Passion: A Parable

adventure-1836217_1920A long time ago a father built a campfire with his son.  The father had to go away for a few hours, and night was getting close, so he warned his son to be careful not to let the flame go out.

The son received this responsibility with great care and seriousness at first.  He added wood to the fire every few minutes for the first hour or so, until the flames grew to three times his own height.

But after realizing the great size of the fire, as well as the fatigue that was beginning to set in from running back and forth to collect wood, the boy sat down on a log to admire what he had created.

As time passed he just sat and watched, until eventually the flame stood no higher than his shins.  He then got up and added a little more wood, but not as much as he had at first.

He did this several more times, letting the fire rise and fall, rise and fall, until eventually he fell asleep.

The boy awoke several hours later when he heard his father return to the campsite.

“What happened to the fire?” the father asked.

“I don’t know,” said the son.  “It just went out.”

“It didn’t just go out,” said the father.  “It went out because you stopped watching it.  You can’t expect a fire to stay lit if you only admire it and never attend to it.”

The son, in his shame, kept his eyes fastened on the ground, that is until he heard his father poking around the inside of the fire ring with a stick.  Digging through the gray ash like a miner in search of a diamond, the boy’s father finally stopped when he uncovered a glowing, red ember.

“Look here,” his father said.  “See that?  The fire may be gone for the moment, but if we care for what’s left the way we cared for the fire at first, we might yet see the flame restored.”

 

The creative road

The Creative Road

I have a problem: I’m an impatient, procrastinating perfectionist (in recovery).  I like things to be a specific way, but my timing is often too late, and my attention span too short, to get me to where I want to be.

This problem manifests itself most clearly in my work as a writer and pastor.  I love the beginning of the creative process, when ideas are running through my mind like a Lamborghini on the Autobahn, because progress is rapid and smooth.

But the moment I choose a topic to address, progress begins to slow until I eventually feel like my mind is in a horse-cart on some cratered, back-country road.  It sucks, but I don’t think this feeling is unusual for people who do creative work.  In fact, I don’t even think it’s a problem, unless I start looking for a shortcut, an easy way off the road.

When you take the easy way out, when you don’t push through the potholes, you sacrifice the quality of your product.  When you procrastinate and start on a project too late, you almost force yourself to skip the struggle, on the other side of which is a greater product that has the potential to make a greater impact.

It's better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.Listen to me: Even if you’re really skilled at what you do, don’t use your talent to justify turning off the road prematurely.  It’s better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.

Earlier this week I was writing a sermon for this Sunday.  I had some good notes, and had invested a significant amount of time in explaining and illustrating two major points before I realized they weren’t really major points at all (it’s a long story).

In the past I might have told myself, “I can make this work.  I didn’t invest all this time in these points for nothing!”  But this time I took a step back, identified the main point of the text, and made my previous points sub-points of a sub-point!  And you  know what?  I’m really, truly excited to preach this weekend, because the product is good.

Don’t procrastinate.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Stick to the process so you can celebrate the product!

 

What do you expect from God?

What do you expect

When was the last time you prayed and expected God to respond?  When was the last time you attended a church service or small group gathering and really expected God to show up in an incredible way?

There was a time in my life when I might have thought it was arrogant to expect anything of God.  Many times I tagged “thy will be done” onto the end of my prayers not out of a healthy reverence for God, but out of a fear that he wouldn’t answer at all (I thought it would save me some embarrassment if he stayed silent or chose not to act the way I had asked him to).  I was praying, but not in faith.

“Faith” in the dictionary is defined as belief in a person or thing.  “Expectation” can be defined as belief that a person will act in a certain way.  I think that in the church, just as in the dictionary, we’ve divorced these two words from each other, even though they’re really nuances of the same idea.

See, those of us who know God can expect some things from God, not because he owes us anything, but because we understand his character.  We understand he is good, loving, just, generous, faithful, and more, so why not expect him to answer our prayers in accordance with his character?

I’m currently reading through the Psalms, and I recently came across this little morsel from King David:

“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.”

(Psalm 5:3, emphasis added)

I want to live a life of expectation, one where I’m constantly excited about what God could do in any situation.  I want to pray “thy will be done,” but out of honor and reverence rather than fear.  I want to trust that my Father wants what’s best for me, because he’s told me that he does.

 

Pace yourself or push yourself?

Pace yourself

My mom is a marathon runner, and I’m a martial artist.  She’s used to running for hours at a time, whereas I’m used to short explosions of hand-to-hand combat.

Long-distance runners like my mom have to learn to pace themselves during their runs, to spread their energy evenly over a distance of several miles and a time of several hours.  Martial artists have to learn to push themselves, to expend their energy in bursts that last just a few minutes at a time.

