The First Step

By Michael W. Raley

The first step is the hardest one to take

As the anxiety and fear make your body shake.

Your journey cannot and will not begin

If you are consumed with how it will end.

The greatest heartbreak

Is regretting the chance you didn’t take.

Life can be different, even grand

If you would pull your head out of the sand.

You alone have the power to choose.

You have nothing to lose.

So what if the venture doesn’t work out?

There are still options and new routes.

Shake off the naysayers, the fear, and the past-

Choose this day to live as if it were your last.

Live deliberately and give thought to your ways

As you begin the new journey called today.

 

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Saturday Morning

By Michael W. Raley

The allure of a Saturday morning

Is where I find my spiritual retreat.

The house is quiet.

The coffee is brewed.

The pressures of life lift off of my shoulders

As I reconnect to the moment

And shut out the clatter.

I seek the voice of the Spirit,

The Ancient of Days,

That still, quiet voice,

Who will serve as my guide

And lead me through this life.

The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.

Confronting Our Self-Doubt

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt as far as possible all things.” -Rene Descartes

Doubt- fear’s annoying little brother. “Do you really think you can do this?” “Are you sure?” “What if your gut feeling is wrong?” “How do you know what you believe is true?”

Everyone has doubts- which can be useful at times, as we may avoid potentially painful episodes in our lives. Doubt also allows us to seek after the truth in a world where we cannot believe everything we see, hear, or read.

However, doubt becomes a problem when it brings us to a place of anxiety and inaction. Doubt will make us question long-held beliefs about ourselves, our abilities, or even the nature of our relationship to God. Doubt in its most crippling form brings uncertainty and a lack of conviction. Doubt also causes us to waver and hesitate with our actions. We try to save face and justify not going forward with a statement such as, “It just wasn’t the right time.”

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4, NIV).

There is no condemnation here for anyone who has ever doubted or maybe you are going through a time of doubt. Jude 22 tells us to “Be merciful to those who doubt.” (NIV). Show love, mercy, and compassion to those who are going through such a difficult time.

To make use of a cliché, doubt is literally “the oldest trick in the book.” Consider the serpent’s (Satan’s) encounter with Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1, NIV).

Satan planted the first seeds of doubt concerning God’s word. However, Eve responded with the truth of what God said.

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden,and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(Genesis 3:2-3, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 0. Satan then digs deeper into his bag of tricks, where he questions the truth of God’s word and God’s motives for His commandment. In essence, Satan responds with an attack of God’s goodness and nature.

“’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”(Genesis 3:4-5, NIV).

Eve 1, Satan 1. Eve then eats the forbidden fruit and gives some to Adam. Sin infects all of creation and humanity is cursed through the fall. Eve 1, Satan 2. Game, set, match.

Thousands of years later, Satan tries the same tactics on Jesus as outlined in both Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but is unsuccessful. With his temptation of Jesus, Satan tries to make Jesus doubt His identity by uttering “If you be the Son of God.”

We can believe in the Bible, we can know our salvation is secure, we can know that we are loved, but we can still be riddled by self-doubt. This self-doubt will keep us in a lowly place and continue to feed the negative thoughts and emotions which poison our streams of Living Water. If we are so hindered by doubt, the temptation is always there to quit. Just give up. However, if we reach down and reach outside of ourselves, we can conquer our doubts.

I spent the last two months struggling with doubt and perceived looming failure. I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I decided at the age of 40 to go back to school to start a new career. I was doing great on the homework and keeping up with classwork despite working six days a week. However, I was not unable to pass the certification tests, which are essential to the career field I have chosen. I have always been a pretty good student, but these consecutive failures wore on my confidence. I had placed too much pressure on myself concerning this next test I was scheduled to take. This was going to be my last stand. Failed it. The next morning I wrote an email to my instructor, a school administrator, and the assistant campus director, informing them I was withdrawing. I was fully aware of the financial ramifications of my actions. I placed my failure solely on me, it was not the school’s or the instructor’s fault, it was me.

I received a reply back from the assistant campus director who wanted to discuss the matter further. My wife and my parents were encouraging, and so was the school. I decided to stick it out and the school placed me with a tutor, who worked with me on a previous test, and I passed. I have one certification under my belt. This boosted my confidence and changed the whole dynamic of me believing in myself. I know that abilities come solely from God, yet we must make use of the resources He provides.

If you are struggling in your self-confidence, here are some practical steps you can take to help you reach your goals:

  1. Realize that it’s going to be difficult.

  2. Realize that everyone goes through this.

  3. Focus on what you can control.

  4. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.

  5. Stop comparing yourself to others

  6. Realize your talents are unique to you.

  7. Progress, no matter how small, is progress nonetheless.

  8. Don’t allow your age to hinder you.

  9. Swallow your pride- make use of your resources.

God bless you all.

Seek Happiness from Within

Happiness is an inside job. In order to find our happiness, we must shut the door on the clamor that is modern life and seek the peace within ourselves.

Your happiness is squarely on your shoulders. Our happiness is the result of our internal response to external circumstances. Yes, there will be horrible, soul-crushing, darkness which will at times, mask our landscape, but you do not have to stay there. The ancient Greeks had a word, Euthymia, to describe a pleasant, peaceful state of mind. The Stoics, Seneca in particular, preferred the word Tranquility.  The Bible speaks of the peace that transcends all understanding.

In order to bring change to our world, we must do the work ourselves. Don’t look to people, governments, or stuff to make you happy or change your circumstances. Start with you. Seek God’s forgiveness, then make peace with yourself. You can’t change yesterday’s decisions and you can’t worry about tomorrow’s choices. It’s only you and this moment.

Epictetus said, “Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

God has equipped all of us, albeit with different talents and skills, but we are all equipped nonetheless. Take the tools you have and build the life you want.

