Habit No. 4: One Hour of Conversation with a Friend per Week

At this point in blogging about the habits that I am working to instill in my life, I’m getting more into aspirational thinking than what I’m doing now.  This is how I’m beginning to think about the habit of one hour of conversation with a friend per week.

I have three grown children that I touch base with at least every week.  Sometimes, we talk for five minutes.  Sometimes it’s an hour.

My rotation tends to be each of my children, a local friend that I can meet with in person, then each of my children, and another local friend.

As my son told me when he got established in New York, “I get together with friends maybe once a month, and close friends twice a month.”

While most weeks, I’m “checking the box,”  it would be good for me to make a concerted effort to deepen some friendships so that I would get together more than once a month or so.

 

 

 

 

Habit No. 3: One meal a day with others

I’m continuing to work through Justin Whitmel Earley’s  The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.  One of the habits that he recommends is sharing one meal a day with others.

I’m surprised to find out how difficult this actually is.  It was easy when we had children at home.  Family dinner time was a non-negotiable.  However, our children are gone now, and my wife and I can get caught up in our various projects and eat on our own sometimes.  Also, I went for the past nine weeks without being able to sit at a table because of my knee injury.  This made it much easier for us to eat in the living room and turn on the TV,  which I’m not counting in the “one meal a day with others.”

Earley writes that in our quest for efficiency, eating with others is a luxury.  The big takeaway from this habit is that it forces us to orient our schedule around others, which is a big part of making the transition of our default of self-centeredness to lives that are centered on serving others.

Right now on this habit, I’d probably give myself a C- on this habit.   We have a standing Sunday evening get-together after church in our home, and I’m part of two Bible studies that have meals every other week.  So, we do enjoy meals with others regularly.  But this is an area where my life would be much enriched if I pursued this more zealously.

Health update: PT is a part-time job

Some of you know that I suffered a catastrophic knee injury on September 1 and had surgery the following week.  I wasn’t cleared to begin physical therapy until ten days ago, so I’ve started that.  The good news is that I’ve made some gains that I’m very happy with.  I’ve gone from not being able to bend my knee at all to being able to go to 80 degrees.  And I’ve been cleared to walk without a brace.

PT — physical therapy — also known as pain and torture, is now a part-time job.  I’ve never had an injury that required rehabilitation to this extent.  The worst part so far is not the pain, but that it interferes so much with normal life!

I went on medical leave after the accident and was pretty much laid up for six weeks.  Paradoxically, I got alot of work done since every need I had was cared for by others — chiefly my wife.  While I was not mobile, all I had to do was get in front of a computer, and I could generate sermon outlines, Bible studies, blog posts, and just about anything else.  I really should have saved medical leave until now!

I’m grateful that I have a flexible enough schedule to put in the work hours any time I can squeeze them in.  I have to keep reminding myself if I do the physical therapy work, this phase won’t last too long, and I’ll be fully back on my feet.  But for now, the gains are worth it!

Habit No. 2: Begin and End the Day with Prayer

I’ve spoken to the first habit of “prayer and Scripture before phone.”  The next habit that I’ll speak to is beginning and ending the day with prayer.

By beginning and ending the day with prayer, we are committing everything that takes place in between to the Lord.  Each time, we confess that we are dependent creatures.  We confess our faults and our failures, our needs and our fears.  We give thanks for God’s mercies.  We ask God to meet our needs.  We bow the knee before the Almighty, acknowledge our need of a Savior, and confess that Jesus Christ is the Savior that God has provided for us.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been fairly consistent in beginning the day with prayer.  But in the past, I’ve gotten involved in reading, or watching a game or a TV show, and not left any time for more than the most perfunctory prayers.  I’m trying to build in the habit of honest-to-goodness prayer at night.  Generally, I will begin with the Order for Compline from the Book of Common Prayer and add my own intercessions.  It doesn’t take too long — maybe five or ten minutes.

