Avoiding Overdrawn Relationships

overdrawn account 3

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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Getting Back on the Trapeze

Trapeze 1

When you learned how to ride a bike, you probably fell down a few times. Hopefully, you got back on and tried again.

The same principle applies to many other things in life—such as relationships, careers, and ministries. You can’t allow momentary failures or setbacks to keep you from picking yourself up and giving things another try.

At the same time, there’s another principle to remember when you begin again: Usually there are some things you must let go of, even as you are reaching out toward new things ahead.

From time to time, I find myself humming an old tune, which seems an apt prophetic picture of where many of us find ourselves today:

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,

The daring young man on the flying trapeze.

Just as a circus trapeze artist must let go of one trapeze and fly through the air until grabbing the next one, I’ve often found myself in a similar position—flying through the air in transition between the trapeze left behind and the one still to come.

Perhaps you can relate. You know you aren’t where you used  to be, but you’re not where we’re going to be either. You find yourself flying swiftly through the air, on your way to a coming trapeze that’s not yet entirely visible.

It must be an exhilarating experience for a trapeze artist to fly through the air like that. But I’m sure it’s also terrifying to know the force of gravity will take its effect if the next trapeze doesn’t soon come within reach.

This process of “letting go and moving on” is part of God’s plan is to take us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And while this process is exhilarating at times, it’s easy to feel apprehensive when you have nothing to hang onto except the Lord Himself.

Experienced trapeze artists realize they dare not look down or they’ll miss the next trapeze. Big mistake!

Fortunately, God’s intention is not only to keep us from falling (Jude 1:24), but also to enable us to soar on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31). The next trapeze is not a demotion but part of the “upward call of God” (Philippians 3:14). He’s taking us HIGHER!

If you’ve had some mishaps on the trapeze before, you may feel wary about getting back on. But despite the dangers, this is no time to play it safe. If you insist on clinging for dear life to your original trapeze, you are certain to make no progress at all. You’ll only go higher when you exhibit the courage of “the daring young man” who defied gravity and reached upward.

Just as God challenged people in Bible days, He would say to us today: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

So go ahead and have courage to let go of the past. Press forward and let Him strengthen you for exciting new adventures on His flying trapeze.

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Comfort Zones & Coffins — Is There Really a Difference?

comfort zone 4

Over the past few years, I’ve met many people who’ve been wounded by life’s traumas. Some have gone through the agony of divorce or betrayal by a business partner. Others lost a loved one or were fired from a job.

After we’ve been traumatized, our tendency is to pull back and try to avoid further risks. We opt to play it safe and stay nestled within our comfort zone.

But I’ve found that comfort zones are a lot like coffins. In a coffin you’re already dead, but in a comfort zone you’re slowly dying. This seems like a distinction without much of a difference.

So…when was the last time you did something outside your comfort zone? When did you take a risk in order to get something you wanted or to advance toward a God-given dream?

You’ve probably heard the old maxim about turtles: They only make progress when they stick their neck out!

When was the last time you stuck your neck out?

In sixth grade I wrote the best poem of my life, and it was all about risk-taking. I must have been in a cynical mode that day, as you’ll see by the poem’s ending…

The ant, the ant, hid under a plant,

For he was afraid to be seen.

His friends had been crushed, and trampled and brushed,

By creatures much larger and mean.

 

So all day he stayed, and huddled and prayed,

But his hunger made his cowardice fade.

He jumped out and said, “BE BRAVE TILL YOU’RE DEAD!”

As a foot came down on his head.

As I reflect on the lessons in this, my greatest of poems, I feel sorry for the ant. I’m not particularly sorry for how his life ended, but rather for all the time he wasted playing it safe in his comfort zone.

The tragedy for many people is not how their life ended, but the sad fact that they never really lived. During the interval between their birth and their death, they seldom made a difference in the lives of others.

The ant in my poem was hiding under a plant, but I can’t help but wonder where you might be hiding today. Perhaps you are hiding from your true calling or hiding from the risk of loving someone deeply once again.

