Living With Focus

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by jesadaphorn taken from freedigitalphotos.net

There’s nothing more frustrating than looking back on a busy, tiring day and realizing you’ve accomplished nothing. Or at least, nothing of value. Or to embark on a task, perhaps seven or eight times in a day, only to be distracted, seven or eight times.

We all have those days, right? Times when our lack of focus, lack of prioritizing, eats up our productivity. But we mustn’t let those times of distraction and futility, of wasted effort, become a norm.

We all have countless opportunities set before us each day, sometimes even great opportunities, eternally impacting opportunities, but that doesn’t mean each one is for us. God has carved out a unique path for each one of us. He’s created us, gifted us, molded and equipped us, to fill a very specific role.

I love how Ephesians 2:10 puts it: “For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago” (NLT).

We are God’s masterpiece! That word grabs me every time. As does the ending of the verse, “He planned for us long ago.”

It reminds me that God has a plan, a very good and very specific plan, for my life. My role is to discover that plan and follow it ps37v23to24jpgwith everything within me, resisting the constant pull to be everything to everyone. Rather, I am to give everything–my time, energy, thoughts, and actions–to the Son.

Proverbs 4:25-27 says “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on that safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil” (NLT).

This verse speaks of determined focus, of perseverance, of intentionality. Of zeroing in on whatever it is Christ is calling me to do each day. Which implies taking the time to discover what He’s calling me to do. Which in turn implies taking the time to prayerfully read His Word each morning.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What about you? What is God calling you to do today? Raise your children or grandchildren to love and honor Christ? Reveal Christ’s love and grace in your work place? Serve in a church ministry with excellence? Are you doing that with focus, perseverance, and intentionality? Are you giving your whole self to that task, or have you allowed nonessentials to leave you divided? What time-sappers have you allowed in your day that hinder your effectiveness? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

We can’t do it all. Each day, we’re going to have to let something go. Let’s let those things go intentionally so that we can “fix our eyes on what lies before us.”

For all the mommas of little ones out there, my friend (and the marketing manager of New Hope Publishers) has a series I know you’ll find encouraging and inspiring. You can read about that here.

You might also be interested in:

Are the Little Things Really Little? 

In the Little Things

Called and Accountable by Henry T. Blackaby and Norman C. Blackaby

Before I go, I wanted to announce the winners of last week’s give away! Maryann, congrats! You won a copy of the Shepherd’s Song! I’ll be contacting you shortly to chat about the best way to get that novel to you. And, there’s still time to enter the drawing to receive a copy of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s book Praying Upside Down. You can do so here.

Before I go, I wanted to invite you listen to a radio interview I did Tuesday. You can do so here:

I also encourage you to sign up for my (really, our, as I and the Faith, Friends, and Chocolate gals put it out together) free quarterly newsletter, which is packed with great stuff–a serial story, short stories, recipes, devotions, and more!


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Rethinking Failure

 

contemplativeThe big F.

When you sense a divine nudge, step out in faith even though your knees are buckling, sweat is cascading down your spine, and your stomach feels as if an army of ants not only took up residence but are engaged in some crazy acrobatics, and nothing, absolutely nothing, goes as planned.

In those moments, we may be tempted to raise our fists at God or hide away in our nice, safe homes, determined never, ever, not in a jabillion years, to do ministry again.

But what if our interpretations are wrong? What if what we perceive as failure is but a stepping stone–and a necessary one at that? The hard thing about faith, about having a finite and often faulty brain, is that we may never fully see the results or reasons behind our actions this side of heaven. I’ve shared before, looking back on my life, I remember countless patient, loving Christians whom I have no doubt were called to reach out to and love on me.

In fact, I remember one family in particular. They lived in Ferndale, and they had a daughter my age. In those days, I was a mess. And I imagine, there were many times I was quite difficult to be around. But this family took me in. Fed me, sheltered me, loved on me.

But despite their love and patience, I continued my downward spiral. I imagine they felt they had failed. Or like maybe they’d heard God wrong. Because if God calls us to do something, we have to succeed, right? We’ve got the power of Creator God behind us!

But what if His version of success is different from ours? What if He sees something we can’t–like the slow but persistent softening or healing of a heart?adultchild A heart that might take decades–maybe even a lifetime–to change? And what if in the process, He was working on our heart as well–molding, guiding, teaching, equipping, transforming us from who we are now to who He created us to be? What if every action, every assumed failure is necessary training toward our future calling?

