Monthly Archives: September 2010

Focus & Self-Discipline

Today I met with a well known highly successful business man. We were talking about potentially partnering together on some ministry initiatives. As we talked it was clear that he was a man of vision, passion and focus. After we talked about the idea of working together he asked a question. So what is our next step?

I think he was testing to see if we had a vision and a plan. He wanted to know how focused we were. I was able to lay out several immediate next steps that we are taking to shape our vision and plan for helping people effectively. It made me think about how important it is to have focus as a leader.

Focus and self-discipline provide the foundation for solid leadership. If a leader gets distracted from the most important things it will cause a loss of energy and productivity. Learning self-discipline is tough. For me I have found that it really helps to develop self-discipline through physical exercise. I have been running for a couple of years and it has helped me to push myself. When I have been disciplined in my exercise and running, I have found myself much more focused on staying fit and healthy.

Here are a few things that may help you to work on focus and self-discipline:

  1. Protect your mind -Whatever you think about the most is what you will tend to focus on. When you fill your mind with the right things it will help you to be disciplined in the areas that will bring you the most success. When you allow lies and deception to fill your mind it leads you down the wrong paths.
  2. Guard your heart -A focused self-disciplined person must prevent old patterns from penetrating their hearts. Everyone has weaknesses and temptations that can creep into their hearts, that can not only distract them, but destroy them.
  3. Guide your lifestyle As a leader it is important to live a life of integrity and character. Lifestyle decisions can lead to distractions and a lack of discipline. This can keep you from being effective and influential.

In order to be focused and self-disciplined, you will need to say no to some good things. You will need to do some things you don’t want to do and give away some things you like to do.

What areas of your life need more self-discipline? Where are you lacking focus? What is distracting you from the important things?

Relationships Are Messy!

Relationships are messy. Think about all your close relationships – no matter who it’s with – it’s messy. Ask yourself these simple questions about your closest relationship:

  • Have you ever felt misunderstood?
  • Have you ever been hurt by what they said?
  • Have you ever felt like you haven’t been heard?
  • Have you ever disagreed on a decision?
  • Have you ever been let down?
  • Have you ever doubted the other person’s love?
  • Has the other person ever doubted your commitment?
  • Have you ever struggled to resolve conflict?
  • Have you ever felt used?
  • Have you ever thought, If I had only known!

These questions confirm that our most valued relationships are often very messy and difficult. In the book of James it says “Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you.” When it comes to relationships, we are our own worst enemy. No wonder the Bible includes so many commands and exhortations to be patient, kind, forgiving, compassionate, gentle and humble. The Bible assumes that our relationships on this side of eternity will be messy and require a lot of work.

The most healthy relationships are the ones that are other-focused instead of self-focused. Our sinful nature though causes us to act in different ways. Here are 6 basic ways we destroy relationships:

  1. Self-Centeredness – What is best for me
  2. Self-Rule – I am in control
  3. Self-Sufficiency – I can handle this on my own
  4. Self-Righteous – Your sin is the problem
  5. Self-Satisfaction – I want just want to be happy
  6. Self-Taught – I don’t need anyone telling me what to do

None of this will improve apart from a growing, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. When our attention turns to God and knowing Him more intimately that is when relationship can begin to improve. We need to plug into God for the ability to love, forgive, be patient, be humble etc.

I believe God has a bigger agenda for our relationships than we do. Our personal agenda is to be happy, or in control, while God’s agenda is for us to become more like Jesus Christ. When we work at our relationships, it puts us in position to be changed by God.

All of us have tried to be the Holy Spirit in another person’s life, trying to work spiritual changes that only God can accomplish. When we step back and look at ourselves and how we can become more like Christ our relationships will benefit. We all struggle or have struggled in a relationship, we wish it would magically get easy, but it does not.

Only God can change a heart. He is present in our struggles and He is fighting on our behalf. James goes on to say in chapter 4 “You want things, but you do not have them. So you are ready to kill and are jealous of other people, but you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You do not get what you want, because you do not ask God. Or when you ask, you do not receive because the reason you ask is wrong. You want things so you can use them for your own pleasures.”

Maybe a change in perspective can change our relationships. God wants to help us, but often times we are so focused on our own agenda we miss His agenda. Start looking for what God’s agenda might be in the midst of your current struggle. Messy relationships are hard, but they help us become better and healthier if we include God.

Life Change

Some of you that know me may have noticed that I wear a green band on my right wrist. The band says Life Change, and I wear it as a reminder that Life Change is why I do what I do.