The ant threw his cowardice aside because he got hungry. I pray today that you will regain your hunger to fulfill God’s highest purposes for your life. May you hunger for “more,” and may your hunger be so intense that you cast your fears aside.

Be brave, my friend! There’s no other way to find real life.

“The person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive.” – Habakkuk 2:4 MSG

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When Your GPS Signal Returns

Magi 2

Recently I was praying with a friend who was struggling to find God’s direction for his life. As we prayed, I vividly remembered the Bible’s account of how the magi temporarily lost sight of the star that had started them on their journey:

Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).

What an intriguing story. The magi had been so moved by their initial sighting of this star that they left everything and set off on a journey of hundreds of miles just to glimpse and worship the newborn King. But at first the star only guided them as far as Jerusalem, where the religious leaders and King Herod pointed them to Bethlehem as the likely place of the Messiah’s birth.

As these men set off for Bethlehem, something very exciting happened: “Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies.”

As this passage came to mind, I immediately recognized how it applied to my friend’s situation. Several years before, he had sensed clear direction from the Lord to proceed in a certain direction. Yet the cares and circumstances of life had hindered him—and now his original vision seemed like a dim memory.

Sensing the Holy Spirit speaking into his situation, I told my friend with great confidence, “The star of guidance is going to appear for you again!”

I also pointed out that, as with the magi, it would likely be the “same star” as he had seen before. To use a modern parallel, it’s as if his GPS had quit working for a time, but now it was about to resume charting the original direction.

Perhaps this is a word of encouragement for you as well. Is your spiritual GPS still functioning? As God did in the case of the magi, sometimes He sovereignly removes our external guidance for a time, causing us to seek Him once again. However, notice that the magi experienced great joy  when they saw the star again—and so it will be with us.

As the magi discovered, incredible joy rises in our hearts when we realize we’re in “the right place” at “the right time.” And it’s important to see that the star didn’t just lead them in some random direction: “It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.” That’s the ultimate purpose of all divine guidance, isn’t it? God wants to lead us closer to Jesus.

A personal note…

The same night as I prayed with my friend, my sleep was restless. Finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I gave up sleeping and started pondering how the story of the magi’s renewed guidance applied to my own life.

Like my friend, I’ve been sensing that the Lord wants to give me fresh vision and guidance. I’ve even been planning a sabbatical when I can get some needed rest and a new perspective.

But there at 3:30, tossing and turning on my bed, some things became very clear to me. Like the magi, I had sought direction from friends and “religious leaders,” when what I really needed was to see the star again.

In mere moments, I began to receive some of the “fresh vision” I craved—and it turned out to be a return of some “old vision” I’d lost sight of and neglected.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. It turned out that I already had  vision. As with the magi, when the “star” of guidance appeared to me in the middle of that restless night, it was the same star that had set me on my journey several years before.

I know I still have a long way to go. But I’m headed toward “Bethlehem” to see the King, and I’m pretty excited about it.

I pray you’ll take time to look again for the star that got you started. Although the night around you may be dark, that’s when stars shine the brightest.

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Why Was Elijah Depressed?

Elijah cave

Elijah has always been one of my favorite Bible characters, and I’m particularly intrigued by the chapter where he fights deep depression (1 Kings 19). The mighty prophet had witnessed amazing answers to prayer, stopping the rain for years before starting it again. He had multiplied a widow’s meager supply of food and raised her son from the dead. And for good measure, he called down fire from heaven and slayed the false prophets of Baal.

Huge victories, to say the least. Impressive demonstrations of faith. Causes for great celebration, we might think.

So how in the world did Elijah become utterly depressed—to the extent that he wanted God to end his life?

