Category Archives: What Will Make a Difference?

Practical teaching for pastors, leaders, students, clients, and other followers of Jesus who want to grow spiritually and serve Christ more effectively.

“Simply, Love Them”

Bald Eagle Lake Mtka

Are you getting all twisted into knots about something coming up or about seeing someone? Maybe you’re worrying about how things are going to go with the family over the holidays. Perhaps you’re in a leadership or ministry role, and you’re uptight about how your program is going to come off.

Over the past couple of months, I keep finding myself in the same sort of anxious place. On one hand, I’m excited about whatever is coming up. On the other, some worry or frustration starts to choke off my joy. I start gasping for emotional air.

Do you know the feeling?

Well, there’s hope. Apart from all the things you already know to do, let me suggest one very different approach in such situations. When you’re feeling uptight about working or being with others, try this: simply love them.

Here are two examples from my own experience.

Loving Those You Serve

It was Wednesday morning, in the middle of the Pastors Leadership Training Conference in Rwanda, a few weeks ago. When I asked God for a word for the day, I was surprised and pleased to hear, “Love the pastors.”

Rwandan Pastors at Leadership Conference

Rwandan Pastors at Leadership Conference

How refreshing. How freeing, I thought. I had already done all my preparation work. This was the missing piece!

However, I soon realized that my preoccupation with what I wanted from the week was turning the event into something for me—and my ability to love was vanishing.

When we were walking the labyrinth as part of the day’s activities, I began to pray for God to put love in my heart once again. I realized that asking for help was the only hope I had.

Musanze

Nothing happened at first, but as the day went on, I began to notice that I was thinking and acting differently toward the pastors. At one point, in the middle of a question and answer session, I suddenly realized that I was being more patient, kind, and understanding. I heard a voice in my head say, “Hey, you’re loving them!”

I almost laughed aloud. I couldn’t believe it happened again. I was chuckling with delight, because God had created in me what I could not do for myself. The Holy Spirit had delivered me from myself and answered my prayer.

Loving Your Family

A month later I got a similar message from God. This time, I was heading out to visit some family members for the weekend. Now, I love my family very much, and enjoy being with them. Yet, there are many pitfalls and ways I can go wrong in my attempts to relate well to them.

In the morning, before I caught my flight, I prayed my normal daily prayer, “Lord, please help me to live fully, to love deeply, and to give freely so that others may know and experience you through me.” As soon as the words left my lips, I sensed that God was telling me to relax and stop worrying. The most important thing for me to remember as I went into this family time was to “simply love them.”

I didn’t love them perfectly over the course of the weekend, yet the more I remembered to love them from my heart and in my actions, the smoother everything went. I wasn’t afraid to disagree or offer alternative points of view, but I reined in my reactions and kept trying to choose what I thought was good for everyone, not just me. The voice in my head kept reminding me: “love them.”

Tim and nephews

Tim and nephews

Surprising Results

I never make a point of telling others that I am trying to “simply love them”. I don’t think that would go over very well. I expect that my efforts are going to be my little secret with God, and I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will bring something good out of whatever love I am able to offer.

So, I was quite surprised at the end of the Rwandan conference, when the pastors’ spokesperson stood up to offer the customary words of appreciation. Instead of just commenting on the course material, he turned to look directly at me and said, “Because you have loved us, we have come to love you.”

And when I was about to board the plane to return home from visiting my family, I was surprised when my brother called and asked me if I would be willing to talk on the phone to my ten year old nephew. They had just dropped me off, but apparently he wanted to say goodbye again. Between words, I heard him sobbing. He didn’t want me to leave.

Funny, in both cases, I don’t remember doing much of anything to bring about these kinds of reactions. All I did was try to love them.

When you think about the people in your life and ministry this Christmas, what would happen if you simply loved them?

Above all, love each other deeply…. (1 Peter 4:8, NIV)

The Point: Relax. Stop worrying so much about what’s in it for you or how others are going to respond to you. Instead, think about them first, and pray for the grace to simply love them. No matter what your hopes and fears may be, the Holy Spirit wants to lead you deeper and deeper into experiences of God’s love—both God’s love for you, and God’s love working through you.

Prayer:  “Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me long before I ever thought of loving you. Please help me to experience more of your love, and to be more and more free to see others as you see them, and to simply love them as they are.”

4 Comments

Filed under Sacred Love, What Will Make a Difference?

Just the Word You Need to Hear!

