How’s Your Attitude?

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When Jeff, a restaurant manager, was asked him how he was doing, we would reply, “If I were any better, I’d be twins!”

One day he was asked, “How do you do it? I don’t get it; you can’t be a positive person all of the time.”

Jeff replied, “Each morning, I wake up, and say to myself, Jeff, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood, or choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life. The bottom line of life is: It’s my choice how I will live life.”

Jeff’s positive philosophy was put to the test. One morning he left the back door to his restaurant open and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him.

Luckily, Jeff was found quickly and rushed to the local trauma center. When he was wheeled into the emergency room he saw the expressions of the faces of the doctors and nurses. He got scared. In their eyes, he read, He’s a dead man.

A big, burly nurse was shooting questions at him. One question she asked was if he were allergic to anything. “Yes,” Jeff replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for his answer. Jeff took a deep breath, and loudly said, “Bullets!” Over their laughter, he told them, “I’m choosing to live. Treat me as if I’m alive, not dead.”

Jeff lived thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing positive attitude.

Attitude is our response to life. It is our choice. Someone once said that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. One of the most significant decisions we can make on a day-to-day basis is choosing a positive attitude. Henry Cloud in his book 9 Things a Leader Must Do writes that successful people “do not allow negative things to take up space in their lives.” Attitude is perhaps more important than education, experience, and endowment in living life to the fullest. An optimistic attitude fuels one’s fire to greater heights. When one’s attitude is right then no barrier is too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, and no challenge too great. William James, the father of American psychology, stated, “The great discovery of my generation is that people can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

 

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How to Deal with Your Competition

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We live in a competitive world. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where the only rule is survival of the fittest. On the toll road, drivers race to make it first to the tollbooth. At work, people contend for promotions and advancement, climbing over others to get to the top. At school, teenagers strive for higher grades hoping it will result in larger scholarships or better colleges. In the neighborhood, families desire the largest home with the latest furnishings. In relationships, friends compare who went on the most exotic vacation or who has the best golf score. At home, mothers compete with daughters, fathers with son, and siblings with siblings.

Why do people compete?

Inferiority. Some people compete because they feel inferior. And in an effort to erase their lowly stature they challenge everything and everyone in their wake. They have to win because they want something they never achieve. Winning, therefore, becomes a reflection of their identity.

Insecurity. Some people compete because they have deep-seated feelings of insecurity. They are afraid of failure, and because of this fear, they are easily threatened and are thus repeatedly forced to prove themselves worthy. Afraid of losing, they are unable to separate who they are from what they do.

Envy. Some people compete because they want what other people have. It may be tangible, like a position, or it may be intangible, such as a personal quality like self-confidence. Envy always sees and desires what it does not have. Envy is not just wanting what the other person has; envy is wanting the other person not to have it.

Before we go on, let’s take a quick inventory. Do you know some people that are driven by inferiority, insecurity, and envy? Now for a more sensitive question: Are you driven by inferiority, insecurity, or envy?

If so, what are we to do? Here are some suggestions.

Commit to doing your best, not simply beating the other person.
A myth says that competition leads to superior performance. Actually, competition leads to inferior performance. Striving for personal excellence is what produces the best results. Researchers studied two groups of children who were asked to make “silly” collages. One group’s artistic work was judged by a panel of professional artists to be superior to the other. What was the difference between the two groups? The less creative groups competed for prizes. Athletes who pay attention to personal performance goals shoot better and run faster than athletes who concentrate just on beating their opponents. Dr. Janet Spence of the University of Texas found that performance-orientated business executives earned 16 percent more money than those motivated by competition.

The point is that the internal motivation of doing your best is a far more effective incentive than competition. Being the best does not mean being the best, but being your best. Competitors want to be better than everyone else, superior. Being your best is being better today than you were yesterday. Competitors want to exceed the achievement of other people. Being your best means matching your practice with your potential.

I love the story Gene Stallings tells when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins. They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the score?”

As these men show, being your best isn’t determined by comparing our score to someone else’s. Being your best comes from giving one’s all, no matter the score or the outcome.

