Difficult people in our life – become the best version of you

“We all have difficult people in our life, but hear this: God can use them to help you become the best version of you — maybe even more than the people you like.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 18 (“Find a Few Difficult People to Help You Grow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg observes that other people don’t create your spirit.  In fact, if God desires to grow some quality in you, He may bring someone into your life who tempts you to behave the opposite way.

Although we always hope God plans on giving us a life without difficult people, God used difficult people to mold many great Biblical characters.  For example, Moses had Pharaoh and David had Saul.  Pastor Ortberg explains:

“If God loves you and wants to shape you, he will send some difficult people your way.  But take heart.  You are the difficult person he is sending to shape somebody else.  If we can learn to have rivers of living water still flowing through us in these relationships, we will be unstoppable.”

Furthermore, John notes, people impact our lives in one of two ways.  The either energize us or drain us.  Life-bringers:

  • increase our energy
  • deepen our hope
  • add to our joy
  • call out the best in us

In contrast, life-drainers (a) add to our anxiety and (b) invite us to cynicism.  As a result, we find ourselves becoming defensive, depressed, or exasperated.

Since only God can touch the deepest place of another’s soul, prayer provides the only way to influence people at their deepest level.  In prayer, John states, we go with God into another person’s soul.  The space between you and your enemy = the space where love grows.  And love is the only way to live.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg tells us there’s a quarter-second gap between when an impulse takes place in your brain and when that action takes place in your body.  That’s enough time for the Holy Spirit to take control.  Remember, every difficult person is a real person with their own story.

Today’s question: Do you surround yourself with life-energizers or life-drainers?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When you discover your strengths”

Our capacity for connectedness

“Part of what it means to be made in God’s image is our capacity for connectedness, because god created human beings and then said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18, TLB).’ “- John Ortberg

In Chapter 16 (“Make Life-Giving Relationships a Top Priority”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg asserts that people nourish your soul.  More than anything else, God uses people to form, or shape, people.  Thus, no interactions between people occur outside of God’s presence.  The Holy Spirit yearns to work personally in every encounter.

Therefore, the word fellowship carriers a much deeper meaning than church basements, punch, and awkward small talk.  Pastor Ortberg defines fellowship as “the flow of rivers of living water between one person and another, and we cannot live without it.”

In fact, John notes, researchers name one specific factor that separates quite happy people from less happy people.  This factor consistently separates the two groups.  That factor, John states, “is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships.”  Also, the love of God and other people not only roots us, but also nourishes our souls.

In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg stresses, our capacity for connectedness finds its roots in God making us in His image.  Connectedness roots and establishes us in love (Ephesians 3:17).

Conversely, John notes, connectedness isn’t the same as knowing many people.  For we may have many contacts in many networks, but few, if any friends.

When love’s present in your life, that releases you to truly become yourself.  You-ier!

Today’s question: After your vocation loss, what connections help you persevere and maintain hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “A vivid point of light from Scripture” (Crown’s 2,000th post)

Hear any soul beeping sounds?

“Do you hear any beeping sounds there [your soul]?”- John Ortberg

“Who can discern his errors?  Forgive my hidden faults.  Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”- Psalm 19:12-13

In Chapter 14 (“When You Find Yourself Out of the Flow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg asserts that we all need outside help to see our soul.  In one sense, Pastor Ortberg points out, you know yourself better than anyone else on the planet.  However, you also know yourself worse.

A book titled Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me),written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, charts the deceptive mental tricks we play on ourselves.  John lists three of those deceptive tricks:

  1. Self-serving bias.  Succinctly stated, we claim too much credit and too little blame.
  2. Fundamental attribution error.  Your bad behavior results from your flawed character.  However, you attribute your bad behavior to extraordinarily trying circumstances.
  3. Confirmation bias.  We listen to experts who espouse opinions that agree with our commitments.  On the other hand, we ignore or discount contrary evidence.

One evening John and his wife Nancy woke up to a loud beeping sound.  Although John solved the initial problem by removing the smoke detector battery, Nancy cautioned that there could be a fire somewhere in the house.

