July 16, 2015

Goal Setting

I have heard it said that the Bible is an instructional manual for life. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." The Bible, it seems, covers everything a man or woman needs to know in order to live a life that is pleasing to God. That is, of course, so long as that man or woman takes the time to read, to study, and to apply God's Word to their life.

Today I woke up thinking about setting goals and making plans. It is not unusual for me to be thinking this way because it runs part-and-parcel with my personality type (INTJ/Type-A/Goal-Oriented, etc.). Yes, my personality is such that I enjoy goal setting, planning short and long term, and developing strategies to accomplish my desires and my dreams. I would say that I am pretty adept at setting agendas as well, and that I thrive on order, on process, and on purpose. I find that the need for control, simply being in control of my moments and my days, gives me a sense of accomplishment. It is not that I have masses of to-do lists or other organizers filled with tasks, but rather it is that my days run smoothly and best when there is a plan of action at the foundation. I am an ordered, a confident, and a decisive manager of my time, and as such, I do tend to accomplish a lot -- so long as I stay focused -- and I keep to my schedule and my set routine.

Making Plans and Setting Goals

The Book of Proverbs is one of the best books in the Bible when it comes to planning and organization. Solomon, one of the wisest men alive (historically speaking) was known for his advice on planning, on prudence, and on living a purpose-driven life. Yes, he was a master when it came to productivity, and as such, much of the Proverbs he penned deal with issues such as slothfulness, laziness, and idleness. His words of encouragement to his son were to help him make wise choices in behavior and lifestyle, but they were also to help him understand the importance and the value of making plans and setting goals.

Proverbs 21:5 NLT says, "Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty."

Solomon was a wise father, a good Dad. May we head his words of wisdom today so that we, too, can profit from good planning and hard work. May our lives be prosperous, successful, and honoring to the Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Selah!

Life Application

It is July 16, 2015, and my year is half-over. In truth, it is a bit more than 1/2 over (sigh!) I cannot believe how much I have accomplished since January. Yes, my year is flying by (as has every other year), so I guess I am feeling the twinge of seeing the time slip through and it appears to be doing so at a much quicker pace than I prefer. I think about the metaphor of the sands of time...I imagine the sand as it slowly passes through the narrowness of the hourglass, and I am reminded of how quickly life is passing by. Longfellow said it this way,

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
     And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

As I sit here and think about my life, as I ponder my days, and I consider the plans I have in mind (well, the plans I feel the Lord has in mind for me), I cannot help but wonder how these plans fit into the puzzle that has become my life. Let me explain...

In Review

There is so much that I want to accomplish in my life. For more than 30 years, I felt that I was never doing "the thing" that God purposed for me to do. I was attempting to live a life pleasing to God, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't actively pursuing what I believe the Lord was calling me to do. It wasn't that I didn't try to do this thing, it was more so that I was unable to do it, either for lack of time, resources, or permission. I spent the better part of my 52, almost 53 years, simply letting time slip by. I didn't plan much, I didn't purpose anything, and certainly I didn't live productively. No, I spent all of those days, almost all of them, living a sub-standard life that metered "getting by" (as if it was scaled from least productive to most productive). I simply lived a mediocre life, predicated on mediocre outcomes. There was no desire, no drive, no determination to do anything other than to 'get by.' 

Granted for 30 of those 52 years, I was married, and as such, my life was not my own. I wasn't free to go where I wanted to go or do what I wanted to do. No, from the moment I said "I do," I relinquished my right to be "sovereign" over my choices. I gave my control to another individual with whom I trusted or shared a trust that all decisions would be made in a God-honoring fashion. I believed that it was right and proper for me to submit, to yield to the desires and decisions of my husband, after all that was how I was raised in the church. Yet, little did I know that in doing so, in giving up my voice, my right to say "yea or nay," I was sentencing myself to a life that was determined by one person, one flawed, one failed, and one foolish person rather than by the One who was able to lead, to guide, and to purpose "us" (both of us) into a life of divine and ordained living.  

My husband, then husband, was not one to seek the Lord for His counsel or wisdom. He made decisions, regretful decisions, in a vacuum. He was slow to decide, to choose, to move, and often he would forgo any decision until a default judgment was cast. His approach to planning was to think about plans, to consider plans, but rarely was it to actually follow the plans. Thus, our life seemed to be at the mercy of the "man" and that meant that often decisions were late in coming and the results and outcomes were less than fruitful, successful, or favorable.

In hindsight, I remember how difficult it was waiting for my ex-husband to make a decision. He would wait until the very last minute and then he would hastily make a choice. Proverbs 21:5 says it plainly -- hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. Yes, this was exactly what happened in my former life. Decisions were made in haste, without proper planning and assessment, and the result was almost always unfavorable. I stood by many times and watched it happen because I was not free to dissent. In truth, I did dissent. I dissented often, but my views were not considered, and my opinions were rejected. I learned that it was better to be silent than to be contrary.

