Saturday, March 5, 2016

Strengthened in the Lord

The first part of 2016 has been pretty rough.  Along with prep for baby #4, we had at least 1 sick person in our house for about 6 weeks straight leading to not much sleep and a whole lot of exhaustion which makes just about everything else in life more difficult to cope with.

Case and point, I had an organizational review a couple weeks ago where unbeknownst to me I was going to have to defend my rationale for who my star performers were to a group of my peers who are all managers themselves, but also engineers and as such are inquisitive and argumentative by nature.  I'll spare you the details (and myself the frustration of re-living the event) but suffice it to say I was pretty frustrated and demotivated by the end of it all, a fact not helped by how daggum tired I was after the week's events.  That night in the shower as I was going over the scene in my mind for the 100th time, I was reminded of Tim Keller's words in Every Good Endeavor that have brought me back to reality on many occasions since reading them: "Part of the curse of work in a fallen world is its frequent fruitlessness."  

The reality is that struggle and strife are a natural consequence of the world we live in and our work life isn't any different.  Even our best efforts will be challenged and imperfect but as Daniel Goleman states "Having hope means that one will not give in to overwhelming anxiety, a defeatist attitude, or depression in the face of challenging setbacks."  Easier said than done, but viewing isolated incidents in light of the big picture of life and eternity as well has having hope that no matter how things go on a daily basis, God is working through all of it has been a constant encouragement in a challenging work and life environment.

I also really like what Ken Blanchard says in Lead like Jesus: "One of the most difficult challenges a leader faces is not to pay too much attention to either criticism or praise."  Haters gonna hate, kiss ups are gonna kiss up, just gotta keep on keepin on...

Challenging setbacks are something King David knew all too well, both before and after the "King" was added to his name.  In 1 Sam 30:6 David is at probably what we'd consider today as rock bottom, hiding in a cave from those he had been leading fearing for both his own life and that of his family but then something happened, "David strengthened himself in the Lord" and shortly thereafter defeated the Amalekites through chain of events I don't think anyone but God could have strung together (see 1 Sam 20-30 for the whole story!).

So what does "strengthening yourself in the Lord" even mean?  For me on that frustrating day it meant falling on my knees in the shower (disturbing mental picture, I know) and praying the words of Matthew 11:28-30:
"28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” followed by the blessing of a good night's sleep thanks to my mind now being eased through an earnest prayer.  

Not feeling up to a bike ride the next morning (which is my usual outlet for stress and gives me a solid amount of time for prayer/reflection), I received further replenishment via jamming out to Andy Mineo's Vendetta, the line "every day we struggle but it's beautiful" being particularly encouraging that day.  On that note, music, whether it be worship, classical, or good 'ol fashioned rock'n roll, is a great way to connect, refocus, and refuel in times of need, my choice musical inspiration and "pump" if you will comes in the form of Rap/Hip-Hop.  My early days were fueled by the energy charged lyrics of Tupac (who was one of the common bonds that brought my wife and I together) but now that I frequently listen around little ears I've moved to Christian rap, which has progressed significantly since its early days in the 90s.  A few of my current favorites if you're interested: KB's 100, Andy Mineo's You Can't Stop Me, Lecrae's Background)

While donning an ephod
and inquiring of the Lord isn't common practice today, we do still very much have the power of God's word at our fingertips and can easily find and recall verses to carry us through the challenges of life.  A few that have been very helpful to me in times of struggle, sickness, and anxiety are:
  • Ps 73:26: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • Phil 4:6-8: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  • 1 Tim 4:12: Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in faith, in love, and in purity. 
  • Josh 1:9: Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go
  • Phil 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
Activity is also a great way to reconnect, refocus, and re-find that ever elusive center.  Whether it's riding bikes, jogging, boxing, or just taking a walk outside, there's nothing like changing your environment and walking away from sources of frustration and distraction.  At times I've made a regular habit of slipping out of the office for a walk in the adjacent neighborhood and have recently been keeping a spare bike at work so I can hit the trails down the street when I need a break.

Ultimately, trials and tribulations are part of life in a fallen world as well as a key part of our growth and development and while the answer Jesus got when he asked if the cup could pass from him is not always what we want, it's certainly exactly what we need.  Reading further (Luke 22:43) we see that Jesus did in fact  receive an answer to his prayer via an angel God sent to strengthen him for his mission.  With that in mind, I've come to realize my main job, as John Ortberg describes it in this book, is to be one of those "Leaders who have enormous energy to lead, who can carry deep within them reserves of optimism and confidence to fuel those under them, who have a kind of inner gyroscope that guides them to develop others and achieve a mission" whether it be at work or at home.  While it may be natural for some it certainly isn't for me and requires constant refreshing and reminders that there's something bigger going on than the right here and now in my small corner of this world.  Throughout his life Jesus demonstrated peace most when everything around him seemed to be in conflict.  People sense when a leader is in control of himself and have explicit faith in what he's doing, something I hope and pray for on a daily basis for the betterment of my self and those around me.

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