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. 

Learn Something New Every Day

I begin each day with the determination to learn something new, experience something different, or meet someone I don’t already know. Doing this requires three things. First, you must wake up with an attitude of openness to something new. You must see the day as having multiple opportunities to learn something new.

Second, you must keep your eyes and ears open as you go through the day. Most unsuccessful people accept their day, tuning things out, simply hoping to endure it. They let life happen to them. They are passive. They are reactive and not proactive. 

Most successful people seize the day, focusing in, ignoring distractions. Growing people remain focused, yet maintain a sensitivity and awareness that opens them up to new experiences.

The third component is reflection. It does little good to see something new or learn something new without taking time to think about it. It does no good to hear something new without applying it. I have found that the best way to learn something new is to take the time at the end of the day to ask myself questions that prompt me to think about what I have learned. For years I have made it a practice to review my day and pull out the highlights. Remember, experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is. 

So, every day I set aside time to read. I read, on average, two medium sized books a week. This means turning off the television and excusing myself from chatting with whoever is in the house, and going upstairs to my study, making a coffee, and actually focusing on whichever book it is that I am currently reading. I also turn the cell phone off.

When I spend time out of the house meeting people and doing normal life I have a book with me. I may end up in line for a few minutes or have to wait 20 minutes for an appointment to arrive because they are running late. I get to read. Now with ebook readers, this is even simpler than ever before. However, I still carry a paper book with me most times. When I am on flights heading somewhere to minister I leave the seat-back screen off. I grab my book and I read. 

So, every day I am learning something new and applying what I am learning, reflecting on how it might change my life. 

I have recently read an autobiography of a former First Lady of the United States; a true story of a gifted young man who became a drug addict and what it did to his family as he struggled with the addiction. I have read two leadership books by a former mentor. And several books on relationships. I am currently reading the story of a English gentleman who left the corporate world to start a bookstore in London, England which went on to create a large chain of bookstores through that nation; a book on the fentanyl epidemic in North America, and the autobiography of the captain of Starship Voyager – Kate Mulgrew. 

Every day I look for something that I can read, someone I can speak to, some place where I can go so as to continue learning and growing. It makes life more of an adventure and it is never boring. 

The Stronger Your Character…

I work with a lot of young men who have tremendous calls upon their lives. God has a powerful destiny for each one of them. I see that potential and work to help them release it and enter into the fullness of who God has called them to be and what He has called them to do for Him. However, many times all of this is short-circuited by the lack of character in the person’s life. They simply don’t take the time to work on who they are – their character. Things such as trustworthiness, respect, honesty, responsibility, fairness, compassion, caring. You get the idea. 

Pulitzer Prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in prison during the Soviet era for criticizing Joseph Stalin. He went into prison an atheist and came out a person of faith. The experience didn’t leave him bitter. It left him grateful for the development of his faith and the strengthening of his character. Looking back on the experience, he said, “I bless you, prison – I bless you for being in my life – for there lying on rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life is not prospering as I had grown up believing , but the maturing of the soul.” 

If we desire to grow and reach our potentials we must pay more attention to our character – the maturing of our soul –  than to our success. We must recognize that personal growth means more than expanding our minds and adding to our skills. It means increasing our capacity as human beings. It means maintaining core integrity, even when it hurts. It means being who we should be, not just focusing on being where we want to be. It means maturing our souls.

Physician and author Orison Swett Morden once described a successful person by saying, “He was born mud and dies marble. This gives us an interesting metaphor to use to look at various lives. Some people are born mud and remain mud … Sadly, some are born marble and die mud; some are born mud, dream of marble, but remain mud. But many persons of high character have been born mud and died marble.”

That is a great thought. And, we can reach “marble” if we take the time to be self-reflective coming to know who we are on the inside. Character is really who you are when no one is looking. When you are free to allow the inside to be seen on the outside. As we come to know ourselves better we can then see areas of our character that need some attention and some hard work. This allows the mud to become marble. But, it is a personal choice we each need to make. 

A great place to start is understanding the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22… 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” These are part of the very nature and character of God Himself. And, as we journey on our path and run the race as disciples and believers one of the goals must be to become more and more like Jesus. And, these fruit describe so well the basic character and nature of Jesus as we see Him in the pages of the four gospels. 

