Book Review: The Obstacle is the Way

In what I hope will be an ongoing series, I will be reviewing and sharing some of the influential books that have helped me on my life’s journey.

All of us face obstacles in one form or another. Often these obstacles seem to be overwhelming, insurmountable, formidable, and we surrender before we even begin to fight.  However, what if we viewed the obstacle in front of us not as a source of despair, but as an opportunity? In other words, what if we took a perceived disadvantage and used it to advance ourselves? Ryan Holiday explores this thought process in his book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage.

Holiday masterfully combines the principles of Stoic philosophy with profiles of historical and contemporary figures such as John D. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Nick Saban to name a handful of people who saw opportunity and seized it when others retracted in fear.

Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as the inspiration for the book. Holiday quotes Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”[1]

Holiday expands on these principles throughout the book, but he summarizes what we need to do in order to overcome our obstacles:

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them to opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty. It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.[2]

Throughout the book, Holiday employs such Stoic principles as negative visualization, which is being able to examine the worst case scenario in any given situation. Negative visualization is not fear or pessimism, but serves as a way for us to adapt and anticipate obstacles that may come our way. Holiday also employs the Stoic mindset of separating what is in our control and what is not in our control. For example, our thoughts, emotions, decisions, attitudes, will, and reactions to events are perfectly within our control. What is not in our control? The Stoics, particularly Epictetus, called these events “externals,” such as what happen to us, our reputation, our property, the economy, the weather, and our overall health. The Stoics also believed that no matter what you do, be the best at it. We must also be mindful of the present moment. There is a process we must follow in order to be successful. If we remain persistent and work at the obstacle, we will find success.

My favorite story in the book is about Thomas Edison. Holiday relays a story that Thomas Edison received word that his factory was on fire. Edison came to the factory and viewed the fire, in which the various chemicals in the building were reacting to the fire, and shot yellow and green flames high into the sky. What was Edison’s reaction to the fire? Did he say, I’m Finished? Did he say, I’m sixty-seven years old and I’m too old to start over? Did Edison rant and rave, scream and have himself a “good old fit?” The story goes that Edison sought and found his son in the massive crowd of onlookers and instructed him to, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” Edison added, “Don’t worry. It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”[3] Of course, as prolific of an inventor as Edison was, there wasn’t simply “rubbish” alone that was lost in the fire. Within weeks, the factory was running a partial shift and within a month the factory was back to operating two shifts. Also, Edison and his investors lost quite a bit of money due to the fire, but he was still able to recover and earned back ten times the loss in revenue. What separated Edison’s mindset? Edison simply perceived obstacles not as failures and setbacks, but as discovering the ways something would not work.

Holiday adds, “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.”[4]

In his book, Holiday admits that taking this approach to adversity is a difficult process, but it can be done with enough hard work and persistence. I highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way to anyone no matter the stage of life. There is great wisdom and perspective that can be gained from this book.

[1] Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage. London: Profile Books LTD, 2014: XIV.

[2] Ibid: 9.

[3] Ibid: 150-151.

[4] Ibid: 151.

 

How Blood Loss Led to New Life

The Symptoms

One year ago my life changed forever. In the months leading up to the fateful day, I experienced shortness of breath when climbing stairs, I was severely fatigued, I lost ten pounds without even trying, and my appearance became very pale. Unfortunately, like most men I know, I put off going to the doctor and continued to shrug off my symptoms. After numerous conversations with my wife, my concerned parents, and other family members about going to the doctor, I finally reached the physical point where I could not take it anymore. I left work early on a Friday to an appointment with my family doctor’s office. At the appointment, I had four vials of blood taken, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. All I had left to do was wait.

