The 4 Ingredients in My ‘I-deal’ Life

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Someone asked me an important question when I told them I was going on a sabbatical to seek direction for my life. Looking me in the eyes with great earnestness, they said, “What makes you happy, Jim? That’s what you should be doing.”

My reply probably surprised them, for many people would have cited romance or worldwide travels as their expected source of happiness.

“The thing that makes me the happiest is to have an impact on others,” I said without hesitation. “And the more impact I’m having, the happier I am.”

Although I don’t really think life is all about “the pursuit of happiness,” this conversation really got me thinking. What, exactly, would my ideal life look like?

I encourage you to ask yourself this “happiness question,” because your answer probably won’t be the same as mine. If you’re not fully satisfied with your present life, what are some things that would bring you greater fulfillment and joy?

After some soul-searching, I’ve identified four primary ingredients necessary to bring me the greatest joy in life. They all start with “I,” so I’m calling this my “I-deal” life.

  1. INTIMACY with God and people. The Bible says “fullness of joy” can only be found in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11), so that must be the starting point in my ideal life. But it’s also clear that close relationships with people are necessary in order to experience lasting joy. By “intimacy,” I’m not referring to romance or sex, but simply the ability to open your heart to others on a deep and vulnerable level. Do you have relationships like that with family and friends? I do, and it’s a blessing I’m profoundly thankful for.
  1. IMPACT. As I told the friend who asked about my happiness, impact is very important to me—perhaps even too  important. I believe we’ve been put on earth not just to be “successful” or just to “hang out” with people. We’re called to make a tangible difference  in the lives of others. Of course, we each have different ways to bring about impact. My personal mission statement is “To change the world through the written and spoken word.” That means I love to write and preach, and those are two of the ways I can touch people’s lives. In my remaining years, I also want to find more ways to pour myself into the next generation. But you may have completely different gifts and passions. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to find your own God-given calling in how to make the world a better place.
  1. INCOME. I’m not retired yet, so income is still an important part of the equation for me. It’s easy to talk in glowing terms about such lofty objectives as intimacy and impact, but we all must find ways to pay the bills as well. If you’re making lots of money but falling short in things like intimacy and impact, I challenge you to make some changes. However, some of my friends have been so intent on their spiritual and social pursuits that they’ve neglected the basic necessity of having adequate financial provision for themselves and their family. Financial stress can really undercut your pursuit of a happy life.
  1. I-CARE. Sorry, but this is the only “I” word I could come up with to mean self-care. Of all the ingredients in my ideal life, this is perhaps the most difficult one for me. Although I’m passionate about impacting others, in the process I often neglect taking care of myself. In the coming season of my life, I must give a much greater focus to my health and fitness. I also need to take more time for rest and recreation, and I must reassess the margins in my work-life balance. As I was departing for my sabbatical, a friend told me, “Have fun!” Sadly, I had to admit that “having fun” is an element of self-care I really need to work on.

Identifying the elements of your ideal life won’t automatically answer all the questions you face concerning your future—but it’s a great place to start. So set aside some time, find a journal to write in, and get started in the process of defining what the life of your dreams really looks like. And don’t forget to solicit the input of trusted friends who can help you deal with any blind spots.

Your ideal life awaits! But you’ll have a much greater chance of experiencing it if you know what it looks like.

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Navigating Life’s Dead Ends

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I love the GPS on my phone. How did we ever get anywhere without electronic navigation to point the way for us?

However, my GPS has sometimes led me astray. More than once, I’ve found myself at a dead end, even after carefully following the GPS instructions.

Life is like that. Sometimes the journey goes smoothly, but at other times we find ourselves at a dead end we never envisioned.

There are various kinds of dead ends in life. Relationships or jobs may end. Dreams and ambitions may die. And old seasons of life must end before new ones fully begin.

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the “dead end” stories in the Bible. They not only provide interesting lessons on how to navigate such situations, but they also illustrate that an apparent dead end may not be the “end” of the story at all.

