We Always Reflect Something

[ F ] Lucian Freud - Self-portrait in a  hand ...

Lucian Freud – Self-portrait in a hand mirror (1967)

This article continues my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “We Always Reflect Something” and addresses a question all Christians should ask themselves:  “Do I always reflect who Christ is?”  Spiritual disciplines help us to be able to answer that question with “YES!”

We Always Reflect Something

How long has it been since you looked at yourself in a mirror?  I mean, really looked at yourself?  I tried it today and was startled.  As I stared at myself I began to see things that I just simply overlook most of the time.  Some of the things I saw were good.  Some were not!  It was those “nots” that I wished were not there.  So, being a man of supreme and extreme logic (chuckle, chuckle), I closed my eyes and “wished” those “nots” were not there.  I opened my eyes and guess what?  They were still there.  I just couldn’t wish away part of my reflection.  It is what it is.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree to it or not, as we live our lives, as we interact with people, as we make choices and engage in relationships, we always reflect something.  And, that “something” is what is inside of us.  We reflect what is in our hearts.  We reflect what is in our minds.  We reflect what is really important to us.

Sometimes what I reflect isn’t very pretty (and I’m not just talking about my face).  My words can be harsh.  My temperament can be inpatient.  My values can be skewed.  My goals can be selfish and prideful.  None of those things is Christ-like.

If asked, I would never “choose” to reflect such things.  But, unfortunately, at times that’s what people see from me and in me. That’s the thing about reflections — they show what IS, not what we WISH.

“A New Command I Give You”

When you became a Christian, you also became an ambassador for Christ.  The “world” should be able to look at you and see who Christ is.  I am using the word “should” on purpose because ambassadorship is one of things you are committing to when you decide to follow Christ.  One of the ways that God shows Himself to people is through His people — through His disciples.  And, Jesus tells us what the world should see:

 

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

 

We reflect Christ when we love.  When we love, people see Jesus.

The Bible describes “love” as being patient and kind, as not self-serving, as having a spirit of forgiveness and gentleness, and as doing what is right even when it is difficult to do so.  Love is honoring and protecting our wives.  Love is raising our children to know the Lord.  Love is caring for the widow, the orphan and the disenfranchised.  Love is feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, and clothing the naked.  The Bible tells us that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8).

Spiritual Discipline Helps Us Make Christ Visible

Oh, is that all?  All we have to do is just love everybody all of the time?  Obviously, the problem is that none of us naturally is all of those things all of the time.  In fact, it is in our nature to war against such things much of the time.  That’s where spiritual discipline comes in.

Spiritual disciplines help us make Christ’s loving characteristics supreme in our lives.  For example, attending corporate worship reminds us of who is God (God) and who is not (us).  Learning to react appropriately and Godly in situations by controlling our tempers and our speech reminds us that our lives are about more than our immediate desires.  Regularly meeting with other men in Christian fellowship provides opportunities for rebuke and encouragement so that we will stay motivated to do what is right.  Actively and intentionally serving others reminds us that we are to be servants first.

When we regularly and continually engage in those types of spiritual disciplines, as well as others, God uses them to mold our hearts and shape our thoughts.  Our minds and hearts actually start to become more Christ-like as we “train” to be Christians, and soon we begin to “reflect Christ” to the world.

The Bottom Line

Being a Christian is a wonderful gift from God.  It is also an awesome responsibility.  Who we are to the people of this world shows what we really believe and who we really follow.  Our actions and our words reflect what is in our hearts and minds.

What’s Next?

Jesus Christ was the most influential person who ever lived, and is the most influential person living today.  Are you preparing yourself so that you always reflect who He really is?  Or are you just leaving your reflection to chance?

Ask at least three people in your life (if you are married, make one of those of people your wife) to make a list of the qualities you REALLY reflect.  You will have to give them permission to be completely honest and promise them that you will not hold anything they say against them.  Be prepared to be a little hurt because there will be some things on those lists that you probably won’t expect (remember my looking in the mirror) and that will not be very Christ-like.

Once you receive your list, make a plan to engage regularly in at least two more of the spiritual disciplines we previously discussed in What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?  Then watch how God begins to change the things on your lists that are not reflective of who Christ is.

