What is your progress report?

image

I’m still hammering out the next post in our Comparison Cure series, but as it is the end of the month, I thought it might be a good time for an accountability post.

Resolutions are a standing joke. People make them and then they break them. Usually within a week…

Tomorrow is the last day of January. One month down, eleven to go. How are you coming on your goals? You may be shifting uncomfortably in your seat, but there’s no need! I’m here to encourage you to pick up the pieces and keep going! If you’re on track, bravo! If you’re way behind, it’s time to lace up those shoes, dust off that bible, break out those knee pads and get crackin!

There are three things we need to do in order to reach our goals:

1) Keep the goal visible.

This year, instead of putting my goals in a journal tucked comfortably away between pages of random notes and assorted thoughts, I put them on my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder. It’s really helped. Some goals haven’t even been touched yet, but I know that I need to get a game plan in place to start working towards them. Ultimately, this is about building good habits.

2) Pace yourself.

There is a vast difference between sprinters and long-distance runners. A sprint requires a burst of energy exceeding our normal output. A long-distance run requires a steady, disciplined pace. It takes endurance.

Hebrews 12 uses the words endure/endured/endurance in the first seven verses. There is a reason the word “endure” is used repetitively. The Hebrew writer is telling us not to give up; we need to press on.

Life is heavy and the race isn’t over until we die. Some people spend the entire race running on treadmills, lounging, running in the wrong direction or alternating between sprints and walks. We have to pace ourselves for the goals—glorifying God and reaching heaven. It’s easy to get worn out, especially on those long, uphill grades.

So it is with our more menial goals. Set a reasonable pace: you may have to sprint on occasion, but do not wear yourself out with a reckless pace and be on the look out for sluggishness. If you have set for yourself a goal that will burn you out before you get anywhere, you may need to adjust it.

3) Check your progress.

As I mentioned in my post, “Setting Goals That Last,” it’s important to have a method of measuring or tracking your progress. If you are wanting to lose weight, how much? How often do you track it? One of the most helpful things I did when I lost 25 pounds was to weigh in once a week and take body measurements. There were days I’d feel as though I was making no progress, but once I checked my measurements—even if the scale told a different tale—I saw progress (even if it was minute at times).

Lest you think I’m some organized superhero, I’d like to share a brief progress report on a few of my own goals. I have a long way to go!

Elihu’s Progress Report

  1. Read the bible every day to grow closer to God. 29 days out of 30. Outstanding! I’ve missed one day this month.
  2. Pray alone daily. 21/30. Needs improvement.
  3. Walk a minimum of 3 times per week. (Results unavailable due to poor tracking) Needs improvement. This one started off well, but between sickness, inclement weather, travel, etcetera it just hasn’t happened. So I went for a walk yesterday and I’m planning three good walks this coming week! I started tracking my activity with my Fitbit last week and monitoring my food intake. have been trying to keep moving during the day so that even if I don’t get a walk in, I still burned calories. I can still make this happen!
  4. Memorize 6 Bible chapters (1 chapter every two months). 2 verses out of 29. Needs improvement. For January and February, I’ve been working on Hebrews 12. In thirty days, I’ve only memorized two verses. Two! There are 29 verses! So, I know what needs to happen. I need to either adjust my target or ramp up the effort. I have 31 days left to memorize 27 verses. It’s time to recruit help from the family. I need people to quiz me and hold me accountable.

I don’t know how it is for everyone, but January has always been an odd month for me. It’s like a warm-up period. Don’t allow it to suspend your momentum.

How are you doing on your goals?

Leave a note in the comment Section!

If your goals include bible study, memorization or prayer, check out these old posts:

3 Steps to Daily Prayer in 2016

5 Benefits of Memorizing Scripture (and 4 ways to do it!) 

4 Ways to Study Your Bible in 2016

 

Comparison Cure #1: Contentment

This is the second post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the first post, click here.

image

In the previous post, I talked about the disease I termed “why-me-itis” which is caused by a lack of essential spiritual nutrients. The first and most foundational of these nutrients is contentment.

Our high-powered culture tells us that if we apply ourselves and work hard, we can have the American Dream—2 (or more) new cars, a fancy-schmancy house in a good neighborhood, highly talented children, a fat 401(k) and all the latest and greatest toys. If you fall short of this dream, the unspoken assumption is that you are unmotivated and lazy. You should have more, you deserve more, you need more.

America has drawn people from all over the world with the prospect of gain through persistence. Stories abound of men and women who began with nothing and proceeded to build financial empires (all through their own blood, sweat, tears, and fierce motivation, of course). The

The mantra today says the only thing holding people back from wealth is laziness, incompetence and unrighteousness. If you would just work harder/take an extra job/get that degree/follow these ten steps/win the Powerball, then you can be like [insert millionaire’s name]. There are several prominent Christian teachers promoting the notion that if you live a godly life, then you should have wealth, and prosperity; your sin and incompetence are holding you back. You can have more if you are godly enough.

These ideas—which are not all inherently bad (I am referring to the hard work part)—create a competitive environment. These things may drive people to excel, but, more often than not they create stressed-out, worried, debt-ridden and discontented people who look around at their shiny happy neighbors and wonder why they have it so easy while they themselves are struggling. We compare our lack of happiness to the perceived happiness of others. This type of comparison steals our priceless joy and replaces it with cheap ingratitude.

