The Connection of Consequences

pile-of-puzzle-piecesYou will bear the consequences of your sins 40 years based on the number of the 40 days that you scouted the land, a year for each day. You will know My displeasure. (Numbers 14:34)

There is always a connection between our behavior and consequences, but it’s not always a 1:1 ratio as in this situation. One day: one year. It could just as easily be one day to one day or one day to one week. Perhaps one day to one minute or second.

We want to understand the connection between what we do (or don’t) and what happens next. But the only thing we truly know is that there is a connection. There are consequences to everything we do, say, and think (as well as to what we do not do, do not say, and do not think). Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out all the connections, we could use that same time and energy to focus on God, trust Him, and respond to Him. We can let Him figure it all out. Actually, He already has. That can be frustrating and infuriating in our own limited understanding, or it can be comforting and motivating to trust Him.

So, if you’re in a season of consequences you see as negative and are discouraged, take one step at a time to learn and grow. And if you’re in a season of consequences you see as positive and are motivated and encouraged, take one step at a time to learn and grow. No matter where we are, we can respond well.

The Winds of Change

tumblr_n95zyakht41snexhzo1_1280When the winds of change blow, some people build walls others build windmills.

Which is your default setting?

To be honest, sometimes we need to hunker down and take cover because the change is so life-altering, we need to ride out the storm until it settles enough to let us pick up the debris and rebuild. But most times, changes is much more gradual. We might feel a bit windblown, but a little wind rarely hurts us. We might get a bit of dirt in our faces. Our hair might swirl around. We might need to be careful opening our car doors and secure a few loose items outside, but we survive.

Not only do we survive, but we benefit from the wind. Seeds blow around and germinate, replenishing vegetation. Wet soil dries so farmers can get in their fields and we can walk on the ground without getting muddy. Dust that has settled blows away.

And we can get energy from windmills. They can energize and equip us to move forward. They can sustain us to persevere. But we have to be willing to put in the effort and ask, “How can we grow from this change?”

It’s an important question to ask. Avoiding change might cause us to avoid growth, too.

Why Am I So Tired?

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It’s true. It seems to take more energy and effort for me to submit to God, yet I am most exhausted when I don’t.

I’m not saying submission to God is always energizing and never tiresome. However, when I feel most drained, least motivated, and incredibly overwhelmed, it is rarely when I’m close to God. (I almost used the “never” word, because I can’t think of a single time I’ve been close to God and felt overwhelmingly drained or apathetic, but that word is a strong one I very rarely use…just in case.)

Submitting to God isn’t easy. It takes an intentionality that is draining at times. But it’s worth it. It always puts me in a better place. (Despite my unwillingness to use “never” in the earlier paragraph, I’ll gladly use the all-inclusive “always” here!) It’s counter-intuitive. Put forth more effort to get more energized and motivate? Humble myself to grow? Accept someone else’s authority in my life in order to live the life that is best for me?

Yes.

Absolutely.

If you read much of God’s Word, you’ll know Jesus lived a counter-intuitive life and taught others to do the same. What makes sense by the world’s standards might be upside down according to His.

We have to have the right perspective in order to survive and thrive the life that God intends.

I recently read a statistic that suggested most people who survive an avalanche die because of their misguided energy. They try to save themselves by digging out of the snow. The problem is, they don’t know which way to dig, so they might actually dig themselves deeper. There’s a simple survival tip to avoid the dangers of digging in the wrong direction: Spit. Yes, a simple spit test to see which way the spit falls. That gives a clue as to which way to dig.

Expend the right kind and direction of energy and effort today.

 

When Ministry Isn’t Fun

“I have to work hard enough at my job—and I get paid for that. Volunteering for ministry shouldn’t take that much effort. If it’s not going to be fun, I’m not going to waste my time. I have more important things I’d rather do.”

It’s the new epidemic of faulty reasoning about serving in the local church. A previous generation often served sacrificially out of obligation or guilt, sometimes at the expense of joy. But too many today refuse to serve if the task doesn’t bring them excitement or at least pleasure. “No one can make me. I make my own choices. God wouldn’t want me to serve without excitement.” This if-there’s-nothing-in-it-for-me-I’m-not-doing-it attitude can weaken or even paralyze Christ’s body.

If we are a part of Christ’s body—the local and worldwide church—self-centeredness has to go. It’s not about whether or not we get paid. It’s not about the effort we expend. It’s not about the people we have to put up with. It’s not about the things we’d rather do. We have choices to make. Let’s look at a few.

Where Should I Give My Best Efforts?

When we’re receiving a paycheck for doing a job, we need to do the best we can, but not because we’re being paid. Whatever we’re doing deserves our best because (1) God equips us to do the work as we yield to him in obedience, and (2) we honor God as we steward well the gifts and talents he’s given us.

