Posted in What I'm Learning, Work & Life

New Habits First

I was recently part of a book study group that processed through Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. I already knew I struggled in so many areas of discipline. That study confirmed and enhanced that realization. A few of the disciplines are things that I have worked on in recent years and turned into habits – of sorts. But, I still have a long way to go.

One of the most immediate convictions was in the area of Scripture memory, probably because I’ve tried to start memorization efforts multiple times over the last few years, only to fail miserably every time. Since processing through the chapter on memorization, I have tried to restart the process and have had great intentions. There are note cards in my planner and I have a system. But, I still struggle to make progress.

I run out of time in my quiet time.

I forget to pull the cards out during the busy flow of the day.

I let multiple days go by between recitations, forcing me to backtrack and relearn.

After weeks of frustration, a realization hit me: last year when I wanted to start a new habit, I put it first. I wanted to read more books during my morning time. I knew I would dive into my Scripture reading every morning without fail. I didn’t want to diminish the importance of that in any way, but I knew how much time it typically required, so I read other books first, then switched over to the Bible at the appropriate time. Over the course of the next few months, I developed a habit of reading at least two different spiritual training books in additional to my Scripture and devotional reading.

Now I love it. Now it’s a habit. Now I will read additional books no matter when they fall in the morning routine. In fact, I have since returned Scripture reading to an earlier slot in the morning so as to ensure plenty of time for meditation. If I miss a day or two of my other books because I spend extra time meditating on the Word of God, that’s okay. The other reading is enough of a habit now that I know I will return to it.

Pondering this, I have realized that Scripture memory has always been at the tail end of my quiet time. When I run out of time because reading takes a while – which it always will! – it is too easy to drop the memorization off the end of my morning routine. So, I never make progress.

Could it be that easy? Could that truly be the simple, practical solution to establishing a habit of discipline?

It’s certainly worth a try! I can tap the voice recorder on my phone and recite those verses, playing them back later to check them. I can even work on it while pouring hot water into our French presses for coffee and Choffy – or while waiting for them to brew. Who knows? I might even end up taking a few notes here and there as I process what is being written on my heart and mind.

Discipline is often a matter of simplicity. Removing the gimmicks and tricks to try to apply something new and choosing instead to simplify. To shift details. To put new habits first on the list, knowing that everything else will fall into place behind it.

Posted in What Works for Me, Work & Life

Diving

Reading has long been a part of my life. I will never forget the first book I could truly call my own. I started second grade in a school in Georgia while my parents participated in missionary orientation to prepare for the mission field. When my parents wrapped up their orientation and the time came for us to leave Georgia and await our field assignment, my teacher pulled me aside and told me how much she would miss me. Then she handed me a gift – a book. The book was Puff the Magic Dragon, and I read and reread that book more times that I could count. It was my very own, and it was a constant over the following year of change.

I have progressed a great deal in my reading since then, but it still amazes me how much there is to learn, not just from reading, but also about reading. I’ve mentioned before the commitment I made in 2016 to step up some of my reading, and since then I have discovered many new ways to help myself – a not-so-fast reader – process through my book pile more steadily.

One discovery that I’ve made is that some books require a deep dive just to read a small section. These books take a while to read – months, if not a year – because I plunge into a short section then need time to put the book down and slowly process in order to avoid the suffocation that comes from trying to stay that deep for too long or the mental bends that hit me when I surface too quickly. Those are the books that require reading, journaling, and pondering before reading again.

Other books spend an entire chapter diving to the same depths. They let the reader down gradually to the greatest point of depth, then slowly work their way back up to the surface, allowing mental processing during the reading process. This does not mean they are shallow books (I try to avoid those); they simply walk readers through the process of internalizing. As a result, they tend to pack less into a single book and are quicker reads.

Both types of books are useful. And, I’m learning the value of reading both types simultaneously.

I remember reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer right after reading a Max Lucado book. I enjoy Max Lucado. I learn a lot from his books. But they are quick, easy reads. Knowing God is not. It was like a shock to my system. And, where I had processed through Lucado’s book in a couple of weeks (about a chapter a day), it took me close to a year to read Knowing God. There were so many books waiting for me that I got discouraged and did not process the content like I should have.

How much better to read both at the same time! Half a chapter of Lucado and a small section of Knowing God, allowing each one to engage my brain and spiritual growth differently.

That is what I’ve learned to do over the past year. Not with those two examples (although I do intend to go back and reread Knowing God and all of our Lucado books at some point!), but with other titles. Every morning I have a Scripture reading, a devotional reading, and at least two other books that I read from. Just sections from each. And it has worked better than any other method I have ever tried.