As Christians we deserve better things. These better things cannot be bought with money—they are the riches of Christ. Love. Joy. Peace.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6.3-10, ESV, emphasis mine

Instead of a consuming covetousness, Christ calls us to satiating contentment.

Notice what Paul says: “godliness with contentment is great gain.” It doesn’t say godliness with contentment will bring you great gain. No. The gain is in the discovery. That powerful combination creates an abundance mentality. It says, “I have what I need, and I will also share it.” If our motivation for being godly is to acquire more creature comforts, power, authority, romantic love, children etcetera, then we have it all backwards and God (who knows the secrets of our hearts) will not count us righteous anyway.

So, first things first. Let’s do a heart check to see if we have contentment deficiency. 

Take a moment and answer the following questions:

1) Name 3 great people. What makes them great? Do you want to be like them. Why?

2) Make a list of all the things going wrong in your life, then make a list of your blessings.

3) If you were relegated to making just enough to keep your family in a small house, fed, clothed and with a roof over your head, would you still be thankful?

So, now that you’ve answered those questions, consider: why do you admire those great people in question one? If you admire them because they are rich or talented or because they accomplished some amazing feat, then you might have a contentment deficiency. I admire talented people, but that does not make them great people. I stand in awe of Navy seals, but, as Yoda sagely observed, “wars do not make one great.” I am amazed by the way some people acquire and manage their wealth, but that doesn’t mean they have character. Great people are those who have given everything for something far greater than themselves. (Read Hebrews 11 for a few ideas).

How does your list of problems compare with your list of blessings? Which one is greater? If, under your blessings, you have salvation through Christ, it should make that long list of problems look teeny. If your list of problems is longer and weightier, you might have a contentment deficiency.

If you had to live with nothing more than the bare essentials, would you still be happy? The easy answer is yes, but I think the harder and more accurate answer is that it would be a challenge. My own learning curve would be steep! If your essential needs would not satisfy, then you likely have a contentment deficiency.

3 things to consider about contentment:

1) With great power comes great responsibility

I believe point 1 is a quote from Spiderman, but I have heard similar sentiments throughout literature. Many who desire power and wealth do not necessarily know how to handle it. It takes prowess to effectively manage money and leadership. Many Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA players make millions of dollars per year playing sports, retire young (or get injured) then end up broke soon afterward. Doesn’t that shock you? In one year they make more money than some people make in twenty and after ten years of such exorbitant salaries they go broke?! It comes down to poor management and greed. They were ill-equipped to handle the great responsibility they were given. Recall the above passage: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction…”

What do most of us do with our wealth? We buy high-priced, lattes, new clothes, nice cars, vacations, new technology, better houses, good food, invest in college savings plans and 401(k)s—in short, we spend our wealth on ourselves. How much of that wealth is given to others? How much is set aside to make provision for your family’s future security or your own health?

In America, most of us have more than basic food and clothing. We have abundance. We possess great wealth and yet we still grasp for the next big thing. We need to be better stewards of what we do have before acquiring what we don’t.

Instead of bemoaning your current lack of wealth, focus your mind on giving thanks for what God has given you. Make a list of things that are troubling you—your marriage, your children, your debts, whatever—and take them to the Lord in prayer. Ask him to help you be a better steward of what he’s given you. If your marriage is on the rocks, make fixing it a priority. If your money is the problem, turn to a good financial advisor and learn how to budget. Ask God to help you manage the things that are within your circle of influence before expecting or reaching for more.

2) Contentment is learned.

The American culture may be unique in that people of any class, race, gender and creed have the ability to become powerful and wealthy, but it is not unique in fostering the desire for fame and fortune. It seems to be inherent in us humans to crave more than what we have.

Eve lived in the garden of Eden—a literal paradise. The temperature was so pleasant she didn’t even need clothes (and didn’t know what they were). Food was abundant and didn’t even have to be paid for (what’s money?). She had a husband who kept her company (she didn’t have to go win his heart as there was no competition) and God walked and talked with them every day.

She had it all.

And yet, there was something she didn’t have. And it was on that tree that God said not to touch.

The serpent fanned the flames of curiosity and discontent. “When you eat of it…you will be like God…” Hissed the serpent. “The tree will make me wise,” she thought, forgetting the commandment of God in her craving for more. (Read the full context here).

Now, being like God and being wise are inherently good things, but the fact of the matter was, God had already made her like him and wisdom would be supplied in ever greater measure as they continued to spend time together. But the seeds of craving were sown. Eve disobeyed God in her desire for more. I often wonder if, after losing paradise, she learned contentment or if her life was full of bitterness and sorrow.

Let’s fast-forward now to Paul, who wrote the above-referenced passage to Timothy, and also wrote the following passage to the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

~ Philippians 4.11-13, ESV, emphasis mine

He said, “I have learned… To be content…. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

How did he learn contentment? He learned through experience. He discovered he could only do it through Christ who strengthened him. Only through Christ can we maintain a state of contentment. It is not our circumstances that create contentment, it is submission to Christ.

3) Contentment is not resignation or laziness

Proverbs speaks a great deal about lazy people and the concept that diligence leads to wealth. It also talks about how it is better to be poor with love than rich with strife. Sometimes what we do not have (even marriage, children, authority etcetera) may be for our own good. If someone is not married, does that mean they are too lazy to get a wife or husband? I suppose it’s probable, but highly unlikely. Even the apostles recognized that there are times when singleness would be more preferable than marriage. So it is with any earthly blessing.

