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Entries in Focus (7)

Thursday
Jan102019

Making Good on Good Intentions

Grace Fox wrote nine books. She's well-acquainted with the discipline and perseverance it takes to buckle down and write. She also knows how easy it is to stop at "good intentions." In this New Year UPGRADE, she invites us to examine our new goals and consider how we can "make good" on them.

"You and I—and millions of other women—know it’s easy to begin a new year with good intentions," Grace says. "Following through on them is often a different story."

Following through. Yes, I (Dawn) identify with that. I can't tell you how many times my good intentions ended up being forgotten intentions. But I can choose to change; and so can you!

Grace continues . . .

A traumatic experience helped me understand the importance of making good on my good intentions.

January 11th marks the sixth anniversary of my suffering leg injuries that left me wheelchair-bound for three months. Recovery required surgery, physiotherapy, and a lot of hard work on my part for two years.

I’m embarrassed to admit that my injuries were self-inflicted. As a writer, I sat at my desk for hours every day without getting up to stretch.

Granted, I woke each morning with good intentions. I promised myself that I’d take short exercise breaks, but soon my writing projects absorbed me and I’d think, I’ll take a walk later, after I finish what I’m doing.

Later never came, and I paid the price.

I’m grateful for the wakeup call. It forced me to admit something I knew all along—that good intentions alone won’t bring the benefits of good health.

Living long and strong for Jesus requires action on my part:

  • use my gym membership,
  • eat nutritious foods,
  • track my food intake,
  • practice portion control, and
  • be accountable on a weekly basis to a small group of women walking a similar path.

The same principle holds true for other aspects of life.

Say, for instance, we want to build relationships with our neighbors this year. Our intentions are admirable, but they won’t build friendships unless we take time to talk over the fence, to listen, and to demonstrate kindness.

We may want to grow in our relationship with the Lord over the next twelve months. Our desire is commendable, but it won’t result in spiritual growth unless we create space to study His Word, engage in dialogue with Him, and obey His commands.

Perhaps we intend to become more effective intercessors. This might mean facing our fear of praying aloud in front of other people. We may have to grow willing to pause and to pray right then and there for someone who’s just expressed a concern.

The examples I listed are among my good intentions for this year. Perhaps you’re nodding in agreement because like me, you hope to become more proactive about your health, about relationships with your neighbors, about knowing God more intimately, and about praying for others.

Or maybe your list includes a plethora of totally different ideas. Regardless, here are several prayer-focused points to ponder as you think about your good intentions for 2019.

1. Ask God for FOCUS.

It’s easy to make a list of impressive intentions. Trouble is, sometimes our list is too long or lofty or misses the mark altogether.

Ask the question, “God, what are Your good intentions for me this year? Where do you want me to focus?”

Jeremiah 33:3 promises that He will answer—“Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wonderous things that you could never figure out on your own” (The Message).

2. Ask God for STRENGTH.

Following through on good intentions sometimes demands more emotional or physical strength than we can muster.

The good news is—God promises to strengthen us when we partner with Him to accomplish His purposes for our lives.

Psalm 18:29 has been especially meaningful to me as I continue my wellness journey—“In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.”

Sometimes following through on my intention to avoid unhealthy snacks is like fighting a battle, but God’s power at work within me gives me the strength to do the right thing. He’ll do the same for you.

3. Ask God for PERSEVERANCE.

We might think that making good on our good intentions will guarantee instant results.

For instance, extending kindness to a neighbor will automatically open the door to sharing the Gospel with her.

Unfortunately, sometimes our good intentions don’t yield the results we want, but that doesn’t mean we toss them aside. It means we learn to practice perseverance. We choose to hang in there for the long haul, trusting that God is at work even though we don’t see things happening.

Sometimes our good intentions are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. We might think we know what God wants to do in and through us but in reality, He’s doing something much deeper, and that takes time.

So, my friend—what’s one of your good intentions for 2019? What actions will you take to make good on it?

Grace Fox is a career missionary, international speaker, and author of nine books. Her latest release is Forever Changed, a Bible study published by First Place 4 Health. Discover more about her ministry here. Purchase her Bible study through First Place 4 Health.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Ben White at Unsplash.

Tuesday
Dec182018

Have a Merry Macro Christmas

With insight and compassion, Julie Sanders reaches out to help people in need. She seeks to see the world through the eyes of the Lord, and in this Christmas UPGRADE, she encourages us to look through a "big picture" lens.

"We don’t want to miss a single detail of the Christmas season," Julie said.

