I taught on the character trait of deference in my last leadership class lesson. Deference is putting others ahead of myself. Pretend there was a parking lot with 1,000 cars in it, and the people who drove there and parked them were all going to the same event. The event goes very late and when it is finally over everyone heads for their cars, and the parking lot has just one single lane exit. If Patty and I were there and she was driving we would be the last ones out of the parking lot, because Patty has mastered the character trait of deference. If we weren’t the last ones to leave there would be someone with more deference than Patty, and I doubt that person exists . Deference is also defined as limiting my freedoms, my rights, and my opinions so that I don’t offend another person, who may have different beliefs and opinions. This doesn’t mean that we are weak, in fact those who consistently practice deference are some of the strongest and most confident people there are, because they don’t have to be right to feel good about themselves. Our goal isn’t to be right but to influence people toward faith in Christ. God greatly blesses the person with deference with great authority and many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people.
Worldliness is a killer of a disease. It doesn’t kill you physically, but it does a lot of damage to our character, our accomplishments for God, our relationship to God, our joy level, and on the list goes. Just for fun I have made a list of 44 negative results of Worldliness in our life, but that is for another blog, or two. One of the ways to proactively reduce worldliness in our lives is to constantly work at simplifying our life. Paul told Timothy his disciple, in 2 Timothy 2:3, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life”. Getting unentangled from the stuff and the demands of everyday life is not very easy and will require great discipline.
The pursuit of a simple, unentangled life as a way of life, will require constant discipline and vigilance because of the pull of our culture, the nature of our flesh, and the goal of the devil. It will also require some significant time of reflection about why we do what we do, buy what we buy, and go where we go. When we first think about pursuing the “simple life” it doesn’t seem that hard, but it will be so difficult that most won’t even start and most who do start will give up the pursuit of less.
When I am on a long bicycle trip with everything I need in the panniers that I am carrying on the bicycle I think about the simple life a lot. I acknowledge the fact that I am perfectly happy with a bicycle and 70 lbs of stuff to my name. Of course there are some added needs that come into play as family and ministry are factored in, but the point is that it really does take way less than we are accustomed to owning to be happy and functional.
God created us to worship Him, to fellowship with Him, and to love Him. If anything comes into our lives we worship, desire, and love more than God we are practicing Idolatry, the worst sin in the Bible. In the book of Revelation idolatry is called “Spiritual Adultery”, and is seen as the primary reason for God’s wrath and His judgment that comes into the world and our lives. The term that would describe most of us today is “Worldliness”, that is we love the world, the stuff that is in the world, and we worship the world and the money and all that it can do for us to give us security and happiness. In the Gospel of JOHN it says, “You cannot serve God and love the world at the same time, it is impossible. My strongest desire in life is to serve the Lord well and to do His work with great success. I know that the greatest barrier to accomplishing this life desire is all the stuff everywhere around me that I can subtly believe is the source of my security and happiness. I want to conquer this spiritual sickness as I would any disease. In the Bible there are what the early church fathers called “the disciplines” . They are called disciplines because we have to discipline or train ourselves to practice them faithfully, they aren’t fun or natural to our flesh. These disciplines are the tools that we use to grow in Christ like character. A key discipline is reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the Bible, and another is prayer. We can’t grow without faithfully practicing these basic disciplines. A key discipline to conquering the disease of worldliness is “Giving”. That is we give some of our hard earned money to the work of the Lord. A couple of things that make this discipline very powerful and effective in killing “worldliness” in us is to give sacrificially, that is we give beyond what is easy or comfortable. Another is we give systematically, it is a regular part of our life not an occasional jump into the deep end of the pool. And a major important aspect of our giving is that we give “cheerfully” because we are giving to the Lord as an expression of our love for Him because of all that He has done for us.
