The Start of a New Year

Here is what I know about the new year – it won’t turn out the way you hope it does.  It won’t be near as good as you want it to be. It will not be the fulfillment of your fondest dream. It will not be anything like what you think it should be. How do I know that? Well, after 70+ years of life I simply have come to that conclusion. And, it is not negative – it is simply truthful and realistic. And, approaching a new year with this attitude means I recognize that bad things do happen to good people. And, there are many up and downs in any given 12 month period. 

Life is filled with ups and downs. The problem is that what most of us want is ups and ups. That’s not possible. I think it’s pretty obvious that no one gets to escape bad experiences. But, we must remember that God is in control and that He is with us and will see us through no matter what the new year brings our way. And, that as a result of our faith in Him we will be stronger and better off at the end of the year than at the start.

There is an old saying: ‘Some days you’re the pigeon; some days you’re the statue!”

We can do everything in our power to avoid negative experiences and not be the statue, but they (the pigeons) have a way of finding us. I love the quote, “I try to take life one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once.” No matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or what your background is, you will have to deal with bad experiences in 2020.

As television host and author observed, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.” You have to have realistic expectations when it comes to pain and problems. You can’t avoid them. Everyone has bad experiences. Starting a fresh, new year does not alter that truth.

But, my observation is that there are few people, even few believers, who make bad experiences positive experiences.

Life’s difficulties do not allow us to stay the same. They move us. The question is in which direction will we be moved: forward or backward? When we have bad experiences, do we become better or bitter? Will those experiences limit us or lead us to grow? As Warren Lester remarked, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

When tough times and bad experiences come, many people don’t respond well. Some seem to have the motto that I once saw on a bumper sticker: “When the going gets tough, it’s time to take a nap.” What a shame. We need to be examining the bad experience, looking for lessons that will help us to grow. Yes, bad experiences can be painful. But don’t waste the experience or the pain. Learn from them. Most successful people will point to the hard times in their lives as key points in their journey of development and growth. If you are dedicated to growth and becoming more mature, then you must be committed to managing your bad experiences well and learning from them. 

So, let your discomfort and disappointment in 2020 be a catalyst for your development. Growth is the best possible outcome for any negative experience. 

So a story to drive home the point:

There was this chicken farmer whose land was flooded nearly every spring. He didn’t want to give up the farm and move, but when the water backed up onto his land and flooded his chicken coops, it was always a struggle to get his chickens to higher ground. Some years he couldn’t move fast enough and hundreds of his chickens drowned.

After the worst spring he’s ever experienced and losing his entire flock, he came into the farmhouse and told his wife. “I’ve had it. I can’t afford another place. I can’t sell this one. I don’t know what to do.”

His wife replied, “Buy ducks.”

The people who make the most out of bad experiences are the ones who find creative ways to meet them, like the farmer’s wife in the story. They see possibilities within their problems. 

Author Neale Donald Walsh asserted, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I believe that creativity begins at the end of your comfort zone. When you feel the pain of bad experiences, creativity gives you the opportunity to turn that pain into gain. The secret to doing that is to use the energy that comes from either adrenaline or anger and use it to solve problems and learn lessons. 

When you have had a bad experience, instead of letting it discourage you or make you angry, try to find ways to let it prompt your creativity. 

God Can Speak Regardless

So I was in a local church recently and it was a traditional church where they read three Scripture passages in the service. An Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, and a Psalm. Then the pastor is to teach on the verses as he brings the message for the day. The Scripture is always amazing – always! This time, in my humble opinion, the preacher spoke poorly and said little to nothing. But, God can speak regardless. A verse among the many that were read really stood out and jumped off the page at me. Yes, I follow along in my own Bible.

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The Passion Version: “Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!”

I have been mulling that verse over for the last three days – since Sunday morning. Regardless of the situation God can speak and He did. 

Think about it … We have the hope of the world living inside us. The most pressing crisis at hand is that there are people who are lost without Jesus and thus live without hope. They are prisoners to their sin, searching for answers, lonely, hurting, confused. Some are suicidal, thinking there is no way out of the situation they’re in currently. Many need healing spiritually, physically, and relationally. The message of the cross is lifesaving, and I am convinced beyond any doubt that the best life anyone could possibly live is one that serves God and obeys His Word. This includes sharing His Word with others that they too may have hope.