"Sometimes, we find ourselves on overload with the details we see, hear, and know. What would we see if we stepped back?"

Stepping back is something I (Dawn) do occasionally to move beyond surviving tough circumstances to thriving in them, so I truly appreciate Julie's encouragement to shift our focus during the craziness of the holiday season.

Julie continues . . .

Since the year 2000, cell phone cameras have enamored us with close-up images. Micro glimpses call us to look closely at what’s overlooked.

We’ve photographed baby feet, latte art, water droplets, Bible passages, candle flame, and flower petals.

In our effort to focus on small things, we easily forget the big picture.

The Invitation to Look Up

The greatest Gift Giver knows we have a human leaning toward small things—so much that He repeatedly invites man to look at the bigger picture.

  • Abraham, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” (Genesis 15:5)
  • To His people, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens" (Isaiah 40:26).
  • When Stephen’s life was taken, he “looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God” (Acts 7:55).
  • The Psalmist said, "I will l lift up my eyes to the mountains”—he wanted to remember where help comes from. (Psalm 121:1-2)

Our attention is captured by a micro-scope, but we miss much when we lose the macro-view.

The Capacity to See

Today we have the ability to see small acts and needs around the world. It’s a lot to take in, and we become numb. Our exposure exceeds our capacity.

God’s capacity is infinite, sufficient to be all-seeing and all-knowing for the multitude of small things only He can be fully aware of and responding to in full. 

For us, it’s more than we are meant to see and know and touch.  Too much micro is just too much.

We are limited in our knowing and our capacity to know, but God is all knowing and able to know it all. If we look up, we see beautiful things.

The Benefit of Big Picture

As Christmas approaches the Northwest coast, ferries cut through cold Puget Sound waters from Seattle to a destination in the San Juan Islands. Outer decks empty as passengers find warmth inside around tables. 

A walk through with a broad, macro view reveals random tables where puzzles have been left for strangers and would-be friends.  Simply walking past with a “big picture lens” reveals missing pieces, matches, and images taking shape.

A big picture view reveals people gathering and making warmth, jingling with laughter and conversation.

There’s power in the big picture.

The Invitation to a Merry Macro

What if this was a Merry Macro Christmas?

Instead of Insta-posting small micro-glimpses, what if we captured wider landscapes and larger themes? What if we took steps back to scan the scene, taking in the collective gift of a silent night, decked halls, and peace on earth?

Maybe, like shepherds long ago, we would lift our eyes and see creation’s host giving glory to God in the highest.  Maybe the macro-view would reveal what hearts long to receive—the gift of love to the world.

Maybe the big picture would show mankind through us what grace looks like.

Stepping back in this telephoto time takes courage.

If we resist the urge to zoom in every time, will we fit in or be left out?  Is it a big mistake to look away from the small?

Here are five steps to start:

  1. Take pictures of whole scenes, not just details.
  2. Make your exposure match your capacity.
  3. Talk about the themes of what you experience.
  4. Limit social media details to focus on real, macro life.
  5. Physically lift your head, look up and out, and be present.

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name:  

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’ (Jeremiah 33:2).

This Christmas, let’s lift our eyes from the micro-scopic and look to the macro-scope of bigger things God wants us to see.

Have a Merry Macro Christmas!

What small things distract you and hold you captive to details? What micro-scopic concerns could you let go of to invite in a bigger view?

Julie Sanders is a leader with children and families in need, where the big picture of God’s love is always the best gift. During this Christmas season, you’ll find her happy to have her family together again and doing puzzles on cold Northwest nights. Julie writes from her online home, “Come Have a Peace.”

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

Tuesday
Nov212017

How to Protect Your Peace This Holiday Season

Debbie W. Wilson wisely counsels women on the kinds of attitudes that please the Lord. In this Holiday UPGRADE, she encourages us to forget about people-pleasing and focus on pleasing the Lord.

Debbie asks, "Has trying to please your family and friends drained the joy from your holidays?"

I (Dawn) am sure many of us feel that "drain" from time to time during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. It's not just joy. It's peace too! And self-control. And a lot of other godly attitudes!

Debbie continues

One year, I mentioned how much our son enjoyed going to a relative’s house for special occasions.

“He probably wouldn’t feel that way if you did more,” my Thanksgiving guest replied.

Ouch.

Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary can teach us a lot about the pitfall of trying to please everyone.

Let's visit the sisters before we lose our peace and perspective this season.

