On All Occasions: Holding on, While Letting Go: Traversing discouragement

On All Occasions: Holding on, While Letting Go: Traversing discouragement
I am free to let go of things for the sake of making the supremacy of God's worth known. John Piper

Thursday, October 10, 2013

7 Ways to Help People Reach Their Potential

He was a leader in the church, but didn’t have any friends. People avoided him by walking the other way or quickly excusing themselves. He wasn’t a good listener, and newcomers quickly learned it.

The problem was his behavior was observed passively until, finally, another leader lost patience and spewed his frustration publicly.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

You’ve probably seen a similar story, maybe even playing the role of passive observer, the person who recognizes an area of relational weakness in another, but lacks a vision of a kingdom potential that remains unrealized. There is a greater role we must serve, and that is to think God’s vision for one another.

As a passive observer, we may excuse ourselves from involvement by citing our desire to be kind, to guard other’s feelings, to avoid conflict, or steer clear of judgmental thinking. In spite of good intentions, these reasons lack God’s vision for others.

Is it kind to avoid others, or to overlook relational sin for the sake of preserving a relationship? Would doing so demonstrate life-giving community? What I’m suggesting is not in opposition to love and acceptance of others, but it does hold the vision of God’s story in each of us higher than maintaining the approval of others. What if someone had a greater vision for this leader?

Sadly, he resigned from leadership and left the church. But, before we can know God’s vision for another we must be aware of our motives. We play the role of fixer when we react in frustration (as in the example above) or when we pursue our own vision for others, one focused on error, fault, or sin. Fixing another person often looks and feels like using a hammer and a magnifying glass.

Our motives are often: 

  • self-serving–rooted in our own issues 
  • attempts to gain approval, or cooperation in matters that are important to us 
  • aimed at changing annoying habits 
Wouldn’t we like others to fit our design–one of met expectations, shared values, similar likes and dislikes, and an agreement on how life works? We often see this in marriages when couples lose God’s vision for one another replacing it with self-centered expectations? How can we join with God’s vision for one another?

When we think God’s vision we grasp his handiwork and heart for others, and our relationships join with God’s purposes. In the book Connecting, Christian psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb recommends 7 questions to help us identify God’s vision: 

  1. How has God built this person?
  2. What is he wanting to release through all the joys and heartaches of this person’s life?
  3. What is right now being released?
  4. What strengths does this individual have that, if surrendered to God could powerfully advance the kingdom?
  5. What potential remains unrealized because of un-dealt-with weaknesses?
  6. How does this person uniquely bless me?
  7. What does that tell me about the character strengths that God is specially weaving into the fabric of this individual’s soul?
Dr. Crabb’s approach is based on the Potter’s design, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” God’s vision for others, recognizes their unique design, the strengths, gifts, and qualities that God has built within to accomplish his kingdom purpose. When we see God’s design in others we are able to join that vision, affirm unrealized strengths, and help explore areas of un-dealt with weakness.

It takes courage and begins when we humbly open our lives to mutually vulnerable relationships for the sake of powerfully advancing the kingdom. Investing in relationships requires prayer, and selflessly loving others. Paul challenged us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” Jesus is the “author” and we serve as “motivators.”

Is there someone you are avoiding? If so, ask God to help you see his vision. What is attractive about this kind of relationship? What is frightening?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Christian's Worst Fear

Praying out loud, with others, is one of the major fears Christians encounter.

If that's you, you are not alone. Many believers, new and old, have refrained from joining community life or praying with others due to fear. Reasons vary, but often it’s because we tend to see prayer as an outward expression of our inward spiritual life—and that level of sharing can leave us feeling vulnerable. If you’re hesitant to pray with others, I’d like to encourage you that, just like team sports, community life is actually a good place to begin flexing your prayer muscles.

One of the advantages of community life is meeting others with similar experiences. There’s great comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone and that someone else understands our struggles. Another advantage is realizing that we are all in different places in our journey. This allows us to give encouragement to some and receive it from others. In community life, as we listen to others pray, we find various forms of expression to draw from. Our styles may be different depending on our background and personalities. Some folks pray using eloquent language, some cover a subject in great detail, and others speak simply and to the point. Having a sincere heart is all that matters, so joining with others can help us learn.

