Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The First Step in Conquering Resolutions

Statisticians tell us that 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only 8% of people accomplish them (according to statisticsbrain.com). That’s an astonishing statistic! I find that success in goal setting boils down to one important component, which must be the first, vital step in conquering a New Year’s resolution.

I spent many years failing to meet New Year’s resolutions, in fact, I failed so often that there was a season in my life when I stopped making them at all.  However, targeted and intentional ambition is vital when one desires personal, spiritual, and professional growth.  Goals provide us with the road map to pursue our dreams. 

A goal can formulate at any time - the start of a new year, or on our birthday, during back to school season, or any other day on the calendar.   Every goal should pass the S.M.A.R.T. test:  is my goal  specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely?  If not, my goal needs some polish before I can work to achieve it.  Another effective way to evaluate a goal is determining whether it is important enough to protect, even when it costs me something. Am I willing to make the necessary tradeoffs to reach my goal? 

These are important points to consider when establishing goals or New Year’s resolutions.  However,  the most valuable component to goal setting is one that will help me press on and keep working when things get tough.  It’s easy to pursue a goal when it’s a new, great idea that I’m excited about, but I need something that will keep me walking through the trenches when distractions, temptations, or sheer exhaustion get in the way. 

The most helpful component in achieving goals is a compelling reason to succeed.  We must have a firm handle on the reason we want to achieve a goal and an intimate understanding of what’s at stake if we fail. When setting a goal or establishing a New Year’s resolution, the first step to achieving it is to clearly identify our “why.”

Our “why” is what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning.  It’s what generates excitement and helps move us from a great idea into tenacious action.  A strong “why” helps us picture our goal so vividly, we can’t imagine not achieving it.  It becomes the force that drives us when we’re tired, or bored, or fresh out of ideas about what to do next. A strong enough “why” helps us consider the cost as more of a trade off than a sacrifice.   

Our pastor pointed us to a particular Bible passage on Sunday and the Holy Spirit used it to speak new life into my “why.”  

Galatians 6:7b-9 For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. (HCSB)

This reminder of God’s Truth made my spirit sing.  Yes, this is the drive that helps me press through weariness, and distractions and, sometimes even boredom. This promise poured into my cup:  if I continue to walk in obedience and pursue Kingdom purposes, I will reap at the proper time.  When I’m so tired that my bones ache and so burdened that I feel I can’t take another step, knowing that God is with me, that He sees my every need and promises to provide a harvest to reap at the exact moment He sees fit, THIS is what compels me forward.  

THIS is what helps me continue working on small, seemingly insignificant practices because I know this is the process of sowing and reaping.  A seed sometimes seems insignificant, too, but each seed is what we sow to reap a harvest. When I continue to sow into the things I seek, I will reap what I sow.  It’s a Kingdom principle.  One doesn’t plant a corn seed and harvest a watermelon.  When we sow corn, we reap corn. 

And, our pastor reminded us, when we plant a single corn seed, it produces a stalk of corn that’s covered with multiple ears of the sweet, juicy vegetable.  One seed produces a small harvest.  Lots of seed produces an entire crop and an abundant harvest.  The Kingdom principle is that our efforts are multiplied, often far beyond what we can ask or imagine. 

This compels me forward.  This moves me to action. This drives me out of bed in the morning and pushes away any thoughts of giving up on my goals.   This is my “why.”  I’m so grateful that the Lord reached into my cluttered life, pulled out this nearly forgotten Truth, dusted it off, and wrapped me in it.  

Your Turn: 

What is your "why?"  What will keep you pressing on toward your goals in 2014?

What seemingly insignificant steps will you take to begin your journey?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Are You Wishing... Or Waiting?

When I was learning to ride horses as a young girl, I discovered, rather suddenly, a passion for English Pleasure. English riding requires entirely different tack than I was already using for Western-style events:  a separate saddle, blanket, and bridle, not to mention all-new show attire including britches, riding jacket, helmet, and boots. This was an expensive dream and we were a one-income family. I wondered, “How is this going to work?”

My Dad was a very soft hearted and compassionate man who spoiled me rotten. Very few times in my life did I hear the word “No,” but this was one of those times. I knew my dad’s heart and his desire to give me every opportunity. When he said “No,” he meant it and I could tell that this particular “No” broke his heart nearly as much as it did mine. 

To make matters worse, my very best friend also decided she’d like to ride English and her parents had all of the needed equipment in her hands within a few days. Meanwhile, I was babysitting, doing extra chores, and trying to find ways to earn the money I needed to pursue my new dream. I waited for what seemed like a lifetime.

