This week I worked through something called “Steps to Freedom in Christ”. Actually our entire staff walked through it. I have used this with many people over the years, but it had been a while since I did it. It is kind of like a good house cleaning, sweeping out all the junk that has been accumulating over the years.
The one area that surprised me was the section on forgiveness. I did not think I had anyone to forgive, but as I prayed and asked God to bring people to my mind that I needed to forgive, a bunch of people came to my mind. Most of them were small seemingly insignificant things that happened in the past. I was able to write their names down and then forgive each person by name and specifically what they did and how it made me feel. I let go of any ill feelings I had held and it felt good.
So what is forgiveness? I believe it is an act of compassion or love expressed when you are sinned against.
For more on this idea of forgiveness, go read Matthew Chapter 18:21-35 – The parable of the unmerciful servant.
If there is someone you need to forgive, don’t wait until you feel like it, because that is unlikely to ever happen. Make that choice to forgive, even if they don’t deserve it. Unforgiveness is one of the biggest causes of emotional damage that people carry. It damages our relationships and keeps us in bondage. It can cause depression and anxiety and even physical illness. Unforgiveness hurts you not the other person. Make the wise choice today and forgive from your heart and cancel any debts that are hanging out there.
Here is the prayer I prayed:
Lord Jesus, I choose to forgive (name the person) for (what he or she did or failed to do) because it made me feel (share the painful feelings; i.e rejected, worthless, inferior).
Lord, I choose not to hold on to my resentment. I relinquish my right to seek revenge and ask You to heal my damaged emotions. Thank You for setting me free from the bondage of bitterness. I now ask you to bless those who have hurt me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
I recently started reading a book call “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins. It’s about how great companies can decline and actually cease to exist. This can happen very quickly or over a long period of time. He has identified 5 stages of decline for companies that fall. As I was reading this it occurred to me that I see similarities in our relationships that fall. Whether it’s a marriage relationship, dating relationship, friendships or family relationships.
The first stage toward decline is what he calls “Hubris Born of Success”. This stage kicks in when a person becomes arrogant, thinking they have arrived in this relationship and we don’t have many problems. They start to drift away from the foundations of what made this a great relationship. It’s the idea of courtship and pursuing your mate and then after marriage you become lax and a bit more selfish. When you are falling in love, often you are blind to warning signs.
Stage 2 is “Undisciplined Pursuit of More”. Collins says this is when companies go for more scale, more growth, more acclaim, more of whatever they view as success. Maybe getting into areas they cannot be great at, or growing too fast. In relationships this is when we start doing things that are not best for the relationship, but feel like success. It could be after getting married you need that new house and other material stuff. It could be having children right away. It could be getting married too quickly and not taking time to date and build a foundation. In a dating relationship it may be moving in together and living together, or starting to have sex. In other relationships it could be always doing the things you like instead of finding out what the other person likes.
Stage 3 is called “Denial of Risk and Peril”. At this stage internal warning signs are going off, yet we ignore them and keep doing what we are doing. We might discount negative feedback we get from our spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or friends. We justify behavior and blame external factors for our problems. We think this is just a temporary setback and things will get better soon. We don’t take advice from people trying to help. We hope things will get better, yet don’t make any changes.
Stage 4 is called “Grasping for Salvation”. Things have continued to decline and get worse and now we see there really is a problem. Now we start looking for the quick fix. We start trying to find an easy way to get things back on track. It might be getting a book to read on marriage or relationships. Maybe even starting talking with someone about the problem. We watch Dr. Phil faithfully. Maybe we even start going to church again or get in a small group. Calling your pastor or counselor and schedule an appointment, hoping they can fix this mess.
Stage 5 is called “Capitulation to Irrelevance or death.” This is when the relationship ends. It’s usually when the feeling is hopelessness. Nothing we have tried has worked and we are tired of trying to fix it. It is easier to just end it and move on.
If you have reached stage 4 in any of your relationships, you can pull out of it, but it will take some courage to get back to the basics of rebuilding the foundation. Usually the ones that make it are the ones that are willing to focus on themselves and making personal changes toward being less selfish, stubborn, closed or angry. Forgiveness is usually the key to turning the relationship around and reconciling. I will write more on Forgiveness in my next post.
If your declining, go back and focus on what built the relationship in the first place. Look at yourself and not the other person. Get help early instead of later. Involve God in this process as well. It is always best to start working on your spiritual growth when you are declining in any of your relationships. That tends to be a major reason why things decline, is because people tend to gradually shut God out of their lives and relationships as they decline. Getting back on track with God can help you get back on track relationally.
Why are you so afraid? Jesus spoke those words to his followers after he calmed a storm. It’s a question he is still asking all of us. Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?
Here is what was happening at that time. Jesus had been building his ministry and had attracted many people. He had just spent most of the day teaching the people gathered about the Kingdom of God. He was teaching in stories, and many of the people had trouble understanding the stories and their full meaning. He would always take time to fully explain his stories to his closest followers. The Bible tells us that when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
So after a day of teaching and then explaining the teaching in simple terms to his disciples, he said to his disciples “Let’s go over the other side.” So off they go to cross the Sea of Galilee. This sea is known for having violent and unexpected storms. When the storm hit, these seasoned fishermen panicked, thinking the storm was going to sink the boats and they would drown. As this storm began, Jesus was sleeping. He was tired from a long day of teaching. They finally woke him up and said; don’t you care if we drown?
Does any of this sound familiar? Our lives are full of unexpected violent storms. It often feels like Jesus is sleeping and does not care that we are in this storm. We feel like we need to cry out and wake him up. We want him to keep us safe and take the storm away.
