A Prayer for the Church

God, be with our church, with those who are called by Your name. Help us to realize that You are the most important thing in our lives, and that You and You alone have the power to change people’s hearts. Help us to realize our calling to love the lost, heal the wounded, both in body and in spirit, feed and clothe the poor, encourage the broken-hearted, and in all we do, to guide those around us to You. Let us see beyond the actions, beyond the anger and the hatred and the skepticism of all who reject You; let us see as much as You allow us to of their hearts, that we may know their pain and have only compassion and love for them, as You had love for us. Give us wisdom in dealing with people and with situations in life; only You know what is to come and what is truly best for us. Let us accept Your judgments and Your answers to our prayers, even when that answer is not what we want to hear.

Help us, Lord, to ignore those things that don’t matter that we might live in peace with each other, not striving to outdo each other in any way, but striving only to serve you with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Teach us humility and contentedness, teach us patience and mercy, teach us faith and love, but first, Lord, give us the courage to pray for these things in earnestness, for we know that You will always answer prayers for things that are in Your will for us. Help us to understand Your ways, that You often teach us love by giving us difficult people to love, that You show us how to be patient by letting us want things immediately. Help us to grow, Father, that we might be closer to You.

For our church, Father, please strengthen our faith. Show us that Your Word is still alive today, that it is not void or outdated or false. Show us our sins, and then show us our hearts that cause us to commit these sins. Most of all, change our hearts that we may seek You first above all things. Help us to be different from the world, let them see that You do change people, and that what we have is something they need. Give us the strength to weather persecution, to not only endure, but to praise You when it comes that we are counted worthy to suffer for Your glory. For it is always, Lord, about Your glory, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor forever.

Let Your will be done in our lives.

Amen.

The 3 Reasons People Change

Last year, I started writing a book on why it’s so difficult for people to change. Some find it easy, but most of the ones I’ve known struggle with the same issues over and over. I certainly do. Even when I’ve found something that changes my life so dramatically for the better, it seems difficult to let go of my old ways.

A large part is certainly overcoming the inertia of our habits, but that’s more of an issue when we try to change. More importantly, it’s an issue that can be overcome by replacing bad habits with better ones.As for getting started on the change, however, I believe there are three reasons people change:

1. They are excited about the results of the change. If I could snap my fingers and be a world-class computer programmer, I would, but I’m not excited enough about the perceived results of my efforts to put the time in. Part of it is because I don’t want to be a programmer badly enough to put in the effort to change, and another part is because I don’t believe I will become world-class at it. If I believed that, I might be excited enough about those results to continue learning, but I’m not excited enough about the ones I expect to get. When I found out what Excel could do, I got excited about the potential results, and so I became very proficient.

Note that I didn’t say they want the changes, or even need the changes. People are going to do what they want to do even above what is good for them. Otherwise, people wouldn’t start smoking, they would exercise, and promiscuity would be rare because of the potential for diseases. It’s no different with change. It doesn’t matter whether you need to do it; if you don’t want to, you won’t. If you want to change, but want to remain the same more (even subconsciously) or want to avoid the process of change more, you won’t change.

2. They fear not changing more than they fear changing or more than they wish to avoid the process of change. People sometimes change particularly damaging habits because they see what happens to others with those habits, particularly those they love. I have a friend in Virginia who lived a rather wild lifestyle in high school. Her parents made few to no attempts to curb her activities, but when her older sister was in a near-fatal car accident, my friend took a long look at her life and where it was headed, particularly at what would happen to her if she died. She became a Christian and has steadily been growing closer to God since. It wasn’t because she was looking to give up sex, drinking, and partying, but because she feared Hell more than she feared losing these things.

3. They change because of love. One of the tactics people use to get loved ones to join groups like AA is an intervention, when the person’s family and closest friends come together to show that person in a unified way how much they’re hurt by the person’s actions. It can be a very effective tactic because nobody wants to hurt those they love. Others go on diets and start exercising or stop smoking because they want to be around for their children and grandchildren. The process in this case may be the least fun because often, the habits that are changed are addicting or life-long, rather than smaller things like taking a few college computer courses, but people can be convinced to change their lifestyles completely for those they love deeply enough.

This is not necessarily a complete list. I’m very open to feedback of other broad reasons why people change (i.e., specific reasons, such as stopping drinking to keep a job fall in some combination of the second and third core reasons). Thanks for any feedback!

