Sunday, June 24, 2012

Means and Ends

It’s interesting to me that once you start to focus on a topic, God seems to speak about it from a variety of sources. The current message series “The Good Life” is a case in point and lines up directly with the work we are doing in the workshop. This weekend Chuck was talking about some practical ways to get the good life in the here and now and it made me think again about the purpose of the workshop and the importance of keeping that in mind.

Positive psychologists are now talking about the concept of “Well Being” and how the profession of psychology should shift from strictly treating disease. Historically this profession, in the treatment of disorders, strived to bring people away from a less than desirable way of life. This tended to move people from bad or sad to more normal or neutral. It didn’t necessarily make someone happier, just less sad or sick. Well Being by contrast is designed to move from normal or neutral to better/happier/more fulfilled/etc. This is a huge shift in thinking that has the potential to move humanity to new levels of human growth.

Friedrich Nietzsche analyzed human growth and development in three stages. The first four millennia he calls the “Camel”. The camel just carries the heavy load, moans and takes whatever the world puts out. The second stage “The Lion” reacts to this difficulty and says no to poverty, tyranny, plague, ignorance and seeks to do something about it. This is evident in the politics of human rights for example that have emerged only recently in the past few hundred years. In the third stage of “The Child”, humanity is reborn and takes a fresh look at what is possible. What does it means to be fully alive and functioning? How can we move forward and grow to new levels? This Well Being movement has the potential for a big impact in this area.

One exciting aspect of the well being movement is the level of interest it has attracted worldwide in every sector of society. Schools are now beginning to teach this as a means to reduce depression and enhance learning. The military is applying this to having soldiers mentally fit to minimize the effects of combat. Businesses are using the concepts to motivate and retain employees and enhance productivity by having happier, healthier employees. The connection of well being to less disease is also very strong as shown in numerous studies. And what if the measure of a successful policy in government was not just more wealth (GNP) but the increase in levels of well being?

So, why are we doing these “tests” and having conversations about who we are and how God designed us? They are all simply means to an end and that end could be described as: “A better life”. But what does it mean to have a better life? How do we know if life is getting better?

Well, no surprise but the answer, of course, is in the original well being manual - the Bible. God promises to take care of us because He loves us so much and to that end makes promises about our well being. I looked at the number of promises in the Bible and there are thousands! It’s hard to count them all. Included in the list are the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) that we can receive in a relationship with the Father. So, one way to measure well being could be some scale of how much of each you have of these in each area of your life. If we recognize that God truly wants us to have these things AND have them now as Chuck said, we can use the information that we learn in the workshop and our small groups to move to higher levels of well being for ourselves and others (even our children).

I’m excited about what’s to come. Keep working in your small groups and start to think and journal about how life is better or can be better soon. We’ll be discussing this toward the end of the sessions.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Homework Journal for “A Life of Joy and Passion”

1. Barriers

Where do I start? I am reminded of the passage by Paul in Romans 7:19 - For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

I have numerous things that I feel strongly about doing with my life but have a difficult time doing them (I.e. – More regular exercise, eating better, more prayer time and Bible study, etc.). This verse suggests that it is our sinful nature that causes us to procrastinate, be lazy, forget to do things, get distracted, over schedule our days.

I’ve felt for a long time that the way to overcome these things is to put more routine in my life and have these things on a schedule so that I allocate time to them. And, I suspect that routine is part of the solution along with prayer asking help from God in doing this.

I’m not particularly worried about barriers now, other than identifying them, since I know that in the last session we will have the opportunity to “do” something about making some changes that will help us to move forward and hopefully eliminate or reduce some of them.

I also have been looking strongly at the 6 common barriers in the handout:

1. Simplify – This seems to be an ongoing process for me. Personally, it involves getting rid of “stuff” that has accumulated in my house and being very careful about how I schedule my time. Especially when it involves making social and work commitments. For some reason, having “stuff” in storage that never gets used is a burden that I seem to be carrying around after so many years of collecting the stuff. In a similar sense, having too many things on the schedule and not enough unscheduled free time is also a burden that reduces my level of joy.

2. Take a Pause – This is more and more for me a regular part of my day. I usually do this in the evening and it involves reading something that inspires me, researching new information for study, or just sitting and thinking and praying. I feel especially close to God during this time and it’s a source of reenergizing myself.

3. Let Go – Letting go of things has been a huge learning for me in recent years. Many times I found myself operating out of a place of need. I was connecting to the world in order to have my needs met and feel better about myself. The transformation I experienced was as I began to focus on serving other’s needs instead of myself. My focus changed and I began to see my connections to the world as opportunities to do for others. Life is so paradoxical. By “letting go of me” and focusing on other’s needs, I began to feel more valuable, joyful, and fulfilled. My needs became less important and also fulfilled at the same time.

4. Stay Hopeful – In the secular world, experts say that having goals, a plan for achievement and motivation are the key. Hope for me means fulfillment of the promises that God has made to us in the Bible. This one doesn’t seem to be a barrier for me. I scored very high on “Faith” in the Spiritual Gifts test because there is virtually no doubt in my mind about the next life and its rewards. They say that some men have a problem with commitment but this one seems easy for me. It is also a huge help, I believe, to stay positive. What I do in that regard is limit my exposure to the negative (unhappy people, the news, TV, and the wandering of my mind). It is so easy for my thinking to turn to the negative when I let my mind wander and stop the continuous process of renewing it:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

5. Feel the Real – Most research agrees that we cannot selectively suppress emotions. We must allow ourselves to experience ALL the emotions that surface. Trying to suppress the negative will likewise also suppress the positive emotions leaving us potentially even more depressed or anxious. This was a huge learning for me in my divorce. I was very good at “controlling” my emotions. For me and my strong independent nature, I regularly practiced being emotionally neutral. Never up too high or down too low. I could never see the value in expressing them and saw people who did as weak. What I didn’t realize was that this lack of emotional expression made it hard for people to connect to me and know me at a deeper level. I realized that I needed to be vulnerable and expressive to have better relationships. That was hard practice for me after years of practicing control.

