The Happiness Switch

How 2017 Unexpectedly Became My Happiest Year in Decades

Like King David in the Bible, many of my journal entries in recent years could have been titled, “Why am I so depressed…so dissatisfied with life?” This was especially true most years in November and December, when I faced holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

So it came as a surprise when I noticed this month that I’m happier than I’ve been in years – even decades. How could this be, when most things in my life are exactly the same as they’ve been for the past several years?

Strangely, although I still have the same job, friends, and marital status as I did a year ago, somehow my perspective is radically different. This seemed puzzling at first. Yes, God used my sabbatical in May and June to change my outlook, and the birth of my first grandchild certainly helped as well. But I’m convinced that my new perspective has little to do with any external changes in my life this year – the transformation has been almost entirely a matter of the heart.

While some aspects of my new outlook are difficult to put into words, I’ve identified 6 specific adjustments God supernaturally brought to my attitude this year. Perhaps these will be helpful to you as well:

  1. No more striving. During my sabbatical I recognized my bad habit of striving for God’s affection or people’s applause. How stupid! God already loves me – enough to send His Son to die in my place – and there’s absolutely nothing I can do earn more of His love or favor. That’s a life-changing realization! Likewise, there’s no need to strive for more kudos from other people. Those who matter  in my life already love me, and if someone doesn’t  love me, I guess they don’t really matter.

This year I also recognized the unhealthy ways I’ve been striving to make more of an impact. Although it’s noble to desire a greater impact for God’s kingdom, my self-image had become far too entangled with my perception of the impact I was having. God had to take me to the other side of the world – New Zealand – to show me the startling fact that I already am making an incredible impact.

While I was in the process of questioning my usefulness and impact, the Lord reminded me that I’m part of an international ministry that’s recording more than one million salvations through our evangelistic outreaches this year. Also, there have been 30 million views of our daily discipleship videos, and I was directly involved in writing the scripts for those. In addition, I wrote books, booklets, pamphlets, and magazine articles that have impacted thousands of people.

I’m not citing this evidence to boast, but rather to illustrate how crazy it is to for me to strive for greater self-esteem based on increasing my accomplishments. It’s time to REST and REJOICE in what God has done!

  1. No more envy. Until this summer, I never realized the deadly grip jealousy and envy had on me. The final item of the Ten Commandments warns about this: “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). God has done a remarkable work in delivering me from envy the past six months, and this has resulted in incredible JOY!

No longer do I envy ANYONE. Others may have a bigger salary, a nicer house, and a faster car, but I don’t envy them. And although I have friends who’ve gotten engaged this year, I’m not envious of them, nor of my friends who already have happy marriages.

In Philippians 4:19, the apostle Paul describes the Lord’s ability to meet our needs, and it’s great to know that miraculous provision is possible during our times of lack. But, earlier in the chapter, Paul spoke about another  amazing secret he had learned – the ability to be content regardless of his present circumstances (vs. 11-12). When we recognize how blessed we already are, there’s no need to envy those around us – and that should be a cause for great rejoicing.

  1. No more regrets. If you have regrets today, I can sympathize. None of us is happy about everything we’ve done in past, nor everything that happened to If we’re honest, there are certainly some things we wish had turned out differently.

However, this year Romans 8:28 has become more than a nice religious memory verse for me. God truly can turn ALL things around for good when we love Him and seek to fulfill His purposes. Without the agony of Jesus’ cross, there would have been no forgiveness. And somehow God always uses our “crosses” to release more of His resurrection power and blessings.

Perhaps you’ve faced some horrendous events you can’t even begin to understand right now. My heart goes out to you. But I believe the day will come when you’ll be able to say along with Joseph, “God meant it for GOOD” (Genesis 50:20). You’ll cast off the regrets holding you captive, enabling you to get unstuck from the traumas that once caused you unspeakable pain.

  1. No more complaining. Like never before, I’m making an effort to replace grumbling with gratitude. Paul had a lot he could have complained about while sitting in a Roman prison cell. But instead he chose to focus on the people he was thankful for (Philippians 1:3-7) and the things in his life that were praiseworthy (4:4-8). That kind of adjusted focus goes a long way toward experiencing a happier and more joyful life.

