Archives for February 2013

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day All By Yourself

A lot of things can ruin an otherwise perfecly good day. There are those small annoyances – heavy traffic, lost keys, hair that won’t cooperate, an acne break-out, out-of-whack hormones that make you feel like a crazy person, a favorite shoe that your dog thinks is a chew toy, jeans that won’t button, spilled coffee (that you paid over $4.00 for), an empty gas tank, and a less-than-encouraging conversation with your insurance company (who put you on hold for 45 minutes before vividly reminding you why you hate your insurance company).

There are also times when a day is derailed by something major – a car accident, a sick child, a miscarriage, a layoff, a foreclosure, a scary diagnosis, or a heart-wrenching breakup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change. In a matter of seconds, a good day can become your worst day. Though we like to pretend otherwise, life is incredibly unpredictable. Needless to say, I am deeply thankful that mine is in the tight grip of a sovereign, all-wise God who is never taken by surprise.

But if I’m honest, most of the bad days I have aren’t caused by those little annoyances, major trials, or anything in between. Most of my bad days are my own fault. Regrettably, I am quite good at ruining an otherwise fabulous day all by myself – no outside influences necessary. Here’s how to do it:

1)    Foster feelings of entitlement.

By feelings of entitlement, I mean that attitude that produces thoughts such as, “I’m better than this” . . . “He/She owes me” . . . “After all I do, this is the thanks I get?” . . . and the biggest one of all – “I DESERVE ________________.”

Such thoughts are usually easy to justify. I mean, I work hard to take care of my family. I do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. I work 14+ hour days, 365 days a year – no sick days. I spend most of my time playing little boy games and having little boy conversations. I wipe mouths, noses, bottoms, bathtubs, floors, and toilets. I make sure the bills are paid on time and that there is money left in the bank account afterwards. I brave the strange smells, bad lighting and dilapidated carts at Wal-mart instead of enjoying my beloved Publix in order to spend less of my hubby’s hard-earned dollars on food. (If that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is!) I could go on, but you get the idea. Not a day goes by that I don’t set aside my own interests and desires for the sake of my family. I know the same can be said of you!

I wish I could say that the sacrifices I make always produce an abundance of joy in my heart as I watch them bear fruit in the lives of those I love. But all-to-often, I play the “woe-is-me” card and allow them to produce a sense of entitlement that causes me to fixate on the praise I don’t receive, the privileges I don’t possess, and the personal ambitions I am unable to pursue.

“Don’t I deserve a big fat ‘thank you,’ and shouldn’t it come in the form of gorgeous flowers and my favorite chocolates? After all I do, don’t I have the right to splurge on a designer purse regardless of whether or not we can really afford it? In light of what I feel called, trained, and gifted to do, don’t I deserve several hours a week of uninterrupted time to write Bible studies while someone else cleans my house?” When my heart answers “yes” to such questions, it automatically says “no” to joy.

Joy simply cannot flourish in the life of someone who thinks she has the right to demand what her heart selfishly craves. That kind of woman is impossible to satisfy. I know because I’ve been that woman . . .way too often.

The only person who has ever had the right to act entitled is Jesus. Interestingly enough, he never did. In fact, He is the embodiment of humble and joyful self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:5-8 makes this ever so clear: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

If you ever want to suck all the joy out of your own heart, just foster feelings of entitlement. Instead of emptying yourself for the sake of others, demand that others fill you up. Whine and pout when they don’t. Post something depressing or nasty on Facebook about it. Make sure all the thankless, uncooperative people in your life know how you feel. Then, go buy yourself a new outfit, splurge on a spa pedicure, and treat yourself to a big slice of cheesecake. Just know that as you run hard after what you “deserve,” you are bound to ruin any chance of enjoying what you already have.

2)    Fixate on the “greener grass”.

Let me explain this one with a little story. There once was a wife who had an amazing, thoughtful, and generous husband. One Valentine’s Day, this husband planned to take her out to a fabulous restaurant, give her a beautiful necklace, write her a sweet love note, and spend the evening catching up on season 1 of Downton Abbey. The wife looked forward to her Valentine’s date for weeks. She got an overnight baby sitter. She picked out a great outfit. She even shaved her legs! The day started out great, but by the time the date actually started she was a dissatisfied, pouty, irritated woman. You see, all day she had been bombarded with pictures on Facebook of other wives’ flowers, chocolates, homemade breakfasts, and adorable lunch dates. As she looked at these pictures, she began to wonder, “Why didn’t I get my card this morning? Why don’t I have a box of chocolates to enjoy throughout the day? Why doesn’t my husband ever cook for me?” And when her husband was a little late picking her up, she convinced herself that it was because he didn’t care as much as she did, that he didn’t really want to take her out, and that all the women who were being treated to made-from-scratch romantic dinners at home were much better off. None of that was true, of course. But her eyes were so blinded by the highly edited, seemingly perfect “greener grass” of her friend’s lives that she was incapable of enjoying the beauty of her own.

I may or may not know that wife. But I can tell you that I have ruined so many days, weeks, and even months by fixating on what others have (or what I THINK they have) that I don’t. I once heard a Christian comedian say that the grass is greenest where it’s been pooped on. In other words, nobody’s life is as good as it looks on the surface. And even if it was, I shouldn’t be looking over there anyway. God has planted enough blessings on my own side of the fence to keep me occupied (and grateful!) for a lifetime. “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and rest in knowing that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Otherwise, you might end up ruining a perfectly good Valentine’s Day. Not that I know anything about that . . .

3)    Cultivate unrealistic expectations.

I’ve already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “misery factor.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, things can get ugly. Days can be ruined.