ABRAHAM and SARAH

For decades, these servants of God had held on to His promise to give them a son. But as Abraham approached 100 and Sarah 90, they finally came to a dead end. Time had run out, for Sarah had been barren many years, and Abraham’s body was “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:11-12).

What happens to your  faith when God has given you promises, still unfulfilled, but you’ve run out of gas on a dead-end road? If you’re like me, it takes a while before you quit relying on your own strength and admit that your own efforts are “as good as dead.”  Sometimes you just plain need a miracle, and that’s exactly what God did for Abraham and Sarah.

THE ISRAELITES

On several occasions, God’s people seemed to reach a dead end in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The first dead end occurred at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army bearing down on them from behind (Exodus 14). Forty years later, they came to another impasse, when the Jordan River was at flood stage, seemingly impossible to cross (Joshua 3).

In both cases, God made a way where there seemed to be no way. But in each instance, a step of faith was required: Moses stretching out his rod over the Red Sea and the priests stepping into the flooded Jordan River.

These episodes are a great reminder that when we come to a dead end, the Lord will give us instructions for what to do. Instead of moaning and groaning about our circumstances, dead ends present us with an opportunity to listen for God’s plan in moving forward.

PAUL

Sometimes our dead end will seem likely to take the form of an actual physical death. Those who survive cancer or some other life-threatening condition often describe experiencing a new lease on life.

For example, the apostle Paul was so badly injured in Acts 14:19-20 that people thought he was dead and dragged him out of the city. But through this and other experiences, Paul discovered more of God’s amazing resurrection power, able to transform even the bleakest of circumstances:

It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 MSG).

Can you relate to Paul’s description here? He felt like he’d been given a death sentence, but instead it was a resurrection sentence! It turned out to be incredibly beneficial, forcing Paul to “trust God totally”  instead of his “own strength or wits.”

A Promise to You from God

If you find yourself at some kind of dead end today, these stories should provide great hope. Based on these Biblical accounts, reaching a dead end may signal that something WONDERFUL is about to happen! Why? Because when we come to the end of ourselves, we’re just at the beginning of supernatural enablement from God.

The Lord never promised us that life would always be easy. But He DID promise to be with us through it all:

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior  (Isaiah 43:2-3 MSG).

What great news! Even when it looks like “you’re between a rock and a hard place,”  it will no longer be a dead end when the Lord comes to act on your behalf.

Take time to ask Him for His instructions today. Then get ready to watch Him turn your dead end into a new beginning!

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Breaking a Most Difficult Addiction

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Just one week into my much-needed sabbatical, one thing is abundantly clear: I find it extremely hard to fully relax without feeling guilty and unproductive. As an addict to the world of deadlines and to-do lists, “productivity detox” is a difficult and painful process.

Perhaps you’re a performance addict too. But you’ll never know for sure until you take time to break free from your dependence on activities and accomplishments—the “drugs” that enable you to feel good about yourself.

For years, friends have assured me that God’s love for me is not based on anything I can DO for Him. But I’ve been so busy trying to do His will that I’ve never really been able to test their theory.

If you’re a performance addict, you live in fear of what would happen if you suddenly stopped performing. Having carried the world on your shoulders for so long, you’re terrified that a moment’s rest might cause everything around you to come crashing down.

And what would people think if we no longer were performing and producing? It turns out we’re not only addicted to our accomplishments, we’re also addicted to the quest to look good in the eyes of our peers.

Amazing Benefits

My sabbatical has brought me face to face with my need to WAIT for God’s empowerment and direction when they don’t come immediately. I’ve discovered that resting and waiting often go hand in hand, as King David described: Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7).

I’m not sure which is more difficult for me, resting or waiting. I’m poor at both of them. Why? Because nothing productive seems to be accomplished while I’m resting or waiting.