Although some people act as if depression has only one cause, in Elijah’s case we see this simply isn’t true. You might come up with a different list than mine, but I’ve found 7 lessons about depression we can learn from Elijah’s story:

  1. Be careful what you listen to. The onset of Elijah’s melancholy can be traced to 1 Kings 19:2: “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah.”  Every moment of every day, we are bombarded with messengers, aren’t we? God is speaking. The devil is speaking. And we receive countless positive or negative messages through the people around us and diverse forms of media. Beware: The spirit of Jezebel is still speaking, my friend! And if we listen to that diabolical messenger, we’ll inevitably become depressed, just like Elijah.
  2. Avoid the tendency to go it alone. Elijah made two mistakes that contributed to his downward spiral. First, he left his servant behind (v. 3). During the prophet’s dark hours in the cave, no one was with him to cheer him up or offer helpful perspective. But an even worse problem was his disconnect from the God-fearing Israelites who could have been his allies: the “seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (v. 16). It’s depressing to feel all alone in a daunting mission—but sometimes we just need to connect with those who would happily be our comrades.
  3. Recognize the physical factors influencing your state of mind. Depression isn’t just a spiritual or psychological condition. Often it’s greatly influenced by factors that are physical or chemical in nature. If you study this chapter in detail, you’ll see that Elijah was extremely fatigued, deprived of adequate sleep for several days. He also was dehydrated and lacking in nutrition until God sent an angel to give him water and food (vs. 5-8). On top of everything else, he had faced a period of great stress, which often results in adrenal exhaustion and other deficits in a person’s body chemistry.
  4. Assess whether you’re in the right place. Twice in this passage, God asks the prophet a fascinating question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verses 9 & 13). If you’re feeling depressed today, it’s good to ask whether you’re “out of position” in some way. Are you in a job or ministry where you don’t fit? Are you remaining in the wrong city or country, when the Lord has been nudging you to move somewhere else? Are you staying in a toxic relationship, when you know you don’t have God’s peace?
  5. Beware of the egotistical view that everything depends on you. When you try to play God, you will inevitably become both exhausted and depressed. Elijah told the Lord, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (v. 10). He knew there was a lot more work to be done in bringing repentance and national restoration to Israel, and he felt the job depended entirely on him! When we get stuck in that kind of overwhelming mindset, we need to pause and (1) cast our burdens on the Lord, and (2) recognize our need to team up with other people in order to fulfill the remaining mission.
  6. Amid whirling circumstances and activities, make sure you don’t lose touch with God’s gentle whisper and still small voice. While it’s clear Elijah knew a lot about intimacy with God, it seems he slipped away from that intimacy amid the busyness of his life and ministry. Can you relate? In the midst of the busyness of “serving God,” it’s all too easy to neglect spending quality time with Him. In this case, the Lord showed Elijah “a great and strong wind…an earthquake…and a fire” (vs. 11-12), but the divine message came with His gentle whisper instead of any of these dramatic events. Ask yourself: Can you still hear the Lord’s quiet voice when you’re by yourself, or do you only feel His presence when the worship band is blaring?
  7. Find hope in remembering your mission—or in finding a new one, if necessary. Elijah had already accomplished a great deal. It was understandable to wonder if his life’s mission had already been completed. But it’s incredibly depressing when you no longer believe God still has an important purpose for your life. A major breakthrough in shedding his depression came when Elijah was recommissioned by the Lord with a new calling—to anoint some kings and “anoint Elisha as prophet in your place” (v. 15-16). Perhaps this is a message for you as well: It could be time to equip the next generation and train your replacement!

Action Steps

Most of us have faced a bout of serious depression at one time or another. Hey, if it could happen to Elijah, you and I certainly aren’t immune.

However, you don’t need to stay in the “cave” or the valley of despair. Learning the lessons from Elijah’s story, you can believe God’s promises and quit listening to the messengers of condemnation and defeat. You can learn to rely on the Lord and your comrades instead of carrying the entire load on your own shoulders.

It’s also important to regularly monitor the physical factors you’re dealing with. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, hydration, and nutrition? Do you need to take steps to eliminate some of the stress in your life?

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself the “placement” question God asked Elijah. Are you in the right place…the right role…with the right people?

If, like Elijah, you’ve lost your sensitivity to the Lord’s gentle whisper amid life’s busyness, I pray you’ll hear it once again. And when you do, don’t be surprised if He reaffirms your calling—or gives you a whole new mission.

I’m praying your best days are still ahead!  