Let me ask you this, what has changed your life? How have you changed over the last year? Are you changing for the better or worse? Are you growing?

I recently shared my life story with a group of guys I am meeting with monthly. I shared some of the significant things that have happened in my life. Things that have shaped me into the man I am today. As I was sharing, I realized how much I have changed over the years.

For me, my life has changed most at defining moments. Times in which I made decisions about the direction of my life. One of those times was a golf trip with Steve Wingfield where I recommitted my life to Christ. Decisions on the priorities and focus of my life, like the time I surrendered to God at a leadership conference and gave Him control. Other defining moments included several mission trips to Mississippi (Katrina Relief), and the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq).

During these times, God opened my eyes to what could be and what should be. These moments took my faith, character and leadership to higher levels. They also were times in which I built meaningful and long lasting relationships.

Life Change is not just about defining moments or experiences. Life change happens when we work on our relationships. When we make a decision to improve as a husband or wife. When we ask for forgiveness and admit our mistakes. Life change happens when we do the right thing, even though it may have been painful and difficult.

Life change happens when we become more humble and seek help. It happens when we make the decision to be ourselves and not someone else. It also happens when we step out of our comfort zone and do something that really stretches us. Once stretched, we don’t go back to how we were before.

So, are you experiencing life change? What defining moments have shaped your life? Do you need to work on your relationships? Do you need to step out of your comfort zone?

Fasting

Last week Pastor Dwight talked about some practices that can help us grow in our relationship with God. One of those may not be as familiar to some people as things like prayer and giving. Fasting is one way to grow closer to God. It is a discipline of abstinence.

Fasting is abstaining from food for a period of time in order to gain mastery of the physical realm and open us up to the spiritual. Fasting has been around a long time, as a matter of fact the Jews practiced fasting before Jesus came and most religions practice fasting. Jesus just assumed people practiced the discipline of fasting. In Matthew 6:16 he says “When you fast…”

Fasting is not dieting, dieting is about losing weight, looking and feeling better physically. Fasting is about getting closer to God. Fasting is all about denying our appetite to better control our flesh. Russell Nelson says it this way, “Fasting gives you confidence to know that your spirit can master appetite, and helps to protect against later uncontrolled cravings and gnawing habits.”

Most people, myself included are obsessed with food. Our worlds tend to revolve around food or where and when we are going to eat. Many people use food as a way to relieve stress or ease pressure in their lives. Food can be a comfort for some people as well. Fasting puts food in its place. It helps us to have a different perspective on food.

We should never fast just to fast, because we know we should. Just like reading the Bible because we should, instead of desiring to communicate with God. Fasting should be done to repent for our sins or the sins of others. Fasting is a way of showing God that we are serious about sin and do not treat it casually.

Another reason to fast is to deepen your prayer life. Fasting enables us to focus better on prayer. Fasting and praying for another person’s salvation or healing is a common way we should approach a fast. Several years ago the men’s group I was in did this together. We fasted for three days and we each were praying for the same person for healing. We also each had one person that we were praying for their salvation. What a powerful time of growth for all of us in that group.

Here are some benefits of the discipline of fasting:

  1. Peacefulness – Fasting can bring peace to a busy life. When we incorporate solitude, silence, Scripture and prayer with a fast, we can experience amazing peace.
  2. Dependence on God – When we do without something it makes us appreciate it even more. Food is a gift from God, and we often forget that here in America. After ending a fast the food we eat tastes better, and we appreciate it much more.

How to start practicing fasting:

  • Start small – I don’t recommend starting with a 7 day fast.
  • Consider a partial fast – A total fast is abstaining from all food and drinking only water. A partial fast may be fasting from certain types of food like desserts, carbonated beverages or caffeine. The Daniel fast is fasting from all meat and following a strict vegetarian diet. Daniel 1:12
  • Fast from something other than food – One year I fasted from TV for 40 days.
  • Start a special day fast – Pick a day each week that you will fast and have extended times of prayer.
  • Think about a major fast – in time you might aim for an extended fast of three days or more. A friend of mine did a 40 day fast a few years ago.

Start praying now about how fasting may help you in your spiritual journey. It is a good idea to check with your doctor before you do any kind of an extended fast. Some people can’t fast from food because of health reasons. A partial fast or fasting from a non-food item may be best. I want to challenge you to consider fasting as a spiritual discipline.