The disciples knew who Jesus was, they believed what he was teaching them, yet they underestimated his power. They did not fully trust that he would not let them drown. We are the same way, we believe in God and may even have read and studied what he has to teach us; yet we don’t fully trust him with the storms that come up in our lives.
Think about the storms in your life-the situations that cause you great anxiety. Whatever your difficulty or challenge, you have two options:
We too often try to take control of the ship and fix things on our own. When we do that and exclude God, he patiently waits for us to come to him and trust him, to put our faith in him.
Here are two lessons we learn in life’s storms:
Traveling through these storms with Jesus in our boat strengthens our faith, develops our character and deepens our relationship with him. That only happens when we completely trust him no matter what comes our way. Even when we don’t understand why something is happening, God wants us to trust him and not be afraid. When we try to lean on our own understanding we will fall down and miss what God has for us.
Proverbs 3:5-6 say “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Leaning means putting our full weight on him, resting on him without fear of falling. God knows what is best for us, because he has a much bigger perspective than we do.
If you are in the middle of a life storm, know that Jesus is in the boat with you, or you can invite him into your boat. Once there, he will never leave you, he will stick with you through the most violent storms imaginable. Lean on him when you don’t know what your next move should be. Trust God completely, he might not make the storm go away, but he will not let you drown.
Proverbs 22:9 says “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”
Serving & helping others helps us to grow spiritually, improves our relationships and blesses us. If that is true, why don’t we serve others more often? Why aren’t we more generous with our time & resources?
Several years ago I went on a mission trip to Biloxi MS shortly after hurricane Katrina hit. I was with a team of 40 people that worked together for a week to help everyone we could. My main job was to find work for our volunteers to do. I would walk from home to home asking how we could help. I got leads from the local church we were staying at as well. We worked hard everyday until it was too dark to work. Some groups worked into the night. WE got up early ready to make a difference; we cleaned up yards, cut up trees, built fences, repaired walls, floors, roofs, doors and even put up a mailbox. We touched many lives that week, we grew in our faith, developed new relationships and strengthened existing ones. We were exhausted, but we all felt blessed more than we could express. Since then I have gone back several times and even gone to the Middle East on mission trips.
On my way back home from that trip I kept thinking; why do we need to go on a mission trip to help and serve people. What would happen if we took that mentality of helping and serving people in need home with us? Could we take the same attitude of serving we had on that trip and apply it in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities we live in?
Most of us don’t serve others as often as we would like to because we are too busy. We miss opportunities because we are so caught up in our daily schedules and habits. When we stop long enough to go on a mission trip our focus changes. We take our eyes of ourselves and our comfort and put it on other people that are hurting and in need of help. We feel amazing, useful, we feel like our life has meaning & purpose.
What if every day could be like that? What if we all would approach this next week like we were on a mission trip? A trip that would take you to your workplace, your family and friends, your neighborhood, your grocery store, your bank, your church, your small group.
How could you serve the people you come into contact with this week? Maybe it’s just a smile and taking the time to listen to someone. It could be doing a random act of kindness like paying for someone’s meal. Maybe it’s playing longer with your kids or doing the dishes every night. Maybe it’s volunteering at your church. Get creative, look for opportunities to serve people and watch your attitude change. I promise you that the more you serve and volunteer the more you will grow spiritually, the better your relationships will get and the more you will feel blessed.
Anytime you are feeling stuck it helps to ask the right questions. Maybe it’s someone else asking you some questions to draw out what is inside you. Maybe it’s asking yourself some questions to reflect on where you are and where you want to go.
For me asking questions has been very helpful in my own growth and also in helping other people grow. I often think about what my next step is in many different areas of my life. It may be my marriage and how I can make improvements in that important relationship. It may be my spiritual growth and relationship with God. I also ask questions about my financial situation and goals and what I can do to improve that area of my life. I also reflect often about my work and what I need to do better as a leader. So whatever area you want to focus on whether personal or work, these questions can help bring some clarity to what your next steps might be.
When you ask the right questions you can dig down to the root issues and start addressing those, instead of the surface stuff. So if you feel stuck, plateaued, or declining in certain areas of your life, ask your self some of these questions. Or have a trusted friend ask them.
The dictionary defines a plateau as a state or level of little or no growth or decline; to stop increasing or progressing; remain at a stable level of achievement; level off. Does that describe any area of your life? Maybe spiritually, physically or relationally.
I have been working out for over 8 weeks now. It is a pretty intense program with a variety of exercises. I kind of felt like I was doing pretty well. I wasn’t sore anymore and I was able to keep up with most of the exercises. On Monday I did a new workout that I had not done yet. Those new exercises were a real challenge for me. I made it through the workout, but I could tell I was being pushed to a higher level of fitness. The next day I could feel the effects of the workout. I was sore and stiff in several areas of my body.
That soreness is an indication that my muscles have been stressed and that they are rebuilding and will be even stronger. Maybe you have been working out for a while doing the same thing. It might be running, walking, biking, basketball or whatever exercise machine you like. If you don’t change up your workouts from time to time your body gets used to it and you plateau.
To go to new levels physically, spiritually, relationally or emotionally you need to change up the way you are doing things.
To keep growing spiritually we need to keep progressing on that journey with God. Many people plateau spiritually because they are not experiencing God in new meaningful ways. Sometimes we get stuck in the same old routine, doing our favorite things.
Churches can also plateau by doing the same thing over and over again. Things that once worked well and where helpful are now just something to be checked off. Churches and individuals need to try some new things and keep it fresh by using some spiritual muscles you may not have used for a while.
So if you feel like you have plateaued spiritually, physically, relationally or emotionally here are some things you can do to get back on track: