The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

What are you looking forward to?

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“Well what d’ya expect from him!” my cynical friend spit out after waiting yet again for a habitually late friend to show up.

Humans let others down.  Partly due to our sinful and selfish nature and partly due to how God designed us.  Creatures have limits.  Only God is limitless, perfect and consistent.

Expectations about others tend always to leave us disappointed.  As David Zahl, pastor of an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville says, “expectations are planned resentments.”

What if we were to change the WHAT or WHOM we place our expectations?  What if we were to place our hope in what is 100% guaranteed?  That’s a no brainer; if we did so, we would avoid disappointment.

I read just this morning about Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’ rich disciples who according to Mark 15:43 was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”;

What does that tidbit about his focus communicate?  Nothing short of the direction of his life!

After Jesus announced, “It is finished!” and died on that Friday outside of Jerusalem, this courageous man Joseph, along with the well-known Pharisee Nicodemus, took the bold step of requesting THAT AFTERNOON an audience before Pontius Pilate.  What they did was risky.

Their lives and their reputations at stake, the two sought permission to take Jesus down off the cross and bury Him.

That account is the last written about them, but not the end of their story.  I have no doubt that they are present with the Jesus they hoped in and staked all on.  No disappointments there.

So as this first month of the new year approaches the end, you might feel disappointed already:

  • with yourself and your lack of ability to keep up a resolution
  • with a friend or family member who has let you down, again!
  • with a job or activity you hoped would satisfy
  • with the way an organization acts

I’m learning that every created being or thing in this world on this side of the Cross will let me down, most especially me!  The path to peace and joy is to place our expectations in the only Person who doesn’t disappoint – Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

I ask again: What are YOU expecting and looking for?

 

Use your imagination!

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Do you know how to worry?

Then you are an expert imaginer.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert level in any skill.  So how many hours do you think you have invested in your worry habit?  Let’s do the math.

  • Let’s assume you didn’t start worrying until you reached 7th grade, age 12
  • Assume also that you have worried only 10 minutes a day ever since then
  • Add in a ‘day off’ per week from worrying and you will have racked up an hour a week

At that rate, it’ll take you 192 years to become an expert.

But is there a possibility that you have invested more than 10 minutes a day into this skill?

In an informal poll with ‘the man on the street’ regarding time invested in anxious thoughts, I heard 5-6 hours per day as a possibility.

That seeming a bit high, I checked Google and found the average to be 1 hour and 50 minutes a day. 

Let’s round that number up to 2 hours a day.  That’s equivalent to 730 hours a year.  At this rate, you’ll reach ‘expert’ status in only 13.7 years.  For the twelve-year old novice, he can reasonably expect to reach ‘success’ at age 25 1/2.

Of course if our hypothetical boy or girl is truly motivated and invests MORE than 2 hours a day, he’ll arrive at his goal sooner.  So maybe those represented by my informal poll, the ones who throughout the day and night practice imagining their fears make up the ELITE worriers, expert by the age of 17. It probably also helps to have grown up in a household of skilled practitioners who daily performed the liturgy of anxiety.

Back to what the practice of worrying requires – imagination.

Here’s the rub.  God has not given us the blessing of a fertile imagination for the sake of becoming a fantastic ‘fretter’!  He’s blessed us with a mind that WE can direct.  What we think about matters.

In Hebrews 3:1, God exhorts us through the writer to think about Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, set your minds on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

What can help us focus on Jesus?  God, who wants us to know Him, has given us the written Word so we can read and SEE with Spirit-empowered eyes who Jesus is. We who are believers have been given ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16).  We CAN know and receive power from what He did and what He has promised.

But habits are hard to change!!!  Yes…..,so what?  Plenty of things are hard.

It’s a fact – bad habits are difficult to break.  But our kind Father has given us a Helper, the Divine Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.  Paul tells us that this Spirit is not one that brandishes unending, peace-robbing ‘what-ifs’ as a tool (think Satan, the father of lies).

Au contraire, this Spirit is by definition POWER, LOVE and INTEGRATED SOUND THINKING. (look up 2 Thessalonians 1:7)

With Him planted permanently inside of us, we CAN stop feeding the worry habit with imagined fears.

With Him, we CAN change and start feeding the happy habit of focusing our imagination on all that Jesus has done and is for us.  Where’s the food?  God’s Word!  There’s more than enough nourishment in the Bible.  Feed on Him and not just 3 times a day. But snack continuously.  In fact God challenges us to move from little kid food to grownup food. He intends for us to mature in Christian practices.  And that takes intentionality and time on task.  Habits begin in the mind.  So we have to feed our minds, conforming them to Jesus.

There are so many benefits to using our imagination for this reason.

We won’t get fat, feasting on spiritual food.

And we’ll be a lot happier, more like our older Brother Jesus who was anointed with gladness:

You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else. Hebrews 1:9

Now THERE’s a New Year’s Resolution worth taking up. And one with a powerful promise of supernatural help.

 

 

 

 

One New Year’s Resolution –

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As we approach January 1, I’m prayerfully thinking through where I am spiritually and where I want to be.

To that end, I turn again to John Piper. This 67-year old pastor and teacher is probably my # 1 hero in the faith.  He has shaped my theology the most through his sermons and writing by teaching me:

  • That no sparrow falls unless God has willed it
  • That God wants us to be glad and joy-filled

(a link to his website is to the right)   John Piper’s ministry

A brief explanation of the two points is in order:

First – the fact that God controls the details about sparrows is to say that He is sovereign over every thing that happens in the entire universe, whether invisible or visible.  And He controls all in a way that doesn’t change His nature of GOOD, HOLY, LOVING, JUST and CREATIVE God (to name only 5 of His myriad of attributes).

Second – God created us to be filled to overflowing with gladness, joy and happiness about the right things – HIM, His actions, His saving grace, His promises and His plans for us.

Being happy in God is another way of saying ‘glorifying’ God.

John Piper explains that the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s very FIRST Q and A to be:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever

 

Piper explains that since only ONE end is mentioned (not two), changing the AND to BY does not alter the meaning.

that our chief purpose in life is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. 

It seems that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.  And the corollary is that our degree of satisfaction in God increases when we let others know how happy in Him we are. 

My goal, therefore, for this New Year is to practice glorifying God by enjoying Him as well as His gifts.

Obviously, this is easier said than done.  Why is that?  Because I live on a diet of junk.  Just like one’s taste for vegetables has to be nurtured and developed, so, too, must I cultivate a ‘taste’ for God-things, for holiness. 

 

Far too often I’d rather –

  • Check the internet than pray
  • Read the paper instead of my Bible
  • Think about how I’m going to lose 3 lbs and NOT how I could invite a lonely person to dinner

What’s a self-absorbed tech-preferring gal going to do? 

Well, I only have one idea – perhaps you can suggest others:

In the vein of Ann Voskamp, I’m going to keep thanking God for all His wonders.  That implies that I am going to notice and catch these marvels, these gifts, and the myriad of God-sent little pleasures. To that end, I will pray daily for Holy Spirit help to prod me, to remind me, to get me out of myself and look up and around.

A link to her book

Taste and see that the Lord is good – Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

 

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