A Great Reward

One of my lifelong struggles has been finding freedom in the most basic part of the Christian life—personal devotions. It’s not that I don’t do them, of course, but that they rarely seem to come easily and naturally. I want to wake up longing to read the Bible and eager to pray. I want to get up in the mornings thinking, “I just can’t wait to hear from God and speak to God.” But so often I find myself reading and praying out of simple obedience. That duty is too seldom joined by delight.

It isn’t always that way. There are times—times I love—where there is tremendous joy and freedom. For weeks now I have been in one of those periods, and it has been a joy and a delight to spend time in the Word and to pray. And in this time I’ve been drawn to parts of Scripture that rejoice in Scripture. I was recently transfixed by Psalm 19 and David’s sheer joy at this great gift of God. After listing so many of the benefits of God’s Word he says, 

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

David tells us that God’s Word is precious. David is king over his nation and has access to all of its wealth, yet he looks at it all and sees that it is nothing compared to the surpassing worth of God’s Word. Where other men’s desire is to enrich themselves with gold, David’s desire is to enrich himself with the wisdom of God through the Scriptures.

David tells us that God’s Word is pleasurable. I don’t think there is any natural substance more delicious than honey (though perhaps maple syrup could be a close contender), and yet David can proclaim that God’s Word is sweeter even than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. As honey brightens the eyes, God’s Word brightens the soul.

David tells us that God’s Word is protective. He knows that the wisdom of God revealed through his Word will warn him and protect him away from sin and its consequences. David can look at his life and see those times he did not heed the warnings and receive God’s protection, and now he knows: God protects us through his Word.

David tells us that God’s Word is profitable. The Word of God does not only warn, but it also profits. Those who heed God’s wisdom and obey his law receive all the benefits that come from walking with God. They receive the greatest reward of all: they are with God and in God today and every day.

God’s Word is precious, pleasurable, protective, and profitable. What a gift it is!

 

I have no recollection of where I found the 4 P’s of God’s Word or whether I came up with them on my own; I want to credit David Murray as it sounds like his doing…

I have been writing a series on getting things done and, because I don’t know how else to do it, giving you a glimpse into my world to show how I get things done. To this point I have shared what I mean by productivity, showing how it extends to all of life (not just the world of business) and that the heart of productivity is glorifying God by doing good works [Part 1]. Last time I showed how I have divided my life into areas of responsibility that encompass everything I do, and I showed how I map out my specific roles within each of those areas [Part 2]. And now we are ready to move forward.

In a moment we will talk about getting on mission and staying on mission, but first I want to give you something to ponder over the next couple of days.

TIME & ENERGY

I believe we tend to focus too much on time management and too little on energy management. Yet in many vocations and in many places in life it is energy, not time, that is the more valuable commodity. Like time, energy is limited and needs to used strategically. You can give massive amounts of time to certain areas of life, but if you only give those times in which your energy is at its lowest point, your productivity will still be low.

There is a call here to know yourself. So over the next couple of days ask yourself these questions: At what times of day am I at my mental peak? At what times of day am I least-effective? Am I a morning person, a night-owl, or a mid-afternoon warrior?

These questions are important because before long we will start to look at your use of time and, to some degree at least, manage your time around the ebb and flow of energy. You will want to plan to use your high-energy times to do your most important tasks and your tasks that depend upon creativity. You will want to plan to schedule your proactive and creative work when energy is high, and your reactive and administrative work when energy is low. So start thinking about that now, and we will return to this topic soon.

GETTING ON MISSION

Once you have defined your areas of responsibility, it only makes sense that you would define your mission for each of them. I don’t know how else you could know what to emphasize, what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to. So I want to encourage you to work on a brief and simple mission statement for each of your areas of responsibility. Even if it is not a lengthy statement, come up with something that will guide you and define what God calls you to in each of them.

Now, there are two ways that I differ from many of the productivity gurus out there.

First, I do not believe that you need to have a big-picture mission statement that encompasses all of life and all of your areas of responsibility. If that works for you and you want a mission statement for all of life, go ahead and prepare it. But I think there is more value, at least for now, in preparing individual mission statements limited to each of your areas of responsibility.

