4 Ways to Find Balance in an Unbalanced World

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1 Peter 5:8 (AMP) says “be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times, for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.”

I often wonder how so many believers’ lives end up in so much turmoil. Yeah, I know that some suffering comes as a result of living a righteous lifestyle, but what about the self-inflicted suffering?  The kind that comes as a result of the poor decisions that are made. The kind that makes believers look weak and defeated.  Weakness and defeat are definitely not part of a believer’s inheritance.  In fact, Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection has secured the victory and strength for us. So why do we sometimes lose sight of that fact? Why do we sometimes live our lives reacting to situations instead of controlling them?  I believe that a part of the problem is that our lives in many cases are not in proper spiritual balance. What do I mean? Webster defines balance as mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior and judgment; and the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling. So how do we attain to this place of steadiness, stability, calmness in our behavior and judgment, and remaining in our spiritual position without losing control so that we can experience the victory in every situation?  The answer lies in having a well-balanced life that is attained by prioritizing your life.  The first priority should be God.

Our make up is as follows…spirit, soul, and body–in that order. That is the order of importance and the order to which attention should be given. Unfortunately, in many cases the order is switched to body first and spirit last.  Hence, an imbalanced out-of-control life. You’ve heard of people getting involved in things they shouldn’t because of a void they are trying to fill. They try to compensate with things and people who are incapable of making up for what is lacking spiritually, a spirit that is sensitive to the voice of God. Giving your spirit man priority means giving God priority since that is where His Spirit dwells inside you. It also means that your spirit will be the strongest influence on your decisions, which means that you will be less inclined to fall prey to the devil. Temptations are sure to come in our lives, but God promised that we would not be tempted above what we can stand with the aid of the Spirit and the escape that he provides (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thankfully, there are things we can do to head off many temptations before they come our way. Those things are summed up in these words–being well balanced. Here’s what we can do according to scripture to attain proper balance in our lives.

1. Exercise self control (temperance). Temperance is a fruit of the spirit that means self-control. Being able to control one’s self can be a challenging task, especially when we haven’t spent adequate time in the Word of God, but it is so necessary to living a spiritually balanced life. So many Christians live carnal lives rather than spiritual lives, meaning that they are controlled by the flesh and its dictates. If the flesh wants to indulge in an activity that is clearly warned against in God’s Word, those who are carnal give in to it. It’s like giving a spoiled child everything he or she wants just because he cries for it. All that is teaching the child is that he is supposed to have everything he wants when he wants it. The only way to correct that unruly behavior is to apply some serious discipline. That’s what Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESVUK).

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

I don’t care how loud the flesh cries out for sin, do not give in. Please realize that the flesh is a pure mess, and if given the opportunity it will drive you off a cliff and into sin. It will manipulate and control the real you (your spirit) if not put in check regularly. Exercising self-control and discipline will help to quiet the flesh. After a few consistent no’s to unholy requests, the flesh will learn that there are limits not to be crossed, and it will have no other choice but to obey.

2. Make decisions in a state of peace. As much as is possible, avoid making important decisions in haste. It can be tempting to jump on the first thing that looks and feels good. But it would do us well to heed the Bible’s instructions to acknowledge God first in all our ways before making any decision, instead of only acknowledging our flesh and what it wants. In our haste we get ahead of God, and He doesn’t stop you because He’s given you free will. In fact, the first thing you must do is cast all of your cares on him for he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) His answers come packaged in peace. So what kinds of decisions fall into this category? What car to buy, what home to purchase, who to marry, and where to work are a just a few. These things require investment of your time and resources and in many ways can affect others around you. They should not be decided upon lightly or in the height of emotion, but rather with a sober, clear mind. True clarity comes from God, and we have to be sensitive enough through time spent with Him to discern His voice on these matters. With His approval our decisions can be made in peace.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

3. Be watchful and pay attention.  Don’t just take everything at face value. Consider what is behind what you see. I am not suggesting that you live in a state of paranoia. I am urging you to be cautious of your surroundings. Many an unsuspecting person has been the victim of crime because they were not on guard or were too trusting of the wrong people. Be prayerful and judge everything, and I mean everything by what the Word says. If it is God sent, it should agree with God. If it is Satan sent, it definitely will not agree with God. To use an old cliche, everything that glitters isn’t gold. That crooked salesman’s intent all along was to pull the wool over your eyes long enough to get you to buy the fake stuff and pay authentic prices. He didn’t want you to ask any questions or examine it too closely because you would have picked up on his scheme. Satan is no different. He will say and do all of the right things just to deceive you. Don’t allow him the advantage. He won’t have the advantage if you are aware of and watch for his devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).