How do you approach different types of diving?

 

Posted in Faith Nuggets

A Blown Mind

I enjoy a good, fictional story. Whether it’s a movie or a book, I like the experience of working through the tale from start to finish and enjoying the nice, neatly wrapped package of an introduction, a crisis, a climax, and a resolution.

Yes, I know life is not like that. Life never presents us a concluded story. From birth to death, life is one long, complex, interwoven series of stories that never truly find solid conclusion. They are ever evolving, ever changing, and ever intermingling with one another. When we watch movies, read novels, or even dive into biographies, we are essentially pulling a single thread – maybe even two or three – from a much more complex piece of fabric. We focus on this relationship or that experience, but the remaining realities such as work or extended family or history that, in real life, strongly impact those threads are only side thoughts and setting for our compact story.

And you know what? That’s okay! It is not wrong to enjoy the narrative of a few threads, even learning powerful truths from that narrative if we choose our entertainment well.

The problem comes, though, when we apply the same reading style to Scripture.

Too often, I read God’s Word with a desire for a nicely wrapped package. I enjoy meditating on a passage for days on end, but if I have my preference, each day will bring a thought that I can wrap my head around. Even if the learning grows each day, I want something tangible and solid every time I meditate.

But, it doesn’t always work that way. Some days, what I end up with is the birth of a realization. The first tricklings of learning that completely evade understanding. In a nutshell, my mind is just blown, and it feels like the millions of scattered pieces will never come back together.

Sometimes, the light bulb begins to come on within a day or two, and increased depth of learning follows understanding. But other times it’s a slower development. I’ve hashed through certain mind blowing concepts for years on end, pulling in a piece here and an edge there, assembling the most challenging puzzle I have ever encountered in an attempt to get even the smallest glimpse of what the final picture looks like.

As overwhelmed as I feel when my mind is blown by Scripture – as much as I prefer the nice, neat, storybook package of study, learning, and growth – I am learning to crave this type of open-ended learning more and more. I’m learning to hunger for questions that take weeks, months, or even years of study and exploration to answer.

The written Word that we hold in our hands, creation all around us, and even God’s active work in our daily lives and throughout history are all just a tiny glimpse of the essence of the Almighty King of all existence. He is so much greater. So much more profound than anything we can imagine. His gifts of revelation represent a depth that our hearts and minds will never fully reach, no matter how many years we are given on this earth. But that should never prevent us from diving!

If our minds are not blown at least every now and then, it is not evidence of the vastness of what we know. Instead, it is an indictment against us, showing our failure to even try to plumb the depths of the revelation our amazing, loving Father has so graciously given us.

Oh, may I hunger more and more for a glimpse of just how much I have left to learn.

May I never fear a blown mind.

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Lost Words

Earlier this week, I had a great brainstorm for a blog post. Fortunately, I had a notepad handy, and I was able to furiously scratch notes. The notes flowed as smoothly and rapidly as the train of thought, and everything seemed to make clear and perfect sense…then.

I was not in a position at the time to sit down at the computer or with anything more than that little scratch pad, but I fully intended to make writing a priority that morning so I could turn those notes into a blog post immediately. I’m trying to do better about that, knowing how often I wait too long and then lose the context of what I was thinking. But, this week took my by storm. By the time I even had a few minutes to look at those notes again, several days had passed. By that time, the notes might as well have been gibberish.

I have no idea what I was thinking. No clue about the context. No comprehension of the thoughts that were so strong that morning. I can remember the feeling of the thoughts flowing forth with clarity and strength. But I cannot remember the details to save my life.

In a way, it feels like I’ve lost something precious. The thoughts were that powerful.

In another way, though, I am comforted. You see, those thoughts were meant for that morning. I do remember them motivating, encouraging, and propelling me into my day. They planted in me a strength and a determination to face this very full week. I may be forgetting the context right now, but on the morning of the brainstorm, I know I stepped into the day with an internalized lesson.

The words may have been lost, but the lesson – and its impact – remained.

I am married to a pastor, but I frequently cannot recall the points of his sermons from one week to the next. Even when I am intentional about taking thorough notes, I often look at them later with confusion, not sure what I was thinking as I wrote. But, each Sunday as I listen and write, my goal is often to plant in my head one way I can implement the message in the coming week. One way I can actively choose to grow in response to what God has said through my husband.

Again, I may not be able to dredge up the specific points or context, but the lessons remains.

