Weary yet pursuing

“So where you on the Richter scale, babe? How are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Jessica asked me this question the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to answer as it might initially sound. I had to answer it on multiple levels.

I had to answer it practically. Practically, experientially, I wasn’t doing great. If life is a series of peaks and valleys then I think I was scraping the bottom of a valley somewhere. From a practical, factual perspective, I probably logged in between a 2 or a 3.

I also had to answer it emotionally. Surprisingly, my emotions were significantly higher than my factual reality—probably somewhere around a 6. However, before you conclude that I’m too out of touch, or living in a dream world, I should probably mention that my emotions were tied to my third answer.

I also had to answer Jess’ question positionally. I told her, “My circumstances are a 2.5; my emotions are a 6, but my determination is a solid 10. It’s true that I’m a little weary, but my posture, my position—my commitment to keep on running—has never been higher.”

There’s precedent for this in the Bible. After Gideon and his troops routed the Midianites in Judges 8:4 they were described as “weary yet pursuing” and something interesting happened. Divine strength found them as they ran.

Sometimes we can Sabbath (we can regroup, recoup, and withdraw), but sometimes life requires us to run all night. If you are in a running season, please don’t stop and don’t despair. God’s grace knows how to find you even while you run!


Peace or Adrenaline?

adrenalineWhich word best describes the consistent state of your soul this Christmas: peace or adrenaline?

Are you living a life of “untroubled, undisturbed composure and well-being” (New Testament Greek definition of “peace”) or are you in a constantly stressed, adrenaline-laced, fight or flight posture?

Most of us would align with the latter. It is the bane of our 21st century Western Civilization existence to ride the endless roller coaster of adrenaline spikes and crashes.

It’s actually kind of funny when you think about it, because we are seldom engaged in activities that truly warrant that kind of response. We don’t often have to physically run from predators to save our lives. We don’t have to hunt and overpower smaller prey if we want to eat dinner tonight. We aren’t surrounded by constant dangers that startle us and send our hearts into panicked palpitations.

Except that we are.

Although the comforts of our modern life have never been greater, the pressures and stresses of life have risen alongside them, and we are awash in an unstable sea of pressures, insecurities, and demands that are beyond our control. We need two scoops of adrenaline with our morning coffee just to survive.

Fortunately, it is into this kind of world that the Christmas story still speaks. The angelic announcement to the watchful shepherds still resonates: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).

How do we kick the adrenaline and access that peace? It begins by accepting Jesus’ gift of life so that our existential worries can melt away in the light of a greater hope and destiny. Second, we choose to love and forgive. And finally, we hearken to the words of Scripture that remind us that we are not alone amid the chaos: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Note to Self

note to selfDear Self, I’m not sure what you are thinking or how you are feeling right now, but in case you’re not doing too well, I wanted to remind you of some things. Emotions come and go; truth remains. Unfortunately, emotions often feel more powerful than truth, and sometimes we can judge the entire external universe based on minor, internal mood swings. I’d like to save you from that, and remind you of some truth.

As I write to you (to me) I am in a good place. My thinking is clear and I can sense God’s life and presence around me and in me. I would qualify for Pastor Wayne Cordeiro’s description, “clear-headed and close to God” (remember, he always urges people to only make their biggest decisions when they are clear-headed and close to God). So I think I’m in a good spot to pep talk you and prop you up. Granted, someone could accuse me of doing the very thing I am warning you against, namely attributing a positive mood to ultimate reality. However, that’s not the case.

It is true that shallow emotional upswings do not necessarily correspond to God’s truth anymore than negative, gloomy ones do. We humans are so easily swayed by circumstantial highs and lows, but God’s life is very different from that. Some of King David’s mightiest psalms—where he boasts of an ability to “run through a troop” or “leap over a wall”—were written at the bottom of some very nasty life seasons.

There is a hope and peace and presence that can transcend whatever we are experiencing, and when we touch that presence everything changes even if nothing changes. Please remember that last phrase. Things don’t need to change for YOU to change. Circumstances don’t need to improve for you to step more fully into the life and strength of God’s Spirit.

So, dear self, man up. Don’t quit. Don’t pout. Hold steady. Lean into God. Like David said, you too will live to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

Inspired when there’s no inspiration

getinspiredIt’s easy to feel inspired when you’re inspired (and, yes, I do realize how silly and obvious that sounds), but what do we do when we’re not inspired and yet we’re still expected to perform?

How do we get inspired when nothing moves us or awakens our creativity?

The Apostle Paul expected Timothy to find a way. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul told his young disciple to, “Be prepared in season and out of season.” Paul knew there would be times when Timothy was in the off-season of his life—he wouldn’t feel especially motivated or prepared—and yet he still believed that Timothy could find a way to produce.

It’s great when we’re hit by moments of inspiration. It’s wonderful when ideas are flowing, interest is high, and we feel motivated to tackle the task at hand. However, we cannot become dependent on those times because the real treasure of life occurs in the uninspired, daily-ness of living.

We can’t wait to get externally inspired; we have to learn to summon it from within. Here are a few ways that we can do this.

