Friday, March 30, 2012

The Safest Road To Hell Is The Gradual One

"Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,… Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”  C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Habits are extremely important.  They are also frustrating.  Experts say that it generally takes between two and three months to establish a habit; it takes only two consecutive days to begin to break the habit.  The devil understands this well. Thus his strategy is to gently nudge us in the wrong direction.   He knows that if we truly saw where we were headed, we would immediately turn away.  So, he just softly leads us in the wrong direction, knowing that momentum is a difficult thing to change.

He constantly feeds us the line, “this one time will not matter.”  He encourages us to think, “This one day won’t matter”, or “I will start tomorrow.”  Soon one time becomes two, two becomes three, and before we know it, the habit is established.  One day becomes two, and before we know it, a week has passed. Once that week has passed, it is so difficult to shift the momentum back in the right direction.

Aristotle said it this way, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."  Developing good habits and being vigilant about maintaining those habits will lead to a life of excellence.

Some reading this have a bad habit they have been trying to break for a long time.  While good habits take a seemingly long time to develop, bad habits are annoyingly stubborn.  Remember too, however, experts say that two consecutive days of not doing something and the habit begins to weaken.  The old adage is, “one day at a time.” I say to you, not one day, but two.  Don’t do whatever it is for two days straight. You will notice that the bad habit has less power over you – not that it is completely gone, but it is weakening.  Then repurpose yourself to another two days. Before long, the habit will be broken.

Try also to begin to develop good habits.  You know what they are.  Set your sight on just two consecutive days, the set the goal of two more days.  Before long, you will have established a good habit. And, give yourself grace if you fail.  Do not ever believe you cannot do it.  Just take the next right step… and then take one more.

Finally, you do not have to do it alone.  In fact, often we cannot do it alone, as hard as we try. His grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He will help you and give you strength.  And other people can be a big help in keeping you accountable and encouraging you.  Do not be afraid to ask for help. 

The devil will gradually try and shift you in the wrong direction. That is why this very day matters.  Take a stand and do what is right. Change directions and shift the momentum. James put it this way, “Stand firm against the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God Allows Us To Experience Low Points...

This is an unfortunate truth. The human heart is full of rebellion and amnesia.  As a result, the only way we can learn certain things is to experience low points in life. I know that has been true in my life.

When we are experiencing low points in life, we are tempted, whether consciously or not, to begin to doubt the goodness of God.  God does not protect us from hard times. In fact, sometimes I think God might do even more than allow hard times in our lives.  Is it herarcy to say that God actually causes hard times in our lives?  I don’t think so…because we need them.  No, God does not protect us from hard times. Rather, He protects us during hard times.

I once had a basketball coach who was much harder on me than anyone else.  He would constantly ride me,  tell me what I was doing wrong, even if it was just a small thing.  It felt so unfair because he chastised me so much more than anyone else.  I finally could not take it anymore and let him know in no uncertain terms that I did not appreciate this special attention. After practice, he pulled me aside and asked me, “Do you know why I am constantly on you?”  Before I could respond, he said, “It is because I know how good you can be.”

God wants the best for us.  God knows "how good we can be." As a result, He pays us special attention.  Unfortunately, because of the condition of our hearts, the only way we will learn certain important lessons is to go through difficult things.  Rather than viewing it as God’s chastisement or feeling like God has forgotten us, let’s acknowledge that the difficult times actually show us how much He loves us.

He has not forgotten you. He is molding you and preparing you.  As difficult as it is, we must always keep in mind that He allows things in our lives to better us, not to harm us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Favorable Conditions Never Come

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.  The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”  C.S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time", The Weight of Glory
There is always something more “fun” to do than to “learn”.  There is always something that is seeking our attention, making it difficult to want to sit down and study.  It may be a television show, or the “to-do” list, or a phone call, or…. Those who have learned a great deal, have forced themselves to set aside time to study.

I realized, however, that the above quote can also be applied to choosing contentment and joy.  We make the mistake of believing that those who seem to always be content must have everything together in life.  Nothing is further from the truth. The truth is that people who are content or joyful are in that state because they have looked beyond the things that would make them discontent.  Everyone has painful or hurtful things present in their lives. The true art of living is being able to see grace in every situation, being able to choose joy despite pain, and to choose contentment even when our sleeves are being pulled on by situations that want to drag us to be discontent.

Paul says as much in Philippians when he writes,
[F]or I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Paul learned to be content, learned to be content in every situation.  It can be learned; it is not easy, nor is it a matter of simply snapping your fingers. But it can be learned.

We will always have an excuse to not be content. As C.S. Lewis said of learning, so contentment and joy can be found in every situation to those who want it so badly that they seek it while conditions are still unfavorable.  This is not some fairy dust, pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It takes tremendous courage, self-discipline, and strength to be able to choose contentment and joy even when there are hard things in life.  This is, however, the abundant life that Christ has for us – the ability to be content and joyful always.