Listening for Encouragement

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Bible passages. Many people hear it in church, but it’s also often shared at funerals or with those who are going through a challenging time in their lives. In some ways it reminds me of the Serenity Prayer which is used by countless self-help programs and groups. One of the things I love about Psalm 23 is that it brings us through the journey of our lives in just 6 short verses, talking about both high points and low points that we go through.

As I was thinking about this chapter and about our topic of the month I was reminded that sometimes what we need is to hear something as simple as Psalm 23 to find the peace, hope, encouragement, strength and perseverance to make it through another day. It’s not about having all the answers, having tons of money, having lots of friends, being well-known, or not having any issues or challenge or problems in life. That’s not the story of Faith or the Bible, despite what some people may say.

Throughout the Bible we’re reminded that there will be challenges we face and there is no guarantee of a great life on earth. However, we are assured if we’re people of faith that God will go with us through all challenges we face and that we’ve got the hope of heaven to look forward to because Jesus died for our sins and rose again. Earth is a chance for us to learn from the challenges we face, to
explore our individuality, to develop the gifts God has given each of us, to encourage each other, and to pave a better way for the next generation. Perfection isn’t expected or the goal on earth, instead it’s to live a life worthy of the God you believe in.

If you’re going through a challenging time in your life, I encourage you to print out copies of Psalm 23 and maybe even the Serenity Prayer to post in locations around your home, workplace, and car and anywhere else you go frequently. Don’t give up because it seems like the darkness is lasting for so long or the mountain seems too high. Rely on God to bring you through, and don’t forget to ask for help if you need it. After all, Jesus didn’t do His years of ministry on earth alone, He had men who worked closely with Him and women that He taught and trusted too.

The Disservice of Rushing

Lately I’ve been thinking (again) about the rush that most of us live our lives being and doing. We’re so busy, trying to pack something into every second it seems. And in some ways I can understand because there’s a lot of life to be lived and lots of things to do and we’ll never be able to complete them all in our (short) life time. But I think that pressure and decision to say yes to so many things has had a negative impact on our relationships. I don’t think that we take the time often enough to really think about what we say or how we talk to people. Sometimes we’re so focused on being right or doing something our way that we’re not able to see the value in doing it another way, and we’re certainly not willing to admit that we don’t know everything.

I believe we can all learn something from everyone on the planet. Maybe it’s just one or two things, but those things can have great value. But when we go into a conversation or relationship with our minds already made up in how a conversation will go or how smart we are (and they’re not) or making a decision without really listening or getting all the facts, it’s not only hurtful to them, but can have a negative impact on us as well.

Just because someone is younger than you, is older than you, is from another country, went through a divorce, went through bankruptcy, doesn’t like pets, or likes your favorite sports team’s biggest rivals doesn’t mean that they can’t have good ideas, can’t teach you something and aren’t worth a few minutes of your time really listening to what they have to say. The same is true for advice, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad or because it costs a lot it’s good.

I don’t think it’s (just) about trying to pack every minute of every day full, it’s about making sure to use your time wisely and make the most of your life. Some of the best moments of your life will be with other people. Some of those great moments will only happen if you slow down and take the time to meet someone new, take the time to build up existing relationships or make amends in one that you’ve damaged. I encourage you to take time to slow down this weekend and really watch where you’re going, listen to the full explanation or conversation before making decisions, and suspend judgment a bit longer than you do normally. What will you experience with an open mind this weekend?

Working on Wait

Today in some religious circles is the day known as Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified on the cross.  It’s a difficult day for us to think about, and it was a difficult thing for the people Jesus lived with to witness, and even more difficult for Jesus who was human to experience.  He felt what we would feel if we were crucified, He didn’t hide from the pain or use his powers as the Son of God to deflect or bypass it.  From all the records we know it was a brutal experience, which was kind of the point.  But Jesus knew what He was getting into going in because He’s Gods’ Son, and He also knew what was yet to come: the Resurrection and Easter Sunday.

We don’t always know what the end result will be in situations in our lives.  Sometimes we hope that the end we want is what will happen, sometimes we just hope for some kind of good result, other times we’re resigned to what is most likely to come.  There will always be a result, sometimes it will be what we want or hope for, other times it’s not.  But what we have to do is what Jesus did for 3 days: wait.

