Prisoners of Our Own Device
Overwhelmed? Overloaded? Overcommitted? Overworked? Overburdened?
Me, too. Or, should I say “I was living that way, too.” Until God broke the dam and gave me some great relief. Many of you have been following these strange posts on my Facebook page about “inbox = empty” and wondering either “who cares?”, “is it Christian to hate him?”, or “how can anyone get their inbox to empty so often and why is Aarron Pina taunting me?!”
Let me explain.
About 6 ot 7 years ago I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and implemented a good portion of it, experienced great success for a time, but eventually fell off the wagon enough times that I think I broke (and subsequently, lost) my spine. About 2-1/2 months ago, after reading over our family mission statement which includes part of Romans 12:2 (“…be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”), I started listening to David Allen’s podcasts and re-implementing the GTD system.
Ever pray to God for a breakthrough and hear no response only to find out He was silent now because He’d already clearly told you something several times before? God had given me an answer, freely and without reproach, but this time He made me uncover it when I was so fed up with my own mess that I moved Heaven and earth to find His answer:
1. Track your commitments. (Wait, something fell through the cracks?!)
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
Every one of us has (at the 10,000 foot level) between 30 and 100 “projects” at any given time. (A project is any multiple step activity that when all the steps related to it are checked off, it can be considered “done” – closed-ended.) These commitments need to be tracked or they will “fall through the cracks”. Every one of us has (at the 20,000 foot level) between 10 and 15 categories of commitments, called “Areas of Responsibility” or “Areas of Focus” that cannot be completed because they are ongoing and open ended. Ex. “market research”, “bills”, “customer service”, “health”, “strategic planning”. These, too, must be tracked. Some people call this “getting organized”, but what I’m suggesting is a larger, richer, system of workflow management that includes “organize” as a component without being limited to just getting there.
2. Run the Prison, Don’t Let the Prisoners Run You
God is a god of order and He designed our minds to be like “steel traps”, capturing thoughts and storing them. But, most of us are very sloppy in the way we run the penitentiary of steel traps in our head. I was taught a long time ago that when it comes to lust, there’s no excuse for sloppy thinking. However, the verse above isn’t just limited to lustful thoughts. Yes, we need to get unruly, unwelcome visitors like lust out of the lobby, but we need to make sure the rest of the prison stays in control.
The “to make it obedient to Christ” part means, from a practical standpoint, identifying a thought as either godly or wicked. Here’s a simple question I’d been blowing off hundreds of times a day, resulting in towers of clutter on my desk: “What is this?” Every email, every memo, every assignment, every “note to self” can either be acted on or not. That’s helpful information. It’s either a prisoner, a prison worker, or a visitor. Unfinished business is like an extra inmate with no place to go – accumulate enough of them and the guards… the prison… will be overrun and out of control.
Identifying each thought (email, commitment, inspiration, project) is vital information to me now, because I know there are only four possible places something can go once identified:
- A. Do – if it’s something that I, and only I, can do and it’s less than two minutes (I have a sand timer on my desk called the “2-minute Nazi” to hold me to this) I’ll knock it out, immediately. If it’s something that requires other input from other people or that takes longer than two minutes it gets “Dated”.
- B. Date – I’m funny like this: if it’s on my calendar, it’s pretty likely to get done on the day it’s listed on my calendar. If the answer to “What is it?” is “something that cannot or should not be done right now, it goes into my “tickler” file (see below for definition) on the appropriate day or gets scheduled on my calendar in a “free” block, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks so easily. No stray prisoners allowed in the hallways!
- C. Delegate – If this is something that should be done or worked on until done but just doesn’t fit into my job description (Disciple – Grow – Promote), it must be delegated. This is like transferring a prisoner to another facility into someone else’s care until their sentence is served.
- D. Dump – Can I tell you about two of my newly favorite tools in my office? The trash can and the shredder. Love ’em. Now, I even know how to use them so well, they get emptied sometimes twice a week! How awesome is that? Talk about freedom. Get them out of the prison if they don’t belong there and you keep the prison clean!
