Motivation

brainSo, if I’m going to ask the question, “What gets you motivated to read and study your Bible, pray, and take your faith in Jesus seriously?”…then it’s fair game for you to ask me the same question.

And some of you did.

Here’s my best attempt at an answer.  I offer these, not as some kind of formula for spiritual maturity or three-step plan to fix your pursuit of getting deeper.  They are just some perspectives that helped me along my way, in no particular order.  Maybe some of them will be good for you.

One…Before you can ever get to a WHAT, you’ve got to answer WHY.  Why you want, or need, to do something is the necessary prerequisite to any kind of plan moving forward.  Why do you even want to study the Bible?  Why is it important for you to pray?  I’m not talking about the reasons you think you should or that you have been told you should.  I’m talking about the real “why” in your heart.  What’s driving you to even WANT to do this?  You gotta have an answer that will sustain you.

Two...This is tied to the first one.  In our spiritual journey, maturity really began for me when my motivation moved from “I SHOULD read my Bible” to “I NEED to read my Bible.”  That slowly became true for all of my spiritual disciplines.  Living in the realm of “should” is a recipe for failure.  It’s the ultimate trap door.  The habit of saying we SHOULD do something gives a false sense of purpose…without ever having to do it.  It’s how we con ourselves, or even others, into believing we might actually get around to doing it.  But we seldom do.  “Should” needs to be removed from our vocabulary.  Permanently.  

Three…There’s no substitute for getting in a group that studies the Bible together.  The value of the fellowship, comradery, inspiration, and real life accountability cannot be overstated.  

Four…Put yourself in positions where you absolutely can’t make it without praying or turning to God’s word.  It might sound pretty shallow, but the truth is, most everything we do can be done without praying or studying the Bible.  So why not live a little closer to the edge?  Why not exercise your faith and get a little closer to the frontline of the spiritual war going on?  Jesus actually said to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow.  The more we do that, the more we will need him to sustain us.  Think about it.

Five…I spent a lot of time in my younger years reducing my spiritual life to formulas.  I took the advice of others and tried to develop daily and weekly routines for prayer and Bible study.  I practiced with set times and predictable locations.  I bought books and listened to speakers that promoted programs and methods and systems to try and develop patterns of spiritual discipline in my life.  Sometimes, it worked for a while, but usually produced little long-term change.  I learned it’s okay to use tools for a while.  They might help.  But they might not…and that’s okay.

Six…Remember, the goal is not to have a successful Bible study or an effective prayer life or be Zen-master of the spiritual disciplines.  The goal is simply to know Jesus better and follow daily in his footsteps.  The Bible became a portal into the mind and heart of Jesus, instead of a textbook and prayer ceased to be a way for me to get what I want and became a practice of becoming aware of the presence of God as a go about my daily routines.  Those two things became game changers for me.

Seven…This may seem out of place here, but it has become central to me.  I was raised to believe there was kind of a division between my “church” life and the rest of my life.  God was given a slice of my pie (church attendance, youth group, Bible study, prayer, etc…) and the rest of the pie was everything else.  I was led to believe there was a division between the sacred things and the secular, or worldly, things.  Once I learned that was a bunch of baloney, I began  to see Bible study and prayer as just normal parts of my life and NOT some special, “spiritual” slice of the pie.

Eight…I know this may sound blasphemous to some, but once I stopped putting pressure on myself to read/study so much of the Bible and pray for a certain (long) length of time, things began to change.  I know what all the super saints do…throughout history and over the course of my life.  They are amazing.  They got up at 3:00am to study.  They lived on mountain tops.  They spent all night in prayer closets.  They’ve read the whole Bible…cover to cover…in the original languages…multiple times.  It’s a high bar.  Sometimes an impossible bar.  But that bar is not in the Bible.  (pause).  Yeah.  That’s the sound of grace and peace in my soul.

Nine…Again, this is connected to the previous one.  I’ve stopped comparing myself to others.  I never win anyway.  There is no human standard of excellence for spiritual maturity.  Just a bunch of pilgrims making their way home.  Some are slower.  Some are faster.  And it’s not a sprint, turtles.  It’s not a sprint.

Ten…This won’t apply to everybody, but it will to some.  One of the most tangible, practical, daily, in-my-face motivations for getting, and keeping, my spiritual act together were my boys.  And they still are.  I know I am not responsible for my kids’ faith.  That’s theirs.  One day, they will stand before God on their own, without my help.  But I was, and continue to be, deeply aware of my words and example for them.  I could never expect, or even hope for them to experience something I wouldn’t, or didn’t, experience  for myself.  That motivation will never leave.  Ever.