It’s not easy to wait, especially when we’re anticipating good things like Easter baskets or Christmas morning.  It’s also hard to wait when we know we’re faced with a not so good ending like the death of a loved one from a disease or the loss of our job when a company takes ours the one we work for.  In our fast paced world we like when things move at the speed of the internet or a fast food restaurant.  One of the reasons we wait is because while we could have a result quicker, sometimes to get to the best result it takes more time.  We’ve managed to do a lot to make things work better and happen faster in the world with all of our innovations, but two of the things we haven’t affected yet is the ability to affect the days and the time.  We’re still bound by the rules of the universe when it comes to them.

But there’s no rule that says you have to be miserable while you wait or not work towards good outcomes even if the only likely result that can occur is not a happy one. But we can make all the moments up to and following that event good ones.  I think one of the things that helped Jesus through His suffering was knowing what was on the other side of it.  We may not know what’s on the other side of our pains and life challenges, but we can certainly have the attitude that whatever it is, we’ll be able to work through it with God’s help and the help of the people in our lives.

Moving Forward to September

As we transition from this month to a new one (can you believe it?!) it has me thinking a bit about a topic that we talk about often: being thankful. Maybe you’ve had the kind of month that you’re really thankful to be getting out of it. Maybe it has taken all of your patience this month to deal with it and the people in it.  Maybe you’re sorry to see the month go for the usual reason, the end of summer, even if it wasn’t a great month for you.  Maybe you’re glad to see it go because it means the kids are finally out of your hair and back to school.  Or maybe you’re thankful for the end of this month because it means that you’ve enjoyed another month of life and are heading into a new month of opportunities and hope.  I’m not really sure where August went, but we can’t get it back.  The only thing we can do is move forward.

Move forward with patience: this month we’ve talked about patience, and I think what I’ve learned most of all is that even though I’m a patient person things have been taking way longer than I want them to.  It’s frustrating to know that I didn’t get half of what I wanted to done this month (again).  But there have been some good reminders and I’ve learned how to apply patience in each day.  I’m learning to double check things before I send them, go with my gut when it tells me to wait or to move, give people enough time to deal with the stuff in their lives while waiting for them to get back to me and understand that a month is a very short time in the scheme of things and I can pursue my dreams anew this next month.

Move forward with wisdom: one of the things I’ve been hearing over and over this month is about the important role that mentors have played in people’s lives.  I’m thankful that more people are finally jumping on board and admitting that they don’t know everything and they need help.  There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know everything, shame plays a role when you’re too stubborn or arrogant to admit that you need the help.  Who are the people and organizations you learn from and turn to on a regular basis?

Move forward because life is a gift:  I was passing by the TV and heard them talking about a man who passed away at 72 who was the picture of health and had always joked about living to 100.  You don’t know how long you have, each day could be your last.  Is it really worth it to spew that hate or write off that family member?  I don’t think so.  I think we should be making choices in our lives, relationships, careers and futures that are healthy, whole, sustaining and fulfilling.  There’s no point to wasting today if you don’t know you have tomorrow.

What do you hope September holds for you?

Waiting for God

We’re in the last few days of this month and our talk about the topic of patience.  One of the most challenging topics when thinking about patience is waiting for God.  Being how all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-doing God is, it’s hard to understand why He wouldn’t rather resolve things sooner rather than later.  Sure you can talk about the lessons we learn and timing not being right, but the longer things take to happen the more we worry that God didn’t hear us or that His answer is that He’s not going to do anything.  Of course as I was thinking about how the month is ending it reminded me of our patience running out and what happens when we get there.

Sometimes when our patience runs out we act without thinking or do things that we’ve been thinking about for a while but haven’t decided to act on because we aren’t sure they’re the right thing to do.  Sometimes we do the thing that we should have done all along and just didn’t have faith in ourselves to know what was really right, so it took reaching the end of our patience to make it happen.  Other times reaching the end of our patience means we didn’t trust God’s timing and will enough to wait for Him to act.  Knowing the difference and which one is right for your current situation isn’t easy.