The wait was over on the Saturday morning August 1, 2015. I was weekend supervisor at my previous job when I received a call from the nurse practitioner, who told me that I needed to get to the emergency room because my hemoglobin was 6.3 (hemoglobin is what carries the oxygen in our blood cells. Normal hemoglobin levels for an adult male range from 13 to 15). For some reason, the gravity of the situation didn’t register and I kindly told the nurse practitioner that I will go when I left work at three o’clock. After all, I was trying to call in extra people to deal with an emergency flood. She replied that I needed to go to the emergency room now because with my hemoglobin level being so low, any undue stress could put me at risk for a heart attack. (I thought, Don’t you think telling me this is putting me under stress?). I got it. This was serious. I talked to my wife and I called my boss to tell him that I had an emergency situation and had to leave. The drive to the first hospital was the only time I felt fear for what would follow.

After three hours at my local hospital, I was transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital, where I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. After I received multiple blood transfusions and iron treatments, my hemoglobin rose to only 7.9. I was out of the heart attack danger zone, but I was still severely anemic. I have a history of ulcerative colitis and I was scheduled that Monday for a colonoscopy. However, I was experiencing no symptoms of ulcerative colitis nor did I have any visible bleeding. During the colonoscopy, ten polyps were removed from my colon, all of which were benign (no cancer). It appeared that the source of my anemia and bleeding had been found.

God is always on time and His timing was perfect in this situation. My wife and I were leaving for Colorado later in the week, which she asked the doctors if I was able to travel (I was). However, multiple doctors informed her that if I didn’t get treatment when I did, the high altitude and our planned activities could have strained my body and I could have died before receiving medical attention. I was thirty-eight years old when all of this happened, I never thought for one second that death stood at the door. Of course, like any adult should, I have life insurance and most importantly, my spiritual affairs were in order in the event that I would die one day, I didn’t know it could’ve been that close. I went back to work Tuesday morning and I naturally had a few days when I was tired, but the trip to Colorado was very enjoyable and relaxing. I followed up with my gastroenterologist and hematologist. I began receiving iron treatments and taking iron pills daily. My hemoglobin levels eventually bounced back up to 15.2 at my last appointment. I later discovered that though this health crisis was over, the journey had only just begun.

I never lost faith during this time because I knew God had His hand on my life. I don’t know exactly for what, but there had to be something greater. I unfortunately knew many people who died young and I knew how blessed I was to come out of this.  I don’t know the exact reason, maybe it was the side effects of the anemia, the continued fatigue, my thyroid, or whatever else, but I slid into a deep depression. The depression deepened as the stress of my former employer’s contract situation lingered in the air. We later learned that a new company won the contract bid and they would take over January 1. However, more stress came on December 23, 2015, when the new company informed me via letter that my services, along with other members of management and staff, would not be needed. It marked the first time in my working career, which started at age fifteen, I was let go from a job. Christmas Eve was the last day I worked, as I had previously scheduled vacation.  I took off a few days for Christmas, collected my last paycheck, and began the process of filing for unemployment and job searching. I was unemployed for three months, going to interview after interview, putting in application after application, before I went back to work.

 Sports Talk Radio and the Wisdom of the Ancients

Since I had time on my hands, I would get out of the house for a little bit every day when the job searching became stressful. One day I was on my way to my parents’ house to take care of their dogs when I was listening to The Jim Rome Show, a sports talk show. Jim Rome’s guest  was Ryan Holiday, who wrote a book called The Obstacle is the Way, which was about turning obstacles into advantages. One of the things discussed was Stoic Philosophy. When we hear the word “stoic” we think of someone who is emotionless, kind of like Mr. Spock from Star Trek. However, as Mr. Holiday spoke about how he came into Stoic philosophy, it sounded interesting. I took Introduction to Philosophy in college, but I don’t remember learning about Stoic philosophy (maybe it was because class was at 8am). The Bible mentions the Stoics in Acts 17, but does not go into detail about who they were, other than Paul citing a Stoic poem.  I have a firm, fixed set of beliefs, but I also love to research and learn new things. I went on a quest to learn about Stoic philosophy- YouTube Videos, Ted Talks, my local library, and bookstores. I bought Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, followed by the works of Seneca and Epictetus, and finally The Obstacle Becomes The Way, and devoured them like a hungry wolf. Using the Bible as my measuring rod of truth, I compared Stoic philosophy to biblical teaching and found them very compatible. The Stoics focused on being content with our lot in life, not worrying about what is not in our control, living for today, working on our inner character, living with purpose, being thankful in the moment, that we have nothing to fear in death, managing our perceptions, tempering our expectations in life, and realizing that it is not our lives are not about what happens to us, but our response to the events, all of which are biblical concepts and sound life principles. Over time, I came out of my depression and gained a new perspective on life, but God was using all of this to prepare me for the next stages of my life.

