How to React to Difficult Times

door

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.  You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

– Walt Disney

 

Who among us has not been kicked in the teeth by life?  We all have.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all wearing dentures. Like a pop-up violent thunderstorm on an otherwise beautiful day, this is how we grow as people.  Or, it’s how we fall apart.  Finding courage amongst the rubble is the key that unlocks our growth.  How we react means everything.

A couple of years ago, my wife Steph and I fell into one of these storms.  Some of it was our own doing, and some of it stemmed from having our first child, Matthew.  Marriage can be a difficult thing even when things are going good.  If you pile on all the responsibilities, short nights, and trying to figure out how to be a parent for the first time, things can seem pretty overwhelming.  Both Steph and I were focusing our time and energy on Matthew and not as much on each other.  This is natural to do this for first-time parents, but by not devoting enough time on each other, a separation started to form between us.  There was a lot of frustration and resentment on both of our parts.  It took some serious soul-searching and work on both of our parts to get things back to a state where we could co-exist in a more civil, loving, and less self-centered manner.

This wedge that formed between us could have led to the end of our marriage, but instead, we choose to rise above and learn from our situation and put in the work needed to stay together.  We are not fully past it, and we still have days we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we are in a much better place than we were.  Marriage is hard, but so worth everything you put into it.

How do we react in life’s hard moments?  Here is some advice I would offer anyone facing difficult times.

Find the High Road and Stay There

After the rescue, damage control is the first thing to do in an emergency.  If a building is burning, the attempt is made to contain the fire to that one location.  Our initial reactions to tough moments are going to determine how much worse it gets.  If we lash out in anger and act irrationally, the whole block is going to be set on fire.  Breathe. Find the high road and immediately place yourself on it.  Experience is a great teacher.  If you’ve ever burned a block down figuratively, you know.  Only a fool would do that again.

Self-Analyzing and Correcting

This is a critical step in personal growth.  It requires honest self-awareness and taking responsibility for our actions. Once the event is contained, it’s time to analyze deeply where and what went wrong.  How did our behavior help or hinder the situation?  Where were we at fault?  Most importantly, what are the valuable lessons we can learn so we can move forward?

Learning How to Forgive

If you’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, you know that within it, we ask to be forgiven.  We are all good at that. However, the very next sentence, we also pledge to be the one forgiving.  Therein lies the key to moving on to happier moments.  Holding grudges and seeking revenge are first-rate life destroyers.  It’s common sense.  The best revenge is living well.  That means forgiving, even if it’s only for your own benefit.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

What parent hasn’t uttered this to their children?  Do we heed our own advice?  We should be loving and friendly to all people.  However, the people we surround ourselves with will directly reflect the type of life we are leading. Being a performer of fine art and cultural significance is a wonderful thing.  Living drama in real life is a much different story.  Separate the two and learn from poor choices.

Finding the Courage to Move Forward

It’s hard.  Whenever we are in one of these moments, things seem worse than they are.  It feels like the whole world has crashed down.  How are we going to keep going?  What will we do now?  Walt Disney went on to become Walt Disney.  Pretty substantial.  He had the courage to move to the next.  At one of my lowest points in life, my dad told me, “Son, there isn’t much advice I can give you right now.  All I can tell you is that you keep moving forward.  You wake up.  You get dressed.  You eat.  You go to work.  You go to sleep.  And repeat.  It always gets better, I promise.”

Life is a roller coaster of emotions.  There are some euphoric highs, but there are also lows.  No one likes to experience the lows, but remember, we learn some of life’s greatest lessons during the difficult times.  If we can face our difficult times head on and find the high road, self-analyze, correct, learn how to forgive, choose our friends wisely, and find the courage to move forward, we will find that we almost always end up in a better place than before the storm hit us.

Sometimes a door has to close before another door will open.  If difficult times never come, it is very hard to grow and become a better person.  I think Walt had it right all along.  I think all of us need a kick in the teeth from time to time.