My passion is to see this current generation of believers become so compelled by the love of Christ that we cannot help but try to persuade our fellow man that He died for all. I want to see the modern-day church more closely resemble the early church, which was fearless and singularly focused on spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom – to the degree that the early disciples were accused of turning the world upside down by those who opposed them (Acts 17:6). With all my heart I believe that same boldness can be mustered in the church today to transform the world for Jesus!

For those loved ones and family members and all of your acquaintances, hearing the gospel is a matter of life and death. Paul explained unequivocally in Ephesians 2:1-3 that without Christ, we are dead in our transgressions and deserving of God’s wrath. That’s bad news – a tragic reality for everyone on this planet who has not put their faith in Jesus Christ. Now let me show you what Paul wrote in the very next few verses, because it is unfathomably good news:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 NIV)

Paul also explained this same idea more simply: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We have been saved by the excessive love, mercy, and grace of God. And since it exceeds us, we should not keep it to ourselves. The greatest assignment we have been given by Almighty God is to grab hold of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of us – which is sharing the gospel with others before they enter into eternity.

Our God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

Through His extravagant grace, your heavenly Father has made a way for all who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ to have everlasting life. To live with hope. Even the difficult coworker or the classmate who uses sarcasm or humour to mask his or her pain. The friend who seems to have it all together and is disinterested in “that Jesus stuff.” The businessman consumed with chasing the next deal. The problematic teenager who won’t listen. The grumpy cashier at the grocery store. The homeless person on the street begging for spare change. Yes, even the family member who seems to do everything in his or her power to flee from the things of God.

Everywhere you go, people need Jesus! And, the hope that He brings into their life. They need answers. They need the truth that can bring that hope to light. They need a solution to life’s greatest burdens.

Yet many people have never heard a clear and simple explanation of how forgiveness and redemption take place through faith in Christ alone. They live without hope. They are hopeless!

It is our obligation to tell them the good news. Paul left no room for debate when he wrote, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 NLT)

When we truly examine what the Bible says about evangelism, I believe we will find that becoming a messenger who brings the good news is a compelling call. I think we will discover that this calling is so wonderful, so fulfilling, that it is quite irresistible. It’s almost as though we have no choice but to preach and share the gospel.

“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

No one is out of God’s reach, and He uses Christ followers like you to carry His message of truth that brings hope. What an incredible honour! Starting today, may you look around and truly see those around you, asking the Lord of the Harvest for the courage and the opportunity to share the good news and the hope that Christ brings with them. 

Motivation – Part Two

We are discussing motivation. We are either driven by eternal motivations or by worldly motivations. We have looked at the worldly motivations…

1> Money or financial rewards

2> Accomplishments

3> The desire to affect change and influence

Your motivation is the reason why you do what you do. It’s the thing, person, feeling, or goal that drives you to act. Whatever you are living for.

We have looked at worldly motivations – temporary motivations that distract mankind from the truth. Even as Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than sharing the gospel. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling us into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptation abounds.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas that are devoid of spiritual truth. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time”when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). 

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he wrote,

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

Does that sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivators in the world today. 

The truth is that we are to be motivated by the eternal. God is eternal and He offers eternity to us through Jesus Christ alone (John 3:16). His living words are the only words of eternal life (John 6:68; Hebrews 4:12). 

All other religions began with people asking, “How can we get to God?” That’s a very good question. And in the attempt to find an answer, many different people came up with their own moral systems. They said in essence, “Let’s do these things to get to God. And if we do enough of these good things, we’ll get to heaven.” (Or, in New Age thinking, ‘find peace within ourselves.’)

In Christianity, God looks down from heaven and wants to redeem mankind. So He left heaven and came to this earth in the form of a baby to bring salvation to the earth. His name was Jesus. He lived thirty-three years and never committed a sin. Then He died on a cross as atonement for our sins so we could have eternal life. No other man in the history of the world has ever done such a thing for humanity.