Afraid of messing up or saying something stupid? Two perspectives will help us focus on Jesus and take our minds off of ourselves and what others think. First, prayer is best approached simply. Jesus said we can come as a rookie. Well, actually he said we can come as a child (Mark10:13-15). God invites us to come with the simple faith and language of a child. Jesus wants us to have a relationship with our heavenly Father so much that he opened the way for us to have access to him. We are invited to sit in our Father’s lap and talk with him. As we get to know him more, we learn to listen and our conversation becomes richer.

Second, it’s important to view prayer as an act of worship. Prayer is our fellowship offering—like saying “I enjoy hanging out with you.” It is a pleasing aroma to God. If you’re worried about being judged by others, let me assure you that those who would judge are treading on holy ground. Only God can know the intentions of our heart, and he values the prayer offered in faith so much that one day all the prayers of God’s people will be poured out on his altar (Rev 8:3-4). It’s important to honor the prayers of others in the spirit in which they are offered, just as it’s crucial that we offer our own prayers with our minds focused on our Father rather than people. I’ve struggled with people pleasing myself, and I know it’s something God can help us understand and overcome. A desire to learn is all you need to get off the sidelines.

Here are a few steps to help you get in the game: 
  1. Be open about your fears, and be willing to try. A woman who recently joined our group shared, “I don’t really know how to pray.” She did fine because she was sincere, and she was herself. She didn’t try to be something she’s not.
  2. Start by thanking God. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as an example, and there are many acronyms to help make it easy, but when you are starting out, thanking God is an easy way to begin.
  3. Keep it simple. If you are ready for the next step of asking on behalf of another person, begin by thanking God for who he is in their circumstance. From there follow up by inviting him to help in their area of need. For example, “Lord, thank you that you love my friend Sally, and that you are her provider. Please help her find a dependable car that she can afford.” That’s it! It’s that easy to pray and express care for others by doing so.
  4. Continue learning. I recommend Lynden author Alvin VanderGriend’s book, Love to Pray, as a good introduction to prayer.
Who knows, you too may love to pray!

How has community life encouraged you to grow in your expression of faith? What have you learned about prayer from the example of others? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Holding on, While Letting Go: Traversing discouragement

It happens to all of us at some point, disappointment, unmet expectations, or a conflict resulting in emotional pain. Our instincts may be to deny, suppress, medicate, or bear up under the pain, but it is impossible to live life safe enough to avoid painful struggles. I have found this to be especially true when I care passionately about something, or when I’m on a journey, stepping out in faith, or pursuing a dream or calling. Maybe you can relate to experiencing discouragement in the middle of one of those journeys where hope and faith have propelled you to a high place, only to find your feet suddenly at the threatening edge of despair, uncertain where the next step or handhold is to deliver you to your destination? What truths can we use to traverse these rocky places, to know where to hold onto in hope, and whether our footing is on solid ground along the journey?

Perhaps you have some suggestions gained from personal experience? Here is a brief list of perspectives that God has taught me over the years, and reminded me of recently when experiencing a series of disappointments.

Hold onto…

God, and a godly view of his attributes as revealed throughout Scripture. It’s important to examine our godtalk and reconcile it with the Truth found in God’s Word. If we have a lacking or polluted view of God’s attributes we are vulnerable to Satan. When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he always answered Satan’s lies with God’s written truths. (Matt. 4:1-11).

love for others as ourselves. This topic requires so much, but briefly I want to share the foundational perspective of asking God to help us see others through his eyes. Where is he working, and how does he want to use this person for the kingdom? What does love look like in 1 Cor. 13? Whether in times of peace or conflict, do our motives match with this kind of love? Are we willing to serve a greater kingdom cause? Loving others is an opportunity to join with God’s heart through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit.

your identity in Christ. Just as we need a godly view of God’s attributes we need a godly view of ourselves as his redeemed people. We have it all in Christ! We have been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. He chose us before creation to be blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons. Freely he has given us glorious grace, redemption through his blood, and forgiveness of sins, and so much more! (Eph. 1:1-17; et. al). Examining our self-talk for signs of an enemy breach may reveal that we have given Satan an entry point.