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Do You Have a SUSTAINABILITY Problem?

sustainability 1

I had never given much thought to the issue of “sustainability” until my daughter entered the master’s program in Urban Planning at the University of California Irvine. Abbie helped me see that while some activities appear to work satisfactorily in the short term, they cannot be successfully sustained down the road.

Perhaps you think of sustainability mostly in terms of environmental issues, but I’ve come to realize the wisdom of applying the sustainability question to just about every area of life.

First, I started getting invitations to free seminars by financial planners who wanted to sign me up for help with my retirement planning. I soon discovered that every planner’s goal was to paint a dire, self-serving picture: Without their help in growing my nest egg, my current standard of living was unsustainable.

And then a number of my friends embarked on dating relationships with women who lived in other cities, states, or even countries. They had met their soulmate, they assured me, and I was very happy for them. But I couldn’t help but wonder about the sustainability question.

Recently I’ve also found myself paying more attention to people’s eating habits. In my younger days, I was a big fan of Krispy Kreme donuts, fast food, and the Golden Corral buffet. But now I see the price many of us baby boomers are paying for our lack of nutritional restraint in previous years. Of course, eating junk food won’t kill you in the short run—but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle if you want a healthy future.

As I seek to apply the sustainability question to these practical areas like finances, relationships, and nutrition, I’m seeing how this approach leads to greater maturity. While immature people take little thought for the future as they seek to satisfy their immediate desires, those who are mature understand the great virtue of delayed gratification.

Inevitably, there are consequences  to our lifestyle choices, even choices that seem rather small and insignificant at the time. Often, though, the full consequences aren’t seen until many years down the road.

As you survey your life today, do you detect any sustainability problems? Are you engaging in activities, habits, or expenditures in the short run that will bring about negative outcomes to your long-term happiness?

The good news is that you don’t really need a master’s degree to recognize the wisdom of the sustainability question. You just need maturity and self-discipline.

Ironically, this issue of self-control brings us full-circle—right back to Urban Planning. Solomon warns in Proverbs 25:28, “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.”  You see, self-control and sustainability go hand in hand. The walls of our lives—and ultimately our cities—are broken down when we sacrifice our future for the pleasures of the moment.

Solomon adds in Proverbs 16:32, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” Before we can successfully tackle the problems of our cities, we must first receive God’s help in conquering ourselves.

My prayer for you today is that, filled with God’s goodness and love, you’ll find joy that’s sustainable all the days of your life—and into eternity as well (Psalm 23:6).

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5 Strategies for Overcoming Stress Overload

stress 2

Stress often gets a bad rap. It’s not always bad. Our goal should certainly not be a “stress-free” life, for that kind of existence would be extremely boring and unproductive.

Just as a guitar string needs some “stress” in order to be in proper tune, so do we. If you strum a guitar string that is too tight, it’s liable to snap. But the same is true if the string is too loose. Whether too tight or too loose, if the string is out of tune it becomes more vulnerable to damage.

Of course, a few people have the gift of perfect pitch, able to keep their strings under exactly the right tension. But most of us need to use a guitar tuner or some other device that lets us know how the string is supposed to sound. Instead of the subjective approach, just tuning the instrument by ear, we need an objective standard to synchronize with.

I hope your life is well-tuned today, with just the right amount of stress. But if you’re anything like me, your tendency is to keep juggling more and more balls until you’re in danger of stress overload. Eventually you hit the breaking point, and it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Over many decades of life and ministry, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in detecting and diffusing stress overload—mostly because I’ve so often been its victim.

Here are 5 of the top strategies I’ve discovered for overcoming this commonly recurring problem:

  1. Remember that God is God, and you’re not.

This principle is so basic, yet so deep. At the root of all stress overload is the human inclination to forget that God is on the throne of the universe. Throughout the Scriptures, we’re told to be still and know that HE is God (Psalm 46:10). We’re reminded that the government of creation is on HIS shoulders rather than ours (Isaiah 9:6-7). And we’re invited to cast our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7) and find rest for our soul (Matthew 11:28-30).

