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Entries in Spiritual Discipline (2)

Thursday
Dec122013

7 Pre-Conflict Self Examination Questions we really don’t want to ask or ‘How to be a Hero when conflicts come.’ 

Been on an airplane lately? Are you the guy I sit next to that’s on the edge of his seat in rapt attention while the flight attendants rehearse the pre-flight instructions? If you are that guy, then you know what they say about the oxygen mask; if not, you may be the guy who I’ll have to help when the cabin pressure starts dropping. For those who have never been on an airplane the instructions are universal for anyone travelling with children or others who need assistance. If cabin pressure drops PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST before helping the other person! (I owe this illustration to my lovely wife)

At first glance the instruction seems a little unkind, even selfish. The logic behind it is flawless though – we can’t help anyone else if we are helpless. Putting the oxygen mask on first is essential to being useful to those who may be experiencing a challenge to do the same. Our health is critical for theirs. This illustration is perfect for our conflict preparation questions. If we are not healthy and secure we will probably not be helping anyone else with his or her health. We are probably going to make things worse if we enter into conflict as an unhealthy, unprepared participant.

In our last post we identified the real problem with many conflicts – It’s us. Our blindness to our own faults is often the heart of the problem. We may see the oxygen mask but think we can handle the pressure drop without it. I said in the last post that we needed to ‘recognize and remove the log or beam that is obliterating our vision.’ Further, I indicated that recognizing our own issues is probably the single most difficult part of conflict. I’ve found the best way to do this is to pay attention to the pre-flight instructions. In our case, what the Bible says about conflict.

I’m fairly certain that if you ask a flight attendant the kind of passenger they appreciate most they would probably say ‘the attentive, courteous one.’ I think the passenger who looks around and thinks through all the scenarios and prepares himself or herself mentally to respond is the person I want to sit next to. I admit, I’m not always that guy but after writing this I think I will endeavor to be that guy next time I fly.  I do want to be that guy when it comes to handling conflict the way God wishes. I want to be prepared!

How do I know if I’m prepared? I, or we, test our knowledge by asking questions.  Some of these questions have to do with our own safety, some about helping others, but all are asked in order to prepare for survival. The same preparation is helpful if we want to survive the conflicts that come up between brothers.

This is where my subtitle comes in, ‘How to be a Hero when conflicts come.’ We can be heroes in conflict. I’ve noticed that one of the most consistent qualities of heroes, both real and fictitious, is that they must inevitably struggle against their own desires and do what is best for those that need them. Let that sink in, they do have to struggle, often violently against themselves and the desire to preserve their own comfort. That’s part of what draws us to like them – they struggle – like us!  The seven questions put this quality to the test. They ask us to be a hero, to put our own desires aside, and to do what is best for the others in order to resolve the conflict. Heroes are heroes because they win this battle over themselves. They put their own desires aside for the good of others. Let these questions test your hero aptitude.

Questions are meant to uncover strengths and weaknesses. We want to use our strengths and shore up our weaknesses to insure success. If we will graciously use our strengths under the control of the Spirit, and if we will ruthlessly uncover our own weaknesses (sinfulness) and deal with them; we will be better prepared when conflict comes. We might even be heroic!  So let’s ask ourselves the 7 questions. For effect, let’s ask them in two different ways. These are meant to reveal our weakness so we can prepare to know the Lord’s strength. 

 

  1. Do I tend to readily notice the faults or mistakes of others?
  2. Do I tend to correct the faults I notice?
  3. Do I tend to take a firm stand for the truth?
  4. Do I tend to believe I see the truth clearly in most situations?
  5. Do I tend to make quick assessments of people’s motives?
  6. Do I tend to tell people how I assess their motives?
  7. Do I tend to instruct people what is right and wrong?