Consider something with me for a moment. You may not agree with this, but it’s food for thought: Righteousness does not entitle people to earthly ease. God gives the righteous prosperity and power only when it serves His purpose.

Think of the righteous people in the Bible who were prosperous. I think of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (on occasion), Joseph (late in life), Boaz, David, Daniel (on occasion) Job (before and after testing). There are probably more, but these are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. There were some wealthy Christians and people who believed in Christ. As Margaret Thatcher sagely pointed out, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” Money, influence etcetera is sometimes needed to bring about God’s purpose, On the flip side, people often demonstrate more influence and character by what they do when they lack these things.

Job, for example, did not “curse God and die” as his wife advised. Do you know what he said? “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In earlier verses he also remarked, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” There was a man with his head on straight.

Now, consider those in the Bible who were righteous and lacking in creature comforts: Joseph (in his early years), Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, most of the prophets, John the Baptist, the apostles, many of the early Christians (who often had their wealth confiscated after being imprisoned), and—most notably—Christ. They did not have cushy lives, nor were they lazy or godless. You see, the two are not mutually linked. Jesus could have been born into a powerful royal family and he could have brought his message to the most influential and intellectual thinkers of the day. Instead, he was born in a nowhere town in despised Judea under the crushing might of the Roman Empire. His parents were so poor they could only sacrifice a pair of doves. During his ministry he had nowhere to lay his head. He died a shameful death.

Are we more righteous than the Son of God? Are we more diligent than he?

On both points, I have to give a most emphatic “NO!”

In that case, do we deserve more than Jesus?

Hmmm…

The point is this: if we have been given wealth (which, as I said earlier, most of us have), then we have a great responsibility. The people in the Bible who prospered had similar blessings granted to them in order to accomplish a specific purpose. Those who were deprived of such things had a different purpose and were not burdened or ensnared by riches. God supplied their needs. Jesus, though poor, resonated with people because of how he taught, the love he demonstrated, the miracles he performed and the absolute paradox of it all. He had such sway that those in authority feared him and yet he had no standing army or organization.

Contentment, then, is making the most of the gifts we’ve been given and not bemoaning what we’ve been denied. Contentment is the ability to find God’s blessings in any and every circumstance and harboring gratitude for them.

There is nothing wrong with building wealth or working hard to prosper, but don’t forget the most important things. If you neglect your family, your faith and/or your God, it will all be meaningless. You will have gained the lesser, temporary gift and lost priceless treasures.

How do we learn contentment?

Practice gratitude. Find something to be thankful for in every situation. Say it. Write it. Whatever. Verbalize it in some way.

Create a thankfulness jar. Each day, have every person in your home write down something they are thankful for. At the end of each month, go through the jar and give thanks in prayer for those blessings. (I liked this idea here.)

Truly rejoice with those who rejoice. When feelings of resentment or envy creep in tell yourself (out loud if necessary) that it is wonderful that God has blessed them. You may not actually feel that way, but make it a habit to express it. Then, take your heartache to the Lord and ask Him to help you destroy those feelings of envy and bitterness. Write them in your prayer journal and only pray about it when it comes to mind. At some point you’ll look back and be surprised you felt that way! You may feel that this is dishonest in some way. It is not. Sometimes the right action has to come ahead of the emotion in order to properly train the internal response.

Analyze why you want a certain thing and place your request in God’s hands. Remember, if it doesn’t happen the way you think it should, God desires to give you better things. He wants you to become like Him and draw closer to Him. If your particular request will draw you away from either purpose then ask God to defeat it. This may seem counterintuitive, but we have to train our minds to be aware that God really is wiser than us and has our best interest at heart. I’d rather hear no and trust God’s plan then get a yes and be lead astray by my selfish desires.

Do you have any regular ways of practicing contentment and gratitude? Please share them in the comments below!

 

Why do other people have it so easy?

image

Marla stood in the doorway, her arms wrapped around herself like a shield, gazing bitterly all the shiny happy people in the building.

To her left stood an attractive young blonde in a stunning red dress. Her highlighted hair was neatly curled in the latest style. She looked as though she had just stepped out of the cover of Vogue. Nice dress. She thought. Katy always has nice, new clothes. I’m always rotating the same three or four outfits.

Her eyes wandered over to Mike and Jamie, a lovely young married couple surrounded by ladies with their eyes alight, all focused on a little bundle of pink. The ladies were waiting for a chance to hold the pink bundle that was, at the moment, nestled quietly in Jamie’s arms.

Ah, yes. Whispered the bitter voice in her head, They just had a baby. A healthy baby. No infertility issues there. Perfect husband. Perfect house. Gets to stay at home with her baby and be free from money worries.

Finally, her gaze fell upon a smartly dressed woman, her brown hair streaked with gray, but not in an unattractive way. Her brown eyes held a warm serenity and some other indefinable quality. She had squeezed Marla affectionately and gazed with compassion at her, as though she could sense the turmoil roiling within.

Marla let out a sigh. Then there’s Lena. Always so calm, sweet and peaceful. She never struggles with her faith. She always makes great comments in class. Everyone respects her. Elder’s wife. Perfect life.