As I think back on those days, I cringe with regret. I remember a family member once saying to me that it is important to live life without regrets. Robert H. Smith once wrote, "

The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop at late or early hour.

How true, how true. I look back on my life, and while it was not completely a mess, I cannot say that I am able to live without any regret because I do regret not standing my ground, not taking action, and not considering my future more carefully before I said "I do." Unfortunately, because of the decisions I made, some in haste, I suffered the consequences of those choices. Some turned out okay, but some left devastation in their wake. Some were minor, some were major. And some, were life-changing.

I write this now because I can say it without difficulty, but early on in my marriage, I considered leaving my husband because of some of the life choices he had made before we were married. His choices had great impact on my life, and as a result, they caused intense suffering, turmoil, and strain in our marriage.  I had only been married for about 2.5 years when I found out that my husband was involved in some misappropriations of funds, taxed income and such, as a result of a sales position he held. I found out about this "issue" suddenly, and in the most horrible fashion, when our joint bank account was seized by the IRS. I had no knowledge that there was any problem, well, not to this extent. I understood that there was some discrepancy, and that the company he worked for was "dealing with the IRS" to get it resolved. Of course, that was only half-true. The company was dealing with the issue, but not to get their salespeople off the hook, but to buy down their own tax liability. 

As a young married woman, I wasn't aware of the extent of the problem, and I wasn't aware of what this kind of trouble would do to my life after we were married. Not withstanding the IRS issue, I also found myself deeply in credit card debt. I was almost bankrupt, left without a bank account or the ability to have an account, and forced to live on my hourly wage while the government garnished his wages. What is more, I experienced the pain and the shame of having collectors attempt to collect debt -- something I had never dealt with before -- and something I never will so long as I live (Lord, willing). 

In all of this financial scandal (as I saw it), I learned that my ex-husband owed money to the IRS along with a very large sum (a school loan) to his parents. I had no knowledge of the loan debt, and overtime, the constant reminder of "our debt" (as they called it) along with continued demands for repayment, made my life a living hell (like a ball and chain). Yet, despite all these financial revelations, I remained committed to my decision to stay in the marriage. I took my vow seriously, and because of my belief that you were married for life, and that there was no circumstance other than adultery that could break my commitment to my husband, I stayed married. 

Of course, things didn't improve once the debt was collected and the IRS got their money. The decision process, the choices made in haste confirmed to me the value and the importance of "surrendering everything unto the Lord." In my view, the only way to live a God-honoring life was to surrender every decision, every choice, and every path to the Lord. My heart knew this was the right way to go, my head told me that it was wise and prudent, yet my feet stammered, and they didn't follow the Lord in obedience. 

No More Regrets

So when I found myself single after so many years of marriage, I made the decision, well one of the first decisions I made, was to live my life going forward with "no regrets." Regret means "to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity)" (Merriam-Webster). I wanted to live my life fully, completely reliant and in obedience to the Lord. Thus, I believed (and I still do) that it was possible to live without any regret. After all, if every decision was bathed in prayer, washed through the Word, and trusted to be permitted by the Lord, what would the likelihood be that it would be something outside His expressed will for my life? I believed that every decision I made, every plan I considered, and every idea (desire or dream) would only be considered IF I felt it was directed and guided by the Hand of the Lord.

I made the commitment to God to seek His will in every decision, no matter how small or how trivial. I believed that in doing so I would avoid making costly mistakes, would repeat behaviors that were not honoring to the Lord, and would keep me moving forward in the fulfillment of His will. To keep my commitment to Him, I knew that I had to have and maintain a firm grounding in the Word of God. I had to know what He expected from me as far as behavior, character, and outward manifestations of my faith (my witness and my testimony). Furthermore, I knew that the plans the Lord had for me were specific, were focused, and would be His plans revealed to me, and not my plans in any way, shape or form. Every thought, every decision was to be based upon His Word, His will, and His way. I wanted to make few mistakes, few errors, and that meant that I would need to spend quality time assessing, analyzing, and accepting what would be His determination for my life. In short, I looked to the Lord as my Manager in Heaven, my Boss, the One who would give His approval to every action, every word, and every deed in my life (e.g., if He didn't approve it, then I didn't do it). I would seek His face continually, and then through careful attention to His Word, I would receive inspiration, confirmation, and provision to do the thing I felt He was asking me to do. I believed that this was the only way to avoid the mistakes of the past, and to ensure the best possible outcome for future success.

Therefore, my life became transfixed on following the Lord. This process of following the Lord in obedience began several years before my marriage ended. My education in the Word, while cumulative, started to heat up in the years prior to our separation. I didn't know then that this would be the way the Lord would safeguard me as I experienced the devastation of my marriage ending. I didn't understand that my time spent in prayer, time spent in deep devotion and communion, would be the security and safety I needed when my heart was crushed and my spirit was bruised. What is more, is that this preparation in the Word, made it possible for me to survive difficult and dark days, and to come through this period with my head and my heart in tact. Yes, the Lord sustained me by His mercy and grace, and I believe that through it all, the Lord was preparing, equipping, and training me to lead a solitary and successful life.

