Grace in Activity

graceSo be very careful how you live. Do not live like those who are not wise, but live wisely. Use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. So do not be foolish but learn what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Ponder It.

  • On a scale from one to ten, how busy would you rate your life to be?
  • What is something you have done recently that was obviously rooted in God’s guidance?
  • What is an area of your schedule or responsibilities that hasn’t recently been filtered through God’s hands?

Receive It. Grace can permeate your schedule, but God won’t crowd into spaces you haven’t created. If you imagine an appointment book, consider grace as the very pages of the book. Anything that you write on the pages is founded in grace. Everything is filtered through grace. Nothing can be separated from grace. But is that how we actually approach our schedules? Grace isn’t something to be handled lightly as a convenience. It’s not something we can block in a designated amount of time. It must be given priority in our lives, both long-term and short-term. We often run from one activity to another. And we’re often doing good things, but doing the good things isn’t good enough. Doing the good thing must be set aside and replaced by doing the God thing. Sometimes the two look very much the same, but our motivation can be different. We can do the good thing because we think it’s what God would want, but is it, really? Have we checked with him? Have we relied on him to guide us? Even doing something that is within his general will doesn’t mean it’s part of his specific will for us, because his specific will includes his guidance in timing. What requires our yes at one point may require our no at another point. God has no intention for us to do, do, do…even in his name. God intends for us to be, be, be, which includes doing but only when it is filtered through his name and the timing and guidance he gives. We access God’s grace through our relationship with God, which requires regular reliance on God. We must sacrifice our own assumptions and preferences, including in our schedules, to his will. As we do, his grace abounds in and through us.

Live It. Check your calendar or to do list for the next 24 hours. Have you intentionally filtered absolutely everything through his will? Ask him what needs to be removed, changed, or added.

What Notifications Do To A Prayer Life

When we grow accustomed to instant feedback and notifications, made possible by technology, we struggle to wait to hear from God.  We want instant feedback and answers. We want immediate approval and results. That’s not the way God works. As we get used to the immediacy technology affords, we begin to listen to and look for the constant input into our lives, and those voices begin to crowd out God’s.

We’d rather have something quick and inaccurate than use our patience to hear truth.

God has His own notifications, and they’re not usually instant. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they seem like a blinking light or alarming sound, but most of the time, God is quietly consistent and patient to respond to us. He wants us to be patient as we seek Him.

Praying isn’t about what we get from God; it’s about our relationship with Him. Are we willing to listen, pursue, seek, and wait? Or do we want God to fit into our timetables and schedules? What we see as urgent often isn’t, because what we learn through the process of waiting for and pursuing God is much more important to Him. He sees all of time and knows right now is important but is one moment that adds into many. It all matters, including how we respond to Him, demand of Him, and wait on Him.

Pray well.

Listen well.

Wait well.

 

We All Pay Attention…But To What?

Now hear the word of the Lord, you women. Pay attention to the word of His mouth. (Jeremiah 9:20a)

What gets your attention? Be honest. Look at the way you spend time. What easily distracts you? What do you intentionally schedule? Where do you seem to lose or pass time?

confusionSome of the things that draw your attention might be things you love to do. When given the freedom to choose whatever you what to do with a block of time, you’d choose these things. You might not seem to get as much time for these things as you’d like. You think about them, especially when you’re bored, stressed, or frustrated.

Some of the things that draw your attention are things you don’t like to do, but you feel you have to do. They’re obligations. Whether you put the pressure on yourself or feel someone else puts the pressure on you, you don’t feel as if you have much of a choice. In reality, you do. You’re choosing one thing over another or one thing over consequences of not doing that thing. It’s still a choice.

Some things that draw your attention are fillers. Whether you’re avoiding something or having trouble focusing, you piddle, not really accomplishing much of anything but feeling as if you’re doing something as the time slips past.

I’m not sure why we struggle with the whole “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to balance everything?” quandary. It’s not as much of a quandary as we make it. God’s pretty clear on the subject.