3. Roll Call – the Glue that Keeps It Running
Every week, I now have a sacred hour or two on my calendar called “Weekly Review”. Read Getting Things Done and you’ll get a better feel for what it looks like or email me about our upcoming “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Work, and Life” workshop in January and I’ll get you more detail. Essentially, this is a time for me to clean out all of my inboxes (virtual and physical) update all of my “next actions” lists, get clean and clear on what commitments are still waiting for other peoples’ inputs, etc., and check off items that may have moved so fast I couldn’t track them in the moment – “Mom called, she’ll be coming for dinner on Sunday, at 5:30” – great, I don’t have to call Mom about that.
Freedom Found? Be Encouraged.
For me, staying on the GTD wagon for 9 weeks, the payoff wasn’t just increased productivity. I’ve never felt like I literally “found” two extra hours of time in a week before, but that wasn’t the payoff, either. It was an even cooler reward than I had imagined. Have you ever emptied out your sofa or even the back seat of an old car and found $20? A five? Okay, enough change to buy a #4 breakfast at the drive thru? It’s like all this STUFF was in the way covering a buried treasure.
My treasure was more than cash. It was an unexpected gift from God: once I had uncluttered my inbox, my “to do” list, and my “current commitments” pile, it was clear I had been making dozens of choices based on either fear of rejection or the approval of men. Idolatry no matter how I looked at it. That was a set of commitments I knew just what to do with: I wrote them on paper “fear of rejection” and “approval of man”, said a little prayer “Lord, you have set me free from these. Let me stay free, indeed”, rolled my chair to the shredder, and listened blissfully as is churned away.
Free at last, free at last…
Doing Two Things at Once… Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?”
There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.
Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.
The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:
Who (more often, what) has been your teacher?
We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)”
All Things New?
When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.
- Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
- Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
- Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.
This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23.4)”
Comfort in the Wood?
I’ve often read through, listened to, even performed in choirs the 23rd Psalm and wondered – “Rod… Staff… Comfort?” Then, my wife and I went through three years of what we pray wasthe most challenging season of our life. Blending a family, learning to live and love more biblically, a challenging pregnancy, a second pregnancy – this time with twins, running a ministry, caring for people, the loss of two good friends in their 30s, tight financial situations that seemed to never end, etc. God stretched us and delivered us.
He still does. Hallelujah.
Rolling in the Deep
Ever been through one of those seasons when it seemed you were barely treading water, putting out only the nearest and tallest fires, catching a breath only to be dragged back to the bottom by the next wave? Yeah, odd mix of metaphors. But, you get the point – “survival mode”?
Sometimes, for God’s perfect will of sanctification to work best in us, we have to go through the worst, darkest of valleys. Sometimes, it’s truly the valley of the shadow of death. A close friend of ours just lost her mom very quickly to cancer. Other friends just experienced a miscarriage. A 37 year old woman with 4 kids ranging 8 to 1 has stage 3 cancer. Not valleys I’d want to go through. You?
Those times, in my mind, never bring up the image of a well carved billy club or a 6-foot tall walking stick, especially when I admit to my need for comfort.
But, Christ is our shepherd. Our authority, guide, protector, and liberator. In those valleys I get weary. In those times, peripheral vision shrinks because of the calamity right in front of my eyes. In those times, I might be stalled and stifled by self-medicating: mouth stuffed with cookies, ears stuffed with buds, zoned out and wandering through life like a… like a… lost and wounded sheep.
Can’t relate? Your time will come. We’ll all find ourselves at one time or another thinking “snap out of it!”, when “BANG!” God hits us in the head with a “reality slap”. I’ve never been hit with a nightstick in literal terms, but have you ever told of a time in your story when God hit you “in the head with a spiritual 2×4”? Rod… Thank you, God. So under the pressure I’d have stepped off the cliff had I not been hit by that blow. Startled, yet comforted that someone was looking out for me when I had no capacity to do so for myself.