The young woman’s eyes darted quickly to the ceiling to hold back the tears threatening to betray her torrential emotions. Everyone had it so easy! Why couldn’t she get a break?! Marla’s family was deeply in debt and barely scraping by. Her only child (for she had only been able to have one) had health issues creating behavioral problems. Her husband was only working part time and she was pulling down 50 hours a week just to make ends meet. She suspected that he wasn’t being entirely faithful either. Her mind probed past memories, reaching desperately for some happier time, but all that it found were broken dreams.

She turned away, her soul full of anger and bitterness. It doesn’t matter what I do, everything goes wrong! God doesn’t love me, I just know it! If He did, life wouldn’t be so hard! Maybe I’m not righteous enough. 

Everyone else has it so easy! Everyone, but me. Why me, Lord? Why me?!

Have you ever thought something along these lines?

If Marla only knew…

Katy has nice clothes, but struggles with overspending. She and her husband are having arguments about money at least once a day. They have two credit cards maxed out and their marriage is falling apart at the seams.

Mike and Jamie miscarried five times before having their baby, and Jamie suffered from gestational diabetes during the pregnancy. Mike nearly lost his job at the five-month mark, only just missing the pink slips at the corporate office. He is likely to be on the next chopping block and is looking anxiously for a new job to support his family. His wife may have to return to work in a few months if he gets the ax.

Lena—the calm, composed woman—nearly committed suicide during her battle with depression. Her youngest daughter died at age three from cancer, and she has been dealing with the grief for fifteen years. She spent a lot of time asking God why and nearly lost her faith. Even now, the grief tugs on her soul.


I used to be a bit like Marla. In my younger years I did everything that I thought I was supposed to do—graduated second in my class in high school, attended a high-quality university, graduated cum laude with a good industrial degree and felt poised for financial success. My life—though I consider it a very blessed one—has not played out quite in the way I expected. Unfortunately, life rarely plays out the way we expect it to, no matter how goal-oriented we may be. Thought I am ashamed to admit it, I have often looked at my friends and acquaintances and wondered why they seemed to “have it so easy.” (If you are one of those acquaintances reading this, know that I love you and I’m sorry if I ever thought of you in this way. God is a good teacher and I know better now). I wonder how many times people looked at me and thought the same.

It’s only been in recent years that I have come to realize a very critical truth: everyone suffers, but we all suffer at different times and in different ways. That couple going to Hawaii may finally be getting a much-deserved respite. That elderly woman in her comfortable home may have spent years being moved all over the country and is finally getting to enjoy some creature comforts and stability.

I remember a young woman who attended worship with us, looking at our new, very “quiet and easy baby” and remarking, “It’s SO not fair that you have such an easy baby. You guys are both so calm and easy-going. Why can’t you guys get the hard baby?” Little did she know the curse she was pronouncing on us would come to fruition in its own good time. My “quiet and easy” baby would grow to become our most challenging child.

My friends, we need to carefully examine our hearts. What I am describing is envy, jealousy, covetousness and bitterness—all of which we are called to abandon in our walk with Christ. As I have indicated, I am not immune. In our darkest moments, we fall prey to the “why me” tick. It plays repeatedly in our minds like a scratchy broken record.

I call it “Why-me-itis,” A disease characterized by envy, jealousy, covetousness and bitterness. Those suffering from whymeitis have a habit of saying (or thinking) “why me and not them” on a regular basis. Past observations have shown that most people suffer from the disease, but it does not become fully apparent until misfortune falls upon them or someone they love and admire.

There are 5 remedies for “whymeitis” that I will expound upon in the next five posts:

  1. Contentment
  2. Acceptance
  3. Humility
  4. Compassion
  5. Love

These five remedies may seem obvious, but they are like essential nutrients. We know that our bodies need vitamin D, vitamin C, omega 3s, magnesium, amino acids etcetera, but how often do we neglect to supply our bodies with these nutrients? Our souls, hearts and minds may be nutrient deficient in that we are low in one of those five essentials. Nutrient deficiency in the body causes decay; nutrient deficiency in the soul will also lead to decay, stunted spiritual growth and rottenness.

I hope you’ll join me in this series and that each of us will strive to be more like Jesus; not just in our actions, but in our hearts and minds.

 

 

5 Benefits of Memorizing Scripture (and 4 ways to do it!)

Even if you hate memorization of anything, you need to read this post!

There seems to be a trend to dismiss memorization as a worthless practice. It is not. Nor is it only for middle school kids. Children as young as two can commit verses to memory, especially if those verses are put to music. (For a great article on memorization from edutopia.org, click here.)

Consider the following five benefits to memorizing scripture:

1) The ability to make connections.

Critics of the Bible LOVE to talk about all the “apparent” contradictions within its pages, but rarely—if ever—mention the connections. There are themes and even similar phrases used throughout the Bible which point to an ultimate Editor, (and it wasn’t the translation committee). When you commit verses to memory, those connections become more apparent. The Bible talks a great deal about God’s justice, mercy, faithfulness and love. It recommends, time and time again the need to put trust in the Lord and shows us the scheme of redemption the God set in motion from the beginning.

2) The ability to think critically.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a passage misused, I’d have more money than the Powerball winner. If you begin to commit the word (and not the precepts of men) to memory and imprint it on your heart, you begin to spot improper teaching as clearly as a blood stain on a white sheet—and it will be just as disturbing!