Now hear the word of the Lord, you women. Pay attention to the word of His mouth. (Jeremiah 9:20a)

That doesn’t mean you have to be reading the Bible all the time. (Although you certainly shouldn’t avoid it.) God speaks in many ways. Are you hearing? Are you paying attention? Or are you hearing what’s screaming the loudest in your life, or paying attention to what’s right in front of you?

Hearing God means knowing His voice and knowing who He is, so you recognize and acknowledge Him. Just because you don’t hear or see Him around you doesn’t mean He isn’t present. How much of His presence are you missing or denying?

Paying attention isn’t the easy choice of what’s right in front of you. Seeking God takes effort and focus. It takes attention and wisdom.

So, are you hearing the word of the Lord and paying attention to Him?

How well…or, why not?

I Don’t Want To Be Happy

Today’s guest post is from Amy Armstrong. Enjoy!

©cupcakesforclara.com
©cupcakesforclara.com

It may seem a bit extreme to some, but we have a breakfast schedule in our house. Monday is oatmeal, Tuesday eggs, Wednesday waffles, Thursday cereal, and Friday is free choice.

I’m really not a Type-A person. I’ve just found that my children can be somewhat indecisive in the morning and one less choice makes a smoother process of getting ready for school. Also, they can’t always be relied upon to make wise food choices.

On a recent Friday, my youngest was looking at her options in order to make her free choice. “Mom, can I have this and one other thing?” I looked over to see her holding a box of Girl Scout cookies, evidence that she is my DNA in her belief that there is no wrong time of day for cookies. I had to be the parent and tell her, “We don’t eat cookies for breakfast, Sweetie. You can have yogurt or cereal.” She submitted, and I promised her she could have the cookies for dessert after dinner.

Cookies make my daughter happy. Cookies or any combination of chocolate and peanut butter make me happy. At least for a little while. The problem comes an hour later when I realize that my stomach still feels empty. My hunger wasn’t really satisfied.

Satisfied. What is it that makes me feel satisfied? The world will tell me a variety of rich foods, new clothes, a full Pinterest board and a house to match. And sometimes I chase after those things. But I’ve realized that those things only make me happy for a little while. To be satisfied, I must be filled by my Creator. He has created a hole in me that only He can fill. God’s desire for us is to be holy, set apart for Him. This is something that occurs through regular devotion to Him and sacrifice of our own desires.

In 1 Peter 2:9 we are reminded, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God calls us to something different than the world. He calls us to be more like Him; patient, truth-filled, and unconditionally loving. When I chase after God instead of the things of this world, I experience struggle. But through that struggle I experience a deeper reliance on the One who has a greater knowledge of myself than I do. If God were to give me everything that makes me happy, I’d live in a mansion on a beach with a personal masseuse, housekeeper, and baker. But then I wouldn’t have to rely on God very much, would I?

So as I’m dealing with broken relationships that don’t make me feel happy, I can choose to rest in God’s holiness and let him restore those relationships in His time and His ways. As I experience waiting more years than expected during an adoption process, I can choose to be made holy and experience the time and message God has for me during those years. Letting God choose is the best choice. So I give up trying to be happy. I want to be holy. I want to be satisfied in Christ. I want more of what Christ has to offer and less of what the world has to offer.

I want to be what God has called me to be.

AmyConnect with Amy on Facebook.

When You Don’t Want to Follow the Schedule

scheduleConference schedules can be brutal. So many main sessions and workshops as well as exhibits, concerts, networking, and more. Not to mention fitting in meals, often with long lines and the need to breath for a moment. And then there’s sleep. We go to conferences to get recharged, but we can walk away even more exhausted them when we began. We can gather an immense amount of information, yet return home on such an overload that we don’t have the focus to incorporate anything we learned.

So how can we take a different approach, taking advantage of the benefits a conference has to offer without experiencing an overwhelming exhaustion?

Choose well. You can’t go to everything offered. You might struggle with what workshop sessions to choose, because you want to go to all of them, but the more time you sit taking in information and the less time you leave for processing and “soaking,” the more you’ll forget soon after the conference. Take an entire session off. Use the time to soak in the notes from previous sessions. Grab ahold of the main word or phrase you seem to be hearing again and again and let God guide you to truths in his Word and convictions for your daily life. God wants you to live what he teaches out loud, but you’ll have to determine to let him do the sifting of everything you’re taking in. Discernment is key.

