My blog is going on hiatus

Hello everyone,

Since I announced three months ago that I was taking a new job designing the new online program for the Institute for Spiritual Formation, I’ve been trying to maintain my job commitment, my commitment to my young and growing family, and this blog. I never did find a consistent rhythm for writing this blog in a life-giving manner, and recently, I’ve been convicted of my need to let this blog go for the time being.

It is said that the difference between a good leader and a great leader is the amount of things he says no to, and now, for the sake of my job, my family, and my own well being, it’s time for me to say no to this blog, at least in the way I’ve been doing it.

I am still very much interested in making spiritual formation accessible to even the busiest of folks, but right now that interest won’t work itself out as regular blog posting. I may still post occasionally as inspiration strikes and as I find spaces in my schedule to dedicate to blogging, but I will no longer be on a weekly posting schedule.

Thanks to all of you for your readership and your support. I’m glad to have served you through my blog.

If you want to continue the conversation about spiritual formation and busyness, feel free to contact me through e-mail.

What’s Best Next (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014)

Some of you enjoy reading Scripture and putting it’s truths into practice. Some of you like reading productivity literature, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or Getting Things Done, and putting their principles into practice. And some of you enjoy reading both. Well, now there is a book that will satisfy all three camps: What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.

What's Best Next - book by Matt Perman

Being one who also seeks to integrate Scripture and productivity, I was quite excited to see this book released. And upon my initial quick read of it, I came away pleased.

This book successfully integrates Scripture and productivity literature, honoring both and diminishing neither. He grounds productivity in the gospel, stating truths such as these:

  • You work from peace, not for peace. In other words, productivity is not a means of achieving peace in your life. Rather, productivity is what flows from the peace you have from being saved by Jesus.
  • Effectiveness trumps efficiency. What is most important is that you do the tasks that God calls you to do, namely to love Him and our neighbors and to serve others above ourselves.

Once the Scriptural foundation for productivity has been laid, he then goes on to utilize the best of productivity literature to provide  for accomplishing what God has laid on your heart, such as:

  • Utilizing a four-part framework for productivity: Defining your priorities, Architecting your schedule, Reducing unnecessary tasks, and Executing your actions.
  • Making sure you schedule your most important tasks first. This is a critical point that I am glad he stated. It is not simply enough to identify your priorities. They must be scheduled in your days and weeks or else they will not happen.
  • Getting rid of lower priority tasks through delegating, eliminating, automating, or deferring.

Click here to see the full table of contents if you’d like to take a look at what’s inside this book.

If you’re looking at its 300-page length and wondering how you’ll fit a book this long into your busy life, the good news is that each chapter is relatively short and easy to read. He also provides a helpful summary and suggested application at the end, although I do wish the applications were more specific in places.

Overall, I would put this book as definitely accessible for people who are new to productivity literature, as well as a good heart check for the driven/productive people who don’t necessarily do it according to Christian principles. If you’re well-grounded in one or both, you may not necessarily find anything new, but even if you don’t, there is much value in the book. For you, then, the value is in having a book written by someone who has done the hard work of integrating both fields. This is quite a task for which we all should be quite grateful.

When you feel frustrated

This post is part of a series exploring how busy people feel and what we can do with those feelings. To see the first post in the series, click here.

frustrated face

Photo by Kevin Lawver. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

BUT I WANT IT NOW!!!!

Ahh, the cry of the frustrated soul. Whether you say it explicitly or just show it through our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, that’s what’s coming out of you.

Appropriately enough, I felt very frustrated when I attempted to write this post. So I’m in prime position to notice the various dynamics that went on inside of me, which included the following. See if you can relate to any of these:

  • I wanted to blame others for ruining my plans, lash out at them, and dish out retribution. How dare they frustrate my plans!
  • I felt some despair. Lord, is there any hope of getting what I want?
  • There’s some self-loathing in there too. “Why didn’t I use my time more wisely earlier? I could have had this task done! Now I don’t have it done because I was thwarted just now!”
  • There’s also self-examination. Lord, what did I desire just now? Was that desire healthy or harmful?