  1. We can speak to our soul. In some of King David’s worship psalms he begins by speaking to his own soul, and then he ends by speaking to God. He begins with, “Praise the Lord, oh my soul” and He ends with simply, “Praise the Lord.” He speaks to—he engages—his own soul, and then once his soul is engaged the inspired emotion takes over.
  2. We can get to work, trusting that inspiration will follow. Creativity is like a muscle; the more we engage it the stronger it gets. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” We can wait around forever to feel inspired or we can get to work, knowing that inspiration will soon follow.
  3. We can remember that motion creates emotion. At least that’s what motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, tells his listeners. He says that if we will get moving—if we will rouse ourselves and move ourselves to physical action—the internal feelings of inspiration will begin to chase us down.

Whether it is natural coaching like Robbins’ or more spiritual counsel like David’s, the bottom line is the same. We can’t sit around until we get inspired. We have to get busy, faithfully doing what we know we are called to do, trusting that the inspiration will eventually find us.

Taking your ball and going home

take your ball and go homeHave you ever had a Jeremiah day?

A Jeremiah day is one where we question our calling, resent the various sacrifices that we have to make in our lives, get angry at God, but then lament our inability to actually walk away from Him.

Jeremiah the prophet hit such low ebb in his ministry that he literally longed to die. He felt tricked and manipulated by God, he cursed the day of his birth, and he wished desperately that he could call it a day and take his ball and go home.

His calling trapped him; however, and refused to let him quit. He said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak anymore in his name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Then two verses later, something changed. He must have seen a glimmer of light or sensed a whisper of God’s presence or word, because Jeremiah went on to say, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior.” Other translations say, “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion…like a mighty terrible one…like a fearsome warrior…like an awe-inspiring warrior…like a powerful giant…like an awesome mighty one.”

Do you need to see God in that role? Do you need to know that you’re not walking alone, but that a mighty dread warrior walks beside you? Jeremiah would tell you to carry on; keep walking; don’t quit. Your champion is still with you, and even though the storm might be obscuring His form right now, you too will have moments when the clouds part, the weariness lifts, and you see Him clearly again.

Words like blows to the head

pain quoteIn Veronica Roth’s runaway hit novel Allegiant she writes: “It’s strange how a word, a phrase, a sentence, can feel like a blow to the head.”

She sure is right isn’t she? Painful words can hit us like sledgehammers, leaving us dazed, broken, and confused. We want to cry, defend, and lash out all at once, and when there is a seeming indifference in the offender, it’s even worse.  A spoken word can make us feel physically ill.

In those–and other–times of great pain and misunderstanding it is helpful to remember that pain can be an engraver’s tool that carves our life message a little more deeply into our soul.

When I feel mistreated, I vow to treat others well.

When I’m forced to carry the sting of rejection, I commit to never inflicting that sting.

As long as we don’t carry this too far and begin living our whole lives out of reactionary postures, this reflective vowing can serve us well. It can help us identify the kind of person we do and don’t want to be. It can remind us of the way we want others to feel in our presence, and it can bring our personal core values into a little sharper focus.

Mistreatment shines a spotlight on appropriate treatment, and it creates an opportunity for us to run toward that light.

Pain is inevitable, so let’s bear it cleanly, without letting it stain and soil our soul. Let’s take it to the cross of Jesus Christ and “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that (we) will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

Emotional Fitness Survey

happy-sadThis Sunday at Grace we will be discussing the King Pin of “emotional health” so I thought I would send you some advance homework. 🙂

Here is a simple emotional health survey compiled by Judith Belmont, M.S., L.P.C.  If, after completing the survey, you’re discouraged by your emotional fitness results, fear not! My interview with Carol Montgomery, MA, MFT this Sunday will help us increase our levels of emotional health and balance. If you’re not in the area this Sunday, you’ll be able to access the  message and interview through our podcast a little later in the week.


How is your Emotional Fitness?

Below are 8 items that you may agree or disagree with. On a scale of 1 to 7, rate your level of agreement with each item, being honest and open with yourself.

7- Strongly agree

6- Agree

5- Slightly Agree

4- Neither Agree or Disagree

3- Slightly Disagree

2- Disagree

1- Strongly Disagree

___ I feel satisfied with who I am and where I am in my life.

___ I refuse to allow regrets and disappointments could “today”

___ I feel a strong sense of connection with others and do not feel isolated

___ I tend to think rationally and optimistically

___ I do not hold onto grudges and can forgive others for not living up to my expectations

___I feel a great sense of control over my emotions, thoughts and feelings

___ I have a healthy sense of humor and can laugh at life’s imperfections

___ I feel more gratitude on how my life is now rather than focus on what’s lacking

Your Total Score here: ______

Mental Fitness Range:

56-51 Emotional Fitness Extraordinary!

50-46 High Level of Emotional Fitness

46-40 Moderate Level of Emotional Fitness

39-32 Emotional Fitness Needs some Boosting!

31-24 Emotional Fitness is posing problems for optimal health- needs work!

23-16 Needs Improvement! Actively work on improving your Emotional Fitness

Below 15 Danger Zone!