Some people are visionaries, they think and talk about tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year like it is yesterday. Their conversation about tomorrow is not negative, but of the good things that they and others are going to accomplish with their lives. Non-visionaries are thinking about their future as well, but their thinking is trying to figure out how to solve problems that have not yet become problems yet, imagined problems that may or not even happen. Visionaries create better tomorrows in their minds, and then they figure out how to make it realty. They are high energy people, they are very creative, and they motivate and energize others around them. I love hanging around these kinds of people because they motivate me, lift me up above my problems, and stimulate my thinking. I got to spend a little time with one of these dreamers today, and it was fun
Mentally tough people understand the law that says “what we think about predominately is what we become”. Critical, judgmental, bitter, poor me, I can’t, It’s to hard, negative thinking turns us into that kind of person. Who wants to be that kind of person. We see those kind of people all around us every day and very few people like to be around them for very long. Mentally tough people take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. In yesterday’s blog I said that there are some disciplines that will have a significant influence in making us tough if we practice them faithfully. The first discipline is memorizing scripture and meditating on it, just thinking about the verse and what it means in our life context. The rewards that are listed in the Bible for faithfully practicing this discipline are incredibly motivational for me.
A second discipline that helps make us very tough mentally is physical exercise. We get a brand new body one of these days, but in the meantime we are stuck in this one that we presently have. How we feel, how much energy we have, how strong we are phisically all have a very significant impact on how we think. I started riding a stationary bike an hour every night because of what it does to keep my Parkinson’s under control, but what I have discovered is that kind of hard exercise gives me a significant increase in self-control in every area of my life, especially in choosing what I will let my mind think about.
Exercise is hard to do, and the choosing to do it everyday results in a strong person physically, but also a strong person mentally. 1 Corinthians 9:25 says, ” I discipline my body and make it my slave”.
Mental toughness is one of my major character goals for myself. Character traits are a little difficult to pursue because of the difficulty of measuring progress in ourselves. Having a clear definition of the character trait we are pursuing helps in our self assessment of growth and progress. I have defined this trait as being able to recognize “thinking sins” or “stinkin thinkin” in my mind quickly, and then be disciplined enough to set my mind on something that is good, pure, lovely, or noble quickly. Self- pity or poor me thinking is definitely not tough, neither is critical or bitter thinking about another person. Anxiety or worry is definitely the kind of thinking that those who feel out of control or feel like victims practice. Also a major wimpy kind of thinking is “I can’t” or “it is to hard”. And then there is just your general negative mental grumbling about life and circumstances. As I pursue mental toughness there are a number of disciplines that are essential to growth in this area so I have actually made those disciplines my specific, measurable goals, knowing that as I faithfully practice them I will become increasingly more tough in my thinking and attitude. One is memorizing Bible verses. It takes an incredible amount of mental energy to spend 15 minutes in intense memorizing of scripture. Faithfully exercising the mental muscles of our mind every day results in the ability to stop thinking about one thing by choosing to think about something else. Very few believers faithfully memorize scripture because it is so “hard”. The blessings that come into our life from God for faithfully hiding His Word in our heart are easily worth the effort.
“It is scary to realize that the path to external success and internal emptiness can be the same road” I read this in a book I am now reading on “Pastoring and Leading a Church”. The quote is talking about the state of being “out of gas” emotionally. It is also called burnout, depression, and exhaustion. In the first 15 years of ministry I was in a constant state of being “empty”, out of gas, and in what I used to call a “blue funk”. When I was in that place it was hard to motivate myself to do anything, I didn’t want to set goals, I didn’t want to think about the future, I was full of self pity, and I wasn’t much fun to be around. I took me awhile, but I finally learned what it took to fill my “gas tank up” and to keep it full. Ministry is a lot more fun now, both for me and those who are around me.
One major key for me was to read my Bible every day and never miss a day. Psalms 119:165 says, “those who love your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble”. Missing a day of Bible reading is like going a day without eating, you will feel tired. With food you will feel physically tired, but when you miss one day of Bible reading the tiredness is emotional and spiritual. Instead of our physical body feeling tired our soul feels tired. Another key was to spend time with God in prayer, devoted time, that is we are not doing anything else, just praying. Just 15 minutes every day will make a huge difference. It is amazing how few people do this with any degree of regularity. The time we give to people communicates how much we love those individuals, and the same is true of God. If all we give God is time in which we are also doing something else, left over time, convenient time, it is not very honoring of Him and it clearly communicates that God is not worth devoted time to us.
It isn’t rocket science, but most never get it. God is all powerful and He loves to give His strength, joy and peace to those who give Him time. Great trade.