Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Week Twenty-Six - Your Choice

Have you ever been caught between a rock and a hard place? It's a tricky spot when both sides of the situation look too hard to handle, and there seems to be no easy way out, no simple solution, no happy outcome. These difficult decisions and challenging circumstances blind us as we struggle to see the way forward.

A friend shared this little blurb with me -

Marriage is hard, Divorce is hard. 
Choose your hard.
Obesity is hard, Being fit is hard. 
Choose your hard.
Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. 
Choose your hard.
Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. 
Choose your hard.
Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. 
But we can choose our hard.

We'd have to agree, life can be hard. While we wish things were easy, they rarely are. As I thought about the idea of choosing my hard, I had to remind myself that anything of real value requires effort. A good marriage takes work. Staying fit and being disciplined in spending involves dedicated self-control. Working through misunderstandings means risk and swallowing our pride. The hardness of either side is equal. Both sides hold dangers and pitfalls, but our choices remain our own and determine the outcome and the reward. 

While I pondered on this, another challenge popped up. Instead of focusing on reaching specific goals, how would things change if you focused on how you worked toward those goals?

I got to feeling like the Lord was picking on me. I had just begun accepting hard choices as beneficial when he got more pointed. Let me see if I can explain. Around my computer screen are little notes. No, rather large notes, stating my goals and even to-do items that move me toward them. But I tend to be inconsistent. I brainstorm on paper, pin it up, feel good about the ideas, and then go play Candy Crush.

Instead of following through with the hard decisions that will move me forward, I daydream. I need to choose my hard and make a more concerted effort to do the things that will move me forward consistently. Otherwise, disappointment will haunt me, opportunities could be missed, and the blame would lay squarely on my shoulders.

That's quite a bit of honesty for me to put on paper, but I want you to know you are not the only one who struggles with self-motivation and discipline. What are we to do?

I came to this. God gives the increase, but he can't increase what I'm not putting out. So, if I move steadily forward, he multiplies my effort. My responsibility is faithfully taking the next step, making the next hard choice, doing what I know I should do, and leaving the rest to him.

And when it comes to my choices, wisdom dictates I first compare my hard to God's Word. There, I find strength, encouragement, and perseverance. My hard will not last forever. But if I make poor choices, I turn an already difficult situation into something seemingly impossible to bear. For me, I'd rather choose the hard that keeps me inside God's will and design. I feel too vulnerable stepping outside of that!

What hard choices are you facing? Are you making and acting upon wise choices that move you forward, or are you daydreaming? Take the advice of this little song and keep moving forward looking for God to increase your efforts.

One step at a time,
Only one step at a time.
That is the way the Lord will lead you,
One step at a time.

Take that one step carefully,
Walk that one step prayerfully.
That is the way to victory,
One step at a time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Week Twenty-Five - Hurdles

One of my favorite track and field events is the hurdles. I love watching the precision and the piercing concentration of the runner's faces as they strain every muscle and clear each hurdle. The crashes can be painful to watch, but I still love the energy of this event.

In the hurdles of life, however, I don't like putting out that much effort. I prefer keeping my jumps low and manageable, so I can clear them with ease and proficiency. I enjoy a day focused on controllable goals and like to end the day happy and satisfied that I ran that day's race well. Recently, those days seem far and few between because I keep getting distracted.

A hurdler cannot afford distraction. Once they are in the air, the landing and the jump ahead must be their next focus. Mid-jump is not the time to look around, check out the opponent, or get self-confident because it takes concentrated effort to complete the race without tumbling.

Distractions are villains, stealing our time, effort, and progress. I've heard of all sorts of ways to keep them from their thievery. One way is to not turn on your internet until you have everything completed that does not require the internet. Imagine that! For me, that would mean getting dressed, making the bed, getting breakfast, and maybe even doing some housework before I picked up and turned on my phone. That sounds like a real challenge!

If you work from home, that will mean not turning on your computer until you are ready to start work and turning it completely off when your workday is finished.

Why keep the internet turned off? Because of all the pop-ups and notifications that distract you from your work. You know the drill. You start working on your lesson, doing your study, trying to get a project complete, and here comes the ping of a notification. Curiosity means you click to see, and before you know it, you have clicked and clicked and clicked. You have gotten so distracted you can't find your way back to what you were doing.