Yet the Bible gives some magnificent promises to those who learn to wait on God. Those who take time to wait on Him will be…

  • Free from shame (Psalm 25:3, Isaiah 49:23).
  • Strengthened and encouraged (Psalm 27:14).
  • Enabled to expand into new territory (Psalm 37:34).
  • Assured of His provision (Psalm 104:27).
  • Able to receive divine guidance and counsel (Psalm 106:13).
  • Recipients of supernatural blessings and breakthroughs (Proverbs 8:34, Isaiah 64:4).
  • Strengthened to mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Blessed with a revelation of God’s goodness (Lamentations 3:25).
  • Recipients of fresh vision from the Lord (Habakkuk 2:3).

This is just a small sample of the amazing promises given to those who wait on the Lord. So why is this so difficult for many of us?

God’s Waiting Room

Lately I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples when they were told not to DO anything after His ascension, but rather “to WAIT for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). The whole world needed to be saved, yet they were instructed to wait in Jerusalem.

It turned out that these faithful believers only had to wait 10 days before the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. But while they were waiting they didn’t know  this would be the timetable. When God puts us in His “Waiting Room,” we’re seldom told how long the wait will be. We just have to trust Him that the resulting blessings will be worth the wait.

So are you willing to join me in the difficult process of breaking our addiction to activity and accomplishments? Are you ready to enter into God’s rest and patiently wait for a fresh breakthrough of His power and guidance?

Like a heroin addict who goes cold turkey, breaking our performance addiction is never easy. Our self-image is at stake, after all. And when we fully rest and patiently wait, we’re likely to make a horrifying discovery: Our self-image has been based more on our accomplishments than on recognizing God’s unconditional love for us.

But imagine the joy and freedom you’ll experience when you realize your Heavenly Father loves you even on the days when you haven’t accomplished a thing. Yes, He loves you more than you’ll ever know, and your performance has absolutely nothing to do with it.

So go ahead and thank Him. And breathe a huge sigh of relief.

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Avoiding Overdrawn Relationships

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Many decades ago, I discovered the reality of Jesus’ teaching that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). So I became a giver, and I’ve received many blessings as a result.

But, as with most truths, there’s another side to this principle: Healthy relationships are reciprocal.  When one person in the relationship does all the giving and the other does all the taking, the bond inevitably becomes twisted and toxic.

Sadly, I’ve been rather slow in learning this. Giving has always been a natural part of who I am, but receiving is much more difficult for me. I don’t like asking people for their help, even when I need it. And the thought of being a burden to someone else is horrifying.

So, when I give, I seldom expect anything in return. Based on Jesus’ words in Luke 6:34-35, I’ve always thought this was the godly way to relate to people. But once again, I’ve often missed another important component of the relationship equation. Too often, I’ve been willing to continually give and give, while the other person received and received. Although this made me feel good at first, it was a prescription for codependency, certainly not a healthy relationship.

The apostle Paul seemed to face this kind of situation with the Corinthian church. He had poured his life into them and opened his heart wide. While this kind of imbalance was fine in their infancy, he said it was now time for them to grow up and open their hearts to him as well (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

Monitoring Your Account

If we don’t ever monitor our checking account, we run the risk of overdrawing it from time to time. Our relationships need to be monitored and assessed in much the same way.

I’ve found that when our emotional bank account is full and overflowing, it’s very easy to be a giver. But if the other person never puts anything back into the relational bank account, we eventually discover that the account is empty or even overdrawn.

Have you ever experienced this? If you’re a chronic giver like me, I’m sure you have. And then you find yourself resenting the very people you joyfully gave your life to for so long.

If you are willing to do all the giving, you’ll have no trouble finding people willing to do all the taking. Even with that imbalance, everything is likely to seem fine until the relational bank account finally runs dry.

This is a hard lesson, but you’re not doing people any favor if you allow them to become a leech instead of a healthy contributor to the relationship. They may not be able to contribute as much as you do, and that’s okay. But they need to contribute something.

Making Changes

Recently I’ve had to say “NO” to several people who wanted to make a withdrawal from my emotional bank account. Why? Because, over the course of time, they had never put anything into the account.

