Celebrating the Milestones

wootContinued from here.

When God calls me to run a marathon, I find it helpful to celebrate the milestones as I go, such as whenever I complete a block of classes. I just wrapped up classes 9 and 10 and will start classes 11 and 12 on Monday. I need to take some time to celebrate being 83.3% finished with my classes before diving in to complete the last two.

God is all about a party. He is also all about joy. One way to finish the race well is to celebrate how far you have come along the way. No, I am not where I need to be yet, but I am also a long way from where I started, and that’s worth celebrating!

I also don’t need to be putting energy into mulling over what’s next. God will show me when He wants me to know, just as He led me to enroll in school a year ago. If I knew what was coming next, it might steal my focus from finishing this race first. I also might become overwhelmed by seeing both what needs to be completed to finish this race on top of whatever will be required for the next race that God is calling me to run.

One final point worth noting – God often calls us to run races that we are not equipped to run in our natural state. God-sized callings require total dependence upon God to complete. As people see you succeeding in running a race that is way out of your league, God is glorified because He is the only explanation for your successful run. Always remember that other people are watching you when you follow God – whether or not you finish well affects many more lives than just your own.

If God is calling you to run a race, I encourage you to dive in and follow Him. Whatever He is calling you to do will likely require much time and effort, but the journey will be worth it. Not only will you accomplish much for the Kingdom of God, but you will deepen your relationship with God as He provides all you need to finish the race … and to finish it well.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering over the word, “Woot!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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To Finish Well, You Must Run with a Good Attitude

im_into_itContinued from here.

Paul did not only finish his race: He did so with a good attitude. Even though he had suffered much as he ran his race, his eye was on the prize until the very end:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” ~ 2 Tim. 4:6-8

Paul did not feel sorry for himself for all he had to suffer to finish the race. His focus remained on the goal – loving God enough to finish all he was assigned to do. He was joyful about what awaited him when he spent eternity with God. His focus was on spiritual matters, not temporal ones.

This one is the hardest part of finishing well for me – running with a good attitude that is focused on the eternal rather than the temporal. The temporal voices are so loud – my family and friends wanting more of my time … my body wanting more rest … my extroverted nature wanting more “fun time” and less “work time” … Unless I remain mindful of focusing on why I am putting myself through this season of sacrifice, I am vulnerable to finishing the race as a grumbler, which does not honor God.

It was an honor for God to choose Paul to run the race that he was called to. It is also an honor for God to choose me to run the race that He has given me, and it’s an honor for God to have called you for your race. We need to remember what a blessing and honor it is to be called by God and serve Him wholeheartedly and without grumbling. That’s the only way to finish the race well.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and pointing to herself above the words, “I’m into it!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

To Finish Well, You Must Finish

finallyContinued from here.

Earning my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry required me to complete 12 three-credit-hour classes. At a full-time pace, that’s two 8-week classes at a time, taking just over one year to complete. I knew I did not have the stamina to stay in school for two years at this stage in my life, so I chose to go the full-time route. I was willing to be stretched too thin for one year but not two.

For the first classes, I had the excitement of a new adventure with God to keep me energized. Also, the school strongly recommends taking the classes in a particular order, with the less rigorous classes completed first. So, while my first six classes certainly required effort, the second half of the program has been more laborious. I don’t recall being tempted to quit during the first half of the program, but that temptation hovered during classes 7 through 10. I experienced frustrating challenges in two of my later classes that were not issues in the earlier ones. I never actually considered quitting, though, because I love God more than I disliked the struggles.

The halfway point of a journey with God can bring lots of temptation to quit. You have been working so hard for so long, and yet the finish line is still far beyond the horizon. You see how far you have already run, and what looms ahead has more hills and valley than what you already ran. The excitement in the “newness” of the race has faded, and all you see ahead of you is hard work …. day after day, week after week, and even month after month or year after year. You must set your mind on finishing, or the temptation to quit might become too loud to drown out.

Starting out can be exciting, with the people in your life supporting you and urging you on. However, as the weeks roll into months of seemingly endless sacrifices, those supportive voices begin to fade. Your family and friends forget about the reasons you started running as they tally up all of the times they have had to proceed without you because you were focused on the race. At the halfway point, it is often only God who continues cheering you on because He sees the bigger picture. Align your perspective with God’s, not of anyone else’s, or the temptation to quit might become too strong. Set your mind to finish the race, no matter what anyone else says.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace raising her hands and smiling as she crosses the finish line through a banner that says, “Finally.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

To Finish Well, You Must First Start

lets_goContinued from here.

One reason many Christians don’t finish well is that they never start! One cannot complete a race without first entering it. An athlete can dream about running a race, talk about it, plan for it, and even train for it, but he isn’t going to finish the race without showing up and running in it.

Starting a new journey with God is not easy. It wasn’t for me when I committed to returning to school as I was pushing 50. At the time, I had a full-time job in Corporate America, a family to take care of, and a Bible study to lead. When on earth was I supposed to squeeze in school?

On top of that, I had absolutely no interest in returning to school. I already have a law degree, which required enough work to last me a lifetime. That was hard enough when I was single with no child or job requiring my attention. And I had no interest whatsoever in going to divinity school. I didn’t want to spend my time debating various aspects of the Christian faith. To me, my faith is actually pretty simple: My job is to love God and other people. My perspective is that anything that does not directly affect my loving God or other people, such as whether the earth was created in six figurative or literal days, is not worth my energy debating.

