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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.]
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The final point I’ll make on choosing a good attitude is one I learned from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. One of the devotionals talked about thanking God for this opportunity to trust Him more, which profoundly affected the way I face trials in my life.
The Book of James tells us…
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” ~ Jas. 1:2-4
This passage of Scripture used to baffle me because I could not fathom how I could consider suffering to be “pure joy.” The way I have learned to do this (not that I do it perfectly) is by thanking God for this opportunity to trust Him more. God says that …
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9
So, every time my circumstances are more than I can bear, I choose to thank God for this opportunity to trust Him more because I am learning how to live dependent upon God. The weaker I am in a situation, the more room becomes available for God’s power to work in my life in that area. In situations that I feel competent to handle, I’m less likely to think about inviting God in. However, when I face a mountain that I know I cannot possibly climb, I have the opportunity to invite God’s power into my life and lean on Him while He moves the mountain. That’s something to rejoice over!
I hope you now see that your attitude is entirely up to you. While you cannot control the circumstances of your life, you do have control over how you react them. You can choose to react as the World does and complain, or you can choose to thank God and experience joy amidst the challenges. The choice is entirely up to you.
[Graphic: Cover of Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. Courtesy Amazon.]
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When I took Ann Voskamp up on her challenge in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are to write down 1,000 things in my life that I am grateful for, I started in the same place that most people do: my family and friends. Easy enough. Then, I moved on to “creature comforts,” beginning with everything in the bathroom. I can honestly say that no matter what is blowing up in my life or how badly I am hurting, I am always grateful not to have to walk in the cold or rain to an outhouse to tend to bathroom business. In fact, whenever I find myself tempted to feel sorry for myself and develop a bad attitude, I immediately start thanking God for running water, indoor toilets, hot showers, etc. because I always have an appreciation for those items. This jump starts me back toward a perspective of gratitude instead of self-pity.
As Christians, we have many blessings to thank God for, such as that we aren’t going to hell when we die. We can thank God for sending Jesus to save us … that whatever we are dealing with is temporary, but our time with God is eternal … that God still loves us even when we are having a pity party … I like to thank God that although my sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. I also thank him that his compassions never fail and are new every morning. Sometimes when I have a rough day, I thank God for the grace that I can turn off my brain as I sleep and start fresh in the morning.
As you progress through recording 1,000 reasons to be grateful, the task gets harder. Voskamp’s book explains her own journey through learning to express gratitude, even in the “ugly” things of life. For example, when my son had major back surgery last year, I looked for things to be grateful for, such as multiple people driving two-hours round trip to visit him in the children’s hospital, being flooded with get well cards, and a friendly nursing staff. That season of my life was extremely difficult, but I found much beauty to thank God for during that ugly season.
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in a large pile of the words “thanks” below the words, “Many thanks!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
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Now that you know that you can choose a good attitude despite difficult circumstances, how can you actually do it? The key is thanksgiving, which is why God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.
Gratitude does not come naturally to me. I am a complainer by nature and used to grumble continually: if my lips were moving, I was complaining about something! Because I was always focused on the circumstances I did not like, I felt unhappy, and because I felt unhappy, I was grouchy with the people around me. I thought that if only things would go my way, I could be happy. Because my circumstances rarely aligned with how I thought they should be, I experienced very little happiness in my life.
Choosing gratitude was the key to changing my outlook. God has blessed each of us in many ways. As we choose to focus on those blessings, our perspective changes, resulting in joy instead of grumbling.
Back in my grumbling days, I would have responded that I did not have anything to be grateful for. I would then give you many reasons for why I was unhappy. However, the truth is that God had already blessed me in so many ways, but like a petulant child, I wasn’t thanking Him for any of those blessings – I was too focused on what else I wanted.
If you don’t believe you have much to be thankful for, I invite you to take Ann Voskamp up on her challenge in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are to write down 1,000 things in your life for which you are thankful. I took up this challenge and found both joy and a better attitude on the other side of it.
In my next blog entry, I’ll get you going with your list.
[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Courtesy Amazon.
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The first step toward choosing a good attitude is becoming aware that it is, in fact, a choice. As long as you believe you are a helpless victim of your circumstances and emotions, you will behave as if that is the case. The truth is that Jesus gave us his peace before ascending into heaven, so we always have access to it. We are not helpless victims – we have the ability to choose our reactions to whatever is going on around us.