I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle with this at times. I’ll be tempted to complain about aches and pains, singleness, the traffic in Charlotte, and countless other annoyances. But thankfully God has given me the power to change my focus and choose gratitude – and that makes all the difference.

  1. No more worries. At my advanced age, there are plenty of things a person could worry about. We worry about future health problems and wonder who would take care of us in that event. We worry about whether our financial reserves will run out before we die. We worry about being alone in our latter years. And I’m sure you can think of some other things to worry about as well…

Once again, my circumstances haven’t changed much, but my perspective is quite different than it was last year at this time. Why waste time and emotional energy worrying, when God has consistently proven Himself faithful throughout the years?

When I reflect on my past, I notice that the things I worried about seldom actually happened. Instead, God provided what I needed, even if it was at the last minute. Shouldn’t I trust Him to provide for me in the future too? Hey, during my sabbatical, I lived for six weeks with just the stuff I could fit into a medium-sized suitcase – and I didn’t lack anything.

My concerns about future financial provision gained a better perspective this year when I visited a multimillionaire friend. Once he had lavish homes in several different states, but now he lives in an assisted living center. Although he still has plenty of money, he spends his days in a small, one-room apartment – not much different than the kind of place someone on government assistance would have. Nevertheless, my friend is happy as can be, grateful that he has a bed, a comfortable chair, a TV, his own bathroom, and three meals a day. What else would he really need? At this point, his great wealth has largely become irrelevant.

  1. No more codependence. I’ll admit, I have a long-time habit of trying to rescue people. That may not sound like a problem to you, but sometimes it has caused me unnecessary trouble. You see, those of us who are pastors and caregivers at heart frequently go overboard, forgetting to set boundaries and take care of ourselves.

Recently God reminded me of the beautiful words of Isaiah 9:6-7, “The government will be upon HIS shoulder.”  Too often, I’ve tried to shoulder the problems of the universe on my own shoulders, which is a sure prescription for burnout, if not disaster.

So if you see me trying to rescue a damsel in distress, there’s a good chance you should rebuke me. Instead of trying to solve everyone’s problems, caregivers like me must learn the hard lesson of letting God be God, and pointing people to Him instead of to ourselves (Psalm 46:10). As John the Baptist discovered, we must boldly admit, “I am not the Christ!” (John 1:20).

Imagine the overwhelming joy you’d experience if God set you free from striving…envy…regrets…complaining…worries…and codependence. It would be the best year you’ve had in decades!

I have a few additional reasons for being exceptionally happy this year. My job description at work has undergone some helpful tweaks. My home is also better organized now, because I got rid of some clutter when I moved. It always feels good to get rid of unnecessary “stuff,” doesn’t it?

Looking back on this year, I’m still amazed that most of the significant, joy-producing changes occurred in my heart, not in any of my circumstances. Ironically, these internal transformations probably could have happened in 2016, 2015, or even decades ago. Yet even though I wish I would have learned the lessons much sooner, there’s no time for regrets. Regardless of how long it took me to discover these simple truths, I’m VERY grateful that 2017 turned out to be such a transformational year.

Dear friend, you don’t have to wait until you’re my age to implement these life-changing perspectives. Life is too short to delay any longer. You might as well start being happy as soon as possible.

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One Thing That Changes EVERYTHING

What if I told you there’s ONE simple step you can take that would change EVERYTHING else in your life? I know, you probably would think I’m either crazy or getting ready to launch an infomercial.

But stay with me for a few minutes…

For many years, I’ve known that just about everything we need to know about God, people, or life can be gleaned from the first few chapters of Genesis. But I’ve recently come across a life-changing principle I had previously overlooked there.

Before I share this incredible principle from Genesis, let me point out an indisputable fact of life: Whatever you focus on will grow.

With this principle as a backdrop, we can see that it’s no accident God placed the Tree of Life in the very MIDDLE of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). This tree foreshadowed Jesus Himself, the life-giving one. To study this further, go to the Gospel of John and look at the numerous “life” references about Jesus: water of life, bread of life, resurrection and the life, etc.

And notice this: No matter how many interests and responsibilities you may have, there can be only one MIDDLE in your life. Everything else must take its place in relationship to that inner core of your being. And while Adam and Eve’s focus was on the tree God had placed on center stage, everything else was wonderful in their paradise.

