Don’t Take My Word for It!
I’ve talked a lot about clutter in our blog and in discipleship with men. This week, I’m bowing out of the spotlight and urging you: “don’t take my word for it”. Take Jon Bloom’s word for it.
Click here to read his article “Lay Aside the Weight of Fragmented Focus“.
I also urge you to click on the category “clutter” here on our blog if you’re intrigued by what he has to say. There’s a lot of practical help here and in Bloom’s article. But, Bloom gives a great primer on the “why” in his article.
May the Lord bless you and keep you clutter free, focused on Him, undaunted by cluttered schedules, inboxes, overwhelming emotions, and otherwise unfinished business.
“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!
Lots of talk lately here about clutter. Friday night, I had a chance to talk to a group from Echo Ministries about it. Talking about clutter always brings me clarity over the places where I am feeling “stuck”. Once I’ve got that kind of clarity, it’s easier to find the path to “unstuck”. Further, the more I read Prov. 27:23-27, the more clear God makes two points to me:
- If I’m feeling stuck, it’s either God’s will or my fault.
- Freedom (unstuck) is just around the corner… often just a prayer away.
This passage refers to all of us – from “shepherds” to the human resource department to outside salespeople to entrepreneurs, even kings. Herds and flocks are equal to commitments – from projects at work to the honey-do list at home, ideas and creative whims, relationships, appointments and everywhere in between. If we read this proverb honestly, the bar is set high: to know the condition of your projects, relationships, and commitments and to give them careful attention.
Some sheep come and go, maintaining little of our attention – low priority, like an idea we don’t write down, replacing that light bulb over the stove, emptying our junk drawer. Others occupy large spaces in the field, consuming vast sums of feed, and producing commensurate waste (tension, stress, decreased mental bandwidth).
Question: how’s your flock? Giving it careful attention? Feeling “stuck” with too many sheep or too much field?
I was asked to speak on how clutter impacts the field, the flock, and the future of the shepherd in
charge. God gives us responsibility as both a temporal test and an audition for eternal rewards. (Note: salvation [entry into heaven] by grace, but rewards [position, treasure, glory] are based on performance and stewardship). Fields don’t become cluttered because God gives us too many sheep. And, sometimes, when we manage the flock poorly, God will take away sheep (or even field) for a time until we prove ourselves shepherds worthy of greater trusts.
Where Did All THESE Sheep Come From?
More specifically, from whom? There are only two reasons we have commitments:
A. God has presented us with a sheep and we have taken it into our field by saying “yes/amen”.
B. We have taken a sheep into our flock and have presumed that God will approve. A is praiseworthy and will be rewarded. B is idolatry. (If you can’t say “Amen”, you’d better say “ouch”!)
As a trustee over the flock and field, we are wise to frequently consider each and every sheep in our flock, asking of ourselves the same question asked of Peter and John in Acts 4:7:
“By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Well… By what power or name is this sheep currently in your field?
Moral of the story is this: it’s impossible for us to pay appropriate attention to the sheep God has given us while cluttering up the field with sheep He hasn’t given us. Too many sheep and the field will fail, the flock will die, and our stewardship gains us little or no eternal rewards… leaving us… stuck.
|Where did all of THESE sheep come from?!
Getting Unstuck: Counting Sheep Wakes Us Up!
One of the practices I’ve highly recommended to everyone I’ve talked to on this topic is this: weekly review, weekly review, weekly review. A weekly review is a 90-120 minute appointment with self during which I take an inventory of all of my commitments and prayerfully evaluate the condition of each:
- Do I have capacity to move a May project up to April?
- Is there a commitment God once asked me to make that He now wants me to step away from for a time, a season, or for good?
- Did Mike ever get back to me on that thing I asked him about last week or do I need to send him a “nudge” email?
- Do I have unfinished business from this month that needs legitimate calendar time on next month’s (or next week’s) calendar?
- Did I pick up that adhesive goop yet at Home Depot that I needed to fix that thing my wife has been complaining about for three weeks? Is there anything that has “fallen through the cracks”?
In short, what is the condition of my flock? Do I need to thin the herd or is God asking me to take on more sheep? Having a regular reckoning, a “counting of the sheep”, alerts me to which sheep that have fallen through the cracks, wandered off the field, or immediately need more or less attention. By prayer, it also wakes me up to which sheep I need to which to pay more or less attention.