the Potter’s hand. God often uses difficulties in our lives to transform our character into Christlikeness, and restore wholeness to our painful personal issues. He isn’t looking to use perfect people, but he will only advance those who humble themselves to the Master’s design. Is there a reoccurring pattern in your life? Let Jesus take you to a place of healing. 2 Cor. 3:17-18; 4: 7; Hebrews 12:1-8

today. While we persevere in faith for the promised hope of tomorrow we need to continue living in the present with gratitude, praise, and joy, even when it takes all we have to do so. Our eyes can easily become fixed on a future hope and neglect the gift of today. If we are not careful our promise can become an idol greater than our appreciation for the Giver. God is more than enough for today and tomorrow! Let the joy of the Lord feed your soul today.

Let go of…

extra baggage. We start out with intentions of traveling light, and end up gathering things along the way to help manage difficulties. In 12 Steps, these “things” that help us manage are referred to as immature and ineffective ways of coping or relating to others. In relationships they may look like using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. They come in varying forms of blame, unforgiveness, people pleasing, defensiveness, perfectionism, etc. If debris is scattered along the trail behind, it’s time to make amends with our past. (Rom. 12:18; Eph. 4:15).

the weapons of the enemy. Like avoiding poison ivy along the trail, we must not handle the weapons of Satan. Their forms are subtle, casting doubt and obscuring truth. Most often they are seen in misunderstandings and false attributions about the behavior and motives of others, or they are seen in how we make sense of our world, our explanatory style. They are particularly attractive because we appear like an innocent victim in our own eyes, while we see others as purposefully against us. When this happens we need to go back to the things listed above, to the things “we hold onto.”

control.  It is our fleshly nature to try and control things ourselves, especially when God’s timing seems delayed. We see this example in Genesis when Sarai gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abram so that the promise of a son could be fulfilled. When we try to control situations or others we are depending on ourselves, not God. In your journey, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

As God continues to teach these things to me I return to them often as a place to regain perspective. Though in some areas I continue to struggle, I have found that I more quickly come to a place of rest and perspective by knowing what to hold onto, and of what to let go. What has been your experience in difficult times? What thoughts would you add?  Is there anything you identify with most? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I hope to expand further on these and others in future blog posts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Walter Cronkite Meets Jesus

Saigon and the Mekong Delta 1968 - At the age of 9, the fact of my father’s absence was like an undercurrent of heaviness, and a constant reminder his return was not guaranteed. Letters sent from Vietnam said little about the makings of war. Dad liked the cookies, he liked the poem about watching him make faces while he shaved, and the photographs of Brownie Troop activities. Mom seemed to be somewhere far off those days, the television on in the background, mom in the kitchen, and the interruptions of a young girl’s voice met with annoyance. Sometime after supper I’d hear the familiar voice of Walter Cronkite beckoning me to the television.
There was always a dilemma involved when watching Cronkite, part of me wanting to know what was happening in Vietnam, the other afraid of what I would learn. Walter Cronkite had all the facts, everything a young girl wanted to know; be it the current location of the Viet Kong, marches on behalf of the poor people living in shanti towns, anti-war protests, civil liberty protests, presidential politics, the evacuations of Hueys, the status of half a million U.S. troops serving in Vietnam, and the downward plunge of a bayonet. I became a humanitarian and a disciple of Jesus under Cronkite. Maybe Jesus and I could make a difference in this world? No, dad’s name wasn’t on Cronkite’s casualty list; maybe he’s okay, and then… Cronkite brought news of another war, one closer to home. First, Martin Luther King, Jr., and then within 2 months Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
I did not grow up in a religious home, but for some reason during my dad’s deployment my mom dropped my sister and me off at a nearby Vacation Bible School. It was there that I learned about the life and love of Jesus, that he was my friend, and the hope of the world around me. It wouldn’t be until my early teens that I would understand my even greater need for Jesus. As parents we often wonder about our world today and its impact on our children.  We may try to protect and shield them from the harsh realities of conflict in an increasingly global society. But, I personally wonder if Jesus would become the “hero” he was to me then, without the stark contrast of a world on display in need of desperate hope. Is such a contrast even possible when our children have so much today? I never went to Disneyland as a child, but I did see the Redwood Forest. My first tech gadget was my very own tape cassette player, and birthday parties then included a gathering of friends around the dining table with a homemade cake. Our lives were simple, but we were content.
Consider our children’s heroes today. Do our children have an appreciation for the kindness of Jesus, his deep care for those who suffer, his compassion for the poor, and his promise of justice one day? Better yet, do our children know how much our world needs a kind hero, the very hope of the nations? What kind of “funnelvision” do children experience in today’s media mix? I’m certain my own mother had no idea of the internal processing I experienced. What thoughts do you have?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Walk with Me