A Tumble Down the Stairs

Three weeks before I went back to work, I received a text from my wife informing me that she fell down some stairs at an offsite workshop and was going to the hospital. I met her at the hospital in Bloomington, Indiana where she was in the emergency room. My wife was diagnosed with a mild concussion and later with post-concussion syndrome. Though she does not remember what happened, I took solace in the fact that my wife was not more seriously injured or killed and that she did not do any damage to her surgically repaired back. If I was working at the time, that would have complicated matters with taking her to doctor appointments and the like. I was thankful that I was home to take care of her until I went back to work. Those first weeks were the roughest, with severe migraines and attempts to get the medicine dosage right, but my wife eventually became able to do more things on her own and went back to work a few months later. My response to all of this would have been different a year or even months before as I would have worried incessantly about my wife’s health and our finances, which at the time of her concussion involved workman’s comp and unemployment, but God was faithful and sustained us throughout the ordeal.

More Symptoms Arise

I went back to work, albeit for less money and a more physically demanding job, but I applied Stoic principles and attempted to be thankful for being back to work. However, a few months into working again, I began to feel fatigued and I started to look pale. People told me I “looked tired.” I learned my lesson and did not mess around with my symptoms. On a scheduled day off I had blood work done, and followed-up the next week with the hematologist. I told the doctor about my fatigue coming back and she informed me that my ferritin levels have dropped. (Ferritin is how your blood stores iron). She recommended upping my dosage of iron pills and following up with my gastroenterologist because of concerns about my ulcerative colitis. I was able the very next day to see the gastroenterologist. After telling him about my symptoms and what the hematologist said, he asked if I had ever been tested for Celiac disease. I said that I have not been tested. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is caused by an allergy to gluten, a protein found in foods made with wheat, barley, and rye. The doctor said that my ulcerative colitis was too mild for me to be as anemic as I was. I had more blood work done and it indicated Celiac disease. I followed up with an endoscopy that confirmed the diagnosis of Celiac disease. I now have to be on a gluten-free diet the rest of my life. However, I do not see Celiac disease as another battle to fight, but the battle to fight. From everything I have researched and everything I have, Celiac disease is the common denominator with anemia, hypothyroidism, joint inflammation, and other autoimmune issues I have dealt with over the years. Though I am in the early stages of making this lifestyle change, I am hopeful and optimistic that things will begin to clear up. As of this writing, I am a few weeks into the gluten-free diet and I am feeling better.

 My Advice

The Bible discusses “the peace that transcends all understanding.” My faith, even in the midst of one terrifying and one life changing diagnosis, has eradicated any sense of fear. This year has been a year of discovery and growth for me. God has blessed me with wisdom that has allowed me to modify my perceptions and see life in a new light. There is a popular saying of “live each day like it’s your last,” which some may interpret to mean throw off all responsibility and party like a rock star, but that should not be the case.  God was gracious and gave me more life. If you are reading this, God has given you another day to live. Make the most of it. Live deliberately. Live for and with a greater purpose. Consider your actions and ways. Be the best person you can be, no matter who you are or what you do.  Don’t get caught up in chasing the temporary and fickle externals of money, fame, and possessions. Don’t get caught up in drama. Don’t get upset if people don’t like you or don’t respond to you the way you expect- you can’t control what they think. We can’t control the world around us, only how we respond to it. For example, I have control of how I take care of my body- diet, exercise, rest, medication, but I had no control over developing anemia or Celiac disease. I did everything for over seven years to keep my job- show up, be on time, do a great job, do what was asked and expected of me, changing shifts, etc., but I could not control the contract bid or the economy. I can control how many jobs I apply for, but I can’t control who says “yes.” I have come to believe that what has happened to me in these areas of life has turned out to be a blessing because it has led me to right here, right now.

