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Archive for the ‘Positive Thinking’ Category

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been making a lot of trips to see my Osteopath lately. He’s been the one healthcare professional that I’ve found to be most helpful with my recurring back problems. Every time I go to him he keeps giving me a lecture on “letting go.” It seems that the recurring theme that he sees with many people he treats for various health disorders is the tendency we humans have to “hold on” to memories, burdens, toxic emotions and almost anything that we deem necessary to carry with us through life. My Osteopath says this is particularly true in his patients with back problems! Carrying too much weight on the inside must be hazardous to your health!

I have to admit that “holding on” has been a life-long battle for me.

We come into the world naked and immediately those who care for us, rightly start putting clothes on us. We start grasping things and putting them into our mouths! We then start feeling comfortable and becoming attached to what makes us comfortable. We make necessary attachments, first to mom (hopefully) then dad and other significant people in our lives. We start to care about things – early on we care about getting our needs met and we scream and cry when we don’t get our way.

Eventually, if we have loving care-givers and friends, we realize that we don’t have to scream and beg our way through life. We can learn virtues such as patience and self-control and hopefully in a healthy environment. Unfortunately that is not a given these days.

Along the way we find that our emotions can get hijacked. We can start holding on to that to which we feel entitled, whether it belongs to us or not. Our jealous inner selves can see others who have what we want or whom we perceive to have it “better” than ourselves.

Now that I’m well into the later seasons of my life, I realize just how much of useless stuff has cluttered up my life through the years. I suppose as we mature we begin to discern the valuable and realize that most of what we’ve carried along hasn’t been all that helpful.

I love the words of the apostle Peter, quoted above. For those of us who accept and believe that there is a personal, Creator-God who knows, loves and cares for us and has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ  – He is the One to whom we can and must go with all the care and anxiety we hold onto so desperately.

Peter gives three important commands in quick succession – first, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand,” then “cast all your anxiety on Him,” and “be self-controlled and alert!” I have probably read over this verse dozens of times without seeing the connection.

Humility, casting cares on God and being self-controlled and alert are all habits that can lead to a much more whole and satisfying walk through life. Peter reminds us too that there is a spiritual battle in place with an unseen enemy ready to devour the careless and unsuspecting. The thinking must be that our own pride, anxiety and lack of self-control will play right into the hands of the enemy of our souls.

I think what Peter is teaching here is that we have to let go of something before we can take hold of something much better. In humility we cast off the useless to take hold of the Eternal God who alone can help us through whatever issue is overtaking us at the moment.

I find that when it comes to life it’s much easier to cast out unwanted items of junk or clothing than it is to discard our negative emotions, grudges and toxic inner battles. Even to this day, I can still recall painful experiences that cause me angst if I think about them too long.

I’m seeing more and more that holding on to worry and anxiety has probably been a tool that has given me a false sense of control through the years. By continually fretting over what we have no control over, we feel slightly more in control. But unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

I’m not suggesting any quick fixes for anxiety and worry that plagues me and so many others in today’s world. I’m not ready to list out a three or six or ten step plan to combat anxiety. All I’m saying here is that I’m much better off when I habitually recognize when anxiety is mounting in my life and continually cast it upon a loving and caring personal God.

In a highly superficial and material environment, the temporal always seems to take precedence over the eternal. Ultimately we will leave this world behind and all of our possessions, worries and cares which we so desperately cling to now. By entering into a trust relationship with the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we take with us a life of wholeness that will never end.

I have to be reminded repeatedly that holding onto the Eternal God and letting go of everything else is the only place to find true freedom this side of heaven.

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A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

We live in a very disappointing world. Seems to me that very few things in life “work out” as we hope they will.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to spend a good deal of time in my life waiting for something to “significant” to happen. Often due to disappointment with present circumstances, I seem to be waiting for something “better” to come along so that I can finally give myself “permission” to be happy.

Recently I was watching a sporting event that kept getting interrupted by commercial breaks. It was a tense, close match and I started getting anxious during the breaks not knowing what might be coming in the next chapter of the contest.

I began to realize that I could literally live the rest of my life that way. Living in anxiety between scenes of the story – looking for outcomes rather than enjoying the journey.

