of people who share their hope with others, lifting the hearts of those around them? I have. I know people like this.

And I am convicted by them.

I live a life rooted in the knowledge that Christ is my hope. Not a hope that someday, something I desire will come to be. But a biblically rooted hope that what He has promised WILL come to pass. But what do I do with that hope? All too often, I just rest in it myself. I draw strength from it and allow it to build me up.

But I forget to share it. Ouch!

Oh to be the type of person who shares the hope I know inside my own heart. Oh to be selfless, not thinking about how I need encouragement, but instead thinking about pouring into others what has been poured into me. That is the kind of person I want to be.

Lord, make me one who pours hope into others!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Unlocking the Puzzle

As I sit down to write this, my son and I just finished working on a puzzle together. I never ceased to be amazed by the power of one little puzzle piece. One instant nothing seems to go together. Then one piece finds its place, and suddenly huge blocks of puzzle pieces find their home as well.

Puzzles are such great pictures of real life. Sometimes all we need is one little piece to unlock the roadblock we struggle to get past.

I experienced that just this week. On Monday I was given a work project. Tuesday morning I asked Doug to pray with me that all of the pieces would fall together. He smiled and immediately came up with a fun, alliterated outline. Suddenly, the wheels of my mind started turning. I very quickly had a picture of how the whole project could work. I knew exactly what help I needed from the rest of the web team – and I knew how to ask them for it! One little list unlocked a flow of creativity.

I have experienced many situations where I have tried and tried to understand something. Or I have tried to get the creative juices flowing. Or I have tried to come up with a solution. All of my efforts always produce nothing. Every single time. Somewhere out there is the key…that missing puzzle piece that I need to help it all make sense. But I can’t find it on my own.

God designed it that way. If I could find the key on my own, I would easily convince myself that I don’t need Him. He knows better. And hiding the key is one way He can get that truth through my thick skull.

How do I know this? Because when I ask Him for that missing piece, He gives it to me. Every single time. Sometimes it’s immediate, like yesterday. Other times it takes a bit more patience. But He always gives it.

What puzzles are just not fitting together for you right now? Can you share? I’d love to pray with you that God will give you that missing piece, the key to unlock your puzzle!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Make a Plan!

Later this week I will be reviewing the book that currently lives on my night stand. But the book has spurred a thought that will not really fit into the review. So, you get it now!

Each chapter of this book ends with an assessment and a series of questions. The assessment works like the standard personality test, guiding readers to evaluate their current relationship status on a number scale. The questions take that information, combine it with principles presented in the chapter, and encourage the reader to make a definite plan. A closing prayer cements the plan.

Reading the book has opened my eyes to a truth about myself. I take in some great information. I ponder it, marveling at its profound nature. And, I truly do desire to implement what I learn. But I frequently miss one important step.

I fail to make a plan.

Ironically, I am a planner. I hate going into anything without a plan of some sort. I want to know what each step will entail so I can know what to expect and balance my time along the way. That’s just the way I work.

What I have realized, though, is that I only plan when a deadline is involved. If it is something open-ended like incorporating new truths into my life, I often do not even think about making a plan. I guess I expect it to just seep into my life.

May I share a little secret? It doesn’t work that way!

Nothing just happens to seep into our hearts and minds. Habits do not form accidentally. Lifestyles do not change randomly. There must be a driving force behind a developing life. There must be a plan.

So, what are the steps to making a plan?

  1. Pray. What a critical first step! If we do not start here, we plan and act without guidance. Oh how wasteful our effort is if we do not have a desperate need for the Lord’s guidance through the process!

  2. Evaluate. It’s easy to miss where we are right now. Often, we are not doing as well as we think. Sometimes, though, we might surprise ourselves with the realization that we are doing more things right than we thought! But we know that there is still a problem. There is still room for improvement, and an honest evaluation of where we are shows exactly what areas need focused attention.

  3. Focus on specific areas of improvement. We cannot do it all overnight. We cannot even do it all together over the course of several months. We have to narrow down the most important steps to take next. What are two or three specific areas that need work right now? What has challenged us the most? Let’s identify those and tackle them first.

  4. Make a plan. What are two or three actions we can take right now to work in those areas we’ve identified? What is one habit we can change? What is a thought pattern we should attack? Identifying the problem is only a portion of the battle. The rest comes when we actually create and implement a plan of attack. We must be intentional.

