Self-awareness is one of the most important skills a person can have. It leads to emotional health and relational stability. One of the ways to develop this skill is by asking yourself questions to dig down into why you are feeling certain emotions or why you are doing certain behaviors. If you have never gone on a self-discovery retreat you might consider doing so. A great way to do that is to start writing down your thoughts to a series of questions.
One exercise I did years ago that helped me begin that journey was to write my own obituary. I wrote down what I would want my wife to say about me, my family, my friends and co-workers. I then started writing down character qualities that I wanted to be known for. That was a great beginning to a time of self-awareness for me.
Here are some other great questions to ask yourself and spend some time reflecting on and then writing down your answers:
What am I trusting God for today?
Who are the key relationships?
What are the joys in my key relationships right now? What are the stresses?
Why are these people important to me?
In what ways am I experiencing inner peace? How am I lacking?
What are my three most significant prayer requests?
Am I entertaining any fears at this moment? What are they?
Do I feel discontent in some way? Describe it
What has made me laugh recently?
Have I read or listened to something convicting or stimulating lately?
Is there someone I need to forgive? What’s holding me back?
Am I really accountable? To whom? For what?
Am I putting too many hours in away from those I love most?
How am I cultivating a good sense of humor?
What can I learn from this test or hardship I am enduring?
Have I affirmed someone lately? Has anyone affirmed me? How did it feel?
Am I in full control of the way I spend my leisure moments? If not, what’s out of control?
Are my priorities the best ones?
Overall, how has my attitude been this past week?
Is there anything I need to release to God so I might worry less?
Is there anyone I am consistently encouraging with no thought of return?
Am I spending time with the right friends? How do I know?
What decisions am I facing right now for which I need divine guidance?
What am I learning from Scripture passages I’ve been studying, or sermons I’ve been listening to?
These questions come from a book called Mentoring Leaders by Carson Pue. Asking yourself questions and then honestly answering them is vital to good health. Talking about this with some trusted friends is also a great way to grow and know yourself better. After my time of self-discovery I developed my personal mission statement that I have followed for the past 15 years. Growing myself and others in faith, character and leadership. What is your mission or purpose in life? Start the journey now.
I have been studying a workbook called “How People Change” by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp with a group of people. This is the material we use to prepare mentors for ministry at NewPointe Community Church. The material is great but the conversations we have is even better. We finished up last night and everyone in the group agreed they had grown a lot and experienced a sense of community with the other people.
Here are some quotes that really stood out in this last session:
“God does more than deliver us from the Heat (hardships of life), he delivers us from ourselves so that we can stand up under the heat and not merely survive but bear good fruit. Under the pressure of family difficulty, love can grow. Under the heat of unappreciated sacrifice, perseverance grow. In the middle of suffering, peace and sturdy faith can blossom. In the midst of want, giving can grow where thorns of greed and selfishness once lived. Under the heat of life in a fallen world, new and surprising fruit can and does grow.”
That is some amazing insight. That God does some of the most incredible work in our lives in the midst of the most difficult times. We all face challenges, hardship, struggle and even celebration moments. That is part of life in this world. Keeping God in the center of our lives during these times allows him to work deep within us. Only when our hearts are changed will our behavior and responses change. So if you are in the middle of a great struggle, look inside your own heart and ask God to do a work there.
Here is another great quote: “We all know that sin causes us to be more committed to ourselves than anything else. It causes us to love ourselves more than anything else. Sin makes us self-centered and self-indulgent as we give in to desires of the sinful nature and feed its cravings. Such selfish living destroys relationships and harms people. Our chief problem in relationships is not the fallen world we live in, but the fact that we ourselves are deeply self-centered and have trouble loving one another.”
Wow, that is very convicting. This speaks to the importance of understanding our human nature and how much we need God to transform our hearts. Only when we surrender to God and allow the Holy Spirit to flow inside our hearts can we change all of that. Our relationship suffer when we allow self-centered behavior or thinking to rule.