The next morning Nancy called John at an early morning breakfast meeting because . . . the house was on fire!!  Turns out a few ‘delinquent birds’ built a nest inside the chimney casing.  As a result, the smoldering fire behind the wall set off the smoke detector.

In conclusion, John explains what we need to do when we hear soul beeping sounds.  He writes:

“Guilt is not my enemy.  Sin, which blocks off life, is my enemy.  The Spirit will often bring a sense of conviction, and when he does, the best response is not to suppress the guilt, but to get out of bed, take a look around the house, and put out the fire before it does more damage.”

Today’s question: What soul beeping sounds require your attention?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The diligence of our own scrutiny”

In the flow of the Spirit – sin looks bad

“When I am in the flow of the Spirit, sin looks bad and God looks good.  When I experience gratitude, contentment, and satisfaction deep in my soul, there is a good chance it is the Spirit flowing within.”- John Ortberg

“Do not quench the Spirit.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (ESV)

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 3 of The Me I Want to Be, he notes that when we’re in the flow of the Spirit, we’re increasingly filled with the fruit of the Spirit.  In addition, that fruit continues to grow.  John explains how to make ourselves available:

“The Spirit is available to whisper to us thoughts of love and joy and peace and patience every moment of our life.  Right now.  All we have to do is stop, ask, and listen (emphasis John’s).”

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit never just flows in us.  The Holy Spirit also flows through us.  Through that process, others flourish as well.  Writing in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, the apostle Paul issues a simple command.  In a sense, John observes, that’s all we need to do: “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Stated another way, our only job involves staying out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

Therefore, as we live out life, we either (1) do things that open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence or (2) do things that close ourselves off to the Spirit.

Thus, the more we form our habits around resentment, anxiety, greed, or superiority, the more often we quench the Spirit.  To re-form habits takes time and patience.  But, the Holy Spirit remains tenacious.  John concludes:

“All that is needed in any moment is a sincere desire to be submitted to the Spirit’s response; a sincere heart never needs to fear that God is upset.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses keep you in the flow of the Spirit?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “You are not God’s appliance, but His masterpiece”

Battle between a flourishing self and a languishing self

“Inside your soul there is a battle between a flourishing self — the person you were created to be — and a languishing self.”- John Ortberg

As John Ortberg concludes Chapter 1 of The Me I Want to Be, he notes it’s humbling you can’t be anything you want.  In humility, accept yourself as God’s gift to you.  Also, accept the task God sets before you to become that person.  Yet, within your soul, your flourishing self and languishing self battle.  Thus, John’s book center on this battle as it “moves from deep inside you to a world waiting on God’s redemption.”

Next, Pastor Ortberg describes five steps on this journey, or movement.

1.  Spirit.  The journey begins here as your spirit becomes empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Flourishing- defined as connecting with the Spirit of God-  is available 24/7.  When your spirit flourishes, you feel most fully alive, filled with purpose for living, and drawn to put on virtue and cast off sin.

2.  Mind.  Joy and peace mark the mental life of your flourishing self.  In addition, you demonstrate curiosity and a love of learning.  Consequently, when negative emotions rise, you take them as your cues to act.

In contrast, unease and discontent mark the languishing self.  Because bad habits anesthetize pain, you’re drawn to them.  Furthermore, your thoughts drift to fear or anger and you spend lots of time thinking about yourself.

3.  Time.  Flourishing also transforms your time.  You greet each morning with a sense of expectancy.  Also, you receive each moment as a God-filled gift.

4.  Relationships.  You find others to be a source of wonder and you listen deeply.  In addition, others often bring you energy.  On the other hand, your languishing self often is troubled.  You’re undisciplined in what you say.  And you isolate, dominate, attack, or withdraw.

