Don’t Miss Your Life By Looking For Life Up Ahead

5 Ways We Can Find Joy Right Now, No Matter What

Tired and bleary-eyed, I stared at the in-flight monitor and sank down into my seat.  This was going to be a loooong trip.

Seventeen hours, to be exact.  I felt my inner five-year-old urging me to ask the flight attendant (in a whiny voice), ‘Are we there yet?’  

In my desire to land in Israel and begin what promised to be a phenomenal vacation with my wife, I was missing the small joys in the journey of getting there.  The thought of life without wifi and being surrounded by passengers who (apparently) didn’t believe in showering had me in ‘just get through it’ mode.  (I know, first-world problems.)

While we’ve all probably had flights like this, I’m not really talking about literal travel.  I’m talking about how we travel through life day-by-day.  

So often, we fixate on whatever we don’t like and begin to look beyond it to the next thing.  When life will (supposedly) be better.  But if we’re really honest, ‘better’ never comes.

How can we break free from the lie that real life lies up ahead so that we can live with joy and contentment now?  

Missing The Journey

When we live like real life is just around the corner, we miss the journey and (quite literally) miss our lives.

You know how it goes.  We think ‘Real Life’ will start when we’ll finish school and get our first real job.  When we’ll find the right person and finally get married.  When our marriage gets better.  When we have kids.  When they start sleeping through the night.  When they leave home and we’re empty nesters, free to do whatever we want.  When…

What are your ‘whens’?  

By the way, I’m not trivializing the stuff in your life that’s difficult.  We have a friend whose husband left her with several young children.  I can’t imagine criticizing her for wanting to get past that.

Most of us are dealing with far less on a day-to-day basis, but we’re all facing something we’d rather not be.  How can we long for something better yet find hope and contentment even if better never comes?

5 Ways We Can Find Joy For Our Journey

The book of Philippians is a great place to begin.  We find Paul wasting away in prison through no fault of his own.  We can be fairly certain that he’d rather get out, and, that he’s far worse off than we are.

But his response is – in a good way – other-worldly.  He doesn’t whine or complain like I did.

Let’s take a look at Chapter 4:1-9, where we’ll find 5 ways we can find joy and contentment for our own journey.

Choose joy in the Lord.  Paul tells us to ‘rejoice in the Lord.  Again, I say rejoice’ (verse 4).  Although he’s in jail, no one can take away his relationship with Christ, which is everything.  No matter what we’re going through, we can find our own joy in the Lord, who has promised to finish the good work he’s begun in us (see Philippians 1:6).

Remember God’s presence.  In verse 5, Paul reminds us that ‘the Lord is at hand’.  He’s near, and that’s real.  So often when we struggle, it feels like we’re living life on our own.  But God is right there with us, and his love for us hasn’t changed one bit.

Turn anxiety into thankful prayer.  In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’ (6).  We can (understandably) dwell on our circumstances, but God invites us to find reasons to be thankful and talk to him about what we want with humility.  For example, when one of my wife’s mentors was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, she praised God for the ways it gave her chances to share Christ with her health providers even as she begged God to heal her.

Consider your focus.  In verse 8, Paul gives us 8 things to focus on regardless of how life’s going.  We can’t unpack them here, but in general he calls us to direct our attention to things that will help us worship God and find the best in others.  Again, our ability to choose is highlighted here.  Without ignoring the challenges, we can always find something to praise God for, and, something worth commending in others.

Find godly examples and follow them.  ‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things’ (9).  We need to find people worth following, and build relationships with them.  Then we’ll see what’s worth building into our own lives.  Around the time of this post, for example, I have the privilege of staying at the home of Dr Sam Molind.  I only see him once or twice a year, but his unbridled enthusiasm for Christ, love for his family and boundless energy well into his seventies has made a massive impact on who I’d like to be. Who can you follow?

It’s Worth It

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes fighting for joy right where we are doesn’t feel like it’s worth it, does it? Complaining and sulking – preferably with others – is far more organic than anything we’ll find at our local supermarket.

Finding our joy in Christ and focusing on what’s going well can feel like a forced pep talk that doesn’t really change anything.

But natural as that line of reasoning feels, it’s a lie.  God says that finding our joy in him actually works.

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… and the God of peace will be with you.’ (7, 9)

Notice that although God doesn’t promise our circumstances will change, he promises to change us so that we can handle anything that comes our way.  To be with us personally so we’ll have complete peace.

And in a broken, fallen world where something will always be not quite right, that’s even better than a quick fix.

Questions for reflection:

  • What do you wish you could just get past right now?
  • What piece of Paul’s advice could really help you, and, how can you start living it out?