It is important to remember that Jesus asked us to follow him. He didn’t say follow these rules or go and do these certain things. He said simply follow me no matter where you are at. If you stumble and fall, Jesus waits for us to get up and continue following him. God has provided the Holy Spirit to help us follow him and help us get back up when we fall. If you want to change, it starts in your heart.
I read a great article by Brandon Cox about how to invest in people. I also listened to Daniel Harkavy from Building Champions talk about Investing in People. They both had similar things to say. The bottom line is that if you are a leader, if you have influence with other people around you, then you should be investing in people. As a Christ follower we also need to be investing in people to show them the love of Jesus and introduce them to him.
Brandon Cox gave these 8 simple ways to invest in people:
*Schedule three to five informal meetings per week – coffee, lunch, etc. – with people into whom you want to invest.
*Take potential leaders on trips with you. I’ve heard great leaders talk about the mentoring power of never traveling alone. My Worship Pastor calls it “windshield time.”
*If you’re a Pastor, take a partner as you do pastoral care – hospital visits, etc. Just the time in the car on the way is a great opportunity.
*Buy and send books to leaders. I’ve received and given books that have shaped who I am.
*Check in with a phone call. Have a list of potential leaders into whom you’re pouring, and randomly call them once a month or so.
*Convene conversations. Gather leaders who aspire to be involved in the things you’ve spent your life doing and let them connect with each other.
*Listen. Pouring into leaders doesn’t mean doing all the talking. It often means lending an ear in a tough moment.
*Connect leaders to other leaders. It’s powerful when we say, “here’s a friend of mine you need to connect with.”
You can adapt these ideas to your situation, but to invest in people you must be pro-active. You have to take the initiative and put things on your calendar, make the phone call, write the note, schedule the trip, buy the book. You can invest in your children, your spouse, your friends at work or the neighbor next door by doing some of these things.
Empathy is critical to emotional health. This is the ability to discern emotions in others and then experience, within ourselves, the same emotion. This is much different than sympathy, which is the mental awareness of what another person is going through.
Developing the ability to empathize is important if you want to improve your relationships and get healthy emotionally. Why is it important to be healthy emotionally. Well, I believe that our emotions play a big part in our physical and spiritual health as well. Emotions live inside us and if painful emotions are living inside you they eventually come out in behavior, thoughts and attitude. Unresolved emotions can lead to physical illness and mental damage as well. It also affects your relationship with God.
Emotions should not control us, we should understand and control our emotions. We should not try to shut off our emotions or hide them, that is why empathy is so important. It helps us to connect with and understand other people much better.
To develop empathy we must learn to listen and observe words, sounds and body language. Jesus was amazingly empathetic. He was moved with compassion as he discerned the needs and pain of others. Read Mathew 9:36 and 20:34.
When we can empathize with someone three things will happen:
1. The other person will feel that someone cares for them and is willing to enter into their emotional world.
2. They feel like someone understands them.
3. They feel that it’s ok to be emotional and express emotions, in other words, my emotions are legitimate.
All emotions can be grouped into two categories: Potentially painful and potentially positive. The Bible teaches us how to attune or empathize to these two groups of emotions. In Romans 12:15 it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”
When someone is sad, we often think it is important to try to cheer them up. That is our natural response, but what is actually most helpful is to be sad with that person. Seems odd, but that is what empathy is. The people around us will feel blessed when we allow and encourage them to express their positive or painful emotions and we either rejoice or mourn with them.
This life skill of empathy is a game-changer for relating to other people. This skill allows you to connect with people in a way that helps them feel safe and valued. They will actually feel better after talking with you than before. It also helps you to better understand why people do what they do.
As a mentor and a pastor this skill has helped me to help other people. When people cannot process their emotions with someone they end up in a downward spiral that leads to destruction of relationships, and their physical well being. It often causes them to feel distant from God as well. To stay healthy emotionally a person must be able to process and express their emotions to God and other people.