That Christmas there was a large, baffling box under the tree. It had my name on it but for the life of me, I couldn’t guess what might be inside. Christmas morning finally arrived and when I began to open the box, the saddle flap, compressed beneath the box lid, flipped out. I let out one of those “ugly” cries and I was sitting on my dad’s lap hugging, and thanking, and bawling before I ever took the English saddle out of the box. 

Waiting involves a measure of expectation. When we wait for something, there is anticipation that we’ll see the thing in our lifetime. Without the hope and belief that it will soon arrive, we’re not really waiting, are we? That’s more like wishing, then forgetting we ever wished it and feeling surprised when it actually happens. Waiting is different than wishing. It includes watching and preparing for the thing with expectation that it will, at last, take place. 

I had fully expected to own an English saddle and gear eventually, and I was working hard to attain it. When it came with such surprise, this thing I had so deeply desired and prepared for, it’s arrival looked different from anything I had imagined. It was overwhelming and beautiful! As of today, even though I haven’t ridden a horse in nearly 30 years, the saddle still hangs in the rafters of our garage. I don’t ever plan to let it go. 

This precious memory, especially because its culmination was at Christmas, makes me think of the nation of Israel and their long wait for a Messiah. The nation waited with expectation and hope, and they looked forward to the coming King who would offer deliverance and salvation.  Micah 7:7 expresses such expectation beautifully, saying, 

“But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD ; I will wait for the God of my salvation.” (NASB)

The Hebrew word for “wait” is the transliteration Yachal, which means to wait, hope, expect.

At the appointed time, Israel's wait for the Savior was over. The angel Gabriel brought the news, not to the priests or the king, but to an unsuspecting young girl. The news came in a way that looked differently from anything the people expected or imagined. They’d continued to wait and watch for centuries, and when the time came, God sent His messenger to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.

The coming of the Christ was overwhelming and beautiful. The salvation that Israel anticipated and awaited was delivered for more than the Jewish nation - it is for you and me. Only by the blood of Jesus can we enjoy relationship with God. Only by His atoning sacrifice that was provided not only for us but instead of us, can we receive redemption.  Our sin, all of it, which creates a deep chasm between the Lord and us, is washed away and the chasm bridged by the work of the cross. Having Jesus in my life makes me want to leap into the lap of my heavenly Father, hugging, thanking, and bawling for such a precious gift.

God provides in ways that exceed anything we can ask or imagine. Israel expected political deliverance. Instead, God brought a ministry of reconciliation for eternity by loving the world so much He gave his only begotten Son. I’m thankful for the words of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth who, through the Spirit, immediately recognized that the child in Mary’s womb was the Lord:

 “She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!” (Luke 1:45, HCSB). 

Believe, beloved daughter of the King, and be blessed.  Don't just wish, but wait with expectation for the truth which you believe. God's promises never fail. 

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Carries Your Load?

Do you have a pack mule? I’m not asking if you know what a pack mule is or if you know someone who works as hard as one, but rather, do you have one?  A human one? Is there someone in your life who carries a load that many (including you) should share? If so, then you have a pack mule – someone who will carry your load.    

In my estimation, the analogy of a pack mule represents one with a strong back, broad shoulders, who can carry a load that most aren’t capable of carrying.  We’re most apt to take advantage of them and take them for granted. Over time, we reach a point where we’ve heaped tasks and responsibilities onto one person, our pack mule, until she is barely able to stand. Most of us know someone we might consider a pack mule at church, or in the workplace, or the home school co-op, or among the elementary school volunteers, or in the homeowner’s association, or in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.  When they first started their given role, they felt like the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem. Joyful. Honored. Chosen. Appreciated. (The donkey’s emotions aren’t Scriptural, just part of my imagination). But unlike Mary’s donkey, over time as more and more was added to the load, our pack mule began to feel neglected. Abused. Weighed Down. Weary. 

Let me give an example. A friend of mine attends a small church in another city and sadly, the church has continued to reduce in its congregational size. For each former volunteer who exited, my friend accepted more tasks because she’s capable, she makes herself available, and she is willing to help. At least she began with a willing spirit. I’m not so sure she’d consider herself willing at this point, because she’s so worn down and exhausted.

As things have progressed, my beautiful friend has not only carried much of the emotional burden of a church that’s been close to shutting its doors, she is also the person who picks up the work load and continues to ensure that everything is done and done well. Why? So that when guests enter, they feel welcome and see more than a struggling church, but one that loves and honors the Lord in all they do. She wants guests to see Jesus, not the distraction of a church that neglects important details.

