With three toddlers and a prodigal teen, life can get… complicated. Add to that the responsibilities of maintaining a “hands off” approach to my wife as she learns what being a home school mom is all about, caring for the massive yard in the house we’re renting as if it were our own, working full time in vocational ministry, and occasionally picking up side work for a local low-voltage & home theater corporation, and you can imagine I must have a rather long, revolving door of a to-do list.
Ten years ago, waiting tables at a high volume restaurant, I make key decisions every thirty seconds, change directions decisively and deliberately on a dime, and probably walk 5 miles a shift in 50′ increments. My income depended on punctual service. Anticipating the needs of each table was a crucial skill – dining guests often keep a mental “balance sheet” of the tasks you do correctly without being asked. Get them done proactively, they chalk up “waiter points” in their mind. “He brought me more salad dressing just when I needed it and I didn’t have to ask! Ten points”! “How did he know I needed more sweet tea?! Five points!”
Fail to do an item or have to be asked to do it either doesn’t gain you points or penalizes you points. By the end of the meal, most guests leave you a tip based on the number of points they’ve calculated in this oft unspoken game. When your income is 100% tips, your ability to predict needs and address issues before they come up becomes heightened. Further, the consequences of having a guest ask you for something you should have already noticed becomes a sensitive, personal matter. You develop a sense of pride in your ability… leaving you vulnerable to financial and personal wounding when you drop the ball.
|Me and my bride – who is FULL of EXCELLENT IDEAS!
Occasionally, in my complicated life, my wife would ask me to do something that I had either recently stuffed into my mental queue or was just moments from getting done: just made a mental note to add batteries to the shopping list when I’d hear “Babe, we need more batteries…”
At times, this kind of thing wouldn’t bother me. But, on days when I’m deep in the flesh and aware of my greatest wounds, I’d be highly offended. I mean, how could she possibly think that someone as competent and proactive as I didn’t have a handle on our household battery needs?! How could the person closest to me DOUBT ME, the KING of PROACTIVISHNESS?! When I misinterpret this kind of feedback through the flesh instead of by the Spirit, I feel micromanaged. Ever feel preempted, cut off, micromanaged?
On days when I’m at my worst, my first response would often be: “don’t you think I’m already on that?!”
Considering Others Better…
Reading through James I came across a tough passage:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17, NIV)”
In one of our better “working on us” conversations, I discovered that my defensiveness in these situations was hurting my bride and didn’t line up at all with this passage from James. I was clearly not passing on godly wisdom, rather lashing out to protect the pride I’d built up over being King. But, who wants to serve that king? I confessed my sin to Cristine and she explained that all she wanted in those situations was a little affirmation and confirmation that the task in question was as important to me as it was to her. The biblical, restaurant maxim “the guest is always right” (See Phil 2:3-4) applies here, clearly.
Immediately, I came up with a killer line. “Babe… That’s an excellent idea!” The next time she mentioned that we were low on an item that I typically restock and suggested I get it the next day when I was at the big orange store, I gave her the killer line: “Babe… That. Is an excellent idea!” She didn’t need to be berated, she didn’t need to know that I’m already planning to pick those oven vent light bulbs up. She didn’t need any of my pride. And, if I’m to walk in the Spirit, I don’t need to tell her anything that’s impure, quarrelsome, inconsiderate of her needs, etc… That’s prideful defensiveness and the hallmark of worldly wisdom. And, it’s a shame when you and I have access to God by the Word and the Spirit – the God who gives us wisdom generously and without the kind of reproach I was extending to my wife.
|Everyone’s mouth dis-
penses some kind of
wisdom. But, is it
godly wisdom or
So, now, we have a code – whenever she brings up something that I’m already secretly proactively planning or already have on the calendar or other list, I willingly give up my need for credit and say “Babe… That is an EXCELLENT idea!” What would your workplace relationships look like, your dating/marriage relationships, strained family relationships look like if you swallowed all pride, walked by the Spirit, and became a PEZ dispenser of godly wisdom – “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere”?
May God bless you with the grace and power to honestly and sincerely overcome any pride or wounding you’ve had in this same area and to sincerely and mercifully pour out His wisdom and His character to be a blessing to all around you.
The challenge with getting someone to sober up is convincing them that they’re drunk.
