Power Outage – Why Relying On Will Power Is Not Working

Aside

According to researchers, will power is not so powerful and those that possess the ability to avoid temptation are not mentally stronger than everyone else, they just know how to redirect their attention away from the temptation so that their weak will power will not be tested.

Thankfully, Christians are not left with just the limited nature of their will power. Jesus’ emphasis in his teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was on the heart. He says to first, “clean the inside of the cup, so the outside will become clean also.” The problem with change that relies so heavily on will power is that it is focused on the surface of the person and not the inner character.

If I am going to become a kinder person, I have to first become the type of person who would naturally be kind. If I am going to be of service to others, I have to first become the type of person who would serve naturally. Gritting teeth and tapping into will power will fail 80% of the time and always has its limits.

Real power comes from taking Jesus into our hearts and letting him start to change us from the inside out. The change has to come in the heart before it will manifest itself into action. This is a much better strategy for change than will power. Easier too.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

What can you do today to change from the inside out?

  • Acknowledge that your will power is weak and not very helpful.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 13 with the knowledge that it is not asking you to do anything but become something
  • Ask Christ to change your heart
  • Focus on Christ’s work inside you and not on the outside results, those will come.
  • Tell others that you are no longer trusting your own strength but in the power of Christ inside you

The Addicts Among Us

Addictions are for street people and celebrities and psychopaths, right?

I admit that I am an information addict that was really messed up by the internet. No, I didn’t stay up until 5 a.m. every night playing online games and I didn’t neglect my family, at least not abusively.

Part of what makes me decent at my job (I am an Academic Librarian) is being a generalist, or someone who knows a little bit about many topics. So what do you think the web does to a person like me? In the internet, I see endless possibilities to learn something new or to stay up to date with many things. But that is just it – endless possibilities. There is no way to make the flood of information stop unless you choose to make it stop. In the infographic below, Rasmussen College details the rise of media use among young people and research about media addiction and multitasking.

The stat that struck me was the amount of time people change windows or check email per hour. There is no good reason to be changing your screen that many times an hour unless you were looking for something to distract you. I know, I have been there. As tiny as the rush may be, we get little highs from online distractions and the internet becomes a distraction machine not a useful and enjoyable tool. We are all becoming addicted to distractions.

Jesus discusses distraction when he is at the home of his friends Mary and Martha. He explains to Martha, who is busy with preparation for the meal, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) I am taken by the words “few things are needed – or indeed only one.” How hard is it for us, who, as the data below shows, are taking in three ti

mes as much information as we did in 1960, to discover what is needed and even the one thing that Jesus talks about through the downpour of information around us?

Perhaps 2012 is the time for us to radically change our digital and information habits. Distraction is an enemy of the Christian life and is slowly becoming an idol to many people.

See a recent post for ideas on limiting distractions and taming technology.

How To Give Your Good Intentions A Boost

We all make lists. Even the people who claim that they don’t do list often break down and make a list when something big is coming up; even if it is just in their head. Have you ever written down your spiritual activities on a to-do list? If not, why?

I once traveled by bus on a trip that spanned several states. I was looking forward to the ride as a way to catch up on reading and just relax. A friend of mine noticed that I had a list of items that I wanted to get to during the ride. He was already chiding me about the list but when he saw one item listed he bust out laughing. Underneath “proof article” and above “call office” I had written “ride.”

Did I really need a reminder about what I was most likely to be doing for next 10 hours? No, but what I did need a reminder about was noticing the scenery, reflecting on long stretches of our country that I wasn’t that familiar with, and giving myself time to just relax. By writing it down, I gave importance to it and moved it away from just a good idea to something I can take action on.

Most Christians have well intended plans to spend more time in worship, to pray while on their commute, or to listen to a sermon while working out but if we do not write it down on a list or schedule it these activities will most likely remain just worthy intentions that are never acted upon. You don’t have to be as geeky or OCD as I am about lists but it wouldn’t hurt to remind yourself, in writing, that Bible reading, prayer, stillness, and service are an important part of your day or week.

What do you need to add to your list?

What Do A College Library And God Have in Common?

Photograph of BlitzMail terminals in Baker-Ber...

Image via Wikipedia

I am a librarian at a Christian college and this week starts a beginning of the semester ritual in the library. Everyone wants to know if our library has the textbook they need for their class. What has fascinated me about this seasonal phenomenon is that in many cases this will be the only time in the semester when I will see most of these students. Somehow between the beginning of the semester and the end, the library becomes an afterthought. I have determined that the reason for this is in the power of incentives.

Apparently, the incentive of finding your textbook, even if it is an older edition, without having to pay bookstore prices, is so great that students will risk the library stereotypes and anxiety that is often prevalent among college students. But, when these same students have to complete a research assignment later in the semester, the appeal as to what the library can bring them over other options is low. The other options available to the students for research are vast, convenient, and often appropriate but the options that the library can bring them are all of these things plus better suited for academia, closer to the expectations of professors, and advantageous to better grades.

