Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Seeing God in our Midst

hurricane-earth-satellite-tracking

I wake up with a start. I had wanted to get some extra much-needed sleep after an intense week but something has roused me from slumber. Not something, but someone. Actually someones. I slowly focus on two precious faces, their large brown eyes framed by long lashes, their smiles lighting their up their countenances with eagerness. In that moment I am aware of a choice. I can respond to the inconvenience of being awakened too early on my only day to sleep in. Or I can see God in my midst. What will I do?

I adjust my mind and enjoy the blessing of my five-year-old granddaughters. They crawl in bed and cuddle with me, chatting freely about the things that concern them. Almost as suddenly as it began, I am alone in bed again and the sweet girls are off and running. The sacredness of the moment lingers and gratitude fills my heart.

How often have I missed these opportunities, because I didn’t see God in my midst. Too much of my life has been spent in pursuit of a well-structured, tidy, productive, comfortable life. Anything else has escaped my attention.

It’s all too easy to keep God confined to my mental box. I often allow divine appointments to pass me by. However, I am learning to pause, to look with different eyes in hopes of seeing Him.

I can see God in the face of my grandchildren. That isn’t much of a stretch. I also believe that every person I come across is a divine appointment, whether rich or poor, whether their lives are neatly put together or they are struggling, broken, in chaos. I love seeing God in our midst as I share the Gospel in actions and words. However, there are also times when I am ministering to someone in need, and they say something in conversation that catches my attention. They are unaware, but the Lord uses their words to impart His wisdom or encouragement to me.

Seeing God in the midst of disappointment, traumatic events, and natural disasters is more challenging. But it is possible. There is no situation that we face where He is not present.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
~Psalm 46:1-3, NIV

Several years ago I had a vivid dream. My family and I were climbing on some rock formations near the turbulent ocean. A storm began to rage, and we tried to reach safety in the fortress at the top of the rocks. The rest of my family was secure, but I lagged behind carrying my youngest daughter and knew I wouldn’t make it. A tidal wave formed in front of me, and I cried out in desperation, “Jesus!” Instantly Jesus appeared towering in the wave. He stepped forward and placed us in the fortress, as the wave crashed directly below us. As the scene closed, a large choir declared these words in the background.

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
~Psalm 24:7–10

The Lord’s presence remained with me for many hours, and the memory of this dream continues to strengthen me in the midst of life’s turbulence.

Our God is the most awesome and all powerful King. He is ever-present in every situation. He is perfect love and delights when we recognize Him. There is nothing more sustaining to our minds and souls than seeing God in our midst.

The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always present in my life. Sometimes You are mighty and powerful. Sometimes You speak in a still, small voice. Please help me to see You in the midst of the every day, ordinary situations, and in the midst of circumstances that threaten my well-being. Strengthen me to be still and know that You are God. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Communication Skills

The Art of Clarifying

clarifying ideas

My husband, Jonathan, has the worse luck with drive through restaurants. There is something about the pitch of his voice that makes it difficult for the person on the other end of the speaker to hear him. It doesn’t matter where he goes or who is there to take his order, his experience is the same.

“I’m sorry, would you say that again.”
“I can’t hear what you’re saying. Please repeat that.”
“Ummm…Have you said anything yet? I don’t hear anything.”

If I were Jonathan, I would quit trying the drive through and go directly inside. But he isn’t deterred in the slightest. He keeps going back, determined to enjoy the convenience of staying in the car, and work through the inconveniences of communication difficulties.

Effective communication is rarely easy. Most of us don’t have problems ordering at a drive through. However, sharing an important concept on the job or working through a relational issue can create quite a challenge. But it’s worth the effort for the sake of our personal or work relationships.

As a young woman I used to imagine being married to a wonderful, thoughtful, romantic man. He would sweep me off my feet and know what I was thinking without me needing to say a word. In fact, the more he loved me the more his mind reading abilities would increase. I went through a lot of disappointment and heart ache before I realized how unrealistic my expectations were.

I am married to an amazing man who loves me very much, but he is no mind reader. After almost 32 years of marriage I realize more than ever how important it is to invest time in effective communication.

Each of us brings our own experiences and mindsets to the table, but we must be careful not to assume that others, even those closest to us, have the same perspective. Assumptions stand in the way of communicating well.

When we do not assume, we are more comfortable practicing clarification. Clarification is a type of reflection that seeks to remove ambiguity, confusion, or misunderstanding.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for more information. In some settings, I can hear words but I don’t grasp the concepts. I can either pretend that I understand, or I can ask questions in order to understand. To me, effective communication is more important than looking intelligent. I set aside “my image,” to ask questions because I want to truly understand.