Remember, the stronger your character the greater your potential for personal growth and maturity. 

Going Or Growing Through Life – Part Five

We have a choice. We can go through life or we can grow through life. We are currently looking at what we must be willing to give up so that we can grow up. Obviously some things are established and not negotiable. However, we need to determine which things we are willing to give up as we grow up. We saw yesterday …

1> I am willing to give up financial security today for potential tomorrow

2> I am willing to give up immediate gratification for personal growth

3> I am willing to give up the fast life for the good life

4> I am willing give up security for significance

Most people I know their goal in life is to be secure. Emotional security, physical security, and financial security. But it is never wise to measure progress and growth according to the level of  security one is experiencing. It is wiser to measure it by significance. And that requires growth. You’ll never get anywhere interesting by always doing the safe thing.

Most people are capable of making a living. That’s the safe thing. The significance thing is making a difference. The great men and women of history were not great because of what they earned and owned, but rather for what they gave up and gave their lives to accomplish. Every trade-off is a challenge to become what and who we really are. Done correctly, we can create opportunities to help others become who they really are. That is significant!

Most people try to take too many things with them as they journey through life. They want to keep adding without giving anything up. It doesn’t work. You can’t do everything; there is only so much time in a day. At some point, you reach your limit. Besides, we need to always remember that if nothing changes, nothing changes!

A lot can be learned about trade-offs from a checkers game. As someone once said: Surrender one to take two; don’t make two moves at one time; move up, not down; and when you reach the top. You have the freedom to move as you like. 

If you want to reach your potential, be ready to make trade-offs. As author James Allen said, “He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would accomplish much must sacrifice much.”

So, write your own personal list of trade-off principles. Use the four I have written about to spark ideas:

      • I am willing to give up financial security today for potential tomorrow
      • I am willing to give up immediate gratification for personal growth
      • I am willing to give up the fast life for the good life
      • I am willing give up security for significance

Think about worthwhile trade-offs you have made in the past that you believe will continue to be good ideas for the future. Also consider what might be needed for you to reach your potential along with what you might need to give up to fulfill it.

Remember, it is just as important for you to know what you are not willing to give up as it is to identify what you are willing to give up. Think through the things that are non-negotiable in your life and list them. Then for each, identify its greatest potential threat and what safety measures you need to put into place to protect it.

What trade-off do you need to make right now that you have been unwilling to make? Most people settle in and learn to live with a limitation or barrier that can be removed by making a trade. What is the next thing you need to trade for? And what must you give up to get it?

Going Or Growing Through Life – Part Four

What kind of trade-offs have you been making so far in your life? Have you thought about it? Have you developed guidelines to help you decide what to strive for and what to give up in return? Let’s look at five trade-offs that may help you to develop your own guidelines.

1> I am willing to give up financial security today for potential tomorrow

Physician and writer George Crane said, “There is no future in any job. The future lies in the man who holds the job.” I have always believed that to be true, and as a result, I have always been willing to bet on myself so much so that I have, at times, accepted financial risks and pay cuts to pursue the call of God on my life.

Why was I willing to take a pay cut when moving forward and growing into my destiny? Because I value opportunity and obedience more than security in life. I believe that the only job security we have is our individual commitment to continual personal development. 

2> I am willing to give up immediate gratification for personal growth

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. In the book “The Compound Effect” the author writes about the battle most people experience when it comes to weighing instant gratification against doing what’s best for us. The author states, “We understand that scarfing Pop-Tarts won’t slenderize our waistlines. We realize that logging three hours a night watching Dancing With the Stars and NCIS leaves us with three fewer hours to read a good book or listen to a terrific audio. We ‘get’ that merely purchasing great running shoes doesn’t make us marathon-ready. We’re a ‘rational species – at least that’s what we tell ourselves. So why are we so irrationally enslaved by so many bad habits? It’s because our need for immediate gratification can turn us into the most reactive, non-thinking animals around.”

When it comes to growth and success in life, immediate gratification is almost always the enemy of growth. We can choose to please ourselves and plateau, or we can delay our gratification and grow. It’s our choice.