Take Paul and Silas for example. They were brought up on charges before the magistrates, attacked by a crowd, stripped, beaten with rods, severely flogged, and thrown into prison with their feet fastened in stocks. If they were helpless victims of their circumstances and emotions, they should have been a bit grouchy after this, right? But they weren’t. Instead, they prayed and sang hymns until about midnight while the other prisoners listened.
What were the other prisoners listening to? It wasn’t a bunch of complaining and whining about their terrible circumstances. Instead, they were praising God! As a result of their choosing a good attitude, the jailer and his entire household became Christians. There’s also anecdotal evidence that perhaps some of the prisoners came to know Christ as well – after all, why else would they not have fled when given an opportunity to do so?
When we choose a good attitude amidst difficult circumstances, God’s light shines even more brightly into a dark world. The ways of the world are to grumble, moan, and complain when things don’t go our way, so people are generally unhappy unless they are pleased with their present circumstances. God’s ways are different – He tells us to rejoice always, not only when we like our circumstances. We have access to joy at all times, and we can choose to tap into that joy, no matter how difficult our current circumstances are.
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in the rain with a broken umbrella, beneath the words “Current Mood.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
The summer of 2014, God led me to do The Love Dare to my husband. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this book, it was the subject of Kirk Cameron’s movie, Fireproof, which focused on godly marriage. Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick wrote The Love Dare to teach the Body of Christ what unconditional love looks like in practical ways.
I was shocked to learn that I could choose my attitude. Because I was so broken in childhood, I was used to being flooded with powerful negative emotions, which I allowed to drive my attitude. This process was on autopilot, so I assumed I had no control over it. I thought that if only I could stop experiencing negative emotions, then I could be in a good mood. That’s like the tail wagging the dog, as I learned through The Love Dare.
The truth is that we each choose our own attitude. I’ve seen people choose to be grouchy while surrounded by blessings while others choose to be pleasant despite enormous life difficulties. Our circumstances don’t have the power to dictate our reaction to them – that’s entirely up to us. Developing awareness that you get to choose your own attitude is the first step toward choosing a good one.
For example, my husband was on a plane that experienced one delay after the next before takeoff. While many of the passengers grew irritable, one gentleman remained calm and joyful. He was in the same situation as everyone else, and yet his circumstances did not bother him. He did not allow the delay to steal his joy. If our circumstances had the final word about attitude, then everyone in the same situation should react in the same way, but they don’t. Why not? Because attitude is a choice, not an inevitability. Let’s talk about how to do this.
[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon]
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I used to believe that I had no control over my own attitude. I felt what I felt and reacted to those feelings. Unfortunately, because of my painful childhood, I carried around a lot of pain that could be “triggered” by many external influences. So, I did my best to avoid as many “triggers” as I could. When I was unsuccessful in avoiding a trigger, I allowed my emotions to drive my behavior, making me an unpleasant person to be around, particularly for those who lived with me.
Learning to choose a good attitude when powerful emotions were triggered was extremely difficult for me to do. It was much easier for me in my flesh to allow my emotions to drive my behavior. If I felt angry, it was natural for me to be rude to others. If I felt sad, it was natural for me to focus on my pain and ignore the feelings of those around me. It was comfortable to expect the world around me to bend to the will of my emotions. After all, I was abused as a child, so the world owed me … or so I believed.
Nothing was more unnatural for me than to take responsibility for my reactions to powerful emotions. In the early stages, having to do this made me angry because I believed I experienced more negative emotions than other people because I had experienced more pain that they had. Thus, they owed it to me to put up with my bad attitude. Choosing to obey God by not allowing my emotions to drive my behavior was extremely difficult for me and took much practice to improve.
Today, I have a very different reaction to strong emotions. I recognize that whatever I am feeling in the moment – whether “good” or “bad” – will pass because all emotions are transient. Joy transcends whatever I am feeling, and I can always choose joy. Thus, I can experience joy even as I sob over my son having major back surgery or being in physical pain. I pour my emotions out to God – not other people – and ask Him to help me. I also thank Him that His mercies are new every morning, so it is OK that I am feeling lousy right now. Joy will come again, and I trust that God will carry me through until it does.
Pouring my emotions out to God rather than people has made my relationships much easier because I am no longer expecting fallible people to do what only God can do. Being in a relationship with me is less burdensome because I have no expectation for others to bear the brunt of my emotions. Instead, I choose a good attitude, no matter how I feel, which has removed much conflict that used to exist in my relationships.
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace throwing her hands up in the air and saying, “ARGH!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]