Friday, May 11, 2012

"Write it Down" - The Principle of Clarity

This is a reprint of an article that appeared first in August of 2011. I hope it's helpful.

We’re already at part four of a six part series about making positive change in our lives. Let me do a quick review:

Part 1: Put God First – The Principle of Priority
Part 2: Take Out the Trash – The Principle of Transformation
Part 3: Do Your Own Dishes – The Principle of Responsibility

You’ll notice, as we’ve progressed through this series that these principles we have laid down are building on each other. As we learn to really place God in that position of priority in our lives, our perspective begins to change; we start to see things differently. We also begin to see ourselves differently. We start to become aware of those things in our lives that actually get in the way of our accomplishing God’s will. We then can bring the junk in our lives to God, so that He can transform it into good stuff.

As we grow and change we’re able to take our place and assume our share of the responsibility in God’s Kingdom. We understand that each and every one of us is important in God’s plan and that, for everything to work properly, we all play a part. So now what? Where do we go from there? Proverbs 20:5 says “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”

In this essay we’re exploring how it is that we discern God’s will for our lives. In Habakkuk 2 we find a place where God has been revealing to His prophet things that are to come. Read what it says in verse 2: "Then the LORD replied: 'Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.'"

I believe that this provides us with a clue. There is a power in writing things down. It helps us to clarify what we truly believe. It gives focus to our intentions and even helps us to see where we’re wrong. It also helps us to remember in the dark times what God has showed us in the good times.

A few years ago I sat down and started looking at my values. I asked myself the question, what is it that I truly think is important? As I was preparing this series I went back and reviewed the list that I came up with. Here are some examples:
• I will place God first in my life.
• I will be a man of integrity.
• I will maintain a positive attitude.
• I will be committed to my family.
• I will be innovative in leading the church.
• I will be committed to personal growth.
• I will be committed to excellence.
• I will remember that everyone is someone for whom Christ died.

There are a few others, but you get the idea. I felt that writing them down helped me to clarify those things to which I was really committed. There were some things I thought were important, but when I began to try to put pen to paper I reconsidered. Seeing them in black and white made me realize they didn’t belong on that list. Some people have found it helpful to put each of these values on a 3” x 5” card that they carried in their car or kept in a place where they could refer to them often. It helped them to keep focus. Others have done this same exercise as a family, they’ve actually sat down as a family and written down agreed upon values. It reminds me of Joshua, who declared in Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” This list gave me a beginning point in developing a growth plan for my life. For each of those I then began to make a to-do list of things that could help me in those areas.

For example, under “I will place God first” I wrote these points:
• My definition of success is to find what God would have me do and do it.
• I will make it a priority to spend time alone with God daily for prayer and devotion.
• I will not neglect the reading of God’s Word.

These statements help me to refocus when life gets going too crazy. I revisit this and remind myself of what should come first and foremost.

I also use a personal planner. Part of that is because of my personality. I know that if I don’t write it down I will tend to forget it. I also know that writing it down and prioritizing it helps me to be more efficient. So, if you look at my planner, you’ll find that right near the top of the list each day is Prayer and Bible reading. Every day I will either be able to check those items off the list or be reminded that I need to pay more attention. This habit has helped me to develop other positive habits in my life.

Another thing that I have learned to use more effectively is a calendar. As soon as I make a commitment I put that on a calendar. Then I regularly review the calendar to see which of those items are going to require some advance work. I can then break those tasks down into steps and actually put them in my to-do list in the order they need to be done. One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. Break a large job down into many steps and any task becomes doable.

We look at the Biblical example of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Nehemiah was a Jew living in captivity in Persia, now known as Iran. He had never been to Jerusalem because he was born a captive. Many years before, his ancestors had been carried away by the Babylonians when Jerusalem fell. The city walls and temple were destroyed.

Now generations later, some of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem and had begun to worship God again in the nation of Israel. But they were leaderless and confused. They didn’t know God’s expectations of them and were living far beneath God’s plan for them. But, remember, God always has a plan. He had prepared this man by the name of Nehemiah – he had been placed in the position of cupbearer to the king.

He heard about the situation in Jerusalem; that the walls were broken down; that the people were confused; that there were enemies all around them. And a very strange thing happened – Nehemiah’s heart began to break. Something took place inside the heart of a servant in Persia that would affect the nation of Israel hundreds of miles away. A lot of times in church we call this a burden or a calling.

God places a burden, a weight, on an individual and they know that they must do something. They may be sitting in a service, hearing someone talk or simply reading a magazine article about a place, a people or a need and they just begin to feel this overwhelming sense of responsibility. Anyone who’s done anything of eternal significance has felt this weight, this burden, this call.

You hear it represented in John Knox as he declared “Give me Scotland, else I die.” You hear it in William Booth as he said “While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight-I'll fight to the very end!” And here we see it in Nehemiah. It says in Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

So here’s the question. How does a servant cupbearer in Persia, who has never been to Jerusalem, rebuild the walls of that city hundreds of miles away?

How does a simple preacher in Scotland change the spiritual climate of a nation? How does an evangelist in England build a worldwide organization, the Salvation Army, which is synonymous with compassionate ministry? He does it one bite, one step, at a time.

Nehemiah started with an audience with the king – he took advantage of what he had at his disposal, his relationship with the king. He asked for letters of safe passage (in other words, the king’s protection). Then he asked for enough materials to do the job. Once there he assessed the situation. Then he recruited his volunteers and set to work. He broke it down into steps, and for our sake, he wrote it down. In spite of opposition and challenges, the wall was built.

Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Here are some keys:
• Immerse yourself in the Word of God – this is primarily how God speaks to us.
• Spend time in prayer – this is how God molds our hearts.
• Learn your spiritual gifts. The Bible tells us that all Christians have some.
• Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Be faithful.

Once those habits are established in your life, answer these questions:
• What do you cry about?
• What do you laugh about?
• What do you dream about?

The answers to those questions will go a long way in helping to reveal your passions and discerning God’s will for your life. Writing down what you receive will help to bring clarity of purpose and enable you to focus on that which is most important. As someone said, "It's only a dream until you write it down, and then it becomes a goal."

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all our ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

Related Articles:
Developing Great Habits
Seven Keys For A Better Life
Think For Yourself! Don't Get Stuck in a "Filter Bubble"

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