Beyond Your Comfort

images (2)Who do you do life alongside? Who do you reach out to, encourage, invite, meet, involve? Where is your focus? When you’re in a group of people, do you stick with the people you know, or do you look around for people you don’t know? Do you stay in your comfort zone or step outside it? Is your response about you and what you’re accustomed to or what you want, or is your response and focus about reaching out to someone, meeting him/her where they are?

Where we focus is where we’ll go.

If we focus on the situations and the relationships with which we’re most comfortable, we might invest deeply, but we will miss out on the opportunities of new situations and relationships. If we only brush up against people and are never willing to get to know people on a deeper level, investing ourselves in them and letting them invest in us, we’ll miss out on the accountability, challenges, and growth of friendships.

Relationships atrophy without investment.

Without intentional authenticity, confrontation, and commitment, we won’t grow in relationships, which means we won’t grow as God intends. He created us for relationships, and we learn a lot about him as we live out his will among others. He’s not going to keep you in your comfort zone all the time. You’ll have some people who just seem comfortable to get to know. You’ll continue to invest and want to spend more and more time with the person. Sometimes, that’s great, but God sometimes brings that person into your life for a limited season so you get a snapshot of the possibilities of relationships. It doesn’t mean that person will be in your life for an extended time. In fact, if the comfort of the relationship becomes a crutch for you, making you unwilling to reach outside of it to other people, it can quickly become unhealthy. If the ease of the relationship becomes a measurement standard by which all future relationships are compared, it can quickly become unhealthy.

God only has one standard for relationships: Himself.

He determines the when, how, what, and why of the relationship. He guides us to connect or disconnect, but in order to hear and respond to him, we have to remain connected to him. When our focus is on God, we know when we’re supposed to stay and talk to the great friend standing in front of us and when we’re supposed to leave the comfort behind and walk across the room to introduce ourselves to someone new. When our focus is on God, we know when we’re supposed to invest deeply into someone’s life even when it demands a sacrifice of time and effort and when we’re supposed to trust someone to invest in us as we authentically share.

Relationships involve you, but they’re ultimately not focused on you. They’re focused on God and his will for the relationship, and until we fully yield, we won’t have the relationships he wants us to have. He will create a rich myriad of relationships in your life–some will be long-term and some will not, some will take intense effort and some will seem easy, some will be tied to location and circumstances and some will seem to transcend distance and situations. But in order to begin and develop the relationships he wants for you, you have to take your focus off yourself and your assumptions about those around, be willing to step outside your comfort zone, focus on God, and respond to his timing and guidance.

God is preparing you beyond your comfort zone. Take a step of faith.

Is Change a What or a Who?

5-25How often do you demand, expect, or desire organizational change?

Consider the following:

What does the national government need to “get it right”?

What are the top changes the church should make?

What are the major changes you want to see at your workplace or grocery store or in the healthcare, education, or public aid systems?

It’s easier for us to demand organizational change than to accept personal change. We can identify issues that need to be addressed and resolved. We’re great armchair quarterbacks. But how do we respond when God announces,

“I interrupt this game you’re dreaming about to bring you back to reality. You’re trying to play everyone else’s game, and you’re missing out on your own. You need to be willing to change instead of just talking about change.”

Ouch.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I think God would tweak it a bit: “You must be the change God wants to see in the world.” In essence, you need to listen and respond to God and the way he’s changing you. You’re not the only one on his radar; he’s able to be everywhere all the time. He’s got the details covered. That means he can change the world. He could change organizations. But God’s way of changing works through people. He’s passionate about people he creates and wants an intimate relationship with them. If you desire change, he wants you to experience change.

Change is an investment. It can be a foolish investment or a wise investment. God wants to show you what wise investment is. He wants you to engage in investments that yield significant growth. The growth and change isn’t always what you define as the best or most preferred growth and change, but if it’s God’s way, it’s the best way.

Are you going to get stuck in the quagmire of expecting change outside you in order to meet you where you are, or are you willing to let God examine where you are and take you to another place, impacting not only your own life but those you connect with along the way?

“I am the true vine; my Father is the gardener.He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.You are already clean because of the words I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me they can do nothing. If any do not remain in me, they are like a branch that is thrown away and then dies. People pick up dead branches, throw them into the fire, and burn them. If you remain in me and follow my teachings, you can ask anything you want, and it will be given to you. You should produce much fruit and show that you are my followers, which brings glory to my Father. I loved you as the Father loved me. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:1-9)

Are You Really Sorry?