6. Connect with Others – Research suggests that compassion is the key in the area of connecting with others. I find that I need a balance of connecting with others and alone time to think, pray and study. Most of my movement toward a more personal, intimate relationship with God happens during my alone time.

2. Spiritual Gifts Test

Some of you guys who have been facilitating in the ministry for a while are familiar with this test and have taken it like I have. I retook the test recently to see if there were any changes since the first time I took it and found the results to be mostly the same. Here are some of my reactions to the results:

-          I was surprised at the results. For me, hospitality was at the top of the list. I had some preconceived ideas about my gifts but never thought that this one would be at the top.

-          Some of the other gifts that I expected were also at the top.

-          It changed my thinking a bit about how to use these gifts. I see myself now as more hospitable in doing things for others and that fits well with my high score in helping or service.

-          I find myself thinking about my gifts when I interact with people and I have been more inclined to look for opportunities to use them since I took the test and named them. Since taking the test, I am more inclined to become the type of person that is indicated by my top strengths.

3. Some thoughts about the “7 Longings of the Human Heart”:

I’ll have more to say about this topic later. This information is relatively new to me since I only recently discovered it in the past month. These longing topics are personally very interesting to me because I had never considered that we, as humans, would have these specific longings. I’ve believed for some time that part of the struggle in life and a major longing is a lack of the direct presence of God that can only be satisfied in the next life but this expands on the idea that we are made by God for God and that He calls us to Him in specific ways. Anyway, I’m in the process of reading the online book and making notes so I’m sure that I’ll have more to say about it later.

Currently, as I think about these longings as a barrier to passion and joy, several thoughts come to mind:

-          We can become numb to the beauty of God’s creation that is all around us. I have a strong visual orientation and lately I’ve been thinking about what I look at on a daily basis. A typical day would include getting ready for work and looking at the inside of the house followed by a drive in the car focused on the traffic, followed by work which is focused on some aspect of a house then back to the house, office, or gym. My visual world is almost exclusively man-made objects that I am exposed to so much that I barely see them. God’s creation is fascinating and I think that it’s important to regularly explore and appreciate the nature that is all around us from the smallest living things all the way up to the incredible beauty of the universe.

-          These longings, if they indeed need to be satisfied, may drive us to seek satisfaction from sources other than God. Maybe we strive to be great in other people’s eyes or beautiful to other people, or fascinated by TV programs. Maybe we seek intimacy with others in a shameful way. Maybe we want to be wholehearted and have a deep and lasting impact but we don’t know how to do that.

Lots of food for thought here!

4. How Does God Speak to Us? (Active Listening)

I can’t emphasize enough how important I think it is to learn to listen to God.

First, I believe that He does talk to us on a regular basis. I have become more aware, over the past couple of years, of God’s voice (or it could be the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure how to distinguish between the two). Thoughts just seem to come into my head at just the perfect time when I need help, a reminder about something important, or some direction or correction. I suppose that there are a number of ways someone could interpret this communication but I strongly believe that it comes from God and not just my own thinking ability.

Secondly, I think that it takes practice to hear His voice. I have developed a regular habit of listening for that “still small voice”. Many times I find myself stopping, wherever it is, and being quiet for a short period of time to focus on listening. This could be considered a form of prayer but it’s not as formal as getting on my knees or even clasping my hands together. Just quiet listening. God speaks to me in this way on a regular basis.

Third, I know that God can speak in numerous ways such as through scripture, other people, nature, etc. However, this process of listening in a prayerful state is primary for me. Most of the ideas for topics presented in this ongoing series came from God speaking in a way that directed me to the material in this program. So many times in the past couple of years I have been called to pursue a specific topic of study. Sometimes in the middle of the night I would receive a message to study a specific topic. I believe that when we work to prepare ourselves to co-labor with God for His purposes, He will guide us to what we need to accomplish the task He wants us to do. You might consider that anything of significance comes from God as well. Where do people get ideas for inventions, breakthroughs in science, and music? They prepare themselves to accomplish a task, sometimes after years of study, then God guides them with what they need to complete it.

What or how do you need to prepare yourself for some calling that God has for you?

Are you practicing this process of listening everyday?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Well, like they say, this could be the start of something big!

I've started this blog to encourage  an ongoing discussion around the subject of creating "A Life of Passion and Joy". I would argue that this is something that everyone can pursue and, over time, raise their level of satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and purpose in life. The blog is intended to support the material presented in the class with the same title. This is currently an open blog and anyone can participate but the discussion will be significantly more meaningful if the participant is in the process of working through the classroom material.

Also, please consider that this material can, and probably should, be used not as a one-time classroom exercise but in a life-long process of development toward greater levels of the above named pursuits.

This material is one of my passions. I've been reading about topics in this area of human development and collecting material for a number of years now and so, as you might imagine, I'm anxious to share it with others. We are all on this life journey and we can walk together and encourage each other along the way. I know from my experience with this material that it can take some significant thinking time to get the most from this experience. Plan to spend the time it takes to work through all the exercises. Connect with a one or more partners outside the class to do the homework and spend the time to do the work. Remember it's mostly about what you do with the material outside the classroom.

I pray that you are excited and expectant, as I am, of significant positive changes in your life and I look forward to the discoveries and new possibilites that we are about to create!

Deke Schnell