Recognize that constructive competition allows room for cooperation and love.
The Latin root of the word competition means “to strive together.” When you compete with an ally, there are no losers.

The key is to look at others and ourselves, discern the various gifts and talents, and to feel secure about who we are and the role and the personhood of the opponent.

Harold Myra, former editor of Campus Life, wrote: “When we were kids, I tackled my brother in a backyard game. Years smaller than he, I grabbed his ankle and rode him 30 yards before I tripped him—Thunk!—into the hard November ground. He looked across at me, surprised. ‘Way to go, kid,’ he grunted—and the rest of that day, I was a tiger!

“Couldn’t competition be like that sometimes, Lord? Admiring the brother who outdoes you . . . but still fighting like crazy to win? . . . I don’t have to hate the guy who beats me—I can admire his ability. Opponents are made in your image too. Yet you live within me, telling me to love, even as I compete—love people, love you, as you loved me and died for me. Help me to take that to the ball field, Lord.”

And, help us to take it to the office, to the classroom, to the neighborhood, and to the home.

Guard against envy.
The horrible and destructive sickness of envy according to Aristotle is “the sin against the brother.” Like Jacob of Esau, and you and me against those closest to us. Envy is felt most keenly by two people of the same age and similar interests. Doctors envy doctors. Lawyers envy lawyers. Preachers envy preachers. Neighbors envy neighbors. The closer the competition to one’s own stature and rank, the higher the stakes and the more likely envy is to erupt.

And when it does. Watch out. It can destroy you. A man in ancient Greece killed himself through envy. The story has it that a city erected a statue to honor the champion athlete in its public games. This athlete’s archrival was so envious that he pledged to destroy the statue. Each night, under the cover of darkness, he would go to the statue and chisel at its base, hoping to make it fall. Finally, he achieved his goal and toppled the statue. His envy had driven him to destruction, not only of the statue, but of himself, for when the statue fell, it fell on him.

The proverb is right: Envy slays itself by its own arrows.

If any competitor, would look to God rather than to others, understanding that God loves and accepts them, recognizing the blessings God has graced them with, it would prevent them from being consumed by competition.

 

 

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Discovering Your Higher Purpose

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I’m not sure where I heard it, but the following statements make enormous sense: Purpose leads to passion; passion leads to energy; energy leads to actions; action leads to opportunities; opportunities lead to success; success leads to significance; significance leads to happiness.

When considering each step in that litany of statements, the progression is true. It begins with understanding your purpose and the final outcome is happiness. Understanding these statements and following through with them will inspire us to make a difference in the world. Living them out each day is enormously satisfying. They will drive us, focus us, and consume us.

It begins with purpose. What’s yours?

Here are three steps to discovering a higher purpose.

Serve a higher good.
No greater purpose in life exists than to serve something that is beyond us. In fact, your life’s purpose to be truly meaningful must always have another-component, something larger than we are. We were created not to eat, breathe, then die. Or, to go to school, go to work, then go to a retirement home. We were created to serve a higher good.

Discover your talents, gifts, and personality to excel in what you were created to do.
Passion, energy, actions, opportunities, and success often follows you when you give yourself to the purpose for which you were created. Have you ever seen an Olympic gold medal winning gymnast also win the gold medal in the shot put; or the mechanic at the auto shop who also moonlights as an oral surgeon? It doesn’t happen. Everyone has a race he or she is created to run. Some run the 220; others excel in the marathon, while others do better in the sprints. Find your sweet spot that intertwines with your talents, gifts, and personality.

Get going.
Consider this simple formula: Dream Big, Start Small, Get Going. At some point, we have to take action. One day a man hit a golf ball in the rough and several ants went scrambling. When the hacker attempted to hit the ball, he swung several times missing the ball. One of the ants, said to the other: “If we don’t get on the ball, we’re going to die.” If you and I don’t get on the ball we, too, will not find our higher purpose. Actions move us in the right direction.