 

 

8 Reasons Your Devotional Times Are Boring & Inconsistent

Every morning, I had the best of intentions.  Today would be the day I had a mind-blowing, distraction-free devotional time.  But – every morning – something always seemed to get me off track.  And, if I was really honest, many times I didn’t want to read my bible or pray all that much.  Something had to change.

Can you identify?  If your times with God are boring, inconsistent, or both, it may because of one of these 8 reasons.  The good news is that, in uncovering the bad news lies the beginning of hope.

 

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Are You Friendly Distant?

How We Keep People At Arm's Length With A Smile (And How To Overcome It)

On a warm autumn day, for five minutes or so, we talked about our lives.  Our jobs, our kids, our weekends, and (of course) the football game later that day.  It was enjoyable, and we sped off with a smile and quick goodbye.

As I drove home, though, I felt a strange dis-ease about our interaction.  It was friendly and nice.  There was no tension.  And there was some back-and-forth.  It’s not like my friend talked my ear off.

But, our time together still felt empty.  We had held each other at arm’s length with a smile.

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7 Secrets To A Lust-Free Summer

Before we know it, summer will be here.   I can already picture long weekends down the shore, the scent of freshly-cut lawns, the sounds of the ice cream truck, and… a bunch of stuff I’d rather not see.

Like women who are dressing to get attention.  Babushkas get traded for bikinis, and that’s a temptation for most of us men.

We want to honor God and the women around us, but that doesn’t just happen all by itself.  It takes some effort and intentionality.

In this post, I want to convince you that it’s worth the effort and then give you 7 specific strategies for success.

Lust: What’s The Big Deal?

Some of my secular readers, and even some Christians, may be thinking, ‘Seriously, what’s the big deal?  There’s no harm in just looking.  Or not much, anyway’.

Is that really true, though?

Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.

Jesus isn’t naive.  He understands that it’s worse to actually sleep with someone than to look at them with lust.  His point is that wrongful desire, which we can’t see, is ultimately behind our sexual sin, which we can.

Lust & Your Favorite Dessert

Author Paul Tripp illustrates this by using an everyday example we’re all (waaay too) familiar with.  Dessert.   Let’s say we’ve just finished dinner and we’re stuffed.  We know we shouldn’t eat that strawberry shortcake staring at us from the middle of the table.  But, truth is, we really, really want it.  The obvious truth is that we don’t want to just look at the cake.  We want to eat it.

It seems crazy to say it, but lust works the same way.  Lust doesn’t just want more lust.  It wants the actual experience.  (See David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11).  That’s why Jesus says what we do with our hearts and eyes is a big deal.

As we rapidly head toward summer and the temptations it presents, we need to be convinced sexual purity is critical if we’re going to stay safe and love the people around us.

Are you convinced?  Really?

7 Secrets For A Lust-Free Summer

If you are convinced, what can you do about it?

  1. Attack it at the root.  Since all our actions can be traced back to the hidden, but real, dynamics of our hearts, this is where the real battle occurs.  Biblical counselor John Bettler has a great, short article where he lays out the ‘pyramid of lust’.  I can’t unpack it all here, but read the article and pray through it.  The basic idea is that underneath obvious sexual sin at the top of the pyramid lies less obvious relational and ‘life’ lusts that drive it.  For example, someone’s struggle with pornography may really be about an easy escape from his loneliness.  Dealing with that is the key to long-term transformation.
  2. Build community.  This should include some loving accountability, but goes way beyond it.  We need to develop healthy, give-and-take relationships where using and objectifying people become less and less natural.
  3. Be where God has placed you.  The story of David’s downfall with Bathsheba begins with this interesting observation: ‘In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war… David stayed behind in Jerusalem’ (2 Samuel 11:1).  That set the stage for him to see Bathsheba and everything unraveled from there.  Sometimes what God is calling us to do is hard, but doing it insulates us from other, far worse things.
  4. Memorize relevant Scripture.  As a starting point, check out this list of 25 verses. Extra credit: find passages that force you to think a little, like 1 Timothy 6:6-10.  This passage is actually about money, but can easily apply to other challenges like sexual sin.  So you have to engage with it (and God) instead of just robotically memorizing it.
  5. Use the Joseph strategy.  When Potiphar’s wife tried to take Joseph to bed (Genesis 39), he didn’t stand there and have an extended discussion with her.  He ran away.  If certain situations are a temptation for you, why not just avoid them as much as you can?
  6. Be careful what you watch and consume.  We know that our bodies will pretty much reflect what we eat, right?  It’s the same with our eyes and hearts.  Are you discerning about what you watch on TV and Netflix?  The stuff you look at online?  If you need to make changes here and have been putting it off, make a commitment to do it. Today.  And tell someone else so that you actually follow through.  Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and OpenDNS (whole-house filter) are some good starting points.
  7. Be thankful for your spouse or boy/girlfriend.  If God has blessed you with a wonderful boy/girlfriend or spouse, thinking about them is one of the best ways to honor God – and them! – that I can think of.  My wife Sharon is awesome.  She’s beautiful, funny, a devoted mom, is all-in with our ministry and loves God more than me.  When I think about her, stuff that could be tempting loses its power. Even if you’re in a relationship that isn’t great, though, focusing on what is great about it will only help you.