3) Memorization stimulates meditation

If you memorize something without really thinking about it, you will have a harder time committing it to your brain. Math facts, for instance, should not be drilled into a child unless they are already practicing those facts. My daughter is learning subtraction. The program has her begin with -0, then -9, -8, doubles etcetera and the worksheets practice each concept. The child is encouraged to build the problem with blocks, write the answer and then say the whole math sentence, “six minus zero equals six.” Concurrently, the program encourages memorization of those facts via flash cards or other drilling method so that they are firmly planted in the child’s mind. It’s quite effective!

Right now, I am working on memorizing Hebrews 12, two to three verses at a time. It’s amazing how much more meaning one grasps when each word has to be mastered and not just the overall gist of the text. Both are necessary, but the meaning becomes more deeply fixed and understood in the process. In the first two verses, the version I’m memorizing says, “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a could of witnesses…” If you see the word, “therefore” you need to remember (or find out) what it is “there for.” That word should be part of your understanding of the verse, which means you ought to read chapter 11 to find out more about this great cloud of witnesses and what they did. “We also” indicates that the author wants us (the Christians) to apply what follows to ourselves.

4) During dark times, the Spirit recalls those verses to mind to comfort, strengthen, encourage and correct us.

I am going to walk out on a limb here, so please don’t chop it off without considering the entirety of what I’m about to say.

I do not presume to know exactly how the Holy Spirit works, but I firmly believe that we limit Him when we choose to remain ignorant of the Word. I can only speak from my personal experience about this. In some of the darkest, most agonizing moments when I have cried out to God with the inevitable “why” or “you feel so far away, where are you” questions, the Spirit recalls to mind such passages as “I will never leave you nor forsake you” or “we walk by faith and not by sight” or “this I recall to mind, therefore I have hope: through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed…” In moments of temptation, scriptures gently roll into the forefront of my mind, urging me to do better (like “do not let the sun go down on your wrath” or “if you do not love your brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?”) Anger, resentment, lack of love—just a few of many subtle temptations! God is trying to work these things out of me. I need to train my mind to be more receptive to His desires and less plugged in to the ways of the world.

I have never heard an audible “voice,” in these moments, and I’m confident some psychologist or cognitive scientist could explain it all away, but consider: who created the mind? God! How he chooses to work on it, in it or through it is far beyond me. I have drawn great comfort from those moments when I hear the Words of God leap into my mind so sharply and I am confident that it is the Holy Spirit working within me.

5) The ability to defend the faith on the spot, even without a Bible in your possession.

My spouse may jokingly call me the walking concordance, but it is not true. There’s been plenty of times I haven’t been able to recall where I’ve read something and honestly, there are times I can only remember what side of the page it’s on in my particular bible. Memorization solidifies these things and helps us to be more effective contenders for the faith.

Memorization is a wonderful thing, but what are some effective ways to do it?

Consider the following 4 methods:

1) Music 

This is, by far, my favorite technique. The only problem with this method in most cases is that scripture set to music doesn’t have the reference and you’d have to memorize it separately. When my oldest daughter was 4, the curriculum we purchased for her homeschooling included a disc called Sing the Word from A to Z. The majority of the melodies were either familiar or catchy and the verses were usually repeated at least twice along with the reference. I’ve memorized quite a bit of them along with my kids. Every so often I’ll hear old memory verses drifting down the hall from the voices of my children. It’s a great way to memorize! On a side note, it’s not something I enjoy listening to for its musicality. The bulk of the music is done via synthesizer and that might jangle the nerves of some. It rattle mine for a little while until I saw the results in my kids.

I can quote Psalm 23 not because we took the trouble to memorize it, but because the church sings hymns on occasion that quote from it. After hearing and singing them throughout my life, they are firmly fixed in my brain. There are hymns and songs like that all over the place.

If anyone knows of any good songs or CDs they have had success with, please share in the comments below.

2) Writing

I may love to read, but I tend to be a bit of a speed reader. If something is familiar to me, I have a difficult time slowing myself down to really absorb it. During my college years, I found my most effective study method was writing. I would take my short-hand notes and rewrite them, often adding additional info I remembered from the lecture and writing any particular critical fact that had to be memorized on a 3×5 card for instant review. I didn’t have to cram for finals quite so much because the practice of rewriting my notes helped me commit them to memory. Is it time-consuming and tedious? Yes. But why do you think the old Jewish Scribes knew the law so intimately? They knew it because they copied it over and over and over again.

Also, as you put pen to paper, words that you have overlooked will jump out, deepening the meaning. Pay special attention to the flow of thought. What point is being made? What is the process of reasoning? Having that in order will help you recall the phrasing properly.

So grab a fun sheet of paper and some fun pens and start copying the verses you are wanting to memorize. Get creative and make certain words more noticeable with color or artistry. It really helps!

3) Auditory.

Many people learn best by listening. Music is an auditory method, but you have to have something set to music in order to listen to music. Hearing the verse—whether through audio bible or having someone read it to you from your 3×5 card—repeatedly will help in the memorizing process.

4) Iron sharpening

This method requires at least two people. When I went through college, the preacher at my congregation had a Tuesday night bible study for the college kids. At multiple points throughout the study, he would spontaneously ask us to quote a verse that he wanted to reference. He would say (for example), “you know what 2 Timothy 2:15 says…”

[Crickets…uncomfortable shifting in our seats.]

He would resume, “ok, I’ll start it for you: ‘Be diligent to present yourselves…”

The light bulbs would start flashing over heads and one of us or all of us would be able to either quote or paraphrase the rest.