 

Discipline Makes the Conscious Unconscious

This is the fourth article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “Discipline Makes the Conscious Unconscious” and continues our discussion of the benefit of engaging in spiritual disciplines routinely, over time, in an ever-increasing measure.

We began this series with my previous articles: “What is Discipline?”, “What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?” and “Men Are Easily Distracted.”

Making Choices …

We control our days more than we realize.  What we decide to do or not to do impacts so many other things every day.  Our choices impact our conversations, they impact our relationships and they guide our behaviors.  Our choices influence our very thoughts.

Even after counseling people in both spiritual and legal situations for over 20 years now, it still amazes me how little people understand the connection between the choices they make and the state of affairs their lives are in.  Too often, people fail to make the connection between how the little choices made (or not made) each day have set the tone for their attitudes and expectations, and, ultimately, their “day.”  Instead, many believe that their life situations are “caused” by some external forces beyond their control and that the chaos of their life is simply something that is “happening to them.”

But the reality is, that what we choose for ourselves makes all the difference.  What we choose to read, what we choose to watch, whom we choose to be around, where we choose to go, and what activity in which we choose to engage is OUR CHOICE.  And when we make poor choices, things don’t go as well for us.

The difference between a chaotic life and a peaceful life is developing habits so that the routine, everyday choices are made effortlessly, almost unconsciously.

Choosing without Thinking

Any great athlete will tell you that the main goal of practicing each day is to create an “unconscious response” to a given game situation.  More accurately, the goal is not just an unconscious response but the CORRECT unconscious response.

We make unconscious decisions all of the time.  If you have been driving a car for any length of time, then you experience unconscious decision-making.  You don’t “think about” moving your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal to stop the car, you just do it.  You don’t “think about” smoothly turning the steering wheel in a curve so that the car doesn’t jerk repeatedly, you just do it.  Why?  Because you have trained yourself to “think unconsciously” via days and days of practice and habit-formation.

The same mental capacity to “choose unconsciously” is also available in our spiritual lives.  We can practice spiritual disciplines until they are so habitual that in given situations we simply “respond without thinking.”

The Benefit of Spiritual Discipline

As we “train” in areas of spiritual discipline such as Bible study, scripture memorization, controlling our speech, and removing ourselves from problematic situations and conversations, the wise choices we make start to become part of us — Godly choices become natural for us.

In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist exclaims to God: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

What an awesome goal!  The daily spiritual training of Bible study, reading, memorization and meditation eventually leads to God’s Word being “hidden” in us, almost at an unconscious level.  What that means is that when we are confronted with conflict, instead of reacting harshly (our natural selves), we respond with patience and kindness.  It means that when we are tempted, instead of giving in to the temptation to satisfy our flesh (our natural selves), we are actually repulsed by the temptation before us.

What we previously “thought about,” becomes “unconsciously natural” after we have hidden the Word in our hearts.

The Bottom Line

The more we engage in spiritual discipline activities such as study and scripture memorization, the more our decisions, actions and speech become Biblically unconscious.  Our nature actually becomes more “Christ-like.”

What’s Next?

Go back to the article titled “What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?” and pick out three or four spiritual disciplines that you will seek to develop more fully.  Make a commitment to make these disciplines part of your daily routine so that they become habits.  As they do, notice the difference in your life — the difference in your relationships, in your attitude, in your outlook and in your behavior.

 

Men Are Easily Distracted

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This is the third article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “Men Are Easily Distracted” and begins our discussion of the obstacles men face in engaging in spiritual disciplines routinely, over time, in an ever-increasing measure.

The first article, “What is Discipline?” defined “discipline” as a means of God training us versus God punishing us.  The second article, What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway? provided some examples of spiritual disciplines.

Men Need Discipline Because We Are Easily Distracted

Are you still reading this blog?  Great!  You passed the first barrier!

It surprises me that I am such a poor driver.  Fortunately, I haven’t had a serious accident or caused any severe damage to my car or the cars around me.  But, the truth is that while I am driving, especially when there is not a lot of traffic around, I find myself to be easily distracted by what’s around me.