If we apply our best efforts only when they bring money or other tangible rewards, our efforts are more about us than about God. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

How Can I Rethink Relationships?

God can use any relationship to develop his character within us.

We often assume Christians should be easier to get along with because they’re, well, Christians. People in the church shouldn’t create issues—just people outside the church.

But we’re all sinners. Instead of becoming frustrated with those within our church families, why not consider what God wants to teach us through those relationships, even when they’re difficult? Maybe he’ll prepare us for challenging relationships outside the church as we work through difficult situations within the church. Maybe he’ll use the fertile soil of our church family relationships to cultivate his characteristics, developing the fruit of the Spirit so that it is easily seen in our relationships outside the church as well.

What if we’re missing out on some of the best preparation he has planned for us by avoiding difficult relationships within the church? Is it possible we see relationships outside the church as easier because we don’t feel the same pressure to demonstrate God’s character with non-Christians? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

How Should I Spend My Time and Energy?

It might come as a shock, but the 24 hours we have each day aren’t ours to control; they’re ours to yield. They’re a gift from God. No matter how good our worthwhile activities seem, if they aren’t in God’s will and timing, they aren’t God’s best.

Family is good, but God wants us to keep family in perspective as his gift to us and realize family is under the umbrella of his will, care, and provision.

Service is good, but God wants us to keep it in perspective in his leading and timing.

Nothing and no one trump God. Everything and everyone he gives us are actually his, and when we begin to wrestle for control and management, we are no longer fully yielding. Our time and energy are his to give and ours to steward. When we mismanage them, we suffer, our relationship with God suffers, and the health of Christ’s body suffers.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Serving isn’t optional. As we struggle with it, we can make any excuse we want and try to project the blame onto leaders, other individuals, or the church as a whole. But excuses indicate a heart issue. God isn’t nearly as concerned about our excitement level as our commitment level. He’s not nearly as concerned about what we can get out of serving and building relationships as what he can give us.

It’s our choice. We can make it about choosing how to spend our time and energy. We can make it about what relationships we prefer to cultivate. We can make it about our own enjoyment.

But it’s really about God. Are we yielding to him with our choices?

Originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

Being Resolute in Finishing What I Start

Whoever is not willing to carry his cross and follow me cannot be my follower. If you want to build a tower, you first sit down and decide how much it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don’t, you might lay the foundation, but you would not be able to finish. Then all who would see it would make fun of you, saying, “This person began to build but was not able to finish.” If a king is going to fight another king, first he will sit down and plan. He will decide if he and his ten thousand soldiers can defeat the other king who has twenty thousand soldiers. If he can’t, then while the other king is still far away, he will send some people to speak to him and ask for peace. In the same way, you must give up everything you have to be my follower. (Luke 14:17-33)

What are you most likely to procrastinate?

How do you typically approach projects in terms of deadlines, starting, and finishing?

If you could change one thing about your habits of perseverance, what would it be?

There will always be at least one more thing to do. You cannot cross every single thing off your to-do list. New tasks are added as you’re accomplishing another. However, that’s no reason to become paralyzed. Progress is important. It’s not the same as busyness. One is purposeful and involves growth. The other is typically a time and energy waster. Not everything is intended to be finished in the way you believe it should be finished. When finishing becomes the focus, you’ll miss lessons along the journey. Let’s not use that as an excuse to not strive to finish what we start. We often don’t know where the finish line is until we begin. We start a project and think the finish line is full completion to our satisfaction. What if we’re supposed to complete something to a halfway point, then share it with someone who takes over the next part of the process? What if we’re supposed to learn something in the distractions we experience? Let’s not make excuses for not finishing, but let’s not get too task-driven either. Let God grow you. He already started. Join him as he finishes.

Take a “next step” today. Step toward the finish of something. God provides the energy. You provide the obedience.

Fit Faith: Frequency: My Special Day

Consistency is important, but sometimes it’s the special once-in-a-lifetime experiences that stand out. The very infrequency of something strikes it with a bright highlighter, illuminating it for later attention and recollection.

I rarely asked for anything special on Mother’s Day. I felt as if every day of the year was Mother’s Day, because I got to bask in the joys of being a mother. Yes, there were challenges every day, but in the context of the blessings, I could accept them and appreciate the opportunities I had.

One Mother’s Day, I surprised everyone by announcing there was just one thing I wanted: to load up everyone’s bikes and go for a ride on my favorite hiking path after church. No one was as excited about it as I was, but they entertained me. The girls weren’t very old, and they knew the bike ride would be long and challenging. Tim knew he wouldn’t be able to ride his bike at full speed with the rest of us along. But we packed a lunch and headed to the trail after church.

