Looking for True Life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my life.  It’s not something I really enjoy doing, in fact, I try not to think about my life any more than I have to, I’d much rather think about someone else’s life.  It’s not that I don’t like my life, I’m probably happier than most with who I am.  But lately I’ve been thinking about the impact I’m making and accepting that I’ve been feeling unfulfilled for a while now.  As I was pondering what to write for my devotional this week, I ran across this verse:

“Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy of me. And those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy of me…. Those who try to keep the life they have will lose it. But those who give up their life for me will find true life.” Matthew 10:37, 39

It got me thinking about what true life was.  Is it living like Mother Teresa, is it living like Billy Graham, is it living like the pastors who preach to mega-churches?  The answer isn’t that we’re to love God and not other people. There wouldn’t be other people unless God wanted us to learn to love them and work together.

To me, true life is learning how to work together and coexist together, while building our individual and communal relationships with God.  You can do that as a mega-church pastor, you can do that as a big time missionary, you can also do that as a plumber or business consultant.  The only way you can’t do that is if you seclude yourself in a corner of the world cut off from other people.  It’s OK to take breaks from other people, but living without them eliminates some of the depth of real life.  Personally I’d rather deal with the quirks of other people than live an unfulfilled life.

What about you?  How would you define true life?  Are you living that life?

Listening to Your Emotions

Lately I’ve been thinking about life and change a lot.  I’m personally considering some changes in my life, and as a country the USA is on the brink of potential changes with the election as well.  As humans we’re both blessed and sometimes cursed with emotions that can rule our lives.  It’s never a good thing to make a decision on emotions alone, but given consideration of other factors, what role should emotions play?

Personally I listen to gut feelings.  If I’m in a situation or meeting someone for the first time, I try to listen to what my feelings are telling me.  Does that mean that if my gut says I shouldn’t like someone, I don’t try to get to know them?  No, unless I’m feeling threatened or scared.  Generally, my gut feelings don’t make the final decision for me about people, I’m willing to try to get to know someone, but more often than not my gut feelings about people and situations are right.

If I’m facing a big decision like deciding which college to go to, which house I want or what job to do, I like to check what emotions I’m feeling about each option.  Sometimes a feeling of fear will indicate that although an option is scarier, it may be the bigger opportunity.  Other times I feel more confident going with the option that feels safer.

Finally, when thinking about my emotions, I use them as a guide for when things need to change.  If I start feeling depressed or unhappy, I stop and take a look at what I’m doing, the people I’m with a lot and the situations I’m in.  My emotions can let me know that something’s not right in my life and it’s time for change.  Of course, the longer I fight these emotions, the farther into them I fall.

Today, I encourage you to check in with your emotions.  What are they trying to tell you?

Dealing with the Unknown

Every so often even the most faithful Christians have doubts.  Maybe the situation hits a little too close to home, maybe there are too many emotions involved, maybe a similar situation worked out a certain way, maybe they’re just having a tough day.  Whatever the reason, sometimes it’s hard to know the true path that God wants you to be on, or where God is in the situation.  But what about the rest of us?  What about those of us who know there’s something more but don’t know what?  What about those of us who have had some experiences that make us realize there’s a God, but don’t really know him?  What about those of us who see stronger Christians and wonder who we are?  Recently I read Acts 17:22-23 which provides one answer:

“Then Paul stood up before the meeting of the Areopagus council and said, “Men of Athens, everything I see here tells me you are very religious. I was going through your city and I saw the things you worship. I found an altar that had these words written on it: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ You worship a god that you don’t know. This is the God I want to tell you about.”

The answer is simple: when you’re having doubts about your knowledge, look for an answer.  I’m not saying that all the answers are out there, but I know a good portion of them are.  It’s easy to be deceived and think that no one can help you.  It’s easy to say that it’s “unknown” instead of looking for an answer.  It’s not so easy to say that you don’t know.  But it’s the first step in finding the answers that you’re seeking.