Why is it that a husband coming home late from work, a toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or a coworker acting like a total jerk can send a perfectly good day spiraling downhill so quickly? Because our selfish hearts expect that husband to do whatever it takes –  short of getting fired or breaking any major laws – to get home when he said he would. That child is supposed to always reflect what an awesome, godly parent you are trying to be. And considering how many times you’ve covered for that coworker, you expect a little bit of respect!

Ninety percent of my bad days are rooted in my own unrealistic expectations of the people around me – expectations that are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others or God’s will for my life. When people don’t measure up or things don’t work out like I had planned, I get frustrated, defensive, and even more self-focused. The result? Yet another good-day-gone-bad.

Having a bad day? Maybe it’s the disobedient kids, the inconsiderate boss, the troubled finances, the bad haircut, or the workaholic husband.

Or, maybe it’s your own heart.

You see, we don’t need any help ruining a perfectly good day. As sinners, we are quite capable of doing that all by ourselves.  Fortunately, God’s Spirit in us is quite capable of restoring the joy that we have allowed entitlement, discontentment, and selfish expectations to drain out of our lives (Gal. 5:22).

So go ahead and ask yourself that hard question: “Is my bad day my own fault?” If the answer is yes, take it to Jesus, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and seek to constantly weed out these subtle yet sinful attitudes.

Then, take a moment to bask in the sweet reality that tomorrow is a new day!

I just HAD to share . . .

I clicked on this link this morning and I’m pretty confident it will prove to be the best five minutes of my whole week. In it, John Piper talks about the importance of marinating in God’s Word. Yep, right up my alley! My favorite part: “A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart – a heart astonished by grace . . . ”

When you read your Bible, are you seeking an astonished heart? Am I? We should be!

For those seeing this via email, you may need to click on the title of the blog post to see the link.

Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/askpastorjohn/must-bible-reading-always-end

For My Fellow Read-Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year Failures

images[2]Confession: I am a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year failure. A repeat failure to be exact. As in, I’ve given it my best shot several times and have never finished on schedule. Not even close. Not even once. I did it in two years one time, but that was when I was single, still living with my parents, and my biggest responsibility was maintaining a proper Florida tan. Needless to say, those days are long gone!

Every January for the past decade someone in my life – a pastor, Sunday school teacher, mentor, or friend – has challenged me to read through the Bible in a year. And every year I try really, really hard. I print out the reading plan, put in in the front of my Bible and convince myself that this is the year I will actually succeed. But by the time February rolls around I’m still hanging out with Abraham when I ought to be watching the Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry ground. I’m pretty disciplined to read my Bible almost every day, but somehow I never seem to read enough to keep up with “the plan.” I get hung up on a certain verse, or I have to stop and ponder a particular truth, or a passage utterly confuses me and I stop to do some research, or my eyes won’t stay open because I stayed up too late the night before, or my sweet little boy decides that he wants to wake up an hour early – you know how it is.

This January was different. For the first time in many, many years I didn’t print a one-year reading plan and I didn’t buy a special one-year Bible.  Instead, I got myself three bookmarks – one for the Old Testament, one for the Psalms, and one for the New Testament. Each morning I get up, get my coffee, sit down in my special quiet time spot, and simply pick up where I left off the day before.

I read a Psalm or a portion of a Psalm first. Reading a Psalm is a good “warm up” for me. It focuses my attention on the Lord. Aside from that, I can’t think of a better way to start the day than with some praise. Well . . .  coffee, then praise. When it’s really early reading the Psalm out loud is usually my only hope for staying awake. You know, since it takes a few minutes for the dark roast to do its job.

After I’m finished in the Psalms, I find my bookmark in the Old Testament and pick up where I left off the day before. Then I do the same with the New Testament. I close by jotting down at least one truth from my reading in a notebook. Sometimes I get through a whole chapter or two in each Testament. Sometimes I only get through a few verses. But with my bookmark plan, it simply doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get up . . . that I sit before the Lord . . . that I marinate in His Word . . .  that I listen intently to His voice . . . that I surrender to His will . . .that I marvel at His grace.  That stuff isn’t necessarily a function of how much you read; it’s a function of how well you read (i.e., how well you listen to God’s voice and apply His truth to your life).

A one-year reading plan is a really good thing. The last thing I ever want to do is discourage anyone from making that a goal! It’s one of the best ways I can think of to get a “big picture” view of God’s Word. It’s something I definitely want to accomplish before Jesus calls me home. But I’m finally convinced that it isn’t the “holy grail” of spiritual maturity. I’ve finally let myself off the hook for never successfully checking all the boxes of my yearly printout on time. I’ve finally accepted the fact that it’s okay to hang out with Abraham a little too long. Moses and the Israelites will still be living their lives in the book of Exodus whether I get there on schedule or not. (For a girl who is task-oriented, always likes to be on time, adores detailed schedules, and always plays by the rules, this is huge! We’re talking major growth here, people! You should stop right now and clap for me.)

If you want to be successful at “marinating” in God’s Word, I sincerely believe you must have a plan. But for that plan to be fruitful, it has to be doable. It has to accommodate the ebb and flow of your life. If you are a mom with young children, it must allow for a lot of interruptions.

Today is February 6th and I just finished up with Noah and the Sermon on the Mount.  For the first time ever, I’m okay with that. Why? Because my bookmarks are moving, God is speaking, I’m growing, and “life” is no longer interrupting like it used to.

Don’t have a reading plan? Is the one you have not working? Get yourself some bookmarks, a pen, and a notebook. Commit to “marinate” every day and watch those bookmarks move ahead at whatever rate works for you.  When something stands out, write it down. Keep it simple and keep it going. One year may not be enough time to get through the Bible, but I know from personal expereince that it’s plenty of time for the Bible to get through you. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

 

 

 

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