He would also ask us where a particular account could be found, like the sermon in the mount. He’d give us a hint like, “it can be found in the early part of Matthew…” Then we’d dredge up the chapters from somewhere in the recesses of our minds. By the time I graduated college, someone could ask me where an account or a certain topic was located and I could name—if not the chapter—then at least the book. It was such a great teaching tool. I wish more teachers taught that way!

Have your friend or spouse or child work on memorization with you. Have them start and you continue or the other way round. Quiz each other at random. It will benefit you both just as “iron sharpens iron.”

Don’t discount memorization. Just like daily bible reading and daily prayer, this isn’t a self-justification or gold-star winning process. We don’t memorize or study or pray so that we can puff out our chest and proclaim what awesome Christians we are. We commit these things to our heart so that God can make us more like Him. We do these things to renew the mind and be transformed.

Do you memorize scriptures? What methods do you use? What are you currently working on?

Am I walking by faith or frozen with fear?

image

What follows is a long post and I hope you will bear with me through the end. It could be that you will not relate to this in any way; or its just possible that you also are faced with terrible storms that make you want to change course. Whatever the case, I hope this will be edifying to you.

As many of my long time readers and personal acquaintances are aware, 2015 was a very challenging year for me and my family. I won’t go into great detail, but we have dealt with a disability that brought about medical retirement and have been searching for new job opportunities since August. We’ve been waiting for doors to open, putting out resumes and preparing for some lean times. We’ve been busy during our wait and praying hard for direction and strength.

Around Christmas, we got a phone call—a potential job opportunity in Texas. Houses, food, gas (pretty much everything) is cheaper in Texas. We could do more than just “get by” over there.

My immediate reaction was resistance and—though I am ashamed to admit it—fear

Texas is flat!

How can we move so far away from my parents and in-laws?

That part of Texas doesn’t have much natural beauty…

How would the kids handle being uprooted?

How would we afford the move?

But it’s Texas!

I’m a native Californian… I won’t fit in.

We have to leave behind orchestra, my daughter’s truly awesome violin teacher and our homeschool group.

I’ll be even further from the coast!

Why Texas?

Fortunately, 2015 was a year of significant spiritual growth. So, even though my mind was all flashing lights and blaring sirens, I knew that I needed to take it all to the Lord. So I prayed and pondered. I talked to my spouse, then prayed and pondered some more. I started sounding out friends and family and prayed even more. Slowly but surely I began to see all the positives. If this is the direction God wants us to take, then He will help us through it. I need to trust Him to do what He has always done.

No final decision has been made as we are still doing our homework, which includes an upcoming trip to assess the potential of the job offers, the housing and the local churches. As all these things have been unfolding, I was struck by something, but I kept it to myself until about a week ago.

I thought of the Israelites.

I can hear you groaning: “Oh no! Not more about the Israelites, Elihu!” I see so many of my own foibles in them that I feel compelled to write about them and—hopefully—learn from their mistakes.

I thought of the account in Numbers 13 when the Israelites had reached the edge of the Promised Land and they sent twelve spies to check it out. The account even lists the names of these men. Two men of faith and then men of infamy…

They don’t hop on google to look at photos, crime stats and housing prices. They don’t get a birds-eye view from Google Earth. Not having the benefit of modern technology, they pack their walking sticks and maybe the last bit of the day’s manna and quail ration and head in on foot. The rest of the Israelites pace about for forty anxious days waiting for their return. They may have been thinking,”Do you think it’ll be as amazing as God says? I wonder how hard it will be to move in?”

At the end of forty days, the twelve men return with more than what they packed. They have fruit! Mouthwatering, savory, sweet, colorful fruit! When all you’ve had is manna and quail for months, fruit is pretty exciting.

With twelve different men, one would anticipate twelve different perspectives. It came down to two: fear vs faith.

Let’s read the account:

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.

And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”

Joy of joys! This is what God had promised! He wasn’t making it up, and the men had brought back evidence. Can you imagine seeing fruit after eating nothing but quail and manna for months?

How do you think the Israelites are going to react? Are they going to rush eagerly toward their new home?

Hang on to your hats, the men have more to say:

“However…

Uh-oh. This can’t be good…

“…the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

Houston, we have a problem. This won’t be as easy as we thought! Lions, and tigers, and bears—oh my!

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Whoa. Why did Caleb think they could take the land? They didn’t have chariots, horses or battering rams. They were just a rag-tag assortment of ex-slaves! How could they overcome these gigantic, well-armed people?

Read on:

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.””

So…. who’s giving the correct assessment? Is Caleb having delusions of grandeur or are these men cowards?

Fear says: Freeze! Don’t go another step! We can’t do this!

Faith says: Yes, this is daunting, but God and I make a majority. God promised this land and He wants us to take it. He’ll lead us through it one step at a time.

Faith trusts God in spite of fear.

Faith moves trembling feet forward.

This story isn’t over….

So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?

Oh the agony! One minute, the promised land is within their grasp, the next minute they are lead to believe they cannot have it. Instead of pausing to consider or even praying about their fear, they weep and wail.

Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”

Seriously?!

They wanted to go back to slavery? They must be mental!

It’s doubtful the people of Egypt would have welcomed them back with open arms. It’s more likely they would have killed them on the spot. And yet, how often do we make outlandishly stupid statements at the height of our anxiety?

The minority is going to speak:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel,

“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.