What are you struggling with today?  What answers seem just out of your grasp?  Would you share them with someone today?

Sticking it Out

“Life only demands from you the strength that you possess. Only one feat is possible; not to run away.” Dag Hammarskjold

I know that life can get tricky.  I’ve been in more than one mess myself.  It’s not easy to stay and fight the battle, work through the healing, endure the scars, and move on with your life.  Sometimes it does seem that life is throwing more at you than you can handle.  That’s one reason it’s good to have friends and mentors you can trust and turn to when life gets tough.

But I’ll be honest, there are some battles you just have to fight yourself.  There won’t always be a knight in shining armor to save you or ‘get out of jail free’ card to help you.  Sometimes the only thing you can do is to stick it out.  This is one reason I believe you need to know yourself and develop some of your natural intuition.  If you know when to fight or seek assistance, you won’t waste time questioning your decision, you’ll just know it’s the right thing for you to do.

If it’s a situation that you need to stick it out in, you have to know yourself, and trust yourself, well enough to know your limits and capabilities.  These things take time to learn and develop, time that you need to spend by yourself and with others.  You need to have experiences and try new things that will help stretch and grow you so you will be prepared when life gets tough.

As you face life in this upcoming week, I encourage you to take some time to get to know and trust yourself better, and to reach out to a friend for some support and encouragement if you’re struggling.  Even if you have to deal with something on your own, it never hurts to know that someone will have your back if you need help.

Peace in Poetry

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23 is one of my favorite psalms, one of the first I learned as a young child.  I love reading the Psalms because they not only share a comforting sense of peace, they also speak honestly about life.  They don’t sugar coat things, nor do they ignore that the world is full of dangers and challenges.  When reading the Bible it can seem like things don’t match up or things aren’t real, because things are so different now in 2012.  Yet, reading the Psalms, it seems like much less time has elapsed.

I don’t know what you’re going through today, but I do know that I have hope in you.  I believe that you can get through whatever challenges you’re facing.  Be comforted knowing that you have the reassuring words of the Psalms to read, an attentive God you can pray to, and lots of people who would be happy to help you in your situation.

I’d love to pray for you and your situations today.  Would you share them with me?

Dealing with Distractions

I love how exciting and busy life can be.  We’re living in a very exciting and challenging time.  But the very things that make our lives so spectacular also have a way of getting us off task.  Sometimes we need to take a break, we can’t run on all cylinders all the time.  Other times we tell ourselves that we just need a little break, that we’ll feel more focused after some time with our favorite hobby or busy activity.  We’re surrounded by life, and we’re surrounded by distractions.  What do we do when everything in our life becomes a distraction and we can no longer focus on living?

First we have to decide what we really want in our lives.  Often the distractions become part of our lives because we’re scared, worried or unhappy.  If that’s the case, it’s important to evaluate the things in our lives, like our jobs, homes, families, relationships and friendships.

Second, we have to change the things that are causing us to seek distractions.  If you’re drinking heavily because of your job, it’s time for a new job, not just an AA meeting.  If you’re feeling depressed because of your boyfriend, you need to leave the relationship and seek other help.  If you’re avoiding your partner because you lost your job and can’t get a new one, it’s time to come clean and consider starting a business to have money again.

Once you’ve gotten to the root of what’s really bothering you, you can decide what distractions you want to keep in your life.  If you’re not using the distractions as an escape, time waster, careless use of your life, but rather as a little relaxing or fun part of your day, they can actually be OK.

Our lives today will never be without distractions.  But they don’t have to run or ruin your life.  You’ve got the power to choose what direction you want your life to go in, and there are lots of people ready to help you get there as soon as you decide to live your life again.

The Challenge of Expectations

This weekend a couple clients of mine had special events going on or news to share with their families. In both cases the women I talked with were surprised by the less than enthusiastic responses they got.  It wasn’t that anyone wasn’t happy with what was going on, it just wasn’t as big of a deal as the women thought it would be.  So often we think things are a bigger deal than they really are.  What is it about power of expectations?

