My Most Important Hour

Of all the hours in the day, the hour after I get up in the morning is probably the most important.

For many years, I have practiced an early morning discipline of preparing for my day.  This takes place before anyone else in my family awakens.

I am convinced that this hour helped me to become a better man, husband, and father. At times the hour helped me thrive in my growth and development. At other times, the hour simply helped me survive the turmoil.

I generally get up about 5:00 AM. For years, this worked because I knew our children would not be up at that hour. Long after our children have grown up and married, I continue the same general schedule now.

What I do each morning is not magic, unique, or a secret known only by a few. The power of this practice is that it is a daily discipline that I usually practice the five days each week.

What I do during this hour varies, but I have continued the same basic practice for many years.

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917What I do during the first hour of the day:

1. Emptying my mind. Generally, I sit in silence for a few minutes. I keep a notepad nearby and often begin making a list of whatever occurs to me. Quite often things come to mind that I need to do that day or have been trying to remember. I have found that writing down these thoughts frees my mind. This may take only a few minutes but is very helpful. I keep the pad in front of me during the hour in case anything else randomly comes to mind.

2. Practicing spiritual disciplines.  I read Scripture, pray, and read anything else that feeds my soul. Most recently, I have been reading through the Psalms in The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. At other times I might use Phyllis Tickle’s, The Divine Hours. During this time I will often practice some of the ancient spiritual disciplines. Basically, I try to vary what I do during this time.

I write in my journal during this time. I might reflect upon a scripture I just read or something that happened the previous day. At other times, I might write a prayer in my journal. There are also days when I write nothing.

3. Planning my day. I think about my goals and priorities. I consider the progress that I would like to make on two or three projects. (The tool I am currently using is Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Schedule. These are available here.)

Remember, the point is not that you need to get up at 5:00 AM or that you need to do exactly what I do. The point is that a habit/practice such as this can be very useful regardless of your age or circumstance in life. Many mornings I will spend about an hour with this. Most mornings, it will be about an hour and a half. Again, the time is not the point. Find what works for you.

 

Moving Past Weariness

tired_kidGordon MacDonald tells of a time when as a child he was traveling with his family on a dusty, deserted road in Canada. It was late, and the family had been traveling the entire day. They were lost, tired, and were becoming irritable with one another. They could not find a motel, and the few cabins that they did see had “No Vacancy” signs in the window. The trip had begun with excitement, but all of that had worn away as they pushed ahead thinking that down the road somewhere there had to be a place to sleep. MacDonald continues by saying:

I have often recalled the feelings and frustration of that late-night, dark-road experience whenever my life seemed to momentarily turn into a mindless or spirit less journey crammed with events (not experiences) and contacts (not relationships). In such confounding periods, my sense is that one feels like my family did that night in Canada. Where is all of this going? What does it mean? And, how will I know when the destination has been reached? Why has this exciting trip suddenly turned into a wearisome journey? Where will I find tranquility again?  Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, pp. 7-8

I can relate to this.

There are times when life has left me feeling tired and weary. These feelings are not the result of one incident or disappointment. Rather, weariness seems to be the result of numerous difficult situations stacked on top of one another.  The compilation of these situations over time can be draining and exhausting.

Does this describe where you are or where you have been?

Prolonged weariness can leave one feeling tired, depleted, and feeling as if you have not made much progress. If you are like many, you may even come to a place where you become numb to what is happening in your life.

During times when I feel particularly weary, I have found it helpful to pursue simplicity in my life again.  In other words, I re-visit my purpose for being alive and getting out of bed in the morning.

Some might push back and say, “My life is complicated.  You are not telling me anything I don’t know by suggesting that I return to my purpose.”

I won’t argue with you.

Doing this, however, has been very helpful to me.  Focusing again on the purpose for my life, my family, and my work can bring clarity and help life the fog.  Eventually, I am in a better place to take the next step toward keeping my life in line with my purpose.

The following are a few realities I try to keep in mind during such times:

1.  I have absolutely no control over so much of what happens in life. I can’t control the decisions and choices that others make.  Very often life is very, very hard.  Yet, I do have control over the choices and decisions that I make (Joshua 24:15).  I can choose my attitude, my outlook, and the direction of my life.