Martha Stewart could have been named after the older sister. Martha’s table and foods delighted all the senses, and her culture applauded her.

As is often the case with siblings, Mary was her polar opposite.

Who cared what they ate or when? She was consumed with Jesus. Mary’s choice to learn from the Rabbi flew in the face of her culture and her sister’s expectations.

When we meet the sisters, Martha has opened her home to Jesus and His disciples. While she busily prepared a feast for them, Mary listened to Jesus.

When the banging of pots didn’t grab Mary’s attention, Martha stormed into the middle of the group and turned on Jesus.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40 NIV).

Mary froze. This probably wasn’t the first time her sister had publicly corrected her. Dare she look at Jesus? Her cheeks burned, anticipating His reproach.

Jesus shocked the whole group. Instead of chastising Mary, He corrected Martha and commended Mary.

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42-42 NLT).

He didn’t reprimand Martha for being busy, but for being worried and upset.

Jesus simplified her focus.

Have you ever let details and pressures rob you of the best?

It is easy to be distracted by our to-do lists and miss the reason why we are doing.

LESSONS from MARTHA

  1. A critical spirit indicates a wrong focus. Need I say more?
  2. Martha took her complaint to the right person. Jesus will tell us the truth. The truth set Martha free. He’ll free us from our bad attitudes and wrong emphases too.
  3. We can change. The next time Martha prepared a feast for Jesus, she hummed while she worked (read between the lines, John 12:2-7)! A single focus lightens our work.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha. And both of them blessed Him when they served Him with uncluttered hearts.

But Mary ministered to His soul.

At the gathering the week before His death, Mary anointed His feet with a pint of expensive nard. The fragrance filled the air and saturated His skin and the tips of His clothes. Someone suggested the fragrance lingered through His final week—even to the cross.

Of all of Jesus’ friends and followers, only Mary understood His mission. She believed He was headed to the cross and wanted the fragrance of her love to be with Him in what lay ahead.

And some of His followers criticized her.

LESSONS from MARY

  1. We have to please only One. Spending time with Him reminds us of what matters most.
  2. Choices that delight Jesus may offend some of His followers. On different occasions, Mary's sister and Jesus' disciples found fault with her.
  3. Staying tuned into Jesus nurtures us, ministers to others, and blesses Him! Jesus promised that Mary’s act would be remembered always (Mark 14:9).

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the Christmas season, let's keep our focus.

A year from now, no one will remember the details of our holidays, but they will remember our spirits and love.

What helps you stay grounded in this busy season?

Debbie W. Wilson—drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher—speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog.

Note: The Christmas to-do List in the graphic is a printable available from babyhintsandtips.com.

Thursday
Oct262017

When Tempted: Do Something Else!

In this Choices UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson explains how a simple weight loss tip helped her get a grip on habitual overeating and a lot of other addictions!

Maybe it will help you. . .

It was ridiculously simple. I was talking with the Lord about my food program, and I almost missed a quiet "suggestion."

The truth is, I wasn't praying as much as COMPLAINING.

  • "Lord, I can't do this."
  • "Lord, I think about chocolate all the time."
  • "Lord, I always want more, more, MORE!"

Somewhere in my complaint, my words turned more desperate.

"Lord ... HELP!"

And then I heard this little voice deep within my soul.

"Do something else."

"Do what?"

"Some... Thing... Else!"

"Like eating potato chips instead of chocolate?" (I wondered if the Voice was amused?)

"No. Do something else entirely. Switch your focus."

Though I'd been struggling for months, I instantly understood what "switch your focus" meant.

Stop focusing on food. Stop focusing on stuff. Stop focusing on getting "more" of everything.

Look elsewhere. Get busy elsewhere.

Anywhere but the refrigerator and the mall.

The more I thought about it, I knew there were three ways to re-focus my attention.

1. I needed to Focus on my faithful OVERCOMER.

Instead of focusing on how overwhelmed and powerless I felt, I could gaze on the One who died to give me hope and victory over my flesh.

The first and best things I can do when tempted is to "watch and pray" (Matthew 26:41) and read or quote (memorized) scripture that applies to my temptation (Psalm 119:11).

The enemy would like me to receive and live by DEVILISH LIES: You can't win ... It's hopeless ... You're doomed to failure ... You're too weak, etc.

The truth of scripture is, "...walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" ... "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Galatians 5:16; Romans 13:14)

Yet there is an element of truth in one of Satan's lies. I AM too weak!