We may regularly find ourselves in a predicament that keeps us in the “not yet” mode –

I haven’t found true love – not yet

I haven’t found my life partner – not yet

I haven’t found contentment in my marriage relationship – not yet

I haven’t seen my children finish school and get a job – not yet

I haven’t found fulfillment in my job – not yet

I haven’t paid off my debts – not yet

What has to happen next before you can be happy? I find this to be a very revealing question to ask myself.

I’m finally realizing that how we behave while we are waiting on something we think will make us happy says a lot about the way we “do” life. Disappointment is largely a result of expectations, but our disappointment in someone or something does not alter reality one way or another.

The Apostle Paul makes a very bold statement in the verse quoted above. He says that there’s a “secret” to learning contentment regardless of the situation. I think Paul learned this over a period of time, it wasn’t an immediate realization. He had to do a lot of living through many life experiences to arrive at the point of making such a bold statement.

If you are like me you have many things in your life that you wish were different to the positive side. I can easily get distracted by all the things in our world that are insufficient and incomplete. And there’s no one more insufficient and incomplete than myself.

I think that contentment is the ability to fully live life in the midst of the tension between where we are and where we wish to be. Nothing “has” to happen before we can be content. Our Lord and Maker has designed life that way. He is the source of all that is good and satisfying even in a disappointing world.

For the man or woman of faith it’s a certainty that at present we are not where we wish or hope to be. Heaven is a future destiny not a present reality. Even so we, like Paul, can change our present attitudes regardless of the circumstances no matter how insufficient we feel they may be.

In an incomplete world full of setbacks and disappointments we will always be looking for something that we don’t yet have to “make” us happy. I’m finding this to be a poor investment of my valuable energy which seems to be diminishing day by day.

The life of contentment is one of gratitude to the God who is always there for us personally and intimately regardless of our present reality. If Paul learned the secret it must be available for us also.

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But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” Philippians 3:13b-15a (NIV)

I must admit I find it easier to look back than to look forward.

I suppose I tend to be a more of an introspective, reflective and reactive person rather than a forward-thinking, proactive individual. As I approach my sixtieth birthday on the 8th of January 2014 here are some of my reflections at this fairly advanced stage of life and a few aspirations for the future.

My natural reaction to turning sixty is, “I never realized it would be this difficult.”

Over the Christmas break we enjoyed a visit from my son who now lives in Holland and his new wife, our first daughter-in-law.  During the few days they were here at our home in Ireland she asked if she could see our wedding photos, which my wife happily dug out for her to browse through. I found I was taking a closer look at them myself. Our wedding was over thirty-eight years ago and it’s fascinating to see what we looked like as a pair of twenty-one-year-olds making serious life choices on that day in 1975.

I was struck by several things in our wedding photos. Obviously, at the time we looked much younger than we do now, and thinner too – at least I did! But I was captivated by one thing and that was how “happy” I appeared to look in the pictures.

Now that I’m turning sixty, I never realized at the time of my wedding that it would be so difficult to maintain a happy, positive attitude throughout life.

I think the potential is always there for us to be happy and positive, but all the pain and suffering in life takes its toll on us, at least it did on me. Even though our marriage started out well, we actually had a car accident on our honeymoon that was my fault because I didn’t take time to check the brake fluid on the old car we were driving!

During the course of our marriage, we have had many joyous times and abundant blessings, but we have experienced almost every family problem and tragedy one can imagine. We have had a blessed life and marriage, but not without major challenges and suffering. From parents and siblings dying to having all sorts of accidents and other issues with our six children through the years we have had our share of hard times.

I never realized how much these things would cumulatively affect my life and attitudes but I also never realized how they would shape and mature me either.

I also never realized that it would be so difficult to maintain reasonably good spiritual and emotional health and physical fitness over the long haul. For a season of life when we were raising our children and also heavily involved in ministry and church life, my personal fitness regime went totally by the wayside. I also let my emotional life get into free fall as problems seemed to mount up one after the other and my responses to them did more harm than good.

I never realized that caring for myself in appropriate ways would actually be a gift to my family and others around me who might actually benefit from a healthier “me.” Thankfully over the past few years I’ve begun to do better about appropriate “self-care” in most respects – spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically. I never realized that this would be such a vital priority and that I would have to intentionally work at it!

I also never realized that being faithful to my wife, my children and my calling would require so much effort and would require so much of me. I think for a season of life I grew weary in many respects and perhaps lost focus of what was most important. Seeds of becoming a workaholic started to bring up some shoots. I had few dreams but only hopes of recognition from peers or those I considered “significant authorities” whom I felt had to approve of me and my work in order for me to feel good about myself.