The important thing here is formation.  I need to be active in the process of conforming myself into the image of Christ.  The point is not to have a profound religious experience or to spend a long time in intercession, but to continually commit myself to the Lord, and avail myself of his grace as the one thing needful in my life.

Habit No. 1: Prayer and Scripture before phone

We shape our habits, and our habits shape us.

The phrase that the Church Fathers used to describe this effect is:  lex orandi, lex credendi.   That is, the law of prayer shapes the law of belief.  It is true that what we believe shapes how we pray.  Moreover, praying shapes believing.  If we don’t pray, we won’t believe for long.

We live in a world that is driven by urgency.  Text messages, notifications, emails, carpools, work deadlines, sports schedules, music lessons . . .  Our phones drive us to what is urgent, which, if not reined in, can crowed out the important.

If picking up our phone is the first thing do upon rising, we are choosing to prioritize the here and now, the immanent over the transcendent.  We are allowing our phones to shape us.  We are not cultivating the need to pause before the Lord, to “be still and know that I am God.”  We are forgetting that somehow, God managed to run the world while we were asleep, and that he will keep doing so whether we are awake or asleep, and long after we are gone.

Prayer and Scripture before phone is a deliberate decision to choose eternal matters before temporal matters.  It’s a decision to place our communion with God before our careers.  It’s a choice that reinforces that we are dependent creatures, that we are finite rather than infinite.  It’s a recognition that only God is “eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 4).  It’s a commitment to the Lord to form us instead of the world forming us.

This habit will not change you in a day.  Or perhaps a week.  Habits are the building blocks of our lives.  They change us over time.

We cannot expect to be virtuous people apart from developing habits of virtue.  We cannot expect that when trouble comes that we will “rise to the occasion” apart from rising to the occasion in small ways each day.

Prayer and Scripture before phone is the beginning of this.  As we sit or kneel before God, we entrust himself to us to keep his promise, that he provides all that is needed for life and godliness.  We live as people of the promise.  We reset our recognition each day that our identity as Christians is “in Christ” rather than “of this world.”  And this recognition shapes every portion of our lives.

Reflections on The Common Rule by Justin Earley

I’ve been reading Justin Earley’s The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.  Here, Earley advocates developing a “rule of life,” or a set of habits to commit oneself to in order to be more rooted in the pursuit of God and in loving others.

This concept is not new.  Church Fathers such as Augustine and Benedict of Nursia developed rules of life.  The Rule of St. Benedict dating from the 500s is the most famous rule of life.  Benedict was the abbot, or the spiritual leader of a monastery, and developed “house rules” for the conduct of the monks under his care that would lead to piety and good works.

While one may not find all of the precepts of Benedict or Augustine to be appropriate for life in the 21st century, the wisdom of committing oneself to a pattern of habits and a schedule comes not only from ancient wisdom, but is backed by secular research such as Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.  A rule of life is also a wise response to many of the “default settings” of 21st century Christians.

1.  Connectivity.  Many of us feel the urge to be connected 24/7.  We can’t go to bed or get up without first checking our email, responding to text messages, or checking the scores of ballgames on our ESPN app.  By allowing ourselves to drift into this way of life, we miss out on communion with God and one another.  We need a plan to keep our devices in their proper boundaries in our lives and not allow them to take over and rob us of life’s most precious experiences.

2.  Slavery to the “to do” list.  I live in Houston, which is a busy, busy city.  I’ve met many people who have moved to Houston from all over the world because of economic opportunity.  Houston has a booming economy (until the price of oil goes down) and has a reasonable cost of living.  With long commutes and people seeking to take advantage of the opportunities here, work becomes a harsh taskmaster.  Add to this all of the demands of school on one’s children and the pressure of extracurricular activities, and there is not much room for true rest and leisure.  We are humans, not machines.  We are creatures, not gods.  Only God gets everything done. A well-thought out rule of life will place the essentials of well-being first and put secondary things in their place.