Rest well. Make space available to process the information you’re taking in. Take breaks by going for short walks, taking a nap, or touring a local attraction. Instead of focusing on what you’ll miss during the conference, focus on what you’ll gain by the varied experiences. “Pushing through” often leads to fatigue—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Clear the clutter as you go. Sort through nonessential paper included in your registration packet, so you’re not carrying it around. The key to getting overburdened is lessening the burden of what you’re carrying around, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. We often focus on the take-aways, yet attention to the leave-behinds are just as important.

Connect well. Be intentional about connecting with others. If you attend with others you know, let them choose what is best for them personally (there are benefits in staying together through some experiences yet going in different directions for other experiences), but set aside time to get together. Avoid filling all the together time with debriefing; view the time together as an opportunity to get to know each other and share life together. Also, reach out to others. Strike up a conversation with someone who sits or walks beside you. People who choose the same sessions already have common ground. As you discuss with others, you’ll remember what you’re experiencing and probably gather ideas. Connecting with others who share common ground with you can also provide long-lasting networking and support.

Retreat well. Take time to get away. It doesn’t have to be a completely quiet place, but find a park, walking path, or even your hotel room. Pray, read God’s Word, soak in his presence. God is much more concerned with who you’re becoming than the information you’re accumulating and skills you’re developing. Trust him to sift through what you’ll need to incorporate and what you need to set aside, what’s consistent with his truth and specific will for you and what’s useful but not essential for you personally in this season. He knows what he’s doing. Trust him. If you attend a conference without him, it will be a waste of time.

And if you can’t get away for a conference or retreat, click here for creative ways to get refreshes.

[Note: Stay aware of your motivation for determining when you should take breaks, connect with others, and so on. We can also use breaks to rationalize an avoidance of convicting teaching. When you hear yourself excusing or getting defensive about your preference to hang out by yourself or to escape with friends, you might be assuming you don’t need what the conference experience has to offer when, in reality, you don’t know what God has planned for you. Be sure you’re choosing God, which means you choose what he wants for you, not what you prefer for yourself.]

Fit Faith: Flexibility: Location, Location, Location

There’s something to be said about consistency. However, the reality is things will never be exactly the same. It’s important to infuse some flexibility into consistency. Doing something the same every single time has limited benefits. Trying new stretches or exercises will quickly reveal weaknesses even if you’re strong in your areas of consistent workout. Trying something new gives you a fresh perspective. You never know when you’ll find something new you’ll enjoy. You never know when you won’t like something new but gain an appreciation for your routine.

I travel often, but not consistently. I enjoy the adventure of traveling and meeting new people in new places, but travel disrupts my fitness routine. I don’t travel regularly enough to have an established routine while travelling. The closest I come to an established fitness routine while travelling is a determination to work out in some way. The details of the workout differ.

If there’s a safe place to walk outside, and the weather is decent, it’s my preference. I get to enjoy being outside and exploring a new location. However, that option usually doesn’t exist. My second option is the treadmill in the hotel fitness room. Depending on my available hours and those of the fitness room, that doesn’t work all the time either. If I foresee a problem finding a time and location to work out, I put an exercise DVD in my laptop case to use in the hotel room.

I’ve been creative. I’ve worked out with friends in the hallway outside the main convention room late at night. I’ve circled the hotel, going up the stairs on one side of the building and down the escalator on the other. I bought a one-week pass to gym. There have been a few times I haven’t been able to find the time or opportunity to exercise, but it’s not for lack of trying! The flexibility has almost become a challenge. How can I creatively find a time and location to work out in an unfamiliar location?

It’s equally important to infuse flexibility into consistency in all things spiritual. There’s definitely something to be said for routine. When we consistently work prayer, study, and service into our lives, we grow, but we have to be authentic about it. Being consistent doesn’t presume spiritual growth. You can be consistently stubborn, self-centered, and wrong! What’s critical in consistency is the desire to seek and know God.