It was a glorious day for me, and no one else seemed to mind it much at all either. We rode five miles, stopped for a lunch break beside a small lake, and made the return trip. It was a gorgeous day.

Had I experienced bike rides with my family every weekend, I probably would have enjoyed some of the experiences and endured others – when someone would be grumpy or get hurt or the weather wasn’t ideal. As it was, I had one glorious day of memories with my family on our bikes on that path.

Something similar happens when we go on a retreat or attend a conference. We walk away rejuvenated and ready to tackle our lives with renewed energy and purpose. The infrequency makes these experiences impactful. We build time with God into our daily lives: devotions, prayer, accountability. While we benefit greatly from the consistenty, daily also means routine. When we’re at conferences and retreats, we step away from routine. While routine is excellent for discipline, occasional escapes encourage us to listen in fresh ways.

How can you capture renewed energy and purpose on limited time, money, and flexibility?

Here are a few thoughts:

Use your senses. Quietly reading your Bible is wonderful. Experiencing God’s Word through multiple senses helps us put an exclamation point on a verse. Consider how you can see, hear, and touch Scripture.

Use repetition. Carry your quiet time throughout the day with you. We too easy compartmentalize our time with God. Choose one key verse of the day and post sticky notes in places you’ll find them throughout your day. Set your cell phone alarm to vibrate hourly as a reminder to reflect and act on the verse.

Use social networking. De-compartmentalized your faith while engaging others. Tweet a verse each day on Twitter. Post a reflective question or action challenge on Facebook.

Whatever your approach, seek renewed energy and purpose with occasional escapes from routine. Listen to God in fresh ways. Open your ears to hear from God.

Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. (Proverbs 8:34)

Fit Faith: Energy: Telepathic Boost

Okay, I don’t believe in telepathy. But I do believe that external things can impact my energy. By that, I mean I don’t necessarily have to consume something, especially a high-sugar drink, in order to get a boost of energy. The warm sunshine inviting me through the window can give me just the boost I need to get outside for a long walk. Reading about a Facebook friend’s boost of fitness success can motivate me to stick with my goals. And what can get me off the couch faster than just about anything is finding a good competitive fitness show on tv.

After a night of little sleep, I was lazily watching television with my family. During a break in the football game, we were looking through the guide, and I saw CrossFit Challenge. I’m nowhere close to being a CrossFit athlete, but I have a friend who is training, and it intrigues me. I’m impressed by any extreme, well-rounded athletes. I like to not only watch them compete but also listen to their stories about how they got started and train and what motivates them. We decided to watch for a few minutes and were quickly impressed with the fitness level. The fact that the competitors don’t know the specifics of the events in which they’ll compete impresses me. If you want to test what you can handle, train for the unknown!

After watching for about thirty minutes, I couldn’t sit still any longer. As lazy as I had felt a short time earlier, I was now motivated to get up and move. Since the Challenge was scheduled for another couple hours, I took full advantage of the energy involved in the competition. I jumped on the elliptical and worked out without a break for over an hour and a half. I was doing nothing at all close to what the CrossFit athletes were doing, but I was moving along with them. Seeing the extreme effort of others was just the motivation I needed to get a boost of energy. It’s not the first time. I’ve done the same after watching a wide variety of sports and competitive shows. I could stay on the couch and not fully benefit from the motivation, but I (usually) want to use the fuel.

How you respond to opportunities to spiritually grow is important. You’re not always going to feel like serving, sacrificing, and studying. It’s sometimes easier to lie on the spiritual couch and watch others do what you feel you can’t or don’t want to do. It’s easier to become a spectator instead of expending the energy. Too many people sit on the couch when they’re being invited to participate. Too many people coach from the couch instead of getting active themselves.

In what areas of your life do you sit back as a spectator more than jump in as a participant? Consider why you sit back. Is it fear? Do you feel insufficient? Are you being lazy? Do you think getting active would be a waste of time? Do you have extensive experience in an area and feel you don’t need to be involved anymore?

Search for sources of energy that get you off the spiritual couch. Do something, anything. When something motivates you, take full advantage of it. When you read something in a book that intrigues you, search out the biblical basis of it. When a speaker says something that challenges you, write a note to yourself to intentionally live it out soon. If someone in need comes to mind, do something to help.

“Do what God’s teaching says; when you only listen and do nothing, you are fooling yourselves. Those who hear God’s teaching and do nothing are like people who look at themselves in a mirror. They see their faces and then go away and quickly forget what they looked like. But the truly happy people are those who carefully study God’s perfect law that makes people free, and they continue to study it. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God’s teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy.” (James 1:22-25)

God provides motivation and energy. Use it well. Live intentionally.