Pack mules often go unnoticed because they refuse to complain and they carry their load quietly. But they’re often sinking into an emotional and spiritual pit. We don’t intend to make them feel this way, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize we’re the ones who allow it to happen. We allow the pack mule to accept too many tasks and responsibilities. Often we let ourselves relax believing that our pack mule has a handle on things. We know we don’t have to get involved because she’ll handle things so well, and often catch ourselves thinking, “that’s what she signed up for,” or

“if the load were too much, she’d say no” (the truth is, pack mules rarely know how to say no), or

“I don’t know how to do what she does.”

We might think, “I’ll help her after the holidays because I have a lot on my plate right now.” I promise you, our pack mule has a lot to do for the holidays, too. She’d love your help now!

When we see a need and meet a need, the work is soon spread out evenly and we can prevent making pack mules out of our sisters in Christ. Here are a few ways to put this idea into practice: 

1)      Take Notice.  (John 13:34-35; Philippians 2:3)
Everyone likes a little attention from time to time. Let’s do the math and realize that when we look at all of the “stuff” that gets done around us, it’s often done by one very faithful and very exhausted person.  When we realize what’s happening, we can take action.

2)      Show gratitude.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 10:24)
At the very least, we can express thanks for all that our pack mule does. Gratitude goes a long way in spurring on endurance and keeping a heart focused on what’s important.

3)      Lend a Helping Hand.  Often.  (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:35)
Let’s stop thinking that “this is so-and-so’s job,” and start pitching in. If we don’t know what to do or how to do it, we can simply ask appropriate questions then get to work. The job is most often too big for just one. Once we learn how, we can help on a consistent basis and start removing some of the load from our pack mule. 

I’m very excited to report that my weary friend’s church is turning around. God is clearly on the move. He’s bringing new families through the doors of the church and has breathed new life and energy into the Gospel spreading within the community. The once alive and vibrant church that dissolved into almost nothing is growing again with new life. It’s exciting to see and, in my mind, is due in no small part to the faithful and diligent effort of a dedicated person - the one who remembers WHO she serves, and continues to carry the load, no matter how hard it is.

We serve that ONE, our Savior Jesus Christ, too, so why, oh why, do we let the faithful few carry such huge loads? If you know a pack mule, will you reach out to her today? Will you serve Christ by honoring her? And for heaven’s sake, will you help her?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

For Obsessive Preppers Like Me

At a women’s Christmas event over the weekend, I had the distinct privilege of introducing someone who has quickly become a very close friend. Anyone who knows me well understands that I labor in preparing every word that I speak in a public setting. I pray, think, rehearse, rework, restate, and agonize any time I’ll address a crowd. (It’s clearly a Martha vs Mary mentality.) As I thought through what to say, I considered both the audience and the friend I’d introduce. Most of the audience had not yet met her and I wanted them to love her as I do. Which of her characteristics should I share? What points from her past would provide connection? How should I describe her impact on my personal walk with Christ? 

In the afterglow of the event, I began to reflect on how my words were stated and wondered if I said all I’d wanted to. You see, no matter how much I rehearse and try to memorize, my words come out differently than I plan nearly every single time I face an audience. Knowing that about myself makes me wonder why I agonize as I do. It’s somewhat of an obsession that I’ve developed from knowing the trouble that my mouth can cause. I’ve learned that I can’t prepare too much, even when I’ll provide a simple 60-second introduction for someone I adore.  

This morning’s contemplation, however, brought a new twist and I wondered… 

Do I put as much time, energy and effort preparing to introduce Christ to those I know and love? 

I adore the Lord and wish for everyone I know to love Him as I do. Therefore, which of His characteristics should I share? Which points from my past with Him would help to provide the most connection? How should I describe my Savior and speak of my personal walk with Him? Do I give proper attention to the manner in which I’ll introduce Him? Do I pray for opportunity and preparedness? 

The spirit brought conviction to my heart because if I’m honest, no, I don’t give intentional witness the focus it deserves. The Christmas season is a wonderful time to share Christ and people seem more open than normal to hear about Him. I have a new resolve to pray that I don’t squander the opportunities that God provides and that I don’t hesitate to share about the Lord. 

The Bible teaches that we are not to worry about what we are to say, particularly as it relates to our witness, because in that very hour, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak (Mark 13:9-11).  I can’t possibly rehearse every potential scenario and I must trust that the Lord will instruct me on what to say. But I can prepare in other ways. I can pray and ask the Lord for greater willingness to share. I can ask that He show me when, where, and with whom to speak, and I can pray that He prepare hearts for what He’ll speak through me. As I take these steps to prepare, I’m sure to find myself more willing to walk in obedience and better able to see the opportunities that He presents.