 

There are most likely a hundred other questions that will grow from these. Feel free to ask yourself those the Holy Spirit brings to mind. These questions are the ones I believe will reveal the source of many conflicts – PRIDE! Many of us read these questions, answer yes to many of them, and see ourselves in a pretty good light. Our thoughts may sound like this, ‘I am pretty good at noticing mistakes. I am good at constructive criticism. I know the truth and am not afraid to speak it. People are usually an open book to me.’ While these can be incredibly strong gifts when gently used by a person filled with Christ’s love – they can be tremendously damaging to others when exercised by our flesh.

If you didn’t notice, the phrasing of the questions above turns our thoughts to the other party. We may think of situations where we have come to a judgment about a situation or person. Let’s rephrase them and see what then comes to mind.  Even better, ask other people to assess you in light of these questions. Make sure you ask people who are willing to tell you the truth – we all have our “yes men”.

 

  1. Am I a judgmental person?
  2. Am I a negative, critical person?
  3. Am I close-minded to other’s view of the truth?
  4. Am I overconfident (or arrogant) in my knowledge of the truth?
  5. Am I prone to jump to conclusions?
  6. Am I proud of my ability to “shoot straight” with people?
  7. Am I perceived as arrogant or “lecturing”?

 

Asked this way, these questions probe our own weakness and expose our tendencies toward pride. They reveal the things the hero needs to conquer within himself before he can conquer the outside conflict. By the way, lest we think this is merely an exercise in exposing our weakness, remember that heroes are strong precisely because they conquer themselves. They probe themselves with hard questions, uncover their inner weakness, and then apply their formidable will to conquer them. Once their inner man is under control they tackle the external battle. With that in mind let’s meditate a bit more on the questions.

Question 1: I think there is more than one way to be judgmental. We can be judgmental and come across as superior. We can be judgmental and come across as the victim. There are probably endless nuances between these two extremes but make no mistake – a victim mentality can be manipulated to make us feel superior. Making someone else the victim by being critical can also make us feel superior. Both are at heart self-protectionist pride. They are un-heroic. If you answered the question in the positive as it was originally phrased – beware – you may tend to be a Sawdust Tyrant. You tend to focus on specks in the eyes of others while missing the Sequoia planted firmly in yours. (I speak from experience)

So be honest – if you answered, “Yes” to question one then you may need to repent of a judgmental spirit and learn to look through loving eyes.

Question 2: Be brutal on yourself here and ask, “When it comes to people and situations involving people, is my first thought typically negative?” If you answer yes your mind may immediately start justifying why. Stop right there. Does that negative thought or assessment usually take into account all the details of the person, his life, his situation, his baggage, his understanding, the Lord’s understanding, and other’s involvement? Can we work at quelling our initial assessment by waiting to consider all the extenuating circumstances? Can we replace the mental correcting of other’s faults with a benefit-of-the-doubt patience toward them?

Question 3: Have you ever changed your opinion? Ever changed a major theological view on an important topic? Have you ever had an incorrect first impression of someone only to have it change later? If so, how did these changes come about? What am I getting at? Is it possible that the truth you have come to is subject to change? I’m not talking about essential Christian doctrine here. I’m talking about the things that are most likely to cause the conflicts we are preparing for – peripheral issues that are subject to differing views or personality types that grate against us.

We may be convinced of a truth that another is yet to be faced with. He may have been faced with it and arrived at a different view. What we have to prepare for is this – are we going to reject the PERSON for his views or are we going to accept the PERSON in spite of his views? Is truth more important to us than people? If we are close-minded to the opinions of others we are begging for conflict. On the contrary, if we can heartily debate views without offense or feeling personal injury then we stand a very good chance of maintaining healthy, loving relationships.

Notice that I have not suggested that we abandon the truth we know. Hold to the truth you know while considering another point of view. Walk away in love even when the other person holds belligerently to his view – he might be proved right some day.

Question 4: What makes you so sure you are right? Test everything before you flame out on a half-baked idea. It is the height of embarrassment (to yourself and your Lord) to stubbornly hold to an idea that requires altering when in full light. Remember how tight the Pharisees believed their arguments were just to have Jesus blow gaping holes in them at every turn. Their understanding, in fact, the entire underpinning of their interpretations was flawed and Jesus truly embarrassed them with the compassionate truth!