I’m learning now to be much more process oriented and see growth as a lifelong project that we were designed to enjoy along the way, even with its suffering and apparent setbacks.

Going forward I think I’m trying to live a much simpler, more joyful and expectant life. I want to return, in some respects, to the man with the happy smile in my wedding photos. In order for that to happen I see a few important truths I will have to live by going forward –

  • Gratitude must become a daily reality and be as natural as breathing
  • Life will continue to be challenging and suffering will be part of the process
  • Listening to God and learning from Him and those He places in our path is vital for our health and growth. We were never intended to travel the road alone
  • Proper self-care is not only a gift to ourselves but also to our loved ones

Recently I had some extended time to talk with a friend of mine who has been a caring pastor of a growing congregation for over thirty years. We both agreed that in the church we find “grumpy old men” and we both agreed that we don’t want to become one of them.

I never realized how dependent I was on the grace of God Almighty to avoid becoming grumpy as I age and how completely I would have to trust and cooperate with Him.

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Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” – Hebrews 4:13 (New Living Translation)

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 (NIV)

Someone once commented that character is what you are in the dark. Looking back, the times in my life when I’ve been tested the most came on  occasions when I had the distinct feeling that I was alone and no one was “watching” me.

These days the news media in the US is at a fever pitch in reporting political scandals and exposing the men, and sometimes women,  who have fallen victim to immoral behavior. These stories provide late night talk show hosts with more than enough fodder for their monologues and jokes. It seems no one is immune from the public eye these in days of advanced technology.

I can pretty much guarantee that no one involved in a scandal ever went into immoral behavior thinking it would ever be found out or exposed. When men and women get the idea that “no one is watching” it’s incredible the behaviors that will result.

Without realizing it I often wondered myself if anyone was really watching my life and if anyone really cared to.  Through major tests, failure and victory in my own life, I’ve been challenged to reexamine my own theology and just how I was living it out. There was a period of my life when I behaved as if I was performing only for those around me and not honest and open before the God who sees everyone and everything.

The dark was another world where no one saw what was hidden in my life and I thought, quite frankly, no one really cared. Fortunately, God through His relentless love brought me through many trials to bring me to a better place and a clearer understanding of His knowledge of me as part of His vast Creation over which He is sovereign.

When we think we’re all alone, we are not living out the reality of the theology many of us profess. God does see and He exposes the hidden recesses of our lives and hearts.

This knowledge, practically applied, makes a significant difference in how we live. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” I have found that there is both consolation and trepidation in that statement.

The fact that God sees it all should not make us want to run and hide from Him but to draw closer to Him. The one who knows us intimately wants to draw us closer to Him every moment. He has opened the door of access to Himself completely through Jesus Christ His Son.

If you will ultimately be accountable to God then why not be accountable to Him now in every aspect of your life? Is your life about performing for others or pleasing the One who knows and sees all?

Jesus challenges us as His followers not to “perform” for people (Matthew 6:1) but to rest in the knowledge that the ultimate Judge of all men sees our “acts of righteousness” and will be the one whose opinion really matters in the end.

If you are like me, a recovering perfectionist or people-pleaser,  this may be the best news we will ever hear. God loves us because He sees it all, just as it is, and deeply desires to draw near to us, and we to Him.

God Sees. He sees you and everything about your life. How you respond to His knowledge of you makes all the difference in how you will live today.

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“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3 New Living Translation

I must admit that I don’t take to adversity very well. My normal reaction to the challenges of life that come my way is often, “WHY is this happening to me?” or  “What did I do to deserve this?”

Some adversity in life comes suddenly and without warning. Like an unexpected accident or the sudden death of a close family member. Sometimes we bring adversity on ourselves by making poor choices or even facing a challenge by taking appropriate risk or exercising courage.

Just recently I’ve been taking a weekly half-hour swimming class which is meant to develop a higher level of fitness by swimming vigorous laps around the pool wearing fins. This class in “Fin Fitness” has taught me a lot about facing resistance and developing strength and endurance.

Each week,  before class begins I start wondering why I agreed put myself through the gauntlet. Everyone who has been involved in the class sees the benefits because the exercise is so intense. The small group of my classmates are younger, fitter and better swimmers than yours truly and it’s a huge challenge keeping up with them  – a task I’ve been unable to accomplish so far.