As many Bible teachers have noted, when the serpent entered the picture in Genesis 3, he immediately called into question God’s love and truthfulness. But I had never noticed something else the serpent did: He succeeded in shifting Eve’s focus!

We see this in Genesis 3:3, when Eve tells the serpent, God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Do you see how profound this shift is? Eve is now focusing on an entirely different tree in the MIDDLE of her world—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It seems from Genesis 2:9 that this second tree was very near the Tree of Life, so Eve wasn’t totally wrong in her statement. Yet the consequences of her shifted focus were catastrophic, not just for her and Adam, but ultimately for the entire human race.

Why does it matter which “tree” we focus on? Entire books have been written on this, but here’s the answer in a nutshell: The Tree of Life represents dependence on the Lord as our source, while the other tree represents reliance on our own senses to navigate life and determine right and wrong (e.g., see Proverbs 3:5-8).

So let’s get practical…

What is in the MIDDLE and CENTER of your  world right now? I meet many people who are centered on the problems  they’re facing in their health, finances, marriages, children, careers, emotions, or some other area of their lives. I’m sure we’ve all had that kind of focus at one time or another. But as we see from Eve’s tragic mistake, the things we put in the MIDDLE of our world will inevitably grow until they consume us.

Instead of allowing problems, people, or idols to become our focal point, the Bible repeatedly tells us we need to go back to putting Jesus (the Tree of Life) in the CENTER of our personal world. When that happens, we are promised “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). And we can “cease striving” (Psalm 46:10 NASB), because He is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

But perhaps you are wondering…

What about the problems…the serpent…and the toxic tree that still inhabit parts of your personal paradise? Great question!

When Jesus is once again in the CENTER of your world, He begins the process of making “ALL things new” (Revelation 21:5). When your focus is no longer on your problems, the devil, or other people, you’ll be amazed by the new level of paradise you can experience.

Yes, everything begins to change when that one thing changes. And even before your outward circumstances have been transformed to any great degree, your new perspective will provide peace and hope you haven’t experienced in a long, long time.

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Success Secrets of History’s Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

  • With virtually no start-up funds and only a handful of staff, he established an organization that has seen annual growth for 2,000 years.
  • He led the organization for just three years before leaving it in the hands of his handpicked successors.
  • Without any of the benefits of modern technology, his product was marketed in every known nation on earth in less than a century.
  • From its humble beginnings, the organization founded by this leader has grown to billions of adherents around the world, some of whom are willing to die rather than give up the life-changing product he introduced.

The “CEO” I’m referring to, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve recently been thinking about 5 of his success secrets we all can profit from:

  1. Put as much emphasis on preparation as on implementation. Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for a 3-year ministry. In contrast, many pastors today spend 3 years at seminary in hopes of having 30 years or so of fruitful service. In our impatient, microwave society, we nearly always undervalue the importance of careful preparation.

Jesus urged his disciples to take time to lay a firm foundation before trying to build anything. On a sunny day, it may be tempting to build a house on sand, but storms will surely come to every life (Matthew 7:24-27). Instead of being overeager to start the building process, Jesus said we should first “count the cost” and see if we have what it takes to finish the job (Luke 14:28-29).

Every successful sports team understands this principle. The key to victory is in painstaking preparation, not just showing up for the game.

  1. Carefully select your inner circle. Few things will impact your life more than the entourage of friends you choose to live your life with. On the positive side, the Bible says if you walk with wise people, you will become wise (Proverbs 13:20). But it also warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus was very deliberate and purposeful in selecting his inner circle. In addition to spending time getting to know each of the men who ultimately would become his disciples, he spent an entire night in prayer before the final selection was made (Luke 6:12-16). How much time, attention, and prayer do YOU give toward selecting the main people you spend time with?

Notice that Jesus’ selection process wasn’t based on people’s resume or their outward qualifications. If you were going to choose a team to take your message and product to the ends of the earth, would you pick theologically inept fishermen and tax collectors?  However, guided by prayer and discernment, Jesus saw the great potential of these men, even though they seemed to be unlikely candidates for success.

Despite his careful vetting process, Jesus frequently had to confront those in his inner circle when they got off track. For example, Peter wanted to block Jesus’ pathway to the cross and was sternly told, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Are you willing to stand against your friends when they try to hinder God’s will for your life?