Obviously, this isn’t a magic formula or quick fix.  But our efforts in this direction really add up and it’s worth it.

Summer is just around the corner and we need to be prepared.  Although our culture doesn’t think that keeping our minds and eyes pure is a big deal, God says it is.  With a little consistent effort this is a fight we can win.

Questions For Reflection:

  1. Which of the suggestions above would help you the most as you prepare for purity this summer?
  2. How can you specifically start to apply it?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Hope For When Your Heart Is Shutting Down

Our hearts are always shutting down.

It can begin with a defining moment where someone says something you can’t forget.  Or maybe it’s been many small disappointments with someone who failed you.  Again.

Either way, it’s so natural to hold people (including God) who disappoint us at arm’s length.  It feels safe and hurts less, but ultimately has disastrous consequences in our lives.

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Easter, God’s Invitation To Hope Again In Life’s Hard Places

As we look toward Easter and the hope of the resurrection, it’s hard not to think about the things in our lives that need transformation, isn’t it?

Strained relationships with family and friends.  Flabby, aging bodies.  Exams and assignments that don’t seem very relevant to the careers they’re supposedly preparing us for.  Your annoying next-door-neighbor or roommate.  Unjust deeds that go unnoticed or unpunished.  And… yeah.

Is there any place in our lives that doesn’t need the hope that Christ brings?

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Seeing God For Who He Really Is

The day wasn’t going well.

We had just learned that my autistic son Matthew’s therapy costs were going to be about a third of my salary.  And, that the insurance company wasn’t going to cover a dime.

As the day wore on, I found myself getting angrier and angrier at God.  ‘God he needs this therapy to make progress, but there’s absolutely NO WAY we can cover it. Wasn’t it enough that you gave us a son with autism?  What are you going to do about it?!’

I wasn’t really asking.  I had been deeply shaken by Matthew’s diagnosis, and this latest bad news seemed to further confirm God’s lack of concern and ability to help.

Can you relate to my microscopic faith and small view of God?  Do you ever feel like you ‘know’ the right answers but wonder if they really mean anything in your real, everyday life?

After 25 years of being in Christ, I’m convinced that our biggest problem is that we really don’t think much of God.  We believe a lot of true things about him, but in practice our confidence in him is pretty low.

I don’t want to live like that, and I know you guys don’t, either.  How can we develop a massive view of God that matches who he really is?

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Four Big Lessons For Your Thirties

30 was so strange for me. I really had to come to terms with the fact that I’m now a walking, talking adult.

— CS Lewis

If CS Lewis said it, it must be true, right?  Thirty – and the decade that follows – is a wonderful, ‘strange’ decade where we come of age.  Some time ago, I did a post on 7 lessons for our twenties, and here this occasional series continues with some lessons for our thirties.

30 Años eljoja via Compfight

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7 Ways To Defuse Your Next Stress Bomb

I had to take a moment.  An awkward, silent, ten-second one.

‘Sir, are you still there?  Mr Stoudt…?’

By this point in my call with tech support – two hours in – I was completely frazzled.  The tech’s instructions ran together like the teacher’s words from Charlie Brown.  I vowed to donate my brain to science immediately after hanging up the phone, then vaguely decided there wouldn’t be anything left.

I bet you can identify with stress like this.  In a broken, fallen world, it’s all around us.  Every day.  We panic, we get angry, we lose perspective.  Even if we’ve learned to hide it well beneath a veneer of ‘I’m good’ and smiles.

Deep down, we long to be more at peace, more at rest.  But how?

boom Esther Simpson via Compfight

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Why You Need A Prophet In Your Life

I was sitting comfortably on our living room couch, taking a rare break from the grad school grind, when my roommate burst out of his room.

Before I could say ‘Mephibosheth’, he was close.  Uncomfortably close, and I could feel my blood pressure rise as he began to speak.

‘I don’t know what you guys were up to in there, but you shouldn’t have closed the door.’

‘You guys’ referred to my fiancee (now wife) and I, and we had been in my room together with the door shut.  We had become closer physically than we should have, and my roommate’s simple rebuke was the cold shower I needed to snap me back to reality.

I didn’t like it in the moment, and I suspect most of you don’t like being challenged, either.  But the truth is that we all need a prophet in our lives.

Retro ad: man receives a cold shower, showing what it feels like to be rebuked by a prophet.

What it feels like to be rebuked by a prophet. Photo credit: x-ray delta one via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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