Expect difficulties in life. You will encounter situations and people’s actions that will devastate, unnerve, irritate, rattle, frustrate, and shake you to the core, but you and you alone determine the response. When knowing that you have a limited amount of time to live, ask yourself, “Is this situation or person really worth my time of stressing over?” “Is this situation within my control?” “How can I turn this adversity into an advantage?” Have faith in God, but work as if it is up to you. I have spent many years of my faith being passive, just waiting for something to show up or happen, only to end up being discouraged.  I have now realized that God has given us all we need to live a full life, we just have to use the tools. All of us don’t get the same amount or quality of tools, but we all have the ability to make the best of life and any situation. Take time to dwell on what can go wrong, because you won’t be devastated if something does, which is also a Stoic principle. Don’t grieve over who and what you don’t have, but rejoice over who and what you do have. Love your loved ones every chance you get. Always end conversations on a good note. Don’t allow bitterness, regret, shame, hate, or an unforgiving spirit to rule your life. Take control of your thoughts. Grow a virtuous character. Forget the past. Don’t fear the future. Be grateful for today because it’s all you have. True faith and positive thinking is not about believing everything will work out, but believing what happens will work out for the best. God bless you all.

 

Dealing with Offense

The possibility of becoming offended or encountering someone who is offended exist in our society. We can get upset about what is being reported on the news or what we see on social media. We can become offended at the actions of people in our lives or we can join in with other people who are offended.

Imagine for a moment you start your day at work. You are in a good mood when one of your co-workers comes in and complains about the job: “I can’t stand working here. This company is stupid. The bosses don’t know what they’re doing. Why can’t they see these problems?” At this point, you have a choice to make: stay silent and/or positive or join in and get upset. If you choose to join in with the offended co-worker, this will start a downward spiral of you getting upset about your job before the day starts, which will lead to having a bad attitude,  possible poor work performance, and being ungrateful for your job. Complaining and offense is contagious just like a virus. If one person gets “sick” with offense, then someone else will catch it.

Living in constant offense is a waste of time and energy. Yes, there are great causes and social injustices we can speak out against, but what good does it do our bodies and spirits if we go through life angry over petty things all the time?

In the Bible, offenses are synonymous with sins, but offenses are also viewed as stumbling blocks and traps. Just picture yourself tripping over a child’s toy or a pet.  When we get offended. We also become trapped because we take the bait of offense and stay trapped until we look for a way out. What can we do in order to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of being offended?

We must treat seriously the sin of offense

While He was on the earth, Jesus used many teaching methods to bring across His points and the message of the Gospel. One of Jesus’ methods was hyperbole, which is using an extreme example to make a point.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, NIV).

Of course, Jesus is talking about the seriousness of avoiding sin in our lives. Sin is serious to God, as Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is basically saying to get sin as far away from you as possible, which would include anything that causes us to fall.

We must realize Jesus’ message will be offensive to some

In Matthew 15:3-9, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy of placing man’s traditions above the Word of God. “Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’” (Matthew 15:10-11, NIV).

With this statement coming on the heels of Jesus comments on the Pharisees’ practices, this caused further offense as the disciples told Jesus.

“Then the disciples came to Him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14, NIV).

When we show and share the love of Christ with those in our lives, we cannot control their response. If someone is offended, that is their response, that is their judgment, do not let it pollute your spirit.

Being offended will stop the work of God

After Jesus established His ministry, He came back to His hometown of Nazareth and encountered an offended crowd:

“’Where did this man get these things?’ they asked, ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6, NIV, emphasis mine).