Second, I do not believe that your mission statements for each of those areas has to be fixed and unchanging. I see the purpose of these statements as guiding you week-by-week as you schedule your time and as you attempt to make decisions about where to expend your effort. So while you shouldn’t change them haphazardly, you can change them in small ways as your mission comes into focus and as it changes through life.  The value of seeing these as “living” statements is that it frees you from having to think about it too hard right now. Come up with something that works, and refine it over a period of weeks or months.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by mission statements. Here are my statements for three of my areas of responsibility: my work at the church, my ministry to the wider church (primarily through the blog and books), and personal life:

  • GFC: Teach, train, and execute [administer] so the people of the church will mature and multiply.
    • Explanation: I believe that if the people of our church are living as Christians, they will mature in the faith and they will multiply by sharing the gospel with others. My role in the church primarily involves teaching, training and administration; I want to do those things in such a way that it directs the people of the church to mature and multiply.
       
  • Business: Use the opportunities God provides to help others think and live like mature Christians.
    • Explanation: Over the years my core mission as a writer and public speaker has come into focus, and what I love to do is help people to think and live like mature Christians. This is the focus of my blog, my books, and my speaking opportunities.
       
  • Personal: Delight in God to the glory of God for the good of all people.
    • Explanation: I believe that if I am delighting in God, my delight brings glory to God and overflows into doing good for other people. I am a better father, a better husband, a better pastor, and a better neighbor when I am finding my delight in the Lord.

Each of these statements serves as a measure or standard so that each week I can look back and ask, Did I do these things? And I can look at the week ahead and ask, How will I do these things? When someone asks me, “Can you speak at our conference?” or “Can you meet with me to talk about this topic?” I attempt to make decisions according to my mission. If it fits my mission, I will give it time and energy and enthusiasm. If it does not fit my mission, I will not prioritize it in the same way.

FlagAction: Write a mission statement for each area of responsibility. Give it your best shot for now, and prepare to keep refining them as time goes on.

ARE YOU ON MISSION?

You may have noticed that to this point I have only asked you “What are the things you are doing?” and “What are the things you are responsible for?”. Before I move any farther, I want you to take a good look at those roles, tasks, and projects under each of your areas of responsibility to ask whether those are the things you ought to do. Do the things you do actually fit your mission? If not, either you need to adjust your mission or adjust your roles.

Here’s the thing: Over time you inevitably collect roles and projects that do not fit your mission. Sometimes you take things on out of necessity—there is no one else to do it. Sometimes you take things on out of mismanagement—the boss dumped it on you. Sometimes you take things on out of plain old fear of man—you did not want to say “no” or you wanted to impress others with your willingness to do it all.

So keeping your mission in mind, you need to return to that list of roles and projects and ask questions like these:

  • Are these the right and best things for me to be doing?
  • Do these things fit my mission?
  • Are there things I can do in each area that no one else can do?
  • Where am I especially gifted or talented?

As a pastor I know that I am constantly tempted to take on tasks or projects that would be better done by a deacon or an office administrator. Yet having these things done by a person better called, skilled or equipped, will free me to focus on my core mission. As someone who just loves the approval of others, I am tempted to take on speaking engagements that have little to do with my core mission. In the end, they only end up being a great distraction from what matters most. Greg McKeown says it well in his book Essentialism: “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’ ” The better we know our mission, the better we can make such decisions.

FlagAction: Prayerfully examine the roles and projects under each area of responsibility to see if they meet your core mission.

So, what do you do with items that don’t fit your mission? You have several options.

  • You can delegate them to someone who can do them better. Maybe you have been managing the family’s budget, but you realize that your spouse can probably do it better. Ask if he or she is willing to take on that task.
  • You can drop them. In many cases things are being done for no good reason at all. Many churches have ministries that made good sense ten years ago, but since then no one has ever stopped to ask, Should we still be doing this? If it doesn’t serve a clear purpose today, perhaps that time and energy would be better directed elsewhere.
  • You can do them. Before you dump everything that doesn’t perfectly fit your core mission in each of your areas of responsibility, remember that you are in the business of expressing love to others—doing good deeds that will benefit them. This is where Christian productivity varies so much from what most people teach, where they encourage you to be as selfish as you want, to get rid of anything that doesn’t excite you. As a Christian you can do things that do not perfectly fit your mission, but still do them out of love for God and with a desire to glorify him. God may call you to do things simply because they need to be done, and he may even spiritually gift you to do them with excellence. This is why you need to prayerfully examine your roles and projects.