Lifeguards, pastors, and counselors are all cautioned at some point about the danger of “double drowning”. If someone is thrashing madly in the water, in their pain, in their mess and you get too close to them, you run the risk of being sucked into their trouble and becoming part of it. In the water, you could be struck unconscious by the flailing victim, and you’d both drown, hence the term. In pastoring and counseling, you have to maintain a professional distance that encourages the addict but discourages the addiction, or you become part of a system of people that either keeps an addict sick or pulls you into their addiction.
The trouble with addicts is, most of us don’t believe we’re drowning. Most of us are so used to choking on water and flailing around, we think that’s just how swimming goes. When confronted about our addictive behavior, we defend and/or minimize it – “I’m not addicted”, “It’s just a little “, “I can quit anytime I want”, etc.
I keep reading over this story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 and it bothers me. Five of them brought oil – took personal responsibility, admitted the brutal facts of their oil-less reality, and prepared for a time when they’d really need oil. The other five figured they could get by on their friends or in some other way minimized their need for oil. I’m amazed
Can’t Always Get What You Want…
Sometimes, I get confused about the difference between my “desired outcomes” and my “rights”. Let’s see if you might relate.
I have a constitutional “right” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But, I know that something I get happy over is the approval of others and the respect of my peers. So, I pursue it. Sometimes I get it. Other times, I’m left hanging and my brain jumps from A (desired outcomes) to B (rights) leaving me disappointed at least and angry at worst. Can you relate?
Maybe your desired outcome is different – promotion/raise, the next car “up”, an apology from someone who really did you wrong, your teenager or subordinate at work following your advice and making smart choices, privacy, peace and quiet, death to crabgrass, a little recognition for the extra effort you put in on that last project… around the house? Ever experience that confusion… disappointment… even anger?
Ultimately, disappointments can become food for the internal battles within that James refers to below:
“1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel... (James 4:1-2, ESV)”
This week, a lot of the one on one discipleship conversations I’m having with the men I’m walking have been centered around this very issue. For many men, coming up short on recognition once or twice at work, (or worse, at home) = no big deal. But, over time, it can clutter the mental stage with a low level hum that distracts us from what we’re really trying to focus on. I like to call it “ambient spiritual noise”.
How loud is your stage?
Two thousand years ago, there was a disciple who learned a remedy to this. His mouth was shaped like a sandal so he didn’t look out of place every time he put his foot in it. Guy named “Peter”. Ever walk in his mouth… I mean, shoes?
|Coffee mug for Simon Peter
Peter goes from hero to zero pretty quickly according to Mark, chapter 8. In one line, Jesus calls Peter “the Rock”, then a few moments later “Satan” and “a stumbling block”. Ouch. Jesus publicly commends Peter for correctly identifying Him as the Messiah. Jesus then goes on to tell everyone He’s about to be tortured, killed, and resurrected. Not the story Peter was expecting. Peter kind of snaps. He pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. (Gusty, Peter. You want some mustard on that shoe before you eat it?)
Jesus follows up with an address to the whole crowd, facing Peter with the dilemma that every one of us who desires to follow Jesus must deal with:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34b)”
Jesus essentially tells them/us all. “To follow me, you must walk in denial of your desires and possessions.” Denial… To know who Jesus is, is head knowledge. To follow Him, will require sacrifice: what two things must we deny ourselves?
- Everything and
Can You Expand on That?
Sure, thanks for asking… Philippians says Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant… [and became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2.7-8)” Think about that: Jesus, most powerful being on the planet, could have called down at least 60,000 angels to save Him from brutally violent death, denied Himself his right to life… liberty… and the pursuit of any form of happiness. Jesus models living “in denial”.
Are you willing to deny yourself everything and follow Jesus? I’m not. Not in my own strength. But, as always, there’s Good News and there’s great news. Good news: Jesus died for that sin. Great news: He sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross to follow Him. The act of “followship” is not one we are left to do in our own strength. When we fail, we’re already forgiven. God loves us so much He even sent a Helper to pick us up when we fall.
The “Take Away”:
Here’s your homework: write down your top ten goals and dreams – the house, the promotion(s), the boat, the acceptance and respect of your peers, the approval of your wife, kids, boss, or even your parents and draw a big line through them. Even better, find one of those insurance adjuster stamps that says “Denied” and stamp it on every one. Pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen you to live in “denial” with me… with Peter… with Jesus, who humbled Himself on the cross and became obedient to death….
