Life doesn’t happen in church. Church should be a great place for people to prepare for life, and it can help provide us shelter when the heat and storms of life come at us. But life happens at home, in your workplace, while your traveling, in your neighborhood, at the ball games, on vacation, at school, at the hospital and all the places we find ourselves during the week.
It’s in those times away from church that tell the most about us. It’s how we live from Monday to Saturday that define our faith. Those are the times our true character is revealed. It’s how you treat your wife during the week. It’s how you respond to your children when they let you down. It’s how you handle those conflicts at work. It’s how you handle your finances and your time.
Our challenge every week is to live out what we hear and learn about on Sunday mornings. That can be a difficult thing when things don’t go your way. When you get bad news, when you get great news. It’s in those hard times and good times that community is so important. Having some other people to share those times with you is an incredible help.
When life happens who do you have that will be there? Is there someone in your life that you can turn to for advice, for comfort, for support? Are you providing that for someone else?
Life change happens best when you are doing life with other people. When you open your life to others and let them into your world you take a risk, but the rewards can be incredible. When you are part of small group of people that you can share your life with, it helps you live out your faith during the week. You can build on what you heard at church and help each other live it out. You can encourage each other, pray for each other, challenge each other, support each other and have fun together.
We all want to have close loving relationships. Whether it is your family or friends we want those relationships to be healthy and last a long time. It’s the same in our marriage relationships. Our desire is to have a long, happy, healthy marriage. I’ve studying about love and relationships for a while now and thought I would write about how to make love last.
The Bible has a lot to say about this topic. Relationships are highly valued by God. He told us to love Him with all we have and to love other people. 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen is the most famous teaching about love. It is used in most weddings and many vows. The Apostle Paul is teaching about the way of love, kind of a reminder about how to love other people, especially your spouse. I want to focus on verses 4-7. In verses 4, 5 & 6 he talks about things most of us would agree are very important in loving another person.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I think we all agree those are hugely important in any love relationship. Then he says something that has always bothered me. He uses a word I don’t like to use much, he says always, not once but four times. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” The Message version says this: “Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.”
Always, really, how is that possible? The more I thought about it the more I am convinced that this is the key to a long, happy love relationship. Let me explain.
In every relationship there are expectations. When those expectations are not met there is a gap. It is in that gap that we have a choice to make. Do we choose to assume the worse about the other person or do we believe the best. When someone you love lets you down and does not do what he said do you always look for the best or do you go negative.
In a business book called “The One Thing You Need To Know” by Marcus Buckingham he talks about a study that was done on happily married couples. They were looking for the one thing that was common with happily married couples. They thought the answer would be that they knew each other well and had clear expectations about each other. That was based on studying couples that were struggling in their marriages. What they found was just the opposite. They found that happily married couples had an unrealistic view of their spouse. In questions about their spouse they always rated them higher than the person rated themselves. The study discovered that couples that choose to believe the best about their spouse until proven otherwise were much more happy in their relationship.
Another way of saying it is that they make charitable judgements about each other. When he is late from work again, she thinks and believes that he is working hard on some important things and is grateful that he provides for the family. When she forgets to pay a bill again, he thinks and believes that she has been busy and things have been a little crazy lately.
When one of your expectations is not met, what do you choose to do? Do you choose to believe the best and spiral upward in love or do you assume the worst and spiral downward in love? Think back to when you were falling in love with this person. You did not notice the negative things, because you were so focused on the good things. The happiest couples were the ones that have maintained that in their marriage.
When you choose to believe the best, you draw the other person closer to you. You cause the other person to want to be with you. When you go negative, even if you are right, you push the other person further away from you. No one wants to disappoint someone they love. When you assume the worst and say those negative words you are contributing to the damage of your relationship.
This principle works for any relationship. How do you respond to your children when they don’t meet your expectations? How about your parents, your friends, your brother or sister?
Read it again: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
What do you believe? That’s a pretty broad question, but an important question. Dallas Willard made this statement “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”
Our actions really determine what we believe. That is why we should examine our actions from time to time. Here is an example in my life: my wife and I have been eating healthy foods and eating all the food groups in the right servings for over a year now. We also have been getting regular exercise. Those actions are a result of our belief that eating healthy and getting exercise will bring good health, which will help us have more energy, have fewer health problems, and just feel better physically.
James talked about this in his short letter in the Bible. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God – the free life! – even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from a godless world.”
If we really believe what the Bible says, then we will live it out. Our actions will line up with what Jesus said and what his followers said. We won’t just talk about helping other people, we will back it up by giving money, giving time and giving resources to help the hurting, troubled and loveless people around us.
The old saying that actions speak louder than words is so true. Our actions in our marriage mean more than the words we use. Saying you love someone means nothing if your actions don’t back that up. Saying you care about lost hurting people means nothing if you never act on that. So examine your actions to see if they are lining up with what you are saying you believe.
A friend of mine just gave me a DVD he put together with video clips from sports movies. I love sports, so it really connected with me. It shows the coaches motivational speeches, the players playing in games and how the hard work and team work pay off by winning big games. I loved to watch the clips and felt myself being pulled into the moment.
The theme throughout these clips was teamwork, determination and heart. Often times on our own we can lose heart and determination. However with teamwork, determination and heart happen. Team mates will push each other and challenge one another. Coaches push the players to the limit and try to get all they can from each person. If each player is playing all out and doing their part the team can do things that no one thought possible.
These clips also were a great example of leadership. Certain players would step up and lead the team. Some by their example of hard work and dedication. Some by challenging and pushing other players. Leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. All teams need leaders, and sometimes the leaders change based on the circumstances.