My one and only motivation for enrolling in divinity school in my late-forties while working a full-time job was because God placed heavily on my heart that He wanted me to do so. I love God enough to obey Him, even when I don’t want to do what He is telling me to do, so I enrolled. I started the race solely out of love for God, and that’s been my sole motivator throughout this race. When I earned my law degree, I was motivated by future financial security and prestige, neither of which apply to this degree. Love for God had to be enough to motivate me to enter the race and start running.

You will never finish a race that you do not start running. If God is calling you to do something, step out in faith to do it. Don’t waste your time creating a pro/con list to decide whether or not to obey God. Let your love for Him motivate you to do what He is calling you to do.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and running above the words, “Let’s Go!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Finishing Well

emptyI am nine weeks away from completing my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry with a focus on discipleship and church ministry. It’s been a long, hard year as I have juggled full-time school with running a ministry (in my first professional ministerial role), taking care of my family, and leading a Bible study. I haven’t had much free time over the last year, and I’m tired. I’m tired of having to say no to invitations … tired of not being able to spend time with cherished friends … tired of always having one more thing to do in order to keep up with all of my responsibilities. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m having to muster up the energy to dive into two brand new classes one last time. I have 10 classes behind me and two left to go. I want to finish well and am trying to gear myself up to do so.

Paul knew something about finishing well. He used the metaphor of running a race to describe the arduous journey that God led him on:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” ~ Acts 20:24

As his race went on for many years, it was clearly a marathon, not a sprint. He was not able to pump himself up for a few days or weeks and then celebrate victory. He had to keep running that marathon, even on days when he saw no positive results … when his muscles cramped up … when the finish line was so far beyond the horizon that he questioned whether he would ever reach it. And yet, he finished well. In his letter to Timothy, Paul said,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” ~ 2 Tim. 4:7

I want to finish well, just as Paul did, and doing so has taken a lot of effort. This Christian journey is not for the faint of heart! In this blog series, we’ll explore aspects of finishing well.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying under a gas gauge on empty. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Victorious Living through Victorious Thinking

Continued from here.

Holding every thought captive to Christ is simple: it’s just not easy. It is simple because God has given you the power to choose what you think about. It’s not easy because it feels natural to allow your thoughts to flow freely without questioning them. Victorious thinking takes effort: passive thinking takes none. I choose to challenge and control my thoughts in obedience to God’s Word, which is why I generally live in victory these days. And when I don’t, I know how to get back on track.

I blogged previously about a method I learned about through Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, which I shared about here. In a nutshell, whenever I catch myself allowing my thoughts to run rampant, I’ll press the pause button by saying,

God, help me do this right. I know you love me, you are good, you are here with me right now, and you are in control. It doesn’t matter what I see or what I feel; it matters who you are. I know my God is able. You were faithful before; you will be faithful again. Help me do this right.”

This five-step response stops my runaway thoughts dead in their tracks and helps me shift my focus so it includes God.

I generally don’t struggle with runaway thoughts in the first half of the day, likely because my hour of quiet time before starting my day gets me off to a strong start. However, as the afternoon turns into evening and I have been juggling one issue after another, I’m more vulnerable to becoming passive about what I am thinking. When I find myself feeling “off” toward the end of the day, I remind myself that God will give me a “do over” tomorrow. I thank Him that his mercies are new every morning, which helps me go to bed with hope for a better day tomorrow. I do not allow myself to wallow or engage in a pity party. I have been to enough of those in my life, and I know where they lead.

If I can learn how to hold my thoughts captive to Christ, then so can you. It takes time, effort, and repetition, but you can learn how to walk in victory by challenging your thoughts and replacing the negative ones with God’s truth.

[Graphic: Cover of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

How to Change Your Thoughts

i_dont_think_soContinued from here.

What are the specific steps for changing your thoughts so you can change how you are feeling? The first step is to stop putting your thoughts on autopilot and take responsibility for your thoughts. As soon as you realize that you are feeling anxious or depressed, press the pause button to your free-flowing stream of thoughts and pray for God to show you truth. Pay attention to what you were thinking about, and look up scriptures that address each concern.

For example, let’s say you were thinking about not having enough money. Meditate (focus your thoughts on) on Matthew 6:25-34, where God promised to meet your needs. Were you thinking about how somebody wronged you? Meditate on Romans 12:19, where God promises to take up your cause for you. Also, mediate on Matthew 5:43-45 and do what it says: pray for the person who wronged you.

It is true that your problem is big. It is equally true that your God is much, much bigger than your problem. You get to choose where to focus your thoughts. If you are passive about your thoughts, they will natural gravitate to your problem, zooming in on the size of the problem so that it fills the entire frame of your attention. However, you can be active about your thoughts by zooming out so that the frame includes God. When God is in the frame, even the largest problem will be dwarfed by the size of your God because He is so much bigger than any problem.

Despite people’s belief that they can multitask, the brain actually only focuses on one thing at a time. (Multitasking is simply shifting your attention from one topic to the next in rapid succession.) You can choose what that one thing is. If you choose to focus on what you cannot handle on your own, your feelings will reflect that thought and weaken you. Conversely, if you choose to focus on God, feelings of joy, peace, and contentment will flow. It’s entirely your choice.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking under the words, “I don’t think so.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]