There is no substitute for Jesus’s love. Every other attempt falls devastatingly short because it will have zero ability to change our hearts, cure our sin, or impact our eternal destiny. Christ’s love is our true motivation, and it propels us toward greater feats than we ever thought possible. We will share His truth with the world so that as many people as possible can have a personal relationship with God and spend eternity with Him in heaven. 

That’s what being compelled to tell is all about! It’s a passion that will get us out of bed in the morning better than any alarm clock, deadline, or sales goal. It’ll help us endure pain, sorrow, and hardship in order to tell others about the best thing that has ever happened to us. 

Our main mission – and thus our only motivation – is to tell others about Christ. The risen Lord is the only cure for what’s ailing this world. He is the only One who can fill the empty space in our hearts. In a world filled with counterfeits and substitutions, people need to know:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You and I know firsthand what it’s like to have held the wrong motivations in life, because we were rescued from them on the day we were saved and born again. I don’t know your story personally, but my guess is that you have pursued false religions and New Age theologies, entertainment and celebrities, sex and ungodly relationships, health and wealth, work, or selfish gain before you gave your life to the Lord. You now have a new cause in Christ. You can tell people where you’ve been and how God delivered you. You can declare, as David did in Psalm 40:2:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

Each day before you get out of bed in the morning – before your feet even touch the floor – pray and thank God for saving you and for all His blessings. Then say, “God, use me today. Show me how I can be a vessel for You and Your Kingdom today. You are my portion, my life, and my motivation.” If you start each day with this sincere prayer, it will serve as a powerful reminder of what drives and compels you – what motivates you – and I guarantee that God will open your eyes to new opportunities to be a light for Him and to make an impact for eternity. 

Motivation – Part One

What motivates you in your daily living? What drives you to get out of bed and go forward for another day and then another day and then another? Scores of people are motivated by fame, money, power, and pleasure. In fact, these motivations have become a $10 billion industry with folks eagerly handing over their time and money for self-help books, on-line courses, and motivational seminars. We want to know the secret to becoming a one-minute manager and a millionaire next door. We want to enjoy a shorter work week and the sculpt our bodies in ten days so we can master the art of attraction. We’ll research, pour over countless quotes from historical figures, and analyze the habits of successful people in order to distill the truths of what truly compels us.

Your motivation is the reason why you do what you do. It’s the thing, person, feeling, or goal that drives you to act. It’s whatever you’re living for.

To put it simply, we’re either driven by eternal motivations or by worldly motivations. 

One example of worldly motivation would be money or financial reward. Employees work hard for the promise of raises, incentives, and bonuses. Professional athletes work tirelessly for large contracts and signing bonuses. Sales teams rally together to achieve the best sales in their region and win their all-expenses paid trips to costal destinations. Money is a powerful motivator, albeit a temporary one. After all, as Proverbs 23:5 says, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

For some money means nothing, but success and accomplishment are everything. Parents will make big financial sacrifices in order to prepare their child to become the next president, CEO, or neurosurgeon. A college student will practically live in the library in order to make the dean’s list. Musicians may practice until their fingers are bloody for a standing ovation. Success feels good. Like the other motivations, it can be quite seductive – making us feel important, even ‘better than’ others. Success leads us to believe we have done something worthwhile wth our lives. But again, it is only a temporary motivator. 

Another popular worldly motivation is the desire to affect change and influence. Every year millions of people from around the world give to causes larger than themselves, wanting to make a difference. Church mission outreaches to indigenous people groups, marathons for medical research, disaster relief teams, the Peace Corps, the Red Cross, and many more organizations draw volunteers from all walks of life, all of them hoping to show that their lives mean something. 

The desire to make a positive change on this planet is a good thing, and there are many important causes to rally behind. But if that becomes our main focus, or we seek to obtain meaning and significance in our charitable work, we miss an incomparable opportunity to make a spiritual and an eternal difference in the lives of others. 

Temporary motivations distract mankind from the truth. Even as Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than preaching or sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling is into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptation abounds.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas that are devoid of spiritual truth and life. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he wrote:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivators in the world today. 