3> I am willing to give up the fast life for the good life

We live in a culture that idolizes movie and music stars, drools over opulent mansions, idealizes travel, and plays the lottery in hopes of someday getting the chance to live the fast life it so admires and emulates. But most of that is an illusion. It’s like the airbrushed image of a model on the front of a magazine. It’s not real.

That’s just one of the reasons you need to choose to forgo the fast life in favour of the good life. What is the good life? In the book “Repacking Your Bags,” the authors offer a formula for the good life. They say it is, “Living in the place you belong, with the people you love, doing the right work, on purpose.” That’s a pretty good description. I would also add that missionary Albert Schweitzer said: “The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” To keep myself from getting”used up,” I try to create greater capacity in myself by continuing to learn and to grow. Therefore, there will be greater margin in my life, time and space to continue to grow. 

If you want to create capacity and margin in your life, it would be good to consider doing the following things:

        • Delegate so you are working smarter and not just harder
        • Do what you do best and drop the rest
        • Get control of your calendar; otherwise other people will
        • Do what you love because it will give you energy
        • Work with people you like so your energy isn’t depleted

If you do those things while doing the right work with purpose in the right place with people you love, you will be living the good life.

More next time… 

Going Or Growing Through Life – Part Three

We are looking at some of the trade-offs needed to keep growing in life and avoid simply going through life.

A> Trade-offs force us to make difficult personal changes                                                                                                  B> The loss of a trade-off is usually felt long before the gain                                                                                                C> Most trade-offs can be made at any time                                                                                                                            D> A few trade-offs come only once

E> The higher you climb, the tougher the trade-offs

If you are like most people, when you are starting out in life you have little to give up. Trade-offs at this point are easy to make. But as you climb and accumulate some of the good things in life, the trade-offs demand a higher price. Someone once said, “Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem.” When you have something to lose trade-offs become a little more difficult. 

When we are at the bottom, we make trade-offs because of desperation. We are highly motivated to change. As we “climb in life,” we change because of inspiration. At this higher level we don’t “have to” any more. We get comfortable. As a result, we don’t make the trade-offs.

One of the dangers of “success” in life is that it can make a person unteachable. Many people are tempted to use their success (read: comfort, security, safety) as permission to discontinue their growth. They become convinced that they know enough to succeed and they begin to coast. They trade innovation and personal growth for a formula, which they follow time after time. They are literally in a rut. However, we need to remember that the skills and knowledge that got you here are probably not the skills that will get you there. This is especially true today when everything is changing quickly. No matter how good things seem to be you can never ‘stand pat.’ If you want to keep growing and learning, you need to keep making trades. And they will cost you.

In the end, when we make trades we are trading one part of ourselves for another part. Author and thinker Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” You give part of your life to receive something back. That may not be easy, but it’s essential.

F> Trade-offs never leave us the same

Business book author Louis Boone asserted, “Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” We all have the power of choice, but every time we make a choice, our choice has power over us. It changes us. Even the bad choices can ultimately help us to change for good, because they clarify our thinking and show us ourselves.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called “The Great Divorce.” It’s been said that he chose that title because faith requires a choice. If we truly examine it, we must decide which side of the line we want to live on, and that choice causes us to divorce ourselves from things we once held onto. So either way we choose, we aren’t the same after we make the choice. 

G> Some trade-offs are never worth the price

I am all for making trade-offs. I have come to see them and accept them as a way of life. But not everything in my life is on the trading block. I’m not willing to trade my marriage for my career. I’m not willing to trade my relationships for fame or fortune. And I am not willing to trade away my values for anything or anyone. These kind of trade-offs only lead to regret. And they are difficult to recover from.

Trade-offs are always necessary if we are growing through life and not just going through life. Next time, ‘trade-offs worth making.’

Going Or Growing Through Life – Part Two

We are talking about go through or growing through changes in our life. Being willing to make a change or a series of changes is important. So is when we make the change.

      • Changing for the sake of change gives a person whiplash
      • Changing before you have to can lead to a big win, but it is difficult to do
      • Changing when you have to gives you a win
      • Changing after you have to leads to a loss
      • Refusing to change is death to your potential

B> The loss of a trade-off is usually felt long before the gain

Often we want a change, but we don’t want to wait for the result. And often we become acutely aware of what we have lost or given up in the trade because we feel that immediately, while we often don’t reap the benefit of the trade until days, weeks, months, years, or even decades later.