The Biblical Significance of 40

Numbers. Data. Statistics. The Bottom Line. Whatever you want to call it, information plays a significant role in our lives. From this information, trends can be identified and used in an attempt to predict patterns, spending habits, the state of the global economy and so on and so forth. However, when we delve deeper into a biblical study of numbers, there are interesting patterns which develop as the same numbers emerge in different texts.

A well-known biblical number to believers and non-believers alike is 666. Jesus had twelve disciples. There were twelve tribes of Israel. The Gospel of John records seven “I am” statements of Jesus, which confirm His divinity. God rested on the seventh day. Bible prophecy discusses seven-headed beasts, and numerous other creatures. Another interesting biblical number is the number forty.

As of this posting, I am celebrating my fortieth birthday. I took a look earlier this week at the significance of forty in the Bible.

*The rain of the Flood lasted forty days and forty nights.

*Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah.

*Israel had forty years of peace after Gideon conquered the Midianites.

*Eli judged Israel for forty years.

*Goliath challenged the Israelites for forty days until he was defeated by David.

*David and Solomon each ruled Israel for forty years.

*Elijah spent forty days traveling and fasting before encountering God on Mount Horeb.

*The twelve spies sent out by Moses returned after forty days.

*Jesus fasted and was tempted by Satan for forty days.

*Jesus appeared with His disciples for forty days after His resurrection.

Moses

The life of Moses serves as an interesting side note to our study of the number forty. The Bible tells us that Moses lived to be 120 years old. In fact, we can break down Moses’ story into three distinct forty-year increments.

*Moses spent his first forty years as a Prince of Egypt.

*Moses lived the next forty years in Midian, where he married, had children, and was a shepherd.

*Moses was 80 when he encountered God at the burning bush and led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

*Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments.

*Moses led the Israelites forty years in the wilderness, where they ate manna the whole time.

From this brief study, we can see that forty typically represents a number of trial and breakthrough. Moses emerged as a deliverer forty years of exile. David was victorious over the giant who taunted Israel’s army. The corruption of Eli and his sons led to God speaking to the young Samuel, who would become the last Judge of Israel. Jesus overcame temptation, Satan, and death. We will certainly have our rough stretches during our forty day and forty year periods, but we must not lose heart. In one form of another, victory will come. Whenever a trial comes, it is an opportunity to learn. Just as one meal from an angel gave Elijah the strength to go on for forty days, so to can our wisdom and strength carry us through whatever we are facing. You can be delivered. You can overcome. You defeat your giant. God bless you all.

Negative Visualization and Faith

What’s the worst that can happen?” If you ever asked this question, you have been greeted more than likely with being shushed, glares, or heard, “Don’t say that.”

As humans, we do not like to contemplate the worst-case scenario. In fact, we develop a kind of superstition about such questions as “What’s the worst that could happen?” because we have tendency to think that asking such a question is going to invite some heartache or tragedy into our lives.

Although we do not like to mention it, we do take precautions against the worst-case scenario. If we are worried someone would break into our home, we lock our doors and windows, we install a security system, or we may purchase a weapon to protect ourselves in the event of a home invasion. We also purchase homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in the event our home is burglarized or damaged by a fire or disaster. We have health insurance in the event we get sick. We have car insurance in the event our car is wrecked or stolen. We buy life insurance to make sure our family is taken care of in the event of our death.

It is only right and commendable that we take precautions to protect our families and everything we have worked for in our lives. However, what if we were able to contemplate the worst case scenario without living a life crippled by fear and anxiety?

The Stoics practiced what is called negative visualization.

Negative visualization does not mean that we live as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer,” finding the negative in everything, but it teaches us to have peace of mind in the midst of challenging circumstances. Thus, negative visualization can mentally prepare us and lessen the impact of the worst case scenario. This in turn will increase the joy in our lives as we embrace our loved ones and this present moment even more.

According to William B. Irvine, “Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. This in turn means that by practicing negative visualization, we can not only increase our chances of experiencing joy but increase the chance that the joy we experience will be durable, that it will survive changes in our circumstances.”[1]

Someone right now may be raising the objection, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have faith that God will protect us?” Yes, we are supposed to have faith, but our faith does not prevent us from experiencing hardships in this life.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b, NIV).

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Thus, by practicing negative visualization, we can still have faith and joy in the midst of circumstances.

Going back to the example of protecting our homes. Let us imagine someone breaks-in to your house and steals your new TV. Naturally, we would be upset about our TV being stolen, but we can take stock of what’s around us. If we were to step back, we could be thankful that we were not physically harmed, our family is safe, our pets are safe, the house is still standing, and the insurance will replace the TV. We have reason to praise God although our TV was stolen.

We can examine terrible situations and still find a reason to rejoice. I have discussed in several posts about my battles with anemia and celiac disease. I was very ill and could have had a fatal heart attack due to the strain the anemia placed on my body. While going through the anemia was difficult, the doctors found out that I have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Patients with celiac disease also experience anemia. I had to make sudden dietary changes, but it worked out for the best because I am no longer anemic. I have my energy back and was blessed with a second chance at life.

I came close to death, but I did not die. I know that one day I will die, but I do not let that stop me from living life. In fact, going through this trial with my health has given the opportunity to be more mindful of the life that is all around me. My faith has been deepened through my experiences because I know that God has allowed me to endure and to overcome these obstacles. If I were to contemplate what would come next, I know I would be able to handle that as well. Maybe you have already experienced a worst-case scenario- whatever that is. You are still standing. You are still here. You have lived through that experience, even though it may be the lowest point of your life. You have the training and strength to get through the next trial. We must not take anyone or anything for granted. Let us be grateful for the present moment. God bless you all.

[1] William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009:83.