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Forgiveness: Tough but Necessary

forgiveness3

Genesis 50:19-21 (NIV)

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for help in the midst of a devastating famine, he could have tossed them out of the country or something even worse.  They had once been so jealous of their father’s love for Joseph that they contemplated killing him before eventually selling him into slavery and into what they likely assumed would be a life of misery.

None of them could have known that Joseph would rise to become the second-most powerful man in the county, behind only Pharaoh himself.  Imagine what it must have been like for Joseph to see his brothers come before him in obvious need.  Rather than exacting some sort of revenge, Joseph forgave his brothers for the terrible things they had done to him

John Flavel, an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author, who lived in the 1600’s once said, “Sometimes God makes use of instruments for good to His people, who designed nothing but evil and mischief for them.  Thus Joseph’s brethren were instrumental to his advancement in that very thing in which they designed his ruin.”

When you’ve been wronged, it sometimes hurts profoundly.  You might be tempted to lash out in retaliation against the one who hurt you.  As difficult as it is, though, Christians are called to forgive.  Joseph’s story is a good illustration of forgiveness, and Jesus should be our ultimate example.  Can you think of someone, or maybe even a few people, whom you should consider forgiving?  Taking that first step might be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but it’s an important step that demonstrates love and obedience to God.

As we consider the idea of forgiveness, ask yourself these questions:

Why do you think God wants us to forgive those who have wronged us?

What keeps us from forgiving others?

Giving some serious thought to these two questions can give you a real indicator of where your heart lies.  If you are struggling with being able to forgive others, ask God to help you.  He wants what is best for you and would love to help you in this particular area of your life.

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Obstacles to Effective Prayer (Part 2)

obstacles 2

In Part 1, we discussed several reasons why a prayer may seem to go unanswered.  The reasons discussed were wavering faith, wrong motives, conflict in relationships, lack of generosity, and indifference.

 

Psalm 17:1-6 (NIV)

A prayer of David.

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
    listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
    may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart,
    though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
    my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
    through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
    my feet have not stumbled.

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.

 

In this blog, I would like to consider some more possibilities as to why prayer may seem to go unanswered.

One of those is unconfessed sin.  God promises to forgive us once we admit our action is wrong and turn away from it.  He tells us that in the Bible:

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

But if our confession is mere lip service or we persist in ungodly ways, our petitions to God will likely go unanswered.  An unrepentant heart always hinders our prayer life.

What about those times when our heart is right and what we ask God is in line with His will, but He still remains silent?  Sometimes He waits because our longing for Him is in danger of being replaced by our own desire for something else.  Certain petitions (such as a request for a spouse, baby, or a loved one’s healing) can generate strong emotions in us.  Unless we are careful, these desires can divert our attention from God.  God is not willing to share first place in our hearts with anyone or anything else.  So sometimes He patiently waits for our focus to return to Him before He answers.

At other times, God uses delays to prepare us for future service or greater blessing.  He could be protecting us from consequences we fail to see at the time, or He may want to strengthen our trust in Him.  Strong faith means believing Him even in trials, persevering while awaiting an answer, and being confident that He always keeps promises.

Prayer is the communication link between us and our loving Father.  Instead of letting “static” block His message to us, we need to confess and turn all know sin to Him.  Then we’ll be able to hear God’s voice and obediently carry out whatever it is He is asking us to do.  Also, keep in mind, if He does not answer your prayer right away, there is probably a good reason for it.  Just be patient and know that God wants the very best for you, even when you don’t always want that for yourself.

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Obstacles to Effective Prayer (Part 1)

prayer 2

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Some of King David’s prayers are recorded in the Psalms.  There we can read how he praised God, confessed sin, and cried out about his troubles.  He also asked God to hear his prayers and not be silent.  We all want to pray effectively like David did.  To do this however, we need to avoid certain obstacles that can hinder the effectiveness of our prayers, such as:

Wavering Faith

Doubts about God’s character or dependability diminish our trust in Him.  Therefore we must not allow feelings to dictate what we believe.