4. Live purposefully.  Be intentional and plan for spiritual success every day.  Lack of strategy leaves you vulnerable to the enemy’s strategies.  Trust me, he has one against you. One good strategy is to command your morning as is spoken of in Job 38:12 (KJV).

“Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place…”

In this passage, Job may have been referring to his inability to control the sun’s rising, but I think it is useful in another way. Since believers have creative power in their tongues just like God our Father, we should use that power constructively to set our days in order. What I mean by that is, each morning is an opportunity to speak good things over yourself–things that you desire to happen in the course of your day. Also, catering to your spiritual life first thing in the morning sets your day up for success. I submit to you that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, God’s Word is; for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Neglecting to do this is like living haphazardly.  In other words, you leave your day to chance and subject yourself to be on the defensive to the enemy’s attacks–having to react to what he sends your way. Living purposefully puts you in a position to attack and thwart his plans before they are carried out against you.

 

I’m not judgin’. I’m just sayin’.

Are there any other ways you find spiritual balance in your life?

Relinquishing Control–A Success Story

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Russell and I at the Salsa Cabana. Our eyes look crazy because the flash blinded us.

Usually I don’t dish about dates with my husband, but since I promised an update on how I handled giving up complete control to be totally surprised, I’ll share. I say totally surprised, but I actually knew that we were going to dinner. I just didn’t know where and what we’d do afterwards. And I say give up complete control, but that’s actually not completely true. Since I didn’t know the dress code for the restaurant, I consulted with my husband to find out what I should wear.

“Wear something semi-formal with comfortable shoes,” he suggested.

“Comfortable shoes?  You mean like teacher shoes that I would wear to work?” I inquired. Teacher shoes are the flat orthopedic-like shoes that are comfortable for hours of standing and walking.

“I can’t be cute with a dress and teacher shoes!” Every dress I pulled out of the closet was shut down as an option because they were either too dressy or not dressy enough. So I told him to pick. While I was in the shower he took it upon himself to choose what he thought was the perfect outfit for me.  When I saw it I regretted putting him in charge of that decision. He chose a brown and green combination that included a skirt from a suit, a button down cotton shirt and casual knee boots. It was sweet of him, but I refused to wear it because it wasn’t my style. Who am I kidding? I thought it was ugly. I wanted to feel and look good on my birthday, so I had to take control back just a little.

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The lovely view of downtown Columbia from Al’s Upstairs italian restaurant.

After I picked an outfit, we drove to Columbia (an hour away from home). During the drive we shared the things about each other that we are thankful for (my suggestion). We were supposed to do this on Thanksgiving Day but the food, sleep, football games, and black Friday shopping took over. It was off the cuff too. We were supposed to write them down each day in November, but we both forgot to do it. Despite the impromptu nature of it, I still felt special. I should say that I had to navigate this trip even though I didn’t know the name of the destination since my husband’s sense of direction is not something I’m thankful for. He only told me the address, but I got us near enough to the vicinity to find it. We arrived at this small but elegant italian restaurant with a beautiful 2nd-floor view of downtown Columbia. It’s called Al’s Upstairs.  The atmosphere of this place was very intimate and romantic–dimmed lights, candles, soft music, and of course that killer view.

“How did you find this place?” I asked.

“A man never reveals his secrets,” he said, but I persisted. I told him I kind of thought he was going to take me to the last restaurant we had gone to because he knew I liked it.

“That wouldn’t be original,” he explained. Good answer.

“So how’d you find out about it?” I asked again. It turns out he asked around and a coworker recommended this place. I’m glad he listened. Next we ordered our food and while we waited we continued our thankful qualities list. A few laughs later, our food arrived. It was delicious! The service was equally pleasing too. So far I was delightfully surprised with my birthday celebration. I wanted to know what was next. Again, he had to tell me something because he needed me to give him directions. We were going salsa dancing–something we had only done once while we were dating but was loads of fun.

Although I had to literally pull him to the dance floor, we got in a few good dance moves–the salsa, merengue, bachata, and the best latin dance of all, the wobble. My shoe choice ended up being perfect for dancing. We laughed some more, acted silly, and just enjoyed each other’s company into the early morning. A birthday well spent.