“Look at the deer!”  “Wow, there’s a new Starbucks!”  “I wonder how many of these reflector things are on this road?”  “What time is my meeting this afternoon?”  “Oh yeah, I need to call Bob about the thing.” — Those are the things that often go through my mind while I’m driving.  Yes, I am easily distracted.

Distractions for Men

Men can have a tendency to become distracted by the newest, most exciting thing around them.  We are curious.  We want more.  We like new things.  We want to be successful.  We have a lot on our plates.

So, it is not uncommon for us to allow the new, shiny thing to distract us from our priorities, especially those priorities where we do not have to “officially” give an account to anyone today.

Sports, women, cars, friends, kids, jobs, to-do lists, golf games, elections.  Those are all things that can become the focus of our minds, and our time, and eventually our choices, if we allow them too — IF we are not disciplined.

The Problem with being Distracted

The problem with living a distracted life is that we are “trading” what is currently before us in exchange for what is “most important” to us.  Distraction causes us to short-change our spiritual growth, our families and our churches because instead of spending our time investing in those things which we would declare are most important to us, we “accidentally” spent 40 minutes watching SportsCenter or a couple of days reading through car magazines fantasizing about our next car purchase.

Obviously, the end result in such situations is that those things we declare most important suffer at the hands of the distraction.

The Benefit of Spiritual Discipline

One of the benefits of developing spiritual discipline in our lives is that we become more focused; and, more importantly, we become more focused on the One who matters most, Jesus.

As we engage in the discipline of finding a quiet place and time to read and pray for example, we are choosing to not allow the world to distract us.  The reason I’m so easily distracted while I’m driving … is because I’m driving.  New things are all around me literally every second.  But when I choose to be in a quiet place – no t.v., no radio, no phone, no kids running around, my mind is able to give God and His Word the attention they deserve.

As we engage daily in the disciplines of prayer, study and Bible reading, we hear God’s voice more clearly.  He starts our days off in the right direction with reminders of what He wants for us and for those around us.  He reminds of us our responsibilities so that when the moment of distraction presents itself, we are prepared to say “no” to it.

As we engage in the discipline of offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, i.e., worshipping God with ALL of our lives (see Romans 12:1-2), we begin to see changes in every other area of our lives.  We become more productive at work.  We are better husbands and better fathers.  We speak differently to our family and those at work.  We are less stressed.  We spend our money differently.  We approach problems in a new way.  Everything begins to change.

The Bottom Line

We are not changed into perfect men overnight when we become Christians.  Instead, God uses a training process to transform us into the people He desires.  The first step in this process is removing distractions from our lives and developing routines focused on improving those things which we have consciously CHOSEN as most important.

What’s Next?

To get started with this process answer these questions honestly:

What is most important in my life?

How am I currently spending my time each day?

Where and what are the things that “distract” me?

What steps can I take tomorrow to eliminate the distractions so that I can begin to focus on the things I have identified as most important?

In my next article, I will address another reason why men need discipline:  because we think we know more than we really know.

What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?

This is the second article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need  Discipline.”  You can see the first article here: What is Discipline?” 

In today’s post, What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?, we will discuss various forms of spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual Disciplines: A Definition

A spiritual discipline is something we either do or refrain from doing, repeatedly over time, so as to become trained in the habits of seeing God, hearing God, obeying God and doing God’s will.

As we engage in spiritual disciplines regularly, over time God uses them to change our hearts and our minds.  We become transformed into someone who more closely reflects Jesus Christ in our mood, our speech, our attitudes, and our decisions.  We become less focused on ourselves and on the things of the world, and more focused on God and His desires for our lives.

Some Examples of Spiritual Disciplines

A few examples of spiritual disciplines include:

Prayer – communication with God.  Allowing Him to speak to us and our bringing to Him praises, thankfulness, confession, adoration, worries, fears, troubles, anxieties and much more.  We also should pray for others and for the church.

Bible reading – just reading the Bible with no purpose other than to hear from God.  The Bible is God speaking to us.

Bible study – going deeper into the meaning of God’s Word.  Study is different from just reading.  I read the newspaper but I don’t study it.  When we study God’s Word, alone or in a group, we should use a variety of means to get the most out of what the Word has for us to learn.

