In a recent blog entry, I referenced those lists I had you make back at the beginning of the summer. I’m wondering if any of you have given them any more thought. Have you improved a daily routine, added a goal to your long-term aspirations, or even started a new venture this summer? This is, in part, what I was hoping you would all do. While our spiritual lives are important, so, too, are the personal lives behind all that we do in church and for God. We need to have a strong sense of self as well.
I am encouraging everyone to go out and find a new interest this summer or take on a new initiative, whether that is making a new friend, taking a class, changing an attitude towards a co-worker, starting a new exercise routine, etc. I simply want us all to challenge ourselves. When the weather is good and time is abundant, we should add to our lives, enriching them more than we do when we are inundated with work, bad weather, and other responsibilities.
Today, as soon as you read this, I want you to pick something from your list. I want you to engage yourself immediately and act on step one of this new initiative. If it is simply to pay down some bills, then make those calls to your credit card companies and create a payment schedule for the next several months. If it is to start a new workout routine, get those workout clothes on or pack them with your work items and plan that walk at lunchtime, that after work trip to the gym, or that exercise tape at home. Maybe you would rather be more social and begin to interact with others more. Decide what you want to do and make that dinner party list or leave a voice mail for the head of a certain ministry at your church. And, while we’re all doing this, I think we should make it a habit to tackle something on our lists at the beginning or end of each month. Continuous improvement was always a “buzz word” in business, and it worked. Now, it can translate to our personal lives and transform those as well.
What have you done for your community lately? I understand excuses for not getting involved when the weather is snowy or schedules during the winter months keep you from committing time aside from school, work, and other responsibilities. I do not, however, understand continual excuses all year long that prevent any of us from getting involved or taking one day to reach out to others or to participate in worthy causes.
Recent events in the news have sparked many people into action for race relations, community awareness, and advocating for both urban and suburban youth. For many of us, giving our time to our children’s schools is a “no-brainer”. Taking that a step further to mentor, coach, or provide other enrichment is an easy movement for those who are truly serious about civic responsibility. Similarly, the movement to go from signing petitions to getting involved by notifying relevant political offices is also an easy step.
If family and church are more important to you, then consider simply assisting a ministry at church or joining a new one. Maybe there is someone in your neighborhood who has had a death in the family, an illness, or a new baby and needs dinner and some conversation. These are all easy things to add into your already busy weeks. Take just a small amount of time out of your busy day to provide dinner for a family in need or visit someone that you know is sick or perhaps in a long term nursing facility. I had you all write up some “improvement” lists at the beginning of the summer, and I’d like you to check on those lists now. Have you done what you said you were going to do? Have you given any thought to the items you want to accomplish? Add this community service component in, and the world will seem like a friendlier, more faithful place.
We all have it in us. It is time to ignite that sense of responsibility to others. No excuses.
How many of us waver in our defense of our own beliefs every now and then? As we spend time with family and friends this summer, we will have many opportunities to defend and even promote our faith in God. Will we take those opportunities to praise Him when things go well or suggest His guidance when friends need our input? Will we even think, in our conscious minds, that He is the reason for all that is good in our lives? Will we turn to Him when things get rough?
These are questions that we ask ourselves throughout the year—daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Is our faith strong? Do we test ourselves in our faith? Do we understand our relationship with God? During the summer months, as we take time to enjoy life a little more with the warm weather, vacations, and more opportunities to be with friends and family, we should remember to spend time with God. Certainly, we pray and we attend church services, but do we really spend time thinking about how committed we are to God and to our faith and, ultimately, to our relationship with Him?
It never hurts to test ourselves now and then—to push our own boundaries a bit and make sure that we understand our own commitment to our faith. If we are pressed, would we defend our own beliefs? Can we describe how—to use a reference from my book—we have nailed our shoes to the floor in battle, like the soldiers during biblical times who would literally screw their shoes to the ground to face their enemy, unwavering in their stance? Can we provide testimony to the fact that we take what we hear in church each week to our daily lives? Can we promise ourselves and God that we will always defend Him and our beliefs about Him? Will we really stand up, nailed in position, at the company picnic or at a child’s school event and defend our beliefs if they are challenged?
I’m not suggesting that we get confrontational with people, nor am I suggesting that we will be challenged, but, in these quiet moments or moments of celebration when we are not expecting a challenge, that is when we need to test our faith. When we do that, we are ready for what the enemy has for us later when things are not so quiet or not so celebratory. When we test ourselves and deeply question our own faith to the point of defending it, we will be ready for whatever the enemy has in store for us now or in the distant future.