 

Wrong Motives

James 4:3 (NIV)

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Petitions motivated by selfish desires won’t receive a yes from God.  He wants us to pray for His will to be done, not ours.

 

Conflict in Relationships

Being resentful or argumentative with others will affect our communication with God.

 

Lack of Generosity

Proverbs 21:13 (NIV)

13 Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor
    will also cry out and not be answered.

God is displeased when we ignore people’s needs or give begrudgingly to the church.  He hears us asking for a blessing yet he sees us refusing to obey Him in our giving.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV)

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

 

Indifference

Proverbs 28:9 (NIV)

If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction,
    even their prayers are detestable.

Apathy to the Scriptures is another stumbling block.  God has given us the Bible so that we might know Him and serve Him wholeheartedly.  Failure to read and apply His Word consistently will diminish our ability to maintain a godly lifestyle.

 

It takes effort and commitment to develop a strong prayer life, but the rewards are great.  If your prayers have not been answered, consider if any of the above issues may need correction.  Then, start by personalizing the prayers you read in the Psalms or elsewhere in God’s Word.

Remember that God will grant us anything we ask for, but only if what we are asking for is in line with God’s will.  Having a close relationship with God, through studying and mediating on the Bible and then trying to live it out, will put us into that flow of God’s will and then our prayers will be much more likely to be answered.  God only wants the very best for you, do you?

Be sure to read Part 2 of this blog to check out some more obstacles to our prayers.  Everyone have a great weekend!

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A Little Compassion Goes a Long Way

compassion

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It can be difficult to live up to Paul’s profound command found in Ephesians 4:32.  The verse doesn’t come with an escape clause.  It says to be kind and compassionate and to forgive, but makes no mention of expecting others to return the favor.  We should forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Frederick Buechner once said, “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you, too.”

Living in Ames, it is common to see homeless people standing at certain intersections with a sign asking for food.  My wife and I consider ourselves compassionate people, but our fear is that if we give them money, they may not use it for food.  They might just use it for alcohol.  We certainly don’t want to be enabling a drinking addiction.

This past Christmas, my wife and I came up with a good idea.  We put together care packages that included things like, fruit cups, gum, toothbrush, socks, hand warmers, Kleenex, and other basic essentials.  We put them in little red bags and my wife and I each took a couple of these bags and put them in our vehicles.  The idea was that when we would come upon homeless people in town, we could just give them a bag and know that it would be used for the intended purpose.  So far, I have given out 2 bags and, while I can only assume they appreciated them, I know that through showing compassion, it filled my heart with love and joy that spilled out through the rest of each of those days.

When I think about what it means to be compassionate, I think of those care bags, the homeless people, I gave them to, and the many others in similar situations.  Helping others is one of the most basic Christian tenets.

I want us to take a minute to ask ourselves the following two questions:

What does the word compassion mean to you?

Why is it important for Christians to show compassion for others?

God’s compassion for us is greater than we can possibly fathom.  We need to always remember and be thankful for the gift of salvation that God gave us, even though we did not deserve it.  We can reflect our thankfulness to God by being compassionate to those in need around us.  They are God’s children also,

Make the decision to give somebody a hand, whether a pat on the back, kind words, or something g more substantial.  You’ll never know what it might mean to others.

 

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How to React to Difficult Times

difficult times

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.  You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

– Walt Disney

 

Who among us has not been kicked in the teeth by life?  We all have.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all wearing dentures. Like a pop-up violent thunderstorm on an otherwise beautiful day, this is how we grow as people.  Or, it’s how we fall apart.  Finding courage amongst the rubble is the key that unlocks our growth.  How we react means everything.

My wife Steph and I fell into one of these storms.  Some of it was our own doing, and some of it stemmed from having our first child, Matthew.  Marriage can be a difficult thing even when things are going good.  If you pile on all the responsibilities, short nights, and trying to figure out how to be a parent for the first time, things can seem pretty overwhelming.  Both Steph and I were focusing our time and energy on Matthew and not as much on each other.  This is natural to do this for first-time parents, but by not devoting enough time on each other, a separation started to form between us.  There was a lot of frustration and resentment on both of our parts.  It took some serious soul-searching and work on both of our parts to get things back to a state where we could co-exist in a more civil, loving, and less self-centered manner.