  5. Make a commitment. There have been times I have identified problems, worked out a plan, and had grand designs for getting the plan accomplished. But I have skipped another important step. I have not shared my plan. “It’s between me and the Lord,” I have piously told myself. But in truth I haven’t even really consulted Him. I skipped step one. So at step five I have no interest in accountability. But oh how desperately we need accountability! The prayer of commitment should be two-fold. 1) It begins with a prayer, both of thanksgiving for the teaching and of repentance over past behavior. 2) We then move on to a request for guidance. This is where we ask that the Lord provide every tool and resource we need to complete the plan He has guided us to create.

And now, it’s time to act. But oh how much easier it will be to act now that we are not just hoping that these new lessons will fall into place. We have a plan!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Seasons

Life has so many seasons. Some are seasons shared by those of us in community with one another. Others are personal.

When my oldest was a baby, I entered a season of digital photography. I loved taking pictures of my baby girl and then doing anything and everything with those pictures. I started making photo calendars as Christmas presents, and that tradition is still going even now.

Yet I have moved out of my great digital photography season. The camera does not come out nearly as often. The file folders that once were so meticulously organized are now relatively unattended. Even though I still happily create the calendars, I do not spend hours on digital editing. I take a much simpler approach nowadays.

My writing walks through various seasons as well. Sometimes my journaling is long and daily. In other seasons, I do well to scrawl a few sentences several times a week. In some seasons my blogs stay much more active than in others. Sometimes my focus is more on family and what I learn through interactions with my children. Other times the thoughts come more from Scripture or from interactions with other people.

My reading interests go through seasons, as do my sewing desires. Sometimes I want to read nothing but historical fiction and sit at the sewing machine. In other seasons a parenting book and some knitting needles are more what I crave.

Those are all shallow examples, but I think you get the point. Seasons come and seasons go. Some repeat themselves while others come once and then are gone forever.

Something I’ve realized, though, is that the seasons are all important.

Years ago I was browsing on the website of a Christian rock band I enjoy. They had just released their long-awaited sophomore album, but I was seeking information from an earlier season. Instead, I found criticism of that old season. They called it immature and claimed that they had grown greatly since their first album.

Ironically, I enjoyed their first album much more than their second. It saddened me that they had not only moved on from that earlier season of life but had also rejected it as immature. They missed the reality of the foundation the first album gave them. They were overlooking the value of that season in their lives.

Fortunately, they later returned to that foundation and built upon it as they continued their career. As a fan of their music, I’m thankful for that return. But, I’m also thankful for their temporary distraction. Without that distraction, I never would have read their thoughts and been disturbed by them. Without that sense of disturbance, I might never have stopped to truly contemplate the value of all seasons. I, too, might have been quick to reject certain seasons of my life.

As I look back over the seasons of my life, I smile at some and blush over others. There are always things I feel I could have handled better. There are mistakes I’d rather not have made. But all of those seasons contribute to who I am today. They have had an impact on the relationships I enjoy with my Savior, my family, and all with whom I come in contact.

I am thankful for every season. May the same be said of yours.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Others

Formula or Relationship?

I like checklists. But sometimes checklists are the exact opposite of what I need.

Checklists make me think that everything is urgent. I must stay focused to mark off those little boxes. And what if I don’t? Have I failed?

That mentality often affects my prayer life as well. Have I said the right things? Have I worked through my prayer list correctly? What if I am not doing it the right way? Will God still hear me? What if I leave something out? Can my prayer list really cover everything that needs to be covered?

So, I go back to Scripture and I see a wonderful formula in the Lord’s Prayer. If I just follow that formula, it will all be okay, right?

But then I realize that I’m just repeating words. Am I really praying? Or am I just right back at the beginning, wondering if I’ve really done this things correctly?

Recently I read a devotional by Spurgeon dealing with the spirit behind the Lord’s Prayer. It was like a breath of fresh air. It’s not about right or wrong – it’s about how our prayers move us into the right attitude as we stand before the throne of God.

  • a frame of mind to recognize His holiness

  • surrender to His will, recognizing that furthering His kingdom is of utmost importance

  • recognition of His provision, putting aside worry and anxiety as we rest in that knowledge

  • recognition of our sin and need for His forgiveness

  • a right consideration of, acknowledging that they, too, need forgiveness

  • a vision of the reality that He is our deliverer and that He holds all power and authority

All of these things put us in a frame of mind to interact relationally and submissively in prayer to an Almighty God. It’s not about the formula. It’s never about the formula. It’s about the relational interaction.

I will never truly grow in Christ until I surrender my formulas. I will simply go through motions that result in systematic action rather than heart interaction. I choose instead to step into an active relationship with Him. When I do, my prayers will never be wrong.