“Settle”

I have a new puppy. His name is Gizmo. He’s the most adorable little creature on planet Earth.

No really…just look.

FullSizeRenderIf you’ve ever had a puppy you know the process of training it to behave. Puppies love to chew on everything! They can be hyper and rambunctious, and love to play. To get them to behave properly, you have to teach them to obey and listen to your voice. This process takes a while.

One day recently, Gizmo was going nuts in the house. He was running all around, nipping at everyone’s feet. When I would pick him up, he would do his patented lick my face-then wiggle away immediately combo move. He was rolling all over the floor and occasionally barking. After trying to take him outside a couple of times to see if he needed to go to the bathroom and then playing with him and his toys, I decided to try something different.

I picked Gizmo up off the floor and placed him on his back on my lap. Then, as I put one hand on his stomach and chest while my other held his head gently but firmly, I said, “Settle.” At first, he squirmed under my hold, but I didn’t let go. I whispered in his ear, “Shhhh, settle.” This went on for a few moments, “It’s ok buddy, settle.”

…”Settle.”

Finally, Gizmo looked at me and relaxed. He just sat there for a moment in my hands, resting peacefully, understanding he wasn’t in danger. I could feel his heart rapidly beating through his chest. I smiled and said, “Good boy Gizmo. Settle.” Then I put him down on the floor and he went back to playing, but this time he was calm.

I think we can all learn something from this experience. In a way, I believe this is how God sometimes interacts with us. So often, I feel like my life is crazy and out of control. I run around with my attention split in so many different directions and wear myself out. When situations get me riled up, I inadvertently “nip” at other people in frustration and “chew” on things I shouldn’t. Can you identify with this feeling?

I believe it’s in those moments that God picks us up and holds us in his hands, desiring to calm us down and teach us to “settle.” But what happens when we feel his hands resting on us in the middle of our crazy-eyed fury? We usually wiggle and squirm under the weight of what feels like pressure and loss of control. “Get off of me! I’ve got this,” is how I usually feel. But what’s really happening is that God is trying to get our attention and to listen to the whisper in our ear that he loves us and is trying to calm us down.

“Shhhh, settle,” he says to us. “Settle. It’s ok. I’ve got you. Listen to me. I know a better way. Settle. Rest in me.”

At first, while I was holding Gizmo he thought I was being mean and keeping him from fun, but he soon learned that I had his best in mind. I think it’s the same thing that God is trying tell us when he says in Psalm 46:10,

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

He is trying to get our attention and invites us to listen to his voice; to see there is a better way. We can still live life and enjoy ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be filled with frantic stress and frustration. Let’s practice listening to the whisper of our Creator and…

Settle.

How have you experienced God trying to get you to settle down? I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.

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Fear and loathing…

fear-eyesI can’t count how many times I’ve been afraid in my life. It seems like being born a pessimist, it comes up much more often than I’d like. Fear is no fun.

It’s not that I’m a worrier, or that I’m afraid of small things. It’s more that in the back of my mind, I always fear something bad is going to come along and ruin the good thing I have going. Like the other shoe is going to drop at any time. Do you know this feeling?

I don’t have any reason to believe that anything is going to happen, but there it is; creeping its way into my thoughts. I was just talking about this today with a mentor of mine. We were discussing how good things are going in my life and with our newly launched church (Encounter Church), and I said, “All this talking about how great things are going is causing something inside of me to want to stop talking about it.” He asked why, and I told him because somewhere deep inside I felt like sharing the good things is almost inviting something bad to happen. Where does that come from? Why would I think that way?

eeyore-cloudcare-bears-grumpy-bearIt can’t just be my personality. Yes, when I was a child my parents bought me a Grumpy Care-Bear because it reflected my personality. Yes, as I grew up, everyone jokingly called me Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh) because I generally had a negative take on life situations. But this idea that celebrating goodness will somehow invite crisis into my life is deeper. It’s rooted in fear. It’s borderline superstition, and it isn’t right.

You know what else it does? It controls you. Fear takes your happy circumstances and ruins your ability to enjoy them. This happens because you’re always looking for something wrong and can’t focus on the good things in your life. If it happens enough, you can begin to loathe your existence. Stick with me here. Have you ever uttered the words, “Why does this always happen to me?” or “I should have known that the extra money I made would need to go to a car repair?” Speaking like that is a symptom of a greater problem; the disease of fear taking root in your life. Fear that when good things happen, inevitably something will come along to ruin it, or at least diminish it.

I don’t believe that God wants us to live in fear, or even to pass over it like it’s normal. I don’t believe that we are meant to be shackled by the shadow of a thing that may be to come, but more likely will not. I have had to learn that fear does not come from my Creator and that it is not part of His plan for my life. I have discovered that when I look past fear and live in trust that I feel peace and security. Yes, difficulties come, but they also go. After I told my mentor about my fear, he asked me to look back over my life and examine whether what I was asserting was true. Did bad things happen every time something good did? When I thought about it, I actually couldn’t think of a specific situation when a negative scenario took place immediately following a positive one. In fact, there definitely wasn’t any correlation between them in any circumstance I could think of. So, what I was thinking and feeling actually wasn’t true at all. What was happening was life.

Life is a series of experiences that we walk through. Some of them we ride upward with positive emotion, and others feel like a downward tilt of uncertainty and frustration.stock-market-graph But just like the stock market graphs we see, up and down is part of reality. It’s not superstition or bad luck. We live in a world where good things happen and so do the bad. That is part of the curse we all live under because of sin. However, that does not mean we have to be controlled by it, even when difficult situations do come along.

