Category Archives: Success

What’s Your Song?

This morning, Alexa was kind enough to play some music for me. One of the songs in my get-ready-for-worship playlist is “The Stand” from Joel Houston of Hillsong. You’ll remember it:

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all.
I’ll stand, my soul, Lord, to you surrendered.
All I have is yours.

The recording on my playlist is in a concert/worship setting, and toward the end, the singer/leader dropped out but encouraged the audience/worshippers to sing that chorus one more time. You could hear hundreds–maybe thousands–of voices singing as one, praying as one, worshipping as one. Cool stuff.

It occurred to me that it would be amazing to have a song that you’ve written or popularized that you could begin and then allow those listening to carry it for you. But then I realized that many artists can do that sort of thing. The Rolling Stones could do that with “Wild Horses.” It would be an intoxicating feeling, but perhaps hollow.

We know that for that experience to be more than just a good feeling, the song needs to be worthwhile. It needs to take people into the presence of God. That’s what I think I heard on that recording. And it’s something that I’m pretty sure I’ll never experience as the songwriters/singer/worship leader. (Sigh.)

In mulling over that bittersweet thought, I realized that every one of us is gifted by God to write such a song. More precisely, we’re called to do something that will powerfully bless others and help them draw closer to Jesus and to God the Father. My song isn’t a literal song with lyrics and melody. Yours probably isn’t either.

I’ve written some songs, and I’d love to be able to stand on a stage and lead people in singing them. That sounds great, but that’s not my calling, not my song. I could preach a good sermon, but that doesn’t seem to be my song either–at least not as a vocation.

What if I–or what if you–sat around lamenting that my songs don’t resonate with people in the way that, say, Michael W. Smith’s songs do? What if I couldn’t listen to sermons without wondering why I don’t get the chance to preach? If I allowed myself to get stuck in that way, I’d never create whatever alternate form of song that God has gifted me to fashion.

Paul addresses this thinking in 1 Corinthians 12:12-16

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ…Indeed, the body is not one part but many.  If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. 

What is your “song”? There’s something that you were created to do for the people (or the future people) of God that will be every bit as life-changing and amazing as having thousands of people singing your song by memory. It probably won’t be as dramatic, and it probably won’t engage thousands of people at the same moment, but it can be just as powerful.

But if I sit around listening to “The Stand” and pitying myself that my songwriting won’t rise to that level, then I’ll never write the “song” that only I can write.

The Rich Fool’s New Car

I’m buying a new car today. It’s not actually new but new to me. It’s a sweet ride and a bit of an indulgence. Do I really need it? Not exactly. Is it okay for me to buy it? Good question. Let’s weigh the options.

After using the parable of the rich fool to opine about binge TV and wasting time, I found myself looking back to the actual parable and what it says about possessions. So let’s remind ourselves of it:

A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, “What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there.  Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.'”

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?” (Luke 12:16-20)

What a fool! We can all agree on that, right? But what should the rich fool have done? What actions in response to his great harvest would have earned him God’s approval rather than disdain? What could this man do with his bumper crop other than use it to coast into the sunset? Let’s explore the possibilities.

He could leave it out exposed to the elements where the rain and the rats would compete to ruin it first. Surely we can agree that God would not be pleased with that sort of stewardship.

He could give it away to the needy. Is that a good use of the crop? Apparently the rich man was going to be able to feed himself and his entourage for many years to come. It stands to reason that he could have fed a much larger group for a shorter span of years. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But of course when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t spend or give away the same dollar (or bushel of grain) twice.

He could sell it and then invest the proceeds. If this man had a hundred acres, perhaps his excess could be sold in order to fund the purchase of a hundred or two hundred more acres. Whatever good could be done with the crop from the smaller lands could be magnified on the larger lands. But is purpose of profit simply to generate a bigger empire to create ever-bigger profits?

He could store it for a time of need. This is how Joseph saved Egypt in Genesis, isn’t it? The rich man could store his grain and then keep on producing more for future consumption. Then, when a bad situation arises, he could draw from those reserves and save the day. The downside to this approach is that he still has to build storage facilities and protect this reserve until bad times come.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich fool should have done. He just lets us know that the man made the wrong choice. Is there a right answer to what he should have done?

Is there a right answer to what I should do with the extra money that appears in my bank account from time to time? In the past year, I’ve done some of all of these things. I’ve indulged a little bit. I’ve given some money and goods away. I’ve invested some money toward tomorrow, and I’ve simply stuck some into a savings account for an unforeseen need, like the opportunity to buy a car. Did I do it right?

Since Jesus didn’t give us exact instructions for dealing with whatever plenty he provides, I have to assume that he had a different way for directing us. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that through the Holy Spirit, “we have the mind of Christ.” The mind of Christ lets me know when I’m mishandling both my money and my time. I just have to ask and then listen to the response.

What does that say about the car? In reality, this choice is a no-brainer. The car pleases me, is priced right, can be purchased (easily) for cash, and should keep me driving reliably for another four or five years. And did I mention that it pleases me? Jesus never said we shouldn’t enjoy life a little.

Rule #6: Eliminate Excessive Choices

torah-scrollAs I continue my march through Joel Harper’s “Ten Rules that Fit People Follow,” examining each rule in the light of biblical teaching, I find myself arrived at rule #6. (You can read my musings on rule #5 and before here.) The sixth rule is “Eliminate excessive choices,” which is described as follows:

Chocolate croissant or steel cut oats? Grilled salmon or a quesadilla? When you have to make these types of dietary decisions all day long, you may end up exhausting your willpower. Planning your meals in advance, howevereven just one meal per daycan make it easier (and less stressful) to eat healthy.