Question 5: Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘I’m a prophet, I can’t help but use my gift’ after they have said the most tactless, rude, and cutting thing to you (Especially when they have jumped to the wrong conclusions about you or the circumstances they reference)? Have you ever said anything like that? I beg you, don’t use your spiritual gift as an excuse to beat someone up.

Let’s assume you do have an uncanny knack of discerning the details that lie under the surface of any issue or situation. What’s the harm in waiting before wading in? What if, rather than make a statement about what you’ve discerned, you rather ask a question to draw out the truth from the other party? Maybe they don’t see what you see. Maybe a little patience and probing will help them without you ever having to make a proclamation. This approach is worth practicing in advance. (Feel free to ask if you need some examples of how this approach looks)

Question 6: There are times when “shooting straight” is an amazing blessing and times when it is a complete disaster. Can you tell the difference? Those who are proud of the ability to shoot straight may struggle to discern between a good shot and a bad one. What am I saying here? I’m saying that some of us are so proud of our razor sharp wit or our ability to clearly and quickly see solutions that we brazenly run over folks that are trying desperately to catch up. They aren’t challenging us or dismissing our solutions – they simply haven’t got there yet. We may be making enemies of folks that, given the time, would have been our greatest supporters. Our language is to be gracious and seasoned with salt – which means it should be palatable to those who are not accustomed to the taste of how we communicate.

Question 7: Don’t ask yourself this one. Ask your children. Ask your husband or wife. Ask your best friends and their friends. In fact, if you suspect you may fit the description under any of these questions – ask those who spend the most time with you and assure them you will not react to their answers (and then make sure you don’t!). Listen to their answers and the WAY they answer. Were they timid or halting? Did they tell you what you wanted to hear or did they reveal some things you didn’t want to know about yourself?

If we are serious about maintaining love and unity with our brothers and sisters we have to examine ourselves in this way. Are we drawing folks to us and to our Lord or are we driving them away? Are we being heroic or self-serving? I admit that it’s hard to get all the way through a post like this without some strong reactions. But I encourage you, be a Hero! Ask the hard questions. Do the hard things. Sacrifice. Then give God praise that He has empowered you to overrule your un-heroic self for the good of others.   

 

Next Post, My Story.

Wednesday
Feb082012

Doable Daily Delight: Finding God In Your Everyday Rubble

“Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) has been the catalyst for many a recent book on making God our center and source of pleasure or joy. Rightly so – what better springboard into the joys of rejoicing in God than one that ends with so rich a promise! We correctly understand that the point of the verse is when we delight ourselves in the Lord – our heart’s desires are going to be met because He is our deepest desire. Delight in God and He will fulfill our delight with Himself.

In my heart of hearts I’m certain that God is enough to meet every real need I have. As I sort through the everyday rubble that so easily piles up I run smack into the practical reality of seemingly unmet needs; not enough money, not enough time, difficult relationships, physical or emotional weakness, loneliness, or perhaps an overall brooding dissatisfaction with my circumstances. This practical bubble of daily battles I live in often creates a barrier to delighting in God. So, my thoughts often turn to those battles and barriers. Just how can I overcome the daily distraction of temporary cares and get to daily delight in my infinite God? 

That’s a good question isn’t it? Don’t you wonder how to get past the “nasty now and now” and onto the “sweet by and by” in your mind, heart, and soul? If you don’t mind learning from a person many Bible scholars consider rough, doctrinally incorrect, and insensitive, you, like me, may be able to pick up a few pointers on the practice of delighting in God.  I found this person, this “counselor” in the book of Job. He’s one of the “three wise guys” who sat in the dirt with Job but later flung some accusatorial mud at him. Even though Eliphaz dishes out some suspect advice to Job, he does circle around the truth from time to time, and in a few cases lands right on it.