So what can you do when you feel frustrated? Here are five practices you can put on to help you connect with God in the midst of frustration. Each one can be done in as little as a couple of minutes. You may not feel better, but you’ll be with the perfect companion even if you keep feeling frustrated.

  1. Honesty. Tell God exactly what you’re thinking and feeling and what you want to do. Be completely real and open. Let it all out in its rawest form. If you’re able, either shout it aloud or journal it out. That bodily action will make it more real.
  2. Gratitude. Ask God to help you consider what you’re grateful for in the midst of this frustrating situation. The aim here is to shift your focus from what you desire and don’t have to what you have an appreciate. Since you’ll have a beast of a time doing this by yourself, let God move you there as you have that emotional conversation with him.
  3. Naming Your Wants. Since frustration arises from an unmet desire, ask God to help you articulate your desires. This is especially helpful if you are feeling frustrated but don’t know why. Clarifying your desires will help you see your true self.
  4. Detachment. This practice stems from the previous one listed above. Once you’ve identified the desires behind your frustration, give them to God. This means that you are willing to wait for Him to fulfill them in His timing or even have them go permanently unfulfilled. You can simply say, “God, I give these desires to You.” Or you could make the practice more elaborate. Write down your desires and “hand over” the paper to God. Tell a trusted friend about them. Whatever you do, know that you may not actually feel the strength of these desires diminish, but the practice of detaching yourself from them and giving them to God opens you up for Him to do that work.
  5. Compassion/Mercy. This is particularly important if you see your frustration being directed towards others.  In this practice, you actively put on compassion and mercy. Here are several suggestions:
    • Practice the Jesus Prayer. Say this, either aloud or silently in your heart, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then repeat this over and over as much and as often as you desire. Let it remind you that you need mercy, and let that reminder highlight how much the other person does too.
    • Give or do something nice for the other person. Replace frustration with self-giving service. Then talk to God about where your heart is after you do that act.
    • Ask God for compassion and empathy toward the other person. Try to name feeling words that capture how the other person feels in this moment. Then be present in this moment with the other person in those feelings.

Frustration can feel powerful and consuming because it’s all about your desires. Yet if you are willing to open to God in your frustration, you have the opportunity to grow into a more contented, compassionate, peaceful person. May you find these practices helpful in connecting you to Him.

Question: How do you connect with God when you feel frustrated?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

 

When you feel overwhelmed

This post is part of a series exploring how busy people feel and what we can do with those feelings. To see the first post in the series, click here.

Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee

Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt.

Overwhelmed. It can mean:

  • buried, covered, or drowned beneath a huge mass
  • defeated completely
  • so affected emotionally that it’s difficult for you to resist or know how to react
  • overpowered
  • overcome completely in mind or feeling
  • overcome by superior forces

If you feel any or all of these conditions,  you are not alone. Let’s walk through the story of a group of people who felt these exact same feelings….

One evening, Jesus and his disciples took a boat across the Sea of Galilee. The weather was evidently very good for boating, since there were other boats on the water. But suddenly, a storm broke out over the water. Before they knew it, the boat was nearly swamped by the waves!

Just like for the disciples, you too have unexpected events that overwhelm you. It could be a sickness, a job change, or even a phone call. Yet for some of you, you feel overwhelmed because of a constant circumstance in your life. Maybe you’re an at-home parent caring for multiple young children, and you can’t imagine ever getting a minute for yourself and you can’t see  when this would ever end. Maybe your mountain of work just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and no matter how much you work you can’t seem to make any headway. Maybe you’re in a relationship that just keeps deteriorating, and the toxicity and the pain just cloud out all the joy in your life. Or maybe you’re dealing with your own internal issues – anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness – and you can’t imagine it being any other way. Whatever your situation is, your feelings of being overwhelmed are very real to you. Let’s see how the disciples reacted.

As they’re dealing with the storm, they  realize is that Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat. So they wake him and say to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

I want you to hear the different emotions in their voices. Several of these men were professional fisherman who fished on this very sea for a living. Surely they must have encountered storms before. And here they are, worried that they’ll drown. At the point of their highest skill, their highest competency, they are completely and utterly overwhelmed.