  1. Remain focused on the mission instead of the numbers. Those of us in ministry can be especially prone to place an undue importance on statistics. How many people attend our services…the size of the budget and staff…how many seats in our sanctuary…etc.

And often the numbers are truly a significant indicator of God’s blessing on our endeavors. For example, I work at Inspiration Ministries, and in 2015 more than 125,000 people will have clicked the “I prayed the prayer” button on our salvation website. Every four minutes or less, someone is indicating a decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior! I thank God for this tangible fruit from our outreaches.

Throughout the Bible, we’re frequently told about the number of people involved in one story or another, so it’s fair to conclude that numbers matter to God. However, Jesus also realized how fickle and misleading numbers can be. His ministry rapidly grew to more than 5,000 people, only to fall back to the original 12 disciples when he preached an unpopular message one day (John 6). On another occasion, he experienced a crowd cheering “Hosanna,” followed just days later by some of the same people shouting, “Crucify Him.”  And then all of his disciples scattered at the cross except John. So much for “numbers” as a sign of success.

These illustrations in the life of Jesus also are a reminder that our mission is to make DISCIPLES, not just CONVERTS or fair-weather followers (Matthew 28:19-20). The next time a friend boasts of the Sunday attendance at his church, ask him how many of those people are truly becoming dedicated disciples of Jesus instead of spectators in the crowd.

  1. Have a clear succession plan. Even if you build a very successful organization, the real test will come when you die, retire, or leave. Will your successors have the skills they need to continue and even expand the mission?

Entire books could be written on this, but let me just quote two mind-blowing statements by Jesus about his succession plan. In John 16:7, he assured his disciples that it was actually to their advantage for him to leave them, because then they could be empowered by the Spirit. And he was so confident in the outcome of this empowerment that he promised they would be able to do even greater works then he had done (John 14:12).

So, who are you empowering in the next generation to follow in your footsteps and expand the mission you’ve started?

  1. Understand who you must please in order to be successful. Modern-day CEOs have lots of “bosses” that they must keep happy. For example, they must have the support of the board, the stockholders, and their management team, and it’s incredibly hard to please all of these people. You may not be a CEO today, but there’s a good chance you have many bosses you’re trying to keep happy: spouse, kids, friends, boss at work, pastor, etc.

In contrast, Jesus only had one person he was trying to please. And even before Jesus’s ministry had begun, his Heavenly Father had declared his great pleasure: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

When you recognize that you ultimately have just one Boss (2 Corinthians 5:9), all of life becomes simpler and more peaceful (Psalm 46:10).

My friend, whether you have any aspirations to be a CEO or not, I encourage you to put these 5 success secrets into practice. Your life will surely change for the better.

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4 Tips for Finding the Needle in Your Haystack

In a vivid dream recently, I was frantically searching for something that seemed very difficult to find. A huge stack of stuff was in front of me, but the object I was looking for was very small.

As I was about to give up my search, someone happened to walk by. Sensing my frustration, he asked, “What are you trying to find?”

“I’m looking for a needle in the haystack,” I said in dismay.

Unfortunately, the dream ended there, leaving me to reflect on the profound question: How can someone find a needle in a haystack?

This old word picture is pulled out whenever a search seems daunting, if not impossible. But as I’ve reflected on my dream, I think there are some other insights as well. It’s doubtful that any of us are looking for literal needles, so the issue is more about our quest for the important things in life amid all the superfluous “stuff.”

I’ve concluded that there are four keys for discovering the needle buried in our haystack:

  1. Separate the plentiful from the rare. Hay stands for something very plentiful, while needles are comparatively rare. Plentiful things have less value than something rare, and that’s why coal is less expensive than diamonds. Example: Why was the Proverbs 31 woman worth more than rubies? Because, sadly, a woman like that is very rare! So the principle here is to rid your life of the plentiful, less-expensive things. Instead, focus on the rare and exceptional things that are of much greater value.
  2. Separate the nonmagnetic from the magnetic. If you have a strong enough magnet, you might be able to attract the needle instead of wearing yourself out trying to find So if you’re upset because you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for in life, you might want to change your approach. Instead of working so hard to FIND something, put your focus on BEING something. You just might attract the missing “needle” in your life.
  3. Separate the light-absorbers from the light-reflectors. When light hits a needle, it shines. In contrast, hay merely absorbs the light, with no significant reflection. So in order to find a needle, one tactic would be to shine more light into the haystack. The needle will reflect more of the light back, especially if you do the experiment at night. The point here is that you’re called to reflect God’s light and glory, and you should eliminate the things in your life that don’t enable you to do that.
  4. Separate the temporal from the eternal. One of the other differences between hay and needles is that hay burns up in fire, while needles are purified by fire. That means if you want to find a needle from among the hay, all you really need is to start a fire! You see, when everything else is burned away, the needle will become obvious. However, I’m afraid most of us are far too attached to the hay to take such drastic measures. We have far too much “clutter” in our lives—temporal stuff that wouldn’t survive the fire. If you’re serious about finding the needle you’re looking for, you have to honestly ask yourself: Am I willing to allow the Lord to burn away the hay (the temporal things) in my life in order to reveal more of the eternal?

My dream about needles and haystacks ultimately led me to an even more sobering question: Is the underlying problem that we actually LOVE the haystack more than we want to find the needle? If so, we’ll never allow God to burn up the hay so the needle can be revealed.

If we love the hay (the things of this world) more than we love the needle (the eternal work God wants to do in our lives), we will inevitably face frustration. We’ll find ourselves so attached to the world that we’ll be unable to change the world.

Many of my fellow baby boomers are facing this uncomfortable reality. In our younger days we set out to be world-changers, but now we’re merely adapters, content to blend in with the haystack.

The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, when he warned us to be careful about the building materials we use to construct our lives. Will we be content to build with “wood, hay, and straw,” creating nothing more than big haystacks? Or will we choose the more enduring materials instead, “gold, silver, and precious stones”?

Someday most of what we see around us will burn up. What will remain? The answer is being determined by the priorities and values we live by today.

 

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The Parable of the Faulty Showerhead

 

Regaining Focus in a Distracting World

We live in the most distracted and unfocused generation in history. No wonder “engagement” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the corporate world today.

I was in a meeting recently and got rebuked by someone who caught me checking emails on my phone and sending text messages. “Pay attention!” she told me. “It’s disrespectful to be looking at your phone while people are talking.”

Things only got worse when I tried to explain to her that I was simply “multitasking.” Yes, I’ve gotten good at multitasking, which also may mean I’ve gotten good at being unfocused in my life.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a problem I had with my showerhead many years ago. The bathtub lever that was supposed to divert water to the showerhead became defective. So instead of the normal gush of water through the showerhead, there was only a trickle. The rest of the water went down the bathtub drain.

I had been in showers before that trickled because of poor water pressure, but never had I seen one that had such high water pressure and yet insufficient water actually going to the showerhead. For a while I tried to just live with the situation, but soon the problem got worse and I had no alternative but to get it fixed.

I’ve discovered that God can teach us vital lessons even in the mundane situations we encounter in life, and that was definitely true about the defective shower mechanism. I saw that my life too often has been characterized by plenty of “water pressure,” but with a lot of the water going down the drain instead of toward my main priorities and calling. Although the living waters of the Spirit were present in abundance, they weren’t properly directed toward God’s primary purposes for my life.

I see many people trying to handle their lack of focus same way I initially tried to deal with my shower problem. It has been so long since they’ve had a good “shower,” they consider their situation the “new normal” and simply try to adjust to lower expectations. Or perhaps they’ve given up on taking showers—i.e., given up on their true calling—and have resigned themselves to taking baths instead.

Rather than resign ourselves to low expectations or an unfocused life, maybe it’s time to get the shower mechanism fixed. Instead of adjusting to a diversion of our energy in the wrong directions, maybe it’s time to adjust to this sobering but encouraging fact: God’s purpose for our lives has never changed.

This is exactly what Paul tells us Romans 11:29: God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”  Isn’t it time that we adjusted everything else to THAT?

But what if your showerhead mechanism has been defective for years? How can you regain your life’s focus once it’s been lost? Look at how The Message translates Romans 11:29: “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.”

Isn’t that good news? Your calling is under “full warranty”—and that warranty can never be cancelled or rescinded!

If your energy, time, and resources are being diverted away from your true purpose in life, don’t tolerate the situation any longer. It is time to divert the full force of living water toward what God has truly called you to do.