Thank God for the rod.
Your Mileage May Vary
I won’t give an example of being stuck in a thicket of thorns, wounded and bleeding by my own wandering – you fill in that blank. You’ve got the scars, don’t you? As Shepherd, He’s shown you the value of a staff that can pry you out of what’s entangled you. It may take patience and struggle and you may keep bleeding while you come unstuck. But, there’s comfort, isn’t there, seeing His staff lift the briars from your path?
As you disciple others, the thickets and cliffs God has protected you from are crucial testimony. We all wander into trouble… too close to cliffs. Trouble even occasionally seeks us. Sometimes, we may even question His authority or sovereignty when He leads us through treacherous territory. Ultimately, the toughest territories turned out to be the best way to the greatest and most lasting life change under His authorship. The muscle and spiritual stamina built by the climbs through the valleys are what bring us the greatest mountain top experiences.
Grace and peace,
Thanks to $30 and an ad on Craigslist, there are over 250 Lego blocks in our playroom. Thanks to the kindness of dozens of people who love our family, there are DOZENS of stuffed animals in our home. There are also many puzzles, VeggieTales movies, and books. My three toddlers (4, 2-1/2, & 2-1/2) are welcome to play with any of the many – all if they so choose. But, they are not to play with the Clorox bottle.
Does that make me a mean, restrictive father? Am I a controlling bully? Am I a hulking, omnipresent killjoy who doesn’t want them to have any fun? Or, am I concerned Dad that knows there is a purpose and a place for Clorox and they could poison or badly chem-burn themselves?
Call it Like it Is:
Don’t we all sort of suffer from the tendency to look at what we don’t have rather than what we do? If I can inflict some honesty on us early on in the post – it’s called “ingratitude”, but God just calls it “sin”. I know, you were hoping for a feel-good post to kick off the week, right?
So here’s the scene where it all went awry: God makes everything good, gives Adam and Eve the keys to the kingdom and gives them some time to be “alone together” – if you have small children or aging parents living in your home, this is called “us time”, and it’s a rare commodity. I can’t imagine wanting time away from God, but there they had it. While the bible doesn’t tell us exactly how many trees God left them there with, judging from the incredible biodiversity of the rest of the planet, it’s probably more than the number of Legos and toys in my house, fair enough?
Satan shows up, all hater-like, probably ticked off that there are new neighbors in the best part of “his” town, and starts spinning the instructions God gave them:
“Level with me, lady, did God really say ‘you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (see Gen. 3:1-3)
Not only does he use a different name for God (YHWH) than God had just used for himself over 20 times in the previous two chapters (Elohim), but he completely spins the conversation backward… God did say they could eat of every tree… freely even! (see Gen. 2.16-17 – ” ‘akal – devour, eat freely”) Trouble is, Eve falls for it and Adam lets the ship go right over the falls. Disaster.
Because both Adam and Eve failed to recognize (and quote back to him) what they did have, they allowed their focus to be shifted to what they didn’t have. It’s not like God left the kids alone in the kitchen with candy on the table and said “don’t touch any of this while I’m gone”. On the contrary, He gave them everything with only one prohibition for their safety.
Imagine how Genesis 3 would have looked had Eve corrected the snake by saying “No, actually, God’s not holding out on us, at all. In fact, He gave us 738 species of trees with more to come, each with a different kind of fruit and flavor. Adam and I have tasted all 738 and were blown away by their flavors, but then God told us to try combinations of flavors and totally blew our minds. Oh, that one in the middle of the garden? It’s poisonous, so He told us to stay away from it. Isn’t that great?“
When it appears choices are limited and options are poor, you can be sure the enemy is trying to put blinders on you or spin the truth into a lie of God’s restriction and holding out on you. A wide and deep perspective of who God is, what He has done, and the riches of His grace provide a perspective that can only lead to gratitude. Be grateful for the many Legos and remember, Clorox has its purpose and place.