Joshua and Caleb—two small but strong voices of reason. Two voices who speak from faith, not fear. In the turmoil of emotion, the people pick up stones to kill them (hmmm…. Sound familiar?)

“The Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

I would venture to guess (and it is only a guess) that Joshua and Caleb had been noting, with gratitude and awe, all the ways in which God had cared for them since they had left Egypt: the manna, the quail, the longevity of their clothes and shoes, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, and the water in the wilderness. They had seen a mighty empire defeated without a single spear tossed. All these wondrous things they had committed to their heart. They had confidence in the power of the Lord.

I would also guess (though, again, I could be wrong) that these men had a huge adrenaline rush when they saw the Anakim and the fortified cities. I’m confident they were a little scared. Fear is a natural reaction to such things. Joshua and Caleb didn’t know how God would defeat their enemies, they simply trusted that he could. They feared God more than they feared the Canaanites. Their faith held more sway than their fear.

How often do we fail to see God’s provisions, both small and large, and consider ourselves entitled to those blessings? Such a mindset will lead to a lack of trust and progress in our walk with God.

What was the outcome of this account?

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.

Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.

According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.

(The above passages are from Numbers 13 and Numbers 14. As always, I suggest reading the full context.)

Oops.

Confident, courageous faith will take you beyond what seems possible, guard you through perils unthinkable and carry you to heights incomprehensible.

An unhealthy fear of everything but God will paralyze you, leaving you to wander about life barely subsisting, never quite tasting the joy that comes from trusting in the Lord.

As I thought about this possible move, I had to ask myself—Am I going to walk by faith or freeze with fear?

I wondered, “Am I being offered the chance for better things and forsaking it for the comfort of my known wilderness?” During a discussion one evening about our possible future, my spouse began comparing the situation to the Israelite spies.

I burst out laughing. Our thoughts were nearly identical.

So, the two of us are going to go “spy out the land” as it were. This choice will have a huge impact on our family one way or another and I would be dishonest to say it doesn’t matter. I want this choice to be positive not simply so we can be “better off” financially, but so our family will grow in the Lord. If living in this new place wold damage that, I’d rather not go. If staying here will weaken us, I’d rather not stay. Unfortunately, I cannot see all the far-reaching implications, but I have confidence in my God who does see and whose wisdom is so far beyond my own.

Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have any sort of promised land on this earth. Our promised land lies beyond this life. Yet the choices we make today have long-term consequences that impact our spiritual health. I’d rather have a dinner of herbs with God in my home, than a sumptuous feast without Him. I want my choices—even these piddly ones like moving—to fulfill God’s purpose on this earth. No matter where he leads me, I need to be making Him the goal with each breath. It could be this door is opening just to reveal it’s the wrong one. Who knows?

Seek the Lord’s guidance each step of the way and remember that the promised land lies beyond this earth. Don’t let your fear keep you from it. Walk by faith.

 

Do you really know the Lord?

Today, I am posting at the Isaiah 53:5 project. A big thank you to the blog’s owner, James, for giving me and many other bloggers the opportunity to contribute on his blog.

The Isaiah 53:5 Project

image

“Thus says the Lord:

“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,

let not the mighty man boast in his might,

let not the rich man boast in his riches,

but let him who boasts boast in this,

that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.

For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.””

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9:23-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We may not strut about declaring how wise, how strong, or even how rich we are, yet to some extent we place our confidence in these things. In the chapters preciding the above text, Jeremiah was prophesying for the Lord about the many sins of the Israelites. We would do well to learn from their failings.

What do you know more intimately: the battles of the World War II or the ways in which God distributes mercy and…

View original post 369 more words

3 Steps to Daily Prayer in 2016

image taken from warroommovie.com
image taken from warroommovie.com

One of my goals for 2016 is to develop regular, quality prayer time alone with God.

How do we get in the habit of praying daily like Jesus?

Step 1: Set up a regular time.

If you do not pray regularly at all and are trying to get into the habit, I suggest that you start by praying at meal times because meals are regular. If you are already doing that, it’s time to advance to the next level.

Pray in the morning before going about your daily routine and in the evening before you sleep. This level is particularly challenging because we don’t always hop out of bed. Sometimes we fall back asleep and hit the snooze button a few times. Set your alarm ahead by 15-20 minutes and get out of bed. I know it’s hard, especially when it’s so cold this time of year, but get on your knees and pray next to your bed. If you think you’ll be undisturbed, make yourself a cup of coffee first, have a few sips and then pray. In the evening, try to pray before you lay down so that you don’t fall asleep mid-prayer. Again, this might be challenging. Find a routine that works for you.

Step 2: Setup a prayer minder

The scriptures say nothing about Jesus carrying around a scroll of prayer requests, but we are not Jesus. He had divine insight and power. We are far weaker and constantly inundated with distractions. We need reminders.

When I took Speech 101, the class was encouraged to write the highlights of our speech on a notecard and then give our speech from memory using the note card as a reference. Certain specificities—like statistics—that would be difficult to remember were also written on this card. While prayer isn’t exactly a speech, it is a time when we approach the throne of grace to lay our petitions before the Lord. Imagine if you were to stand before the Queen of England or the President of the United States and bring them a request. You wouldn’t just wing it, would you? You might, depending on the circumstance, but if you had a formal audience with them, I’d bet you’d take time to write it down.