When we discover our higher purpose, we will experience intense satisfaction and pleasure—the best of all feelings.

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What Makes Christian Hope Powerful

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Consider the indelible impact on the world made by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Both men led a strong attack on the Christian faith, with Marx calling religion the “opiate of the people” and Freud defining God as the projection of a child’s wish for a protecting, powerful father. Believing that God was dead, both Marx and Freud died bitter and disillusioned men, virtually friendless, without inner peace and overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness.

Contrast Marx and Freud with C.S. Lewis, another intellectual, who embraced the Christian faith and used his talents to influence people in a noble direction. Lewis, if you recall, lost his wife to cancer. He grieved severely, but later emerged from his sorrow with renewed strength and unspeakable joy derived from God on whom his hope was grounded. Unlike Marx and Freud, Lewis had the resources of a living God to see him through.

Lewis’ life revealed, in contrast to a secular view, a hope that is not in us, not based on what we can do or achieve, but rather coming from beyond ourselves.

The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond us and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope. Again, and again, God is called “the God of hope” The apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1 NIV). On another occasion Paul says of Jesus “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 NIV).

The Christian’s hope is not fleeting but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why a believer can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).

The Christian’s hope is encouraged in community. Early believers who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus or were just one generation away from Jesus were under persecution. They were being attacked and assaulted. They were becoming discouraged, filled with despair. The fire was beginning to go out. A letter began to circulate offering words of strength and support. One of its instructions for keeping hope alive was to fellowship with hope-filled believers. Here’s what the letter said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. . . . Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23,25 NIV). In other words, if you want hope to burn brightly stay in the fire of community, around people who love you and support you and care for you. When you are cold you can draw heat and energy from them, and when they are in despair they can draw encouragement from you.

The Christian’s hope is founded on faith in the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.

The Christian’s hope is linked to the future. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised the exiles who wished to return from captivity to their homeland: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29: 11 NIV). God always has our best in mind.

When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.

The Christian’s hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle of hope, Peter, reminds us that we can rejoice even in the midst of sorrow and death. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV). Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.

The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church, and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.

 

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Why Hope Brings Life

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Cicero gave us the well-known proverb, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Was he right? A few years ago, the psychology department of Duke University conducted an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container the experimenters placed a rat for which there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few minutes and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for that rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of Cicero’s statement, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The Duke experiment proved, “While there’s hope, there’s life.”

Hope brings life. While faith belongs more to the intellectual and love to the emotions, hope concerns itself with the will. Hope is medicinal. Hope is that vivacious virtue that can transform despair, defeat, and death, knowing that there are no hopeless situations there are simply people who have grown hopeless about them.

Your situation may appear bad, hopeless in fact. Your job may be slipping away. You may be wondering where you are going to get the money for the Christmas presents this year. Your marriage may be unraveling. Your children may be causing you to pull your hair out. Or, any of a number of things that may be causing you to ask, “Why go on with life?” Let me remind you of the words of social critic, Richard John Neuhaus: “The times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Remember, hope is still a Christian virtue, and despair is a mortal sin.”

Keeping hope alive keeps us alive. The ugliest words in the English language may very well be, “There’s no hope.” How can we hang on to hope? How can we keep going when all the odds are stacked against us? How can we continue when we feel like giving up?

Hope is based on God.

Outside the Bible, especially in our society, hope consists of a half-hearted optimism unsure of its basis. It has no anchor. It freely trusts in one ideology after another, from Marxism to capitalism, materialism to idealism, religiosity to secularism, legalism to license. Or society’s hopes are more clearly focused but are in objects that cannot satisfy hope: a career, business opportunities, marriage, children, money, security, a new home, and so on. The secular version of hope becomes like Sinbad the sailor who anchored his craft to what he thought was a sturdy atoll, only to discover that it was a big fish which dashed off with sailor, craft, and all.

The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond us and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope.

The Christian’s hope is not fleeting but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why a believer can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).

At those moments when we are overwhelmed by disillusionment, discouragement, depression or even despair, we must never forget that God is the anchor for our hope.

