Posted in Character, Faith

The Art of Acceptance

kitten

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is one of the most popular prayers today, and was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s. It has been used as an inspirational saying for wall hangings, posters, and digital images around the world. People are familiar with the first part of the prayer, and may not realize there is a second part.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer communicates beautiful simplicity of faith. It offers hope of a life lived in peace and surrender despite difficulties. Simple truth, but not easy to practice.

One thing I have been learning about myself lately is how important it is for me to be in control. Since childhood, I have developed a pattern. No matter how overwhelmed I feel inside, I do not allow it to stand in the way. Sometimes the internal battle is intense and it requires God’s strength to help me do what needs to be done. This strategy has served me well (although there are also some unhealthy results that I’m working through).

Since experiencing the armed invasion of my home four months ago, I have struggled with anxiety attacks and flashbacks. It is lessening in frequency as time goes on, but when they appear there doesn’t seem to be any trigger, showing up from nowhere. My tendency is to fight. I get frustrated by the interruption, but my ability to push forward doesn’t work. It only makes things worse.

So I am learning the art of acceptance. Rather than resisting, as soon as I feel anxiety I acknowledge its presence. “Oh, here you are again. Something must have triggered you. It’s going to be okay.” I invite the presence of Jesus and practice relaxation techniques. Strangely, acceptance removes the power from anxiety. It removes the power from other hardships, as well.

Acceptance of the hardships we face does not mean we are being complacent, ambivalent, or resigned. It does not mean we ignore, minimize, or pretend. Rather, acceptance is the conscious choice to relinquish control and have faith in the Lord. It is the determination to surrender to His Will.

We do need wisdom to determine whether we should make changes or accept things that cannot be changed. Many situations require a combination of both.

With aging bodies, addiction, disability, chronic illness, and terminal illness, we do what we can to promote health, but we cannot heal ourselves.

In relationships that are strained or broken, we own our part for the hurt we have caused, change our unhealthy behaviors, and do what we can to promote reconciliation, but we cannot change the other person or make them participate in the reconciliation process.

In the realm of leadership, we must be diligent to prayerfully develop strategic plans, work hard to realize goals, and make adjustments as necessary, but we cannot control external factors that impact outcomes.

We trust the Lord for courage to change the things that can be changed. We trust Him for serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed. As we do that, He helps us enjoy the pathway of peace.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
~Psalm 121:1-2

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Advertisements
Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Sacrifice Doesn’t Have to Hurt

man-in-pain

“How much do you sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?” It was a profound question asked by the pastor during the Sunday morning message. The challenge was to live with a Kingdom mindset, passionately putting others’ interests above our own. It caused me to examine my life.

I began to wonder if there is any area that I truly sacrifice. Certainly I try to live in obedience to the Lord and have an open heart to the needs of others. But most of the time it doesn’t feel inconvenient or like a burden. I tithe ten percent of my income and give extra as the Lord leads, but it is a blessing for me. Is that sacrifice? Can sacrifice be sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt? I spent some time prayerfully searching the Scriptures for answers.

This is what I believe: Sacrifice doesn’t have to hurt.

Of course I agree with the concept of sacrifice. After all, sacrifice is a recurring theme in the Bible. Sometimes we get the idea that sacrifice must be painful, or, at the very least, uncomfortable. There is no doubt that the Old Testament sacrifices involving animals were painful for the animals. However, for those who believe that Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice given once for all, sacrifice takes on a different flavor.

Romans 12:2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

To interpret the passage, it’s important to know that “bodies” refer to the whole person—spirit, soul, mind, will, and emotions—as embodied individuals.

Because of the final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike belong together as the people of God. In response, we offer our entire selves in an attitude of thanksgiving as people spiritually alive, in active relationship with Him.

As I look at the responses of the early Church leaders to sacrifice and suffering, they mirror thanksgiving and joy.

The Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name (Acts 5:41, NIV).

Wait a minute, they had just been flogged for preaching the Gospel.

At about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and signing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

Really?! They had just been attacked, flogged, and unjustly thrown into prison.

If it were me, I’m afraid my response might be something like this.

“Oh, Lord, look at me Your humble servant. Do you see how much I am sacrificing for Your Name? Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all (insert dramatic moaning). I think I’ve sacrificed enough for a life time. Would you please give me a place to live on Easy Street?”