We can get into such regimented routines that we don’t stop to process and savor the journey. Infusing some flexibility can help.

Consider how flexible you are. If you have a designated time for prayer every day, what happens when your routine is interrupted, either predictably or unexpectedly? Do you excuse the change as a valid reason for shifting priorities? How much effort goes into rearranging your schedule to accommodate the change?

If you miss your prayer time, assess the remainder of your day as early as you can find the first possible time to shift your prayer time into. If you know your schedule will be altered ahead of time, you have time to plan.

When you miss a small group meeting, perhaps two, do you rationalize you’re too far behind and decide not to return? You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. We should strive to establish solid, healthy routines, so we can grow spiritually. However, we need to be realistic. Missing one or two studies, prayer times, or worship services doesn’t mean we can’t be consistent. We need to widen our perspective and see the larger picture.

We’re going to be consistent at something. Would you prefer to be consistent in your discipline or lack of it?

Guarded Aerobics

I recently blogged about the (dis)comforts of home, the things we don’t necessarily like when we’re at home but we might miss when travelling. Travelling can be an odd experience. When the novelty of it wears off, a quest for balance begins to surface. On the one hand, new experiences and adventure keep travelling interesting. Even when a seasoned traveller is confused as to where he is, as each airport, hotel, and conference center blends into the next, there are intriguing and energizing experiences of watching, meeting, and listening to people that never seem to grow stale. There’s beauty in the changing landscapes and architectures. There are challenges of finding directions and getting orientated to new home-away-from-homes.

On the other hand, there’s a quest for sameness. Finding a favorite coffee shop. Arranging clothes or an office-away-from-office in the hotel room. A schedule of travel rarely reflects the average schedule near home, so finding a few common threads helps maintain some continuity and familiarity. For me, that includes exercise.

It would be easy to avoid exercise when travelling. Finding a suitable place to work out is often a challenge. Finding a suitable time to work out is often more of a challenge, especially during a busy convention schedule. To work out in the morning requires an unreasonably early wake-up call because of the time it takes to work out then shower and get ready for morning sessions. Late night sessions aren’t ideal because there’s little energy at the end of the day, but late night workouts might also spur enough energy to keep me awake. However, I’ve found delayed sleep doesn’t matter much anyway, since I’m usually waiting for complete exhaustion to set it, so I fall to sleep with a dulled realization I’m not falling asleep next to my husband.

So, I often opt for the late night option. And I’m rarely sorry for the sacrifice. No matter how tired I am, I feel better knowing I’ve expended energy other than walking from room to room throughout the event venue.

Another challenge often presents itself with late night workouts: location. Why large hotels don’t keep fitness rooms open late I don’t know, but I’m obviously not going to go outside for a strange-city-in-the-dark tour. And that’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of travelling with an exercise DVD.

So when a group of women were standing around the first evening of the conference, lamenting about not being able to work out when we were done for the night because the fitness room would be closed, I offered my DVD. Next problem: There’s barely room in a hotel room for me to do aerobics, so we needed an alternate location. Because there were several of us, we’d also need a TV, because we wouldn’t be able to see the laptop screen well.

Aha! One of the displays right outside the conference ballroom had a TV and a DVD player. Perfect! Of course, that meant we’d be in a major hallway while working out, but since it was late at night, who would notice?

Um…the security guard!

It was actually quite comical. He was a nice guy and will likely find his way into a future blog or two. He’s probably seen much more interesting things during his late night shifts!

The bottom line is we got to exercise, and we felt much better. Plus, we got to work out side by side each other, which makes it a bit more fun. It’s funny: We set aside the reality of working out in a very public area, because establishing some sort of routine to our day took priority.

We might need to find some adventure among the regularity of daily life, but we also seek regularity among the adventure of life.

Consider what habits bore you and make you long for adventure.

Consider what habits keep you grounded. What will you try to incorporate into your daily life even when you’re outside your norm?

We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way. Hebrews 12:11