Hope works best in community.

Ever watched a campfire? The logs and timbers in the fire dance with magic as they burn together. But when an ember rolls away from the fire, it quickly burns out. It can’t sustain its warmth or its fire. People are a lot like that. Together in community we gather warmth from each other, the fire of optimism burns brightly. But separated and alone from the group we turn hollow and cold, dying on the inside.

Hope is encouraged in community; despair often comes in isolation.

Pulling closer together keeps hope alive; existing far apart is certain demise.

The Christian faith is a hope-filled faith because of the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.

Hope pertains to the future.

We speak of hope now and in the future, but never hope for yesterday. Hope always has a future focus. Saint Augustine said, “Hope deals with good things, and only those which lie in the future, and which pertain to the man who cherisheth the hope. When hope attains its object, hope ceases to be and becomes possession.”

When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.

We also come to understand that out of sorrow there is life. Christian hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.

The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.

Hope and life are inexplicability woven together. Real hope, lasting hope, is a God thing. To know God is to know hope. To know God’s people is to have hope strengthened. To know the certainty of God’s heaven is to have hope reign supreme.

 

 

 

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Confession’s Incredible Benefits

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If you’re like me that are times when you pray, but hear nothing; read the Bible, but get nothing out of it; go to church, but experienced nothing; seek the presence of God, yet he seems distant.

Why?

The reason, at least for me, is a simple yet profound truth: Confession precedes worship. Communion with God is preceded by confession before God. God is a holy God and anyone coming into his presence must rid himself of sin. God has never demanded perfection, but he has expected honesty. And, if I wanted to engage his presence, I had to come out of hiding to acknowledge my sin.

God despises sin and God deals with sin. Before engaging in authentic worship, there had to be honest hearts. Before celebration comes confession. Holiness precedes happiness.

Confession is being honest about who we are.

To confess means to admit or concede. It involves stripping away layers of disguise to expose what is really at the center of who we are. Confession is the discipline of making an honest appraisal of ourselves.

Honest appraisals aren’t very fun, but they are very revealing.

Confession begins with God.

We need to view sin as God views it. God doesn’t measure our sin against someone else. God sees sin as a rebellion against his authority, as despising his Person, and as defiance of his law. W. S. Plummer said, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God. . . . All sin is against God in this sense: that it is his law that is broken, his authority that is despised, his government that is set at naught. . . .” It is not the size of the sin but the majesty and holiness of God that makes our sin so grievous in his sight.

Such a view leads one to honest confession.

Confession prepares the soul for the seed of God’s presence.

Confession is like preparing the ground for a planting a crop. Think of your soul as soil. God’s presence is the seed. Confession is removing the debris of sin so the presence of God can grow.

The big sins are easy to see, but hard to move. It is the bad habit that is hard to break. The unlovely attitude that goes down deep in our conscience. The hurtful actions that have been repeated so often that it is engrained in the fiber of the flesh. The addiction that controls the body. The smaller sins are easier to move but take a lot longer. The unkind word. The lying. The cheating. The gossiping. The gluttony.

Confession becomes the bridge over which we can walk back into the presence of God.

Remember Adam and Eve. The first man and woman enjoyed constant communion with God. They were without sin and without shame. Then they ate the fruit and sin entered the world. First, they covered their bodies. Their nakedness no longer brought freedom but fear. Next, they hid in the bushes when God came near. Their rebellion left them ashamed and scared to face him. Their relationship was broken.

When God asked, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 NIV). It was not for his benefit, but theirs. His question was not geographical, but relational. God knew exactly where they were.

Sin erects a fence while confession builds a bridge. Those who keep secrets from God keep their distance from God. Those who are honest with God draw near to God.

God wanted to find Adam and Eve, and you and me. No one desires to stay hidden. No one person can have contentment when secret sin is hidden in the recesses of his or her heart.

Confession liberates us from the guilt of sin.

Confession admits wrong and seeks forgiveness and grants freedom. It releases us from the burden of sin. It frees us. It liberates to a new life.