2.  I need to trust in God.  I need to depend upon God for my life and my future.  God is never weary or depleted.  If I am not praying, it may be because I am either overconfident or my view of God is too small.  I’ve noticed that the quality of my prayer life typically reflects my view of God.

3.  I need to be proactive instead of passive.  Stephen Covey encourages us to “choose with the end in mind.” Clarify your life’s mission. He suggests that we write eulogies that we would want our friends to read at our funeral.  Proactive people step into life while passive people spend their lives waiting for something to happen.

 

Question:

What is particularly helpful to you during seasons of weariness?

 

Ministry Inside.105

ego(On Thursdays, I write a post particularly for church leaders.  However, I suspect that most anyone can relate to many of the topics explored here.  This is especially true of the post today.)

Have you ever realized that you were becoming the main point of your life?

Or, to put it another way, have you ever realized that you have been living out of your ego instead of your soul?

A number of years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting next to my wife at church.  I had already preached that morning.  We were just about to conclude the assembly.  Then, one of the elders (at the church where we were at that time) went to the podium to talk with the congregation “on behalf of the elders.”

He then proceeded to explain to the congregation how the elders had decided to move ahead with a particular project.  He explained the project and then encouraged the congregation to get behind this initiative.

As he spoke, I gradually became irritated.  This initiative was something I had proposed but that was received with less than expected enthusiasm.  As I continued to discuss the project and the possibilities for our church, several elders expressed that they thought it might be a good idea.

Now on a Sunday morning, this was being communicated as their idea and their initiative.  The longer this elder talked, the more irritated I became.  After church, I heard several people talk about the leadership of our elders and how they were challenging us with this project.

I recall thinking, “Good grief!  These guys get up and take credit for the idea I brought to them and now these people are convinced that these guys are showing leadership and creativity.”

Then I began to wonder.

Why is this so important to me?

Why did I find this so irritating?

What does this say about me and my ego?

The truth is: I was living out of my ego instead of my soul.

What does that mean for one in Christian ministry to live out of the ego?

  • You may be constantly critiquing others in an effort to elevate yourself.
  • You may be extraordinarily concerned with how others perceive you.
  • You may may feel a burning anger and resentment when others are noticed and receive attention.
  • You may feel a sense of worthiness only if you’ve written a book, been a keynote speaker at a particular event, etc.
  • You may find passive aggressive ways to communicate a sense of self-importance to others.  “I’m booked for speaking events for the next three months!”
  • You may find that you rarely experience joy unless you are noticed, appreciated, or recognized in some way.

One afternoon, I sat in a counselor’s office in Kansas City.  I was in the middle of a church mess and really looked forward to my appointment with this therapist.  Yet, I was nervous and fidgeting in the chair as I waited for our conversation to begin.

He asked me about my week.  I told him that it had been a good week.  A high profile minister had called me and asked me to be the resource person for a retreat with the elders and ministers of his large metropolitan congregation.  I talked on and on telling this therapist how important it was to me to receive this invitation and the affirmation because of it.

Then he asked me a question that shot through my soul.

Jim, what if there was a way to experience joy even if you didn’t receive the affirmation and approval of others?

I had been living out of my ego, instead of my soul.  Something needed to change.

 

Question:

Is this familiar territory to you?  If so, I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Make Your Move Now (2)

front-porch61Pay attention to the front porch

The front porch is what people see. The front porch determines whether people have a desire to come any further. If the front porch looks cluttered, dark, and uninviting, people may see this as a sign that they are really not welcome in your life.

Begin this

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year by paying attention to the front porch of your life. Have some people concluded that you really are not approachable? Our front porch is what people see before they get to know us. Someone says, “If you knew my heart, you would think differently of me.” Yes, but the problem is that your front porch is saying something else.

Your front porch is all about what you say. Isn’t it amazing that the hole in your face is basically how people determine who you are. What comes out of your mouth is significant.

Your front porch is all about your attitude. Complainers and whiners will repel people in a hurry. It is like sending a double message. People who are caustic and bristle when someone makes a mistake will find that many people will not come any closer.

Your front porch is all about your attention. One of the greatest assets you have in your relationships with others is your attention. Do you pay attention to others or are you too distracted to really listen?

Make Your Move Now (1)

Chess PawnNew Year’s can be a wonderful time of change and opportunity. We enter this year loved by God, empowered by the Spirit and on a mission from Jesus. Early each December, I give much reflection and prayer to how I will start the new year.