What does this have to do with Christian living? Just as using the library to find textbooks becomes a desperate attempt at convenience and cost saving, seeking God when we are desperate  becomes highly attractive. Also, just as the student often forgets about the library when in other circumstances, the Christian often forgets about God when faced with ordinary living. Similarly, the student fails to realize how much better their academic existence would be if they were more familiar with the library’s resources. The Christian fails to realize how much better their existence would be if they were more familiar with God.

The role of Christian teachers and evangelist and even bloggers is to demonstrate how multiple  incentives exist through a daily relationship with God not just in times of emergency. I would even venture to say, at least from my own experiences, that the God of desperate times is great but the God of ordinary times is even greater.

Christian Life Hacker Recommends – d365.org, One Word, Praying In Color

I have recently come across three resources that I thought fit well with the Christian Life Hacker philosophy that more is not always better and that spiritual practices should fit our personality.

1. d365.org – This is a daily devotional site that is so simple in its approach but at the same time very powerful. First, the devotional text is broken into five sections – Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go. Each section is short and light on text. The Listen and Go sections include scriptures while the Think section has a brief devotional. To get to each section, you click on the next button. Just the fact that you cannot scroll through the devotional prevents our scan and click urges and allows your mind to dwell on each section a little bit longer so that it can make more of an impact. The best part is that every time you visit the devotional a musical selection will begin. The selections are pretty and reflective and help the reader awaken their more spiritual side. This resource is great for those who prefer limited reading, music, and more participatory activities.

2. Word For The Year – Dan Britton, executive vice president of ministry programs at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has for years asked God for a word to bring focus and development for each upcoming year. Through much prayer, fasting, and scripture searching, he takes the word that God has given him and lets God show him how to live that word out over the next year. Britton, in an essay on the exercise, gives two big cautions. One, you have to let God choose the word. Two, be careful, “This exercise is not for people who want to pick a nice, comfortable word that will have no significant impact on their lives,” Britton says. “It truly is a discipline for those who want to press in and see God do great things in and through them.”

As you might have guessed, my word for 2012 is “Word”, as I attempt to live out the word that is scripture and the word that is Jesus. I like this exercise because it brings focus and intention to the entire year. I know that 2012 will be a journey through and about the Bible and I look forward to that journey. Hear more about the “One Word” exercise in the video below.

3. Praying in Color –  The biggest myth in Christian living is that we all experience God in the same way. Thankfully, God doesn’t abide by this myth as he has demonstrated through scripture that he handles most people individually. This is why Praying in Color is so welcomed. Instead of our prayers being simple words and thoughts that so often hinder us, Praying in Color lets you put your prayers into visual form. Sybil Macbeth explains,

If you are word-weary, stillness-challenged, easily distracted, or just in need of a new way to pray, give “praying in color” a try. Men do it, women do it; teenagers do it; and children do it. All you need: paper, a black pen, colored markers or colored pencils, and Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God.

Individuals commit their prayers to images and drawings that bring life to prayers and allow your spirit to work through the process of praying instead of the highly linear approach to prayer common among so many Christians. If you are more visually oriented and like to make your spirituality a little more participatory, this approach is for you.

How To Make Spiritual Goals Stick

Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions fail? Because most of the people who make them change nothing about their life in order to reach their goal. You might be saying, “Isn’t change what all resolutions are all about?”

The path that most people take when adopting a New Year’s Resolution is to make it about more – more Bible reading, more time with family, more exercise, more prayer, etc. All of these are admirable but what happens when you go and implement this plan of more without first

evaluating the status of other areas of your life. The reason people cannot sustain their resolutions is because they try to stack their resolution on top of the normalcy of the rest of their life.

So, Bible reading becomes about getting up 15 minutes earlier, time with family becomes about forced activity when you have no energy at the end of the day, exercise becomes about joining a gym, and prayer becomes about buying a book or a journal to write your prayers in. Do you see the pattern here? Piling on activities, throwing money at things, and adding products only adds more stuff and complexity to your life.

The best resolutions should be to determine what I need to eliminate from my life so that I have more time for Bible reading, prayer, exercise, and family activity. Where do I get the most distracted? Does my time and my commitments need to be overhauled so I have room for the things that really matter and will give me the most fulfillment? New Year’s Resolutions fail because they are seen as addendums to our life instead of priorities that need to reshape many of our other commitments.

Make a plan today to cut out a distraction from your life and open up some space for God or an important change in your life. Here are a few things that I do to keep me out of the “more trap”:

  • Only check email and texts twice a day
  • Never read more than two books at a time
  • Keep the Sabbath
  • Periodically fast from technology
  • Never trust how schedules look on paper; anything can look doable on paper
  • I don’t own a cell phone
  • limit TV watching to 1 hour per night
  • go outside

“OK, I Get It Lord”

On Jan. 5, I posted on this blog the following, “I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.”

This was my declaration that 2012 was going to be a year of discovery and emphasis on God’s word. January 5th was last Thursday and by Friday, I already had confirmation from God that I was on the right track. It was on Friday that I learned that our church would be going through the Read the Bible For Life curriculum. Then on Sunday, in the first few lines of his sermon, our Pastor stated that 2012 at our church would be the year of the Word as we collectively place an emphasis on reading Bible.