As believers and disciples of Jesus we must not allow these worldly motivators dictate how we live our lives. So what should be our motivation as Christians?

  • The answer next time…

Turning Bad Experiences Into Growth Encounters – Part Two

We are looking at how to turn a bad experience into a growth encounter. Last time we saw:

1> Choose a positive life stance

2> Embrace and develop your creativity

3> Embrace the value of bad experiences

President John F. Kennedy was once asked how he became a war hero. With his customary dry wit he responded, “It was easy. Someone sunk my boat.” It is always easier to see something positive in a negative experience long after it happens. It is difficult to meet the negative experience in the moment with a positive mind-set. However, if you can do that, you will always be able to learn something from it.

Inventor Charles F. Kettering, who was the head of research at General Motors, said, “You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but the more chance you have of getting somewhere.” In other words, where there is no struggle, there is no progress. Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning for them is optional. Whether you learn is based on if you understand that difficulties present opportunities to learn and treat them accordingly. 

4> Make good changes after learning from bad experiences

It has been said, “Not every thing that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Often it takes a bad experience for us to face the changes we need to make in our lives. Often a bad experience introduces us to a “teachable moment.” And that bad experience gives us an opportunity to turn our lives around. A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.

Most people don’t think their way to positive change – they feel their way. In the book, The Heart of Change, we read, “Changing behaviour is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings. Both thinking and feeling are essential, and both are found in successful organizations, but the heart of change is in the emotions.”

When bad experience create strong feelings in us, we either face the feelings and try to change or we try to escape. It’s the old fight-or-flight instinct. We need to train ourselves to fight for positive changes. How do we do that? By remembering that our choices will lead to either the pain of self-discipline or the pain or regret. I would rather live with the pain of self-discipline and reap the positive rewards than live with the pain of regret, which is something that can create a deep and continual ache within us. 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a bad experience, remind yourself that you are on the cusp of an opportunity to change and grow. Whether you do will depend on how you react to your experience, and the changes you make as a result. Allow your emotions to be the catalyst for change, think through how to change to make sure you are making good choices, and then take action.

5> Take responsibility for your life

You need to recognize that your circumstances don’t define you. They are outside of you and need not negatively impact your values and standards. At the same time, you must take responsibility for your life and the choices you make. It has been stated that people who overcome bad experiences avoid the label of “victim” and take responsibility for moving forward. They don’t say, “What happened to me is the worst thing in the world, and I’ll never be free from it.” They say, “What happened to me was pretty bad, but other people are worse off, and I won’t give up.” They do not wallow in self-pity or ask, “Why me?” And that’s a good thing, because it’s one short step from “why me?” to”woe is me.”

It is nearly impossible to grow in any significant way when you don’t take responsibility for yourself and your life. No matter what you have gone through in your life – or what you are currently going through – you have the opportunity to grow from it. It’s sometimes very difficult to see the opportunity in the midst of the pain, but it is there. You must be willing to not only look for it, but pursue it. As you do, perhaps the words of William Penn, English philosopher and founder of the Pennsylvania province, will encourage you: “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.”

Turning Bad Experiences Into Growth Encounters – Part One

We had a look at bad experiences yesterday and saw three basic truths. Today we want to look at how to turn a bad experience into a growth encounter.

Someone once said, “Experience isn’t really the best teacher but it sure does serve as the best excuse for not trying to do the same silly thing again.” If you want your bad experiences to keep you not only from doing the same silly things but to also lead to significant personal growth and maturity, I would suggest you consider embracing the following five actions…

1> Choose a positive life stance

“Life stance” is a term used to describe people’s overall frame of reference – the set of attitudes, assumptions, and expectations people hold about themselves, other people, and the world in general. It comprises, for instance, people’s attitudes towards money, assumptions about their health, and expectations for their children’s future. The product of any person’s life stance is their overall way of looking at things: whether they tend to be optimistic or pessimistic, cheerful or gloomy, trusting or suspicious, friendly or reserved, brave or timid, generous or stingy, giving or selfish. If you can maintain a positive life stance, you put yourself in the best position to manage bad experience and turn them into positive growth encounters. 