Not matter how strong, smart, creative, or resilient you might be, you will do a terrible job trying to be God. So if you feel like you’ve been given “more than you can handle” today, it may be because you’re trying to shoulder responsibilities that only God Himself is qualified to handle.

I’ll never forget my Grandma Fraggiotti singing her favorite hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” The song’s beautiful message somehow was even more penetrating when sung in Grandma’s distinct German accent.

  1. Recognize you’re not called upon to solve every problem and meet every need.

I’ve often fallen prey to stress overload because of trying to do everyone else’s job for them. Years ago I used to love playing volleyball during our church picnics. I was, in all humility, better than most of the other players, so I frequently tried to cover their positions as well as my own. Although I usually was successful doing this for a while, the ball would typically end up falling right where I myself was supposed to be. I was so overextended covering other people’s assignments, that I too often failed to cover my own.

I love John the Baptist’s reply when people asked about his identity. “I am not the Christ!” he told them (John 1:20). You and I need to remember that profound truth as well. We are not the whole body of Christ, but simply a part. In order to fulfill our true identity, we need to be very clear on who we are NOT.

On several occasions, people tried to get Jesus involved in situations He knew He wasn’t called to handle (e.g., Luke 12:13-14). At other times, He refused to fit into other people’s timeframe, because He realized His time had not yet come (John 7:2-8, John 11:3-6).

You will surely succumb to stress overload if you’re always allowing other people’s procrastination to constitute an emergency on your part. Likewise, you must learn to say “no” when you discern that people have an agenda for you that’s not God’s agenda.

  1. Focus your attention on the needs of today, rather than excessively dwelling on baggage of the past or events in the future.

One of my mother’s favorite Bible verses was Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Much of our stress comes either from trying to change yesterday (which is impossible) or worrying about situations that may or may not occur tomorrow.

Remember: God only promises to give us enough grace and strength for TODAY. When tomorrow comes, we’ll have the strength we need then too. But we’ll inevitably find ourselves overwhelmed if we attempt to shoulder the cares of yesterday, today, and tomorrow all at the same time.

  1. Remember the Sabbath principle.

God designed humankind to experience a rhythm of work and rest (Exodus 20:8-11). You weren’t made to work 24/7, nor even 24/6. You need to get adequate daily sleep and set aside consistent time each week for rest and revitalization.

Stress overload is also reduced when you take time to exercise, have fun, and do other activities that provide “energy in.” Stephen Covey refers to this principle as “sharpening the saw.” Few things are as stressful as trying to carry out our responsibilities in life when we’re feeling drained and empty.

  1. Periodically disengage from the cares of life for several days in a row.

While a weekly Sabbath rest break is vital to overcoming stress overload, sometimes we need more than that. I periodically come to places in my life when I need a personal retreat, vacation, or even a sabbatical.

To paraphrase Jesus’ words in Mark 6:31, “You need to come apart so that you won’t fall apart!” He and His disciples were hard workers, pouring their lives out for others. But He also modeled the importance of regularly getting away from the grind of ministry in order to gain new perspective, recharge our spiritual batteries, and regain our emotional vitality.

My favorite car ever was a baby blue 1976 Fiat. But it was a stick shift, and sometimes I forgot to push the clutch when shifting gears. The result was a terrible grinding sound, as the moving gears collided. I learned a valuable lesson from that car: Whenever I’m about to make a major shift or transition in my life, I need to “push the clutch” and momentarily disengage the gears.

By implementing these 5 strategies, you can experience a life of greater balance, joy, and longevity. Instead of operating on overload, your stress level will become like the strings of a finely tuned musical instrument.

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The Perils of Being a Good Juggler

jugglers

I have an exceptional ability to juggle lots of balls at the same time. I don’t mean literal balls. My hand-and-eye coordination isn’t good enough for that. But, better than most people, I’m able to successfully juggle multiple projects, activities, and relationships.

Many of my best friends are only able to focus on one project at a time. Sometimes I envy them, for being a good juggler is both a blessing and a curse.