This wedge that formed between us could have led to the end of our marriage, but instead, we choose to rise above and learn from our situation and put in the work needed to stay together.  We are not fully past it, and we still have days we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we are in a much better place than we were.  Marriage is hard, but so worth everything you put into it.

How do we react in life’s hard moments?  Here is some advice I would offer anyone facing difficult times.

Find the High Road and Stay There

After the rescue, damage control is the first thing to do in an emergency.  If a building is burning, the attempt is made to contain the fire to that one location.  Our initial reactions to tough moments are going to determine how much worse it gets.  If we lash out in anger and act irrationally, the whole block is going to be set on fire.  Breathe. Find the high road and immediately place yourself on it.  Experience is a great teacher.  If you’ve ever burned a block down figuratively, you know.  Only a fool would do that again.

Self-Analyzing and Correcting

This is a critical step in personal growth.  It requires honest self-awareness and taking responsibility for our actions. Once the event is contained, it’s time to analyze deeply where and what went wrong.  How did our behavior help or hinder the situation?  Where were we at fault?  Most importantly, what are the valuable lessons we can learn from this moving forward?

Learning How to Forgive

If you’re familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, you know that within it, we ask to be forgiven.  We are all good at that. However, the very next sentence, we also pledge to be the one forgiving.  Therein lies the key to moving on to happier moments.  Holding grudges and seeking revenge are first-rate life destroyers.  It’s common sense.  The best revenge is living well.  That means forgiving, even if it’s only for your own benefit.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

What parent hasn’t uttered this to their children?  Do we heed our own advice?  We should be loving and friendly to all people.  However, the people we surround ourselves with will directly reflect the type of life we are leading. Being a performer of fine art and cultural significance is a wonderful thing.  Living drama in real life is a much different story.  Separate the two and learn from poor choices.

Finding the Courage to Move Forward

It’s hard.  Whenever we are in one of these moments, things seem worse than they are.  It feels like the whole world has crashed down.  How are we going to keep going?  What will we do now?  Walt Disney went on to become Walt Disney.  Pretty substantial.  He had the courage to move to the next.  At one of my lowest points in life, my dad told me, “Son, there isn’t much advice I can give you right now.  All I can tell you is that you keep moving forward.  You wake up.  You get dressed.  You eat.  You go to work.  You go to sleep.  And repeat.  It always gets better, I promise.”

Life is a roller coaster of emotions.  There are some euphoric highs, but there are also lows.  No one likes to experience the lows, but remember, we learn some of life’s greatest lessons during the difficult times.  If we can face our difficult times head on and find the high road, self-analyze, correct, learn how to forgive, choose our friends wisely, and find the courage to move forward, we will find that we almost always end up in a better place than before the storm hit us.

Sometimes a door has to close before another door will open.  If difficult times never come, it is very hard to grow and become a better person.  I think Walt had it right all along.  I think all of us need a kick in the teeth from time to time.

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Forgiveness: It’s More Than You Think

forgiveness2

So, let’s say that you’ve been wronged…wronged by your spouse, child, close friend or co-worker.  You thought you could count on them.  You thought you could trust them.  They let you down.  It hurts.  The pain runs deep inside you.  What makes things worse, you didn’t deserve it.  You didn’t deserve the deed.  It wasn’t your fault. Every day the painful video plays inside your head.  You cannot erase it from your mental hard drive.  Bitterness, resentment, and anger all start to flood your emotions.

How can you be released from this hurt?  What can be done?

Well, you’ve got a couple of choices.  And only one is the right choice.  You can choose to hold on to the hurt and spend the rest of your life with the pain, bitterness, and anger.  Or, you can choose to be released from it, healed and freed.  It’s a decision to forgive the person who has hurt you.

