God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

A Selfish Perspective

fc707aa0f4ea2a8696bb4e657ac392c2Gas prices started falling, and I was happy about it. So were most people around me. We’d have to spend less to travel and go about our daily business. We’d all have more expendable income, whether for ourselves or the community. The lower gas prices would have ripple effects that could only be good.

Or not.

I then saw a couple of my friends from the coastline who posted about the ill effects of those gas prices. Their friends and families were losing their jobs. There were ripple effects throughout the community, but they weren’t good.

My perspective changed. I could pay an extra couple dimes per gallon in order to help another. I could quit assuming my good deal was a good deal for everyone.

I hope not to purposefully take a selfish perspective. Sometimes, I simply need someone to share another perspective to pull back the curtain on my selfishness.

We all do.

Let’s consider others’ perspectives. We may not agree with everyone, but we can learn, grow, and replace our self-centeredness with humility and compassion.

Spiritual Breathalyzer

breathalyzerWhat if you could take a spiritual breathalyzer? What would the reading be?

Taking a spiritual breathalyzer certainly isn’t a new concept. Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5.

So 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. Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. Speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord. Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (verses 15-20)

Paul compares being filled with the Holy Spirit with being filled (drunk) with wine. With what are you filled? Bitterness? Discontentedness? Pain? Sorrow? Guilt? Pride? Greed? Doubt? A spiritual breathalyzer will tell the truth.

Consider what happens when somebody is filled with too much wine.

  • They’re no longer in control.
  • Their perspective and response is changed.
  • They are less inhibited.

And what happens when we are filled with the Holy Spirit?

  • We know we are not in control. God is.
  • God’s perspective eclipses our own, and we respond according to his leading.
  • We are no longer inhibited by bitterness, discontentedness, sorrow, guilt, pride, greed, and doubt. We set aside our self-centered concerns and boldly respond in God’s timing.

Consider your intimacy and comfort with the Holy Spirit. Even as Christians, we are often much more familiar with God the Father and Jesus the Son than the Holy Spirit. We’re often more comfortable with the rational, intelligent approach to faith. We don’t want to be or even seem to be out of control. Yet when we yield to God completely, including being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are not out of control. We simply yield to God’s control. We set our own selfish control issues aside to invite him to have full reign in our lives.

Take a spiritual breathalyzer today. Ask God to give you an accurate reading of where you are spiritually. Let him challenge you in the areas you are clinging to how you want to fill yourself instead of yielding to him. Then respond in obedience. Trust his assessment of you to always be for your spiritual growth and for his glory.

Fit Faith: Essential: Side-by-Side

“A friend loves you all the time, and a brother helps in time of trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17)

As much as I advocate healthy relationships and accountability among women when I’m speaking and teaching, I have to admit I’ve steered away from fitness accountability. I’ve worked through several reasons (a.k.a., excuses). It was easier to set my own schedule. When my girls were young, I needed to sneak in workouts whenever I could. I often took them in the stroller for long walks when I knew they could best manage. To set a specific time and days seemed unfathomable. I knew the weather, kids and other factors would get in the way. Why schedule something at all when I was sure I’d have to reschedule?

Even as my girls grew and I had more flexibility, I didn’t welcome the idea of working out with others. I enjoyed the solitude of being by myself. It was one of the few times I could listen only to my own thoughts and take in everything around me without distractions. Also, I walk quickly, and few people I knew, whose schedule somewhat matched mine, could keep up. That meant I didn’t feel as if I had a “complete” workout when I was done. So, I’d potentially spend precious time away from my family, get no alone time, and not get a great workout. The choice to work out on my own seemed like a no-brainer.

There have been a few exceptions. I love walking with husband, especially in recent years. I walk at his pace and take a separate walk if I feel the need. We walk and talk, enjoying each other’s company. I love walking with my oldest daughter. We live a state apart, so we don’t walk together often. She can now easily walk as quickly as I can; in fact, each time I walk with her, I ready myself for being left in her dust. I also enjoy walks with a few of my best friends who walk relatively quickly. Sharing seems to flow freely as we walk, and these friends know long walks don’t daunt me. I’m in it – the walk and the friendship – for the long haul.

Not long ago, I ventured into one more shared fitness experience. My youngest daughter, who is very involved in dance, asked me to go to an intense, full body workout in preparation for her upcoming busy dance schedule. I agreed along with another dancer’s mom. It was challenging to say the least, and I left with a desire to return so I could meet the physically demanding challenge.

After a couple more classes, I found out one of the women in the class shared a very good mutual friend with me. I had heard many great things about her from our friend, and she had heard about me, so when we put the puzzle pieces together, we felt like we already knew each other. Someone else I knew but hadn’t seen for quite a while showed up for the following class, and I found out those two women not only knew each other but worked together and often attended a couple fitness classes together. It was fun to see new connections among my network of friends.

