Preparation vs. Fulfillment

It’s funny how God tends to drop little nuggets of wisdom on you from unexpected places. I was reading a book for a project on a very specific subject (baptism in church history) when the author’s phrase hit me like a ton of bricks:

“The degree of fulfillment in something is directly related to the degree of preparation that went into it.”
(my paraphrase)

His context was that preparation for baptismal rites used to last one to two years, and that the level of the preparation served to increase the impact, both personally and corporately, of the sacred act of baptism. But when I read that I realized that it has implications for almost every area of life.

Have you ever tried to run a marathon? Or have you ever tried to run…at all? Your enjoyment of running a race will be directly related to how much you have prepared for it. No preparation and you will likely be miserable. Preparation and you will feel like you know how to fly. Preparation makes all the difference.

Or how about this example. Have you ever gone on vacation…and failed to prepare? Whether you didn’t have enough money, didn’t know where to go, or didn’t know that the ski slopes aren’t open in August, your enjoyment of leisure has everything to do with your preparation for it. This even counts for your day off. How you prepare can make it or break it.

This concept seemed counterintuitive to me because I naturally think of rest (doing nothing) and preparation (work) as being opposed to one another. But these two are inseparably related, one doesn’t work without the other. Preparation is what allows important things (like rest or exercise) to actually do what they are supposed to do, to make the most impact. Spontaneous enjoyment is the exception not the rule, despite what the popular culture wants us to believe. Intentionality and preparation lead the mature to their greatest delights.

This rule applies to worship as well. Your level of fulfillment in worship, whether it’s a corporate gathering or private worship, will be determined by how you have prepared your heart for engagement with God. It would be difficult for me to overstate how important worship is in daily life. And it makes the weekend gathering exponentially better.

So don’t be discouraged if the things in your life aren’t working, and don’t just wait for them to get better. Put your best foot forward to get the most out of today no matter what you’re doing. Don’t be a victim of what comes your way, rather take control to get what you want from every endeavor. You have that power! Today is all we have!

Pressure: How do you handle it?

Everybody’s got it, but not everybody knows what to do with it. No, I’m not talking about that Christmas gift from your Aunt Laverne, I’m talking about pressure.

Every person knows what it’s like to be under pressure, to deal with stress, to feel the demands of a deadline or a to-do list that seems impossible. The question is, how do you deal with your pressure?

I think there are two ways to handle pressure. The first way is what happens to a volcano when the pressure builds for enough centuries: eruption. This happens all at once and it’s noticeable to everyone. Eruptions can be seen for miles. If we don’t deal with pressure, eventually we will blow up and likely cause a lot of damage. No one can stuff in their emotions forever. Eventually something has to give.

The alternative is to find ways to relieve pressure that are safe and effective. Think of an overflow drain in a sink, if the level gets too high, it’s there to let the water out. Often these come in small doses throughout the day and week. Finding small breaths in the middle of the chaos can help us stay sane and avoid a blowout.

Maybe the reason we don’t take advantage of these little breaths is that we don’t think they will work. Sometimes the pressure we feel is so great we think that a little break won’t even scratch the surface of what we need. But it’s like they say with exercise, “Something is better than nothing.” A 5-minute nap is better than no nap.

Or maybe we don’t take time to refresh because we don’t know what we need. We can get to going so fast that we don’t know ourselves well enough to know what will bring us a smile. Lately I have found great comfort in this process of finding out (again) what I like and putting those little habits into practice. Take a walk, see a movie, go for a drive. I have been surprised at how much better I feel when I intentionally do things that bring me joy.

Maybe you could take some time today to find an oasis in the middle of your desert.
I promise it will be worth the effort.

Action Is The Only Answer

One of the irritating things about exercise is that calories are easy to earn and hard to burn. You don’t have to try very hard to consume calories, in fact it’s almost automatic. But it takes lots of work to burn them. Can you imagine if the situation were reversed? What if you lost weight by eating and gained it by exercise? I’d be in terrific shape!

This concept for exercise is simple yet powerful. Staying in shape requires a constant, proactive stance against the natural inclination of a body that is well fed and at rest. Unfortunately, last week’s workout doesn’t cover today’s piece of cake. Or two. To make matters worse, if you are on the go a lot and eat at restaurants, chances are your caloric intake is…more than sufficient to your body’s needs. If you want to stay healthy, you have to take preventative action.

I find that this same principle is at work in our spiritual life. A seventeenth-century Puritan preacher and writer named John Owen coined a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I heard it:

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

In other words, if you don’t take an active stance against sin in your life, it will eventually take you out. Maybe “sin” is too vague and doesn’t land with much force unless you make it personal. This statement recently became much clearer to me when I thought about specific sins that always seem to rear their ugly heads from time to time in my life. The deadly trio that I often deal with (I’m guessing I’m not the only one) are pridefear, and lust. If you look to the root of most things you do that you shouldn’t (or don’t do that you should), it’s likely that one (or more) of these three is the culprit. If you aren’t constantly vigilant against these enemies of your soul, they will bite you. Hard.

If you’re like me, consistency is difficult because I like things to be finished. Done. Over. When I wash the car, I know when I’m finished because it’s clean. But washing a car is just  one step in the process of caring for a car, and that process goes on for the entire time you own it. It’s the same with my sins. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive” and never have to deal with being prideful, lustful or afraid. This is difficult to take if you tend towards perfectionism. If I am praying to be humbled and then I get humbled, I’m hoping that I’ll be humble forever and I can move on to other things. Why do I have to learn the same thing over and over?

But “once and done” isn’t how it works. While I’m breathing, I have to keep learning to be like Christ. And judging by my progress, it’s going to take a while. If I don’t actively fight against my pride I will eventually grow calloused and fall. This is true for any besetting sin. Sin doesn’t give up after you win a skirmish or learn a lesson. In fact, I’m pretty sure the devil actually retreats, regroups, and comes at you again with a vengeance. That’s why we have to stay alert, like Peter tells us:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
1 Peter 5:8-9

The fight to stay healthy doesn’t end after one trip to the gym. Every day counts, and it is the cumulative result of all your days that will ultimately determine your health. I hope you’ll choose to fight another day by God’s grace, knowing that his power is at work in you to make you more like him.