3.  The evangelical urge for spontaneity.  It would be interesting to see how many evangelical Christians schedule their workday in 15 or 30 minute intervals but believe that prayer must have an element of spontaneity in order to be sincere.  If we believe that our main priority is communion with God, because he will be our companion for this life and the next, we need to schedule time for this and develop a framework for Bible reading, prayer, and family devotional activities.  This takes planning, commitment, and building habits.  A rule of life will take this into account.

Where I plan on going with this next is developing a rule of life, trying to keep it, and reflecting on how well I do in keeping it.  I look forward to sharing the results.

Reflections on putting my computer in the shop

My 2012 MacBook Pro slowed to a crawl this week.  I’ve been contemplating replacing it for some time.  But it seemed too much like ditching a good friend.  Besides, it would be expensive — like $1500.  So, I called a few repair shops and asked them what they could

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do. A technician from The Computer Hospital of Houston answered the phone and told me that he could make it run faster than ever for a fraction of the replacement.

cost, and that he could do it in less than 24 hours.   I know that P. T. Barnum said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” but I at least wanted to try to resuscitate my old friend.

So, I brought it in, and less than a day later, I tested it out with the technician.  True to his word, it now runs much faster than it ever has!  He was able to clone the old hard drive, and send me on my way.

Even to put “Old Sparky” in the shop for 24 hours, I had to move my schedule around.  I thought “this is crazy!”  I got along for half my life without any kind of computer, and it seemed I did just fine.

I bought my first computer 27 years ago in 1992, as a brand new church planter. It was a desktop PC that I got pretty cheaply.  I connected with a high school kid who told me he could build me one out of parts.  I can’t remember what he charged me, but it was alot less than they were going for back then.   I needed a machine to do church bulletins, promotional materials, keep the books, and other basic functions.  However, I don’t think I used a computer for sermon or lesson preparation until 1998 or 1999.  I started using email about the same time, but wasn’t really dependent on it as a communications medium until 2004 or so.

Previously, I had made it through two graduate programs with a manual typewriter. Not only did I not have a computer, I didn’t even have a home phone for some time!  Writing was either pen and paper, or pounding it out on the old Olivetti.  I actually real letters and put them in an envelope with a stamp!  I paid my bills by check!  During this period, I did some work as a bookkeeper, and we used a double-entry ledger.

So, I thought, “wow, the world sure has changed, and I sure have changed!”  I can prepare lessons and sermons much faster.  Searching online and cutting and pasting really saves alot of time. Having practically all the information in the world at your fingertips can be helpful.  Being able to publish my writings online and let them find an audience is a benefit.

Is it better?  I’m not sure.  I miss those days when all that I had to do to get away was to get away from a landline.  I wasn’t always connected.  It seemed like as a family, we played more board games before Netflix.

We can still do those things, but it takes being more deliberate, and not giving into the inertia of watching Netflix.  It takes real creativity to do the fun things that we did naturally.  Hiking, riding bikes, reading books, baking, just hanging out.  But it’s worth the extra effort1

Lessons from Call Sign Chaos

General Jim Mattis is a leader who has fascinated me.  Ever since I read stories of his courageous and selfless leadership in Nathaniel Fick’s book One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine OfficerI’ve read everything I could get my hands on about this extraordinary man.  He has recently published a memoir on leadership, Call Sign Chaos:  Learning to Lead, with his co-author, Bing West,  Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.  I recommend this book to any aspiring leader, or anyone looking for direction in life.  Here are some lessons I learned from General Mattis:

Always be a student, always be a learner.  General Mattis “armed himself with books” to go to war.  He is legendary as the “Warrior Monk,” with a library of over 7,000 books, and was known as one of most well-read commanders in any of the armed services.

“Operations occur at the speed of trust” (156).  If you are in church leadership, you can replace “operations” with “ministry.”  Apart from trust and willing cooperation, the best-laid plans will never get out the door.