Ironically, sometimes the first step in full engagement is to fully dis-engage, whether to wait upon God’s direction or merely get some needed rest. There’s no better way to regain focus and spiritual vitality than to quiet our hearts and invite God’s presence (Psalm 46:10, Isaiah 40:31).

But be clear on this: You can’t afford to allow the precious water of the Spirit to go down the drain any longer. If you find your showerhead is merely dripping, I encourage you to take urgent steps to re-divert the full force of water toward your true mission!

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5 Simple Stress-Busters for a Better Life

I recently started playing my guitar again, and I’ve been struck by the importance of proper tuning. If just one or two strings are too tight or too loose, every chord will sound like discord.

Stress works the same way. If our lives had no stress at all, we’d be like a guitar string dangling in the air. That kind of life is boring, purposeless, and unfulfilling.

However, many of us have grown accustomed to far too much tension on our strings. Not only does that create an off-key sound, but it also runs the risk of snapping the string. Before electric guitar tuners were invented, I broke lots of strings that way.

Although entire books have been written on the keys to handling stress, I want to share 5 of the most important and most practical lessons I’ve learned in my personal struggles with this important issue:

  1. TRIAGE. Perhaps you’ve heard this term associated with sorting out the victims in a battle scene, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. Often it’s not possible for the medical team to save all the victims, so they must prioritize. For example, some of the victims will die even if given medical care, while others will survive whether they are given treatment or not. So often the top priority is to determine where you can truly make a difference—starting with those whose very survival will be determined by whether they receive care.

Of course, this analogy is far from perfect. But like a triage situation, most of us have more problems coming our way than we can possibly handle all at once. We will inevitably be overwhelmed by anxiety unless we determine some kind of prioritization of the needs we face.

To put it rather crudely, most of us feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony: There’s plenty to do, but we just don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s essential to have some kind of grid or criteria to help us decide where to begin.

  1. FOCUS. This principle follows directly on the heels of triage. After triage helps us sort things out, focus enables us to devote our time and resources in the direction of one thing at a time. This is incredibly hard for most of us, especially in the age of multitasking, but it’s a crucial part of reducing our stress.

As a kid, I loved playing with magnifying glasses. It seemed almost magical to start fires by focusing the rays of the sun. In contrast, I noticed that unfocused sunrays only made things warm—there was little impact and no combustion.

If we truly expect our lives to make an impact, there must be focus, for that’s the only way to set the world on fire! Accordingly, a friend recently sent me this acronym: F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful. That’s good advice, isn’t it?

  1. HONESTY. I’ll never forget the time a friend began an internship with a company that had the mistaken impression that he was a computer guru. As a result, the company was expecting him to do all sorts of things he was completely unqualified for. Talk about stressful! It was a very humbling situation, but the only solution was to honestly inform the company of his true competencies. It was a hard conversation to have, but quite a relief when things were out in the open.

While people typically use lies to avoid difficulties, such schemes always backfire. By its very nature, dishonesty is stressful. When we’re disingenuous, we inevitably create all kinds of unnecessary anxiety.

  1. SELF-AWARENESS. Not long ago, I was introduced to some new friends who specialize in helping people “brand themselves.” They asked me all sorts of probing questions about my mission and vision in life, trying to get me to clarify my true “identity” and purpose.

At my age, you would think I would be pretty good at giving an “elevator speech” about who I am and what I do. However, this was much more difficult than I had hoped. After all, I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, a writer, and a businessman during my varied career, so it’s not really surprising that focus doesn’t come easy for me.

But this is an important issue. Without a deep awareness of our God-given gifts and purpose, we have no way to screen out the distractions in our lives. There’s no grid to help us say “No” to things that are outside our sphere, because we don’t even know what our sphere is.

A lack of self-awareness will also cause us to struggle to know whether to delegate a task or handle it ourselves. Often we end up shouldering things that others should be doing—and this results in a lot more unnecessary stress.

  1. TRUSTING GOD. Perhaps this sounds like a religious platitude, but it must be much more than that. The Bible repeatedly tells us to cast our burdens on the Lord, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 55:22).

There’s NOTHING more stressful than trying to play God instead of allowing God to live His life through us. The old hymn correctly observed, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!”