These in-between periods of transition can be a real challenge. We want the outcome, but we have to face the end of something we like and face the uncertainty between that ending and the hoped-for new beginning, The change feels like a loss. Some people deal with the uncertainty fairly well; others don’t. Some recover from the psychological stress of change fairly quickly and process through it successfully; others don’t. How well you do will depend partly on personality and partly on attitude. You can’t change your personality, but you can choose to have a positive attitude and focus on the upcoming benefits of the trade-off.

C> Most trade-offs can be made at any time

There are many trade-offs in life that can be made at any time. For example, we can give up bad habits to acquire good ones anytime we have the willpower to make the decision. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep, trading inactivity for exercise, and developing better eating habits to improve our health are all matters of choice, not opportunity. Obviously, the sooner we make such decisions the better but most of the time they are not time driven.

After they made a bad trade-off, people often panic, feeling that they have blown it and can never recover. But seldom is that true. Most of the time, we can make choices that will help us to come back. I know that has been true for me. I have made more than my share of poor trade-offs, but I have made many U-turns and recovered.

My mentor taught me this little poem…

Though no one can go back and make                                                                                                                                              a brand new start, my friend.                                                                                                                                                Anyone can start from now                                                                                                                                                        And make a brand new ending.

So when it comes to choices, never say never. Never is a long, undependable thing and life is too full of rich possibilities to have that kind of restriction placed upon it. 

D> A few trade-offs come only once

The cycle of change gives us windows of opportunity in which to make decisions. Sometimes that cycle only goes around once. Miss it and the opportunity is gone. Andy Grove, former chairman and CEO of Intel, observed, “There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next performance level. Miss that moment, and you start to decline.” The same is true in life and in ministry.

So, we need to have a good sense of self-awareness. We need to know who we are and where we are heading. As well, we need to be aware of and sensitive to the people and circumstances surrounding us. Then we can recognize these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and make the necessary changes to grab hold of and embrace them. 

Going Or Growing Through Life – Part One

Nothing creates a greater gap between successful and unsuccessful people than the choices we make. Too often, people make life more difficult for themselves because they make bad choices at the intersections of their life or they decline to make choices because of fear. But it’s important to remember that while we don’t always get what we want, we always get what we choose.

I am currently in a stage of life where I am making some major changes. This is requiring that I make a number of choices. In some cases it is giving up the good to get the best. In other cases, it is no longer doing things that once worked and simply no longer do. It is a season for trade-offs.

Whenever I face an opportunity for a trade-off, I ask myself two questions:

1> What are the pluses and minuses of this trade-off?

Anytime you react to one of life’s crossroads according to fear rather than looking at its merits, you close yourself off from a potential opportunity. By trying to figure out the pluses and minuses of any given choice, it helps me deal with the fear. Looking at cold, hard facts has also led me to discover that I have a tendency to overestimate the value of what I currently am doing and underestimate the value of what I may gain by giving it up and making the change. 

2> Will I go through this change or grow through this change?

Good trade-offs are not something to be endured. That reflects a passive attitude and a mind-set that says, “I hope this turns out all right.” Instead, positive trade-offs should be seen as opportunities for growth and seized. After all, we become better as a result of them. When we grow through change, we become active. We take control of our attitude and emotions. We become positive-change agents in our own lives.

Author Dennis Waitley said, “A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.” 

I agree with that, and years ago when I first read that I determined that while others may lead timid lives, I would not. While others might see themselves as victims, I would not. While others leave their future in someone else’s hands, I will not. While others simply go through life, I will grow through life. That is my choice, and I will surrender it to no one.

Let’s look at a few truths regarding trade-offs…

A> Trade-offs force us to make difficult personal changes

Often you will hear people expressing the hope that things will change. At those moments, I want to tell them that the difference between where we are and where we want to be is created by the changes we are willing to make in our lives. When you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done. Otherwise you keep getting the same results.

Changes to our lives always begin with changes we are willing to make personally. That’s often not easy. But to get ourselves over the hump, we need to remember that…

      • Change is personal – To change your life, YOU need to change
      • Change is possible – Everyone CAN change if they want to
      • Change is profitable – You will be rewarded when you change

Change may not always be easy, but it can always be done. As psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed, “When we are no longer able to change a situation. We are challenged to change ourselves.” We just need to remember that we are the key.

