What’s Your Focus?

Today I want to talk about our focus.  Sometimes we focus in pretty specifically on something, which is a good thing if we’re trying to finish some work or spending time with our families. But if I’m really in a groove with my writing or work to have someone call or interrupt me it can really be damaging on that focus.  If you’ve got kids you’re probably familiar with the concept of starting stuff but not finishing it for a very long time.  We live in a society of constant interruptions, one that keeps rushing past in such a fashion that you can feel like you’re missing something if you’re not paying attention.  I’m pretty good about reading and checking email only 3 times per day, and I don’t spend much time on social media, unlike many people who have almost an addiction to it. The challenge is in determining what your priorities are and then sticking to them.

As I was thinking about priorities and focus this week I read Isaiah 49:16: “I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes.”  This verse reminded me how valuable our attentions are.  It really matters what we put our attention on and how we interpret things, also known as our perspective.  There are lots of people who have negative or glass-half-empty perspectives on life, which, religious or not, is a waste of life.  It’s one thing to be aware of how things could go wrong, it’s another to anticipate or believe that they will more likely go wrong than right in all situations.

Maybe it’s just luck that you got that perfect parking space, there was no traffic on the road, you didn’t get into that accident, your partner did something nice for you, you got a gift just because, you got everything on your shopping list and even the things you forgot to put on the list, you reconnected with that old friend, you got that discount on your morning coffee and treat, or it didn’t rain on your big event, or maybe it was all God looking out for you.

I can’t answer that, I can’t tell you what was God and what wasn’t. Sure you can assume that it’s all God because God is everywhere at all times or none of it’s God because of free will, it could be endlessly debated.  But if we choose to see it as God working in our lives it’s really reminder after reminder that He’s looking out for us and loves blessing us in a variety of ways.  This week I encourage you to look for God in your life, look for the lessons He’s trying to teach you, and thank Him for being present when you see Him.

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Working with God

Today I’ve got a couple verses to share with you, verses of encouragement and challenge.

Encouragement: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Ephesians 3:20
God has big plans for each of us: He doesn’t create us without ability or purpose, He’s always got plans for us.   But more than just having plans for us, they’re big plans, plans bigger than we could come up with, which is kind of both awesome and intimidating at the same time.

Encouragement: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
God doesn’t give up on people, He always has hope that they’ll turn things around, get back on track or be able to pull things through and finish what He has called them to.  He will keep working with us, guiding us, and providing for us until our mission is complete, and then He may have another one for us!

Encouragement: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17
It’s a serious question: does God hear us when we talk to Him or is it more like talking to someone on our phone without actually dialing the number (which means we don’t talk to them)?  Throughout the Bible God strives to answer this question because lots of people question whether He’s there or not.  After all, He doesn’t always take out a billboard or even send us a simple text or email confirmation to let us know that our prayers were heard or how our prayers will be addressed.  But over and over God tells us that He does indeed hear our prayers.  We just don’t always see how they’re answered, understand the answer or like the answer.

Challenge: “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” Luke 6:46
We’ve established that God has a point for each and every one of our lives, He’ll be with us every step of the way as we work on completing them and He really truly does hear us when we pray to Him.  But what we don’t always get is that we have work to do.  God doesn’t complete the tasks for us, make us get out of bed each day, or make us say our prayers, that’s up to us.  We have to take the initiative to follow through on what He has called us to do.

So this week I challenge you to look at what God has called you to and what you’ve been ignoring or slacking on.  God is after a partnership with each of us, not a one sided speech or lesson.  We’ve got work to do, are you doing it?

Praying for People

A few weeks ago I shared about this verse:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 

As I was thinking about prayer and our discussion that week it got me thinking about what we use, for lack of better term, prayer for.  Often our prayer life centers around ourselves and others. People are a big part of our lives.  We talk with God about them when things go wrong or we’re concerned about them or when we can’t understand them.  We talk with God about people because our lives are built on interactions whether in person, on the phone or over social media. And so we bring the people in our lives to God through prayer.  Usually we ask Him to fix people or situations, maybe we ask for patience to help us work with that person.

But God has a bigger purpose for prayer, beyond just us telling Him about what goes on in our lives, although that is important to Him.  God wants us to see situations as He does, be open to His leading and guidance, and see people as He does.  God’s hope is that the time we spend in prayer over them won’t add more fuel to the fire but will open us up to His heart and plan for the people in our lives and their purpose for being there.

You may remember a time when someone revealed or you found out why they were being so annoying or what was going on in their lives that caused them to be so difficult and felt guilty for being so harsh on them.  The same holds true for people we pray about: if we knew the truth that God knows we would likely be open to a change of heart about them and the situation.

So this week in your prayer time I encourage you to be open to what God wants you to know.  Don’t forget that like any other conversation there’s time for talking and time for listening, that God knows more than you could about the situation and is just waiting for you to be open to hearing about it.

“…that when you pray for anyone, you tend to modify your personal attitude toward them.” Norman Vincent Peale

The Hope of Spring

I’m really excited that spring is beginning to peek out from beneath the snow! I’m always ready for warmer weather and more sunshine. But I’m also ready for what spring stands for: spring is the time when God renews the world and brings it back to life. We’re all experiencing our own challenges, life’s journey is full of them, and Jesus was no stranger to them. During his time on earth He experienced many challenges, challenges that made him an impressive leader, a promise keeper, a bringer of hope, a friend to many and a miracle worker, but they also made him humiliated, hated and hurt. I know that as awesome as spring is in my mind, there will be plenty of people who will be too busy talking about their sneezes or grumbling about the rain or hating on the flowers to realize the miracle that’s around them. The same was true for Jesus’ day: people were so worked up over what He was doing that went against their rules and knowledge that they totally missed how awesome and amazing it really was.