I take it to the Lord in prayer:  "Father, I pray that Your children will feel a sense of urgency to share Your Truth with a lost world. Make us ready, and prepare the hearts of those who share and those who hear. We ask for your strength and power to go before us and pave the way. We trust that we walk in Your path to accomplish what You purpose in each life. Thank you for Your faithfulness!"

Your turn:

Over which events or situations (holiday or otherwise) do you “obsessively” prepare?

How does this compare with the way you prepare to share Christ with others?

What changes would you like to make in either area?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, December 2, 2013

6 Simple Strategies to Connect With Your Busy Spouse

Mike and I have one of those marriages.  The kind where we’re rarely at the same place at the same time. Our schedules feel almost like working opposite shifts. Our travel itineraries can be hectic and not infrequently, we see each other for a day or two every few weeks.  On a typical day, we don’t have “face time” until very late in the evening, just as our heads hit the pillows for much needed rest.

Throughout our 26 years of marriage, we’ve never connected well without our quality time together, yet as we agreed just last week - even as hectic as things are, we’ve never felt closer as a couple.  We’re often asked, “How do you two stay so connected?” 

It’s no accident.  We’ve learned to prioritize intentionality in our relationship and follow six simple and effective strategies to keep us on track.  We don’t do any of these things perfectly, but we strive to do them well and the effort brings huge reward.

1.   Establish and protect shared priorities. 

Our individual relationships with the Lord are our top priority and without that in place, none of what I’ll continue to share has any bearing. We also share the belief that our family is our next highest priority and we’re committed to do whatever it takes to protect it. Whatever it takes. If that should mean leaving a job or any other aspect of our lives to protect our marriage and family, we’d do it in a heartbeat.  This is not a lofty, false illusion, in fact, it’s part of our history. We’ve done it in the past. It’s not enough to set priorities; we do everything in our power to protect them.

2.  Don’t go it alone.   

About a year ago, our pastor saw a potential storm coming when he realized all we were about to undertake in the public service and ministry arenas.  He encouraged us to recruit a team of prayer warriors and we didn’t hesitate to do so. Our faithful prayer partners intercede often and on demand for our marriage, our family, our ministry and our public service. We do the same for them. Prayer support is a vital asset to our marriage and family.

3.  Date unconventionally.  

Hebrews 10:25, Philippians 2:3

Our schedules rarely give us evenings together and we’ve had to learn to date during other, non-prime time windows. We meet for morning or afternoon coffee as often as possible. We try hard to meet for lunch once or twice a week. Sometimes we have to act spontaneously, but if one of us is free for a daytime meeting, we try hard to make ourselves available. Sundays are our family day. While it’s a workday for me, we attend worship service together, serve our congregation together, and then enjoy time with one another in the afternoon and evening hours. We protect Sundays at all costs and rarely commit to appointments or accept invitations on that one day each week.

4.   Maximize the minutes.  

When afforded brief windows of time together, we stop multi-tasking and give each other our full attention. When we have 10 minutes together, our focus is on each other, not on our iPhones or unfinished tasks.

5.  Keep the air clear.

There’s not much time together and we don’t have time for guessing games. We’ve learned to keep short accounts and when something begins to bother us, we share it quickly and honestly. I can’t fix a problem that Mike doesn’t share with me and vice versa. I can either choose to let a problem escalate, or let him know he’s pushing one of my hot buttons then work toward a solution together. We choose to communicate kindly, openly, and in honoring ways toward one another. This takes practice, especially when emotions are raging, but it’s well worth the effort. We’ve learned to navigate most conflict with trust and calm hearts.

6.  Trust the other’s motivations.

We came to the obvious realization a number of years ago that we never intentionally set out to hurt each other. Of course, there are seconds that tick by from time to time when we may wonder, “Is he / she just trying to get my goat?” But we are intentional in giving each other the benefit of the doubt and reminding ourselves that we’re a team. We’re in this marriage forever, and we have no reason to wish the other harm or pain. We trust that when we do something to offend the other, it’s not intentional and we’ll work as hard and as fast as possible to make it right.  We choose to fight together as a team rather than fighting against each other.

Our marriage is far from perfect, but I won’t hesitate to call it magnificent. I adore my husband and I believe that he adores me. When we are intentional about working on these simple (but not always easy) strategies, they resolve about 98% of problems before they even start, and make our marriage dramatically easier to navigate. They keep us on a higher plane of communication where we can get to the heart of a matter without feeling blindsided or criticized, enjoy our time together, and not squander it on pent up and unresolved issues.  

Your turn:

How do you connect with your spouse when life is hectic?

Which of these 6 strategies would you like to implement right away and why?

Be strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28