Tough times give us a great place to practice

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” James 1.2 NLT

The trouble with trouble is that it is extremely challenging to do what James instructs us to in verse 2.  But moving on in the text gives us great incentives.  Verse 3 tells us that our endurance can grow.  This is critical, because next time trouble rolls around we will be just that much more able to rejoice.  Furthermore verse 4 tells us that continued practice brings a “completeness”.   James says, “you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”  Wow, think of the trouble you could give the devil!

Here’s an important distinctive: mature people are not necessarily more blessed or gifted than others; they simply practice more.  Scientists have investigated this question of expertise — specifically, skill at a level that seems unobtainable by normal, motivated individuals. In one study, researchers led by Florida State University professor K. Anders Ericsson studied musicians at a Berlin conservatory. Students were divided into three skill levels, including one the faculty had identified as having the best chance of becoming world-class soloists. The researchers had the students keep diaries of their schedules and looked at such information as when they started playing and their practice habits as children.

The results were clear-cut, with little room for any sort of inscrutable God-given talent. The elite musicians had simply practiced far more than the others. “That’s been replicated for all sorts of things — chess players and athletes, dart players,” says Ericsson. “The only striking difference between experts and amateurs is in this capability to deliberately practice.”

So this is my exhortation.  Practice joy in those troubling moments.  Pray for wisdom and worship for grace space…but seize the moment!  Each time you practice you are laying the solid groundwork of spiritual maturity and increasing your capacity to face trouble with God-fueled joy!

The difference between being busy and getting hurried

What’s the difference between being “busy” and being “hurried”?  Is there a difference?  I believe there is absolutely a difference between the two.  Think about it…Jesus was incredibly busy…but I seriously doubt he was ever hurried.  So in the midst of intense public demands and incredibly trying human needs Jesus found a way of being “unhurried”.  I suspect we can too.

Now, there are a number of distinctions to note between hurried and busy.  The first distinction is that busy is something that is out side of our hearts and souls.  We have places to go, people to see and problems to address.  Those are very real, but those are not “us”.  Hurriedness, on the other hand, is very personal and internal.  It is a sense or motive for how we approach those people, places and things to do.  So pay attention to what happens to your “internal clock” when busy times hit.  This is why Paul urges us to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5.25).  In light of this, I try to pause during my day and listen for just how high my heart is “revving”.  I do this during meal times and between appointments.  If I notice I am running on panic, I enlist God’s help immediately!  Why don’t you pause right now and listen for the “idle of your internal engine”.

A second distinction to note is how hurriedness produces a sense of isolation in us.  We become so preoccupied with our “stuff” that we race past the grace-packed awareness of God with us.  By losing that precious sense, we are soon running on our own strength and limited resources.  This leads to a certain sense of doom and panic because we know we are going to “run out”.  Dallas Willard says, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day because it will keep you from experiencing God’s goodness and care for you from one moment to the next.”  This can also happen with the people in our lives.  We stiff arm family and friends because we are “so busy”, but in doing so we are isolating ourselves and allowing hurry to set the pace.  What helps me combat this isolation is having a few people who watch out for me.  I have told them the warning signs to look for and they have full permission to apply the “brakes” when necessary!  Do you have people like that in your life?

Finally, when I am in touch with God’s leading there is a sense of accomplishment and completion.  It probably mirrors the Genesis account of God reviewing his construction and announcing, “it is good”.  If that sense is lost, I notice a growing feeling of meaninglessness.  I am doing a lot, but not getting a lot out of what I’m doing.  Days bleed into weeks which fade into months and I’m not sure what I’ve done and why.  For me having weekly times to plan and review time helps immensely.  I do this in a devotional manner where I am conversing with God and praying through my calendar.  By doing this I re-yoke with Jesus and experience the ease of His yoke which is gentle.