Worship – this is not just an event on the weekend, but a way of living.  At times, we worship together corporately, but most of our worship should be in the form of our daily lives as we give up what may be important to us in exchange for what is most important to God.

Christian Fellowship – spending time with other Christians.  Doing life together.

Giving – returning a portion of what we have been given to God by making regular offerings to our churches, to missionaries and to others in need.

Service – putting our gifts, talents and passions to work in practical ways to help the church with its mission and to help our communities, particularly those who have need.

Meditation and silence – getting away from the busyness and hustle of the daily grind, freeing our minds to think about what God is saying to us.  Being in silence allows that to happen more freely.

Rest and Sleep – getting enough rest and sleep so that we are not physically exhausted.  This allows us to be our best for Him, for our families, and for all of the work that God has for us to do.

Health – taking care of our bodies so that we can be most useful to God and others and also so we will be good examples of discipline to others.

Evangelism – inviting people to learn about Jesus.  Inviting people to church and to our homes and other small group events.

Reactions – learning to react in Godly ways to all situations.  Controlling our tempers.  Not allowing fear to dominate our lives.  Staying confident and positive, even in times of great distress.

Choices – learning to make wise choices that are based on scripture and not on selfish desires.  Choosing rightly regarding who we spend time with, what we spend money on, where we go and don’t go, etc.

Again, these are just some of the things that could be considered “spiritual disciplines,” but it’s a good list to use to start!

The Bottom Line is Relationship Building

The bottom line is still relationship building!  God uses our effort in becoming disciplined in areas that matter, allowing Him to train us to be righteous, in order to draw us closer to Him and to increase our desire to connect with others more closely and in more holy ways.

What’s Next …

Some reasons why men specifically need to develop spiritual discipline is the topic of my next post. . . .

Why Men Need Discipline, Part 1 – “What is Discipline?”

Recently I was asked to speak at a Men’s “Advance” (I refuse to acknowledge that we should “retreat”) on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Based on the material from that talk, I have developed a several-part series that explores “spiritual disciplines” — what they are, why we need them, how to implement them in our lives, and what the consequences will be if we choose not to develop spiritual disciplines in an ever-increasing measure.

This article is the first in the series and is titled What is Discipline?

Is Discipline the same as Punishment?

When the word “discipline” is mentioned, what images come to your mind?  What do you immediately think about?

If you are like me, one of the first thoughts in my mind when I think of “discipline” is “punishment.”  In fact, when I looked up “discipline” in the dictionary, the third definition was “punishment inflicted by way of correction.”

Growing up, I can remember very well what it meant to be disciplined, at school and at home.  It went something like this:  if you break a rule, there is a consequence, and that consequence always was unpleasant and almost always involved pain.  So, the word discipline for me doesn’t always conjure up the most rewarding of images.   I literally chuckled to myself when I read that definition, thinking about what it must be like for some non-Christians to hear a preacher urge them to “engage in spiritual disciplines.”  (Sometimes, the language we use in the church without enough explanation probably can cause some pretty strange thoughts in people’s minds.)

Discipline in Spiritual Matters is about Relationships

But “discipline” is not, in and of itself, negative.  In fact, when speaking in terms of “spiritual disciplines” it is not negative at all.  Rather, “discipline” as it relates to our spiritual lives means the development of habits relating to the choices that we make regarding what we do with our time and energy.  It involves how we involve our minds and our hearts in our daily activities.  It is about acting a certain way because we have been trained to act that way, even when we don’t feel like acting that way.  It is about our priorities.

Spiritual disciplines lead us to make choices, form habits and develop priorities in our lives that enhance our understanding of who God is, determine God’s purposes for us, and keep us focused on Him even when we don’t feel like it.

Spiritual disciplines help us make wise choices in the moment, change how we speak to and work with others, direct how we love our wives and husbands, and impact how we raise our children.

The Bottom Line is Relationship Building

The bottom line is that spiritual disciplines are about moving us into deeper relationships with God and with others on behalf of God.

What’s Next …

What specifically constitutes a “spiritual discipline” and why we need to develop them in an ever-increasing measure are the topics of my next post. . . .