It turns out my husband had put a lot of thought into planning a fun birthday date that we both enjoyed, without my help. What I learned is that he actually knows me better than I give him credit for and that I can trust his judgement when it comes to gift giving while I relax and enjoy the ride (or give directions on the way). 🙂

Building Up the Gratitude Muscle

muscleI was watching Dr. Oz yesterday, and Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America anchor, was on the show sharing her story of triumph over cancer and another disease caused by her cancer treatment. She credits her recovery to maintaining a positive attitude throughout each ordeal and to a spirit of gratitude, a phenomenon that even her physicians find interesting enough to research. She said that gratitude was like a muscle. I thought that statement was very profound, so I’ve decided to explore that analogy a little further in recognition of this season of thanksgiving. Let’s get ready to work our gratitude muscles, shall we?

There are several similarities between gratitude and a human muscle.

1. Gratitude, like a muscle, remains underdeveloped if it is not exercised. Have you ever seen someone who started out skinny as a twig and after months of weight lifting looked as big as an ox? It is amazing how much muscles can transform when a little iron is pumped. But what happens when that same man stops working out? The muscle mass is lost, and he ends up back where he started. In order to maintain growth he must continue to do what built up the muscles in the first place.  Hebrews 13:15 (KJV) says “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” Praise, or gratitude, is expected of believers, and it is expected continually. The more we express our gratitude to God the more it builds us up, but if we refuse to do it or do it only sporadically, then our gratitude remains weak and so do we.

2. Gratitude is strained when pressure is applied to it. Lifting weights causes muscles to tear and that causes soreness in the muscles worked.  When those muscles are sore it can be difficult to continue exercising them and we want to quit, but when we continue it gets easier and easier over time. Similarly, when we face difficulties in our lives our attitude of gratitude is challenged and we feel as if gratitude is pointless or impossible, but that is when we should be grateful the most. It is much easier to have a pity party and go around complaining when things are not going our way, but the Bible tells us to give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:8). God is very clear about when and in what situations we should be thankful–in everything and at all times. He did not say we should like or enjoy everything, but that we must maintain a thankful attitude through everything. Perhaps you don’t like your boss or your coworkers or the amount of money in your bank account or your relationship status.  There is still plenty to be thankful for in spite of it all.  Work through the tough times and no matter how painful things become press forward in praise.  The pain is good for you because it only leads to your growth.

3. The more you exercise gratitude the stronger you become and the more weight you can handle. When we lift weights regularly our muscles develop muscle memory.  The weight that seemed too heavy to lift one week becomes easier to lift the next week.  That’s because your muscles learned to adjust to the weight. The next time they are called upon to lift the original weight they are ready. They are stronger and ready for the next physical challenge. Gratitude works in much the same way. The familiar saying “trials come to make you strong” is true. Those trials are our opportunity to be built up in our faith and gratitude through practicing the habit of thankfulness. If we learn to be thankful when we find our bank account overdrawn one time, we can still be thankful if it happens again or if something worst happens to our money because we’ve learned how to handle it. In other words, the situations that shook you before won’t shake you anymore because you’re stronger and ready for the next spiritual challenge. Moreover, we will be able to say, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 KJV). I’ve witnessed others who have managed to keep a smile on their faces and a praise on their lips in what I would call the most difficult circumstances. That is true spiritual strength.  Hear this, that strength is not reserved for special people.  It is available for those who put in the work necessary to become stronger and better as a result of the things they go through.

Yes, gratitude is a muscle we cannot afford to leave undeveloped. It takes work, but the work pays off in strength that we never knew we had all along.

IJS

How will you develop your gratitude muscle?

Relinquishing Control this Holiday Season

I canA man with a gift. be somewhat of a control freak at times, especially when it comes to receiving gifts. It may be because I like to buy gifts for people that I know they will love, so I ask them what they want. Maybe it’s because I also want to love the gifts I receive, so I tell people what I want. It could be that growing up an only child has caused me to expect exactly what I want and be disappointed if I don’t get it. Perhaps I have a Janet Jackson complex and just like the idea of controlling the situation. This is true with surprise parties also.  If there is a party being planned for me, I like to know all the details. Surprises just leave me feeling vulnerable because I don’t know what I should wear to said party or who will be there. It’s ridiculous, I know. So this year I am going to work on changing that.

