Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's Up to You - The Choice is Yours

By B. Stuart Noll
All Rights Reserved

After 54 years I have succumbed to the old insurance adage is, “It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” The “it” I’m referring to here is a personal character and assurance we’re given when we seek the will of God and the truth of His word. Applying these elements to the decisions we make throughout our lives increases the likelihood of success. “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3 (NIV) how’s that for insurance?

Let’s get right to the heart of the message here; success in life (no matter how you measure it) is all about choices and decisions. Making the right ones isn’t always easy and the consequences are life changing. It’s like the insurance commercial says “Life comes at you fast!” Many of our life choices are hard to make at all, let alone correctly for us. But, when the element of time (or the lack of it) is introduced it magnifies the importance of the decision making process as well as the necessity of having a little spiritual insurance for the times when things don’t go as planned.

3 Important Decisions

Before I get started here I think it’s important to get a few definitions out of the way. I would like to, for the sake of this article define 1) Choices, 2) Decisions, 3) Time.

1. Choices – I was surprised to find so many definitions for this word beyond the one I expected related to the ability to choose or select after careful consideration. There were others like multiple choice, fielders choice, the axiom of choice in sets, the sailors choice (referring to the pinfish or pigfish), and my new favorite - Hobson’s choice, named after Thomas Hobson, a liveryman, who required his customers to take the horse nearest to the door which was, of course, no choice at all. But choice as defined in this article is derived from the abundance of God. If you will survey all that is around you and view it as available for stewardship you will understand the essence of this definition. As a result of the abundance of God, these choices are immeasurable, but they can become limited or narrowed by the decisions we make to limit them or ourselves.

2. Decision – From the verb to decide. (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary - Etymology: Middle English, from Latin decidere, literally, to cut off, from de- + caedere to cut.) After your decision, based on this definition, there is no retreat. You can only move forward toward your goal.

3. Time – (Again from Mirriam-Webster the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues)

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.” As soon as we came out of our mother’s womb we began a journey of growth. For the most part, for me, it has been a great ride. The younger we are the less apt we are to be concerned with the definition of or the impact time will have on our lives and for some reason we seem to feel invincible. As time passes and our experiences mount that viewpoint slowly changes. Don’t believe me? Show this to a 16 year old and a 60 year old and ask them what they think and you’ll see what I mean.

But, everyone, regardless of their age is growing and, as such, is required to choose a path for that growth. It will be no surprise that there are some laws we cannot escape like death, taxes, and for most of us, gravity! This all leads me to what I think are 3 very important decisions.

To know God

1. To know God is to know the source of all that is. John 1:3 says, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” I think that includes you and me. Of course you have to decide to believe that. If this is true, then it would be logical for us to want to know Him personally so we can avoid, as much as possible, those things that would grieve His spirit and cause us to be separated from Him. Not only does God provide us with all of our earthly choices but He also provides us with the heavenly ones as well and He will not jam any of them down our throats. To know Yeshua (Jesus), for example is a decision based on all the choices from which you have to choose. Knowing God gives us a basis, a standard from which to compare right and wrong, and if we are making decisions in line with his spirit we will have fruit; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Gentleness, and self-control. That’s good enough for me, how about you?

2. To know yourself

I’m sure you’ve seen or heard the quote, “To thine own self be true.” Well so often we get ourselves into trouble because we didn’t know our own strengths or weaknesses. We miscalculated how we would perform under certain circumstances or temptations, even with the best of intentions. Our pride often interferes with our true capabilities and our egos hide flaws in our character.

If we refuse to choose wisely with whom we identify, the development of our character will continue down a rocky path. Yes, we can still accumulate material possessions and many times seem to have it all under control. But, when the stresses of life bear down on one who ultimately has no support, faulty character, and misguided counsel, his house must crumble. Again, this is a decision based on the choices God has provided in His abundance. It is entirely upon your shoulders and you will bear the full weight of that decision or the lack of it if you fail to make it. Consequences are a fact of life. Knowing who you are, what gifts you possess and the purpose for which you are here is critical to successfully avoiding the pitfalls to navigating this thing we call life.