Sunrise on pilgrimage and my son, Tim

Sunrise on pilgrimage and my son, Tim

You know how just the right word at the right time can make a huge difference in how you feel or what you think about something? Someone pats you on the back and says, “Good job!” and you feel six inches taller. Maybe someone reminds you to “Keep your eye on the ball” or encourages you to “Hang in there,” and you suddenly can focus again and find courage or strength you didn’t know you had. Even just hearing, “I really appreciate you,” or “I love you,” can breathe new life into us.

Just think, then, how much better would your life be if you could get just the word you need to hear every day? And, what do you think would happen if you asked God to give it to you?

I’ve been experimenting with this idea for about a month now.

Every morning as part of my Bible reading and prayer time, or when I am in worship, I ask God to give me a word for the day. I’m looking for something to help prepare me for whatever may be ahead. I don’t try to force an answer or fabricate one. If one doesn’t come, I wait, and ask again later. I don’t get a word every day, but most days I wind up hearing something that proves to be very helpful at the moment or later on.

Don’t worry, I don’t hear crazy stuff. I don’t get weird messages to wreak havoc on the world or to do something stupidly heroic. Rather, a simple word, an intriguing idea, clarity about something, or action needed suddenly emerges in my mind.

Here are some of the words I’ve heard so far:

• “Surrender”

• “It’s not your ministry”

• “Love them”

• “Deal gently”

• “Whistleblower”

• “Prepare”

• “Hope”
• “Wait”

• “Forgive”

Sometimes I know immediately what God is trying to communicate to me.  For example, when I heard that “it’s not your ministry,” I knew that I had to stop caring so much about how I wanted the Rwandan Leadership Training Conference to unfold. I didn’t know at first how helpful this word would turn out to be, but I got the main idea right away: “Stop getting bent out of shape by the endless stream of glitches and frustrations, and pay more attention to whatever God is doing in the midst of the chaos!” The word from God was freeing and helped me to lead and minister far more effectively than if I had stayed focused on my petty concerns.

Other times, the word that jumps out to me strikes a chord, but I have no idea how it might apply to my life, let alone to that particular day. Then there are those times when the word is almost bewildering. I’m not talking about the day I heard, “whistleblower.” As strange as that word might seem, hearing was actually very helpful to me at the time.

Rather, I’m thinking about the day “hope” emerged as my daily word. I can always use more hope in my life, but why this word, this day?

It wasn’t until that night that my answer came. I was having dinner with a close friend, who was glowing as she told me about how God was working in such wonderful ways. The more awe radiated from her face, the more joy I felt in my heart. Her faith was coming alive before my eyes, and I suddenly knew the meaning of my word from God.

Sometimes I lose hope when someone drifts away from God or simply can’t believe in Christ, especially when everything I try to do to help seems to be useless. But when I see something good like this happening, completely independent of my efforts, my hope springs wings again. I suspect that God gave me “hope” in the morning so that I would not miss the true meaning of my friends’ words in the evening. Her story was good news for her, but the hope I felt was a gift to me.

What word do you think God might have for you today? Have you asked for one?

But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, NRSV)

The Point: Asking the Holy Spirit for a word each day is one more way to seek a better connection to God. It’s also a helpful method for living a more Spirit-led life. To hear what the Spirit has to say, you need to create enough space within your heart, mind and daily rhythm to ask and to listen—even if it takes all day.

Prayer: “Loving God, please speak to me today, and every day, the word you most want me to hear. Please give me ears to hear, an open heart and mind to receive, and a willing spirit to receive your words of nourishment and guidance, for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

This article is part of the “What Will Make a Difference?” series for your spiritual nurture and growth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth, What Will Make a Difference?

When You Feel All Mixed Up

This article is part of the “What Will Make a Difference?” series for your spiritual nurture and growth.

Musanze

Do you know that “all mixed up” feeling? Your stomach is churning, and you’re just not yourself. You’re feeling a lot of inner turmoil, and you don’t know what to think or what it all means. You realize you’re getting a signal that something important is happening within you, but you’re not sure what to do with the feelings or how to go forward.

Maybe you’re feeling that way right now.  I am.

Since returning from Africa a couple of weeks ago, I have felt all mixed up inside. I feel like I have gotten in way over my head, and am being called to go even deeper.

Seeing firsthand again how much suffering is still going on in Rwanda is very upsetting. The genocide ended in 1994, but thousands of orphans, widows, violated women, and maimed individuals have had to carry on, often with very little help or resources.

