When Answers Elude and Time Awaits

One of the worst announcements one can receive while flying is that the plane is in a “holding pattern,” whether in the air or on the runway (which actually may be the worse of the two).  The most frustrating part of that scenario is that your life comes to a halt, and the entirety of the situation, and the continuation of your journey, is completely out of your control.  There is nothing you can do to solve the issue, and no amount of expended effort will alter or hurry the outcome.  You simply need to sit and wait.  Having been in a holding pattern recently in my own life, I found that there isn’t a lot you can do to hurry the process.  What adds to the situation is that often times you are not told why your life is in this holding pattern, what factors have led to this moment, and which will lead you out of it.  Conversations are being held and decisions are being made without your participation, people and things are somehow influencing the withholding of answers, and the timeframe is undecided to the point that it could end in minutes or last forever.  You can’t even contribute to solving the issue because you have no idea where to begin.  There are no decisions that can be made on your end: you are just waiting.  When we find that we don’t have much choice in altering anything, we are then faced with a decision: what do we do with ourselves while we are waiting for answers?  We tend to turn inward and downward at these times.  It’s very easy for depression and despair to creep in, as the lack of answers can be frustrating and infuriating, and we spend that time choosing to wallow in misery and self-pity.  But there are other choices beyond these negative ones that we can make during times of the unknown.  In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, amongst several lessons, He preaches to the crowds how to act when your life has lost its forward momentum:  “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7.7 NLT).  A time of waiting for answers doesn’t mean we stop what we’re doing.  Waiting should not and need not lack productivity: choose to be constructive with that time and continue in your walk with God.  According to Jesus’ words, there are three things to do while you wait:  ask, seek, and knock (or pray, explore, and act).  As we wait for answers, we can be seeking God in meditation, praying without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5.17), no matter what the circumstances.  Don’t shut others out; open the lines of communication between you and God.  Then, we can spend that down time exploring our faith through study, looking to broaden and enrich it, seeking Him in all things for the sole purpose of growing as a follower.  Finally, we can act out our faith, taking small steps to walk in the ways that are revealed to us, knocking instead of laying dormant.  We may not be approaching the answers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress.  We can’t focus on solving the problem, but we can focus on improving ourselves for the sake of our relationship with God.  When you find yourself without answers, see that time as an opportunity for growth.  Ask, seek, and knock, instead.  A holding pattern doesn’t mean you have to put your life and faith on hold.  Amen.

 

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A Fractured Focus with Few Results

I have a fairly strong appetite for opportunity, so when it comes my way, I don’t often (if at all) turn it down.  As a result, I find myself overwhelmed with lots of tasks all at once, struggling to complete any of them well, spreading myself so thin that my tasks are not the best they could be.  Similarly, I have a related approach to learning.  I love to learn, but rarely enmesh myself into any one thing, and I end up knowing a little about a lot.  Jack of all trades, master of none.  We all tend to spread ourselves too thin, beginning a lot but completing nothing.  The same can be said of churches and their visions.  I know many churches that are good at a lot of things but not great at one thing.  When they sit down to plan their focus for the year, topics like mission work, giving more to the homeless and needy, supporting more charities, and developing new committees come up often.  However, despite being all good and noble pursuits, when a church is fractured amongst many missions, they often times don’t fully develop any to the end.  I recently heard of one church who decided to take their mission statement and boil it down to three words:  “Nothing but Jesus.”  In every effort and program they develop, their mission is not focused on how many people they can reach with the gospel, or how many homeless they can clothe and feed, or how to increase giving, but to be focused on nothing else but Jesus.  A focus like that in a church certainly changes your perspective on things, and this church’s efforts are no longer fractured but are geared towards one end:  Jesus.  In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes about his focus in establishing their church when he first arrived to found it:  “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2.2).  For fear that the church’s focus might be elsewhere and in multiple places, he eliminated all other factors in the formation of their church, making His sole focus on Christ, “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (2.4).  If we want to maximize our efforts, our faith, and our lives, we must have nothing but Jesus as our focus.  When that focus happens, the rest of the world that is pulling us away from our relationship from God, from our productivity, and from our growth as a Christian, takes a back seat to the pinpoint precise efforts towards growing closer to Jesus, both in good times and in bad.  In fact, during those bad times, when we have lost everything and are at the end of our ropes, when we have been stripped of everything that can be taken from us with nothing left to put our efforts into, there is great grace to be found at that point.  When we have nothing left to focus on, we can only focus on the one thing that is never stripped of us; we have nothing but Jesus.  If you are in this time of nothingness and struggle right now, broken to the point of total loss, there is good news: He is easily found.  There is great relief to be found in having nothing left but Jesus, as He is the only one thing upon which you can rely.  If you are in any other time, look to see what your multiple concentrations are, your fractured endpoints.  Consolidate them to one purpose – “Nothing but Jesus” – and refocus yourself.  Amen.