The enemy, the flesh, and the world all want us to either take on more sheep than we can sustain long term or keep us away from the sheep God has specifically placed in our care for His purposes in His timing. The practice of “be still and know that I am God” meshes very well with the practice of “counting your sheep” and “giving careful attention to your flocks”. It is more than wise to negotiate “flock time” into our schedules on a regular basis if we want to be stewards found faithful.
First Things First: The Flock is YOUR Problem
You have a flock. Did you know that? If you have a pulse it means God still has work for you to do. Matthew Henry would suggest that such work is your flock. Implication: you’re in charge of it. If something goes wrong with it, it’s your problem. Worse, by practicing poor shepherding, you’re disqualifying yourself from a larger field and/or larger flock.
The Matthew Henry Complete Commentary intimates that Proverbs 27:23-27 applies to all lawful callings “whatever our business is, within doors or without”. So, if you and I are still here, we still have a calling and God refers to that calling as our “flock”. More specifically, the sheep in our flock represent the commitments we have made and the field on which they live and feed is akin to the capacity we have to sustain these commitments. You and I have been given both a flock and a field by God and will give an account for them.
Lately, I’ve been implementing, advocating to others, and coaching people the practice or regularly “playing self-executive”, meaning two things:
A. Sit down and take a regular inventory of your commitments. Count… your… sheep. Poor stewardship of the flock disqualifies us for larger and better flocks such as new opportunities, promotions, and relationships. Are there excess sheep on your field hogging resources from more important/appropriate sheep?
B. Examine… your… field. There is no excuse for taking our eyes off the sheep or the field. An inventory of the flock and an honest look at the field are crucial for being found faithful as a steward. Knowing your blind spots, gifts, weaknesses, and places where your ideas and commitments can falter or flourish are crucial pieces of wisdom we’re required to have in place as managers and stewards.
Why You Need a Regular Inventory of Your Flock:
- Helps us weigh where we have overstepped our call.
Sometimes, we commit to things out of our own strength or desire rather than as God calls and nudges us. Prayerful and regular examination of our commitments opens us up to the Holy Spirit’s advice as to whether we have taken a sheep (or many sheep) into our pasture in error/own strength.
- Gives a true reckoning of how many commitments we have.
When we don’t have an exhaustive list (and I recommend a written list) of our commitments (sheep), it’s easy to take on new sheep only to find we’re out of room when a wandering few we already had come back to the pasture.
- Opens your eyes to the missing sheep.
Ever have that “I know I’m forgetting something” feeling? It’s because a sheep has wandered out of your view. Very often, the mere process of writing and praying through my list of commitments “sets off” a reminder of a related commitment I may not have written down before.
- What you can’t see is killing you.
Out of sight is not out of mind. When you know something has fallen through the cracks it creates a low-level “hum” in your conscious mind that serves as a reminder that you have unfinished business. Added to the current “noise” in your head and the fact that emergencies come up, what you don’t have your eyes on can paralyze you when flexibility is required or overwhelm your mind when your heart is out of check. Scripture warns us to “guard your heart”. But, a clear head is needed to guard it.
- Exposes the danger of an unsustainable flock.
The field can only support so many sheep for so long. Some of us are idle and have only a few sheep when we know God is calling us to do more. Others are doing only what God has called them to do – nothing more, nothing less. This is a fruitful life. Many of us are being conformed to the pattern of the world which blurs the lines between “it should be done”, “I can do it”, and “I must do it”, resulting in a flock so large that the grass will soon be gone and the sheep will be hungry. Your field is overflocked. God doesn’t want overcrowding – there’s a reason why Jabez prayed for larger “territory” – sheep multiply under God’s sovereignty and with little coaxing.
- Helps us be emotionally neutral when we have to decline.
Nobody wants to tell the boss, the organization, or the client “I can’t do that right now. I’m overcommitted.” These are all emotionally threatening situations that easily stir up worry and dread. But, if we can give those people an honest look at our “flock to field ratio” (commitments vs. capacity) it’s easier, when possible, to mutually decide what gets completed when: Boss says – “I need you to take on project G this week.” Rather than saying “I can’t”, show them the field & flock: “Boss, I know you value sheep A, B, C, D, E, and F. If I’m to take on sheep G, which sheep is it OK to leave unattended in the meantime?”
- Having a record of our “flock to field ratio” can remind us of God’s faithfulness and His trust in us.
