And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:32

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keep your eyes on the Goal

When I was a freshman in college I joined the long distance cross-country track team. Now, I can just imagine what you might be thinking. Wow, Barb, must be really athletic if she was in cross country in college. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I joined the track team because I was a nice person, not an athletic person. Let me backtrack a bit. During the fall of my freshman year I made the mistake of taking a lifesaving course. The reason I say it was a mistake is because the teacher of the lifesaving course was also the coach of the cross country team. And that team only had four members on it. They needed five to compete. (Can you see where this is going?)

I had a terrible time saying no in those days, so when the coach asked me to join the team, I thought, “How bad could it be? It’s just a couple of months, and I do kind of like to run (emphasis on the kind of).” So I joined the team.

What I discovered was that when I had to get up at 5 a.m. (thank you, coach) and drive twenty miles out of town to find some hills to run three days a week—and then run for more than twenty minutes at a stretch once I got there—I no longer liked to run. But I felt too guilty to quit the team—because if I left, they wouldn’t have a team.

The races were even worse than the practices. I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body when it came to sports, and I always came in last. I just didn’t care enough about the goal of winning to work that hard at running. Instead my focus was on “Why am I running? This is so not fun. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” And that attitude got me last place every single time.

It occurs to me now that my walk with God is much like those races I used to run. If I keep my focus on what I’m giving up for God (I can’t believe I have to suffer like this), I’ll have a bad attitude—and I won’t do well in the race.

But if I keep my focus on God Himself, the Prize at the end of the race—I’ll do much better. Those hardships along the way won’t seem like such a big deal anymore, because God is worth the sacrifice.

This is true in every step of my Christian walk—whether it’s working on the sin in my life when it would be so much easier not to, doing what God has called me to do when I don’t necessarily enjoy it, or even continuing to press on when I see others dropping out of the race—if I keep my focus on who God is and why I’m doing what I’m doing, I’ll have a better attitude. And I’ll be far more likely to run the race victoriously.

The incredible thing about God is that He runs the race with me. He not only runs alongside me, offering encouraging words and help when I need it, He also stands at the finish line, cheering me on, eager to put His arms around me and shout, “Well done, good and faithful servant!!!”

When He’s my focus, I’m not only willing to suffer for Him—I’m eager to suffer for Him. I just need to keep my eyes on Him.

In my next post, I’ll look at this whole idea in the context of emotional eating.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My life is better when I stick to my boundaries

Belief: That looks good. I should eat it.
Truth: My life is better when I stick to my boundaries.

Where do I get the idea that life will be better if I do the things that aren’t good for me?

Well, the idea’s been around since the beginning of mankind. Just look at Eve in the garden with Satan. He convinced her pretty easily that life would be better if she did what God had told her not to do.

He was tricky, though. He didn’t say, “Hey, Eve, God told you not to do this because He knew it wouldn’t be good for you—that it would make your life worse in the long run. But why don’t you disobey Him, anyway? After all, isn’t five minutes of fun worth a lifetime of consequences?”

No, he didn’t say that. He wanted Eve to forget about the long-term consequences of disobeying God. And he made her forget by focusing her attention on how fun, how really fun, it would be to eat that fruit.

Don’t we see the same principles at work in our own lives? When we break our boundaries, what are we focusing on? The fact that breaking our boundaries will lead to discouragement, weight gain, hopelessness, health problems, lethargy, laziness, depression, and not being able to wear our cute clothes? Or the fact that breaking our boundaries will be fun and tasty for five minutes?

Obviously, it’s the second. What we need to do is start asking ourselves this question when we're tempted to break our boundaries: Is five minutes of fun worth a lifetime of consequences?

And of course, the answer will be no. Our lives are better when we stick to our boundaries - even when the potential boundary breaker is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup blizzard. The more often I drill that into my head, the better off I’ll be.

Excuse me, I need to go ask myself a question.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting What We Want

And he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped. 2 Samuel 12:20

I’ve been reading 2 Samuel in my quiet times, and the thing that keeps hitting me is how submissive David is to God. And how human he is. It comforts me to know that God calls him a man after his own heart even though he messes up from time to time.

Take the time with Bathsheba and Uriah. As I was reading that story, I wondered if David was ever really convicted about his sin before Nathan came and talked to him. Do you suppose he was so used to getting what he wanted that he didn’t even recognize it was wrong to take another man’s wife and then have him killed to cover up his sin?

And do you suppose we have the same problem? Are we so used to getting what we want that we don’t even realize it’s wrong to make “getting whatever we want” a goal? I see that with eating. Most of the dieting articles in magazines focus on indulgence.

Take this headline: Eat whatever you want and lose weight! I don’t know about you, but if I ate whatever I wanted, I’d gain a hundred pounds. Surely there must be a glitch somewhere in that program.

Some articles take a different approach. They admit we can’t eat whatever we want, but instead they encourage us to indulge ourselves in other ways. Take a bubble bath. Go shopping. Watch a good movie.