To this point our pursuit of productivity has been on a very broad level—we have been looking at life from a wide angle kind of perspective. If you have followed through all three articles, you know that God is calling you to do good for others in all of life, you have divided your life into various areas of responsibility, and you defined both your mission and your tasks for each of those areas. You are now in a great place to start looking at tools that can help you in life. That will be the subject of our next article.

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5 Ways to Lose the Battle against Sin

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.

Here are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin.

1. EXPECT THE UTTER DEATH AND DESTRUCTION OF THE SIN

Though we target the utter death and destruction of the sin, we cannot expect that we will ever so destroy a sin that there is no hope of it ever returning in this life. “It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished.” Even though we can have a great degree of victory over sin and genuine success in battling it, we cannot expect perfection in this life. Even while the sin may be suppressed, we need to continue to call out for God’s grace until the day we die and are finally immune to all sin.

2. WILL YOURSELF TO STOP THE SIN

Putting sin to death is not simply masking over a sin or even just stopping that sin for a time. This does not put the sin to death any more than putting a band-aid over a sore makes the sore go away. Here is how Owen says it: “When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.”

3. RELY ON A RESPECTABLE DISPOSITION

Putting sin to death is not just displaying respectable patterns and behavior. Some people have the advantage of a quiet nature, a reserved personality, a respectable disposition, and in their quietness can seem to have put sins to death. Owen says it well: “Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of the sin than the former.”

4. DIVERT THE SIN

Putting sin to death is not only diverting a sin. All of our sins are first sins of the heart and have many ways of manifesting themselves in outward ways. It is easy enough to divert the outward manifestation of sin, but unless that sin is actually put to death, it will only manifest itself in a different way. “A man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way. … He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.”

5. RELY ON “OCCASIONAL” TRIUMPHS

Putting sin to death is not merely occasional triumphs over that sin (and in this case occasional does not mean “seldom” but “at particular occasions”). Owen gives two examples of ways that we can seem to put sin to death, only to later realize that we have not. The first case happens when a person commits a sin and feels great shame and remorse over it. In those times he promises he will never commit this sin again, and for a time his shame and guilt keep him from falling back into old patterns. However, he has not truly put that sin to death, but has only suppressed it for a time. When the shame and guilt have dissipated, the sin awakens from its slumber and comes roaring back. The second case happens in those times a person is convinced that his sin has brought about some divine punishment. Now he seeks peace with God and believes he can broker that peace by promising to never commit the sin again. But, again, he has not put that sin to death, so it only takes some time before the sin makes its presence known once again.

These are only 5 of the ways in which people deceive themselves into thinking they have put sin to death when, in reality, that sin remains alive and well. In other ways, these are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin. Next week we’ll see the positive side of putting sin to death.

NEXT TIME

Next Thursday, we will continue with the sixth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

YOUR TURN

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

One of the fascinating abilities we have in this digital world is quantifying our lives in new ways. Today, more than ever, we can assemble an amazing amount of data about ourselves. I have a fascination with data and measurement, so often find myself turning to such tools to learn about my life in the hope that what I learn will allow me to live better. 

I have had to put some thought into the consequences of a quantified life and whether it can help me be a sanctified Christian. I am convicted that if these tools are used well, they can be very helpful. Today I will give you a glimpse of some of these tools and how I use them. Before I do that, though, let me be clear: I do not use all these tools all the time. In most cases I find that committing to the tools for a defined period of time allows me to get valuable snapshots of my life. I will use some of these tools for a few weeks, and then put them aside for a couple of months. But just those brief snapshots give me data that helps me live a deliberate and self-controlled life.

HABITS

Habit ListAs human beings, we are creatures of habits, and every Christian is responsible to develop good habits and patterns. There are many apps that allow you to track your habits, and the one I have found most effective is Habit List. Habit List allows you to input a list of habits you would like to measure. You can input daily tasks (read my Bible), weekly tasks (update the family budget) or even tasks you would like to do three times per week, or only on Wednesday and Friday. At the end of your day you can open the app and check-off those tasks you successfully completed. It is an ideal way to track how often you actually read your Bible and pray, how often you do family devotions, how often you exercise, and so on. Another interesting option is Reporter which asks you defined questions at random times, as well as defined questions at the beginning and end of the day; if you set it up with the right questions, you can learn all kinds of interesting things about yourself (Are you listening to music right now? Are you alone or with people right now? How much energy do you have right now? How would you rate your use of time today?)