What did you mean when you said ____________?

What does that look like to you?

When, where, how, or why questions are great for helping to clear things up.

Also, don’t be in a hurry. Hurry is another obstacle that hinders effective communication. If it’s important, you can’t rush the process. Approach the subject when there is time. The clarifying statement is another tool to guide the conversation.
I hear you saying __________. Is that correct?

It sounds like you feel _____________. What else would you like to add?

Let me summarize your main points. __________ Did I cover them all?

Practicing clarification requires courage and time. A crucial part of effective communication, the goal is to promote understanding, so that you and I can be on the same page and work together.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19).

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to communicate clearly and with grace. Teach me how to treat others the way I want to be treated and to build understanding with those around me. May I become good at clarifying. I long to be an ambassador of peace, representing You in speech and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Four Steps to Facing Failure

woman-dropped-fail-failure

In my life time, I have heard many quotes on facing failure and learning from mistakes. Just listen to the wisdom of some people who have been successful. They can be quite inspiring.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
– Samuel Beckett (novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet)

“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”
– Eloise Ristad (musician and author)

“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
– Robert T. Kiyosaki (businessman and founder of Rich Dad Company)

On the other hand, sayings like these can be very discouraging to someone who has just experienced the sting of failure. Their simplicity seems to delegitimize the pain of failing.

Can I be honest about this? It hurts to fail. I don’t want to put time, energy, and resources into planning and reaching a goal only to fail.

I’m certainly not successful like the people featured above, but I just have to say this. It’s okay not to like failing. Really.

Maybe you made a plan, put in lots of effort, and didn’t meet a goal. Maybe you studied hard and didn’t pass a test. Maybe you thoroughly researched an idea and it didn’t produce results. Maybe you made a commitment to a relationship and it didn’t last. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to grieve. Failure is a type of loss, and loss is painful.

Eventually though, when you’ve properly experienced the loss, you need to get back up, learn from the mistakes, and try again. How can you face failure in a healthy way?

  1. Take time to experience the loss. I know I already said this, however, don’t skip over this step. Each situation will be different, but it is important not to minimize your emotions.
  2. Identify what you did well. All is not lost. Celebrate the positive elements and accomplishments. Ask others for their feedback. Their perspective is valuable.
  3. Examine what you need to improve. Think about how you could do things differently, and then determine to make the necessary changes. Again, ask for input from others. They may see things that you missed.
  4. Above all, remember that you are dearly loved by your heavenly Father. Your worth is not determined by your failures or your successes. He loves you. Period.

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6, NLT).

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that my worth is not based on my accomplishments. Help me to answer Your call, give my all, and learn from my mistakes. Be my strength and encouragement. Be my teacher and guide. Please remind me that failure is never final when I keep my eyes on You and refuse to give up. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Character, Faith

Living in The Middle Lands

Desert Land

The other day my granddaughters were dawdling at breakfast. As incentive I set the timer for ten minutes to see if they could finish eating before the time was up. They both finished with five minutes to spare, and the three of us watched the remaining seconds count down. It seemed like the longest five minutes ever!

I’m not a very patient person, especially when it comes to reaching goals. If I can see the steps needed to head in a direction, I want to speed through (with excellence) all the steps to the end and enjoy the fruits of my labor. We all know that life isn’t neat and tidy like that, but I like the idea. And, waiting doesn’t come easily for me.

We live in an awkward time in God’s kingdom. Jesus Christ has already finished the work of redemption. He won the victory against the enemy, defeating sin and death. The kingdom of God has already come. However, it will not be perfected until the coming of the new heavens and earth. It’s the age of Already But Not Yet. I call it The Middle Lands.

We live in The Middle Lands. Not just as we wait for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, but also as we wait for the fulfillment of our own goals and desires. Most of our lives are spent in various regions of The Middle Lands.

~Waiting for a loved one to trust Christ as Savior.
~Waiting to find that special someone with whom to spend the rest of your life.
~Waiting for the Lord to provide His healing touch for you or someone close to you, preferably this side of heaven.
~Waiting for strained relationships to be restored.
~Waiting for your organization’s strategic plan to gain momentum and succeed.
~Waiting to get well established in a meaningful career.
~Waiting to see the promises the Lord has spoken to your heart come to pass.
~Waiting for the prayers that you have sown with tears to be answered.

How can we thrive as we wait in The Middle Lands, during a tension-filled time between times?