Being offended will disrupt our fellowship with God

In the Parable of the Four Soils, Jesus explains the four different ways people will respond to the preaching of God’s Word. Regarding the soil that falls on the rocky path, Jesus speaks as to how offense affects that person:

“The seed falling on the rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:20-21, NIV.

As Christians, we must be mindful of our behavior

People pay more attention to what you do as opposed to what you say. As we interact with believers and non-believers alike, we must be careful as not to cause a stumbling block or weaken another’s faith because of our behavior.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:17-18, NIV).

When offense presents itself, take the high road

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, NIV).

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).

Brothers and sisters, remember that we will encounter people and situations that will offend us, as it is the way of the world. We have no control over neither what happens nor over the actions of others. Instead of spending hours, months, or years of our short lives being upset and grumbling, let us forgive and rejoice. If we have done the offending, let us seek God’s forgiveness and reach out to those we have hurt. God bless you all.

 

 

Raise Your Hands in the Battle

I worked with a personal trainer who put me through an intense weight training program. During our year-long plus sessions, I would be tested at various points to assess my progress. One of the exercises used was what is called a “max bench press.” In this exercise, the trainer would put a baseline amount of weight on the bar and increase the weight to test how much weight I could lift. Over time, my strength increased and I was able to lift more weight. However, there were times when the weight was too much to lift and I would need the trainer’s help to put the bar back on the rack. If I did not ask for the trainer’s help, I could have been seriously injured by the weight.

The total weight of our life experiences can weigh us down. There are times when the burdens can weigh us down gradually or we will be hit suddenly with an “Olympic-sized” load.  We can find ourselves weighed down by any number of things: the consequences of our sins, family issues, career struggles, financial obligations, addictions, terminal illness, and so on and so forth. If we try to tackle these issues on our own, the struggle will be much harder and we will find ourselves beaten down. We do not have to carry our burdens alone.

The ability to delegate is an important skill to have not only in business, but in life. If we can allow others, namely God to help us with the struggles and burdens we face, our lives will be much better and we will not be so weighed down. However, there are times when pride, fear of being perceived as weak, or even false humility will prevent us from asking for help. Delegation is a biblical concept, as you do not see David without Solomon, Jesus without the disciples, Paul without Timothy, the Apostles without the elders, or Moses without Aaron and Joshua.

The story of Moses is one that stresses the importance of not taking on burdens alone, for God and others are with us. In Exodus 17, Moses and the Israelites went to war with Amalek. Moses was to stand on top of a hill with the rod of God in his hand as Joshua and the Israelites fought with Amalek.

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Exodus 17:11-13, KJV).

At first glance, this seems like an ordinary passage about a battle, but there is so much symbolism behind it:

*Moses stood on top of the hill (He had the high ground).

*Moses raised his hands toward Heaven.

*Moses had the rod of God in his hand (God’s authority).

*Moses sat on the rock (the Psalms use the expression “The Lord is my rock”).

*God sent two other people to lift up Moses arms.

*Moses kept up his arms and the battle was won.

We can and will win the battle we are facing if we lift our hands to God. As Christians, we have the spiritual authority to overtake the enemy. We can come to the throne room with boldness and grace. As Moses had the rod of God, Aaron, and Hur, we have God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As I write this, my inner spirit man is leaping for joy. Brothers and sisters, I will leave you with verses about lifting our hands. God bless you all.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that they might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3, KJV).

“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward the holy oracle.” (Psalm 28:2, KJV).

“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy Name.” (Psalm 63:4, KJV).

“My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:48, KJV).

“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2, KJV).

 

Purposeful Living and Thinking

James Allen wrote, “A man should conceive of a legitimate purpose in his heart, and set out to accomplish it. He should make this purpose the centralizing point of his thoughts.”[1] We live in a time of great distractions and it is very easy to get caught up in these distractions and lose focus of our life’s purpose. If we give free reign to these distractions, our thoughts and words will delve into gossip, complaining, worry, and fear to name a few problems.