My initial reaction to this rule is that it is nonsense. Do people who plan their meals in advance actually eliminateany choices? I’d argue that as a ‘no.’ They move the choices to a different time, but they don’t eliminate anything.

On the other hand, I think there is something to be said for actual elimination of choices. Think of what Jesus said to the rich young ruler:If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. This young man went away from Jesus sad. Why? He couldn’t let go of his wealth. Wealth, you see, indicates choice.

When I receive a pay check, I send a text that initiates a gift for 10% of that check to my church. Do I have to give that tithe on the first day I receive the payment? No, but by doing so, I eliminate the choice and thus the temptation not to give it. In fact, if my pay came in consistently, I’d set the thing up to go automatically twice a month.

In reality, I think that this rule should be “Surrender your will to God’s will.” Was there ever a better example of that than when Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be arrested, tortured, tried, tortured again, and then murdered? If I could demonstrate that level of surrender, then I could easily choose the oats over the croissant.

The problem, I think, with Harper’s rule is that his elimination of choice is an illusion. If I eat the grilled salmon, I can easily enough opt to eat the quesadilla later in the evening or allow my wife to talk me into ice cream.

This so-called elimination of choices is actually just an exercise in reinforcing will power, but humans have shown for millennia that we’re not particularly good at will power. Surrender, on the other hand, takes will power off the table.

 

Rule #5: Visualize Success

torah-scrollIn recent posts I have been consideringthe individual rules, compiled by personal trainer Joel Harper and listed in anarticle called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By,”examining each of them in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #4and get to the previous ones from this link. Today, we get to examine rule #5: Visualize success. Here’s how the author explains this rule.

Harper has all of his new clients close their eyes and imagine their ideal bodyboth what it looks like from head to toe, and how it makes them feel. Then he tells them to go shopping: I say to people, Hey if you want that body, then buy clothes that would fit if you had it. And try them on every day until they fit.

How could I have known when I was ten years old that I was practicing rule #5. I went to the back yard and imagined myself coming to the plate in game 7 of the World Series. “Based loaded. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Browning hits a long one down the left field line. If it stays fair it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s a home run! The Royals win the series! Oh, the humanity!” I did that day after day, finally giving the practice up when I turned 50. How’s that for visualizing success Joel? Maybe it would have worked better if I had tried on a major league uniform every day as well.

Harper’s rule #5 is all about willing yourself into smaller clothes and a more toned body. It’s about remaking yourself, into your own ideal image and under your own steam. There might be some value in that, but it seems to me that the Bible’s teachings take a different approach.

Rather than focusing on who I want to make myself become, the Bible tends to ask me to focus on who God has delivered me from. In Psalm 40, David gives a great example:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

Harper encourages his trainees to buy the clothes they want to fit into and then squeeze themselves in until the new togs fit, yet time after time, the Bible uses clothing as a metaphor for the righteousness that God places upon us through Christ. In Isaiah 61:10

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

I’m not utterly dismissing Harper’s idea of visualizing success. However, I do believe there is more power in focusing on the negative past from which God delivered me than in the positive future to which I might be able to take myself. I’ll be moredressed for success in the garments of salvation than in the wishing wardrobe of items that don’t quite fit yet.

Fully aware of the magnitude of the sin from which I have been delivered, I can surely find motivation to keep my heart beating, my eating in check, and my sunscreen on. And if I could be closer to the fitness model that I’d like to be by following Harper’s path, then I’ll let that go in exchange for being the faithful (and fit) follower of Christ that He created me to be.

Rule #4: Set specific intentions

torah-scrollI have been exploring the individual rules listed in anarticle called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By,”evaluatingeach of them in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1,Rule #2, or Rule #3. Today, we get to examine rule #3: Set specific intentions. Here’s how the author explains this rule.

The more detailed your daily goals and plans, the better. In his book, Harper cites an English study on women enrolled in a weight loss program: The researchers asked about half of their subjects to write down their strategies for managing temptation (for example, When sugar cravings strike, I will make a cup of tea). After two months, those women had lost twice as much weight as women in a control group.

On the surface, this rule seems like a great idea. I’m a goal-oriented person. I set goals (or objectives or plans) for the day, the week, the month, and the year. For example, I have a goal for calorie intake for today. My goal is simple. I’m going to eat no more than 1,750 calories plus one half of the calories I burn through exercise. When I exercised this morning, I burned about 980 calories, so I will allow myself 490 extra calories to be eaten. At the end of the day, my calorie count should be less than 2,240. Good goal, right? It’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed. It’s S.M.A.R.T.! Yesterday, I didn’t meet that goal, going a bit bananas as I watched recorded episodes ofNCISbefore heading to bed. Still, the goal was good and serves me almost every day.

Similarly, I never go out to run without a distance and/or a pace in mind. I don’t lift weights without knowing what exercises I’ll do at what weights and what reps. Goals are good, especially when they help us with things that could get lost in imprecision. For example, it’s a lot easier to say I’ll eat no more than 2,240 calories than to say, I’ll “eat right” or “cut back a bit.”

Goals are biblical. In Proverbs 21:5, we are admonished,”The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty,” while Jesus shared the peculiar little parable about building tower in Luke 14:28: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

But goals can become an end in themselves. I think that’s why James 4:13-15 warns us about getting too involved in our goals and plans:

Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.

I think the same basic message lies behind the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. We set goals. We try to achieve our goals. Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t, but trying is a good thing. When, however, those goals become our god, when our goals replace the goals God would establish for us, then we’re just as guilty of idolatry as those who bow down to Baal.

So in the end, rule #4 is a good one but one that can be misapplied. Remember that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Absent that, there are no wise goals.