Moving from New Year’s Goals to Tomorrow’s Success

I read a lot of fitness magazines, and see images of athletic women with crazy amazing bodies. These women are slim, muscular and in great health because of the what they consume, supplements they take, and dedication they put into weights and endurance. I can see the results of their hard work, hear their stories of dedication and clean eating, and it inspires me.

I watched a documentary on Lolo (the olympic runner) the other day, and had the same reaction: “That’s badass. I want to be like that.” With the Olympics coming up, I would bet many of us will be having those same reactions to the physical feats we watch in awe.

If all we do is feel inspired, however, but never make an effort to emulate the traits we admire to reach the goals we dream of, it’s of little benefit. When I’m working out, if I watch TV or listen to slower tempo music, I get exercise, but don’t reap as many rewards as possible. I’ve noticed that when I workout, if I listen to music with fast tempos and motivational beats, the kind that just make you want to move, or strikes an emotional chord, I workout harder. I run faster. I push longer. Beast Mode.

It turns something on in me in an unexplainable way. When  this happens, I realize as helpful as it is to watch Access  Hollywood to pass the time, I workout about twice as hard   when I just keep the most inspiring music in my ears. When Lolo came to mind as I ran on the treadmill the other day, causing me to pick up my pace, it struck me that these types of motivations and goals work similarly in my spiritual life.

I’m in a major season of transition, and it is not easy. I feel  God calling me to leave things behind that I never expected to, in order to pursue even more. It’s as painful as running sprints or squatting with a heavily loaded barbell. Well, much more painful, actually. Like the future image of a body and health I’d like to achieve, but can only dream about because I haven’t arrived, I’m headed to a destination that I’m not even sure what it holds. I just have faith that it too will look and feel good.

But this ideal place I’m headed does not come easy. A hunger to go deeper with God doesn’t just create an amazing Spirit-filled life. Moving into “destiny”, as cliche as that is, doesn’t come without opposition and critics. Change and new identity doesn’t happen without sacrifice.

To keep moving forward, we have to fuel our faith. We have to feed that hunger for God. An Olympic sprinter like Lolo, or a bodybuilder like Arnold, probably doesn’t jog 2 laps for a workout, lift light weight, eat junk food, or hang out with the Monday night football crowd or pie-eating contest winners. They probably hang out with other athletes, listen to motivational videos, watch their idols win competitions, keep only whole foods in their fridge, and push their limits in every workout. They didn’t just arrive at champion status.

We can’t either. When I listen to certain sermons, worship, and spend time with certain people, it fuels my spiritual fire. It pushes me to keep striving for that goal that seems unattainable – almost mystical – and leave the old behind. When I set my eyes and heart elsewhere, focus on the past, or spend time with people who discourage more than encourage, it throws everything off balance. It’s like watching TV at the gym, and then going to eat a burger, indulging in what seems good, but leaves you lacking.

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good” (Proverbs 13:20 20.) I used to think of the wise as people who know God and fools as the partyers or some crazy immature crowd of people. I’m learning that even Christians can operate only in worldly wisdom and not truly spur each other on it faith. Or simply, in certain seasons, some people are better to surround ourselves with.

It’s not necessarily as black and white as I thought. I’ve had to shift priorities and let go of certain atmospheres or crowds that are not bad at all, but are just not what I need in this season to truly push me forward. It has been as challenging as switching from soda to water for the good of one’s best health. Not easy, rarely as tasty until you’re used to it, but ultimately for the best.

I always thought it was ridiculous that some parents would only let their kids listen to Christian music or watch only Touched by an Angel, or Veggie Tales. Actually, I still think that’s ridiculous, but I get the idea. What we let into our mind and lives shapes us, probably far more than we consciously realize. The movies I watch, music I listen to, and places I spend my time in this season can completely shift my mindset or throw me off balance.

Like the soda and water example, a soda won’t ruin your workout goals once in a while. But drinking it every day will completely derail the desired outcome. It’s usually the subtle things like that we think are innocent that are what’s actually preventing us from our best.