Thankfully my responses haven’t been recorded for everyone to read.

I believe that we can pay so much attention to the acts of sacrifice that we lose sight of what it means to live a surrendered life. Sacrifice by itself is empty. Sacrifice can look impressive, but if it does not flow from surrender the motivation is selfish and the results fleeting.

Surrender is the root; sacrifice is the fruit.

When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, we give the control and use of our lives to Him. All of our time and resources belong to Him. We live with a constant realization that everything we are is a gift from Him, and we offer it all back in worship to Him.

When we are surrendered to Jesus, sacrifice is not drudgery. Not always easy, not always comfortable, but never drudgery. There is freedom and joy to sacrifice—to give up something, because something else is more important. What is more important than loving and serving people, so that they experience the love of God?

When sacrifice feels painful or when resentments begin to surface, it’s time to examine our hearts again. We thrive when we are fully surrendered to Jesus. Sacrifice is a glorious by-product.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I give my life to you anew. Help me by Your Holy Spirit to live a surrendered life before you. As I surrender, may sacrifice flow with love and joy. Use me to sacrifice so that people are touched by Your love. Let me be Your hands, feet, and heart to others, so that Your Kingdom is built. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development

First Steps To Successful Change

Image result for steps of change

He was drunk. He had called me, asking for prayer. His words of confession flowed as freely as the alcohol he had consumed. “I have a drinking problem. I’ve made so many mistakes and hurt so many people. I really want to change.”

I assured him that Jesus was in the life-changing business. Jesus loved him and was there to walk with him to complete freedom.

After I prayed, he thanked me and said he would see me at church next Sunday. He was true to his word. He came to worship service, sober and smiling. He was excited about the good things that were ahead. He was ready to change. That was the last time I saw or heard from him. Many years have passed, but I still wonder about him. To me he is a reminder that change is difficult. Change requires more than wishful thinking.

You may not battle with addiction; however, the need to change is something we all face. Our eyes are opened to where we are, and we long for something different.

It may be our eating and exercise habits.

Or the way we manage money.

Perhaps we have a short temper and lash out at others.

Or maybe our negative attitudes sabotage our progress and relationships.

Like the gentleman in this story, we feel inspired and start off strong. Our intentions are good, even great. Unfortunately our old habits have a way of following and eventually overtake us. Without an understanding of what is required to change, our change efforts will run out of steam.

The 12 Step Program developed by Alcohols Anonymous, and used by other addiction support groups, offers guidelines for lasting change that can extend to any area of our lives.

Step One states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Again, we may not relate to substance abuse as our issue. Substitute your own area of struggle for the word “alcohol.” My word would be “chronic depression.” Whatever we face, we will not change until we recognize that we are powerless. It won’t be enough to exert our own willpower. Left to our own devices, we will not improve. This realization can be discouraging until we experience the next two steps as well.

Step Two: We “believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Step Three: We “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…”

For the Christian, our higher power is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is He that will restore us, if we turn our will and our lives over to Him. We surrender to the Lord, admitting our weakness to conquer our bad habits and responses. Before we experience God’s strength, we must come to terms with our weakness.

The second part of Step One is that we admit that life in the present state is unmanageable.  Until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, we will continue on our current course. The pain we know is safer than the unknown, and will keep us rooted to where we are.

Once we start moving forward into healthy choices, we must remember the pain from where we came, and remember it often. Otherwise we end up being like the Israelites who were miraculously delivered from slavery and in a few short days began complaining about the good life they had left behind in Egypt.

The addict begins to romanticize the effects of the substance of choice and forgets that destruction is the price tag. The person given to anger begins to justify his behavior and blames others, overlooking that relationships are being damaged. Speaking from experience, the one struggling with depression stops examining the deeper issues that brought her there when her mood temporarily lifts.

The other nine steps are also helpful in establishing a new way of life. However, these first three steps, when practiced continually, provide the foundation needed for successful, lasting change. Admitting our weakness and then surrendering to the Lord—moment by moment—are key to moving in a positive direction.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You that a transformed life is found in You. Please take my life and make it what You desire it to be. I surrender my (mention the area needing change) to You. I admit I am powerless to change. I turn my will over to You. Have Your way in me, and empower me to move forward. In Jesus’ name. Amen.