So.  There you go.  

Do you have any more to add?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayDo you think it’s strange that I’ve chosen to start writing Marriage Tuesdays again in the middle of the Covid crisis?  I hope not.  Honestly, it’s a pretty risky time for marriages.  Home routines have been disrupted.  No relief from the kids.  Job insecurities.  Financial pressure.  Health concerns.  Emotions on edge.  Uncertainty over the future.

Yeah.  I bet there are a bunch of marriages taking hits right now.  So what do you do?

Go back to ground zero.

I think one of the first places where marriages get off track is with a wrong  understanding of love.

For the last forty years, or so, I have asked the same question to dozens and dozens of young couples who have come to me to help them prepare for marriage.  It’s a simple question, but I’ve got to ask it, and the dialogue usually goes something like this:

“So why do you want to get married?”

“Because we love each other.  Duh.”

“How do you know you love each other?”

“We just know.”

“But how do you know?”

“Well, we can’t explain it, but we just know it.”

Great.

Stop the presses.  Here’s an insight that deserves to be passed on, even though you’ve heard it again and again.  Love is not a feeling.

Passion.  Anger.  Dread.  Romance.  Infatuation.  Worry.  Stress.  Sympathy.  Lust.  Exhilaration.  Emptiness.  You can make a pretty good case for all of those being feelings.

But not love.

I learned a long time ago that love is not a feeling.  Love is a choice.  Love is a decision.  Love is an action.  Love is not words.  Love is not an impulse.  Love does not tingle and send chills up your back.  Romance does.  Emotion does.  Sensuality does.

Love?   It simply does the right thing.

Love is a decision to act in the best interest of your partner.  Love is choosing to do what your partner needs.  Love is looking at the situation and saying, “This is not about what I want…it’s about what you need.”

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be feelings in a marriage.  Far from it.  I think our marriages should be full of emotion and passion and warmth and over the top happiness. But that’s not the foundation we build our partnerships on.

We build on love.  The kind of love that moved God to send his son to redeem the world.  The kind of love that motivated Jesus to go to the cross.  The kind of love that digs deep, stays long, presses on, runs on empty, doesn’t give up, endures through darkness, sees possibilities, and draws lines that are never crossed.

Now that’s what marriages need.

Husbands, do you love your wives?  Wives, do you love your husbands?

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2There are two words that are incredibly important to building and maintaining a healthy marriage.

Compromise and Consensus.

In our culture, the concept of compromise has taken a shot.  For many, compromise is what people without conviction do.  Compromise is seen as the abandoning of a goal…and taking the easy way out.  To compromise is to fall short.

On the other hand, good relationships…good marriages…are built on a steady foundation of compromise.  Compromise is when one person willingly lets go of something important…an idea, a goal, a plan, a desire, a belonging, a job, a hobby, an interest, a priority, a relationship, a value, a possession, a dream, an expectation, pretty much anything…out of love and commitment to the other.

It is done with the best interests of the other person in mind.  Compromise is sacrifice.  Compromise is generosity.  Compromise is done with the belief that God will take care of what is lost in the compromising.  Compromise is based on trust…not in the other person, but in God.

For compromise to work, though, it must be done in the right way.  Once you have made the compromise, you can’t go back.  Whatever you let go of is gone.  You don’t ever bring it up.  There are no regrets. It is never held over the other person’s head.  It’s never used for extortion.  You can’t ever expect repayment.  You don’t compromise and then make the assumption that the favor will be returned.   Otherwise it’s not compromise.   It’s simply manipulation.

In a healthy marriage, there are (or should be) big compromises…as well as the little, daily ones that show love in practical and tangible ways.

If you really love your spouse the way you are loved by God, then you will constantly look for compromises you can make…willingly, completely, and with no strings attached.

The other tool of a great marriage is consensus.

Consensus is different.  Consensus is what is done when compromise can’t, or shouldn’t, be done.

Consensus means working towards an alternative decision that both of you will own completely.  Consensus says that our two positions are too important to let go of.  Consensus says there is a better decision to be found…one that affirms both sides of the discussion.

Consensus requires waiting.  Consensus is slow and doesn’t work well under a deadline.  That’s why you always have to start to move towards consensus early in the process.  Moving to consensus means you take the time to wait, pray, talk, wait, pray, seek counsel, wait, pray, talk…and then decide.  And when there is not consensus, you start the process again.  Consensus always values the person over the decision…and the process more than the outcome.