Spring is a time of potential. It’s time for us to get out of our igloos and start living again. It’s time for us to get out in nature with friends and family and find reason to enjoy living again. Time for us to lift up our heads and see the world we’re living in. Time for us to clear out the old and welcome the new. Time for us to stop limiting ourselves because it’s what we think others want to hear and start embracing all that life can be.

We will never be totally free of the evil in the world, not until Jesus comes back. But that does not mean that we have to live with the world as it is. We can choose to move on and start living life with the principles of spring and being willing to see life as more than an individual season but as one that changes, adapts, adjusts and is full of potential. Sure you can view the world as lost, hopeless and worthless as another winter storm in Boston or Capracotta, Italy, but I prefer to see the world through Jesus’ eyes: with hope.  How will you view the world today?

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.” Virgil A. Kraft

Listen and Learn

Last week I had interactions with a few individuals who displayed a very one-sided perspective towards life. It made for some uncomfortable discussions and challenged me to think about who I am as I interact with others. I’ve talked about my love of perspective many times before, because I’ve met too many people like these 3 individuals whose lives could have been so very (amazingly) different if they were just willing to look a little farther, ask another question, listen a little better or not take things as fact before considering their validity. Anytime I’m faced with a problem or opportunity I get excited because it means that I get to think about what could be, what could be done differently and make a list of all the different options that could be. They’re not all good options but the fact is that there are very few times that I haven’t been able to come up with at least one other option or way of seeing things than was initially presented.

I’ve learned that we’re too quick to jump, too stuck in our beliefs and assumptions, and that we think we have to be right and can’t be wrong to see these other options often. If we had just taken 30 extra seconds to really read it, to really think things through, to really listen to what the other person was trying to tell us things would have been very different.

Last week reminded me how much credit we need to give God for the patience He has with us when we don’t listen to what He’s told us many times, as well as His willingness to give us second and third tries after we’ve failed, not to mention that if we had listened the first or second time He worked through a challenge or lesson with us that we wouldn’t be in the situation we found ourselves in yet again. This week I encourage you to approach challenges with more patience and take the time to listen when someone speaks, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding pain and suffering in the future if you do!

“Oh, that you had listened to my commands! Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.”  Isaiah 48:18

Is God Listening?

This weekend in my Spiritual Strength newsletter I shared about why we pray and how we know what to pray, which got me thinking about God hearing us. I mean there are a lot of people around the world that He has to listen to at any given time during the day or night. Does He really hear me? I know He’s God and all powerful and all knowing and everything, but let’s face it, I’m not perfect, I’ve messed up before and will again. Does He really care about me?

There’s evidence throughout the Bible of many people asking this exact same question. And over and over God says that He does listen and does care about them, and us. Why? Because He’s compassionate and loving and gracious, and most of all, because He says so. But what about my screw-ups? Does that make a difference to God? We know that God doesn’t like when we sin or screw up. He hurts when we disappoint Him or go against Him or forget about Him. But until we are made perfect again He understand that we’ll be going through this cycle.

The challenge for us is to do what we can to not make the cycle repeat and try to be more compassionate with ourselves and the people in our lives so that we don’t sin and our relationship with God stays healthy. When we’re able to coexist and work together in ways that support each other and do good for the world we’re learning how to live in a way that is honoring to God.

But back to the question, does God ignore us? Zechariah 10:6 says:

“I will strengthen Judah and save Israel; I will restore them because of my compassion. It will be as though I had never rejected them, for I am the Lord their God, who will hear their cries.”

So God will wash His hands of us for a period the time we’re rejecting Him, but because He’s compassionate He welcomes us back and continues to work with us on doing better next time. So this week if you’ve been distant or feel like you’ve been off the path take time to reconnect with God.

Should I Stay or Should I Go

One of the biggest challenges we face in life is knowing when God wants us to stay and when He wants us to keep moving.  Sometimes God wants us to play an active role in our getting out of a situation, other times He wants us to sit back and watch Him work.  We’re not all as close to God and able to hear His voice as maybe used to be the case, so it’s not always as easy as we’d want it to be to know which one to do.

Sometimes it’s really obvious to know which you should do. You’ve probably heard the story about the person trapped on a flooded house and a row boat comes and goes (the guy tells them he’s waiting for God), then a bigger boat comes and goes (again he tells them he’s waiting for God) and then a really big boat comes and goes (again he tells them he’s waiting for God) and then he dies because the water gets too high.  When he gets to heaven he asks God why God didn’t rescue him and God yells at him for not seeing the boats as a means of rescue.

Sometimes it will be a perfectly natural solution or assistance that God sends our way when we’re in need, other times it’s supernatural.  As long as we do our fact checking and make sure we’re not being taken in for a scam, we should accept the solutions that come our way.

The one thing that people often forget is that to get God’s assistance we have to ask Him.  He may know everything that’s going on, but He likes knowing that we remember He’s there and our need of Him.  It’s not an ego thing, it’s a partner thing.  If you’re really partners with someone you’ll communicate your need to them and them their need to you.  Who doesn’t like being needed?

If you’re struggling this week I encourage you to first make sure that you’ve reached out for God, He will be faithful to respond to your call.  Then make sure you’re considering your options and ready to move as the situation develops.

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” Isaiah 30:18