It’s  a new year. A new season. What are your goals? Establish them. Know the purpose and motivation for getting there. Ask God to help you push through the “hard workouts” and to discern what will be the tipping points from average to amazing. Then stand firm, and watch as the hard work pays off and paves the way to success and joy!

 

Less is More – Not Just a Cliché?

A few nights ago, I sat in my brother’s living room with his wife and my boyfriend, discussing various personality traits and  how differently we all operate. We laughed as he explained the irony of how lazy I was when I was younger,  since I have become an almost non-stop machine of responsibility, social involvement, and ministry leadership.  You’d have no idea now how rarely I wanted to socialize when I was younger and how my mom had to kidnap items from my bedroom, which could only be ransomed by cleaning my bedroom after 50 desperate please had been ignored. I was queen of irresponsibility and quiet living, and quite the opposite now.

What’s not so funny about the change was looking at my boyfriend’s disheartened face a few months ago as he simply said one night, “Holly, I want more quality time with you.” The seriousness of his request sunk in immediately, kind of like when my mom finally stole my toys in order to get a response. The cute L.A. way of living suddenly seemed far less normal than I thought it was, and I realized it would hurt my relationship unless I made a change.

Unfortunately, I’m a little slow sometimes. Like a see-saw, I’d adjust one end so it can drop to the floor, only to add another weight, so the other end pops up at the same time. Hence, that was not the last conversation like that.  What eventually boiled up was that yes, maybe I should slow down… but didn’t he realize how important all of that was? Couldn’t he acknowledge its importance to me, and my importance to all of my involvements?! He seemed to be missing key parts of who I was, what I was accomplishing, and the things that – in my mind – gave me worth. In my mind, he didn’t care about me enough.

The ensuing conversation changed me drastically in the past few months. Once again, we Lsat frustrated in my boyfriend’s car as I explained all of the above. He essentially replied, “I don’t care.” Yes, I was offended, and may have had a desire to throw a punch or kick in that moment. But that wasn’t really what he was saying. He far more poetically stated something like, “I know those things are important to you, but I don’t care about the things you do. That’s not who you are. I care about you. I want a best friend to laugh with and do ministry with, I want to know Holly, because that’s who I want in my life and who I love.” ( That’s a paraphrase, believe me the original should have been recorded because it was far more beautiful and moved me to tears).

When he finished, I was disarmed and my heart softened. Yet what struck me most was that it felt even more significant than a speech from a man. I truly felt God’s heart in that  moment, and heard him speaking to me as well.  What I know, but forget about every 5 minutes, is that God feels about me the  way Jason does (except about 1000 times more).

I wanted Jason to know about the things I do, what I love, my good works, my social status, etc. Truthfully, its because  I care a lot about me, and deep down, I think it will make him love me more. Like most of us, I want to impress and earn favor and make sure every area of my life is shiny and stellar in a way that is deserving of love and attention.

I do the same thing with God. I want God to look at my love for him, and others, and all of the sacrifice and work I do for him so he can not just love me, but be extra proud of me. I’m shooting for valedictorian in God’s kingdom. But God’s kingdom is nothing like high school. The one with straight F’s gets as much honor as the valedictorian just for being a student at the high school.

That conversation set off a recent journey of going deeper in an understanding of the power of just being me. The power of you being you. How being who God has created us to be, without all of the extras, can change this world for the sake of the kingdom of God.

I’ve been on sabbatical from ministry for about three months, and not being as busy or being as involved is very weird for me. God has been speaking to me that it doesn’t matter. Like my boyfriend said, God just wants to be with me. He wants my love, affection, time, and undivided attention. That’s what a good romantic relationship looks like, right?

I’m reading a book right now called The Art of Being You, which Amazon happened to suggest to me while doing online Christmas shopping. It was cheap, so I threw it in my virtual cart and picked it up yesterday. I don’t think it was an coincidence. It says,

God is looking at the real you, not the “show you”…we play the best version of us – but God pays no attention to our act. He’s listening for the unguarded words, the thoughts and intentions of the heart…Because mystery is so unsettling, many of us choose to think of ourselves primarily as tools in the hands of God. We want to be used to build or fix things, to impact and change the world – a practical purpose. God does have a purpose for each one of us here, a job for us to undertake…But many of us see ourselves only as a tool in the hands of God. Our identity becomes too tightly defined by our earthly purpose and tasks…Rather than seeing you primarily as his tool, God views your purpose here as a tool in his hand for the art he is making of you. He is at work in you more than through you” (pg. 37-38).