We were glad when we saw other in class, and it wasn’t long before we started checking with each other prior to class to encourage each other to be there or be aware when someone had a conflict. Working out together spurred accountability as well as fun, as we shared inside jokes, exhaustion, sore muscles and challenges. When we took a break over Christmas, I missed the routine of the classes, but I missed seeing my friends more. Who would have thought I, the woman who preferred to work out on her own, would suddenly be missing my work out buddies?

Friendships are essential. Healthy friendships are essential. Set aside your excuses. You might think you don’t have time for a women’s study group. You might prefer to control your own schedule. You might not want the hassle of potential personality conflicts. But it’s what God intended for you.

So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Your Guide

guide a: something that provides a person with guiding information; b: a person who directs another’s conduct or course of life; c: a device for steadying or directing the motion of something (merriam-webster.com)

What guides you?

Before you answer too quickly, let me give you a few scenarios.

  1. You hurriedly run into the store to pick up a few things. You need to get in and out as quickly as possible. As you approach the check out lane, you see someone with an overflowing cart getting ready to get into the shortest line – the one you were ready to get into. If you quicken your steps just a bit, you could possibly get there before she does.
  2. The service at the restaurant is horrible. You suspect someone didn’t show up for work, because the servers are doing their best at trying to cover too many tables. But your coffee is regular, not decaf, and your toast is burned. Your server places the check on the table. It’s time to decide on her tip.
  3. You’ve been getting together with a group of women for a short time. It’s a group of women you feel a connection with and can see longterm relationships budding. You listen to them talk about a woman who called to say she’d miss the get-together because of a family issue, and you hear more of the family issue you feel you need to know. You’re fairly certain the woman wouldn’t want these details shared so freely, and you know you wouldn’t want the group talking about you when you weren’t there…but you wonder how they’ll respond if you speak up.

What influences your decisions?

Past experiences? Words of parents, teachers and friends? Expectations of who you are or who you should be? Standards of your faith? Guilt? Convenience?

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Easier said than done sometimes. We’re inundated with a multitude of messages from many people around us. We’ve been bombarded with messages of our culture for years. Plus the fact that we’ll atrophy into selfishness because that’s just how people are. We have to be deliberate about not letting selfishness and pride guide us, being humble, honoring others, and being interested in the lives of others.

Being deliberate involves careful and thorough consideration as well as an awareness of the consequences. Next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How will my decision impact others and my relationships with them?
  • What message am I sending and what values am I reflecting by my decision?
  • What am I basing my decision on, and is that basis credible?

In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. Philippians 2:5-6

Every Opportunity

“Make the most of every opportunity.”

I’ve heard the phrase many times in my life. I’d rephrase the way I’ve heard it in a variety of contexts to mean…

  • Don’t waste time or situations. If you have a chance to do something, do it.
  • If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Give it your all.
  • Think of how you can use or learn from every situations. (It’ll look great on your resume!)

I found several quotes that convey the same message:

  • “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison
  • “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt
  • “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

Making the most of every opportunity  – the way I’ve heard most messages about opportunities – is about me. Challenging me not to miss out on something because I could benefit. Telling me it’s up to me how much I put into (and get out of) opportunities. The opportunity has to do with me. I’m the one who notices it or not. I’m the one who grabs it or not. I’m the one who benefits from it or not. The selfishness of opportunity has been pounded into my head.

But another message whispers: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Make the most of every opportunity is biblical. Who knew! But it’s a bit different from the messages I’ve received from others. The biblical message isn’t about me at all. It’s about my relationship with others. Sure, I have a part of it, but my part is just about obedience. It’s about tapping into God’s wisdom and guidance and reflecting him.

It’s a “season, opportune time. Not merely a succession of moments but a period of opportunity (though not necessity). It is a critical or decisive point in time; a moment of great importance and significance; a point when something is ready or favorable, a propitious moment. A period marked by distinct conditions.” (Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible)

I could continue to twist making the most out of every opportunity to benefit and revolve around me, but when kept in context, it has nothing to do with me except my willingness to reflect God’s grace. And God’s grace is not selfish. Not even close. God’s grace is undeserved. It’s generous. It’s beyond what we can do or be on our own. And if I’m reflecting – extending – grace to others…if I’m making the most of every opportunity to do so, my life is void of selfishness.

In reality, my life isn’t void of selfishness, and I make the most of some opportunities for the wrong reasons, but I’m listening to God’s whisper to me and (hopefully) changing my perspective.

Will you join me?

“But God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted.” 1 Corinthians 15:10