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Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  – Philippians 4:8 – New Living Translation
Recently in my casual reading I came across an important term. One author mentioned the word “brooding.” It resonated with many life-lessons I’m thinking over so I looked up the definition.

Brooding is defined as, “thinking deeply about something that makes one unhappy, angry or worried; or to be preoccupied with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts.”

It seems that brooding is very much related to worry and anxiety. We can become compulsive about things we just can’t, for one reason or another, shake out of our minds.

I have to admit that for a good portion of my life I’ve been a brooder. Being somewhat compulsive, for many years I thought that worry and brooding were just part of my personality type that was instinctive and irreparable.

It’s always sobering to hear what those closest to us really think about us!  Several years ago my wife and I were discussing a painful personal experience. She bravely mentioned that one our children said to her privately, “I hope it doesn’t take Dad a week to get over it!”

I’m learning in recent days that I’ve been making choices all through life and that I can actually “choose not to brood” if I’m so inclined.

It’s another election year in the USA and it seems the entire western world is inundated with political speeches and promises of a better future if someone does, or doesn’t get into office. I’m all for making informed choices as to whom we vote for, but so often I see many people brooding over political parties or personalities to the point of depression and burnout!

I’m currently leading a small group study on the book of Philippians in the New Testament. The apostle Paul, author of this epistle, was well acquainted with the issues of his day in the first century. He was actually writing from prison – being in house arrest in Rome.  I’m pretty sure that if he were here today and he had a vote he would be exercising his privileges. However, he has some pretty direct advice for his readers who were persecuted themselves.

Surprisingly, Paul tells his readers not to brood! He writes –

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

When it comes to making informed choices, we should do so. When it comes to fixing our deepest attention on something, that “something” Paul says, should be “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.”

That’s a tall order for those of us who are constantly bombarded by negativity in our world where the media and social media dominate so much of our day. Combined with this some of us have a tendency to keep working painful thoughts over and over in our minds, consumed with what has happened, might happen or could happen. I know, I’ve been there many times myself and still can be if I choose to be.

I’ve come to discover that I need time and space in my own life on a daily basis to switch off and listen for God’s voice through His Word and in my inner being to counteract all the false messages of hopelessness that come against me.

As I reflect on it, I’m shocked to discover that brooding wasn’t God’s original design for my life and that it was a choice I had been making all along. But I’m relieved to know that that there’s a better alternative.

Corrie Ten Boom, author of the book “The Hiding Place” was a woman who lived through significant hardship, being sent to a Nazi death camp with her father and sister both of whom died as a result. She has much to say about worry and the choices we make.

Ms Ten Boom said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you anywhere,” and “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings…it’s something we make inside ourselves.” 

In this world where we are flooded with data, most of it negative, take time to reflect and find restoration of your soul in the eternal things that really matter rather than surrendering yourself to worry and anxiety. I think you, and your world, will reap the benefits. I’ve learned the hard way that brooding never brings blessings into our lives, or the lives of those we love.

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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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“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.” Job 2:10 (NLT)

Have you ever received a Christmas gift that you found difficult to accept?

Have you ever been downright disappointed in what you’ve received?

I know I have. I vividly recall one Christmas in my late teen years when my parents gave me a gift that I flat out rejected. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Today I’m really embarrassed that I behaved so poorly and was so unappreciative of my parents who had previously never failed to make Christmas a special occasion.

Being a somewhat typical man, I admit I’m hard to shop for when it comes to gifts. I can’t always make up my mind what I really want anyway, so how could my family know what gift to give me?

I don’t know about you but I struggle with the idea of acceptance. We love accepting things that we enjoy especially when fun surprises come our way. But when we get what we aren’t expecting – especially when it comes in the form of disappointment, adversity or suffering – that’s when we are not so sure we can accept the gift.

Being the natural perfectionist that I am, I’m always looking for the best deal I can find so when I get less than what I think is best, disappointment can quickly sink in.

I have found that when I set my standards high and don’t figure in setbacks and suffering into the mix of life, I set myself up for struggles with disappointment and a lack of acceptance.

Lately, I’ve been listening more carefully to people who have graciously struggled with pain, suffering and adversity in their lives. Many of them describe even adversity as a “gift” from God. One that we don’t ask for, but which inevitably comes our way, living in this fallen world.

A colleague of mine has been struggling with cancer for over fourteen years. Barring a miracle her condition will not change for the better this side of heaven. The painful process she’s been through she describes as a “gift.” She has had countless opportunities to speak to others of God’s grace and provision for her during her time of affliction. I don’t know if I would be that accepting if I were in her shoes.

From time to time professional golfer Gary Player alludes to the fact that he had a difficult childhood in South Africa but grew up with the dream that he would be one of the world’s greatest golfers in his generation. He is often quoted as saying that adversity is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind even though we don’t see it that way. By facing adversity with a more than positive attitude his accomplishments continue to back up his bold statements.