Plans and Purposes of the Lord

I have blogged about the plans and purposes of the Lord before (numerous times), but it bears repeating again. I believe that the Lord does delight in the details of our lives, and that if we are willing, He will take control over every area of our life, to lead us, to guide us, and to direct us so that we can live a life that is fulfilled and purposed in Christ Jesus. For many believers, however, they are content to remain in control, to keep their hand on the wheel, and to have Jesus as their "Co-Pilot." Biblically-speaking, this is not what it means to confess the Lord, to surrender to Jesus as Lord of your life. The name or title, Lord, "is an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power over others; a master, chief, or ruler" (Merriam-Webster). Lordship, likewise, means "the authority, power, or territory of a lord" (Merriam-Webster). In this usage, to confess Jesus as Lord is to pay to Him the tribute of master, chief or ruler, and to acknowledge that He has authority, control and power over your life. Yet, for many believers, they simply confess Him as Lord, but they do not behave as though He has right and rule over them. It is more so like in the current monarchy in the United Kingdom. The Queen is a figurehead, and while she is honored by her subjects (and loved by many), she doesn't have actual authority over their daily lives. No, the nation is governed by a parliament, just like our US government, whereby rules, laws, etc., are ordered and conceived. The Queen is not the end-all and be-all of her people. She is a representational figure of the nation. In a similar way, many Christians view Jesus as a figurehead, a representational figure who sits as the Head of the Church. God, the Father, is on His figurative throne, in a distant place called Heaven. The Word attributes Jesus as Savior, Messiah, and King, yet these are terms that are used without due reverence to the nature of the work, the position, and the authority inherent in them.

In consequence, the believer who confesses Jesus as Lord, but who doesn't allow Him that rightful position, lives a less than satisfactory life. I believe that they also lose privilege, position, and power when they do this, and often suffer results that serve to defeat and distance their relationship to the Lord. But for those believers who have surrendered everything to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, their lives are just the opposite -- they live in victory over sin, in the power, the purpose and the plans of the Lord. They find that their lives are filled with hope, with possibility, and while they may not be wealthily or successful by worldly standards, they are prosperous in a Biblical sense (which usually means -- whole or sound in mind, body, and spirit).

The purposes of God are always good, and the plans the Lord has for each one of us are designed to be good for us. Therefore, when we submit and yield to His plans, we are choosing the best way to go, the best way to live, and the best way to please the Lord. Thus, I believe that to live a less than (fill in the blank) life, simply choose to go your own way, to be "master of your own domain," and place yourself at the center of your universe. But, if you desire to live a more than (fill in the blank) life, then turn around, surrender and yield, and embrace the life that the Lord has in mind for you. It will be well worth the effort, and in the end, you will find the joy, the hope, and the love of the Lord filling every area of your life, building you up, encouraging you to do more, and equipping you to achieve results that you never dared dream. All things are possible with God. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

In the End

In the end, we must choose which way to go. Thus, our most important decision will be which road to follow --> the path that leads to life eternal or the path that leads to death and destruction and eternal separation from God. The choice is yours, but this choice will set your path in motion and will provide a way for you to go. Either you will go His way or you will go your own way. You cannot do both (no, no one is a "push me, pull me"), and you must choose your destination wisely. I can bear testimony to the fact that choosing life, choosing Jesus, is by far the best decision I have ever made. I can also witness the fact that for many years, I said I chose Jesus, but I walked in a way contrary to that decision. I finally had to settle up, to confess the truth about my faith, and to ante up, so to speak, to stand up and defend my choice. I found that my previous years were not looking too good for me, the tally sheet didn't show much fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the outcome of the choices I had made (or allowed to be made on my behalf) didn't fare to well. It was during this inventory process when I made the decision to "go all in" and to follow Jesus 100% as my LORD and my SAVIOR. I decided that I had had enough of the half-way, and I wanted to experience full-on what it meant to be wholly devoted to the Lord. This decision changed my life. In one instant I was made new, born again, and while I had been a Christian for many years (nearly 30 at that time), I had never experienced such a renewal, an infilling of the Holy Spirit, and a sense of love like I did in that moment. It was as if the Father had been waiting all those years for me to rush into His arms of love, and I, like a stubborn child, had stood just a ways off with my back turned toward Him. I didn't wander too far, but I wasn't embraced in His love because I had chosen to live my own willful and stubborn way most of the time. The Lord gave me His grace and His tender mercy, and I experienced His forgiveness in a new way, a deeper, a more significant way. My life was transformed in that instant, and I have never looked back. I have never wished to return to the former way. In all, I have plunged head on into this love relationship, this wonderful, powerful, and all-encompassing relationship with my Lord. For me, there is no other way, but the way of the Master. I am completely, wholly, and forever devoted to Him. To God be the Glory, forever, Amen.

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