5.  Experiences.  God changes your experiences as He grows you.  He desires to use you in His plan to redeem the world.  As a result, you live with a sense of calling and show resilience in suffering.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you win the battle between your flourishing self and your languishing self?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the annotated bibliography of Walking with God: How to Hear His Voice

Just keep walking

“Just keep walking.  Allow your soul to be directed and guided by God.  He is faithful, and he will work in you and on you for the rest of your life.”- Judah Smith

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”- Revelation 22:13

Judah Smith concludes Chapter 9 of How’s Your Soul? by boldly proclaiming that what God starts, He finishes!  When you’re born, God places you in a process.  Throughout your journey, He sees the end from the beginning.  In other words, God sees the whole panorama!

According to Pastor Smith, Jesus’ disciple Peter exemplifies the perfect journey of the human soul.  Yet, after Peter denied Jesus three times, following the resurrection Jesus addressed Peter as Simon (“reed”).  Judah believes Jesus used Peter’s old name to remind him of when they first met.  Jesus knew Peter was a reed in the wind.

Furthermore, Jesus knew Simon Peter’s humanity and weaknesses- but called him anyway.  In addition, Jesus knew that Peter loved him when He questioned Peter’s love three times.  The real question: Does Peter know that he loves Jesus?

Despite Peter’s human frailties, Jesus lovingly and patiently worked in Peter, helping him back on his feet.  Jesus helped Peter see himself as God saw him.

In conclusion, Jesus’ post-resurrection encounter with Peter contains a message for us as well.  Pastor Smith explains:

“Our souls might fail at times, but our relationships with God are real.  God put this love in our hearts for him, and it will only grow.  Even when our emotions and actions betray us, God knows our hearts.  He sees the seeds he planted in us and the work he began in us.  And he has a plan to bring us to completion.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses enable you to just keep walking with Jesus?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Keeping heaven on our minds”

Our relationship with God- based on birth

“A calm and quiet spirit is the result of understanding that our relationship with God is not based on worth but on birth.”- Judah Smith

Judah Smith completes Chapter 6 of How’s Your Soul? by discussing verses two and three of Psalm 131.

4.  “Like a weaned child with it’s mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”  King David continues verse two by comparing his soul to a weaned child with its mother.  In addition, Pastor Smith states,  David communicates two things with this verse.  A calm and quieted soul;

  • results when we understand that our relationship with God is based on worth, not birth
  • demonstrates contentment with who God is

Therefore, although God does awesome things for us, our main desire focuses on resting in His arms and experiencing His presence.  In other words, we already have what we need.  Furthermore, we know God will continue to provide for our needs in the future.

Most noteworthy, Judah underscores, our God wants to hold us in His arms- with every ounce and fiber of His being.  He desires a relationship with us and wants our company, like a mother and her child.

Also, Judah adds, God designed and wired you for this- to spend time alone with God; to enjoy, feel, and experience God.  Simply let your soul go there, by the grace of God.

In conclusion, Pastor Smith explains how to let your soul experience the weaned child relationship with God.  Judah writes:

“Let it go into that space where God is.  Think about him; ponder who he is; maybe say some things internally that you don’t say verbally.  Let yourself just enjoy the embrace of your Maker and Creator.”

You’ll discover a relationship with God that revolves around simply being with Him rather than getting things from Him.

Today’s question: How would you define your relationship with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation: “When God’s enough, there’s grace enough”

Tomorrow’s blog: “An effective life”

Four inches from capsizing

“In almost an instant our souls can go from being buoyant to being four inches from capsizing.”- Judah Smith

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.”- Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)

In Chapter 4 (“An Anchor for the Soul”) of How’s Your Soul?, Judah Smith observes life can bring us four inches from capsizing or four inches from being overwhelmed by success.  Therefore, Pastor Smith asserts that when our souls find their home in Jesus, our inner needs for security, strength, and solidity are met.

Hence, in Hebrews 6:19-20, God speaks to us about an innate, timeless and universal need: the need for stability.  Since souls tend to drift like a boat on the sea, our souls need an anchor.  In other words , an anchor keeps our souls from drifting, carried out to sea by every wake and current swirling past.