There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but we need to be careful of our focus. Does God really want us to live a life of indulgence? Look where indulgence got David.

And look where it gets us. In the physical realm it’s a weight gain, but that’s not all. Think of the emotional consequences of focusing our lives on getting what we want. Discontentment, boredom, resentment, depression, unhappiness—you name it. We’ll never get enough of what we want to be happy until we reach the point where what we want is God. That’s when joy kicks in.

David always comes back to that point. Look at verse 20 of 2 Samuel 12: And he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped.

David didn’t worship after he got what he wanted with Bathsheba. He didn’t worship after he got what he wanted with Uriah. No, he worshiped after he got what he didn’t want. He worshiped as soon as he heard the news that his baby died—the baby he had been pleading with God to spare for the previous six days.

Isn’t that mind boggling? David was so submitted to God by that point that he didn’t even hesitate. God didn’t give him what he wanted, but he worshiped Him anyway.

That’s the point I want to reach. Where everything I do is about God. Where I worship Him even when I don’t get what I want. First reaction.

I’ll know I’ve made progress when I no longer feel like I deserve to be indulged.

Two hours later (I guess I haven't made progress yet.)

Yes, I know, I'm commenting on my own blog. Pathetic, isn't it? I just have to tell you what God did this morning.

I was sitting down to write and I didn't feel like writing, so I said, "I know, I'll check my e-mails." The only problem was that I wasn't supposed to check my e-mails because I have a boundary of three times a day, and I'd already done my morning check. The only reason I wanted to check them again was to - you got it - indulge myself.

So I said to myself (after checking my e-mails and then truth journaling about it), "Okay, I'm supposed to go to God for help, not my e-mails." So I went back to the Bible, continuing to read on in 2 Samuel, not really thinking there would be anything that would apply to my situation in 2 Samuel.

And that's when it hit me. In chapter 19, David submits again - this time to Joab, and I realized, I need to submit to God - even if it's just for an hour of writing. That instead of checking my e-mails (which is what I felt like doing), I should be worshiping Him.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

I found that to be true this morning.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How to Handle a Trial

I don’t know how many times God has convicted me with what He’s given me to write. That happened to me this morning when I was working on a seminar I’m teaching at our church later this month.

In the seminar, I’ll be talking about how we normally handle trials and how that differs from the way God wants us to handle trials. As I was writing it, I was thinking to myself, well, I handle trials pretty well so it will be easy for me to teach this workshop. The more I wrote though, the more I began to see that while I handle some trials well, there’s certainly room for improvement—a lot of room, as a matter of a fact.

Take today, for instance. My trial today is that it’s 8:30 in the morning, and I’m already bored. My kids are asleep, my husband’s off grouse hunting, it’s too early to call a friend, and I’ve already had breakfast and my two cups of coffee for the day. My trial is boredom, and even though it’s a little trial, I still have to figure out how to handle it in a godly way.

According to my advice in the seminar, I should handle the trial by asking myself these two questions: How can I love God best in this trial, and how can I love my neighbor best in this trial?

But I wasn’t following my own advice this morning. Instead, I was asking this question: How can I have the most fun in this trial? (You understand I wasn’t asking the question out loud, but that was the direction my mind was taking. )

I thought of a few ideas of how to have fun, but they seemed like too much work, which showed I was also operating with another concern: What is the easiest way to handle this trial? (Which by the way is why I have a problem with emotional eating -- it's an easy way to add a little excitement to life.)

Now, normally, I would just go on my merry way, trying to find something fun to do. But instead, God used the things I'd written earlier this morning to convict me. I wasn't practicing what I preached.

So I asked myself the two questions I'm planning to tell everyone else to ask: How can I love God best in this situation? The answer? I could have another quiet time. How can I love my neighbor best? Well, since most of my real neighbors are asleep, I could love my internet neighbors and write a blog. So you see, that’s what I decided to do.

I would love to hear some of the wrong questions all of you ask when you’re in a trial. This is the list I’ve come up with so far:

1. What will be most fun?
2. What will be easiest?
3. What will be best for me?
4. What will give me the greatest life?
5. What will make me look the best?

Can you think of any I missed? If you can, please e-mail me or list it in the comments. I’m not giving the workshop until later this month, so I can still add questions to the list at this point.

Meanwhile, I better get going. I have some loving God and loving my neighbor to do. (And I will try to refrain from loving my refrigerator.)

P.S. I just read this blog over again, and want to add one thing. I'm not saying I can't ever have fun in life. I'm just saying I shouldn't live my life for fun - which is what I tend to do. Others focus on accomplishment, the approval of others, etc. My weakness is fun - so that's why I need to be careful about handling my boredom by focusing on fun. There are a lot of things to do around the house today that I consider boring, but really need to get done so I can focus my life on doing the other things God has called me to do. So, I hate to say this, but probably the next thing I should do if I want to love God and others is paperwork:(