As I was thinking about this I read 1 Thessalonians 5:24 which says “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” So what’s the answer?  The answer is to constantly work on your relationship with God so that you’re always ready to hear His guidance in when He’s telling you to act and when to wait.  It may sound simple, but you know it’s not always easy to devote the time and attention to that relationship with everything else going on in your life.  It means not just praying about the patience-related situation, but about other things that you and God are working on.  It means reading passages from the whole Bible, while still returning to the one giving you peace, hope and encouragement right now.  It means attending meetings, seminars and classes and services about more than just your current topic of struggle.  It means reaching out and supporting others who are in need, not just focusing on your situation.  What is God working on with you in your life and are you truly able to receive His leading?

Putting Patience into Practice

A couple weeks ago I shared a blog post with some quotes about the topic of this month: patience. Today I’m going to unpack a few of those quotes and share some more insights on patience as we head towards the end of this month.

“Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.” Paulo Coelho

I love this quote because it speaks to something that many people struggle with: paying attention. Yes, there are real medical conditions that cause people to struggle with their attention, but there are countless more of us who struggle not because of a medical condition, but because we’re too busy to pay attention or don’t care enough to pay attention. When patience is a skill that we live our lives with, not only are we more intentional about what we do, we’re also able to get the full picture quicker and better because we’re paying attention and not letting ourselves get sucked in by the distractions around us.

“Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle.” Lao Tzu

In the first quote we talked about not paying attention, and this quote speaks to something right in line with that: not seeing the truth about reality. Yes, the truth is that in the quote the water is muddy. But the truth that can be revealed after the water settles could be much more important than the fact that when water mixes around it gets muddy, for example when hunting for gold.   Are you rushing to see things and settle for the muddy water revelations, or willing to wait for true clarity?

“Patience gives your spouse permission to be human. It understands that everyone fails. When a mistake is made, it chooses to give them more time that they deserve to correct it. It gives you the ability to hold on during the rough times in your relationship rather than bailing out under the pressure. Stephen Kendrick

Sometimes I think we do forget and live a double standard, expecting leniency for ourselves but holding others to a much higher standard.  If anything it should be reversed.  But one of the most challenging and important relationships we can have is that of our romantic relationships. If you really want a satisfying relationship learn the skills of patience and forgiveness.  Yes, everyone should have limits and boundaries, but if you are really committed to the relationship you should be able to work through things before they get to the point of hitting the limit.

What great insights about patience do you have or have you read lately?

When God Takes Too Long

This month one of the topics we’ve been talking about is patience. The big question around patience is always “but what if things are taking too long?”  I agree, sometimes it seems like things are taking too long, especially in our fast paced, fast food, high speed internet world.  While I think by far and large we can slow down with most things, some things definitely benefit from being attended to as quickly as things can be in this day and age, like national disasters, missing people and health issues like Zika.  But waiting 30 minutes to get quality food, especially if you don’t have to cook or grow it yourself seems to seriously pain some people.  I understand we all have things going on in our lives, but sometimes the only thing that can be done is to wait and see.

One of the biggest challenges around waiting is when we’re waiting on God for something.  It can seem like God is taking forever to respond to our prayers, especially since He hears them instantly.  Sometimes God is waiting for us to do something, but all too often it’s just not time.  It’s not easy to wait, especially if you think the answer God is sending is that He’s not sending that miracle cure/job/person/child/freedom or whatever it is you’re praying for or would be an answer to your prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no.”  Hearing the “no” is almost easier than hearing “wait” because it means we’ve been given an answer and aren’t waiting for things to happen or work in perfect order.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more often it seems like the answer is to wait.  Yes, that gives us hope that a solution is coming, but still challenges us to work on our patience and do what God has called us to do in the meantime.  If you’re in a waiting period, find comfort and hope in the words of Isaiah 60:22: “When the time is right, I, the Lord, will come quickly. I will make these things happen.”  You’ve probably experienced it at least once, that when God gets going, things really move. Sometimes things are revealed over time, other times it’s so fast you almost can’t see it happen.  So if you’re praying and waiting today I encourage you to continue to live your life and to be prepared for things to happen when God’s time is right.  Don’t be discouraged by the “wait”, instead, prepare for what is coming.