Being faithful with our flock qualifies us for a larger field (though it does not guarantee a larger flock). The parable of the talents explains how the Master gave each of the servants assets in accordance with their abilities and showed how God treats those who shepherd His assets wisely vs. shepherding them poorly or out of fear. The Lord doesn’t take rewards from the most prolific steward and give them to the poor guy who didn’t take any chances. Much to the contrary: He casts out the lazy servant and gives what he had to the more able of the three. God is preparing us for Kingdom living – Life is more than a dress rehearsal: our performance here will impact the role we have in His eternal Kingdom. Every sheep is valuable, but overcommitment is not rewarded anymore than slothfulness.
We cannot move ahead to greater assignments without a faithful handling of what God has given us. Keep these 7 reasons in mind and FIND time to count your sheep… regularly.
This Friday night (04.26.2013), I’ll be speaking for Echo Ministries at Stars and Strikes in Cumming, GA at 7:30 on this very topic, in detail. If you’ve been wondering why my inbox is at 0 so many times a week or you’d just love to be a better shepherd, come join us!
Last Friday morning, I had a chance to talk to a room full of men about a topic that’s been all over my heart and my life. Clutter. We talked about why it’s so sneaky, so dangerous, and what’s at the core of it. I guess I was surprised how many detail oriented, organized guys also struggle with keeping a clean, undivided heart.
By the feedback I got, it turns out just about every table of men agreed that when life, schedule, work, and commitments get cluttered up, the one thing that suffers most is family. Yet, even there, a few of the wisest put their fingers on the fact that when they’re clean with God, have an undivided heart with Him, and stay deep in the word, the clutter seems to fall away. From that base line, organization goes from a “just try harder” behavior modification tactic to a natural outpouring of God’s work in their lives.
It’s easy to walk away from a teaching/preaching/leading opportunity like that and spot the things you could have done better in your rear view. But, the Lord has assured me that the perfect “preach” doesn’t exist this side of heaven – when we abide in Him, He’ll handle what needs to be said, not said, and most importantly, what gets heard. That saved me from a lot of “I wish I’d have remembered to say x.”
Then, I got this email, from Dan Diaddigo. We’ve featured him here before. One of my favorite local writers. And, it sounds like “clean” has been on his mind, too. I’ve said what I need to say for a time and I’m sure we’ll come back to it again. For now, here’s a sympathetic thread that’s been on Dan’s mind, too…
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.
2 Peter 2:11
If “sterile” has a smell
it originates on the 8th
Floor Lobby of the Northside Cancer Center
and then wafts to the 12th
floor where it gathers and lingers. The 8th
floor is where you have to exchange elevators. The 12th
Floor is where I go every six months for my CT scan. Here, they look inside me for signs my body is turning on itself and plotting its own demise.
If “sterile” has a taste it is found in the plastic contrast bottles I drink before they put me in the machine. I prefer the “chocolate”, if it can be called that.
The machine sounds more clean than sterile. It whirs and hums as it travels up and down my mid-section, occasionally pausing to the instructions of a mechanical voice. Never mind that it’s pumping me with radiation.
This is what you do if you want to stay healthy. You go where it’s clean and you look inside, and you take come risks.
The same is true of our souls.
Too often, we avoid the scans. We miss appointments with God’s Word and opportunities to obey the Spirit’s prompts. I know I do. I suspect you do as well.
And I wonder why.
Sin is a cancer more deadly than the chromophillic renal cell carcinoma that claimed a couple of my organs. Sin pollutes the decisions of our leaders and it poisons our relationships with others and with ourselves.
Most of all, sin corrodes our faith. It gets between us and God and it makes us forget that He is good and that His love endures forever.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this world is not our home, that we are forgiven and “clean” before God because Jesus took our cancer into Himself.
We need to remember that sin is deadly and sin is dealt with. Let us also remember who we are. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9).
Behind me to my right an elderly man listens intently as his daughter speaks loudly into his ear. He’s a black man in a grey warm up suit. I’d place him in his eighties. His speech is slurred and he’s waiting, as I am, to meet the machine.
I notice this then I busy myself on something else. Several minutes later I hear a loud voice bellowing from the hall. It belongs to the man. His daughter is trying to move him past the nurse’s station, but the man has something to say. I can make out three words clearly.
“God is good” he says.
My spirit yields. My soul remembers. I am clean.