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?

 

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.

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.

Don’t Ignore the Obvious

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

I really don’t want to ignore the obvious, and yet I do at times.

I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in business. I recall taking a variety of classes including some in business management, accounting, business law, finance, statistics, etc. Yet, in spite of these courses, I ignored the obvious.

I actually paid very little attention toward thinking about the kind of work that I might do for the rest of my life. I am not suggesting that I should have known exactly what I was going to do. I am saying that I did not even give it very much thought. Oh I knew what I was going to do when I graduated. I had been working for UPS while in college and I knew that I would be driving and then going into management with them. Yet, beyond that, I gave my future little thought.

Maybe the following is obvious to you. Yet, I need to be reminded to not ignore the obvious.


Am I thinking ahead?

1. In five years, I will be somewhere doing something.  In five years, do I want to be able to say that I have invested in my growth and maturity over these past five years? What will that mean TODAY in terms of the practical decisions that I need to make?

2. At the end of this year, I will be somewhere financially.  If I continue to spend money the way I am currently spending money, what will be my financial condition in January 2010? Do I need to make a change TODAY in terms of the way I spend money?

3. As I begin my week, I am going to make choices about the way I invest my time. Who needs my attention and time this week? Are there significant people in my life who have not been receiving the time or attention the need? Do I need to make a decision TODAY regarding this?

4. In front of me is an unread book.  I can easily say, given what I already have scheduled, “I don’t have time to read a book this week.” Yet, could I carve out thirty minutes each day to read? Could I carve out fifteen minutes each day to read? Do I need to begin this TODAY?

Four Ways to Take a Vacation Today


Take a free vacation today.Vacation.jpg

Yes, free.

I once read an interview featuring a busy business executive. He spoke of his work, his responsibilities, and the stress that came with his job.

In the interview, he said that during his busy, hectic day he might call a longtime friend. For a few minutes, they might talk about a river they planned to raft or a football game they wanted to see. These conversations with friends were brief, but for him they were a breath of fresh air in the middle of a busy, stressful day.

These conversations can be mini-vacations. For a few minutes, they allow you to get away. Such conversations can be a refreshing pause in the middle of a day that is draining.

There are other ways to take a mini-vacation.

I have spent a few moments reliving last summer’s vacation. My mind doesn’t know the difference between these memories and the actual vacation. I have found this to be relaxing.

One person I knew would pause during the day and for a few minutes work a crossword puzzle.

I once knew a guy who watched old movies during his lunch hour.

Some people work out at the YMCA or another gym during lunch.

These are endless ways people have found to refresh themselves in the middle of the day.

You have your own ideas about what might be a mini-vacation for you. You might consider trying this. I am not talking about a long period of time. Try doing this for two minutes. Two minutes. Spend two minutes thinking about a pleasant hike, a nice vacation, or an evening you recently enjoyed. You might be surprised at how long two minutes can feel.

Yes, like most anything—this could be abused. One could stay on a mental vacation and only occasionally come to work mentally.

For so many of us, however, these breathers can help bring clarity and perspective to our day. When I am behind in my work, my tendency is to get more intense and more focused. Of course, this kind of focus can be useful and can spur on productivity. However, doing my work with this level of intensity day after day only makes me weary. I don’t feel creative or energized.

These mini-vacations can be very helpful. They can restore and motivate. They remind me that God has created me to be a whole person. I am mind, body, soul, emotion, etc. I am a social being. One of the greatest gifts I can give the people I love the most is to take care of myself. Selfish? No. Self-care is about being a good steward of what God has given me.

Suggestions:

1. Call a friend with the intention of talking about a subject that is very pleasant to you both. Do you both like to fish? Do you like to compare coffees? Spend a short time talking about the subject.

2. Sit in your chair, close your eyes and relive one of the most enjoyable experiences of a vacation or special trip. Seek to remember the sounds, smells, and sensations of the place.

3. Cultivate friendships with at least a few people who will talk with you about something other than your work, your responsibilities, etc.

4. Look for opportunities to laugh. One woman used to cut cartoons from the newspaper and put them on her refrigerator for her family to see. She believed her family needed to laugh more. There are days when I eat lunch at my desk in the office. I will sometimes watch a few You Tube clips that I know are very funny.

New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”But.jpeg


“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife. I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments, starting projects and not following through but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need

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to nourish my inner world but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this but . . . .”

“I know the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I do this, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

Hudson.jpg


Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)