Despite what we thought when we were young and our parents forced us to say “I’m sorry” to our siblings, saying “I’m sorry” is easy compared to actually feeling and being sorrowful.

The two are different. Sorry relates to an action. We convey we are sorry for something we did or didn’t do and how it impacted the person. Being sorrowful is more about our process of it, our expression of it, and what it motivates us to convey to someone else. We’re grieved, distressed, or saddened.

Sorry might reflect someone’s sorrow, but it might also be an attempt to patch something. Sorrow takes the healing deeper, not just in the one receiving it but also in the person who extends it.

Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. (2 Corinthians 7:9)

Sorrow is productive. It leads somewhere. It leads through repentance to growth, because repentance is always a productive change. Sorrow doesn’t ever get us stuck. Sorrow seeks to change what is in us and how we impact others. It’s not destructive, wallowing, or selfish…ever.

We toss around “I’m sorry” as if it’s an easy step back, erasing whatever we’ve done, but it’s not going back at all. It’s moving forward in healing, change, and growth. It often takes time, but we’re willing to invest and wait over time so that healing and change is authentic and lasting. Sorrow is an investment to build on solid ground. It’s not an easy process, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

How do you need to step into and through sorrow with God, yourself, and others?

 

Community Building Community

I sat in a local coffee shop for several hours while on vacation. It was buzzing with activity and conversations, yet was a relaxing place to sit in a comfortable chair, with a delicious Mexican hot chocolate and a good book, especially on a crisp, drizzly day.

I was distracted several times by the people and conversations around me. A significant building project was at the forefront of many people’s minds. How could they help some of their neighbors? How would some businesses be impacted? How could they work with community leaders, and in some cases, oppose them, in order to voice important points and concerns?

In one corner, a young woman met with a local service organization to help them learn about social media and marketing. At another table, someone advised a friend regarding a technology purchase. Someone introduced a friend to a passerby, connecting two people with a common interest.

To be honest, the buzz of activity and conversations was a bit distracting at times. I assumed I would be surrounded by other vacationers, but this was the local coffee shop, filled with…locals, obviously. I didn’t get as much reading done as I had planned, but I got something better: a reminder of the rich complexities and importance of community.

I sat among a community of people focused on community. I wasn’t a part of their community, but nonetheless, I learned from it. I soaked in it long enough to appreciation my own community a bit more.

Are you engaged in your community? How authentically? What does your involvement reveal about your appreciation of the give-and-take of community involvement?

Confessions of a Checklist Christian

confessionschecklistWhat’s essential to living a good Christian life?

        I must be strong.

        I must be consistent.

        I must be organized.

        I must be a good hostess.

        I must study my Bible diligently.

        I must be a good cook.

        I must be a (good) wife.

        I must place others first.

        I must be attractive.

        I must be sacrificial to others.

        I must be forgiving.

        I must stay calm.

        I must have the answers.

        I must share my faith with people.

        I must_____________________________.

You might not agree with everything on this list, and you likely have more to add. Perhaps you haven’t actually thought about what you’d put on a checklist, but what does your day to day behavior and decisions reflect? Why do you do what you do? What’s essential? What are your obligations and responsibilities? What standard are you trying to live up to?

The problem is that when we try to transfer our faith to a checklist of behaviors, we make living faith out loud easy…or impossible, depending on how we create our lists.

Consider how you define sin. If you define it by just the “biggies,” you might find it pretty easy not to sin, so you could claim a sort of distorted perfection. However, the definition of biblical sin doesn’t match up to how you personally prefer to define sin.

The same is true with your “what I need to do to be a good Christian woman” checklist. You can create a list that is easy to attain, such as “Try my best.”

Check.

Or you can create a list that stretches you but reflects more of your ideal set of behavior, and you’ll always find an unchecked box on your checklist.

If you insist on creating a checklist to achieve a life of faith, get used to there being an unchecked box…or several. If you’re seeking God’s will and growing in your faith, he will always be challenging you, revealing areas in which you can grow. If you’re hard on yourself, always having unchecked boxes might be maddening to you. But every unchecked box is an invitation to grow.

God doesn’t really operate by checklists. He knows how legalistic we can become; after all, Jesus himself had to regularly deal with the Pharisees.

Relationship trumps checklists.

And relationships are tricky, including your relationship with God. Relationships take investment and intention. It’s not just about doing something and checking a box. It’s about questions, instruction, correction, guidance, interactions. Relationships require intentional investment.

So confess your inner checklist Christian, and embrace the reality of being a Christ-follower. It’s a lot more productive!

Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.” (John 14:6)

Being Resolute in New Friendships

If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. Matthew 5:46-47

When was the most recent time you developed a new friendship?

Reflect on how your friendship began with one of your very best friends.

Do you find new friendships exciting, daunting, or something else?

Not all of us struggle with making new friends. Those people who are very social meet new people just about everywhere they go. As our Facebook friends lists grow, we might feel we’re making friends with many people. However, for today’s devotion time, let’s stick to face-to-face, committed friendships – the friends you want to spend time with, investing your life into theirs and vice versa. You might have several of these friends in your life right now, or you might be searching for a person you can trust. God will provide. He wants you to be in healthy relationships with others, and he will guide you into relationships that will teach you what is healthy and what is not – in other words, what is God-honoring and what is not. But you must be sensitive to his leading and obedient in his guidance. Friendships don’t magically begin. No one shows up at your doorstep and announces she’s your new best friend. You don’t instantly share your life story with someone. Friendships take cultivation. Cultivation takes time and involves risks, which is why we often avoid friendships. Maintaining status quo is easier, but it also stunts growth. When you hesitate to invest in someone, you might be avoiding pain, but you’re also robbing yourself of potential joy. You’re also stealing opportunities from the person with whom God has the intention of you become friends. Obeying God’s way isn’t safe, but it’s always secure. You can trust him even when life is messy.

Watch for God to bring someone across your path with whom you can plant seeds of friendship. Or perhaps there’s someone you’ve been meaning to go a bit deeper with. Today is the day.

Circle of Friends

When my parents had been married for 45 years, my sisters and I planned a surprise party. We decided it would be easier to surprise them at year 45 than year 50, when a party might be more expected. Keeping it a surprise was just one of the challenges. Another major challenge was the guest list. How would we go about creating a guest list for a couple’s 45 years of life together?

My parents are community-minded, not in the sense of obligation and duties to the community but in terms of investment into friendships. They’ve established and maintained many friends over the years, and we didn’t want to leave anyone out. We wanted them to be surrounded by the people they’d invite if they were creating the guest list – but we couldn’t ask their opinions.

My parents grew up in a small farming community in central Illinois. They built relationships because people in the community relied on each other. They trusted each other, watched out for each other, helped each other. They worked fields side-by-side, lent and borrowed equipment, and lived through trials and tragedies together.

I suppose some people might be able to choose to be reclusive among the community, but it would be a challenge. Plus, my parents aren’t reclusive people. My dad doesn’t know a stranger, and since my parents are best friends, my mom doesn’t have much of an option!

So, we put together the guest list (and only left out a couple people, who graciously understood) as well as the rest of the details. It was a wonderful party. They were (mostly) surprised particularly thrilled to see so many friends from their decades together. They hadn’t seen some people in years. Others, they lived alongside daily. With each turn, as they looked around the room, they were greeted by another smiling face full of memories.

After the celebration had been going for a couple hours, a friend and I were talking. He and I had been friends since birth, because our parents were friends, as well as our grandparents. The family farms were only a couple miles from each other. We shared weddings, births and funerals.

Looking around at the multitude of friends, circles overlapping circles, my friend reflected, “You know the sad thing is, we – our generation – probably will not get to experience this when we’re our parents’ age. We’re too busy to make the depth and extent of friendships.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible. In fact, if anyone will have a 45th anniversary celebration with extensive circles of friends, it will be this particular friend, but I completely understand what he was saying. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we often skirt around and skim over the importance of long-term relationship-building.

Our relationships can use more intention and attention. Our relationships can be bumped up on the scale of priorities.

Let’s not downplay the benefits of quick, short-term relationships as we share a smile, help someone in a parking lot, or work with co-workers in a temporary job. However, who are you investing in, and who are you allowing – even inviting – to invest in you?

It’s not just about who you’ll call in the best and worst times of life. It’s about who you’ll call, drive to, sit with and sacrifice for during daily life.

Who are you doing life with?

Consider the people surrounding you.

Are you focused more on short-term benefits or long-term investment?

Are the people by your side going to be by your side in 10, 25, 50 years?

Sure, life changes. People move. Interests change.

Transitions are part of every person’s life.

But you might see life as so transitory that you’ve become comfortable in the transition instead of investing in the long-term possibilities.

Many people avoid investing money because they’re overwhelmed with the amount they’ll need. They can’t fathom such a sacrifice.

Are you doing the same with relationships?

Investing even the smallest amounts of money will accumulate into a growing investment.

Surely, you have time, energy and resources to invest in growing relationships.

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11