Usually I give the people closest to me a list of items that I’d like to have for my birthday and Christmas. You know, to make their shopping easier. (Who am I fooling?) Or I just opt for cash so I can go buy what I like. But I’ve put away that list in favor of actually being surprised for a change. I’m going to go with the flow, and appreciate whatever gifts I receive. My first test will be in two days when I will celebrate my 34th birthday. My husband has asked me several times what I want (he’s used to my ways, and I think he secretly likes it so he won’t have to think too hard about making plans), but all I have said is “It’s up to you, sweetie. Whatever you do, I’m sure I’ll love.” And I know I will, as long as he puts real effort into it. (Here I go again putting conditions on it) As you can see, it hasn’t been easy to just let him plan on his own. I have asked him on at least two occasions about his plans for my birthday, whether or not he has made plans, and what I should wear.  He refused to tell me, but I’m glad. How else will the cycle of control be broken? In the meantime I have two days (feels more like 22 days) to wait and see what surprises are in store for me. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Five Pieces of Advice for My Fifteen-Year-Old Self

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Me at fifteen years old

I was listening to the Yolanda Adams morning show the other day, and the topic for the day was “If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?”  My fifteen year-old-self was pretty innocent and naive.  I didn’t get into much trouble, and I made good grades in school. I wasn’t perfect though by a long shot. I made my share of mistakes, and in hindsight would have done some things differently.  After thinking about it some I think I would offer the following pieces of advice to the younger me.

1. You are beautiful no matter how small your curves are compared to other girls. When I was younger I was disappointed by the booty genes I inherited.  I wanted a bigger butt like other girls I knew. Whenever I tried on clothes in a store I would imagine how I’d look if I were a little thicker. Of course my mom would try to reassure me that I was fine just the way I was, but I still felt inadequate.  Over time I realized that there were girls I wanted to look like who actually wanted to look like me.  That taught me that everyone has something that they’d like to change about themselves.  I have also learned to appreciate who God made to be, which is somebody pretty special and well built.

2. If a guy doesn’t want you, you don’t want him either. I spent too much time as a teen pursuing relationships with guys that were one-sided–I was more into them than they were into me. I spent even more time trying to figure out why these particular guys didn’t like me in a romantic way.  What was it about that me that wasn’t good enough?  I thought. Child, please!  The answer to that question is absolutely nothing. Man’s rejection does not determine someone’s worth.  Thankfully, my self-esteem, or should I say my God-esteem, has improved tremendously since then, but I really could have saved myself a lot of time and heartache had I learned this sooner.

3. Learn to save your money.  I definitely would be in a much better place financially if I had learned this concept as a youngster. Financial literacy was just not one of those things that my family discussed, probably because they didn’t have the knowledge either.  My goal is to make sure that changes with the next generation.  I will teach my children the importance of tithing, saving, and managing money wisely so that they can be much better off at a much younger age.

4. Finish what you start.  Dance lessons, piano lessons, track, and an economics class–I quit them all.  I got bored with dance because I wasn’t advancing as fast as I thought I should; I didn’t like the recital aspect of piano nor the practicing that came along with it; my college economics was more difficult to understand than I liked, so I gave up.  Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a more persistent mindset as I’ve aged.  My husband describes it as a bulldog mentality.  Once I decide I want something, I go hard after it until I get it.  But I can only imagine how much more I would have accomplished in my life by now if I thought that way all my life.

5. Spend more time with your grandma, and learn how to make biscuits like her. Everyone loved my grandmother’s homemade biscuits.  I tried making them once and let her taste them. I admit I was kind of feeling myself because they were pretty good for my first try.  My husband joked about there being a new biscuit maker in the family, which was a big mistake.  My grandmother sat up straight and tall in her chair, stretched her eyes wide, and said matter of fact, “I’m the only biscuit maker in this family.”  Maybe she wanted to go to her grave with that title and her secret recipe. Nevertheless, I would have tried even if it meant sneaking a peek while she made them. Now that she’s gone I think it’s a shame that we’ll never taste biscuits quite like hers again.

What would you say to your 15-year-old self based on what you know now?

How Long is Too Long to Date? Part 4

242687-engagement-ringTo wrap up this conversation on appropriate dating timelines for Christians, I thought I’d make myth # 4 an addendum to myth # 1.  This one also has to do with finances, but I thought it was good enough to stand alone.

Myth # 4:  I’m saving up for the perfect ring (the expensive diamond she wants.)

I know that we live in a materialistic society and that every woman wants to rock some “bling” on her hand, but I hardly believe that a Christian woman would withhold that same hand in marriage simply because her man didn’t propose with the ring of her dreams, unless of course she’s just that superficial. No disrespect ladies, but we can place more emphasis on this aspect than we should, especially when we start comparing with what other women have. That’s your man and it will be your marriage. Trying to live like the Jones’ can have you living like the Evans’ instead.