“To do our jobs well, we should not want our jobs too much.  In the dawn’s early light, we need to be able to look in the shaving mirror without looking away” (184).  Whatever job we have is a stewardship of the Lord.  It is a means to serve others and a means of provision for us.  But if our jobs become an idol, we cannot serve with great effectiveness.

Officers eat last.  Field Marshal Viscount Slim wrote in World War II.  “As officers, you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done these things.  If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world.  And, if you do not, I will break you” (98).  I’m think about getting this quote framed for the wall of my study.  This perfectly encapsulates servant leadership.

I’ve always had misgivings when I’ve been at church dinners and seen pastors pray for the meal so that they can get in the front of the line.  Leaders must go last.  If anyone must go hungry, or have slim pickings, it must be the church officers, rather than the members or the visitors. If anyone must go without a seat, it must be the leaders, rather than the guests.

Trust is built in this way, one day at a time.  Failing to attend to such details causes leaders to lose credibility.

 

Productivity and the Great Commandment

As I am becoming more able-bodied after my surgery, I’ve noticed I’ve become “less productive.”  Upon reflection, it’s really easy to be so-called productive and check tasks off a list when all you can do is sit in a chair and work on a computer, with three meals a day brought to you and your only worry being how you are going to get up and make it to the restroom.

So, I’ve had to think about this some, and I’ve been reminded of some ultimate truths.

First, only God gets everything done.  It is the nature of creatureliness to be finite.  Human beings can only do one thing at a time.  If we multitask, we are generally doing two things poorly simultaneously.  We are humans, not machines.  The nature of living in a fallen world is that there is always much more work to be done.

Productivity is always in the service of the Great Commandment. The two great duties that God has laid before us is love for God and love for others.  “Getting things done” is in the service of these two mandates.  This means that people are the reason that we seek to produce.  As one wise pastor told me, “interruptions are the ministry.”  This means that we must be open to many experiences that cannot be checked off a list.

This frees us up to jump in and help when we see a need.  We taught our children to always ask and look and volunteer to help when help is needed — to look for opportunities.   I often need to remind myself to do this.  This might not be a task I can check off my list.  But surely, this serves the greater good.  And this is what we are here to do.

Will God ever give you “more than you can handle”?

Last night at Bible study, the question was asked, “is it true that God will never give you more than you can handle?”

Many of us in Christian circles have experienced people hoping to encourage us by saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Christians commonly see this as an implication of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

I’d like to offer another interpretation, and one, I think, is more in keeping with the rest of the Scripture.

Certainly, no temptation that any of us face is unique to us.  And God’s faithfulness is unquestionable.

But God did not create us to be independent beings, able to fight sin and temptation in our own flesh.  We live “in Christ,” who says, in John 15:4-5:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Apart from abiding in Christ, even the least temptation will overpower us.  So in this sense, God always gives us more than we can handle!.  Because our sufficiency is in Christ, and not in ourselves.

Once again, Job is perhaps the paradigmatic illustration of this.  Could Job have faced his suffering and remained blameless if he had been content with the moralistic advice of his friends?  At best, it’s highly unlikely.  As he receives their counsel, he becomes more and more repulsed by their easy answers and platitudes.  As his torment grows, he rests in God more, and trusts in God more.

In a sense, Job is the “heroic ideal” turned on its head.  Job endures.  Job perseveres.  Rather than winning glory through heroic deeds in battle and overcoming his enemies through great force of arms, Job just stands there.

God is the hero.  It is God who vindicates Job.  It is in Him that Job endures trial.  Apart from the mercy of God, even the least dose of suffering would have overcome Job.  But Job stands there, and pleads his case before God, and God vindicates him.

Our flesh profits nothing. But Christ has overcome the world.  And it is only in Him, that we are able to overcome sin, temptation, and the devil.

 

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