The following are four of eight principles that have been helpful to me in beginning the year.

I am going to use the image of a house in describing each one of these principles. Maybe one or more of these will be helpful to you.

Inspect the condition of your house (James 1:22-25)

Some of you know what it is like to look for a house to buy. You look at various houses to see if you “like” any of them. At some point, you are not only concerned about whether or not you like the house but  also what shape the house is in. If you were to inspect the condition of a house, you might first walk around it and survey the outside and then survey the inside. You might take a look at the paint, the roof, the gutters, and the foundation.

The first of the year is an excellent time to inspect the condition of your life. How is the foundation of your life? How are the significant pieces of your life? How are your character, your ethics, your habits, your relationships?

As you think about where to begin addressing the status of your life, you might consider starting with the obvious. Is there an area of your life that very clearly needs to change? Perhaps this is an intention, a habit, or a behavior in your life that is foreign to the character of God.

Again, you might start with what is obvious and apparent to you.

Ministry Inside.100

quitEver been tempted to quit?

I have.

At times, the temptation to quit was buried deep inside. Nevertheless, it was there.

Maybe you’ve been tempted to quit as a church leader.  Perhaps you’ve been tempted to quit “full-time” ministry.  Or, perhaps the temptation to quit has become even more intense.  You feel discouraged in your role as husband/wife or dad/mom.  Maybe you’ve been tempted to quit any sense of church life.

Some Leaders Never Stop Learning

button LearnNo doubt you have known some people like them.  They diligently prepare, study, and do their best to equip themselves with the best tools available.  Then they begin the ministry for which they have been preparing themselves.

For some reason, some of these leaders stop growing and learning. They no longer read and no longer engage themselves in serious thinking.

Contrast these leaders, however, with those who continue to grow and learn throughout their lives.  For example:

A 90-year-old man and former college president continued to take notes of various talks and classes at our church.  He often approached me with a pen in hand, wanting to know the name of a book that I recommended earlier.

Each summer, a 70-year-old minister spent one month at a seminary auditing classes.  He had been doing this for a number of years.  Both he and his wife traveled to the city, stayed in a dorm, and spent the month learning.  At one point, he told me that it had also been an important time for marriage renewal.

A minister in his late 60′s worked with a church in an urban center.  The predominant age groups in this church were the 20s and 30s.  I told him one day how impressed I was that he could continue to relate to such diverse age groups.  He told me that he had simply tried to continue growing and learning.

The leader who is a lifelong learner will bless his/her church or organization.  Think of your learning as an investment in your mind, your family, and in those whom you have the opportunity to serve.

Tomorrow, I will offer seven suggestions to anyone (and particularly a leader) who wants to be a lifelong learner.

Question:

Have you known people who impressed you as lifelong learners?  What were some of their practices?

 

 

Leaders are Lifelong Learners

He sat in the large auditorium on the campus of a small Christian college. Chapel would begin soon. Students began to fill the auditorium.

LearningHe was a longtime professor at the college. For many years he taught undergraduate Bible classes. He was a student and a scholar. Long ago, he had earned a Ph. D. in New Testament and continued to learn and grow for many, many years. Today was no exception.

As the chapel program began, a young undergraduate walked to the lectern to “make a talk.” The old professor did what was his custom each day in chapel. He opened his notebook and, with pen in hand, began to take notes of the young man’s talk.

One day, a colleague asked him about this habit. The old professor explained that he wanted to learn and grow. He said, “I never know when I might learn something. So I

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want to be ready to write it down.”

This gentleman had never stopped learning. He had never stopped growing.

So what are some characteristics of people who are lifelong learners?

Refuse to Settle for Being Half-Alive

alive_bigI came across this powerful line in Patrick Morley’s newest book Man Alive (p. 13)

You don’t have to settle for being half-alive.

I thought about this for several days.  I think it stayed with me because I’ve seen so many men and women who shut down long before they actually died.

  • The man who sits in his recliner at 40 years of age and complains about being old.
  • The woman who seems to have shut down once her children left home.
  • The man in his 50s who constantly talks about the years in which he played high school football.
  • The minister who sounds bland and bored as he speaks to the congregation.

So what do half-alive people look like?

Burying Those Feelings Never Works

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.