Now that Jill and I have informally adopted one of these surviving orphans (pictured above with me), we are learning more and more about how difficult life truly is for some people. I feel increasingly disturbed and unsettled by Théoneste’s plight (https://spirit-ledleader.com/?s=Theoneste), and I am desperately trying to work through my emotions.

In my distress, I can feel myself being drawn to God. I need comfort and I want help. So, on the way home from Rwanda, while in Chartres to drop off our “Africa suitcase” for our trip to Congo this winter, I found my way to the Cathedral to pray.

Chartres Cathedral

I sat awhile in front of Jesus of the Sacred Heart statue, contemplating Jesus’ compassion, and asking God to alleviate the suffering of the Rwandan Christians. I stayed even longer in apsidal chapel (pictured above), contemplating the crucifix. Surely “the Man of Sorrows” had something to say to me that might help.

What was I supposed to learn from everything I saw and experienced? Is God calling me to do something? What?

Many thoughts and ideas raced through my head. However, the most powerful notion was not of any specific heroic act of service.

Rather, what I sensed in that quiet place of prayer was simply a call to keep going. The Holy Spirit was saying, “Take the next step of faith. Don’t stop now. Don’t be afraid, and don’t worry about what I might ask of you. Let all that you are experiencing penetrate your heart as deeply as you can, and let it change you. I am taking you deeper and deeper in our relationship, and I will show you what I want you to do for these people….”

There are countless reasons why you may be all mixed up inside today. However, why you are upset is not as important as what God wants to do in you through your distress. Your turmoil is an opportunity to draw closer to God and to be transformed in some way.

Jesus’ life and death shows you the way forward. God may be allowing you to suffer with others, or even unjustly at the hand of others, so that you might become more willing to suffer for others. The Holy Spirit is teaching you to love.

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:16-18, NRSV)

The Point: In the midst of all of your inner turmoil, God is certainly at work in you, even if you feel all mixed up at the moment. Keep looking for how God may be transforming you through your distress and teaching you to love. As you increasingly embrace the suffering of others, say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit, and keep going in your day-by-day, step-by-step, walk of faith.

Prayer: “Loving God, please help me to trust you in the midst of my turmoil, to embrace better my own pain and distress, and to not be so afraid to see and feel the depth of others’ suffering. Grant me grace to feel the fullness your compassion, to respond more and more fully out of your love, and to take whatever steps of faith you are placing before me now.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Spirit-Led Living/Spiritual Growth, What Will Make a Difference?

Forgiveness Beyond Belief

Agnes and Tim

Agnes and Tim

Survivors of Genocide

Survivors of Genocide in Mother's Union

Her husband and children had been killed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, along with over 800,000 others. Hacked to death actually. In this case, by her next-door neighbor.

The killer was sent to prison, but his wife and children still live in the same place. Every day for the past 15 years, “Sarah” has had to walk by their house and be reminded of the horror of that night, of all she has lost, and of all that she must continue to suffer because of what happened. On top of it all, the killer’s wife resents Sarah for causing her husband to go to jail, and is cold and rude toward her.

Then, about two weeks ago the unthinkable happened. Sarah decided she couldn’t take living under this cloud any longer. She took a friend from her church and knocked on her neighbor’s door.

When the woman saw Sarah standing there, she screamed. She left the door hanging open, ran into the interior of the house, and locked herself in the bathroom. When her children begged her to come out, all she would say was, “Run away. Run away. Don’t you know they’ve come here to kill us!”

Sarah and her friend sat down inside the living room and waited. Yet, when the woman refused to leave the bathroom, they decided to come back later with a different friend who knew the woman well. When Sarah returned the next day, this time the neighbor nervously let them in.

What happened next is beyond my comprehension.

Sarah fell on her knees and began pleading with the woman. With tears streaming down her face, she begged for forgiveness. Sarah was sorry that she had been so judgmental of her neighbor. Could she forgive Sarah?

At this, the neighbor dissolved into tears. “No, no! I should have been the one to go to you to ask for forgiveness,” she cried out. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me!”

A miracle was happening.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sarah to live next door to the family of the man who killed her husband and children for all those years, let alone comprehend living with the memory of their brutal murder. But going to ask the man’s wife for forgiveness?? What in the world?

Yet, there she was. She did it. And in an instant, years of hatred, guilt, shame, fear and grief were transformed. I don’t think for a minute that all of their pain is now gone forever, but real healing took place in a way that I have never experienced or heard of before.