I take my cue here from Scripture, and in 2 Timothy 1:7 it says,

“For God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline.”

So if I know that fear does not come from God, and that His way is filled with power (the ability to overcome situations), shouldn’t that change the way I perceive my life? Fear will always be present because the ones who bring it are trying to destroy us. I believe that God wants good things for us. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came to bring life to the fullest. That doesn’t sound like a God who wants us constantly worrying that things will turn ugly as soon as I let up and enjoy myself. In reality, it’s our choice how we respond to fear. When it comes, we can either allow it to control us and ruin our present circumstances or we can stand on the truth of Scripture that says:

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:6)

Knowing that God is with us does not mean that difficult situations will not come. It simply means that whatever does come should not cause us fear because with God being for us, “who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31)

I encourage you, just as I encourage myself, to enjoy the life that God has given you. If you find yourself in pleasant circumstances, enjoy them. Be thankful for what is happening and the good things that God has brought you. Do not be afraid of what might be to come one day. God is with you, and if we stand on His word, He promises to bring us through stronger. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, know that the truth is still truth. God is with you. He is working on your behalf to bring you through. A new season is on the way.

How does fear control you? How have you overcome it in your life?

Expectations

ExpectationsExpectations.

They can really screw with your head. Seriously.

Expectations are what we hope for, but hasn’t happened yet. And that’s the problem. Most of us go through life with reasonable expectations about what we think will happen in the future, but every once in a while (or maybe more often if you’re like me) a situation comes along where we lose perspective and become a slave to unmet or unrealistic expectations.

Have you ever been there? Excited and hopeful for the future, waiting with gleeful anticipation for the result of your fantastical desire. It could be anything: a new business, a finished art piece, a new blog post (ahem), waiting to hear back after a job interview, an exciting announcement; anything you’ve put your heart and soul into. In the beginning, it’s just a glimmer of hope and cautious optimism. You think you’re onto something strong and have good reason to believe it’s going to be a success. But over time, as you discuss the possibilities with family and friends, emotion begins to add fuel and something begins to happen: the shape of the thing you are hoping for grows into a much larger untamed beast. An unruly monster of unrealistic expectation that can end up shipwrecking your reaction when it arrives, resulting in frustration and potentially derailing your purpose moving forward. We’ll call this monster Unmet Expectations.

Having expectation is normal. If you take action, you can expect a result. The expectation itself isn’t the problem; it’s the unrealistic or unmet version of itself that is. Hoping for something is great, and having faith in the result is wonderful, but it becomes dangerous when the thing you hope for is based on emotion instead of reality. What I mean is, there is a fine line between being driven by passion and being hijacked by emotion. The former keeps you on level ground so you can continue running forward toward your goal, but the latter can send you into a free-fall of frustration and confusion when things don’t work out to the degree you expected. Passion drives you in the face of setbacks, whereas emotion requires damage control before you can move on.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last seven months since launching a new church (Encounter Church), it’s that having proper expectations is critical. So much hard work, energy, and resources went into getting it off the ground that by the time we launched publicly, I expected the masses to flood through the front doors in record numbers (may be an exaggeration, but you get the point). I had worked through every aspect of our approach, thought through our vision, and got our teams ready to go. At our grand opening service, we had 225 people join us and it was exciting! A success by all measures. The following week, we had a third of that number, and in my mind I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. For the next few weeks it was the same, and I wondered if something was missing. I mean, I thought we had the best thing around! Who wouldn’t want to be here to experience this?! I even began to think that maybe I was the problem. Maybe I had missed something, or maybe even that I just wasn’t a good enough leader to reach the goal that I had in my mind.

This is the problem with unmet expectations. More so, it’s a problem with unrealistic expectations. You see, it’s one thing to expect 225 at a grand opening, but it’s unrealistic to expect the same the following week. Why? Because statistics show that typically a new church can expect approximately 40-50% of the people to return in week 2. What was my problem? Even though I knew the statistic, I allowed emotion to hijack my expectations which resulted in me comparing myself and our new church to everyone else around me. I missed the point. My unrealistic expectation clouded my ability to focus on why we started the church in the first place: to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to those who are far from God.

I spent the next few months wrestling with my emotions and frustration, and by the grace of God finally came to the realization of what was happening to me. I wanted so badly to do something great for God that I couldn’t see what I had right in front of me. A church full of people hungry for hope and the true life that God offers them. I could have saved myself all the extra pressure on my shoulders if I had seen with proper expectations.

Do you ever feel this way? Does this resonate with you at all?

I learned the hard way, and am grateful that I can see clearly now. Because honestly, while these past seven months have been wonderful and full of fulfillment, I spent so much time looking for what I didn’t have that I missed some great opportunities for celebration.

Here are a few quick things I have learned about setting realistic expectations that may be helpful to you if you find yourself dealing with unrealistic or unmet expectations:

  1. Discover/rediscover your reason – Always remember why you are doing what you are doing. Focusing on the reason cuts through emotion and clears up the fog of unrealistic expectation. Knowing your purpose will keep you centered and on task.
  2. Research the typical – Find out what a normal result is for whatever you’re working on. Don’t just guess. Ask around. Check statistics. Learn your demographic. Some things have different results in different places. Having a hopeful, yet realistic target will keep you grounded.
  3. Don’t compare yourself – You are you, not anyone else. Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s success or results. This will rob you of the joy of what you have accomplished.
  4. Keep going – Whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Remember #1 and keep going because the reason you started in the first place was you believed in what you were doing. Don’t give up.

How have you struggled with expectations in your life? How have you kept yourself grounded? Let me know in the comments below.