But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize both kinds of athletes need to learn how to both pace and push themselves in order to be truly successful.  Marathon runners have to pace themselves, but in training they must gradually push themselves, otherwise they will never achieve faster times.  Martial artists must push themselves, but if they expend all of their energy at the start of a fight and fail to defeat their opponent quickly, they’re going to be in big trouble.

So you see, neither of these approaches is bad, unless you completely exclude the other.

There are some people who use “pace yourself” as an excuse to never rise above the challenges they face, to never test the limits of their potential.  Just when they’re about to break a metaphorical sweat over the work they’re doing in their lives, they quit in the name of not doing too much too fast.

Then there are those who push themselves not simply because they are hard workers, but because they don’t believe in the value of consistency.  They work really hard at achieving their goals for a short while, expecting progress to come quickly, but they burn themselves out and yo-yo between grueling effort and extensive, unproductive rest.

So find the balance in your life.  As a believer, I think that balance comes when we really start trusting God and the plan he has for our lives.  Trusting God means I don’t have to push myself past my breaking point, because I believe God is working even when I’m not.  It also means I’m motivated by the purpose for which he has created me, and I’m ready to push the limits of what people perceive to be possible because all things are possible with God!

 

 

 

A letter to me

a-letter-to-me

What are you waiting for?  What is holding you back from doing what you need to do to get to where you want to be?  You have to stop waiting for the planets to align.  It’s just not going to happen.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.  If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”  We root our excuses in reason, but at some point you have to step out in faith.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan and prepare for whatever your dream is, because you should.  Proverbs says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (21:5).

But I suspect most people get stuck in the planning stages of their dreams and never get to the execution part.  Why?  Because they’re waiting for everything to be perfect.

Listen: The road to your dreams is not paved and perfect. It’s muddy and messy and, at times, miserable–but it’s worth it.

Don’t delay.  Seize the day.  Live without regrets.  Execute well.  Trust God.  Remember what matters.  Keep a good perspective.  Breathe…now go get it.

Your willingness affects your usefulness

your-usefulness-depends-on-your-willingness

I’m a fan of mixed martial arts (and a former amateur mixed martial artist), and recently I’ve been watching a show on YouTube called Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight.  In the show the UFC President travels around the country looking for talented fighters, and along the way he and his companions go on all kinds of crazy adventures.

In the second episode Dana and his crew visit Alaska, where they meet up with Dallas Seavey, a four-time Iditarod champion, to learn how to race dog sleds.  At one point in the episode Dallas gives an insightful glimpse into what it takes to breed champion sled dogs:

“This is what they’re bred to do, I mean, this is their life. We’re selecting the parents based on their drive and their desire to run and pull, and then their athleticism, and how good they are at running 1,000 miles. But first criteria is always that desire to pull.”

I think it’s fascinating that willingness is the number one factor Dallas takes into consideration, and it got me thinking, isn’t that similar to how God looks at us, too?  When God is looking for someone he can use to make an impact, he doesn’t look at our strength or ability, but our desire. He can supply everything else we need.

This idea reminds me of Isaiah’s response when God asks,”Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” Isaiah doesn’t even know what the message is yet, but he knows he has a desire to serve the Lord, so he responds, “Here I am. Send me.”

I want to be a man known for his willingness–willingness to change, to try, to push through the pain for what is good and right–and for trusting God to provide the rest.

Good execution is never easy (at least not at first)

good-execution-is-never-easy

This morning I started a 22-day pushup challenge to help raise awareness about the suicide rate among veterans (supposedly 22 former servicemembers kill themselves every day).  I recorded myself doing the pushups on Facebook Live, and one of the comments left under my video really got me thinking about life and leadership.

The comment was from a friend from church, who said, “Those were some really well executed pushups!”  Immediately I thought, Yeah, but it was a major struggle just to get through them all!

The more I thought about it the more I realized that good execution will always be a struggle, at least at first.

Think about it.  We’ve all seen people doing “pushups” that really look more like head-bobs.  Instead of moving their arms and working their chest muscles, these bobbers just move their heads up and down as they count, and while those “pushups” are much easier to do than those done in good form, they’re not nearly as beneficial.

But if you consistently push through the pain in order to do well-executed pushups (even if you do fewer of them), your muscles will eventually grow, allowing you to do more pushups more easily.  High-level execution practiced consistently will, over time, enable you to do more than you may have ever thought possible.

As a youth pastor I recently organized a big Christmas party for the students at my church.  I put a ton of effort, more than normal, into planning games, preparing a sermon, organizing the evening’s agenda, mobilizing volunteers, promoting the event, and executing all that we had put together.  And you know what?  I was exhausted afterward, but the party absolutely rocked.

I need to continue to execute at this high level, not only in the area of ministry, but also in my relationships, my writing, and my spiritual disciplines, because the prize that follows good execution is worth the pain.