As a leader, spouse, parent, boss, employee, sibling or friend, the ability to empathize will improve your relationships and deepen them as well. Learning this skill takes time, effort and patience. Paying attention to the details, asking the right questions and sometimes just being silent and feeling the emotion the other person is feeling. This can be hard work and frustrating at times, but in the long run empathy leads to better emotional health for you and those around you.
I was listening to a podcast interview with author and speaker Rory Vanden, talking about his new book Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success. I bought the book today and plan on reading it right away.
One of the stories he talked about was about the difference between cows and buffalo.
In Colorado they have both cows and buffalo. One of the unique differences is how they react when a storm is heading their way. Cows will see a storm coming and will turn and try to run away from the storm. The storm usually catches them and they actually run with the storm and suffer along the way. The Buffalo will see a storm coming and will run right at the storm. They end up running right through the storm and only encounter a short time of suffering and discomfort.
Most of us act more like cows than buffalo. We try to avoid the storms of life by running away from them. Our natural response is to escape and run in the opposite direction, when we really should run right at the storm.
When we run at the storm we are facing reality and are doing the hard thing. But by doing the hard thing we minimize the pain long-term by making the difficult decision now.
So if your in the midst of a storm, turn and face it. Don’t allow the fear of the storm to make you turn tail and run. Have the hard conversation, ask the tough questions, set the firm boundaries, say no and run right through the storm.
The only way we can do this is with the help of God. If you are running from a storm, ask God to give you the courage to face that storm head on and the wisdom to know how to run through it.
For the last several years I have been running and exercising on a regular basis. I ran half marathons, ran the Warrior Dash (a 5k with obstacles) and ate healthy food while maintaining my weight and general fitness. Then I stopped back in December around Christmas. I decided to take a break and it led to a prolonged time of no exercise. I gained 15 pounds and regressed physically. I also lost my motivation to restart, for some reason I couldn’t get back into the habit of running and working out. I even made some bad choices in my eating habits and didn’t care.
The reason I share that is because that is what happens to lot’s of people with habits that are helpful. We can drift, stop and get out of sink. It is very difficult to start up again even though we know we should. We know we should read our Bible, we know we should eat better, we know we should exercise, we know we should date our spouse, yet the reality is we don’t do it consistently. So how do we get restarted with the healthy good habits that help us grow spiritually, emotionally and physically?
First you need to make a decision that you will start. Don’t underestimate the power of choosing to start doing something. You will never get healthy spiritually, physically or emotionally without choosing to start. Five years ago I chose to get healthy and started working toward that.
Next you need to develop a plan. For me I joined a local fitness club to get back into working out. I made a commitment and paid some money to help keep me on track. I also talked with some of my friends about what I was trying to do and asked them to hold me accountable.
Lastly you have to actually do something. I not only joined the gym, but the next day I drove there and worked out. Now I am planning my weeks and including times that I can stop and workout. You can choose, plan and learn all you want, but if you don’t do something you will never change.
Once I did that first workout my motivation came back and now I am excited about getting back into shape and am already starting to look for a race I can sign up for to give me something to shoot for.
If you have an area of your life that you want to change or get back on track, make the choice to change, talk to some people that can help you and hold you accountable and put a plan together and then go start. Choose, Plan, Do it.
We all have things that set us off. I like to refer to them as our buttons, and when pushed we respond. Our response tends to be some sort of a defense mechanism. Think about the last time you really got tee’d off. You could feel the blood rushing to your head and that weird feeling in your stomach. Then you either said something sarcastic, funny or hurtful, or maybe you raised your voice. Others may have calmly explained how wrong the other person was or defend our actions and some go silent.
All of those behaviors are unhealthy and lead to increased conflict. As we grow up, we learn how to handle things that hurt us or make us mad. Nearly all of us have learned the wrong way of doing this. Unfortunately we all had bad examples growing up and of course we have a sinful nature.
So where do these button come from? Why do I get so mad at some things and other things don’t seem to bother me? Again we have to look back in order to understand. We all have core fears that have been ingrained in us from past life experience. Things like rejection, failure, being ignored, being misunderstood, being abused, being humiliated or neglected. All of those things shape the fears inside us.