Was the church staff reading my mind? Did they know that this was going to be an area of emphasis for me as well?

Do you have these experiences where God keeps feeding you a similar message in various forms over a short amount of time? Maybe, the conversation you had with a coworker is the exact topic of your next Bible Study lesson. Or the point of a recent movie is discussed by the pastor the next time you visit church. Are the scripture passages you are reading, that you thought were seldom discussed, suddenly on every Facebook status and email message?

God knows we are not very perceptive and are easily distracted and clouded by countless things in our head. So, when he wants us to be aware of something he doesn’t just present it to us in one sitting but often multiple times and in multiple ways. At least this has been my experience.

So I get it Lord. You want me to focus on your Word this year. You have confirmed this in a timely way. Now I must respond by doing my part to read, study, and pray. If this is the journey that God wants me on, then I need to be accepting of whatever God has in store for me. Pray that I will stay committed to this emphasis.

This week, pay attention to the scripture, the songs, and the messages from God’s word that have come your way. Don’t be weird about it but try to see if there is a pattern or an emphasis that appears to be surfacing. Put up your spiritual antennas and see what you might pick up.

What Has Technology Done To Bible Reading?

I have done it. Me, a harbinger for the book and critic of the misuse of technology, almost decided to bring my daughter’s iPod to church yesterday because the Bible app would be a simpler choice over the oversized Bibles I seem to have at the house. I have often scoffed at the people in our Bible Study class who followed along with the passage for that week on their smart phones. Now, I was about to become one of them.

Has technology been good for Bible reading? In some ways, yes. I can have a Bible passage and a devotional sent to my email box every day of the week. Web resources such as Bible Gateway make locating scripture a breeze. And those Bible apps mean that as long as I have the ubiquitous phone, I also have the Bible with me. Also, my wife has been pleasantly surprised by the impact that the scriptures she posts on Facebook have on her friends. Khloe Kardashian was even quoting scripture on Twitter a few weeks back.

But what are the downsides? In the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer Nicholas Carr, who later wrote a book on the topic, described the effect that the Web has had on his ability to concentrate and think:

When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Carr then quotes technology and medicine blogger Bruce Friedman, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.”

At this point, pet peeves about the proper use of a smart phone and the loss of the printed word become less important when placed up against the reality of web use altering our brain’s ability to process information and handle what we are reading. Think about what this might do to our ability to read the Bible. Reading the Bible is best done in slow, meditative ways, not in the scan and click approach we take to our web reading. And since many of us are starting to do most of our Bible reading online, are we able shut off the scan approach and actually consider what the scripture is saying, not only to our heads but also to our hearts?

The fact of the matters is, Bible reading has to be handled differently from other types of reading. This will take proper teaching and direction and will force Christians to seriously consider their use of technology and how it affects their spiritual life.  Thousands of years of effective use of the scriptures now may be changing. Perhaps we should put down our technology and consider what the future of Bible reading should look like.

Good For The Soul Playlist

Music guitar

Image by @Doug88888 via Flickr

In my last post, I talked about the profound impact of music on the spiritual life. I also promised that I would provide a playlist of songs that have enriched my spiritual life. Below you will find the link to this playlist.

If you are expecting a list of praise songs and hymns you might be surprised. This list contains songs that have impacted me on a deeper level. I can’t really predict which songs will have this kind of impact. Just because a song is sold at Christian bookstores doesn’t mean that it will reach my soul. Music is a very personal thing. Sometimes it may be the lyrics that touch you, sometimes it may be the singing or melody, and sometimes it may simply be the beat. I hope you take a listen and feel free to share with me your own list.

http://grooveshark.com/#/playlist/Good+For+The+Soul/65815002

Who Taught This Baby To Dance? And Other Musical Questions

Blogger Glenn McDonald once said that, “Music is the art form that humans do best.” This quote has always fascinated me and I have often thought about it and tried to determine if he is correct. What I have discovered is that music has a deep connection with the soul.

Have you ever noticed how toddlers do not have to be taught to dance? If there is music playing anywhere, it is not surprising to see an 8-13 month old child bouncing in a way that can only be categorized as dancing. I bet this is within any culture as well. Apparently, we are created to have an overwhelming urge to respond to music. There is something in the deepest part of our selves, I will call it the soul, that can be enriched, or disrupted, by music.

Some of the ways that I have used music to enrich my soul have been as a means of meditation, relaxation, celebration, worship, and reflection. Though my distraction obsessed self fights against it, I often know that my drive home from work will be much more fulfilling if I turn off the sports talk radio and listen to more music. I also find that when I am enjoying music the most is also when I am most in tuned to God and his inspiration.

I think that I would be less of a person if I did not have music in my life. And I also think that God uses music to reach us because to experience music is to participate in something that is more than just an intellectual exercise or a rational exchange but a spiritual activity.

In the next post, I will provide a music playlists of songs that have enriched my spiritual life.