Family therapy pioneer and author Virginia Satir observed, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” You cannot control much of what happens to you in life. However, you can control your attitude. And you can choose to rise above your circumstances and refuse to allow negative experiences to undermine who you are and what you believe.

You need to adopt a positive life stance because it gives you the best chance to succeed while putting you in the best position to help others succeed. To develop this daily mind-set you need to focus and think…

        • Life is filled with good and bad
        • Some of the good and bad I can’t control – that’s life
        • Some of the good and bad will find me
        • If I have a positive life stance the good and bad will become better
        • If I have a negative life stance the good and bad will become worse
        • Therefore I choose a positive life stance

To a large degree in life, you get what you expect – not always, but most of the time. So why would I want to expect the worst? 

2> Embrace and develop your creativity

There’s a story about a chicken farmer whose land was flooded nearly every spring. He didn’t want to give up his farm and move, but when the water backed up onto his land and flooded his chicken coops, it was always a struggle to get his chickens to higher ground. Some years he couldn’t move fast enough and hundreds of his chickens drowned.

After the worse spring he had ever experienced and losing his entire flock, he came into the farmhouse and told his wife, “I’ve had it. I can’t afford to buy another place. I can’t sell this one. I don’t know what to do.”

His wife replied, “Buy ducks.”

The people who make the most out of bad experiences are the ones who find creative way to meet them, like the farmer’s wife in the story. They see possibilities within their problems.

Author Neale Donald Walsh asserted, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I believe that creativity begins at the end of your comfort zone as well. When you meet the pain of bad experiences, creativity gives you the opportunity to turn the pain into gain. The secret to doing that is to use the energy that comes from either adrenaline or anger and use it to solve problems and learn lessons.

When you have had a bad experience, instead of letting it discourage you or make you angry, try to find a way to let it prompt your creativity.

More next time…

Life’s Bad Experiences

What separates people who thrive and those who merely survive? I believe it is how they face their problems.  When bad things happen we need to use these experiences as stepping stones for growth, learning, and success. I have never known anyone who said, “I love problems.” But, I have known many who have admitted that their greatest gains came in the middle of their pain.

Here is what I have learned about bad experiences:

1> Everyone has them

Life is filled with ups and downs. The problem is that what most of us want is ups and ups. That’s not possible in real life. I think it is pretty obvious that nobody gets to escape bad experiences. I heard a new statement the other day, “Some days you’re the pigeon; some days you’re the statue!”

We can do everything in our power to avoid negative experiences, but they have a way of finding us. I love the quote, “I try to take life one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once.” No matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or what your background is, you will have to deal with bad experiences. As television host and author Dennis Wholey observed, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.”

You have to have realistic expectations when it comes to pain and problems. You can’t avoid them.

2> No one likes them

Academy Award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman described that it was like for him and some fellow actors in the early days of their careers when they were struggling:

“If anyone had told us that we would have been successful, we would have laughed in their face. We were anything but successful actors in those days. I was a waiter. Gene Hackman was a mover and Robert Duvall worked at the post office. We didn’t dream of being rich and famous; we dreamed of finding a job. It was a time of terrible rejection, and we hated being rejected. It got to the point that we use to leave our 8×10’s (picture) at the door of casting agents, knock and run, just so we wouldn’t have to be rejected face-to-face again. It was so discouraging that I seriously considered quitting and becoming an acting teacher at a university.”

No one likes it when they’re in the middle of a bad experience. It’s usually just painful. But if they manage the experience well, then they enjoy talking about it afterwards. It becomes a great war story.

3> Few people make bad experiences positive experiences

Life’s difficulties do not allow us to stay the same. They move us. The question is, in which direction will we be moved: forward or backward? When we have bad experiences, do we become better or bitter? Will those experiences limit us or lead us to grow? As Warren G. Lester remarked, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

When tough times come, many people don’t respond well. Some seem to have the motto that can be seen on bumper stickers: “When the going gets tough, it’s time to take a nap.” What a shame. Learning from painful experiences is essential for anyone who wants to grow. Most successful people will point to the hard times in their lives as key points in their journey of development. If you are dedicated to growth, then you must become committed to managing your bad experiences well.  