Life is short. Why spend time and energy on things that have no purpose? Why should we spend our limited days getting caught up in the drama of others or allowing pettiness to rule our lives?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus echoes the same sentiment, “Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your aspirations no matter what is going on around you.”

In order to set ourselves on the road to purposefulness, there are three areas we can address.

Minding Our Own Business

 “…And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV).

God has a different plan for all of our lives because God has gifted each of us differently. After His resurrection, Jesus taught this lesson to Peter. Jesus explained to Peter that he would die a martyr for Christ.

“Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved [John] was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.’” (John 21:20-22, NIV, brackets mine).

In other words, Jesus told Peter, “Don’t worry about John. Focus on what you have to do. You follow Me.” This is certainly a lesson we can apply to our lives as not to be resentful of someone who is called to a different and maybe greater purpose.

 

Let Go of Worry

As much as we try to be “control freaks” in our lives, there are numerous things out of our control such as the weather, the economy, what other people think. We also had no control of what country or family we were born into, whether we grew up rich or poor, or how long we will live. However, we can be purposeful by working on the areas within our control. We cannot do anything about yesterday and we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so we must make the best of today.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NIV).

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV).

Be Thankful

Once we stop being resentful of the past or worrying about the future, we are able to live a life of thankfulness. We can be thankful that God has given us another day to live. We can be thankful for the people in our lives. If we are thankful about what we have, we will not grieve over what we do not have.

“Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19-21, NIV).

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, NIV).

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

It is not too late to begin living a purposeful life. Our thoughts determine our focus. Our thoughts shape our character. Just as lifting weights and exercising can change the shape of our bodies, so to must we change our thoughts in order to properly shape our minds and lives. God bless you all.

 

[1] James Allen, As A Man Thinketh. New York: Barnes and Noble (2007 edition): 33.

How Will You Spend Your Life Balance?

Think of the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years that make up your life as a bank account. If your lifetime was equated to money, you would get a predetermined amount of money. You would not be able to add anything to this account, you can only spend it. If we thought of our lives as a finite resource, how would you spend it? If you have misspent part of your life, how would you plan to manage the rest?

The Book of Hebrews states, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27, KJV). The Book of James also describes our lives as a mist or vapor. Knowing that we have such a short time to live, why do we choose to live our lives filled with bitterness, hatred, regret, and being outright uncivil with the people around us and people that we do not even know? If you realized that putting down this person, that church, worrying about this political issue, or holding onto that grudge was quickly draining your life’s bank account, would you change your ways?

            The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that ye being in times past, Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10-13, KJV).

What if we were to look at those who offend us and hurt us as those who are also God’s workmanship, but are without Christ? What if we expected to encounter difficulties in our lives from others, but not let it ruin our days and certainly not our lives?

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil.”[1] So, if we were to view such people as those who need Christ, how would that temper our expectations and treatment of our fellow brothers and sisters in this world?

We do not know how many years we get to live upon this earth. Although there may be statistical models such as average life expectancy, our lives and times are in the hands of God alone. We must take the time that we have left and live for Christ and to live to the fullest, for we do not know when the account is going to reach a zero balance. We must learn to make the best of whatever situation in which we find ourselves and strive for a contentment of spirit.

[1] Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translated by Marcus Hammond. London: Penguin Books, 2006: 11.

Seeking Refuge in the Midst of a Crisis

When faced with multiple crises at once, where do you seek refuge?  Do you seek God? Do you call up a family member or friend? Do you go for a walk or run? Do you try to pretend the problems do not exist? Do you or have you tried “self-medicating” with food, drugs, or alcohol? Your answer will determine where your faith lies. There is nothing wrong with talking to someone about a problem nor is it wrong to go exercise to relieve the stress. However, if our faith is in our abilities and we go alone in our own strength, the problems will weigh us down and we will be unable to face the situation, which can lead to isolation and bring on addiction, depression, or something worse.