Bring your 3×5 or 4×6 card or prayer journal with your specific requests so you don’t forget to talk to God about them. Sometimes you might be reading your prayer from the cards, but I prefer to think of these lists as the critical points I need to address so I don’t leave them out. I’m going to pour forth what’s in my heart with or without it, but I don’t want to forget that person or two relying on me and other brethren to make petition on their behalf.

Here are 3 types of Prayer minders:

A Prayer Box. My good friend Sheena shared this with me several months ago. This is a regular old index card box with a prayer request on each card and two dividers: Requests and Answered. As the cards pile up behind the answered tab, you’ll see more and more what the Lord has done.

A Prayer Journal. This is similar to the prayer box. Writing down requests, the date you began your requests and writing the date those requests were answered.

A War Room. I absolutely loved the concept laid out in the movie War Room of having a small, quiet space to pray with specific prayer requests pinned to the wall. I, unfortunately, do not have a closet that large, so I will be using one of the other two options this year.

No matter which method you prefer, get one that fits your personality and run with it. The idea is to help you be more effective in your prayers to God.

Step 3: Fight

You may have noticed that this is a step I referred to in my post on Setting Goals that Last. There is a reason I use such a violent word. When we start taking steps to draw closer to God, Satan is going to do whatever he can to stop us. He might bring random distractions, tempt us to sleep, tantalize us with entertainment or, worse still, tickle our pride and cause us to start thinking that we are oh-so-righteous because we pray regularly.

Fight. Fight with all your might.

Fight your weakness, fight your sleepiness, fight the inertia and fight Satan. Prayer is so critical to drawing close to God. Don’t neglect it.

In your Bible study, take time to notice how important it was to God for people to ask Him about things. When the Gibeonites tried to deceive the Israelites, they succeeded not because of their cleverness, but because the Israelities failed to consult with God! In my reading this year in Chronicles this passage jumped off the page: “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.” 1 Chronicles 10.13-14, ESV He had ample opportunity to turn back to God, but instead he consulted a phony—a spiritualist! Why didn’t he ask God??

 Prayer is not to be taken lightly. Take your decisions to the Lord and ask for his guidance.

Jesus—God’s own Son—prayed regularly and for hours at a time. Take note of that also. God’s own son spent hours in prayer. Do you think there is a reason that such a thing is recorded for us? It tells me that making time for prayer is vital.

Do you think prayer is important? If something is important, make time for it.

How do you plan to make time for prayer in  2016? I’d love to hear your suggestions about what works for you in the comments below. Let’s help each other grow closer to God.

For more guidance on how to pray, here are some older posts for reference:

Reader question: Would you be interested in an e-book on prayer? I was thinking about putting one together in 2016 that used material from the above posts as well as 52 weeks of printable prayer focus sheets (like my effective prayer posts in 2015). Thanks for the feedback!

3 Priorities for Day 1 of your new year

 

Happy New Year to you all!

I am immensely thankful to you all for reading and commenting on my posts in 2015. Before I dive in to today’s post, I want to thank my top 5 commenters:

  1. Vincent S Artale – thank you for reblogging (sharing) so many of my posts! I greatly appreciate it!
  2. SlimJim from Domain for Truth – your comments have been very encouraging. Thank you!
  3. Debbie from Sisters Reach Out – Thank you for the uplifting and delightful comments. You always have such kind thoughts!
  4. Beckie Lindsey from Spotlight – Thank you for your comments and for promoting my posts on Twitter! You are a kindred spirit.
  5. Debbie Lees – Thank you for your encouragement over the past several months!

This blog began as an outlet for my thoughts about Bible reading and has grown into a mutually encouraging corner of the web. Through this medium I have “met” so many people who desire to draw near to God. Deepest thanks to you all for helping me in my walk with the Lord and the encouragement to press on.


So, I know I said in my post on goals that my next 2 posts would be on How to achieve daily bible reading and daily prayer. I have already completed the post on Bible reading, but as it is Day 1 of 2016 and I’m still in the process of writing the prayer post, this one will come in between.

Today is the day we start taking our goals from ideation to reality. 

Priority 1: Post your goals. If you haven’t posted your goals somewhere that you frequently look, that ought to be your primary task today. Write down your specific, measurable goals and post them on the fridge, your bathroom mirror, the lock screen on your phone or the dash of your car. If you’re still having trouble formulating your goals, I recommend these two posts from Michael Hyatt’s blog:

If your goal is daily Bible reading, start today! Stop reading this post if you haven’t done that and go do that first.

Priority 2: Take 1 small step toward one or more of your goals. Today. If your goal is to pray daily, grab an index card, write down your prayer requests and put it at the table where you’ll be eating. Before you start eating, read your card and then pray. The card will remind you to pray regularly. (More on prayer to come shortly!)

Priority 3: Before you go to sleep this evening, set yourself up for tomorrow’s action. For example, if your goal is to walk 3 times this week and today was only walk #2, set your walking clothes, shoes, socks, earbuds etc in an accessible place and figure out a realistic time to go tomorrow. If you are working towards paying off debt, get your budget done today and setup your first payment toward that debt. Set up a bucket to collect excess change. At the end of the month, see how much you have to go toward that debt. Even if you only collect 3-4 dollars in change, after 12 months you would be $48 closer to paying off that debt. Set yourself up for success!

Its day 1. Start strong and build momentum. The days of inertia are going to come, but if you’re momentum is strong, they won’t stop you from getting close to your goals.

What small step are you going to take today toward your goal? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!