How do you see yourself in this? For some of you, feeling overwhelmed at your point of greatest strength is your current state in life. Maybe you’re in your dream job, the one you trained years to get, and now you feel totally lost and unsure how to move forward. Maybe you were a teacher for a living, and now you can’t even get your kids to sit down for a meal.

And it’s even worse for the disciples. They find Jesus asleep. Jesus, their great Teacher, is oblivious to what’s going on. Out of desperation, they wake him and plead, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Perhaps somewhere in the back of their minds, they feared Jesus’ answer would be, “No, I don’t care.” Why else wouldn’t he be doing something to help them?

How do you find yourself being like the disciples? In the midst of your overwhelming situation, how are you tempted to believe that Jesus has no clue what’s going on? Or worse, in what ways do you believe that he doesn’t care whether or not you drown in  your situation?

Friends, that’s about as bad as it gets. Feeling overwhelmed, thinking you’re going to lose yourself or die in this situation, and believing that Jesus doesn’t even care.

Now here’s the astonishing part. With just a few words, Jesus transformed the entire storm into utter calm.

But here’s the catch for the disciples. Jesus turns to them and says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Unfortunately, they don’t. Their fear shows that they didn’t have confidence in Jesus to act in this situation. They’re now terrified because they couldn’t fathom a Jesus that could command the wind and the waves.

So how about for you? Now that you’ve seen Jesus totally transform a situation that overwhelmed even the most experienced disciples, what do you think he can do in your overwhelming situation? Some of you saw Jesus calm the storm and said, “Yeah, but that won’t happen in my life.” Some of you resign yourselves to drowning. Some of you don’t hope or trust that Jesus will come through. And some of you looked into that story and found a new hope, a new possibility for your life. Some of you saw that if Jesus could save his disciples then, he can save you now. Some of you saw that no matter how overwhelming your situation, Jesus has full command of it, even if you think he’s asleep at the wheel and even if you’re feeling pressed more than you think is reasonable. Whatever your response is, tell it to Jesus, and have a real, honest conversation with him about what you really think about his power to save you.

Lord Jesus, may you give each person who reads this the insight to know that you have authority over all things. That you establish the boundaries for order and chaos, and that you are able to calm any storm. May each one know that you care about his or her life. That you hold each life in your hands, even as he or she thinks that identity, joy, hope, and even life itself is being overwhelmed in this situation. Please be gentle with each one, bearing patiently with any lack of trust in you and leading each one into a fuller understanding of who you are and the power you possess. Amen.

Question: What is overwhelming you right now? How much do you trust Jesus’ power to save you in the midst of it?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

(In case you’re wondering, this story comes from Mark 4:35-41.)

When you feel burdened

This post is part of a series exploring how busy people feel and what we can do with those feelings. To see the first post in the series, click here.

Two passages from Scripture come to mind when I think about feeling burdened (both quoted from the NIV):

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. (Psalm 68:19)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, this is Jesus speaking)

I offer to you several questions that would be worth discussing with the Lord in prayer. “Lord, …

Man carrying heavy load

Photo by ah zut. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

  • To what extent do I believe that these statements in Scripture are true? To the extent that I believe they are false, what are my reasons?
  • What daily burden(s) do I need You to bear for me?
  • To what extent do I experience the weight of what You command me to do as easy and light? To what extent do I feel burdened by what You command of me?
  • How do I experience Your gentleness in the midst of my burden? In what ways do I experience the opposite of gentleness, and who do I believe is treating me in that harsh way?
  • How do I want You to bear my burden?
  • How are You bearing my burdens right now?
  • What do I want my rest to look like? What kind of rest are You actually giving me?
  • Who in my life helps me with my burdens in the ways that these verses say You do?
  • In what ways am I coming to You with my burdens? In what ways am I going elsewhere to deal with my burdens rather than coming to You?

Question: What feels the most burdensome to you right now?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.