You see, I believe God is sovereign over our successes and our failures. In fact, I believe each moment, He is watching over us with care and love, keeping an eye not only on our hearts but on our final destination as well.

As a reminder of this, I often consider two Scripture passages. They have become my life verses. I recite them when it feels as if God is raining blessings upon me and when it feels as if He’s deadbolted every door.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16 NLT).

We are God’s masterpiece. Camp out on that for a moment.

These verses have shaped my definition of success. They remind me God has a glorious plan for me, my life, and every person I touch while here on earth. And He’s taken full responsibility to perfect that which concerns me. (Psalm 138:8) My role is simple: To surrender fully and obey without hesitation, seeking to learn and grow from each and every event or encounter.

That’s it. And here’s the beautiful thing: If I do that, I have succeeded, regardless of how things turn out.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! How often do you contemplate your assumed failures, looking for the hidden lesson God might be trying to show you through them? Are you basing your success on those things you have no control over, like how many people will come to Christ during your ministry events, how many promotions you receive, or how large your paycheck will grow if you do X and Y? Or are you basing your success on the only thing you can control and that which will bring your Heavenly Father exceeding joy–the extent of your surrendered obedience?

Other blog posts you might enjoy:
Rejoicing in Closed Doors
What’s Your Jericho

Books you might find helpful:
<em>Beyond Me by Kathi Macias
Called and Accountable by Henry and Norman Blackaby

Falling Forward by John C. Maxwell

Releasing Our Kids to Find Their Calling

As a mom, I love to imagine what God might have planned for our daughter. I know He’s got a plan–an eternally valuable role–uniquely crafted for her. A crucial role in God’s kingdom.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I’ve learned, more often than not God’s plans are so utterly different than anything I could fathom. And yet, when His plan begins to unfold, it all makes sense. We can look back and see the people and events God placed in an individual’s life taking them one step further.

As parents, the best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to embrace and encourage every dream our children have, teaching them to move forward with an eyes-wide-open expectancy. Because we never know which flight of fancy will lead to their divine-calling.

Today’s post is from my daughter. Ashley has always been creative. As a child, she’d craft elaborate two-story houses from paper. I’ve always been impressed with her ability to look at an intricate weaving or piece of jewelry, figure out how it’s made, and replicate it. But although this impressed me, I never gave it much thought … until we visited El Salvador last summer.

While we waited for crusades to start, she studied a wide-banded, beaded bracelets she’d purchased from the locals. Within ten minutes, she’d figured out how it was made and how to replicate it. Our church was teaching orphans how to make jewelry, and she wondered if perhaps she could help with the instruction, teaching them to make the bracelet she’d just deciphered. Although she never got this opportunity (yet. Grin), she didn’t give up beading nor her desire to use her love of beads to bring joy and hope to others.

Today she shares her story, or should I say, the beginning of her story. 😉

Bracelets for the Beautiful by Ashley Slattery

About a year ago my church helped serve a meal at a homeless shelter, and while I was there these two little girls were fascinated with the bracelets I was wearing. I ended up giving the bangles to them and they were excited. It made me think, if it made those feel beautiful would it make others? so I decided to use my beading skills to make bracelets for homeless ladies, make them feel loved and beautiful like those little girls did that way. Last month I had an opportunity to do so. My family when to a homeless ministry called Taking it to the Streets in Omaha, and I brought 20 some bracelets with me and gave them to the ladies there. I loved seeing that my hobby could bless them. It truly amazed me that a simple craft  put a smile on their faces. It showed me that God truly does have a use in mind for every aspect of you.

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God willing, Ashley hopes to teach the ladies down at Taking it to the Streets how to make jewelry. She hopes this will not only give them a marketable skill, but something they can feel good about–a hope-infusing sense of accomplishment. It’s hard for someone who’s been beaten down to strive for better. (Read When Helping Hurts, a phenomenal book about the psychological struggles inherent with poverty.) But often, success is contagious–motivating.

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

The Waiting Game by Jeannie Campbell

Writers, this one’s for you. (And to everyone else, don’t check out quite yet. I’m sure you can find a nugget of truth in this post somewhere to carry you through your day.) Today’s devo is similar to Edie’s. It appears patience and faithful obedience is one of the writer’s greatest struggles.