Looking At Priorities

I have been spending time looking at time. How I spend my time. What I use my time for. Where am I wasting my time. What needs to change to make better use of my time? 

This is something I do at the end of every year as I look towards another new year. But this year I have begun the deep dive into my priorities a little early as I realize I have been wasting time with a number of relationships. I kept hoping that with a little more time and a fair amount of investment things within the relationships would change. Regretfully they have not and appear like they will not any time soon. So, an early look at how I have been using my time. 

After all, there are only three things you can do with your time – waste it, spend it, and invest it. I want to always be doing the latter.

I am a fairly scheduled person. I need to be to continue being involved in the many projects, ministries, and relationships that I have. But, I need to continuously look at how I am investing my time. I read recently, “Perhaps the very best questions you can memorize and repeat over and over is, ‘What is the most valuable use of my time right now?’” Your answer to that question should shape any system you use to schedule your life and the way that you prioritize your activities, events, and relationships.

You should also ask yourself “When is my most valuable time?” Because you’ll want to always make the most of it. For me it’s mornings. When I recognized that I stopped scheduling breakfast meetings and morning coffee appointments. That was four decades ago. Imagine how much of my prime time would have gotten used up if I had allowed myself to meet with people, which I’m capable of doing anytime, during my prime productivity time. Instead, I use my prime time to read, study, research, and write.

Making that decision for me was fairly easy. Others have been more difficult. I am opportunity driven, and I tend to want to do everything and say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that opens before me. If one is good, four is better. I love saying ‘yes.’ I have a hard time saying ‘no.’ As a result, I get spread too thin. To deal with that I had to develop a system. I had to get tough and protect my most productive time as mentioned above. But, even harder, I had to learn to protect my personal time. As an introvert I desperately need time daily to be alone, to reflect, to journal, and to recharge. However, because I love people and enjoy ministering I tended to give away my personal time when a need arises or an opportunity knocks. Of course, that is simply not healthy and not maintainable. So, I have learned to protect my time and control carefully where I am investing my time. This is not always easy. 

So, I am looking at my priorities. A little early as we are still a month away from the holiday season when iI normally look at priorities for the coming year. However, I have a relationship that has not worked out the way I though it would and prayed that it might. So, I am realizing that this particular relationship is currently not a wise investment of my time – professional and personal. And, there are several long-term ministry involvements that I also need to examining and seeing if it is wise to continue to invest my time in. So, I am drawing back somewhat as we approach a new year and a new season in life, resetting priorities and time usage.

Let me ask you the same questions:

What is the most valuable use of your time right now?

When is your most valuable and productive time?

Spend a few minutes thinking through where you are wasting or spending your time and make the needed adjustments so that you are investing your time wisely as a new year quickly approaches. 

Focus On Others…

If we spend time with Jesus, then we will naturally be driven to do the things that Jesus did. In other words, if you tell me you are hanging out with Jesus every day and yet there is no desire in your life to share your faith, or love those he gave his life for, then we should probably dig a little deeper to find out what version of Jesus we are talking about.

Jesus gave his life for others, and one of the freeing realizations you can come to is that life isn’t about you. It’s not about me, either. Life is about knowing Jesus and making him known as we relate to and serve others. Life is about extending amazing grace to people one wretch at a time. We all start wretched; we all need to be shown the way back to God. It takes discipline to keep another’s relation with God at the forefront of your thinking, but it’s a discipline you will never regret. 

Start here: the next time a friend pops into your head, instead of thinking the same old thoughts about them – thoughts based on popularity, clothes, work, school, money, their family, their house, their car, and how you compare to them – try thinking about where they are with God first. How would you like others to be praying for you? I need people to pray for me, and I can guarantee the same is true of each person God has brought into your life. With that friend in mind, say, “God, please bless him today. Please be near to him in a way he can sense. Help him overcome whatever obstacles he’s facing. Give me opportunities to share your hope with him.”