The Little Things

It’s funny how it’s usually the little things in life that are most responsible for our emotions. My wife can make my day by surprising me with my favorite candy bar. I can make her day brighter by walking up to her while she’s at her computer and kissing her on the cheek for no particular reason. And little things can have the opposite effect, too, can’t they? That person who stole the spot you’d been waiting for at the grocery store can leave you seething. Burning dinner can leave a bad taste in your mouth figuratively as well as literally.

Part of the reason, I think, is because we aren’t very good at thinking long-term. We are usually ok with discomfort now if we believe there is a benefit in the future. For instance, we go to the gym, knowing full well that we’ll be sore for the next couple of days. We’re fine with that, though, because we know we’re getting in shape. When we lose sight of the long-term goals, we take the short-term setbacks far less graciously.

The truth is that losing a parking space doesn’t matter. Burning dinner, even if it’s for guests, probably doesn’t matter. Waking up with a sore back one morning doesn’t matter. Your kids pestering you with questions when you didn’t sleep well doesn’t matter. Our focus should be on the long-term, not to the point that we ignore the present entirely, but to the point that we make a conscious effort to conform the present to help our long-term goals.

Everyone who dreams of becoming a world-class athlete knows they’re not just going to wake up one day in perfect shape with all the right moves and great form. These things take relentless dedication and many, many hours of hard work. Those fortunate enough to make it to the top level have done so more by determination than by fortune. Every day, they took steps that brought them closer to their goal. They watched what they ate, practiced, and worked out. And for years of doing this, they were rewarded with the realization of their dreams.

Likewise, if you have long-term dreams that you don’t seem to be getting closer to, compare your actions today with actions that would make your dream a reality. Are you working toward your goals? If not, find out what actions would help you and work those into your schedule. The only one who can make your dreams a reality is you.

The Results are In

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about how to go about starting a real change in your life. I believe that everyone has a change they should work on, whether that’s a moral or personality issue like losing their temper too easily, an addiction like gambling, or simply a way to improve their lives. Rooting out the bad habits and starting good ones is a wonderful thing. Changing your heart is much better still.

The best changes, though, are the God-inspired and God-aided ones.

One thing God has been dealing with me on is my motivations for writing. I have to admit that there’s a part of me that wants to make a fair deal of money from the books. Part of me wants to go into a bookstore and see what I’ve written on the shelves. The former is based in part on a desire to support my wife, myself, and our future children, but both are based in large part on ego.

There are two problems with this. The first is that it’s wrong to use God’s work for your glory. God doesn’t exist to honor you; you exist to honor Him. He doesn’t owe you anything, even if you give your life and everything else you have to Him, because He has already given His infinitely more valuable life for you. God often chooses to bless those who serve Him well because He loves us, but He owes us absolutely nothing. If you’re using your calling to honor yourself, God will not be in your work. You may become wealthy and famous, but you won’t be blessed by God, and His gifts are always better for you in the end.

Second, you can’t control the results. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” God gives each of us a calling in life, but rarely does He tell us the outcome. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were called to warn people of God’s wrath and impending punishment. A few people listened, but it seems they were largely disregarded. The fact that they were ignored does not mean that God was not with them, though. It does not mean they did anything wrong or didn’t give it their best effort. It was not on them to ensure results, only to obey God in what He bid them.

Whatever your calling is, whether it’s to talk to one person one time and plant a seed in their heart that will eventually lead them to Christ though you never see it, or to become the next Billy Graham, preaching to millions worldwide, God will not demand specific results of you. He just wants your obedience. It is on Him to provide the results.

As one last point, keep in mind that His idea of success almost certainly differs from yours. For example, as my wife sometimes has to remind me, if God had me write my books to reach only one person, and that person got the books, then He’ll consider my ministry a raging success. All the effort I’ve put into writing, editing, and getting them out won’t guarantee my definition of success, nor His if I do it with a wrong heart. All I can do is serve Him willingly and wait for His results to come in.

Too Many Distractions

We all know about life’s distractions. You go to your 9-5, come home in rush-hour traffic, get something to eat, and sometimes you just want to chill in front of the TV. But your kids won’t let you, will they? And the bills keep coming, and the refrigerator breaks, and your sister is going through some hard times so you want to be there for her and…the list seems endless sometimes.

We often use the distractions of daily life as the reason we don’t change. In reality, this is simply an excuse. Sure, on some days you have priorities that cannot be dismissed. Most days, however, you have time that you have simply made a decision to spend one way instead of another. Often, that’s TV or game time. Americans average 37-40 hours a week of TV time. Then there’s facebook time, gaming time, etc.