Four Worldview Questions

What is your take on the world around you? The way in which we see the world around us and the people in it, determine our belief system. It shapes the way we interpret life events, from the simple every day things (No milk for my cereal) to the terrible (a child killed in a car wreck). This take on life shapes our view of ourselves and others and what it means to have a meaningful life. Our take on the world shapes our beliefs, emotions and every day decisions. Each one of us is in a story that we live, moment by moment. We try to find meaning in things and try to find purpose in life.

We sometimes feel helpless and hopeless. We suffer because of the decisions of others. We hurt because of broken relationships. We hurt and suffer because of our own bad decisions. We have moments of happiness and great joy and moments of sadness and despair.

Everything that happens around us and too us goes through a filter or lens that shapes our perspective. The big question then is what lens will we use?

These four questions are a starting point to contemplate our worldview. Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton propose four basic worldview questions:

  1. Where are we? That is, what is the nature of the world in which we live?
  2. Who are we? Or, what is the essential nature of human beings?
  3. What’s wrong? That is, why is the world (and my life) in such a mess?
  4. What’s the remedy? Or, how can these problems be solved?

These questions, and how we answer them, form the backbone of how we interpret our personal stories. It determines how we view our relationships, our work, our families, our struggles, our circumstances and God.

I try to live with a Biblical lens. As a Christian this can be difficult at times because we are so influenced by the world around us. Many Christians do not have a Biblical Worldview, but one that takes several worldviews and meshes it into one that fits our lifestyle. That is why so many Christians get divorced, sue each other, act unethically at work, have affairs, have sex outside marriage, live together before marriage, judge others, look out for ourselves, spend more than they make, file bankruptcy, drink too much alcohol, explode in anger and I could go on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, just because you have a Biblical worldview does not mean you will not struggle and go through hardships. What it does mean is that you will respond in a different way when those things happen. It means you will make different decisions when facing tough circumstances. It means you look to what God has to say before you make decisions. It means you stay close to God and dig into Scripture for answers instead of the world around you. It means you see yourself as a saint, set apart as a child of God. A saint that may suffer hardships and illness and must fight against the temptations to sin.

We are in a bigger story, one being written by God and we get to play a part in that story. So what is your worldview or take on life?

Empathy 101

Are you empathetic? That is a question I have had to ask myself lately. I have been studying this quality called empathy and have been challenged to work on improving this competency in myself.

Here are several definitions of empathy:

“A motivation oriented towards the other” – Daniel Batson

“To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person” – R. R. Greenson

So empathy is to feel what another person feels and to be able to express that emotion yourself. This is a competency that when developed helps you to tune into the other person’s thoughts and feelings. The basic ability to recognize emotions is for most people something you learn as a child. It is almost an unconscious thing you do. Yet it is something that you can improve at and learn to increase accuracy and intensity.

Most people are more able and willing to empathize with people they like or know well. We tend to empathize best with the people closest to us. The more contact we have with someone the more likely we will be in tune with their emotions, unless of course we are not developing this competency.

Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is more about feelings and sympathy is more about actions. You sympathize when you express how sorry or happy you are for them. If you are a highly empathetic person, you are most likely also sympathetic, but a person that is sympathetic and not empathetic can come across as shallow and will not connect emotionally. Their actions or words comes across as more of a conditioned response than a compassionate understanding.

Empathy has some benefits:

  • Empathy connects people together – you are more drawn to someone empathetic.
  • Empathy heals
  • Empathy builds trust

So how do you improve your empathy quotient? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Pay attention – Are you fully present when you are with people? Do you give people your full attention or are you thinking about your next task or appointment? Do you consciencely look for body language signals when talking with someone? Are you conscience of your own body language when you are interacting with someone?
  • Try to get a sense of actually being in the other persons shoes – What would it be like if this was my situation? What must it feel like to have grown up like they did?
  • Imagine the other person as a child – This can be very helpful for people that are irritating or threatening.
  • Ask questions – What was that like? How did you feel? How did you handle that?
  • Look beneath the surface – What does the other person most deeply want? What is broken in their lives?
  • Slow down – When you are running 100 MPH it is very hard to stop and be empathetic.

Of course empathy does not happen if you don’t care about people. Selfish people don’t empathize well. Many leaders struggle with this as well, because they are highly motivated and goal oriented. Empathy takes time and you almost need to go in slow motion to really empathize with someone. If you see the other person as a project, you cannot empathize well.

The best way to increase your ability to empathize with someone is to spend time meditating on God’s word. Meditation has been proven to increase your ability to focus and pay attention. So if you lack the ability to focus or pay attention, then extended times of meditation on God’s word could help you break through some big walls in your life.

To check your empathy Quotient click here