Almost anyone can successfully juggle one ball from hand to hand. And with a little practice, most people can handle two or three balls. Juggling four or five balls is far more difficult, though. Even if you can juggle four or five balls for a short period, the problem is sustainability.

I’ve found that when you’re a good juggler, people keep giving you more balls. It’s not really their fault, but your boss, spouse, kids, and friends seem to think your capacity is unlimited. So you go from juggling one ball…to two…to three…to four. And everything goes splendidly at first.

Yet when you’re a good juggler, you inevitably end up with one more ball than you can handle. Sadly, you seldom see how hazardous this progression is—not until ALL the balls end up on the floor.

Those of us who are good jugglers typically end up juggling many of the wrong  balls. We have a hard time saying NO. Instead of prioritizing and focusing, we try convincing people of our nearly superhuman abilities.

There’s an old gospel song that says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The challenge for good jugglers is that we often forget Who this song is referring to. God is able to simultaneously juggle all the balls in the universe—but we’re not God.

If you’re a good juggler like me, my heart goes out to you. As the Scriptures advise, I hope you’ll learn to cast your cares on the Lord, remembering that He’s the only limitless juggler. May you regularly seek His wisdom on which balls are meant for you, and which ones aren’t.

If you’ve taken on too many balls, running the risk of dropping them all, I pray you’ll recognize your precarious situation before it’s too late. In the end, you’ll be far more productive—and much happier—if you focus on your true calling. That’s where you’ll find God’s grace and strength.

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Wearing Tom Brady’s Jersey (& Other Craziness)

Tom Brady 2

I grew up in the era of Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, and I’m convinced he was the best football player of all time. Yet I never had a Jim Brown jersey. In fact, except for the players who were actually on the team, I don’t remember people wearing NFL jerseys back then.

From Boston to Houston this weekend, thousands of people will be wearing Tom Brady jerseys. Last year our hometown Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl, so Cam Newton jerseys were a big thing. Sadly, Cam didn’t play so well in the Super Bowl—nor ever since, for that matter. His jersey sales have probably declined as a result.

Frankly, I don’t really get the jersey thing. When someone wears a New England #12 jersey, everyone can tell it’s not the real  Tom Brady. It’s an impostor…a wannabe. No one is impressed by impersonators, nor is anyone fooled when you wear the jersey of your favorite sports star.

So what’s the point of wearing someone else’s jersey?

The Bible has some interesting examples of this principle…

King Saul tried to give David his armor to wear, but the young man realized the armor simply didn’t fit. It was the king’s  “jersey,” not his own. So David decided to go against Goliath instead with his own armaments—a slingshot and five smooth stones. He explained to Saul that he preferred to use weapons he’d already tested in his own life, when defeating lions and bears (1 Samuel 17).

In another case, Jesus rebuked the believers in Sardis for not living up to the label on their jersey:  “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”  (Revelation 3:1).

You see, it’s considered hypocrisy when you have a great name on your jersey, but your lifestyle doesn’t match. Perhaps that’s the true meaning of the 10 Commandments precept, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Instead of being a rule against profanity, perhaps the deeper meaning is that we shouldn’t wear the Lord’s name on our jersey if we’re not committed to seeking His will.

Putting Jesus’ name on your jersey is not something to do lightly. As the apostle Paul warned, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord must turn away from unrighteousness” (2 Timothy 2:19 HCSB).

Nevertheless, the Bible says that as believers we’ve “clothed” ourselves with Christ—we’ve willingly taken His name and put on His jersey (Galatians 3:27 NASB). And even though NFL jerseys are expensive, wearing the name of Jesus is certainly a much more expensive and courageous step than wearing Tom Brady’s jersey.

There’s something we desperately need in order to successfully wear the name of Christ. We must heed His offer to be clothed with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49 NASB). To live as true Christians, we must be anointed—like our Savior—with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wearing Tom Brady’s jersey will never enable you to become like him. But when you clothe yourself with Christ and the power of His Spirit, you’ll increasingly be transformed into His likeness (Romans 8:29). That bodes well for winning your personal Super Bowl.   

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