 

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Understanding Prayer’s Power

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The practice of prayer in a believer’s life is an incredible, virtually untapped power source. Prayer moves the hand of God. Prayer prevails. Prayer turns ordinary mortals into men and women of power. It is the key that unlocks the storehouse of God’s riches. It is the call that moves heaven to act on behalf of earth.

Prayer’s power is not merely communicating words with God, but communion with God himself. Does prayer really work? Actually, this is a bad question. Prayer is not a utilitarian practice aimed at achieving an accomplishment. Neither is prayer an exercise in which a person gets exactly what he asks for if he takes great care to state the request properly.

Prayer is communion with God. It is more than communication with God. Communication implies an exchange of words and logic. Often prayer consists of nonverbal outcries that are far more emotional than rational. The substance of prayer is communion with God—the act of being with God.

So, to ask if prayer works is to misunderstand the nature of the experience. It’s like asking, “Does love work?” or “What do you get out of talking to the one you love?”

In our communion with God we need not be preoccupied with logistics, language, or locale. We need only to speak to God with absolute candor and a total lack of inhibition. Prayer is an invitation to speak to the One who loves us beyond measure. Prayer does not lead to an experience with God, prayer is an experience with God.

Prayer’s power does not depend on the one who makes the prayer, but on the one who hears the prayer. We live in a loud world. To get someone’s attention is no easy task. He must turn down the radio, turn away from the monitor, turn the corner of the page and set down the book. When someone is willing to silence everything else so he can hear us clearly, it is a privilege. A rare privilege, indeed.

But God is different. He listens. You can talk to God because God listens. Your voice in heaven matters. He takes you very seriously. When you enter his presence, he turns to hear your voice. Even if you stammer or stumble over words, even if what you have to say impresses no one, it impresses God—and he listens.

He listens to the painful plea of the elderly in the rest home. He listens to the gruff confession of the death-row inmate. When the alcoholic begs for mercy, when the spouse seeks guidance, when the businessman steps off the street into the chapel, God listens.

There are not a lot of things in this world you can count on. But this one thing you can count on: God hears your prayers.

Prayer’s power does not depend on telling God what is on our hearts, but on us asking what is on his heart. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. When we seek what’s on God’s heart our prayers get answered. A good exercise is to examine Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Reading his prayer gives us a glimpse of what is important to him. It reveals what’s on his heart.

Prayer’s power is to join God, not God joining us. The power of prayer is to rearrange us, not us to rearrange God. The power of prayer is to ask what is on God’s heart, not us telling God what is on our hearts. The power of prayer is its ability to adjust us not us adjusting God.

Prayer’s power is unleashed not by our eloquence, but by our hurt. God is moved more by the hurt and pain in our hearts than by the eloquence of the words from our mouths.

Never forget that God is a father. And as a father he is moved by the hurts of his people. He responds. That’s what fathers do.

Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference. Since the power of prayer is moved by our hurts and not by our eloquence, our prayers arouse the forces of heaven to come to our aid.

 

 

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6 Ways to Deal with a Critic

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Critics are everywhere. The manager of the Cleveland Indians, Tris Speaker, said of Babe Ruth: “He made a great mistake when he gave up pitching.” Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after a 1954 performance and said, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” The president of Decca Records said of the Beatles in 1962, “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

Whatever your feelings toward criticism, don’t expect to miss out. No matter how hard you work, how great your ideas, or how wonderful your talent, you probably will be the object of criticism. No one is exempt. Well, maybe you can evade it, but there is a catch. Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

Maybe you face criticism at work, at home, or at school. Your boss nit-picks, your coworker second-guesses, your business partner points out the flaws, your friends see only the bad, and your family members take pride in pointing out your mistakes.

The nature of a critic can be identified as follows: One, critics resist change. The heart of the habitual critic resists change. To the critic, change is a threat. Two, critics run with critics. Critics have a “herd” mentality. They function as a group. Three, critics demoralize. They seek to suck the life out of a vision and the heart out of a willing worker.

How can one deal with the critic? Here are some powerful action steps to take.