I heard this remarkable story from Agnes (pictured above), one of the participants in the Pastors Leadership Training Conference I was leading in Musanze, Rwanda, last week. Agnes runs a ministry to promote reconciliation between about 200 Hutu and Tutsi women, and offers in-home care for many of those who are especially struggling, some of whom are HIV positive due to being raped at the time of the genocide. Her face was literally radiant over what had just taken place the week before, and she kept bubbling over with joy as she told me all that God was doing in so many different lives in the community.

I, on the other hand, was absolutely speechless. I wanted to run out of the room and find some place to weep. I don’t cry that easily, but I had been hearing so many tragic stories of human suffering from the genocide. What few seem to realize is that the nightmare is still going on for thousands upon thousands of orphans and widows living in poverty, struggling to survive without their husbands and fathers, and constantly being reminded of the massacre in myriad ways.

I had been working with 50 pastors for the week, and I was feeling the unimaginable heaviness that each pastor carries from the ongoing legacy of the genocide. The traumatization was evident in their tired eyes, grim faces, and slumping shoulders. Many of them clearly bore deep scars, and perhaps deeper secrets they could tell no one. They were clearly people of faith and dedication, but I didn’t even know if true healing under such circumstances was possible.

But apparently it is.

Sarah’s authentic expression of longing for healing collapsed a seemingly impenetrable wall of judgment and mutual hatred. And in the face of such humility and vulnerability, the neighbor woman refused to cling to her defensive denial and projection of her guilt and shame. Their heartfelt response to one another made real repentance and reconciliation possible.

I still don’t really get it. But I want to learn from these women. And I want to spend more time with people like Agnes and many other men and women I’ve met in Rwanda, who show Christ’s love in such practical ways, and who work tirelessly to help survivors and perpetrators alike to build new lives post-genocide.

And I want to never forget that the unimaginable is not only possible on the side of darkness and evil. God also does unbelievable works of grace in the lives of those who look to Jesus Christ for healing and help, who cry out to him in their longing and despair, and who obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and step out in faith.

I realize now that my flood of emotion when Agnes was speaking was only partly due to all the pain and suffering I was seeing. My heart was breaking because I suddenly knew I had given up on God too easily. Some part of me had stopped believing that such miracles were still possible. I was in Rwanda to inspire, teach, and encourage pastors and leaders, but I needed to hear Sarah’s story to break through my own despair and to revitalize my own faith and hope once again.

Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Agnes.  Thank you, Lord.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18, NRSV)

The Point: Just because we can’t imagine how God can help in certain dire circumstances doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit cannot exceed our imaginations.  We serve an unbelievably compassionate and powerful God, who can do unimaginable works of grace in the lives of those who depend on and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Prayer: “Loving God, please forgive our lack of faith and despair when we cannot imagine how we might forgive others, or experience healing and transformation. We believe, yet we need your help to dispel our lack of belief. Please do in us what we cannot do in ourselves or by ourselves. Thank you.”

4 Comments

Filed under Africa, What Will Make a Difference?

“How Much Do You Want the Light?

Light pouring through South Windows, Chartres Cathedral

Light pouring through South Windows, Chartres Cathedral

Nicholas* had avoided me for weeks. Then all of a sudden he insisted on getting together ASAP. When he finally sat down opposite me, he was almost out of breath. He couldn’t look me in the eyes at first, but immediately his words starting tumbling out of his mouth. Tears streamed down his face.

After a particularly upsetting relapse into an old, hated pattern of behavior, Nick was visibly shaken. He was terrified at the power of the temptation and at his own weakness. Yet, what he hated the most was the horrible effect his sin was having on him. Suddenly the right words came to him:

“It sucks the light out of my being and fills it with darkness.”

Each of us has our own weak spots and pockets of darkness in our life. Some of us nurture envy or jealousy. Others are blinded by greed, self-justification, or delusions. Sometimes we comfort ourselves by fantasizing revenge; filling our eyes, hearts and minds with lust; seeking to feel powerful by being cruel; or by exploding in rage. Even more tragically, sometimes we actually wind up hurting, abusing, or deliberately exploiting others.

We may hate being in the darkness, and we may even despise ourselves for our weaknesses and failures. Yet, in the midst of daily anxieties, pressures, and temptations, slipping back into the darkness can be almost effortless. As our sight dims, we may even become more resistant to the light, or forget how much we have lost along the way.

My own tendency to drift into darkness is one of the main reasons I periodically set aside time to fast and pray. I don’t usually like fasting, but I like what God does in me through it.