FITNESS

If there is any area of life Christians tend to neglect, I think it must be the area of fitness; we care for our souls and minds, but too often neglect our bodies. Wearable fitness trackers represent a new and growing category of devices that mean to measure and motivate physical activity. They primarily track data such as the number of steps you take during the course of a day, though they can also track metrics like how much high-intensity movement you had during your day. Many of them also track your sleep habits, provided you wear it through the night. These devices are ideal for tracking your physical exercise and motivating fitness; it may be that your life is even more static than you thought it was. (Examples: Fitbit,Jawbone UP 24) If you prefer not to use a device, there are many apps that allow you to manually input the details of your exercise and activities (Example: RunKeeper). Also, most up-to-date mobile phones offer many of the basic functions such as tracking your steps.

DIET

UP CoffeeI said that if there is any area of life Christians tend to neglect, it is the area of physical fitness, but diet would have to be a close (and closely-related) second. Speaking personally, I have very little interest in tracking every calorie that I consume, but have found it very valuable to track my eating in bursts—two weeks every few months, perhaps. For a short period of time I’ll try to figure out the basic nutritional information for everything I eat, and input into an app. This gives me a snapshot of my eating habits and allows me to consider whether I am eating too much, too little (Ha!), or the wrong kinds of things. My Fitness Pal is a good option here, though if you use any of the devices or apps I listed under Fitness, they may have this functionality as well. UP Coffee is a great option for tracking your caffeine and ensuring you are de-caffeinated by the time you go to bed. If you have committed to drinking more water (and who hasn’t at one time or another) try Waterlogged.

SLEEP

Many of the fitness trackers listed above offer sleep tracking—based on your movement at night, they will offer a basic measure of the quality of your sleep, as well as the time you went to sleep, the time you woke up, and the number of times you were awake in the night. As an added benefit, many of them offer a vibrating alarm function that will wake you, but not your spouse. There are other sleep-tracking apps such as Sleep Cycle that require you to leave your mobile phone on your mattress (you slide it under the fitted sheet); they offer surprisingly accurate metrics on your sleep. There are even dedicated devices you can wear at night that serve as sleep-trackers and alarms. As someone who struggles to sleep, I have often turned to this kind of information to try to help determine how I can sleep more and better.

TIME

Measuring time well is an important component to using time well. As Christians, we know that the Lord expects us to faithfully steward the time given to us and today there are many excellent apps that can help. Some are entirely manual while others use some degree of automation. The one I use most is Toggl. Every couple of months I will use Toggl for two or three weeks and carefully track my time (sometimes every waking minutes and sometimes only my work-related time). This helps me understand where my time is going and whether I am giving adequate attention to each of my areas of responsibility. Another helpful category is apps that track what you do online and then present a list of the sites you visited and how much time you spent at each; or they present a list of the programs you have used and how much time you used each of them. The truth can hurt. Try RescueTime if you need help here.

FINANCES

Mint AppIf we are responsible to steward our bodies, minds and time, the same is true of our money. There are hundreds of great apps that can help you track where your money comes from and where it goes. The most popular is Mint, a free and beautifully-put-together service from Intuit. That said, You Need a Budget is still, in my estimation, the best and most complete option, especially if you want to carefully budget your money.

And we are only just getting started—the era of quantification is really only beginning. I am convinced that many of these tools, when used wisely, can benefit us and motivate obedience to God.

Let me say just a word about the dangers of these apps. I think the primary danger is that, unless we guard ourselves, we may eventually use data legalistically. We may eventually begin to think that our standing before God is based on the right measurements; we may take refuge in our habits instead of in our Savior. This is one of the reasons that I tend to use these apps sporadically rather than consistently. I do not want to be conformed to the image of an app, but to the image of Jesus Christ. I value the tools only so far as they are driving me to the cross.

Do you ever use apps or devices like these ones? How do they help or hinder your Christian life?

Measurement image credit: Shutterstock

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