Consensus can only be done between equals.  Consensus cannot be done when one has more power than the other in the relationship.  

Compromise is often about making a decision.  Consensus is always about making a relationship.  Work towards consensus whenever and wherever you can.

Even though compromise is an act of love,  real love would never demand a compromise.  Real love, however, will always work for consensus.  Think about it.

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage Tuesday

I was doing some reading tonight.  About twelve years ago, I wrote these words:

“I woke up today really troubled.  My world is full of broken, or breaking, marriages.  There are countless people who crawl into bed at night with people they thought they knew on their wedding day, but have come to accept they are sleeping with a stranger.

There are many in my world who are living with the remains of a marriage that feels over.  Trying to pick up pieces of promises and dreams and futures that ended some time in the past.  Some seem to be doing okay.  Others have just moved on.  Some have put on masks.  Still others are nursing wounds that feel like they will never heal.  My heart breaks for them.  All of them.

Marriage is a partnership.  No one is completely innocent in the death of a marriage.  But that doesn’t mean the blame for the failure is equal.  People bring different levels of brokenness to table than the other…and that brokenness is usually buried, or covered over, or masked by the euphoria of ‘love’ that is blind.

Emotionally unhealthy people do not get healthy by getting married.  Eventually, marriage will expose and exploit those weaknesses.  Darkness and dysfunction will begin to leak out and start to stain every part of the relationship.

There are no quick fixes to broken or damaged marriages.  Some marriages are beyond repair.  Not because change and healing is impossible, but because one, or both partners have crossed the line that says, ‘It’s over.  I choose to quit.’  I see lots of marriages these days that are on the path to this kind of ending.”

I don’t remember the circumstances that caused me to write those words.  But clearly not much has changed with the passing of time.  Marriage is still a partnership.  Marriage is still difficult.  Marriage still takes work.  Marriage still requires our best.  Marriage can still survive our worst.

Remember, marriage wasn’t your idea.

*I hate that this needs to be said, but I believe there are some marriages that are filled with abuse and danger.  They don’t need a counseling session or an adjustment.  They need to be exposed.  The abused needs protection.  Separation may be necessary.  After a lifetime of standing by and for marriages, I don’t say this lightly:  the end of a marriage in this condition may be the most loving and humane outcome.  This is not the “quitting” I am writing about in this post.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2It’s baseball season and this is all messed up.  So I’ll make a baseball connection to marriage.  Yup.

If you really want to be a good hitter in baseball,  it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of good instruction and practice, practice, practice.   The best hitters I know of have developed the discipline of spending hours in the batting cage day after day…taking hundreds of swings as part of a daily dose of baseball greatness.

Would-be doctors go through years of school and residencies just to be able to practice the thing they love.

The same is true for most any trade or occupation.   My guess is there are very few gamers that got good by watching others play.   No…they have spent hours and hours throwing down monster drinks, while they mastered the art of game controller expertise.

So here are some marriage thoughts for today.

Are you actually working on your marriage?   I mean some big-time,  deliberate, intentional effort directed at developing a strong and healthy partnership with your spouse.

Do you know the areas of weakness you have in your relationship?   What skills are you developing to minimize the effects and turn those areas into strengths?

Have you identified problem areas and started working on turning them around?   Do you have plans for growing stronger and deeper and wiser?   What are those plans?

Are you studying?   Are you reading any good books on marriage?   Do you and your spouse talk…about your relationship and ways to move towards improvement?  

Are you including others in on your marriage journey?   Do you let friends in?  Are you taking advantage of wise counsel and accountability?  In other words, do you ask for advice?

Look.   We say our marriage is important.   We say our marriage is the most important friendship we have.   But marriages don’t get better by simply staying married.  Quite the opposite.

Marriages get better because we work at them…plan for them to get better…practice good skills and habits…and put our money where our mouths are.

I suspect you may have a little more time at home these days.  What do you need to work on this week?   Will you do it?   Will you start today?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayI thought some about marriage today.

Back in 2008, I started writing about marriage on this blog.  Nearly every Tuesday for years, I wrote something about marriage.  Sometimes it was practical.  Sometimes it was theoretical.  Sometimes it was critical.  Sometimes it was funny.  Sometimes it was a rant.  Sometimes it was theological.  I always hoped it was encouraging.