There are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about forgiveness.  So before I share with you what forgiveness really is, let me tell you what forgiveness is not.

What Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgiveness is not a feeling.  If it were, we would rarely forgive others because we would not “feel” like it.
  • Forgiveness is not a weakness.  A lot of strength is required to acknowledge pain, declare it, and forgive it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean pretending it didn’t happen or hiding from it.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  The phrase “forgive and forget” is not reality.
  • Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing a wrong.  And it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling.  Reconciliation may follow forgiveness, but we can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.
  • Forgiveness is not based on the wrongdoer’s actions.  Even if the other person never apologizes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive.
  • Forgiveness is not conditional.  It’s not an If you do this…this…and this, then, and only then, I will forgive you.
  • Forgiveness is not justice.  Justice usually involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment.  Forgiveness should occur whether justice is withheld or not.
  • Forgiveness is not about changing the other person, their actions, or their behavior.
  • Forgiveness does not mean trust.  Forgiveness should be freely given, trust must be earned.   Trust must be built with consistent truth-telling over a period of time.

Forgiveness is not about changing the past, it’s about changing the future.  Forgiveness accepts and addresses the past but focuses on the future.  It looks toward a future of healing and hope.

So let’s talk about what forgiveness really is.

What Forgiveness Is

It is a decision.  When you really forgive someone, you are making a decision to release, embrace, pardon, and grow.

  1. A Decision to Release

In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within your own mind.  You must make the decision: I will not dwell on this incident.  Don’t replay the incident in your mind.  I realize that is easy to say but hard to do.  When that reel begins to play in your mind, intentionally push the Stop button.  Realize that it will not make things better, dwell on what is good, and ask God to give you the strength to withstand the onslaught of those attacks on your mind.

When you forgive, you are also proactively choosing to release your bitterness, resentment, vengeance, and anger toward the person who has hurt you.

  1. A Decision to Embrace

When you truly forgive, you are intentionally embracing mercy and grace.  Putting it simply, mercy is not giving someone what they deserve.  Grace is giving someone what they don’t deserve.  Why show this person who has deeply hurt you mercy and grace?  For two reasons. First, because God extends His perfect mercy and grace to you.  And He showers His perfect love upon you…every time, all the time.  Second, remember the Golden Rule?  It basically says: Treat others as you want to be treated.  So when you make a bad mistake, when you hurt someone, when you wrong someone, how do you want to be treated?

  1. A Decision to Pardon

Webster’s Dictionary defines pardon as “an act of officially saying that someone who was judged to be guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished.”  Once someone is pardoned or acquitted in a court of law, they cannot be tried again for the same offense.  That’s called double jeopardy.  So when you choose to pardon your offender by forgiving them, you are letting go of your right to punish them for the offense in the future.  You are basically saying, I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you.  In so doing, you are choosing to hold onto the person, not the offense.

My wife, Stephanie and I have forgiven each other for various offenses and hurts in our relationship—or at least we thought we did.  There have been occasions where one of us has brought up a past offense the other thought was pardoned only to find that court was still in session on the issue.  Real forgiveness must involve a complete pardon.

  1. A Decision to Grow

When you forgive, you are taking away the power the wrongdoing wields over you and using that power towards your growth, perhaps the growth of your relationships.  You are making the statement: I will not allow this matter to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.  Think of forgiveness as something that will change your life—by bringing you peace, emotional and spiritual healing, and hope—and, hopefully, the life of the one you have forgiven.

Forgiveness is hard.  I like to say that if it was easy, everyone would do it.  When I forgive someone, it makes me appreciate the fact that God forgives me for all my sins and all the pain and agony Jesus went through so that my sins and those of all of us could be pardoned.  Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  If Jesus could go through that, the least I can do is to forgive those who wrong me.

Forgiveness is a decision we make to release, embrace, pardon, and grow.  More importantly, it is a gift, a gift from God, that if we choose to accept and do for others, will bring us closer to Him and our Eternal Home.

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