When the class is over and relief sets in I’m joyful that I stuck it out. I then experience the benefits that come from facing the challenge and finding the endurance to persevere.  Hopefully strength, fitness, flexibility and endurance will be physical benefits I will enjoy not to mention the emotional well being that is part of the process.

Whatever the test or trial might be I often wonder if our state of mind is the critical factor in it all. Is there a mindset that will help us on a day to day basis that will carry us through as we courageously face  the challenges that come our way?

In the book of James in the New Testament, the author makes some very startling statements, especially about trials and suffering. One of the better known verses, quoted above, instructs the reader to actually consider trials and tests as joyful opportunities for personal growth.

James does say that if our faith is tested, endurance has a chance to grow. When you consider it, in many areas of life we don’t get very far without meeting resistance head on.

Whatever challenge you may be facing today take a close look at your attitude toward it.  Remember that James is addressing followers of Jesus in the first century. Jesus Christ is the one who faced the adversity of the Cross and all that it entailed, yet came through victorious. Not only is He our Savior but our example of facing adversity courageously and with an eternal perspective.

 Although I don’t like to admit it, in a world full of adversity there’s probably nothing that will build strength and endurance except facing resistance with a positive attitude and an eternal perspective.  

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“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

“Almost everyone who comes into our office seems to be experiencing high levels of stress,” commented the nurse who was drawing my blood. My local doctor sent me to her recently for a routine blood test. As we were conversing we somehow came to the subject of stress and anxiety.

It’s not very difficult to see why people are under a cloud of so much worry in these times. We are under constant pressure from many sources nowadays. A case in point would be the US presidential race which ended this past week.

Even though I am not currently residing in the USA many people where I live in Ireland were watching the election with interest and I along with them. From my viewpoint, I was aware that  many of my Stateside family and friends were profoundly anxious about the outcome of the election – one way or the other.

I’m obviously not the first to discover this, but anxiety is most often fueled by a sense of helplessness in the face of situations beyond our control. The outcome of an event or the fear of “what might happen next?” is reflective of anxiety’s dominance on the stage of our minds.

In recent years I’ve come to realize that worry and stress have had a much firmer grip on my soul than they should have had. Our tendency to worry about the real-life issues we face doesn’t usually have any influence over the situations themselves and in fact makes living in the present much more difficult in the process. Maybe it’s that we have the compulsion to “do something” about what troubles us, even when we realistically have little control in the situation.

It’s a negative cycle that’s not easily broken. Anxiety creates an ever growing snowball that keeps negative thinking  growing. The effects of anxiety rob us of happiness that could be ours and influences the lives of those around us. It’s not very fun to be around people who don’t have a positive outlook on life. Anxiety is a toxin that takes away good things and gives nothing in return.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, I think one decision we can make today to start relieving the burden of anxiety on our souls is to examine our own thoughts in light of what they produce in our inner lives.

As reflected in the verse above, Jesus spoke to us very directly about our thought processes, particularly about the things we tend to stress over the most – our basic needs of food, clothing and housing. He spoke about God’s Kingdom, seeking it first, above all things, and trusting God to take care of all of our needs.

Over the past while I made some deliberate decisions about being much more intentional about my own thought life.  As a result, I obtained a small notebook as a complement to my own personal journal.  It’s specifically for recording positive things I’m seeing God doing in and around me – the signs of His Kingdom, so to speak. Answers to prayer, unexpected surprises, people who are special to me and reasons for celebrating what God is doing all find their way into the notebook.

As you might imagine, my “positive notebook” is progressing, but it doesn’t have nearly enough in it. I’m sure that I am only capturing a fraction of what God is actually doing around me and what could be recorded.

Whenever I’m tempted to let anxiety take root, or allow negative thoughts to dominate, my positive notebook is never far away. Taking time to reflect on the positives gives me a fresh perspective on my current problems and renews a spirit of gratitude within me.

I don’t expect to solve everyone’s problems with anxiety with one essay such as this. Just the exercise of sharing these insights gives me hope that whatever the future may hold for us, stress and anxiety need not have a dominating power in our lives. This is especially true for all who are seeking God’s Kingdom. We can intentionally yield to Him, longing to have His rule dominate our thoughts and  hearts.

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