A few months ago, I was presented with two writing opportunities right after all the editor/agent meetings of conference and the resultant manuscript requests. I was placing in contests, waiting to hear back from agents, not knowing what might be expected of me should I sign on, yet I needed to make a decision. I decided on one fairly quickly, and jumped in with both feet. I floundered on the other, living in angst as I sought God’s will. I’d go to church, hear a clear message from the sermon, then get an email that would sway my heart. Indecision made me miserable, and kept me ineffective. I finally decided that “waiting” was a waste of time. I knew God called me to serve, not bide my time for something that might or might not occur. So, I said yes to both opportunities and have not regretted either for a moment. I said yes because I take Ephesians 2:10 and James 4:13-17 very seriously. God’s ways are not my ways and I may not always see the road ahead, but that should never prevent me from stepping forward.

Today’s devo first appeared on the Character Therapist, written by Jeannie Campbell, on November 17th. As you read it, think about the life of Joseph. God gave him a dream in Canaan. I’m certain Joseph never imagined being sold into slavery, transported to Egypt and thrown in a dungeon were part of God’s plan, yet in the end, he said, “God intended it for good, the saving of many lives.” Each leg of the journey was divinely intentional as God molded, guided and equipped Joseph for his future task of reigning over Egypt during a time of famine. As opportunities arise, consider them carefully. True, God has given you a dream and you are to serve Him with faithful obedience, but don’t be so caught up in the dream that you lose sight of the Dream-giver. And always be prepared to take a hard right turn the moment God directs.

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I’ve seen some great posts about how being unpublished is like being single. My friend and fellow blogger Jessica Nelson of BookingIt did a post here on that very topic, and I recently saw a post from Mundania Press, LLC here about how entering a publishing contract is a lot like entering a marriage.

Since I’ve yet to enter the published category in fiction, I’m somewhat of a spectator on the sidelines of publishing. During this time, it’s easy to lament a lack of publishing credits so much that we fail to see what God is doing during our waiting. It’s during the waiting that God strips us of our silly ideals and notions that we have to write a certain thing or present a certain way in order to reach fulfillment.

If we write only third person, stay away from the “edgier” topics, strictly adhere to the no-more-than-3-POVs rule, attend at least one writer’s conference a year…then surely God will honor our righteousness with a publishing contract or at least the interest of an agent. If only we get rid of -lys, passive voice, and show–not tell–then we will be “good enough” for a second glance.

The problem comes once you’ve done all this. You’ve taken online writing courses. You’ve paid for the extra critiques. You’ve entered contests…and even won. You’ve done everything you were told to do by people who have traveled the path before you. But still no “call,” no contract.

In the dating world, this is the equivalent to dieting, exercising, getting contacts, a makeover, and a new hairdo only to sit by the phone, waiting for a potential date to call. You might be tempted to cry yourself to sleep at night, wondering what is wrong with you.

What we fail to see is that there isn’t anything wrong with you or your writing! God just isn’t done teaching you. He’s going to draw out your waiting period as long as it takes for you to realize that not being published isn’t a “problem” and that God is still in control even while you’re waiting.

We can’t lose focus of why we’re writing. If our ultimate goal is to give glory to God, then that can be accomplished published or not. He’s going to be glorified through our persistence and dedication and desire to achieve excellence for Him. Finding fulfillment, completion, and contentment where you are in the journey is crucial to keeping that fulfillment, completion, and contentment after you’ve been blessed with a contract.

We’re not on the hunt for a book deal. We’re on the mission to worship and serve God while we’re waiting. How can you best do that? Here are a couple suggestions to help encourage you in your journey:

  1. Learn scriptures you can hide in your heart, whether your heart is broken, searching, or weary from the wait. Two of my personal favorites are below.
     

    • Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
    • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

  2. Have your own personal cheering squad. Writers are like shy adolescents in that we need to hear when we wrote a particularly eloquent phrase or when a metaphor blew someone’s socks off in order to bloom with confidence. We want to know when we made a reader laugh or cry. Your critique group members and close personal friends and relatives hold a large sway over your attitude and motivation as a writer.

I hope that this gives you some ideas of how to maintain a heavenly perspective through the writer’s wait.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.
As you listen to the following song, focus on this line: “I will serve You while I’m waiting.” (Although I would perhaps ask, are we ever truly waiting, or are we to live in the now, fully engaged, fully obedient?)
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Jeannie Campbell is a licensed marriage and family therapist, writer, reader, blogger, wife and mother who plays the piano and loves cats. Visit her blogger profile to find out more about her and visit the the Character Therapist to read more of her writing.

And remember, if you think this post should make it to the top three of 2010, “like” it, fb share it, tweet it or leave a comment, and I’ll tally each tweet, share, like and comment and reveal your top three favs at the end of the month. 🙂 (I might reveal my top three favs, too, which just might be different than yours.)