Expectations bind us to the desired outcome we’re seeking. When we expect and don’t get, a debt/debtor we risk falling into a debt/debtor relationship with what we expected. When we mentally and emotionally let go of expectations, anything we receive is counted as a blessing. Note: this doesn’t mean lowering or not having expectations. We are to strive for excellence, and to do so requires standards that may not always be met. However, there is a big difference between having expectations and being had by our expectations.
By “living in denial” (denying ourselves through surrender to Christ and quickly reconciling unmet expectations), we create massive opportunities for blessing and free ourselves from dependence on human justice. Surrender to Christ means surrender of everything, allowing free reign for the justice of God, who sees all things and will reward all men for what they have done and what they have denied themselves.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Prov. 13.12)”
“Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 17.27-29)”
“How aware are you of your subtle attempts at controlling outcomes?”
“As life becomes more ‘complicated’, how aware are you of your attachment to your outcomes, expectations, commitments, and possessions?”
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24, ESV)”
With all that scripture has to say about friendship, a picture is painted of how relationship is influence. Righteous friends draw each other toward righteousness and the wicked toward wickedness. But, you don’t need to be told that – it’s pretty obvious, right?
As we’ve talked lately about clutter, one of the places I’m encouraging many to search and clean up is the field of friendship. My immediate thought is “I need to be wise about those with whom I invest my time.” But, this is only the visible part of the problem. The invisible part is far more subtle and pernicious:
Who’s Your BFF?
Are you BFFs (“Best Friends Forever”) with the world? “The world” we’re talking about here is not the physical material that makes up the planet, rather what John derives in his gospel from the word “cosmos” – an ordered system of doctrine, thought, and worldview that is contrary to God’s agenda. Often, we get so caught up in peer pressure (or what grown ups call “keeping up with the Joneses”), and begin worshipping idols recognized by icon and not just by name:
Maybach… Acura… Apple… Starbucks… etc. Other times, it’s iconless things like status, prestige, etc., which go hand in hand with the icon bearers mentioned in the former.
How do you know who your friends are? Take a look at two tangible metrics and a dreaded intangible: your calendar, your bank account, and your worry. Out of 168 hours each week, how much of your time is spent “delighting yourself in the Lord” as Prov. 3 commands?
How much of your “discretionary time” is spent in the presence of God – on your boat, golf course, back porch, dinner table simply soaking in God, praising Him, thanking Him, and leaning your shoulder to His wheel? (Notice, I didn’t mention church attendance… That one’s a little too obvious and often more out of obligation than out of joy and gratitude.) Now, consider how much time you have invested in your “relationship” with stuff, completely disconnected from the Giver of all good things. There’s no equation for success here, just a chest X-ray to expose the dark, selfish places of our hearts, here.
When we look our check registers – what tale of friendship does it tell between us and the world? Are we investing in that which will last or that which we “can’t take with us”? Beware – the fire is coming:
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor. 3:12-15)”
In other words, one day, face to face with Jesus, our lives will be reviewed and all that we “built” in this life will pass through the fire – our eternal reward will consist of only that which does not burn. Only that which had eternal value will survive. Are you building that which has eternal value or that which only lasts through the bookends of life and death on earth? Best friends with a world destined to burn is a loss very heavy to bear.
Moving on, we also have worries. I know, Jesus commanded us over and over again not to worry. But, ultimately, interest is a child, concern is a teen, and worry a wicked adult. So, what concerns do you have that are rapidly showing signs of facial hair? The things we worry about are clear indicators of where our hearts lie. To unclutter your heart from worry, take an inventory of all your interests and concerns and rate them 1 to 10, 1 being interest, 5 being concern, and 10 being outright worry. If an item on this list is a 6 or above and is a Godly concern, it should be easy to entrust it to God’s sovereignty and relinquish the drive in our hearts to control its outcome, thereby relieving stress and building on our friendship with God. Failure to do such an inventory often results in unchecked worries, showing a clear friendship with the world.
Help is often only a prayer away. When you look at these markers and hold them up to this scripture:
“…do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NASB)”
, a righteous heart will flee from those friendships that would put them at odds with their Creator. This, too, in addition to bible study, gathering with believers, etc., is a way to grow your relationship with God. We cannot serve God and money, God and ourselves, or God and the world. His mercy awaits when we repent and turn back to Him. Build only that which will survive the fire.
Happy inventory, happy building!