When we experience a situation that brings up a similar emotion or feeling that fear button gets tapped and we are off to the races. By the time we realize it, it is often too late, we have turned around and pushed the other persons button as well and we are in the midst of full blown conflict.
So how do we overcome this all too familiar pattern? Here are a few ideas:
* First you need to find out what your core fear is. I highly recommend the book called the DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley. He has a test in the back of the book to help you discover your core fears.
* Once you have identified what sets you off, start praying for God to help you in that area. Ask for courage to see it coming and to respond in a better way. Also talk to a trusted friend or mentor about it and ask them to pray as well, and ask you how you are progressing in changing.
* Start asking yourself why am I so mad about this? A simple question like that can help to think more rationally and not emotionally.
* Awareness and accountability are important, yet without some action not much will change. Learning new behaviors takes hard work and practice. having the humility to go get help is very important when making big shifts in behavior. Go see a counselor, life coach or pastor to help work through these changes.
So here is the bottom line. If you want to have healthy, thriving relationships in your life you will need to understand your buttons and learn how to respond in a healthy way when they are pushed.
Whether you are a leader in the business world, non-profit world or church world, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have three main roles. These roles are each important, but you can’t be effective as a leader unless you are doing all three.
The three roles I am talking about are Shepherding, Equipping and Developing. First lets look at shepherding. This may not be a term you use much in the business world but it is a great description of a leader that cares for the people he is leading. You see a shepherd is responsible for the flock of sheep entrusted to him. He knows each sheep and makes sure they have what they need and pay attention when one gets hurt. He leads them to where they need to go and develops a trusting relationship with the sheep.
So what does that look like in today’s world. Here are some things a leader can do to shepherd his team:
- Care – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Guide - In this role you will need to guide people in the direction you want them to go. Sometimes a gentle nudge or sometimes a more direct push. This can get messy as people are messy. It’s knowing when to nudge and when to push.
- Pay attention to immediate needs – If one of your team is having a personal crisis be sure to pay attention and listen to see how you can help them through it. It can also be simply making sure your team members have what they need to get their work done.
- Need-oriented – When you are in shepherding mode you are making sure that basic needs are being taken care of and that vital resources are made available.
- Listen – Take time to get to know the people you lead. Listen, ask questions about their family and show them you are concerned.
- Listen some more – This is all about establishing trust with your team. When you take the time to get to know them personally people start to trust you more
- Be vulnerable – this takes courage as a leader, but your team needs to know you and what is going on in your life as well. If you are real with them, they will be real with you.
Another important role of a leader is to equip the people on their team. Here are some thoughts on equipping people:
- Training – this is about making sure they are learning the skills needed to do the job.
- Direct - In this role you will need to tell people what to do. You will need to give them their objectives and maybe even help with the strategies on how to accomplish the objectives.
- Task focused – to equip someone you need to assign some tasks to them to see how they handle it. This is a great way to test them to see what their capacity is.
- Skill-oriented – In this role the leader is focusing on skill sets that are needed to be effective in their area of work.
- Coaching – this is when you are working on fundamentals and keep bringing them back to those basics that make a difference. Explaining the why behind what we are doing.
- Instruction – often the leader is in teaching mode or is making sure that someone on the team is teaching the others how to do something.
- Demonstration – The leader needs to model what he wants done.
- Experience - Here you need to allow people some room to grow, stretch and make mistakes. Then evaluate those experiences with them to make sure they are learning from that experience.
- Assessment – You need to debrief often with people so that they are clear on the objectives and expectations you have. This should be done one-on-one and in teams.
The last role is that of development. This is the hardest of the three roles because it takes the most time. However, this is the most powerful role a leader has and brings the biggest results in the long run.
- Training for personal growth – Here your time with them has a different focus, it’s more on their personal growth and having a plan for them in that area.
- Influence - In this role you are more a presence and the people you lead will set their own objectives and strategies with your oversight. They will take initiative on their own and you are more their cheerleader.