You wouldn’t know it based on how little I have written over the past 3-4 years (that’s another story for another time), but I have written 1,497 blog posts.  Would you be surprised to know the #2 topic I have written about is marriage?  I guess you could say it’s pretty important to me…

I wonder what kind of effect the shelter-in-place mandate is having on marriages?  Logic says that spending a load of extra time with your spouse would open the door to more conversations, more problem-solving, deeper moments of reflection, and increased intimacy.  I have a fear that reality is saying there might be a lot more conflict, more isolation, more walls, and a whole lot of detachment.

Not exactly a recipe for strengthening a marriage!

So I’m going to go back to sending you a marriage morsel every Tuesday.  Look…my wit or insight isn’t going to rescue a marriage on the edge.  You probably need a lot more than what I can give here.  If your marriage is in trouble, here is a desperate suggestion:  Send up a flare.  Tell someone you trust that you need help.  Ask a friend for a lifeline.  Swallow your fear and send an email or a text or FB message.  Your marriage is that important.

However, if your marriage is blah or running on autopilot, it’s probably time to get busy.  Your marriage could slip onto life support before you know it.  I’ll help where I can, but this one’s on you.  Do you still believe the vows you made?  Are the promises you offered up still good?  Then maybe it’s time to talk with each other about it…time to dig in and go deeper…time to own your problems.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was part of the German resistance movement against nazism in the 40’s.  He was arrested in 1943, imprisoned and tortured, and eventually executed in 1945, at the age of 39.  His books and letters from prison have had a huge impact on the church for decades and changed and challenged the discipleship of countless Christ-followers.

Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell to a young couple:

“Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man… It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

Can that…no, will that be said of your union:  “It is not your love that sustains your marriage,  but your marriage that sustains your love” ?

I was blown away by the truth of his wisdom when I read that for the first time years ago.

His wisdom has not faded over time.

*smh*

Like most every other church with wifi and a smartphone, The North Point Christian Church Band of Misfits and Traveling Road Show is doing its most herculean effort to join with the big boys and live stream a message for the faithful on Sunday mornings during the virus quarantine.

Herculean may not be enough.

The short back story: Wanda (the business manager of the entire Farra enterprise and chief caretaker of all its contents) asked if she could come up to the North Point World Headquarters while the live stream was happening this week.

She told me sitting by herself at home, watching the live stream of me speaking the week before was disappointing. Not wanting to make her forced isolation any more difficult than it already is, I welcomed her to join me and Brandon in the makeshift studio this morning.

I explained how important it was going to be that she remain quiet, turn her phone off, not draw my attention away from the camera, blah, blah blah. She understood. She just wanted to be there with me and follow the Facebook comments on her laptop.

We were clearly on the same page.

*Side note…this speaking to a camera in a nearly empty room is not my cup. I learned to speak publicly in front of teenagers, which meant knowing them personally, looking them in the eye, and speaking heart to heart. That’s one of the reasons I’m not great at speaking to large crowds of people I don’t know. That, and my mind tends to go blank when lots of people are staring at me …

So, if you were watching, maybe you were probably one of the many helpful wannbe technicians who pointed out in the comment section the clicking sound that was happening during the beginning of my message. So being ever the helpful one, Technerd Brandon starts troubleshooting the equipment right in front of me. I try not to let it distract me…

After a successful fix, I’m back to focusing on bringing the message home. At least until “You-had-one-job-Wanda” went to work.

Set the stage. Brandon and the equipment (camera on a tripod, a lobby bar table, a large monitor, cables, etc…) are right in front of me. I have a small love seat just to my right. Wanda is sitting there with her laptop, following along.

As I am speaking, Brandon starts to get a half-laughter, half-panicked look on his face. His eyes are darting back and forth between me and Wanda. I slip a quick side-eye glance at Wanda and notice that she is turning red and holding her hand over her mouth.

I’m still speaking because, like, the show’s gotta go on. Right?

Then Wanda decides she has to take matters into her own hands. So she gets down on the floor and crawls on her hands and knees right behind me (below the view of the camera), out the door, and into the lobby. If you were listening carefully, you probably heard her coughing.

I’m pretty sure she was gagging herself trying to hold in her cough.

Me? Barely fazed.

Brandon? He should have told his face to get rid of the silly look I had to look at for the remainder of the live stream.

Wanda? If you’ve ever heard her laugh so hard she makes herself cough…well, you know what I’m talking about.

Can’t wait for next week.