Waiting For Something?

what-are-you-waiting-forWhat are you planning to do “Someday”?

Apologize… Forgive … Give … Embrace? Pay Down Debt, Get Fit, Learn to Play Chess, Volunteer? Maybe it’s in your heart to volunteer with a ministry or start one? What has to happen before you actually do it?

  • Do the stars have to align?
  • Does God have to part the clouds, speak audibly?
  • Do you have to get a medical diagnosis that brings mortality into focus?
  • Does someone have to die?

Well, Someone already has.

Jesus died so that we might have life and have it to the full. He also got up from the grave and ever lives to see that His will is faithfully executed.

While it is called today, He wants us to believe Him and live because life is short.

I went to the Y today and someone else was seated in John’s place. John, a fixture at the front desk for years, was a slender man with hands frozen in such a way that his fingers did not easily grasp. Yet, he managed to pleasantly swipe entry cards and hand out locker tokens. I didn’t think much of his absence until I checked out an hour later. There was John’s picture on a funeral service program. He died 5 days ago.

Had I planned to say something important to John, my opportunity has vanished. That’s why it’s important to “Say What You Need to Say,” as singer John Mayer wrote.

God did not give us life for us to sit around waiting for Someday — when everything is nice, tidy, and perfect—before we start living the life we were created for. Life is messy, and we might never feel ready, but the day we hear God speaking, that is the time to act.

When it was God’s timing for His people to enter the Promised Land, they refused to go. Seeing themselves as grasshoppers being sent to face giants, they were paralyzed by fear. The result? That whole generation (save Caleb and Joshua) died in the wilderness, a dry desolate place when a land flowing with milk and honey was theirs for the taking.

If God says Someday is Today, we want to get in agreement with Him.

So if it’s in your heart to learn to ski, move in that direction. Read about skiing. Get in shape to ski. Meet other ski-minded people. See what God might do.

Prompted to pray more? Get in the Bible. How did Jesus and His disciples pray? Look for opportunities to pray. Ask God for some prayer partners and pray with them.

Need to ask for forgiveness? Humble yourself; pray for God’s timing and make the call, make the visit or send the email. It’s our obedience and not the outcome that matters.

Almost nothing just happens. Expect to put some effort into your “Someday.” In my 49th year, I set a deadline to run a half marathon: before I turned 50. Then I prayerfully planned. I joined a training group, ran and cross-trained on a disciplined schedule. When it got tough – as anything worthwhile eventually will – I persevered. I got injured; I got therapy. I kept running. When race day came, I completed the race.

Now I am learning to swim, fulfilling a “Someday” promise made to my children (all swimmers) long ago. I don’t swim in the deep yet, and I don’t swim expertly. I am not even sure I like swimming! But I am in the pool and swimming as best I can at this point. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Someday I’ll be a lap swimmer. But it won’t happen if I don’t work at it now.

In realizing a few “Somedays,” I’ve learned that we are capable of more than we might think because the God who called us to Himself is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask, think or imagine according to the power that works in us, His Holy Spirit. All He wants from us is our cooperation.

Our days on this earth are numbered. Let’s make the most of them by conquering our fears, dropping our excuses and getting on with the business of living. What are we waiting for?

Good Leaders are God-aware

Godware

Got one of those LinkedIn Pulse emails recommending blog posts worth reading. One caught my eye: a Harvard Business Review piece entitled  “5 Ways to Become More Self-Aware.” It’s advice on how to become a good leader.

Becoming self-aware is key, said the post, because “Self-awareness lets us better understand what we need from other people.”

To become more self-aware, readers are instructed to meditate, to have honest how-am-I doing conversation with trusted friends, to write down plans and priorities, to take a psychometric test (think Myers-Briggs type indicator) and to encourage formal feedback at work.

That’s it?

Inhaling, exhaling, journaling, accepting constructive criticism etc. have their place, their benefits and their limits. We’re human. Becoming more aware of our selfish human selves doesn’t fix us.

Knowing my Myers-Briggs type (ENTJ) and being a natural planner/priority setter didn’t make me a better leader a.k.a. manager. Most managers became managers because they were good at something else. The annual 360 feedback process is like a writing a novel. Once it’s written and read, what happens? In my experience, not much. The calendar turns toward the sequel.

Most people don’t need to “cultivate and develop” self-awareness. My problem, maybe yours too, is that I am all too aware of me – my needs, my wants, my desires, and my demands. I’m not unaware of other people. I simply don’t care as much about them as I do about me. Like the HBR blogger, I am focused on what I need from other people not on what I can give them.

Obsession with self-knowledge is not a biblical principle. The Bible encourages people to know God and, in the process, begin to know and understand ourselves. Our answer is outside ourselves and beyond other people.

The prophet Isaiah had a God encounter. When he saw the Lord, he also had a full-on moment of self-awareness. His response: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…” Isaiah 6:5

God-awareness is humbling; this makes us better prepared to lead. “Humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

Biblical leadership is about denying self and serving others. Jesus, our example, went about selflessly doing good. In John 13, He strips down, suits up in a towel and bows down to wash the disciples’ feet. He willing goes to the cross, dying there to save them and the rest of us self-absorbed sinners.

Becoming that kind of leader isn’t something we’re likely to learn from Harvard Business Review. May I suggest a few tips from the pages of Scripture?