Jehoshaphat was one of the righteous kings of Judah in the Old Testament and he faced a crisis where the very survival of Judah was at stake.

The Crisis: “After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat. Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side pf the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar’ (that is En Gedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2, NIV).

Jehoshaphat’s Response: “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, the came from every town in Judah to seek Him.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2 Chronicles 5:5-13), where he acknowledged his and his nation’s complete dependence on God. Jehoshaphat was facing three armies that were coming at him and they were roughly thirty-five miles away from Jerusalem and he sought God with prayer and fasting.

The Revelation: A word of revelation came to a man named Jahaziel: “He said, ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record that Jehoshaphat and all of Judah worshipped the Lord for the revelation. The next day Jehoshaphat appointed singers to go out before the army. The praise and worship of the singers brought confusion to camps of the enemies and the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Meunites began attacking each other and took out themselves. Judah did not have to fight as God had promised. The Bible states it took Judah three days to take the plunder from the enemy camps. When they returned to Jerusalem, they once again worshipped the Lord and the fear of the Lord came upon Judah’s enemies and Jehoshaphat’s reign was one of peace.

When we make God our refuge, we will find the shelter from the storms of life. When we seek God wholeheartedly, He will reassure us and show us a plan to conduct spiritual warfare against the tactics of the enemy. We serve a living God whom we can turn to in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We can take comfort in His Word. God is with us and will be with us. Though God’s revelation may not come quickly, we can find rest and a peace that passes all understanding during trials and tribulations.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1-3, 7, NIV).

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9, NIV).

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will says of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV).

When You Find Yourself Overwhelmed

Everyday life can be demanding and stressful. We are constantly searching to find peace and balance in the middle of family obligations, work, extra-curricular and church activities, trying to eat and stay healthy among a host of other items. Add into the mix the sickness or death of a loved one, an addiction, a job loss or financial problems, or even an unexpected divorce and life will go from stressful to overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, we cannot make good decisions because we may not know where to begin. Our spiritual lives can suffer as a result of being overwhelmed because we will find ourselves too busy to pray and read the Bible, church is just one more thing to do, or sleeping in on a Sunday morning sounds like a great idea.

When we find ourselves too busy for God, we are playing right into Satan’s hands. Jesus said in John 10:10 that Satan’s goals are to kill, steal, and destroy. If Satan knows our spirits belong to Christ, he will do everything he can to keep us from the abundant life Jesus provides for us.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9, KJV).

When we are overwhelmed, God’s Word can and will be a great comfort to us. The Psalms is one of those books that has provided comfort and guidance to countless believers over the ages and centuries. The Psalms assure us that no matter what we face- whether it be the consequences of our own sin, the oppression of the enemy, they betrayal of a friend, God will be there for us and will help us in the midst of our troubles.

We Can Take Our Burdens Directly to the Lord

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22, KJV). 

We Can Trust in God’s Protection

“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” (Psalm 61:1-3, KJV).

We Can Meditate on What God has Already Done for Us

“I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.” (Psalm 77:1-3, KJV).

“And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12, KJV).

We Can Trust that God is with Us

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul.” (Psalm 124:1-4, KJV).

“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path.” (Psalm 124:3a, KJV).

We Can Trust in God’s Deliverance

“Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me. My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me…As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.” (Psalm 55:3-5; 55:16-18, KJV).

Brothers and sisters, when you find yourselves overwhelmed, please do not “go it alone.” As Scripture says, “seek the Lord while He may be found.” I speak from personal experience when I say this because I tried to fight many battles in my own strength, only to wind up in a worse situation. Our God is mighty, He is a shelter, and He is the creator and sustainer of all. He wants to have a relationship with you. Turn to God, pray, study the Word, seek His wisdom and apply it to what you are facing. Understand that the battle may not be over quickly, but trust in God’s timing and deliverance. Peace be with you.