Fasting helps me to focus interiorly, and to listen more closely to the Holy Spirit. God often reassures me that I am deeply loved and that I belong to God. In the presence of Christ’s light, sometimes I also see better my emptiness, my resistance, my lack of integrity, and the darkness that still grips me in secret places. I also find greater power to let go of sin, and greater motivation to seek the Light.

In fasting and extended times of prayer, I suggest the following:

• Give up two or three meals and drink only water (or juice if need be) all day.

• Use the meals times to read Scripture, journal, and pray alone.

Set your intention to create extra space for the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Christ into your dark places.

• Ask the Spirit to help you to see what you have been having a hard time facing, and to rekindle your love and longing for Jesus and others—and maybe for yourself, too.

On the road to Damascus. Jesus said to Paul, “I will [send] you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:17-18, NRSV)

No matter how strong we may think we are, we are all capable of self-deception and great sin. Yet, by reaching out to Jesus Christ in faith and earnestness, the Holy Spirit may very well send a powerful, piercing, cleansing, and renewing light that frees us from the various ways that Satan has a hold in our lives.

It’s not a magic solution. We are not completely transformed for all time. And an experience with the Light does not replace the role we can play in avoiding sin the next time. Yet, by continually seeking the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit will expose the lies we cling to, and drive our darkness away. With clearer heads and humbled hearts, we usually know what we need to do differently next time to avoid getting so consumed by the darkness, and to stay in the Light. Then it is up to us to act on the truth.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, NRSV)

The Point: The real question for spiritual growth is not, “How dark is your darkness?” Rather, it is, “How much do you want the Light?” If you want it, you can have it. But you can’t produce it on your own. Only the Holy Spirit can pour Christ’s light into your inner being and consume your darkness…. Is it time for you to set aside a day for fasting and prayer?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to see what I need to see, give me courage to face the truth, and strength to act on what you reveal.”

* In order to protect confidentiality, “Nicholas” is an amalgam of various individuals I have worked with over the years. Yet his situation is very true to the experience of countless sincere Christians I have known.

2 Comments

Filed under Chartres, France, What Will Make a Difference?

What Can I do? It’s Not Working!

Chartres under construction

Chartres under construction

What do you do when you are just not getting the results you hoped for?

You’re working hard and putting yourself out there, but the response from others is disappointing. You’re feeling more and more frustrated or discouraged. You want a different outcome, but you just can’t figure out what’s wrong or what to do differently. Maybe you’re getting angry, and you feel like lashing out. Perhaps you feel like giving up all together.

When I get in this kind of situation, as I did this past week, my first instinct is often reactive. I vacillate between going on the attack and wanting to quit. Yet, there is a third way.

It’s called “change.” First, I had to face the fact that my current approach to teaching my class was not working, and was not going to work. I had to try to see the situation through the eyes of my students, and imagine what they might be feeling and needing. I had to stop blaming others for the disappointing and frustrating situation, and start thinking creatively.

I had a choice to make. Would I stay stuck in my current feelings and just press through anyway? Or, would I step back to get a fresh perspective and be open to change?

Fortunately, I chose the latter approach. But this choice did not come without a fight. Within me, that is. I had to die to the teaching I wanted to give, and then I had to allow new ideas and different methods to surface.  Specifically, I had to do at least ten things to make the shift.

  1. I took some time to be by myself, and avoided the temptation to take out my frustration on class members.
  2. I went for a long walk. (In this case, I had the opportunity of walking the labyrinth inside the Chartres Cathedral three times, surrounded by images of Jesus and other biblical characters.)
  3. I let off steam by muttering under my breath and by making faces for my wife’s camera. (By the way, if you want some comic relief, there’s a hilarious Youtube video on trying to herd cats that my son sent me. Let me know if you want the link.)
  4. I consciously let myself feel all of my feelings (frustration, disappointment, hurt, anger). I didn’t feed them, but neither did I try to talk myself out of them. I let the feelings surge within me. I named them, without judging them.  At first they grew stronger, and then, over time, they started to lose their power and began to dissipate.
  5. I spent a long time journaling, and started this article hoping that by the end of the week I could really live into what I was going to recommend to you.
  6. Through all of this, I was praying. First complaining to God, then asking for help. What do I need to see here? What do I need to let go of? What can I do differently? What do my students most need, and what do they most need from me?
  7. I stood in front of Le Beau Dieu (The Beautiful God), a statue of Jesus on the south porch of the cathedral. I asked Jesus (not the statue) what he would do. Almost immediately my eyes fell to the Bible the Jesus figure was holding. The message seemed clear: get back to letting the class flow directly out of Scripture.
  8. I sat down and rethought the next teaching session from the beginning, based on the language, approach, and content the class members would find most helpful, instead of what I most wanted to teach them.
  9. I went out to dinner with friends to stop obsessing on the experience, but then got up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning to spend extra time thinking and praying before rejoining the rest of the group.
  10. Though my students had not done anything wrong, I forgave them for not being the way I wanted them to be, in order to clear away the negative feelings that grew out my reaction to them. I forgave myself for missing the mark with my teaching and not figuring out what they needed faster.