More next time…

Eagles Make Life Happen

As a leader I am often asked to disciple or mentor young people. I am open to saying “yes” to those who have a call on their lives to be part of the fivefold ministry team as seen in Ephesians 4:11-12

“And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

However, a call is not enough. I have worked with and even travelled with young men who have a strong call of God on their life who were disasters looking for a place to happen. Others simply were of no help on the trips they took with me and actually created more work for me and damaged the reputation of my ministry that has taken decades to build. The issue is more than a call – it is their character.

So, when saying “yes” to someone wanting to be discipled, mentored, or a member of my team on an overseas trip I am much more hesitant than ever before. I need a season to come to know the person really well and to experience them in action so as to see their character and their relational abilities. 

Now, when I say “yes” to someone I am looking for what I call “an eagle.” These are people with great potential that I can then create an environment for them to flourish, reach their potential, and emerge as powerful ministers of the Gospel of the Kingdom and leaders in their own right. The have the qualities, the character, and the motivation to develop into powerful leaders or “eagles.” If they have what is required to grow and develop and blossom – and are willing to learn and relate to me and my team, then they are considered for entering a mentoring relationship with me. I am looking for “baby eagles’ who have the potential to develop into strong, mature eagles.

The ten marks of an eagle are:

      • Eagles make things happen
      • Eagles see and seize opportunities
      • Eagles influence the opinions and actions of others
      • Eagles add value to you
      • Eagles draw winners to them
      • Eagles equip other eagles to lead
      • Eagles provide ideas that help the organization or ministry
      • Eagles possess an uncommonly great attitude
      • Eagles live up to their commitments and responsibilities
      • Eagles show fierce loyalty to the organization and the leader 

So, I am much slower in saying “yes” to someone who wants to be discipled or mentored. I am much more selective as to whom I choose to invest my time and energy in. I am looking for young people with a call and with character … and the potential, with my help, to become eagles. 

Intentional Growth

Personal growth never happens by accident. To grow as a disciple of Jesus you have to make a decision to grow and then intentionally implement a growth plan in your life. The key word here is “intentional.”

In my experience most people get saved and begin to read their Bible, pray, and attend a local church. All of this is good. But, if you just read your Bible you are not going to grow spiritually or even in your character. The Bible itself states we need to “study to show ourselves approved as a workman who need not be ashamed…” That is much more than a casual reading of two or three chapters a day. That is digging in and learning truths and principles and then applying them to your life. 

And attending church and hearing a sermon each week will also not bring about much change. Many believers have heard thousands of great sermons and have not changed in the least. 

These things, reading the bible and hearing teachings may cause some “accidental” growth but not the constant, intentional growth we need to become effective, mature believers and ministers of the Gospel. 

So, we need to change from accidental to intentional growth and plan to grow in the various areas where we know we need to see and embrace change.

People tend to get into ruts in life. They get in an easy groove and they don’t try to break out of it – even when it’s taking them in the wrong direction. After a while, they just get by. If they learn something, it’s because of a happy accident. Don’t let that happen to you! If that is the attitude you’ve developed, then you would do well to remember that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length!

How do you know if you’ve slipped into a rut? Take a look at the differences between accidental growth and intentional growth:

ACCIDENTAL GROWTH                                          INTENTIONAL GROWTH

Plans to start tomorrow                                                   Insists on starting today

Waits for growth to come                                                Takes complete responsibility to grow

Learns only from mistakes                                              Often learns before mistakes happen

Depends on good luck                                                      Relies on hard work

Quits early and often                                                        Perseveres long and hard

Falls into bad habits                                                         Fights for good habits

Talks big                                                                              Follows through

Plays it safe                                                                         Takes risks

Thinks like a victim                                                          Thinks like a learner

Relies on talent                                                                  Relies on character

Stops learning after graduation                                     Never stops growing

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” (wife of a former president of the United States)

If you want to reach your potential and become the person you were created to be, you must do much more than just experience life and hope that you learn what you need along the way. You must go out of your way to seize growth opportunities as if your future depended on it. Why? Because it does.

Growth doesn’t just happen – not for me, not for you, not for anybody. You have to go after it!