Then, text that person and say, “Hey, thinking about you. Hope you’re doing well. Praying for you today.”

I try to send texts like that every day, and I am always amazed by the responses I get back. Not everyone responds, of course. But, when they do, they tell me how it touched their lives and how big a deal it was to hear from me. Think about it, when was the last text like that you got? Let’s start a new trend.

Another habit I try to maintain as I’m on the go is to ask God to bring me opportunities to encourage strangers. I have actually entered into some neat, and often lengthy, conversations with people I did not know but now keep in regular contact with. And, a number of them, over time, have come to know the Lord. 

In my personal experience Christians spend much too much time talking about themselves. And much too little time listening to others. We need to learn how to hear the life story of others without feeling like we have to jump in and fix something that really is not broken. And even if what you want to share is an experience that you have had that is similar to what they are sharing, they don’t need nor want to hear it. Just sit and listen. And, once they have shared then ask them if you can pray for them. Right then. Right there. Don’t jump into your experience and bore them with your story. The purpose of the encounter is to hear them out and pray for them. We are too quick to speak. 

Even when I sit and chat with pastors and leaders of ministries… I sit and listen. Partly because they need someone to listen to them and, if they trust me, I am certainly a good listener. I don’t need to share what I have done, where I travel, what I have seen happen. So, I listen and care and then pray with them. And, partly because they really are so wounded that they don’t even think about how I am doing or even who I am. They are hurting and are deeply wounded, so focused on themselves and not really interested in who I am or what I am doing in life or in ministry. 

So, no matter who the person is – when God gives you an opportunity just listen intently and engage in the story they are sharing. Then, don’t offer your great wisdom and insight. Stay focused on others. Just pray with them. God will do the rest. 

Now, if they ask your advice – that is a totally different situation. However, I have found that people seldom ask for advice. They just want and need someone to care about them and to listen. Remember, people’s favourite topic is themselves. So listen and pray. 

Stretching As a Lifestyle

Too many people are dead but just haven’t made it official yet. I read that comment a few days ago in a great book that I just finished. And, as I read the comment I said, “Amen, so true” and thought of a number of young and middle aged people for whom this would apply.

I am in my early seventies and I am still reading two books a week. As I read I take notes, file material, and apply the truths and insights that I am gaining through reading. I must admit that every once in a while (about every three months) one of those two books a week ends up being a good detective novel. I read to stretch my understanding about life. I read to learn and to grow. I read to discover new truths or see old truths in new ways. I read because inside me there is a serious hunger to learn, to grow, to change, and to mature. 

If you think of a rubber band … wow! There are so many uses for a rubber band in every day life. But the one thing every possible use for a rubber band has in common is that they are stretched. Rubber bands are only useful when they are stretched! That can also be said of each one of us. So, I am a perpetual learner always hungering for new insights and understanding; new ideas and perspective; new thoughts and insights. Always stretching.

When we stop stretching, I believe we stop really living. We may keep on breathing. Our vital life signs may be working. But we are dead on the inside and dead to our greatest possibilities. James White observed, “Nature has everywhere written her protest against idleness; everything which ceases to struggle, which remains inactive, rapidly deteriorates. It is the struggle towards an ideals, the constant effort to get higher and further, which develops manhood and character.”

I’m getting older. And, I am noticing that I am not as fast nor as sharp as I once was. But, I intend to keep reading, asking questions, talking to interesting people, working hard, and exposing myself to new experiences until I die. Too many people are dead but just haven’t made it official yet! A Rabbi once said, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for? I refuse to give up growing. 

Now, it is not easy to find time to learn, develop, grow and mature. In fact, I don’t “find” time to do it. I “make” time. I schedule it into my calendar as an appointment with myself. I intentionally find a time each day to retreat from the active lifestyle I live to read and study, to think and write. That means less of my favourite music. It means only one hour of television an evening. That means less company and fewer people contacts in a day. It also means fighting to keep that time and not give it away to a worthy cause. It is my time to invest in me as a person and as a minister of the Gospel. 

I am planning to keep on stretching until I am all stretched out. How about you?