In my book, I talk quite frankly about how we need to be honest with ourselves in order to have effective relationships with others and with God. This means we need to remain vigilant regarding our prayer life, our sense of family and community, and our commitment to personal discipline—financially, professionally, and emotionally. Even if summer means “down time” to most of us, we can incorporate our daily disciplines and routines into more relaxed summer schedules.
For me and for others, workout time is key. I suggest using these times during which we run, lift weights, take an exercise class, or do other activities to reflect and give some much needed conversation with ourselves and with God. We can think about where we need some guidance in our lives and to offer those issues and concerns to God. A part of our armor against the enemy, we always keep our “belts of truth” on, therefore, we must remember to stay honest in our prayer and our interaction with God. When interacting with Him honestly, we are able to pray and think on things that we might want to let go of a bit during the more laid back summer, but, through our conversations with Him, we are able to prioritize things in life, see it all more clearly, and make sure that we do not neglect any responsibilities, initiatives, or future goals.
On a similar note, when we are honest with our families and communities, we benefit as well. I’m not suggesting that summer is going to prompt us to abandon our values and goals in life, I’m simply saying that with the more relaxed lifestyle, the temptation to leave finances unattended or to slack off a bit at work is more prevalent as is the desire to often “play” more and work less. Another summer activity that I enjoy is dining out with family or barbecuing. Just as we can multi-task and pray during our summer workouts, we can use these gathering times over meals to actually talk to our families—find out what our kids are doing or discuss vacation or other plans that involve finances and planning with our spouses. Recalibrating or touching base with our loved ones several times a week will help us focus on what is important.
If we look at summer as a time to jumpstart our faith and our personal disciplines, and if we make that jumpstart fun and part of a healthy, laid back summer lifestyle, the planning becomes pleasant and, as a result, more long-term. So take out that grill and those new recipes and plan to have some sit-down time with the family over a nice dinner. Put on those running or exercise shoes and plan to have a quiet, one on one dialogue with God over a healthy, invigorating workout. Honesty and discipline do NOT take the summer off, and making sure that our “belt of truth” is in place and ready for use in prayer and reflection is a sure way to keep our personal lives and faith active and interesting during the summer months.
As I prepare to send my only child to college, I am in reflection mode a lot this season. I feel strongly that we should all reflect and renew every now and then, and I’ve been advocating that in recent posts; however, I find that deep reflection often occurs when we don’t force it. Many times, it is the result of something that has occurred—a death in the family, a recent illness, the birth of a child, or a child heading off to school for the first time. Most of these happenings are out of our control somewhat. We can plan, in part, or prepare a little bit for the “what ifs” or the “going to happens,” but we don’t realize the gravity of the situation until it is upon us.
As I think about sending a child to college, I start to think about my own experiences in life. I also think about my own future, and, not in a selfish way, but more in a way that is in tune to what my college-age child will experience or what is in store for her in her very bright future. Many of us, when we change jobs or buy new homes, will look back on the activities and events that we’ve experienced over the years in these places. Even if they weren’t always happy occurrences or even if we associate challenging times in life with these places, they hold a place in our hearts. The job is where we spent many hours of angst and stress, but also where we made good friends and earned a respectable living. It’s where we spent hours of overtime, but also where our co-workers took us to lunch on our birthdays and where we celebrated each Christmas with friends, dancing the night away. Our house may be where we experienced family issues or personal problems, but many times, this is also where our kids were born and where they played in the yard, where we hosted many a cookout, where we answered the door when the kids were little for trick-or-treat, or where we talked to our neighbors in the side yard.
When others in our lives hit milestones, these milestones become our milestones too. When we see the progress that others make or the setbacks they endure, we think of our own, and we find ourselves reflecting on our lives. This is all part of my living strong philosophy. To know yourself and to automatically and routinely take stock of your life at certain points is definitely a show of strength. To bravely face the things you have done in life that don’t make you proud, or to do what you need to do in life to ensure the future that you want are difficult things to do. Tapping into what you have done right or what you are proud of also requires some strength. After all, it is only with intense introspection that we even know what we’ve done is truly successful or makes us deeply proud of ourselves or our accomplishments.
So, as we all take time to sit in the sun this season and think about what we’re going to do or reference those lists that I had you make previously, we need to celebrate our accomplishments and record in our memories the good times and the bad times that have shaped us. As we watch loved ones move away, change pathways in life, or even head off to college, we need to wish them well and feel that we can offer them something in the way of advice and experience. We may not have been exactly where they’re going, but we can certainly empathize and picture a future for all of us that includes continuous improvement, faith, and happiness.