Jealousy and envy also make acceptance a difficult task. When we think that others have it better than we do in some area of life we look at our own situation and covet the possessions of others. We never expect that they might be looking back at us with similar sentiments. We aren’t so quick to envy others for the suffering they endure even though it might just be the making of us.

Part of accepting God’s gifts to us – the pleasant and the painful – is the realization that He is doing something unique with each one of us that only He can accomplish with our willing participation. We refer to this as a “faith” journey with God, trusting that His way for us is tailor-made and whatever is beyond our control comes directly from His gracious hand.

This Christmas I find myself desiring a new perspective on acceptance and gratitude. The more that we can accept what God gives us and respond to Him with a heart of gratitude the less disappointment will be part of our daily life-experience.

God’s greatest gift to the world was His very own Son – our Christmas Treasure. The rich gifts that He offers to all of us – His grace, mercy, peace and forgiveness – can’t be measured or removed once received.

When we gladly accept Him, in all His richness, we can easily accept whatever else may come our way – without disappointment!

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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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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Saint Augustine

For most of my life I’ve had an ongoing battle with perfectionism but it took me over fifty years to see it as a hindrance rather than a help.

Daily we are bombarded with images of men and women who appear to be highly successful because they strive for perfection in their appearance and professional life. However, if you take a close look at anyone’s life, no matter how “together” they may appear, it won’t take long to discover that even among the best of us there is a much deeper longing for meaning in life and relationships.

Deep down I really know that I’m a deeply flawed individual but it would be nice to appear to “have my act together” to everyone around me so that my faults and failings don’t come out too often.

For those of us who have a personal faith in God it’s easy to quote chapter and verse either to justify our perfectionistic tendencies or excuse our shortcomings or both.

Jesus’ words above recorded by Matthew have often been quoted to me by some who say that God expects “perfection” from people, speaking mainly of the followers of Jesus. The implication is that perfection in this life is somehow attainable through whatever means are necessary to achieve it.

Honestly, that’s no way to live life with a heart for God and it’s not even realistic or even achievable if we stop to think about it.

What was Jesus saying here and does the Bible teach us that striving for perfection is a motivating factor in our lives? Before drawing any quick conclusions just take a closer look at the Biblical language, especially in the case of Jesus’ words.

The Bible speaks of God’s “perfection” as in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “perfect” here carries the idea of “blameless” or “without fault.” I think most people with a faith in God and particularly Jesus-followers would have no problem with the concept that God is perfect and unblemished.

However, when it comes to the way the Bible speaks of humans in relation to “perfect” a different word is used. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” meaning “perfect” in the sense of “having reached its end,”  “complete” or even “mature.”  In other words God is perfect and can’t be “matured” any more than He already is but we humans are far from mature. The good news of the Gospel is that God is in the process of “growing” us up as we trust His perfect Son Jesus and live by faith.

In my battle with perfectionism I’ve found that there’s a world of difference between striving for excellence as opposed to perfectionism as a “soul-condition.”  Human perfectionism no matter how well-intentioned is rooted and grounded in pride while the Gospel message of Jesus is one of humility.

Striving for excellence can be very much about serving God and others if our motives are to glorify God in everything we do. Perfectionism on the other hand is a mindset that seeks to avoid being judged or criticized by others. The malady is one of obsession with what others think, or may think of us.

Researcher and author Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a cognitive, behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

The peril of perfectionism is that we can actually become callous to our own humanity so that we don’t have to face our failings and imperfections head on.

The alternative to prideful perfectionism is humility and vulnerability which breaks down pride in our lives and gives us a healthier appreciation of God and true freedom to trust Him with the reality of who we are – warts and all.

Ms. Brown expresses it well when she says, Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”

I think our Lord and Maker is more interested in enabling us to serve Him out of faith and love rather than approving of our efforts to create a false image of ourselves. He provided a very humble, gentle and vulnerable Savior to show us the way to do just that.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

The contrast between pride and humility couldn’t be more distinct. We don’t often see our own pride until it’s exposed for what it is.

The word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means lowly, insignificant, or “on the ground.” We think of a humble person as one who doesn’t have an exalted view of themselves in relation to others.

I think humility is easier observed than it is defined. Humility becomes a larger slice of our character when we see a picture of reality that shows us we aren’t the perfect people we hoped we would be.

It’s easy to be blind to our own pride and to observe humility in others. We would probably admit to being proud before we would consider ourselves “humble.”

If you’ve been following the professional golf news lately you will be aware that there’s been a changing of the guard at the number one position in the world rankings. In recent years we have witnessed the demotion of Tiger Woods and the rise of Rory McIlroy at the highest level of the sport.

Even though Tiger won five PGA tour events in 2013 this year has been one of injury, frustration and  disappointment while Rory, winner of several events and two majors this season, has recaptured the ranking of World Number one and is going from strength to strength.

The comparison and contrast between these two child prodigies turned professional have been noteworthy. Both have been in the media spotlight for some time now and observations and conclusions drawn concerning both of them are clear to see.