So the wisest advice I can give you today is this: Recognize that He’s God, and you’re NOT! It’s no wonder your life is stressful if you’ve inadvertently switched roles with the Almighty.

Take a moment to review these 5 keys once more. What practical changes do you need to make in order to tune the strings of your heart to the proper pitch?

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Regaining FOCUS in a Distracting World

Without a doubt, we live in the most distracted and unfocused generation in history. I was in a meeting recently and got rebuked by someone who caught me checking emails on my phone and sending text messages. “Pay attention!” she told me. “It’s disrespectful to be looking at your phone while people are talking.”

Things only got worse when I tried to explain that I was simply “multitasking.” Yes, I’ve gotten good  at multitasking, which also may mean I’ve gotten good  at being unfocused in my life.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a problem I had with my showerhead many years ago. The bathtub lever that was supposed to divert water to the showerhead became defective. So instead of the normal gush of water through the showerhead, there was only a trickle. The rest of the water went down the bathtub drain.

I had been in showers before that trickled because of poor water pressure, but never had I seen one that had such high water pressure and yet insufficient water actually going to the showerhead. For a while I tried to just live with the situation, but soon the problem got worse and I had no alternative but to get it fixed.

I’ve discovered that God can teach us vital lessons even in the mundane situations we encounter in life, and that was definitely true about the defective shower mechanism. I saw that my life too often has been characterized by plenty of “water pressure,” but with a lot of the water going down the drain instead of toward my main priorities and calling. Although the living waters of the Spirit were present in abundance, they weren’t properly directed toward God’s primary purposes for my life.

I see many people trying to handle their lack of focus same way I initially tried to deal with my shower problem. It has been so long since they’ve had a good “shower,” they consider their situation the “new normal” and simply try to adjust to lower expectations. Or perhaps they’ve given up on taking showers—i.e., given up on their true calling—and have resigned themselves to taking baths instead.

Rather than resign ourselves to low expectations or an unfocused life, maybe it’s time to get the shower mechanism fixed. Instead of adjusting to a diversion of our energy in the wrong directions, maybe it’s time to adjust to this sobering but encouraging fact: God’s purpose for our lives has never changed

This is exactly what Paul tells us Romans 11:29: “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”  Isn’t it time that we adjusted everything else to THAT?

But what if your showerhead mechanism has been defective for years? How can you regain your life’s focus once it’s been lost? Look at how The Message translates Romans 11:29: “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.

Isn’t that good news? Your calling is under “full warranty”—and that warranty can never be cancelled or rescinded!

If your energy, time, and resources are being diverted away from your true purpose in life, don’t tolerate the situation any longer. It is time to divert the full force of living water toward what God has truly called you to do.

You can’t afford to allow the precious water of the Spirit to go down the drain any longer. If you find your showerhead is merely dripping, you need to take urgent steps to re-divert the full force of water toward your true calling.

 

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Where Will Your Heart Be Buried?

Lately I’ve been thinking about Dr. David Livingstone, the famed Scottish medical missionary and explorer who spent most of his life in the remotest parts of Africa. For six years, he completely lost contact with the outside world, but in 1869 the New York Herald newspaper sent Henry Morton Stanley on an expedition to find him.

It took nearly two years, but Stanley finally found Livingston in poor health in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Despite Stanley’s urging, Livingstone refused to leave Africa and return to civilization, where he could get better medical care.

Dr. Livingston died just a few years later from malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery. It is said that he took his final breaths while kneeling in prayer at his bedside.

Two of his followers, Susi and Chuma, fulfilled Livingstone’s wishes by removing his heart for burial in Africa, while carrying his body and journal over 1,000 miles to the coast, where they could be returned to England. His remains eventually were interred at Westminster Abbey in London…but his heart never left Africa.

This story should be a challenge to each of us. Hopefully we love our home country, home state, or hometown, but where is our calling and our mission field? David Livingstone had poured his life into reaching the African people. His faithful followers, Susi and Chuma, understood where his heart was, and where it must remain.

May our  passion in life be this focused and clear. Livingstone’s story puts a new light on Jesus’ statement to us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”  (Matthew 6:21). Livingstone’s treasure was the African people, and his heart was there also. So where is YOUR treasure?

 

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