The truth is that Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, and Oprah all have the same 24 hours in a day that you do. They didn’t get to be where they are by saying they don’t have time to be the best they can be, by saying that Dancing With the Stars is more important than learning a new language or working out. They made a decision with how they’d spend their time and dedicated themselves to their respective crafts.

You can claim that Jordan was born with prodigious physical abilities and that Gates has an IQ of a gazillion, but these mean nothing without a strong work ethic and great dedication. These people weren’t lucky. They weren’t “in the right place at the right time.” We have a name for such people, lottery winners, and they’re usually back at their jobs in five years or less.

If you want to change your situation, you have to look at how you spend your time. You can spend it chilling out in front of the TV, LOLing at your friends’ pictures of cats on facebook, and shooting up aliens in the latest HALO, or you can decide that your time is more valuable.

As a practical tip, start the first week by not doing anything unusual and just monitoring your time. Track how much time every activity takes you, then add it all up at the end. Then, for the next week, carve out a solitary hour in all of that time and dedicate it to self-improvement. Learn a new language, learn how to write code, pick up a guitar, go for a jog – anything to get you closer to the change you want to make. For my part, I’m giving up online games. I’ve tried before to do this, but I understand change better now and have an accountability partner in my wife.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of TV. We all need to relax from time to time. But we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when our relaxation is so common that it leaves us no time to grow.

It’s All on You

No pressure or anything, but for whatever situation you’re in, it’s pretty much solely on you to change it. You can (and should) ask God for help and guidance, but in the end, you’re the one who has to live with the results of whatever decisions you make.

I’ll grant that you may not be entirely responsible for your situation. Some drunk driver could have T-boned your car and ruined a promising athletic career. A parent could have mentally or physically abused you, leading you to seek escape in drugs. There are situations that are caused by other people, things outside your control.

But here’s something that’s always in your control: what you do about it. You’re not powerless. If you’re a Christian, you have the power of the almighty God on your side to help you change. You don’t need any more power than that (and couldn’t get any more anyway).

Right now, you have a choice: decide to change or accept that you’re not really as dissatisfied as you think you are or want others to think you are. You may be able to blame others for your current situation, but you have only yourself to blame if you decide to let their actions completely defeat you.

Would you expect a prince who’s lost just one battle to renounce his kingdom? No, you’d expect him to rally his troops, gather reinforcements, come up with a better battle plan, and try to win the next time.

Life is hard. You’re going to get knocked down. People are going to hurt and betray you. Things outside your control will happen to you.

None of that matters half as much as what you do when these things happen. Are you going to give up or are you going to regroup, improve, get a better strategy, and try again? You have God as your ally, mentor, and trainer. Trust in Him and you can’t help but win.

Baby Steps Onto the Elevator…AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

If you remember the movie What About Bob?, you probably remember the scene where Bob leaves Dr. Marvin’s office with the advice to take baby steps: small, measurable goals to get where he wants to go.

Bob takes the advice literally and takes tiny little steps all around the office, then out to the hallway, and onto the elevator, where his claustrophobia kicks in and causes him to scream all the way down.

There are a couple lessons to take from this. The first is that you can accomplish far more by taking it a day at a time, one small goal at a time, than you can by giving yourself a herculean task. Bob could never have gotten onto the elevator had Dr. Marvin just said, “Get on the elevator.” He needed to take a step at a time to get on.

When you set a goal for yourself, set very small goals along the way. For example, if your goal is to run 3 miles in under 30 minutes, it’s great to have that as an end goal, but it helps to add a small goal, like, “I want to run half a mile in under eight minutes this week.” It’s something to shoot for so you can enjoy immediate results.

This is essentially what the most addictive online games do: they offer you constant rewards, bonuses, and upgrades for each new accomplishment or level gained. People keep coming back for more because they want just one more level. Sometimes, they know what the next level will bring and at others, it’s a surprise, but they know there will be something that makes them better or the game more fun, along with the next challenge or mission.

And that’s the second point: You should have an idea of what you’re getting into before you do it. Bob’s scream on the way down in the elevator was hilarious, but life is not often so funny or forgiving of our mistakes. It’s another reason why we need to take our changes slowly and not go for the huge change all at once. We need to see what’s ahead of us and be prepared for it. You wouldn’t just run a marathon if you haven’t been training; neither should you expect to go from not working out to working out for an hour five times a week and being in perfect shape in three months. You shouldn’t expect to get rich quick, no matter what the plan. It might happen, but in most cases, it’s a slow hike upward with a few stumbles rather than an elevator straight to the top. It’s harder, but your victory will be that much sweeter when you get it.