When Jesus came to earth He almost completely failed traditional expectations about His coming and time on earth.  He didn’t ride in as a king, taking over the rule from the kings of the time, He didn’t totally change things as people expected.  Instead, He spent time with sinners, people who didn’t always do the right thing in life, often creating negative expectations or connotations about them, at least until Jesus entered their lives.

I’ll be honest, the expectations I’ve had of some spiritual and ministry based things haven’t always been met.  Just because expectations are centered around doing something for God, it doesn’t mean our human expectations will be met.  Sometimes what we expect isn’t in line with what God has planned.

So how do we go about setting expectations that give God the room to do things His way and still have something to look forward to?  Here are my tips:

1-Expect that God will do something.
2-Expect that He has a good plan for your life.
3-Expect that life isn’t going to always be easy.
4-Expect that God will give you opportunities to experience and enjoy life.
5-Discuss your expectations with involved people so you can clarify and edit your expectations, and hear theirs as well.

Are there times that even with a good perspective on expectations that we’ll be let down?  Absolutely.  The nature of the beast is fraught with pitfalls and rocky surfaces.  But it also allows for you to shoot for the sky, and know God will catch you if you fall.

2012 in Words: Strength

Yes, this month we’re going to be thinking about our strengths.  It’s a topic I’ve been looking forward to discussing all year.  One of the reasons I do what I do is because I believe many people are living their lives not operating in their strengths.  Often, people blatantly ignore their strengths because they believe that they’re not “cool,” “people wouldn’t like them anymore,” or they “won’t make enough money” if they really did what they were good at.  So this month on this blog and the business and family blog, I’ll be sharing words of wisdom and support to help you not only discover, but embrace your strengths.

To begin, let’s talk about what it doesn’t mean to be strong, or have strength.  It doesn’t mean that you’re prone to pushing people over, forcing others into doing it your way or not letting others help you.  It does mean that you know what unique contributions you can make in the world, addressing your weaknesses and supporting others through your strengths.

True, some people do use their strengths in ways that hurt others, such as using their technological skills to hack and create viruses.  The challenge, and opportunity, for them is to find a way to use their strengths for good.

You may be strong in relationships, and be good at listening.  Maybe you’re really good with numbers or with technology.  Maybe you’re good at hearing kids hearts and helping them connect with themselves from a very young age. If you’re having trouble figuring out what your strengths are, ask a friend or close coworker for their insights.

So the question becomes, what are your strengths, and what are you doing about them?

Strength from God

This month we’re going to be spending some time looking at strength.  It’s a tough world we live in and yet we’ve been created to be strong and healthy people.  God didn’t create us to display our failures, He created us to do amazing things.  Not so sure?  Check out this verse found in Daniel 10:19:

“Don’t be afraid…for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”

In this passage we’ve got Daniel, the guy who ended up in the Lion’s den for praying to God, seeing a vision of a spiritual being.  Before this vision Daniel had had another vision, one that made him very worried about wars and bad things to come. In this vision the being comes to Daniel to encourage him and give him back his hope, for it seems as strong of a believer as Daniel was, he was worried about the future.

Just like we get worried about what tomorrow will bring, Daniel did too.  What I love about this verse said by the spiritual being, is that he didn’t just tell Daniel to be strong, he told him that he was precious to God.  Wow!  When was the last time that someone used words like that about you?

From other passages in the Bible it’s obvious that this is how God feels about all His children.  He talks about knowing the hairs on our heads and capturing our tears in a bottle.  That tells me that God thinks very highly of me, and I’m humbled and thankful for that.

Today I encourage you to find strength in the truth that God finds you precious too.  He thinks you’re one of His most valuable treasures, and wants to get to know you and share your life.  If you’re struggling I encourage you to reach out to Him right now for the strength and hope He offers.