Ultimately, an anchor keeps your soul from capsizing.  Judah explains:

“An anchor is an agent of stability . . . security . . . steadiness.  You tether yourself to it, and no matter how unpredictable or challenging the elements become, you remain stable.”

As a result, jobs, education, connections, prominence, or cleverness cannot anchor our souls.  The bottom line?  Things without souls cannot possibly help people- who do have souls.

Yet, although family, spouses, or friends have souls, their souls bear the same fragility and fragmentation as ours.  When we tie ourselves to each other, we both end up four inches from capsizing.

In conclusion, Judah affirms that we need a soul:

  • similar to ours, that knows our plight and condition
  • profoundly different- flawless, perfect, whole
  • that doesn’t have to fix itself

Stated another way- we need Jesus!

Today’s question: What Bible verses keep you from capsizing? Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Helicopter Jesus”

A glorious and perpetual state of serenity?

“But unfortunately, we can’t live . . . in a glorious and perpetual state of serenity and tranquility.”- Judah Smith

In Chapter 3 (“Surprised by My Soul”) of How’s Your Soul?, Judah Smith notes that, more often than we’d care to admit, our souls go through emotional upheavals.  Furthermore, we find it confusing- shocking- disconcerting.

Hence, your soul surprises you.  You feel terrible that your raw emotions strongly affect and control you.  As a result, you lose perspective.  Yet, Judah points out, the question isn’t so much what triggered your emotional spiral, but what to do about it now.

So, what do you do when:

  • your emotions get so out of alignment, you can’t see straight?
  • your thoughts betray, accuse, and confuse you?
  • the world around you and the world within you are equally devoid of hope and happiness?
  • your soul hurts?

Pastor Smith suggests reading the book of Psalms, because emotions definitely play a role in this book.  Consequently, Judah specifically references Psalms 42 and 43.  In these psalms, the psalmist repeatedly climbs out of the depths of despondency.  But when he does, he loses his footing and falls back in the pit.

In the span of sixteen verses, the psalmist asks nearly a dozen questions.  Similarly, when we’re discouraged, we ask a lot of questions- particularly the unanswerable when and why questions.  Yet, Judah cautions, that’s the worst time to try to answer those questions.  Ask them, but never attempt to answer them.

Furthermore, refrain from making conclusions about God’s reality, goodness, or presence in the midst of an emotional breakdown.  As Pastor Smith summarizes, “in the journey of life, emotions make great companions but terrible leaders.”

Today’s question: How fervently do you desire a glorious and perpetual state of serenity?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God- the master architect”

A necessary no – restriction and restraint

“Restriction and restraint are necessary for a healthy soul.”- Judah Smith

And the LORD commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you shall surely die.”- Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV)

Judah Smith concludes Chapter 2 of How’s Your Soul? as he discusses elements three and four of a healthy soul environment.

3.  A necessary no.  Pastor Smith notes that “it’s indicative of God’s grace that he gave permission before restriction.”  After all, think of the number of trees in the Garden of Eden.   Hundreds?  Thousands?

In addition, God restricted Adam and Eve from only one of those trees.  Rather than an impossible order, God issued a simple and straightforward command.  He set up Adam and Eve for success.

Therefore, a healthy soul needs restriction and restraint.  In contrast, an unhealthy soul lacks restraints.  The results are obvious to everyone around that unhealthy soul.

With limitations our souls feel protected and secure.  Judah explains:

“God designed restrictions and limitations as a blessing for your soul.  You and I are not God.  We need constraints and restraints.  We need checks and balances.

4.  Helpers who fit.  Even though God created Adam with a perfect soul, it wasn’t healthy for him to be alone.  Hence, Pastor Smith applies that concept to us.

God definitely cares about our friends.  Therefore, we must choose our close, intimate friends intentionally, carefully, and prayerfully.  Let God lead you.  In conclusion, Judah asserts:

“Show me your friends and I will show you the state of your soul.”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, how have you responded to restriction and restraint?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A glorious and perpetual state of serenity?”