Be real about where you are. I love the honesty of the Psalms, especially the ones penned by David. He didn’t pretend that his circumstances were great when they were not. He stated that he was fleeing from his enemies. He admitted that he felt downcast. But he didn’t stay in a mopey, negative state. He acknowledged the Lord’s faithful presence in the midst of his difficulties.

Cultivate an attitude of hope. Our trust must not be in our own abilities to perform or achieve. We place our trust in the Lord who is the Source of hope. We build a solid foundation of hope, as we humbly yield our own wills to God and meditate on His lovingkindness toward us. We remember the promises He has fulfilled in our own lives and throughout history, and believe that His timing is best.

Keep an eternal perspective. We choose to believe that what God says about Himself is true. We allow His truth to be expressed through our lives. Though our suffering and troubles may be long lasting, they are momentary in light of eternity. Our existence on this earth is temporary, designed to develop immovable trust in the Lord. One day we will be with Him forever, and there will be no more pain, sickness, sorrow, and death.

As Christ followers filled with His Spirit, we can experience joy, peace, comfort, and the wonder of God’s presence while waiting in The Middle Lands.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~2 Corinthians 4:17

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to trust You in the good times and the bad. I want to keep my eyes on You every day and in every situation. Remind me that the best is yet to come at the culmination of Your Kingdom. I hold onto hope, believing in Your lovingkindness. Empower me to thrive as I wait in The Middle Lands. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

What If Today Were Your Last Day?

calendar-82578Six months ago two masked men invaded my home and I was held at gunpoint. Through the Lord’s gracious work of healing and help from a wonderful counselor, anxiety and flashbacks have gradually lessened in intensity and frequency. One thing that hasn’t faded over time, though, is my awareness that life is precious.

I am incredibly grateful for each day, knowing that it is a gift. Life is short. None of us knows when we will take our last breath, and yet it is all too easy to live as if we are guaranteed tomorrow. Because of my encounter, the realization of life’s temporary nature here on this earth has been engraved in my awareness. Throughout each day I ponder the effects of my actions. Do they honor God? Will they lead, even in some small way, to make someone’s life better? I am mindful that I am here on purpose and I desire to make a difference.

My commitment to make each day count for God’s Kingdom powerfully influences the way I live.

As I imagine that today could be my last day (or that my next breath could be my last breath), it motivates me to…

Deal with difficult situations courageously.
I don’t like conflict, and talking about offenses is uncomfortable. However, life is too short to allow hard feeling to simmer under the surface. It is also too short to avoid asking someone hard questions, because it seems awkward or painful. I rely on the Lord for bravery and, as much as it depends on me, try not to leave issues unresolved.

Choose my words carefully.
I want to be remembered for speaking words of kindness and encouragement. I want my words to build others up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger, co-worker, friend, loved one, or my husband, I want the words I speak (and write) to help make their day better. Life is too short to tear others down and unleash pain. At any given moment, may my words be life-giving, because they could be my last words.

Focus on what really matters.
I have often heard it said that when people are on their deathbed, they don’t wish that they had made more money or had become famous. Their greatest regrets relate to their most significant relationships, not spending enough time together, not sharing how much they loved them, not reaching out to mend the hurts inflicted. When the barrel of a gun was held inches from my head, my only thought as I prepared myself to meet Jesus was, “Lord, please take care of my family.” Thankfully my husband rescued me, and I have had one more day 182 times to love my family and influence others in positive ways.

Friends, life is too short to avoid difficult situations, to be careless with our words, and to waste time on trivial concerns. What if today were your last day, how would you live differently?

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:29-32, NLT

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of today. Help me to use the time wisely and to honor You in all I do. Empower me to live by faith and not by fear, trusting You for the courage to step out and make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Weeds

WatchOutForWeeds

In first grade my teacher gave my class a science project. Each student planted a sunflower seed in soil in a Dixie cup. It was our task to water our seed every day until it sprouted. Then came the exciting part. Each of us took our fledgling sunflower and planted it at our own home. Each week we were to report on the progress of our plant’s growth in class. Before releasing our plant into our care, my teacher issued us a warning: “Watch out for the weeds.”

My mom helped me plant my sunflower in our garden, and for days I lovingly tended it. But the novelty slowly wore off. I would water my plant but only after being reminded. One day my mom pulled me aside. “How’s your sunflower doing?”

“Fine.” I looked down at my feet feeling a twinge of guilt.

“Have you been watching out for the weeds?”

“Yes, there are none. And my plant is getting really big.”

“Okay, that’s good.” my mom said. “But pay attention to choker weeds.”