Not everyone is stirred by words. We don’t all process that way. We do, however, all have a method by which truths are best communicated to our hearts and lessons are merged into our lives. But none of this happens naturally. When blog posts create themselves in my head, it’s very easy to tap them out, then forget them. Sometimes I go back and read articles and am stunned to find that I wrote them! They feel so foreign because I never truly internalized the message. It takes an effort and a choice to pour those truths into my soul instead of simply pounding them out on a computer keyboard.

It takes an effort and a choice to decide to act on a sermon instead of simply listening and then walking out unchanged. (Think about it – have you ever said, “Good sermon, Preacher,” because you have already forgotten that what you should instead be saying is, “Ouch!”)

Truths are constantly moving from the mouth of God to our eyes and ears, giving us the choice each and every day. What will we do with them? Will they just become lost words, or will we turn them into lessons internalized?

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Living on the Lake

Two weeks ago today, we were starting our meandering trip home after several glorious vacation days. The time away didn’t quite turn out like we’d planned at first. At the last minute, we found ourselves scrambling to make a backup plan. Well, a backup plan for us. I can’t help but think that it was actually God’s original plan.

Instead of staying in a hotel and with friends, all of which would have been a treat and fine and lovely, we ended up in a cabin on Tims Ford Lake in Tennessee. For three nights, we went to bed with every window open so we could sleep to the smells and sounds of the lake. For three mornings, we woke up to the calm quiet of springtime in a secluded location. Everywhere we went over the course of our four-day vacation, we had to drive through wide stretches of nature and farmlands. Every aspect of our environment spoke to our souls, filling and nourishing us.

Inevitably, every time we passed a church in the middle of that beautiful, peaceful environment, we joked, “Hey! We can see if they need a pastor so we can just live here!” It had nothing to do with wanting to move or leave our current church and start over. We really have no interest in doing that! But, the environment of the countryside we stayed in or drove through soothed, revived, and refreshed us in wonderful ways. And we just wanted to stay.

In truth, though, staying in a place that revived us momentarily would not have the same effect long term. Every time we are revived, we then come to the time when we must get back to work. We must take the refreshment and apply it to the task at hand. We cannot stay in a constant state of soothing. We were made to actively glorify God in everything we do, not just to soak up moments of nourishment.

This truth reverberates across all areas of our lives. Whether it’s a physical location, an emotional or mental state of being, a place of fellowship, or a period of spiritual illumination, none of these aspects of nourishment are meant to be our solitary state of being. We are meant to live, not simply absorb.

The beauty of life in Christ, though, is that we can have both simultaneously. Our nourishment and refreshment can come even in the midst of the work. Our space of beauty explodes from the Word of God and the handiwork of the Spirit all around us. Our filling comes from communion, true relational communion, with our Savior. Sometimes, yes, we need to physically get away from the noise of everyday life. But there is no need for getaway in our spiritual lives. God equips us to live every single day in the nourishment of His presence.

We lack, not because we need a spiritual getaway, but because we do not choose to live in His daily nourishment.

I would still love to live in a home built in the hills overlooking a lake. But, I don’t want to live a life of escape. I want to live a life daily nourished by my relationship with the Lord. Some days I do experience that life. Other days, I fail to rest in Him. But, that is my goal. That is my heart. And when I choose it, there is no lakeside home that could ever match the comfort of a Christ-enveloped life.

Posted in Thoughts from Life

Look Up!

Complete the task!

That is what I love to do. If a job stands before me, I want to get it done. I want to process through it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Unfortunately, sometimes quick and efficient means something gets missed.

Think about it this way.

You have been assigned a specific task by your boss. It is a big job, requiring all of your focus and attention. So, you shut everything out and dive in. You work hard and long, and the end results are solid.

Then you open your e-mail.

Halfway into the day, a message came in changing the dynamics of the task. Suddenly you realize that much of the energy and effort you put into the project was unessential. Your work was wasted.

The Spiritual Impact

Now, let’s apply that to our spiritual lives. How often do block everything out while we strive to accomplish a God-given task.

And when I say everything, I mean everything. Even God’s “input” along the way.

God has this interesting way of giving us partial instructions and information. He does not intend for us to go off and do on our own. Yet we so often take those partial instructions and dive right in, never considering that there might be more to come.

A Different Focus

I know we need to stay focused. But we face a problem because we misplace our focus. We look at the task. At the job. At the process. We forget to keep our focus on the initiator instead. When more information comes in, we miss it, all because we have not been diligent to keep our eyes on the one who gave us the task.

What are you in the middle of this week? Whatever it is, look up! Get your eyes off the details and put them instead on the Author of it all. Be open to His continued guidance and instruction. The end results will be worth the shift!