Evaluate the criticism.

Since criticism is inevitable, we must measure the value or worth of the criticism. This step requires great self-control that prevents us from becoming impatient and defensive.  Someone said, “Patience is the ability to let your light shine after your fuse has blown!”

Ask yourself if the criticism is true or false. Take an honest look at yourself.  If the criticism is valid, do something about it.  Sometimes the best course of action is to respond to criticism and learn from it.  If the criticism is invalid, forget it.  Sometimes the best course of action is to completely ignore it.

A. W. Tozer wrote, “Never fear criticism. If the critic is right, he has helped you. If he is wrong, you can help him. Either way, somebody gets helped.”

Pray about the criticism.

Once you weigh the criticism, play it down and pray it up. Instead of turning it over and over again in your mind, turn it over to God. Take the criticism to God in prayer.

When we are criticized, we need to talk to God about the critic and the criticism. A song we sang as teenagers had the line, “You can talk about me whenever you please, but I’ll talk about you when I’m on my knees.” Chuck Swindoll wrote, “You are never more successful than when you are on your knees in prayer: The saint who advances on his knees need never retreat because prayer provides an invincible shield.”

Stay at the task.

Critics demoralize. Leaders encourage. It’s easy to give up when criticized. But we need to persist.

Calvin Coolidge wrote, “Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are overwhelmingly powerful.”

Use the criticism to motivate.

We need to use the criticism as a motivation to bigger and better things. Winston Churchill wrote, “Kites rise highest against the wind.” The wind of criticism enables some to rise to new heights, new potentials, and new strengths.

Keep your dream alive.

There are times when criticism does not lie down—it intensifies. In such situations, keeping the dream alive calls for an intensified response.

Perhaps the deadliest poison of criticism comes when it is aimed toward one’s aspirations. Years ago, the sister of an innovative college professor suffered from a hearing deficiency. In the midst of building a device to help her hear better, he invented an unusual contraption. After many years of trial and error and eventual success, the professor was ready to take the device into production. He traveled extensively to gain financial backing for his dream. But everywhere he went, potential supporters laughed at his idea that the human voice could be carried along a wire. The professor could have allowed his critics to discourage him. He could have given up, but he didn’t. And nobody laughs at Alexander Graham Bell today.

Don’t allow your critics to snuff out your dreams.

Know that time answers a lot of criticism.

Time and success has a way of erasing a lot of criticism.

Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had big problems with the climate and the geography. But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project.

Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer those critics?”

“In time,” answered Goethals.

“When?” his partner asked.

“When the canal is finished.”

In the end, remember they don’t build statutes to the critic. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Waiting

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No one likes to wait. But we wait in traffic, in car pool lines, in holding patterns, in grocery stores, for the foursome ahead of us, for the doctor, for a spouse, for a baby, for retirement, for sermons to get over, or for Jesus to return.

Waiting is not just something we have to do while we get what we want. Waiting is the process of becoming what God wants us to be. What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for. Waiting, biblical waiting, is not a passive waiting around for something to happen that will allow us to escape our troubles. Waiting does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It is not a way to evade unpleasant reality.

Those who wait are those who work, because they know their work is not in vain. The farmer can wait all summer for his harvest because he has done his work of sowing the seed and watering the plants. Those who wait on God can go about their assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions to their lives and the harvest to their toil. Waiting is the confident, disciplined, expectant, active, and sometimes painful clinging to God. It knows that we will reap a reward.

Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust.

We live by the adage: Don’t just stand there, do something. While God often says to us: Don’t just do something, stand there.

Waiting means that we give God the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing.

Waiting is God’s way of seeing if we will trust him before we move forward.

That trust is a patient trust. Whether it has to do with our relationships, our finances, our careers, our dreams, or our churches. We have to trust that God knows what he is doing.

Waiting on God reminds us that God is in control.