Without the Lord, I can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him, there is victory, because nothing is impossible with the Lord (Matthew 19:26). My Faithful Overcomer conquered Satan and sin, and lived a sinless life. I can be victorious because I am hidden in Him and can live by faith in Him (Colossians 3:3; Galatians 2:20). 

I don't need to make "provision" for my flesh (Romans 13:14), but rather, I can "clothe myself" with Christ and consider some ways I might make "provision" to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in changing me—to "put off" some things that belong to my old sinful life and "put on" new things that align with a renewed mind and heart (Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 12:1-2).

And that's where I move from grounding in theology to practical outworkings.

2. I needed to Focus on freeing OPTIONS.

Instead of focusing on all the things I CAN'T have and do, I could dig a little deeper and hone in on positive, healthier, life-building choices.

Dig a little deeper? How?

  • I could LOOK for recipes that would nourish my body and not contribute to ill-being.
  • I could SEEK new ways to exercise that I actually enjoy.
  • I could FIGURE OUT how to restructure my personal spending and time management (with better stewardship of my mind, emotions, body and spirit in mind).
  • I could THINK ABOUT things that bring God glory and bring me God-blessed pleasure—things that don't burden me with guilt or negative consequences. (God's original design in giving us "appetites" was good; because He wants us us to honor and enjoy Him and His blessings.)

As a simple tool, I recently created a "Do Something Else" list with ideas to help me "get up and get busy." I use it to:

Get out of the pantry;

Get off the couch and stop stuffing my face; and

"Get" (understand) what is good for me (Philippians 4:8), and pursue those things with passion!

On my list (below, right) are simple things under four headings: HOME, HEART, HEALTH and HELP.

Some are quick five- or ten-minute distractions with benefits. Others might take a little longer, but believe me, that's good when the call of the flesh is loud and strong!

I included simple things like:

  • Sort Bob's (my husband's) sock drawer. 
  • Organize the spices.
  • Start a "giveaway box" (for my local help-the-homeless ministry).
  • Try on at least 10 clothing items and make a quick decision: keep, mend, give away, trash.
  • Memorize a scripture verse. (I'm working on Galatians 5:1 right now.)
  • Pull weeds out of my garden.
  • Take in the waist on my black slacks.
  • Dust my bookshelves.
  • Organize around my washing machine and dryer.
  • Look for a low-fat, low-sugar holiday cookie that actually tastes good.
  • Write my friend with cancer who isn't going to make it.
  • Wash out my dog's water bowl.
  • Put seed in the bird feeder.
  • Pray and search the scriptures over a pressing question.
  • Wash my brush and comb.

Your list willl be different than mine. But make the list.

Then you'll have a "GO-TO" list for when you're tempted to GO TO your favorite addiction. Or to return to whenever you're distracted from making wise, godly and healthy choices. (Strive for excellence, not perfection)

3. I needed to Focus on fresh OPPORTUNITIES.

Instead of always focusing on obstacles—which actually boils down to focusing on "me, myself and I," or what Satan uses to sidetrack me—I could instead envision opportunities to do what might bless others.

I could become more sensitive to the Spirit and allow the Lord to lead me into greater love, service, ministry and encouragement. I could lift up my eyes beyond my wants and my desires to others' needs.

And then, I could ACT!

We can't do everything to deal with the world's needs. But we can all do SOMETHING.

And it's best not to wait. We don't know what tomorrow may bring. Life is short. We need to get busy, gather our resources, and "occupy" until the Lord returns (Luke 19:13).

We need to redeem the time and buy up opportunities as they come (Ephesians 5:15-16)— especially when the Lord asks us to act. (Consider James 4:12-17.)

What is God prompting you to do?

Obey quickly. Completely. Joyfully.

Since I've altered my focus, my perspective has changed. My choices have changed.

Even my bathroom scale shows the difference "do something else" can make.

Which of the "focus points" might help you today; and what would be on your "Do Something Else" list?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Thursday
Jul062017

Expand Your Attention Span for Spiritual Growth

Got attention span deficit? In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn encourages us to expand our attention span so we can grow in our journey with the Lord.

According to a Time magazine report (2014) quoting Chartbeat, a data analytics company, one in three visitors to a webpage spends less than 15 seconds reading an article they land on.

A 2016 article in The New York Times noted a survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft that concluded the average attention span had fallen to only eight seconds.

(Apparently goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds, but I'm not sure how you'd prove that's true.)

Human brains wander and are “in the moment” for just over half of our waking hours according to a study from Harvard University. The rest of the time we “zone out.”