We all are on teams. It may be the people you work with or the people you serve with at church. It might be your small group. It definitely is your family. It could be your classmates at your school or the committee you are serving on.
Whatever team you are on, you have a role to play. When you understand your role and you work hard at it, you are helping your team succeed. Sometimes you need to change roles in order to contribute in the best way. That takes humility and character to accept the role that best fits your talent. You also need to continually grow, by improving your skills, your leadership, your character.
How is your determination? How is your heart? Are you a team player? If you have a dream of a great marriage, a great workplace, a great church, a great school, a great neighborhood then you need great teamwork. Are you a great team mate or are you working on your own? Teamwork makes the dream work.
Last week in a meeting on leadership development, one of the guys in our group made this statement – “Your attention is your most valuable asset, whatever has your attention is where your resources will flow.” I wrote that down right away.
Reflect on that for a moment.
What has your attention these days? Where are your resources flowing? Your resources are things like your time, money, energy, thinking, listening, wisdom, influence.
When your attention is on the wrong things, its very easy to get on the wrong path in life. Very quickly you can find yourself very far from where you want to be. Whether you are running a business, leading a department, leading your family, serving in a ministry, serving on a board, or just leading yourself – attention matters.
Most children crave their parents attention. They will act out, cry and beg for your attention. I once saw a young girl grab her daddy’s face and told him to look at me. She wanted his undivided attention. One of the best gifts you can give to the people around you is your attention. When you are talking to someone and you give them your full attention it sends a message that you care.
Maybe you simply need to give people more of your attention. Maybe your attention has been on the wrong things in your life. Maybe you need to pay more attention to the important relationships in your life. Maybe you need to pay more attention to God.
Your attention is your greatest asset, use it wisely.
I’ve been reading the story of the death of Lazarus in the book of John chapter 11. It really is an amazing story. Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus. He spent a good bit of time with him, enough that the message Jesus got said “Lord, the one you love is sick”. If you got that message today, who would you think of? That tells me that Jesus was very close to Lazarus.
When Jesus gets this message he makes a statement that this sickness will not end in death, but will glorify God. The weird thing is this, Jesus did not go to visit him. He stayed where he was for two more days. Can you imagine hearing that someone you love is sick and you ignore them for two full days? Of course his followers were glad they were not going, because the last time they were there, the people tried to kill Jesus. They thought Jesus was not going, so that he would not be attacked and killed.
Then out of the blue Jesus says, OK lets go back and see Lazarus. His followers here all confused and frightened and tried to convince him to not go. Jesus said his friend has fallen asleep and he is going to wake him up. They told Jesus that is is good if Lazarus sleeps, so he can get better.
Then Jesus says it, the most offensive, insensitive thing imaginable – “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there” What? Glad he was not there to heal his close friend, glad he was not there to comfort the family?
He finishes the sentence “so that you may believe”. Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, he was doing it to show his great power and to reach many Jews that did not believe. You see, Jesus is always more interested in you putting your faith and trust in him than your comfort, your health or your circumstances. He is always using bad things to bring about opportunities for people to believe in Him. He can use sickness, death, relationship problems, divorce, abuse and many other bad things to draw people closer to Him.
So Jesus finally goes and Lazarus has been dead for four days. He didn’t even go to the funeral. Again, he was setting this up to make a big impression on all the people that had come to mourn the loss of this popular man. He knew that many would be there to mourn and to see if Jesus would show up.
Jesus has a conversation with Martha Lazarus’ sister. She told Jesus that she knows that God will grant him whatever he asks. Jesus then says that her brother will rise again. Martha thinks Jesus is talking about the resurrection on the last day, but Jesus says this “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” That question is for us today as well. He is talking about our spirit living forever, even after our physical death.
She says Yes Lord. So Jesus goes and talks to Mary the other sister and again sees her pain as she weeps. This is where Jesus wept, even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He felt their pain and had compassion on them. Some of the people watching this commented that why did Jesus not heal Lazarus, he healed many others and even caused the blind to see. Why not heal his close friend. Jesus knew there were skeptics in the crowd and so he moved ahead and asked Lazarus to come out of the tomb.
When Lazarus came out many believed and put their faith in Jesus. Then Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
I believe that our spirit will live forever somewhere, either in the presence of God or separated from him forever. Jesus told us the only way to make that happen is by believing in Him. Very simple, easy and available to anyone. It does not matter where you grew up, what your background is, what your ethnicity is or what you have done in the past.
Jesus made a powerful statement in this story, He said that He is the key that each of us can have to experience the glory of God forever. The key is free and anyone can have it.
I read this Cherokee Proverb that I really like. “Listen to the whispers and you won’t have to hear the screams.”
If you are attentive to the small issues, you can avoid a lot of big issues. Listening can keep problems from escalating. When you hear the the whispers of those around you it helps you connect with them; understand them; serve them; lead them and love them.
Many of the problems you face at work, at home and anywhere else is a result of not listening. When you are focused on your own needs, your own problems and your own best interests, you tend to not listen to those around you. That usually leads to mistakes and bad decisions. It also puts up a wall to those around you.
If you will take the step today to be a better listener, all of your relationships will improve. People will want to spend time with you, because when you listen, you communicate that you care.
To be a great listener, you need to be humble and be willing to slow down enough to hear those whispers. Whose whispers are you missing? Are you getting only screams? Start by listening for those whispers, those small things that you can act on and respond to that will communicate that you care.