When people face times of crisis, it’s natural to want to help them. But what about a situation where someone always seems to be in crisis mode? And how should you respond those who never make any deposit into your account even when times are good for them? It may seem harsh, but sometimes the imbalance is so great that the wisest thing to do is to shut the door on the relationship altogether.

In contrast, I’ve found that it’s always a great joy to give to those who’ve taken time to make a deposit of some kind into my life. Whatever they need, I’m happy to give it if I can.

So I hope you’ve discovered the joy in being a giver. But I also hope you’ve learned to develop healthy, reciprocal relationships, where both of you are putting something into the account.

If, like me, your relationships have often been off-balanced, perhaps it’s time for some frank discussions with your friends and family members. Don’t wait until the account is totally overdrawn to request some changes.

One More Thing…

Even as we learn the importance of cultivating reciprocal relationships, where both parties make contributions into the account, there’s another vital principle we must never forget: The ultimate source of love is God Himself, not any human relationship.

“Let us love one another,”  we’re told in 1 John 4:7, “for love comes from God.” If we look to any other source, we’re certain to face disappointment.

You see, we’re much more likely to be hurt by our human relationships when we allow our love relationship with the Lord to run dry. When His love is overflowing in our lives (Psalm 23:5), we’re far less likely to be offended by the failure of people to make deposits into our emotional account. That doesn’t let them off the hook, but it means we can abide in God’s peace and joy even when people let us down.

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The Great Adventure…or the Great Yawn?

 

Leaving nets

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the stunning passage of Scripture where Jesus tells some fishermen in Galilee, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Captivated by this teacher and miracle-worker—later revealed as the Son of God—these men “immediately left their nets and followed Him.”

Think of how radical their response was. Without protesting or asking questions, they each left their livelihood in order to pursue an uncertain future as a follower of Jesus.

You see, right from the beginning, the Christian life was meant to be a GREAT ADVENTURE. But let’s be honest: Many of us who follow Jesus today have settled for a humdrum, risk-free brand of discipleship. Instead of being a great adventure, our lives could be described as a GREAT YAWN.

You’ve probably heard the principle: No risk, no reward. And often the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward.

Yet when was the last time you took a true step of faith in following Christ—some kind of action that would really cost you something if you got it wrong?

Well…a series of events, some expected and some not, have come together recently to propel me once again toward a more adventurous Christian life:

  • My landlord decided to sell her house instead of renew my lease when it expired at the end of April.
  • My daughter Abbie and her husband Hamish had my first grandbaby a few weeks ago, all the way in New Zealand.
  • Hearing my initial plan to visit Abbie for about 10 days, my awesome boss suggested I take a longer period—even a month or two—“to figure out what God wants to do with the rest of my life.”
  • Once again, my initial plan changed when I set out to find a new place to live after my sabbatical. Although I looked at several houses and apartments, I haven’t sensed peace about any of them at this point. So…believe it or not, I’ve moved everything I own into storage until I return. My only mailing address is a box at the UPS Store: 9789 Charlotte Hwy, Ste 400 #221, Fort Mill, SC 29707!

Right now I’m scheduled to be back in my office at Inspiration Ministries on June 19, but that’s about all I know at the moment.

When I tell people about this season of new adventures in my life, they nearly all respond, “Wow, Jim. That’s really exciting!”

Yes, it IS really exciting. But it’s also a bit scary! It’s like jumping out of an airplane and hoping your parachute will work.

I’m looking for people to join me in the GREAT ADVENTURE. Of course, I would value your prayers, and I would love to have you click this link to make a special donation to Crosslink Ministries: http://smplfy.cm/2pJozpo

But even more than that, I invite you to join me in the fantastic adventure of drawing near to God and listening for His instructions for your life. Rediscover what it means to trust the Lord and let go of the things of this world.

Genuine faith is exhilarating…FUN! But it’s surely no fun being in a rut and sleepwalking through life.

The Bible says God has an open door for you, and He’s beckoning you to enter in: Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1-2). Will you heed the call?

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