  • Treat people as you’d like to be treated. Matthew 7:12
  • Be merciful. You’ll need mercy one day. James 2:13
  • Be humble. God knows how to exalt you in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6
  • Never take credit for someone else’s work. It’s stealing. Leviticus 19:11
  • Pray for wisdom. Proverbs 2:6

That last is key. What we really need to lead well we can only receive from God.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

Learning anything from the pain?

Learning anything from the pain?

Suffering1   I knew I was beginning to recover from surgery when I became aware of the sticky square shapes in odd places on my body, the residue of monitoring patches. Now that I had the sense to realize they were there, it was time they were scrubbed off.

Hadn’t noticed them for a week. My days were filled with meds, meals, sleep and occasional trips to the loo.

Major problem; major surgery. Pain and suffering. Weeks of recovery.

I hope no one has told you that once you become a Christian, all your problems are solved. No more suffering or pain, just smooth sailing ahead.

It’s a lie. If someone told you this lie, I hope you don’t believe it. All it’s going to bring is disappointment with God over something He never promised.

Scripture actually teaches that we can expect trouble. Pick your translation and the upshot of 2 Timothy 3:12 is this:

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer…”

Not might, will.

Most of my real problems started once I became a Christian. (Before Christ, my “problems” were mostly the by-product of my sin.)

When I embraced Christ, I made the mistake of inviting my running partners, now called “road dogs,” to my baptism. That pretty much cleared my calendar. The ones who stuck around, thinking this was just a phase, exited stage right when they realized I really was a changed person.

I suffered the loss of “friends.” Then there were the family members who went a little crazy, the religious people who didn’t go for all the “saved” stuff. The person who had given me my first Bible became unglued. To this day, our relationship is strained.

Bodily suffering can pale compared to emotional hurt. Still, all suffering hurts. We’d all like to avoid pain, but don’t believe that other lie that if you  “just had enough faith,” you wouldn’t get sick.

If Christians were immune to sickness, there would be no need for all the New Testament teaching on healing. Paul, who wrote much of it, suffered a thorn in the flesh that God refused to remove. Instead, He reminded Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

God is with us in all our suffering. I encountered Him in the longtime nurse who brought cups of warm broth to soothe my aching throat after surgery left me barely able to swallow. I glimpsed Him in the bright bouquets that arrived on my doorstep, the meals brought, the cards mailed. I felt His embrace in the hugs of family and friends, heard His voice in their phone calls.

Suffering is part of the journey, not an aberration. It doesn’t last, but it will happen. When Paul encouraged disciples on his missionary journeys, he did not sugar-coat the reality of what it means to follow Christ, saying: “We must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

No servant is greater than his master. Jesus suffered; we will suffer.

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

I’m learning that dust bunnies will wait. That the people I care about are more important than the work I do. That feeling good is a gift easily taken for granted. That, in spite of everything, God is good. He is faithful and worthy of obedience and praise.

Watch Yourself

How well do you know yourself, that person you wake up to and carry around all day?

Truth be told, we may know the people around us – spouse, children, co-workers — better than we know ourselves.

We learn people by watching them, constantly and unconsciously. If we watch closely, we can learn their strengths, their gifts, their little irritating habits, their inconsistencies, their default settings, their besetting sins, their go-to themes of conversation, the triggers that set them off.

My problem, maybe yours too, is that my being “other-focused” in this way is not always a good thing because it takes my eyes off me.

Paul, writing to Timothy, gave him this instruction: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (I Tim 4:16, NIV) or “Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching.” (NASB)

Paul doesn’t tell the young pastor to watch the lives of people in his church. He tells Timothy to watch himself. The word for “watch” has the meaning of pay attention to, observe, apply, to check.

At street level, we’d say: watch yourself. This is not a new idea. The same instruction can be found in Deuteronomy

Paul reminded Timothy of what we so easily forget. In relationships, we naturally focus on other people’s ills: what they do wrong, where they have blind spots, where they need work. If we are leading something, whether it be a ministry, a team or a family, we can begin to view ourselves as the professional fault-finder and fixer.

Paul points Timothy to the man in the mirror. If Timothy wants to make a difference in the lives of the people around him, Paul tells him to keep a close watch on himself and the example he sets. He is to be a demonstration of the truth he teaches.

His first letter to Timothy instructs him on “how people are to conduct themselves in God’s household.” (I Timothy 3:15 NIV) Specifically: what to teach, the qualifications for a deacon or overseer, the appropriate way to related to older men, widows, young men etc. He admonishes Timothy to avoid false doctrine, reminding him of the book-ends of true Christianity: faith and love.

In the midst of this discussion, Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to how he lives as well as what he teaches.

Paul knew the importance of both right teaching and personal discipline. He wrote to the believers in Corinth that he disciplined himself as an athlete in competition: he beat his body down and made it his slave, that after he had preached to others he himself might not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:27)

I know firsthand the damage so-called Christians can do when we teach one thing and live something else; fixated on straightening the crooked lives of those around us, we do more harm than good when we fail to bring our own lives under the dictates of Scripture. Our actions give God’s enemies an occasion to blaspheme.

Paul reminds us that the biblical challenge is to watch ourselves.

“You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Roman 2:21-22)

Want to lead others to the faith? Watch yourself.