When I was in the 6th grade I somehow managed to be elected student body president of our elementary school. There was just one problem or so we thought, I didn’t know Roberts Rules of Order. The truth was no amount of classroom study could make up for what I lacked in a role model. My male teacher and principal had expectations for the academic aspects of the role, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that I lacked a personal belief that I could assume a role of leadership. As a woman, it simply wasn’t modeled for me.

That belief became a story that I took with me long into my adult life. The women in my life were nurturing mothers, teachers, and Girl Scout leaders, contrasted by the Gloria Steinem’s in the media who were viewed as radical in my childhood home. But there was one reoccurring problem… my wiring contains a propensity for leadership. Jesus modeled discipleship, or mentoring over the course of three years. In contrast, I wonder what do we as leaders today hope to gain through periodic meetings and a handbook? Is it only our knowledge that has value, or is there something to be gained from the relationship?

It was through relationship over time that Jesus revealed Himself to his disciples, and they came to know Him as the real deal. It’s pretty easy to offer good advice and pleasant company over an occasional cup of coffee, and a meeting here and there. It’s another thing to take someone with you, to walk with them and to allow authenticity and experience to become a mutual instructor. For example it’s one thing to know your future spouse over fine wine and dining. It’s quite another thing to work with them in the trenches. As leaders we need to be willing to walk with others. Even if it seems like it will slow us down, or interrupt personal agendas. Investing in others holds the promise of doubling the workers for the harvest.

Whether we are leaders, co-laborers, or following others, it’s through relationship that we learn about another person and their strengths, and about ourselves and our weaknesses. It means pushing back against culture, and the expectation of instant results with minimal investment of time. It means letting go of our independent, pride based ways that carry a toddler’s “I do it!” mentality. We were made for relationship. Jesus knew his disciples, he knew their strengths and weaknesses, and He knew God’s purposes for each of  them. How well do we know the people we lead? How much of ourselves do we allow to be known by those we lead? Are we humble enough to learn from those who follow us?

During His time with the disciples Jesus gave them a glimpse of what he was creating in them. Paul exhorts believers, "encourage one another and build each other up." We all need encouraging mentors or role models who recognize what God is doing within us and join with Him. Paul exhorted Timothy to use the gifts that were given to him. Timothy’s calling was reinforced through the Holy Spirit, through experience, and through the reflection of Paul’s discipleship.

For me, there was one more significant life experience that lacked discipleship. At the age of 13, I accepted Jesus as my Savior during an evangelical service. Though I would go back to that church over several months, the weekly message remained the same, “Repent and be saved!” I never grew to understand my new faith beyond my own failure to live a life free of sin. There was so much I didn’t know to ask, and there was no one to guide me with the next steps. But Jesus is faithful! Ten years later he led me to a fellowship where I not only met Jesus, but the Word, and people who were willing to walk with me. A lot happened in between those ten years, and sometimes I wonder “what if, what if I had been discipled in my faith?” Rather than dwell in the past however, I am looking to the future, and asking Jesus to remove any obstacles within me. I want to be fully equipped as a worker for the harvest.

An additional question that occurs to me as I contemplate the subject of discipleship, is one I have to ask myself today, “Why haven’t I sought a Christian woman leader as a role model and mentor?” For me the answer is longtime fears, a fear of being rejected in the role itself, and a fear that I would be asking too much of another person’s time… What are your thoughts? What if anything is holding you back?

"Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another --and all the more as we see the Day approaching." Hebrew 10:25