I found some help to my dilemma of pursuing delight in the daily rubble of my life while reading the last few lines Eliphaz as quoted in Job, Chapter 22. The phrase that caught me was in verse 26, “For then you will delight in the Almighty.” Really? When will I delight? I read backward from there to find out what the “For” was referencing and found a great agenda for daily, lifelong, practical delight. Eliphaz, whether he knew it or not, lays out a doable daily regimen for delighting in God. I hope you’ll find this as helpful as I have. Let’s look at the simple steps first and then we’ll dig in a bit.

Doable Daily Delight

Do This:

  1. Yield. 
  2. Receive Instruction.
  3. Return to God.
  4. Remove Unrighteousness.
  5. Bury Your Money.

Enjoy This:

  1. God Will Be Your Treasure.
  2. God Will Be Your Delight.
  3. God Will Hear Your Prayers.
  4. God Will Establish Your Decrees.
  5. God Will Be Your Confidence.
  6. God Will Be Your Salvation.
  7. God Will Be Your Deliverance.

Yield:  This is a fascinating word that has been translated differently in nearly every major Bible version. Some of the options are Acquaint, Submit, Agree, Yield, Reconcile, or Acquiesce.

Regardless of the word choice, the idea is to defer to or be of use to someone deserving of your deferment or service. It’s an imperative that carries with it the idea of “getting to know” God with an attitude of  “yielded-ness or submission”. Verse 29 shines a bit more light on this attitude by saying that God will save the humble person. The simple meaning – Humble yourself and abandon your insistence upon self-defense, self-promotion, self-interest, or self in any of it’s manifestations. You are standing before God, you know!

What does this look and sound like in my moment-by-moment world? It’s the habit of saying to yourself and to God – “Ok Lord, this moment is yours, tell me what to do with it.” It gets repeated tens, hundreds, or thousands times a day in your mind and spirit as you walk with God. It’s a constant, tangible yielding to His desires while retreating from yours.  The immediate outcome of this deferment is peace. When we give up our tightly clutched trinkets of self-promotion, God will replace them with the true riches of delight in Him.

Receive Instruction: I love the NAS’ emoting of this phrase by putting the “please” in front of the phrase. It’s a plea, “Please”, I beg of you, be instructed by God. The book of Proverbs fleshes this out sufficiently as to not need more commentary. In fact, the invitation to learn at the feet of God is extended de facto by the very fact we have a Bible. Every word is a feast of delight because they all unfold for us in some fashion who God is and what He is like.

Eliphaz doesn’t stop there though. It’s not enough to simply receive instruction. We all know that “hearing is not doing”.  He adds a phrase to his plea, “establish His words in your heart.” It means to put God’s instruction in a readily accessible storage location. This is not the self-storage rental space down the road that keeps the stuff you don’t need quick access to. This is the easy to reach pantry of essential items, the silverware drawer, or sock drawer, or key rack, if you will. It’s that place and part of us that’s often hard to organize and manage.  The place that gets messy and disorderly if we don’t keep up with it – in my case and perhaps yours – it’s my Mind. I constantly have to place God’s word in the drawers of my mind and keep them organized for easy access.

There, I said it, and you know what it means – Meditate, Memorize and Practice Scripture. How many times have we heard this? Are we doing it? This is the most basic root-level truth any Christian teacher could express. It’s the golden key to delight. God’s Word is the conduit for every blessing, every joy, and every delight. The Word has to enter in and find a permanent place in our minds and then travel well-worn paths to our hearts. It has to be worked out with every breath and footstep. Will you start now? Perhaps the question we asked about yielding also fits here, “Ok Lord, this mind is yours, tell me what you want me to do with it.”

Return to God: Simple – turn around – go back. Yes, it may cost your reputation, your fortune, your secrets, your position, your pain, your whole self! God’s promise is that it is worth it. (Isa. 35:10) Restoration to glory, joy, and gladness is an abundant substitute for the empty pursuits that are keeping us from God.