- Personal Focus – You should have a plan for each team member based on where they are at in their development.
- Character-oriented – Here is where you dig a little deeper and talk about character qualities and work on developing stronger character and healthier relationships
- Few – You usually can’t do this with everyone on your team. This should be your high potentials.
- Empowering – Here is when you can allow them to lead and get out of their way
- Mentoring – Your role is more of a mentor, sharing your life experience with them and answering the questions they have.
These roles are all vital and you will have to play each role every day based on personal and work situations. At times you will need to shepherd and care for even your most talented people. It takes some time and practice to be able to switch gears based on the situation and the person, but the results will be worth it.
I finished reading Dwight Mason’s book Only God – Change your Story, Change the World. I happen to know Dwight and have worked with him over the last 15 years. I loved reading about the stories of his early years as a pastor and the many challenges he faced. I remember some of those difficult times and some of the big break throughs along the way in building NewPointe Community Church.
Dwight is both humble and persistent and that came through in this book. The leadership principles he shares are vital to any leader that wants to make a difference in this world.
The book is about how important our story is and how it fits into God’s bigger story. We are all writing a story and have some control over how that story reads moving forward.
I particularly liked the way he talked about embracing change and the enemies of change. Life is filled with changes and challenges and how we handle those changes determines much of our story. There is a lot of action steps after each chapter that helps you put into action what you just read.
Every parent should read the chapter on Helping Your Children Write A Great Story. It is packed with practical wisdom on how to raise children in a healthy way.
This is a leadership book and yet it is much more than that. It’s a book about life and living it with an eternal perspective. Invest in your future by reading this book. To order your copy today click here
I was recently at a meeting with a group of pastors from my community. To open the meeting the leader asked us to all read John 2:1-11. This is the story about Jesus at a wedding where he turns water into wine. It’s the launching pad for his ministry and it’s his first miracle. He asked us to read through this and then give feedback on what we noticed. Part of his motivation was because he was preaching on that Scripture and wanted more ideas. It was also a great way for us to have some discussion to build some community.
As I read through the story something brand new jumped out at me and has stuck with me over the past several days. So here is the story:
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited tot he wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “they have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me? Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said. “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
Jesus was on a mission to change the world and this is the moment he used to launch it.
I never noticed this before, but this entire story is about the servants and Jesus’ disciples. His mother must have been helping with the food and drink for her to know they were out of wine. She may have been helping prepare and serve people or she knew others who were serving. She knew this could be a disaster and asked her son for help. She told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. I can see her approaching Jesus with his followers around him and explaining the problem. He did not want to get involved, but he saw an opportunity.
Jesus knew that his disciples did not really know him and what he could do. He saw this as an opportunity to develop the men that would be critical in leading this movement. He also saw an opportunity to launch his ministry with the servants that where. No one at the wedding knew that Jesus did this miracle except the servants and his disciples. How powerful that moment had to be when they drew out the water and saw that it was wine. Can you imagine the sense of awe and wonder that they had when they realized what Jesus did?
Here are some lessons I took away from reading this amazing story:
Jesus is always interested in building our faith. How many of those servants that day became faithful followers of Jesus?
Jesus is focused on the individuals, the servants and his disciples, not the master of the banquet or the bridegroom.
Jesus wants to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
When we are obedient, Jesus works in unexpected ways. The servants could have questioned Jesus or tried to solved this problem by themselves. Instead they took a risk and followed his instructions without questioning why.
Jesus can take any situation and do something miraculous.
Jesus will ask us to do something before a miracle happens.
Can you imagine the conversations that happened after this wedding? The servants, telling their friends and families about this amazing thing that happened. In a close community like that the word had the spread fast and I am sure it raised a lot of questions.
When the servants and his disciples saw Jesus’ miracle, they believed. The miracle showed his power over nature and revealed the way he would go about his ministry. He came to serve and help people, He spoke with authority, and He was in personal touch with people. Jesus continues to do this today, using ordinary people to do the extraordinary and changing lives one person at a time.