“What’s that?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

My mom explained that a choker weed slowly grows around a plant, often undetected for awhile, and eventually chokes the life out of it.

I promised I would pay attention.

My six year old self was much more interested in reading books than playing outside. I kept telling myself that I needed to take care of my sunflower. I really liked it and was proud of it. I thought about it a lot. It was growing tall, and the flower was going to bloom soon. I knew that eventually I would get sunflower seeds, and I loved sunflower seeds.

One day I ran home after school to check on my plant. It was dead, and I was devastated. My beautiful sunflower lay on the ground, shriveled and beyond help. A choker weed had been the culprit. My mom pointed it out to me. In my haste, I had not seen it before. In my neglect, I had not nurtured my sunflower properly.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
~Proverbs 4:23

Like plants in a garden, our hearts need to be nurtured. Everything we do flows from it. We need to live in the Light. We need the water of God’s Word. We must also watch out for the weeds, especially choker weeds. Bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are subtle at first and can remain undetected for awhile, but if allowed to grow, they will choke life from us. We may even notice them, but decide to ignore them. After all, others have hurt us and deserve to be treated poorly. In reality though, we only hurt ourselves by allowing their presence.

We thrive in life and leadership when we consistently invite the Lord to examine our hearts, and trust Him to remove the weeds. Living a life of love requires vigilant care of our hearts.

Today I am still not much of a gardener, and I do very little yard work. I am thankful my husband takes care of the mowing and watering. It’s my self-appointed job to take care of the weeds. As I pull weeds, I ask the Lord to reveal any weeds that need to be removed from my heart. I want to remain free from the destruction of choker weeds.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and love. Help me to be diligent with the weeds of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, so that they do not affect my heart. By Your Spirit, equip me to recognize their presence and take action to remove them. I want to be an example of Christ to the world with a heart free to serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Do What You Believe to Be True

Reflection

What do you believe about God? What do you believe about yourself?

Now before you answer, I’m not asking about the mental beliefs you hold, those automatic responses that you learned in Sunday School or Bible study and can rattle off from memory. I’m asking about the beliefs that you act upon, the ones that guide your life experiences.

That’s a little trickier, isn’t it? It would be nice if our thoughts and behaviors always matched our theology and Biblical identity of ourselves. But we’re not perfect. That’s why we need a Savior. And we need the Savior’s instruction to lovingly point out the inconsistencies in our lives.

For example, we call God our Heavenly Father and sing songs with lyrics like, “You’re a good, good Father. That’s who You are.” However, we may actually view our Heavenly Father like an earthly father who was absent or let us down or even worse. We may fear God or think that He is punishing us when bad things happen. We “know” He is our loving Heavenly Father, yet we find it hard to really trust Him. That’s an inconsistency.

Here’s another example. We believe that we are loved by God as His children. After all, 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Nevertheless, we may feel unworthy of His love. We see our shortcomings and wonder how God could love us. We “know” we are loved, and yet we constantly feel unlovable. That’s an inconsistency.

And another example…As God’s dearly loved children, we believe that we should honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10). Yet, it may be a struggle to lift others up, because we’re afraid that we’ll be overlooked or forgotten. After all, how will be get ahead if we don’t look out for number one? That, too, is an inconsistency.

I’m so thankful that the Lord doesn’t just reveal these inconsistency in our lives. He helps us fix them. He want us to thrive in life. We thrive when we do what we believe to be true.

When we are double-minded, we get tossed around by the feelings of the moment. Our perceptions become distorted, and we follow them any way.

“Search me, God, and know my heart… “ (Psalm 139:23a). This has been my prayer throughout my life. The Lord has been faithful to gently reveal my inconsistencies. In recent days I have had to deal with the inconsistency of “knowing” that He is my strength in times of weakness, and allowing my feelings of weakness to hold me back. I find myself feeling too weak and powerless to move forward. I am not brave enough, and I want to hide. Surely, God should find someone else for the job! Then, His sweet Spirit reminds me that I can move forward, because He is strong and powerful. By faith I walk it out.

I declare the truth of who He is, I meditate on that truth, and then I practice that truth.

Take a look in the mirror and ask the Lord to show you what He sees. It takes courage to face our inconsistencies one at a time. It takes even greater courage to change and grow. Thankfully, you are never alone in the task. God’s Spirit is there in the midst of transformation, empowering you to deeply believe the truth and then live accordingly.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You search me and You know me. You see my heart and my struggles. Thank You for leading me in the way of truth. Help me to not just know what Your Word says, but to deeply believe it, and to live by it. May I reveal Jesus to this world by being authentic in faith and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.