Sometimes people ask, “But what do I do while I’m waiting?” Good question. During those waiting times take on the active role of a watchman. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,” declared the Psalmist, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psa. 130:5-6 NIV). In biblical times, watchmen vigilantly guarded the city. They watched for enemies who might attack at night, and they waited for the sun to come up. They were alert and obedient, ready to respond when needed. When called upon, they sprang into action. But on the other hand, watchmen didn’t make things happen. They didn’t control the rising of the sun. They couldn’t speed up the process of the dawning of a new day. A watchman knew the difference between his job and God’s job.

Waiting reminds me that I am not in charge. I’m the patient. I’m in the waiting room. In the real issues of life, I am not just waiting around—I am waiting on God; therefore, I can trust his wisdom and his timing. I’ve heard it said that the person who waits on God loses no time. I can wait with confidence. Because I am waiting for someone, and that someone is God.

Waiting reminds me that I am not God. As a man, I want to fix things. I want to fix my problems, my relationships, my conflicts, my career, and my church. Fixing and controlling situations and people is like trying to expedite the rising of the sun. From time to time I have to be reminded that I am not God (Aren’t you glad?). My job is to be a watchman. I need to have a watchman’s attitude: a confident and alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do.

Waiting on the Lord allows God to do his work.

Not only do I want to do God’s work, but also, I want to speed up his process. I understand that the father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey, waited seven years before his first convert in India. As did Adoniram Judson in Burma. As a pastor, I want to speed up the growth process of my church and its ministries. I see much that we could do and should be doing. I see many unmet needs. I see the hurts of people. I drive though neighborhoods and am bombarded at the thought of many people spending eternity without Christ. I have a vision from God to reach those people. And I want it to be a reality now. And I question God, “Why not now? Why not bring it to pass today?”

God’s timing is best. In the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, Habakkuk, the prophet was having similar questions. Using the watchtower motif, hear the dialogue between the prophet and God: “I will climb my watchtower now, and wait to see what answer God will give to my complaint. And the Lord said to me, ‘Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell others. But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!’” (Hab. 2:1-3 LB).

God is working. During those times, we wait patiently on the Lord. We know that deep down he is working—while it may be underneath, hidden deep in our character. In due time, God will reveal everything he’s grown in us. Those who wait will never be put to shame. We will never be disappointed.

Waiting on God increases my strength.

Sometimes I struggle to remember that it’s good to wait for the Lord. It isn’t easy. It goes against the grain of our quick-fix society. But, there’s a hidden benefit in waiting. In times of waiting my soul is revived and spirit is renewed. Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31 NRSV). The time will come when those who wait on the Lord will soar.

God is the great mover. We are to push, to work. And if we wait, in patient trust, remembering that God is in control doing his work increasing our strength, we will experience the move of God on our lives.

In a dream, God told a man to go outside and push against a huge boulder in his front yard. So every morning for the next few weeks, the man went outside and strained against the rock. He pushed and groaned and prodded and shoved, but the rock never budged.

Finally, in a fit of exasperation the man fell to his knees and lifted his eyes to heaven. “What were you thinking, Lord? he cried, wiping sweat from his brow. “You told me to push this rock, and I’ve been pushing it for weeks, yet it has not moved an inch!”

A voice from heaven rumbled among the clouds, then whispered in the man’s ear. “I told you to push the stone,” God said, “I didn’t tell you to move it. I’m the only one who can move it, and when you’re ready, I will. By the way, look at your hands.”

The man looked at his hands. They had grown callused and tough with the work, and his arms bulged with muscles. Though his efforts seemed fruitless, he had grown strong; and now he was beginning to grow wise.

 

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When Cravings Are Out of Control

 

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For most of us we eat a little more than we should, and then we have a second helping. We don’t want to offend the cooks we say to ourselves. We let out our belts a notch or two. And, for goodness sake, we won’t even try buttoning our coat. We are consumed by food, physical looks, and dieting—the deadly sin of gluttony.

Contrary to popular opinion gluttony is not about overeating on Thanksgiving. Gluttony is not about appearance; it is an attitude. It is not about being overweight; it is overindulgence. It is not about recreational eating; it is rampant excess. It is not about too many external effects; it is a lack of internal balance.