“Keepin’ your head above water,
Making a wave when you can.
Temporary lay offs. – Good Times.
Easy credit rip offs. – Good Times.
Scratchin’ and surviving. – Good Times.
Hangin in a chow line – Good Times.
Ain’t we lucky we got ’em – Good Times.”

I don’t think the ring is worth that.

Remember, a ring is just a symbol of the unbroken covenant between two people.  The amount of carets in it does not add to or take away from that covenant nor the love that two people share.  There are countless celebrities and non-celebrities who have diamonds for days on their fingers, but only stay married for a minute.  In that case, the ring didn’t mean a thing.  Fellas, if you can afford a fabulous ring for your sweetie, then great! But, if you can’t afford it or see that the thousands of dollars can be better spent elsewhere on your new life together (such as a house) then that’s great too. I don’t think that she will fault you for being fiscally responsible.  (I don’t think.)  By no means am I saying you should be cheap or that there should be no effort put into this special occasion, but I also don’t think that it is a good excuse to postpone a wedding.  Besides, the rest of your lives is plenty of time to make up for it in the form of a diamond upgrade.  My husband already knows that I expect one in a few years. 🙂

So, I still haven’t figured out how long is too long to date someone before marrying them.  Truthfully, every couple is different.  Hopefully though, I have at least taken away a few excuses that might prolong the time for some.

IJS

Are there others that I haven’t considered?  Please share.

How Long is Too Long to Date? Part 3

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Selah. Pause and calmly think about that.

Good day, folks!  It’s time to continue exploring reasons why some couples put wedding plans off into the distant future.  I hope you are having as much fun reading this as I am having writing it.

Myth # 3:  I’m need proof that he/she is “THE ONE.”

I totally understand the importance of being confident in your choice for a spouse.  Marriage isn’t something to be entered into lightly, and you should get to know the person you are dating.  But here’s the kicker…you will never know all there is to know about a person just by dating them. As much as people say they are keeping it real while dating, for the most part they are still putting their best faces forward. There are certain things that you can only learn through a marriage relationship. Now wait a minute.  I feel the need to restate that I am addressing Christians who have a desire to do things God’s way.  Therefore, shacking and common law situations are NOT an option for those individuals, according to God’s holy ordinances. At some point you’ve got to believe that the information you’ve gathered through dating is enough and trust God with the rest.

Now for those who need proof that you are with the right one, my question to you is what kind of sign are you waiting for after years and years of dating? Are you waiting for a supernatural experience from God like a dream, a prophesy, or a burning bush experience? Are you waiting on a certain feeling or emotion to just overtake you? Are you waiting for the things you don’t like about the person to change? Are you waiting on a particular person you’ve been hiding in your back pocket to make a move so you know what your next one should be?  Let me share this bit of wisdom with you.  First, God does not always speak through dreams or prophecies.  Actually, He most often speaks through His Word and through your spirit in the form of a “knowing” and a still small voice that you have to be sensitive enough spiritually to perceive. Second, I wouldn’t put too much stock in feelings because they change, and because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) It’s not safe to base your life decisions on a false witness. Also, faith and feelings don’t line up. We are instructed to walk by faith, not by sight or our senses (2 Corinthians 5:7). It takes faith to marry and stay married, no matter who you choose. Thirdly, what you see is what you get.  Expecting a person to change for you is futile. Change can only occur with the aid of the Holy Ghost, but a person has to want the change.  You wanting it for them is not enough. Fourth, if you have a backup plan that includes another person in case things with your current relationship don’t pan out, your motives were wrong to begin with.  It is impossible to build a loving relationship if your heart isn’t all in.  In either of those cases, you’ve got to figure out from whence cometh your indecision.

If it comes from a valid place where there are valid concerns that need addressing, that’s cool.  But what’s not cool is playing the string game with the person you are dating.  That’s the game where you string them along with their emotions dragging behind you while you decide what you want to do. I played this game once during my dating years, not because I was trying to be cruel but because I could not come to terms with my own conflicting emotions.  I didn’t want to lose out on a great person, but I also knew that I wasn’t as into him as he was into me.  It wasn’t fair for me to make him wait on me to make up my mind when he already knew what he wanted.  So once I realized what was happening, I put the relationship on hold until I could figure some things out. That much needed space helped me put things into perspective and allowed him the opportunity to find the love he really deserved with someone else. Am I saying that everyone should do this?  Not at all.  I am suggesting that if you have reservations about your relationship that you work on finding out why instead of continuing to date aimlessly.

IJS

What are your thoughts?  Challenges of thought are welcomed too. 🙂 By the way, be on the lookout for Part 4 in tomorrow’s post.

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