I think the enemy - that villain - wants us side-tracked. He knows if we focus, we accomplish things for God's glory. That defeats his whole purpose. He is the author of confusion and comes to destroy - even our progress. He wants us to stumble at every hurdle.

Another way to circumvent distraction is to work to a plan - have a list of things to accomplish. I have those floating all around my workstation. They help me think about what I should be doing and give me a sense of accomplishment when I strike them through or tick them as completed. Some lists are short-term - to be done today. Others are medium-term - to be done within a week to a set time frame. And others, that float and float, are the long-term ones. These keep me pointed toward the future; they shape the lesser goals.

This thought challenged me - What if instead of focusing on reaching goals, we focused on how we worked toward those goals?

Well, a hurdler knows that looking down the track and seeing the hurdles isn't enough. The secret is found in how well they train, the physical approach, the mental concentration, and the practice no one sees. Winning the race doesn't happen because they have a want to win. It is accomplished by setting out to win. Winning happens behind the scenes in the everyday choices and practices that create strength and endurance in the hurdler as he works toward his goal. It is the same for us.

So, I have to ask myself, and I challenge you to ask yourself, how well are we preparing for the race? Do we have focused practice, or do we get easily distracted? Are we stretching forth to higher goals or happy jumping puddles? Are the villains of distraction haunting us, or do we have a plan for limited them? Good intentions will not be enough. It's time to knuckle down and make daily choices with our eyes and hearts fixed on the next hurdle!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Week Twenty-Four - God Can Handle Your Overwhelm

I confess. I tend to be an over-thinker. I run every possible scenario as I try to solve problems and think through decisions. It can be overwhelming. I caught myself doing this early one morning and began praying, "Lord, I don't know how things will work out." And God calmly answered me, "Gail, that's okay. That's not your job."

Not my job? He is right. It isn't my job, and besides, I would never figure everything out anyway. I am limited. He is not.

My prayer changed to, "Well, Lord, then what is my job? What am I to do?" And again, he was ready with an answer. I grabbed my pencil and began jotting down my Father's instruction.

"Love me. Love me with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love others as well. Walk worthy, acceptable, and by faith. Enjoy the life I have given you. Do your job and leave the rest to me."

I got up that morning much lighter and less overwhelmed. Let me share a few verses that support my Father's answer and see if you can apply them to your overwhelm.

Some of the verses you probably know, like the first and second commandments. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37-39

Walking worthy is found in Ephesians 4:1. Living acceptably relates to Romans 12:1, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And to walk by faith brings Hebrews 11:6 to mind, "but without faith it is impossible to please him."

When I lose focus on life's perspective and get overwhelmed, I take myself to Ecclesiastes 5:18, "It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him." This verse, and others that say the same, remind me that God wants me to enjoy life, to appreciate all he has provided, and to relax in his provision.

And the Lord's last instruction brought to mind my son's favorite verse, Micah 6:8. This verse sounds exactly like what the Lord said to me in the midst of my overwhelm. "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

You know, when we overthink and begin to succumb to the pressures around us, we aren't doing what the Lord requires. He requires so little compared to what we try to produce. He just wants us to love him, trust him by faith, and appreciate his provision. That's our job. We can trust him to do his. He can handle our overwhelm.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Week Twenty-Three - Detours

   Do you take a huge gasp of air when you see a detour sign? I do! I hate taking a road I don't know because I fear not getting to my destination, winding up on some narrow lane, or missing the next sign.
      Right now, we have several diversions, as they call them in Britain, because they are working on the roads. These types of detours help us avoid hazards and keep us safe. But no matter the reason, I still experience frustration, fear, and impatience when faced with the prospect of changing my intended direction.
    Sometimes our spiritual lives are thwarted with detours as well. I like to view them as providential redirection toward God's goal - His purpose for my life. And I also see them as providential protection from a Good Father who is keeping me safe. Sometimes, that helps me not get so frustrated and fearful!
    But even with this better perspective, I still get a knee-jerk reaction to a detour because I have to surrender control. Things seem out of order, and I feel forced to make the decision to walk by faith.
     Folks in the Bible experienced detours, too. Probably the most extended detour in recorded history is the Israelites' trek across the wilderness. A journey of eleven days turned into a 40-year detour and resulted in the death of a whole generation.
    Jonah created his detour and wound up in the belly of a whale. Once he got back on track, he was angry, resentful, and had a complete disregard for others.
    Michal, Saul's daughter, had a couple of detours. She did not handle it well and for all eternity is recorded as a spiteful and angry wife.
    However, others yielded to their detours. Joseph made the best of his. Nehemiah faced much opposition but completed his detour with dignity. David encountered many, but he knew the value of waiting on God's timing. Esther's challenging detour positioned her for the salvation of her nation.
        Evelyn Christenson, in her book Gaining Through Losing, lists the following gains and losses. Detours come - 