I needed a looooong season of maturing and learning to be responsible and to get out of my comfort zone and realize life was about more than me. God taught me that lesson well, and now seems to be helping me revisit playfulness and simplicity with the foundation of lessons learned. He’s showing me that it’s not just good works that impact the kingdom, but that the art he’s making of me can have the same impact in mysterious ways.

Strangely to me, my boyfriend has noted as his favorite moments with me, ones that I was caught off guard, goofing around, being vulnerable –  not the pulled together, cutely dressed,  sophisticated and wise ones. I am learning more and more that God is no different. When all I did was sit at home tonight, read a book, pray and worship, and watch a documentary, God takes the same pleasure in me.  It may even be that something from “wasting” a Friday night alone at home is just what God will use in a conversation or opportunity in the future to impact someone more than anything I could have planned.

So if you find yourself working to earn God’s love, or do all of the right Christian things, remember he just wants you to be with him. quality time with you. God is the artist. He loves his piece of art far more than you know, and each one has a unique purpose and design. With the time and worship you give him he will accomplish far more than you could ever calculate or imagine.

Which One Will You Be?

As I was starting my morning with God today, and reading his Words to find out what he might have to say today, it felt like I was reading directly about our time and culture. Yet it was the book Ezekiel, written around 571 B.C. that spoke about God’s heart for his people.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice” – Ezekiel 22:23-29

I can read this and picture horrendous church corruption that gives Jesus a bad name when you hear about things like priests and child molestation, greedy pastors guilting congregations for tithes and then owning personal jets, and prophecies about the end of the world that don’t come true. Yet none of those extremeties really hits home for most of us.

What may actually be worse, is the subtle ways we as the church live this way and don’t even notice. The subtle weakening of the church that destroys our witness. I thought about a conversation with my sister and brother-in-law this weekend about church discipline (or lack thereof) and the tendency of the Church in general (and that means all of us) to just let sin go with a heaping measure of grace that never requires change. How we handle unbiblical behavior with so much “love” and “grace” that we’re actually hurting our own friends and church families by letting them live in sin that’s destroying their lives. Then when we receive truly loving correction, we rebuke it and become defensive, as if the person trying to help us is trying to hurt us.

How often in our churches – and in our personal walks with God – do we make no distinction between holy and common, clean and unclean, and just let it all go? At least in Hollywood, where many people have been burned by the church, I can say that quite often we just let it all blend together and allow people to live less-than-quality lives in the name of acceptance, grace, and fear of offending anyone.

Even Sabbath – I know I often ignore the idea of sabbath and being set apart, and look just like the rest of the hurried, production-obsessed people in this city. I act like I have no God to give me rest and provide, just like those who don’t know him. Yet how often do we pause to think about these ways of life that are so normal in our culture that we have accepted, thereby making our witness say that life with God is no different than life without Him?

Then God tells Ezekiel:

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”

Wow. God is looking for just one person, that one who will stand in the gap, pray and intercede, and build up the wall of holiness and Christ-likeness to save our lands. If there’d been one, destruction never would have come. But God could’t even find one.

And what a simple role to play, in some ways at least. To hold up standards that reflect the Word of God, and to simply pray for our city, is something that could save the places we live and the lives within them. What we do affects others….it’s not just all “going to hell in a handbasket”. Just one. That’s all God needs. Just one.

We can be those who let sin reside and slowly but surely wear down the integrity of the church and the laws God has created to actually give us the best, safest, most fulfiling ways to live. We can be part of the corruption, extortion, lies, and average lives, or we can be the one who stands. The one who God sees and says, “Because of your heart and courage, I should not destroy, but build up.”

Which will you be?