“Doable” is a little naïve here. This may be a tough one, depending on what force may have you in its iron grip. Our enemies build their largest ramparts and dispatch their fiercest warriors to prevent our return. It may be a bloody and bitter path back to God but there is healing for any wound once we are there. It may seem like an unbearably long journey to get back but it is really only the distance of a desperate whisper. Cry out to God – He will navigate every obstacle and battle every foe with you. Perhaps a good first step here would be to keep the same theme we have been emphasizing “Ok Lord, my life’s a wreck, I’m coming back, what do you want me to do?” May you find it safely back!

Remove Unrighteousness: Tic Tock, Tic Tock, tic tock, tic tock, tic…. We don’t hold live grenades hoping they fail to detonate. We throw them as far from us as we can. Remove means to thrust away or repel. You may be holding a grenade, not knowing how long you have till it detonates – it’s time to hurl that thing away – violently!

To me, unrighteousness is a soft word. It’s akin to a “white lie”, wrong and sinful but not quite as aggressive to my ears. The KJV uses “iniquity” here and the Hebrew Lexicon’s render it “wickedness or depravity”. Now those are hostile and intimidating words, much more descriptive of the danger. Sin hurts us in every painful way imaginable, like a little boy slowly tearing the legs off a grasshopper before he stomps it. If we could see the complete grotesque picture of it and feel it’s ferocious reality we would treat it like that ticking grenade. Problem is, sin is pleasurable, a short lived but addictive high, insidiously beautiful, deceitfully captivating, and stubbornly adhesive. It’s hard to throw away.

So even while I encourage you, according to Scripture, to cast it far from you I’m painfully aware of the reality of that action. In part, that’s what the Body is for. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who will engage our battles with us. You may need to find fellow Christians to hear your confession, refuse to judge, and fight with you – go to them – NOW! The Holy Spirit is ever at the ready as well. Listen and obey His voice concerning the bomb you’re holding. Again, cry out, “Ok Lord, my sin is killing me, how do I get rid of it?” Find books and lessons by godly writers that address and give practical advice on beating your sinful struggles and demons – then follow their counsel. All of us have besetting sins – few of us discipline ourselves to fight to the death against them. The delight of victory and the presence of God is ours once we slay these enemies.

Bury Your Money: This is a short way to say, “you cannot serve two masters”. It’s God or Stuff! Eliphaz is quite poetic here. He exhorts Job to “place his gold in the dust” and “toss it in the stream” like so many common pebbles. I like that! If we can truly look at our wealth as “dust and rocks” and consider it of similar value in contrast to our delight in God, we will mirror the attitude Eliphaz describes here.

The Bible is ripe with instructions about materialism and money. Books have been written expounding the Bible truth about finances. I don’t want to repeat them, I want to encourage you to read what’s been written. Check out Randy Alcorn, Larry Burkett, Ron Blue, Dave Ramsay and others like them. They will help you. Remember our question again here, “Ok Lord, this money is yours, tell me what you want me to do with it.”

The core of the whole subject is this – When we value God and His works as our treasure above all other possible treasures, we will find our ultimate delight. How do I do that? How do I cultivate delight in our invisible God when the things I can touch, see, and sense cry out for my attention? That’s just what we’ve been discovering – everything we’ve said up till now is included in the answer. Everything we’ve said up till now can be described succinctly with one word – discipline.

To yield, receive instruction, return to God, remove unrighteousness, and bury our money is to practice spiritual disciplines. These are not skills we learn once, master, and never return to. They are cultivated habits that require continual nurturing and laborious exercise. This is the stuff of Paul’s confession that he beat his body (figuratively) to keep it under. He was speaking of the hard work of living for eternity. Investing in infinity by resisting the transient involves work, wisdom, and focus. Mastering these disciplines is what leads us to delight.

Athletes have a daily workout regime often with core items they do every day. Eliphaz gives us the Doable Daily Regimen for Delighting in God. Submit to this routine and we will find ourselves delighting more and more in God. We will also reap a substantial list of other benefits. More on those later…

Yield, Receive Instruction, Return to God, Remove Unrighteousness, and Bury Your Money, ‘Then the Almighty will be your gold, and choice silver to you. For then you will delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God.” Job 22:25-26