        So we might gain the purposes of God
        So we might gain the strength of God.
        So we might gain the sovereignty of God.
        So we might gain the comfort of God.
        So we might gain hope in God.
        So we might gain trust in God.

        So we might lose our rights.
        So we might lose our pride.
        So we might lose our attachment to possessions.
        So we might lose our apathy.
        So we might lose our fears.

God-directed detours always have a purpose. Chris Tiegreen wrote, "God's hand is in even the most difficult circumstances, letting affliction have its deepest results. This is His chosen path for us, not a diversion from it. He is always the Lord of our situation."
    Here's the thing about detours, they do not last forever. Oh, they might land us at a different destination, but it will be a destination of God's choosing. Through God-given detours, we see our sufferings used to magnify our Saviour, help us grow in Christ, be more sanctified, and purified, etc.
    And we can always be assured that God will bring us through the detour. He will not leave us lost beside the road. Just as He brought Joseph, Moses, and Paul through, He will bring us through!
    So, what should be our attitude when we see a detour sign? Let's remember to submit, not only to the law of the road but more importantly, to the Lordship of our Saviour. 
    And let's be thankful. That sign isn't randomly placed to annoy us, it is for our protection and has a purpose. Thankfully, in wisdom and for our benefit and protection, the Lord directs our steps. He is the Lord of detours.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Week Twenty-Two - I Need a Vacation

I'm so ready for a vacation. Not a working one, not a meeting with family one, but a staring at the sky or sitting on the beach or any place where the sun is shining and a nice breeze is blowing with no unwelcome distractions. How about you?

  I got to daydreaming about this the other day, and I wandered off into thinking of unwanted vacations, the kind we think will never end.

  Like sometimes, we land in a place where we are fearful. The world seems to be caving in all around us, relationships grow difficult, and our times are so uncertain. It leaves us lonely and afraid. It's not a great spot to find rest.

  At other times, we get stuck as anger grasps our hearts and colors our every word and motive. We feel it scorching deep inside, no matter how hard we try to suppress it. Anger evades our prayers and twists our thoughts, leaving us nervous and weary of the battle, but we just can't find our way home.

  Disillusionment is a cold and dark vacation spot. We know this world is not our home, but even passing through feels disheartening. The beauty of life has been shoved aside for so long, we can barely see the light of hope.

  And we have probably all visited discouragement. Things aren't moving ahead as we expected. It seems like one step forward and two steps back. We push and push, and it feels we are the only ones putting forth the effort to break free.  And what does God say about these unpleasant vacation spots?

  For fear, he says, "You need my perfect love. My love casts out fear. Come, rest in my arms and let me love you."

  If you are angry, you'll hear him saying, "You need to put that away, my child. Let it go. I will give your heart a song so you can sing praises to me, and we'll rejoice together."

  Disillusioned? "Look at the beauty of me," God says, "I've given you my wonderful rainbow of promise, the beauty of the sunset, the great and exceedingly precious promises of my word, and my unfailing faithfulness. You won't be disappointed."

  Discouraged? "Oh, dear child, take heart. Drink from my fountain, feed on the bread of life, strengthen your weary soul in me."

  You know, I've been to many beautiful places around this world, but the loveliest vacations I have ever experienced were the ones where I drew aside with the Lord. I didn't have to be on the beach or wearing my sunhat. I simply cuddled up in my chair and wrapped the sarong of his word around my aching and cold little heart, allowing the warmth of the spirit to permeate my bones and the sunshine of his love to brighten me through and through. He met me there!

  Do you need a vacation? Make sure you pick a Son-ny spot!