Gluttony is misdirected hunger. It is the mad pursuit of the bodily pleasures that never completely satisfy. We connect it with the craving for food and this has been its primary expression. But the person who drinks or smokes too much is as gluttonous as the person who overeats. Not to mention the person who watches television excessively or stays on the computer into the wee hours of the night.

What is so bad with a little gluttony, anyway? It’s not one of the bad sins, like adultery or stealing. All gluttony does is make you soft and huggable. It’s the cute sin. So, what is the problem? The problem with gluttony is that it seeks to feed the soul with the body’s food. It can cause a person to become so full in their stomach they lose their appetite for God. It can cause a person to become so enamored in their mind they lose their thoughts for God. The gluttonous not only have a misdirected hunger; they have misplaced God. They pay homage to their appetites; their conspicuous consumption is their extravagant act of praise. Charles Buck described them as “their kitchen is their shrine, the cook their priest, the table their altar, and their belly their God.” They no longer eat to live; they live to eat.

Mastering gluttony is a tricky task, because you can never tell when you have arrived. Most sins you know whether or not you have mastered. The thief knows if he did not steal. The dishonest knows if she did not lie. The adulterer knows if he did not have the affair. With some sins, there is not much gray area. With gluttony, it is almost all gray. You cannot simply swear off eating. You’ve got to eat, so what do you do?

Feeding.
The gluttonous needs to be fed, or more precisely, to be fed by God. From Genesis to Revelation God is pictured as a caring Father who feeds his people. God feeds us. Safe in his pasture, we will not become food. The one who bids us come to the banquet will not devour us, he promises to feed us. But there is more; he does not feed us with the good things he has made, he feeds us his very self. It is this other bread we must learn to eat, not “bread alone” but the Word of God himself. Our whole lives consist of learning what he meant when he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32, NIV). Jesus bids us to his feast that binds hungry sinners together and links us to the One who alone can feed our souls.

Feasting.
Feasting isn’t gluttony. Gluttony is self-indulgent. Feasting is God-honoring. Gluttony has no perspective. Feasting keeps perspective. Gluttony is a solitary act that defeats community. Feasting is a social act that enhances community. Gluttony ignores God’s bounty. Feasting celebrates God’s blessings.

When the local church gathers for a banquet or a fellowship; it is not just a social event, it is a spiritual event. Feasting is a part of our Christian faith. The people of Israel were always feasting—celebrations of thanksgiving for what God had done. Jesus enjoyed feasting. Jesus was at home at feasts and banquets and parties. When believers come together they celebrate God’s goodness and mercy in their lives. During those times believers take their eyes off the appetites of the body and the desires of their lives to look at Christ and how they can serve him and his people.

Fasting.
Dieting is a modern phenomenon that the Bible says nothing about. In fact, dieting as it is known in western countries can merely be a substitute of one of the Seven Deadly Sins for another: forsaking gluttony, we fall into pride. Christians have, for a long time, wrestled with the temptation to misuse food, but the weapon they used wasn’t dieting. It was fasting.

Fasting is mentioned in scripture more times than even something as important as baptism. Notice Jesus’ words at the beginning of Mt. 6:16-17, “When you fast . . .” (Matt. 6:16 NIV). By giving us instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, Jesus assumes that believers will fast. The Bible defines fasting as a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting is Christian, for fasting by a nonChristian has no eternal value since the discipline’s motives and purposes are to be God-centered. Fasting is voluntary in the sense that it is not to be coerced. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting whets the appetite of the soul in hope of experiencing the grace and wonder of God.

If gluttony is misdirected hunger, then fasting is an expression of hungering and thirsting for spiritual food. Gluttony deadens spiritual hunger, numbs our appetite for soul food; fasting keeps us alive to what Jesus knew—“My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34 NIV).

A hunger and thirsting in our souls exists that food and drink can’t fill; and when we say “No!” to our appetites and “Yes!” to God we will discover a nourishment that strengthens and sustains our spirit.

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