I've watched the controversy over the rise of fidget spinners for children with poor attention spans; but attention isn't just a kids' issue.

I've joked that I have a shorter attention span than fruit flies—sort of like this common fly hopping on and off my husband's cell phone! But it's really not a laughing matter.

Part of the problem: we flit between television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, our iPods and iPads and email. We’re distracted and incredibly busy and can’t seem to concentrate on one thing for long.

This problem affects Christians when it comes to spiritual disciplines and lifestyle.

  • We find time to surf the Internet, but fail to swim in the cleansing streams of our Bibles.
  • We eagerly chat on social media, but seldom get in deep conversations with our Heavenly Father.
  • We can quote lines from favorite flicks, but somehow can’t memorize scripture.
  • We spend hours looking for bargains in the mall, but miss seeing the desperate homeless woman outside.

As I write this, I am deeply convicted.

I am caught up in the busyness of modern society, the craziness of the constant media pull, and the emptiness of life when I forget God.

I need a major adjustment in my attention span, my use of time and the priorities I embrace. Do you?

I'm going to leave it to those much wiser to solve the brain/attention issue, but here are 5 ways I think we can expand our shrinking attention span to encourage spiritual growth.

1. Be Intentional in Seeking God.

Intentionality requires us to slow down and think so we can act wisely. In this crazy world, to come apart before we fall apart.

Redeeming or making the best use of time, as Paul encouraged, isn’t always about cramming more into our lives.

I like what Joan Webb, author of The Intentional Woman, says about this. “Speeding through life is not a productive way to redeem the time,” she says. “A better way to redeem life’s opportunities is to slow down, relax, and enjoy myself, others and God.”

Especially God.

Many Christians believe (see The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1) our chief purpose for existence is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever. We need to be intentional and seek Him.

It won’t just “happen” like an instant message flitting across your cell phone.

2. Meditate on Scripture.

Meditation is like mental training to improve our focus. It’s what sociologists call “mindfulness.”

“God designed us with the capacity to pause and ponder,” David Mathis wrote. “He means for us to not just hear Him, but to reflect on what He says.”

As a Christian discipline, meditation isn’t emptying the mind—as modern non-Christian teachers suggest—but rather filling the mind with real biblical truth and then “chewing” on it for a while. It is allowing the Word of God to “dwell in you richly.”

I have found meditation connected to prayer, Bible study and memorization. They all help one another.

3. Incorporate Exercise into your Day.

I’ve heard some people say “bodily exercise profits little,” quoting scripture, but a better translation of 1 Timothy 4:8 is “bodily training is of some value….” We don’t want to ignore our body’s need for exercise. And God designed us for a body-mind connection.

A study from the University of Illinois actually found physical activity can increase cognitive control and attention span. So why not get creative and use exercise time to the glory of God?

  • Prayer walk around your neighborhood.
  • Walk on a beach and hand out tracts.
  • Memorize a scripture while exercising.

4. Stay Hydrated!

We forget how much of our body is made up of water. Even mild dehydration, one study found, can impact a person’s ability to concentrate for long.

In her super-intentional book, 40 Days to Healthy Living, RN Danna Demetre says, "If you wait to drink water until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated," and one of the symptoms of dehydration, she says, is "poor concentration."

As you drink in the Living Water of the Word, don’t forget pure H20 can refresh your body so you can focus on what God has to say. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times.

3. Ask Questions that Encourage Study.

Jesus was a master at asking questions. One author suggests Jesus asked 307 questions in the scriptures. He definitely wanted to get his disciples and seekers thinking.

He asked questions like, “Why are you afraid?”—“Where is your faith?”—and “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”

Asking questions will help you stay engaged and apply what you are learning. It might even lead to a life-changing research project!

4. Incorporate Christian Music.

A study at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found listening to classical music engages the areas of the brain that affect attention and memory. Music certainly can play a part in a Christian’s focus on the Lord.

Choose music that is both inspirational and truth-packed to get your attention and creative juices flowing. I recommend the CD “Be Still: Piano Meditations” by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

(But Note: if you are like me, when you are deep in study you may want some simple symphonies in the background instead—I find myself singing words of well-known hymns, and my brain starts chasing other topics!)

5. Write to Focus.

Writing long-hand engages more mental processing according to researchers.

Whether you journal or simply make notes in book margins or underline passages, writing will help you focus your thoughts—even better than using a laptop (which can prove to be an easy distraction).

Which of these attention span expanders could help you today? Do you have other ideas to help you focus?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphics adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.