One of the most striking differences between these two men is how they conduct themselves with the media. When interviewed Tiger is cautious, mysterious and most often closed. He’s a classic example of pride and perfection. Rory is open, honest, unassuming, and vulnerable and dare I say, humble for a young man of such accomplishment at his young age. The broadcasters know this quite well. They love Rory – so do his many fans. Draw your own conclusions as to how they view Tiger Woods.

We live in a world where pride and “getting to the top” in one’s area of expertise is a highly valued. We love our sports stars but we seem to appreciate the ones like Rory who have a sense of humility about them despite their huge success.

The wisdom of the ancient Proverb quoted above teaches us that without a sense of brokenness in our lives we tend to become proud and think that we are above the faults and failings of others.

As Tiger Woods discovered almost five years ago now life’s catastrophes come along at various stages. The proud man or woman falls. Those who are humble are honored in success or failure.

Due to various humbling experiences over the past few years I’m realizing that in years past my own pride kept me from admitting failure and letting others close to me see who I really was. A lot of wasted energy went into hiding unsightly things about myself so that I could maintain an appearance of “having it all-together.” We are the last ones to see the evidence of pride in our lives.

Our pride leads us to believe that we’re strong and invincible. Humility tells us that it’s safe to be honest with who we are as fragile human beings because we’re made in the image of God who knows us intimately. It’s His opinion of us that holds the most weight.

One of the most profound examples of humility in history is that of Jesus Christ. Being equal with God the Father He humbled Himself in taking on humanity and subjecting Himself to death so that men and women might find forgiveness and connection with God (Philippians 2).

Not even the Son of God promoted Himself in the grand scheme of things so why should we?

Long term we may not see Rory McIlroy win as much in his prime as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods did in theirs, but if his attitude doesn’t change and barring major meltdown he may be one of the most beloved stars in the history of golf.

We know a proud man or woman when we see one. We know a humble man or woman when we see one. We are fortunate when we are vulnerable enough to admit our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and to release any illusions of our own superiority over others.

In the end humility seems to carry its own rewards.

 

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“ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Ever since we learned of Robin Williams’ unexpected death this week, we have been swamped with analysis and insights from a wide range of people across the globe who, like myself, appreciated his life work and were heartbroken to hear of his tragic end.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams was loved and admired by many – his films alone had grossed over $5 Billion worldwide. Yet a man of such rich accomplishment was haunted by demons of addiction and depression over the course of his life which overtook him in the end.

We know it’s true but it comes down hard on us in moments like this that a successful career, wealth and fame does not guarantee a happy and emotionally satisfying life. By contrast we know of many people who have very little in terms of the world’s wealth and influence who have happy and fulfilling lives.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to some conclusions as to why this is so.

Take for example, the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus comes into the home of Martha and her sister Mary.  When you stop to think about it, Jesus Christ the Lord and Creator of the Universe has just come into her home and Martha’s response is to get “busy.” Perhaps Martha’s activity is well-intended most likely making preparations for a meal that would certainly have been expected of a host in those days.

The problem arises with Martha when she sees her sister Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and “listening to Him.” She gets bent out of shape that her sister is wasting precious time, listening to the Lord rather than helping her with all the preparations for the guest of honor and His friends.

Before we get too reactionary here let’s focus on what Jesus is really saying when he tells Martha to leave Mary alone. He knows that Martha is “worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen what is better.”

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies within you.” I think Jesus is making a huge statement about the contrast between our inner life and the external world around us.

I don’t think that Jesus condemns Martha for hard work or a desire to please Him and his company with a fine meal. I think He’s showing us that we, like Martha, can work hard to make sure our outside “world” is a happy place when it’s far more important to sit before Him as He speaks to our hearts.

The “inner life” that we all have, with its thoughts, desires and motives is made for intimacy rather than activity, by and large. By contrast our culture tells us to “do” all the right things on the outside and pay careful attention to our external image and happiness and contentment will surely come our way.

I recall a crisis time in my own life several years ago where incessant activity was killing my inner life. I found myself driven to perform for an unseen audience that literally controlled my existence. Now I know that if I can’t be content sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him while the rest of the world goes headlong into crisis with excessive activity, I’ll never be content with who I am or what I have.

Mary had it right but going along with the culture around me I was behaving a lot more like Martha.

Our inner life was designed by our Lord for intimacy and connection with Him. It’s reflected in Mary who somehow knew that when Jesus stepped into her surroundings – nothing, and I mean nothing, took priority over sitting quietly at His feet listening to Him. Things around her took lower priority when her posture was one of surrender to Him.

We can take away many lessons from the life and death of Robin Williams. Regardless of your talents you could get very busy with incessant activity so that the audience watching your performance might be happy for fleeting moments. Or you can take time in silence and solitude to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He speaks into your heart and act accordingly.

I think it’s a choice that makes all the difference – to us and to our world.

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