3. To know others

Yeshua said that loving our neighbors as ourselves was second only to loving God the Father with all our heart, strength, mind and soul and that the greatest thing we could do was to lay down our lives for each other. It’s and understatement to say this is a fairly strong indication of how important it is for us to know others and it’s no secret how important relationships were to the Lord our God. So why then is it so hard for us to make the decision to treat each other with love and respect. What is it that we have placed atop the priorities that God gave us? I’m not just speaking of our closest, intimate relationships but also of our co-workers, neighbors and even our enemies. This is an easy thing to say, and with all honesty, so tough to do without knowing God and yourself.

I hope and pray that my fellow believers will consider this short article as a call to take a look under the hood to examine the choices and decisions they have both made and are available to them today. We serve an awesome God and if you commit your plans to Him, He will prosper them.

The purpose for the earlier definition of time is simple. Whether you choose to recognize it or not, time as we know it is running out. Each click of the clock cannot be redone or taken back. Once it is gone, it is like a spent bullet or a misspoken word. It’s gone and cannot be recalled. That’s why it is critical for us to open our eyes and to inspect the choices provided by God’s abundance. We must also become skillful in our decision making processes so that we do not limit those choices, but multiply them, thus increasing our opportunity to make a better decision. We have the capacity to make three important decisions and do it with a sense of urgency. Once we have made the decision to commit ourselves to the Lord and His calling on our lives and we get to know Him, ourselves, and our fellow man we can move on, beyond our current circumstances, to the glorious hope we have in Him. We can them also be successful in serving our fellow brothers and sisters with joy and in a way that brings honor and glory to the Father!

I will leave you with these two quotes and a thought:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
- Viktor Frankl

Though Drs. King and Frankl lived different lives, in different parts of the world, they both had choices upon which they made decisions. Because they boldly and heroically chose to make those decisions before their time ran out, they left us with a template, much as Yeshua did, with an imprint of the life we are to live so we can lead others back home.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What's Your Focus

By B. Stuart Noll
All Rights Reserved

The old adage is “your energy goes where your focus is.” Like a laser beam, focused energy can be very powerful. Powerfully focused energy can be constructive or destructive. Energy that is disrupted or dissipated is just energy with potential. It can be stored for later use, sometimes moved or transferred from one place to another but, unused it accomplishes nothing and when any power source is disrupted it is, for a time at least , unused! Agreed?

Okay, so what’s the point? It is critically important to be aware of the direction and employment of our energy. It is our “personal power” as author and motivator extraordinaire Anthony Robbins would term it. If we permit our energy to be disrupted we run the risk of at best, not achieving our goals and at worst – the proverbial burnout! So, what is your focus? Where is your energy? Is it being used or disrupted? Is it focused and powerful or is it weak or being transferred, stored, or in the worst case scenario, depleted?

For many of us, regardless of our circumstances, the stresses of daily living (or surviving as may be the case for an ever increasing number of us today) drain our physical, mental and emotional batteries with each new event, depleting or exhausting our energy resources. Even with advances in technology and medicine many people today, at every age level, are losing their precious “personal power” one distraction at a time. None of us intends to have more day left at the end of our oomph but, it happens, and usually without us even knowing how!

A number of years ago I had the privilege of working as an industrial engineering supervisor with United Parcel Service. As a part of my training I performed elemental time studies and methods evaluations on package car drivers and what I learned I think has application here. After careful analysis I found that most drivers who lost time, when compared with a predetermined method, lost that time unintentionally and in small increments. They weren’t slow; they were losing time a few imperceptible seconds each minute, unintentionally throughout their day. Of course, time was money for “The tightest ship in the shipping business.” When the driver corrected the methods they used to accomplish their daily routines the lost time disappeared.