The Governing Deterrent of Doubt

I’m never one to just accept things the way they are; I am always trying to improve my surroundings with whatever I have to offer.  Yet, in the midst of a tough year myself, I have experienced repeated failures in this area of concentration, as one idea after another of mine has been either shot down, criticized, or just plain defeated by bosses and colleagues.  I entered the year with a great deal of optimism and excitement for quite a variety of new programs and ideas, and I now find myself with a lack of want to try anything else or try at pretty much anything at all because of the lack of complete success with my projects.  One of the most destructive forces to imagination, creativity, and drive, is most definitely doubt. When we begin to doubt our efforts, we lose faith in ourselves and put a halt to many of our activities.  This week, doubt had fully crept into my mind, as I found myself phoning it in and not even trying to make the most of me and my job.  Similarly, I was recently talking to a family member who expressed some doubt over her actions, as some had criticized her efforts for this one activity.  I told her of what I dub the 80/20 rule (some refer to it as a version of the Pareto principle), where whenever you try anything in life, 80% of the people will like or love what you are doing, but be very quiet about their feelings towards your actions.  The other 20% will disapprove of your actions and be very vocal about it.  Because of the silence of the majority and the chattiness of the minority, doubt tends to creep into our minds and we shut down quickly while our focus moves to that one or two people who don’t like what we’re doing when it should be on the majority who approve.  As a crippling force, doubt makes us internalize the words of dissenters, echoing these words endlessly in our brains and putting a halt to further innovation and action.  James 1.6 expresses the effects doubt has on us, likening us to water that is at the mercy of nature:  “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”  Ultimately, what is sapped from us through doubt is faith and courage.  When we doubt, we become susceptible to the world and are thrown about without care, victim to the whims of the changing factors in our lives.  We become timid, afraid of continuing our actions, thinking that anything further won’t succeed.  The only way to overcome doubt is through a restoration of our faith.  Sometimes, the encouragement of others can restore our faith.  For me, I was lucky enough to receive the well-written words of an encouraging student’s letter this week, which reminded me of the impact my actions have on others.  But we won’t always have others to lift us out of doubt.  Then, only true, complete, thorough immersion in God’s word and a sincere devotion to His will for our lives will restore that flagging faith, and only then will we be able to conquer doubt and move forward.  This week, be a source of encouragement to others who may be quietly suffering from doubt, letting them know that you believe in them.  For yourself, dive headfirst into time alone with Him, and pray for doubt to lose its foothold in your life.  Be controlled not by what you are unsure of but by what you are certain of.  Amen.

When Hard of Hearing is Just Too Hard to Hear

My oldest dog Elinor just turned 14 which is fairly old for a dog.  Her spirit is still fairly strong, but her body is weaker than it used to be.  You can see the stiffness in her joints and the pain she experiences when she walks, but her desire to be filled with vigor is still definitely there.  When we call her, she rarely responds, and when we tell her to come back, she never complies.  She will incessantly bark at all the wrong hours of the day, and when we tell her to stop, she never does.  All of this evidence adds up to the conclusion that she is mostly deaf.  However, open a bag of treats while she is on the other side of the house, and she will come running.  I tend to disagree with the deaf diagnosis and feel that in her age, she has developed selective hearing.  She chooses to hear what she wants to, and at her age, and I suppose she’s earned that right.  On the other hand, I might argue that my 7 year old son has not earned that right, especially when I ask him to put something away or clean up after himself.  Nor have my students earned that right either, especially when they’ve selectively forgotten that I told them they had homework.  There is a distinct difference between someone who is hard of hearing and a message that is hard to hear.  When we find someone else’s words uncomfortable and against our desires, we tune them out.  We develop selective hearing when we hear things upon which we don’t want to act.  The Bible is riddled with people who heard the voice of God directly or through a prophet who chose not listen, and as a result, were punished, reinforcing the idea that choosing not to listen to wisdom never works in our favor.  God’s reasons for having us listen to reason and wisdom are quite simple.  When Solomon wrote the wisdom of Proverbs, in the opening chapter he laid out his purpose for writing these words which include:  “for gaining wisdom and instruction, for understanding…for receiving instruction…for giving prudence…—let the wise listen and add to their learning” (1.2-5).  There is great strength to be gained in listening to wisdom, and God can often speak to us through the people around us, using them as His vessel.  So, how do we know when God is trying to tell us something?  The times when that strong desire to not even want to think about or consider what others are saying because the message is too hard to hear is usually the times when God is trying to talk to us and we are not listening.  When we may not want to even entertain the company of a specific person or group because we don’t want to hear what is said may be because the message is too hard to hear for us personally.  It affects us too deeply.  For many of us, it’s hard to hear to forgive when you’ve been hurt so deeply.  It’s hard to hear to sacrifice when you hold so dearly on to certain things.  It’s hard to hear to cut out a part of your life when you find so much comfort in it.  It’s hard to hear to give when you have nothing left to offer.  In this New Year, spend time seeking out the people and situations where you have developed selective hearing.  When what others have to say is hard to hear, it mostly likely needs to be heard, and not listening to God’s counsel can have dire consequences, but listening to a hard to hear message will ultimately bring you closer to God.  Amen.