I’m not sure what kind of article you would have gotten if the class had bombed again! But it didn’t. The new attitude, new material, and new approach made a huge difference.  Between my willingness to change, whatever spiritual work they had done unbeknownst to me, and the moving of the Holy Spirit, the teaching time flowed powerfully once again.

I still wish I could have taught what I wanted to teach, in the way I wanted to do it; but something else was needed in this context, with these particular students, at this unique time in their lives. Thank God, I was given the grace to make the needed changes in time—for their sake.

Paul (then known as Saul) spent a lot of time hurting God’s people, thinking he was working for God. However, when Jesus finally got his attention on the road to Damascus, Paul faced reality, surrendered his will to Christ’s, and started a new chapter in his spiritual journey and service to God. In his telling of the story, he said, “I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’” (Acts 22:10, NRSV)

The point: Our work in the world is not about us. It’s about Christ, and what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us for the sake of those we are called to serve. If something’s not working, we need to face reality, and make whatever changes are needed in order to get into the Spirit’s flow once again.

3 Comments

Filed under Chartres, France, What Will Make a Difference?

Self-Confident or God-Confident?

Chartres Cathedral

I had to laugh. I was walking the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral today, looking for inspiration and peace. I was trying to get motivated to write this week’s web article on self-confidence. Instead, I just felt anxious about whether or not I really had anything worth saying!

Whenever I lack self-confidence like this, or become overly self-conscious, I freeze up or become horribly awkward. I’m afraid I won’t be clever, interesting or original enough, and you won’t keep reading or won’t respect me. So, I procrastinate.

This kind of paralyzing self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence is widespread in my experience. Many of my clients, students, and friends wrestle with these same issues in their own ways.

As I see it, the root cause of the problem is often fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking foolish, fear of what others may be thinking or feeling about us. Our confidence falters, and we hesitate to put ourselves forward.

Sometimes, we have the opposite problem, too. Driven by pride, we become determined to prove our worth or superiority to others—or to ourselves. We may accomplish a lot, but too often the end result is more about us, and less about God.

At the same time, pride can be the cause of a low self-image and our feeling badly ourselves. It works like this: When we can’t do something as well as we’d like, our pride can’t bear the thought of our “losing” or “not measuring up.” So we mope about or feel embarrassed over our shortcomings and failures, and stop trying.

Either way—puffed up into self-serving overdrive or deflated into self-defeating underdrive—we can easily become too pre-occupied with Self.

What’s needed is a shift in our focus. We need to move from being so self-conscious (worrying about our performance or what others might be thinking about us) to being more God-conscious (focusing on what God wants for our lives and how the Holy Spirit works through imperfect mortals to bless others).

And what a difference it makes! When I become more God-confident at least 5 things happen:

1)   I remember to base my self-image first and foremost on how God looks at me (I am loved, valued, cherished, and forgiven; and have purpose in life), and on what God will do through me (not on what others think of me).

2) I ask God how I may best serve Christ’s purposes today and meet the needs of those God brings into my life (rather than on what I might get out of my efforts).

3)  I stop procrastinating, because I know I have important work to do in the name of Jesus that stems from God’s calling and will (rather than waiting until I feel like getting started or I am certain of “success”).

4) I work hard to offer my best to God, because I feel so grateful to be loved by God and eager to be part of whatever the Holy Spirit is doing.

5) I make a conscious decision to trust that God will do good things through me, because that’s how God works when we obey the Spirit’s promptings and use our spiritual gifts to serve others.

In short, focusing on self either keeps us from getting to the work God has for us to do, or distorts our motivation and message by bringing glory to ourselves instead of God. Focusing on God makes our confidence soar, and motivates us to get going with the good work God has for us to do—today!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

The Point: Are you tired of getting all tangled up in yourself? Stop thinking so much about what others are thinking about you and being so afraid. Have more confidence in God’s work in you and through you, and get going with what you know you need to be doing.

10 Comments

Filed under Chartres, France, What Will Make a Difference?