I believe the same is true of our disappearing energies. Our power isn’t usually sapped by one catastrophic occurrence, but by little, almost unnoticeable distractions permeating our worlds. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the kids or an interruption at work or a driver cutting us off in traffic, when our focus is interrupted we lose a little bit of energy. That’s not the worst of it. If, in our minds, the interruption throws us completely off kilter and the distraction becomes a sustained nuisance we can lose a significant amount of stored energy that we intended to use to accomplish our goals.

The associated thoughts spiraling and fuming within us during and immediately following an incident can often cause a significant shift in our mindset and a subsequent continuous drain on our energy levels.

In reality most things are minor issues yet they have the potential to divert us from investing our energy into positive, dynamic thoughts and actions which would produce, perhaps, a more pleasurable or intended outcome.

I have experienced this diversion of energy and loss of focus first hand and I have seen it in others and the result is almost always the same. At best, it takes time (another loss of a non-recoverable resource) to get back on track with our thoughts and then our actions related to our priority. At worst, we are so distracted by just one incident that it bleeds over into other facets of our day. They, in turn, also sap our energy until, at the end of the day, week, month, year or lifetime we have lost total focus of our objectives.

Whew! I’m glad that’s behind me because now I want to get at the how-to’s of all of this. I believe we can maintain our focus and reserve the necessary energy for achievement by following a few simple rules:

1) Get rid of your ego (the unhealthy side, that is) and be in the present with yourself and everyone around you. I have learned through study and experience how debilitating the ego can be to a relationship(s), the execution of goals and the pursuit of happiness. When we place greater importance on obtaining what we want in lieu of remaining in tune with the present and open to the possibilities we are often robbed of time and energy. When we are distracted from the present moments focus to dwell on a past or future desire that isn’t yet a reality we are wasting valuable time where energy can be invested productively. If you are looking for reasons why this is so I suggest you begin to search within, because so much more will be revealed to you on that journey. For now I think it wiser only to share my experience.

2) Decide what really matters and practice it with all of your heart. If you have a hard time deciding, ask yourself “Why am I here?” After you begin your search for or get the answer to that question, then; don’t look back and don’t turn back. Limit the possibilities of external interference to the achievement of your goal or mission’s success and focus, focus, focus! Remember, distractions can sap you of your energy, so play the odds and limit the opportunities for disruption.

3) Incorporate teamwork. There is no need to venture out or go “it” alone. By “it” I mean life or any goal within it that you may choose to pursue. Creating a team to help you live life and accomplish goals not only enables your success, it multiplies and distributes it, often to those who need most what you have to offer. Human interaction promotes human growth. By including others in your life and in your projects you are inadvertently promoting and producing a positive energy - fuel for the mind and for the heart and for the spirit that will propel you to an unimaginable finish. At the same time, you may be taking someone else with you whose need and journey is even greater than yours. Or, better yet, you may be the spark to a friends own personal journey which increases their focus and energy!

4) Initiate and maintain healthy physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual habits. If you are having difficulty determining for yourself what healthy habits are, this would be a great reason to incorporate teamwork. Get help, find a friend, find a coach, but get going. Increase your opportunity by starting as early in life as possible building strong, healthy habits. Even in today’s difficult economy I promise you that developing positive health behavior will pay a dividend of focus and energy far in excess of any investment in them you could possibly make. I ask you not to believe me, but try it, right away. The longer you wait the more momentum it will take to begin.

5) Choose! This life is a life of choices. They are indeed abundant, but you must choose or you run the risk of boldly going nowhere. Whether you get there fast or slow doesn’t really matter does it? All of us need the gifts and talents of those with whom we share this world and life. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re connected.

So, I implore you to choose to find your focus and increase your energy by getting rid of your ego, deciding what really matters, incorporate teamwork into your life, initiate a healthy lifestyle and choose to put your gifts to work for the benefit of all. Pursue your life’s mission with zest, fervor and faith. If you follow this brief recommendation I’m confident your focus will crystallize and your energy will escalate bringing you closer to the life you desire. Living a full and productive life essentially requires two things – a decision to begin and focused energetic action to finish what you start. For all of our sakes, please get started!