Devotions

Prioritizing Simplifies

Priorities

You used to live just like the rest of the world … – Ephesians 2:2

In 2008 the economy crashed. A wife lost her job. It panicked their family. How would they make ends meet?

“How are y’all doing,” I asked a few months later.

“Great,” she said, “Without me having my job, I’m home when the kids get home from school, instead of rushing home late from work … picking up the kids at childcare … and running through a fast food line four nights a week. I’m also not commuting to and from work, which was expensive. And I’m not buying lunch at work. And I haven’t been shopping for clothes to keep up with the styles at work.

“It’s amazing,” she continued, “we’re doing better financially than when I had a job. And our life is so much less stressful. We sit down at the table now and eat as a family. And we’re not so exhausted by chaos of the week that we’re making it to church more often.”

“That’s awesome,” I said.

And then two weeks later, she got a job offer and immediately climbed back on the hamster wheel. When I’d see them (twice a year at Christmas and Easter), I’d say, “How’s life.”

“Crazy,” they’d say.

A lot of families, of course, need two jobs. Life is truly expensive. But sometimes aren’t too many people opting for the hamster wheel just because “all of these activities are what suburban families are supposed to do”? We’re living just like the rest of the world. And sadly, “exhausted” is truly our societal norm.

The Apostle Paul wasn’t talking about busyness or simplicity when he wrote the verse for today. Nevertheless, he was talking about the sin of living just like the rest of the world instead of living like Jesus. For the last two weeks in worship, I’ve talked about the call in Matthew 10 to be disciples and to journey through life more simply. Jesus took no gold or silver or bag for his journey of ministry. We are to be like Jesus and as our Lord told the first disciples, we’re also to trust in God rather than carrying so much stuff on our journeys (Matthew 10:8-9). Stuff would have tied Jesus down. And it surely ties us down.

With this in mind, I urge you to sit down as a family and do a serious budget. Remember the family I referenced above? I’ll bet most of you, if you do a serious budget, will be surprised by how much you spend on unnecessary things that just keep the busyness of life spinning and spinning. And I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by how much of this spending – instead of giving you life – actually exhausts you further and further.

God wants you to be free. And how many of you have said that you want to be free? Well, one place to start is by budgeting. Budgeting is not really about money. It’s about prioritizing life. Doing an honest values-based budget is actually amazingly freeing.

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who has squeezed

a lot of freedom and joy from

putting our values in a budget

Simplicity: Sitting in the Light

Light

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26

Someone wrote back after I mentioned my light box which I often use in the fall. A lack of light in autumn depresses many people; indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder leaves many people SAD. They’ve said, “I’ve often wondered if I needed one.”

I said, “I think the light helped … but equally good were three others things associated with it.”

  1. To sit in front of a light box, you actually have to sit. How many of us take the time to sit and relax anymore? To sit, I have to slow down.
  2. I usually sat before the light box in the morning … which means I had a cup of coffee in my hand! For how many of you can coffee become a quiet ritual blessing?
  3. While I sat, I usually opened my Bible. I was filled with light from God’s Word.

Literally – as it says in today’s verse of blessing and benediction – God’s face was shining on me.

  • I was in his word … which is a light unto our path.
  • I was enjoying what God created first … light (albeit from a light box).
  • I was sitting and relaxing … which was making my burdens light.
  • And I was drinking my coffee (and with as much cream as I like in my coffee, it was … light!).

QUESTION: How do you get each of these simple blessings?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who needs

more light

Simplicity: What Sticks?

What Sticks

For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33

Today’s thought … Simplicity must not be complicated. It should be freeing. Not another form of guilt. Not another chore.

When I counsel people, I often say (near the end) that I’m going to start throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator. I said that to one young friend, and he didn’t know that this was a way some people test noodles. (If it sticks, you’re done.) He just thought it was hysterical. Sauce splattering everywhere. Meatballs bouncing off and rolling across the floor. He caught the idea that I was just going to go crazy, throwing out ideas. He missed the point that if it sticks, you’re done.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to throw out lots of ideas for simplicity. This is not a to-do list!!! Repeat after me: This is not a to-do list. ImagineL If you feel like you have to do everything I mention in order to live more simply, then these reflections are going to totally overwhelm you. The point is to see what sticks to you!!! If, in the midst of a hundred good ideas, you find one or two that work for you, then you’ll be freer.

So here’s today’s simple strand of spaghetti …

What is confusing and frustrating you most about the world right now? Well, according to today’s verse, whatever that is is not from God (for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace).

So, if we want more peace, we’re called to move away from the sources of confusion. We’re called to cut it out. We’re invited to take it to God. We’re enriched by talking about it with a mature Christian friend. Why? Because lies pull us from God and stresses weigh us down (and even if they’re little, a hundred little stresses can be like the straws that break the camel’s back).

What is confusing and frustrating you most nowadays? What’s robbing your peace? What do you need to do to go the other way?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who loves

to throw spaghetti

Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More

And the Peace of God

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

In today’s passage, the Apostle Paul tells us that prayer is one of the blessings that leads to peace. And don’t you want more peace?

Simplicity is our theme for the next few weeks. Last Sunday – and then in Monday’s devotion – I listed a dozen tips to simplify life. One was …

Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More

Healthy living gives us energy to make

better decisions and tackle life’s challenges.

Well, today let me tell you my story, and it starts with a question …

Do you know what serotonin is?

Some call serotonin “the happy chemical.” 5-hydroxytryptamine (more commonly “serotonin”) is a chemical with a wide variety of functions in the human body. Principally it is used to transmit messages between nerve cells. But serotonin plays a role in sleep, appetite, and cognitive functioning, and it plays a key role in emotions and mood.

And here’s one other fact about serotonin: My own body produces too little of it. I tell people that I often run “a quart low” – meaning, I’m not as naturally happy or buoyant as most people. And it gets worse in the fall. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, but with less sun as the days get shorter in the fall, many people get SAD (a depressive condition known as Seasonal Effective Disorder).

Most years as autumn approaches I sit for a half hour a day in front of a light box – artificial sun – to stimulate my serotonin and lift my mood. But this year, I haven’t needed it. This year I’m buoyant.

Mary Louise made this observation recently, and we pondered why. And between us, we came up with three things that are different this year …

  1. I’m eating better this year. I’ve lost ten pounds.
  2. I’m exercising more. I don’t exercise a huge amount, but every morning I’m on an elliptical treadmill for a few minutes to get my blood flowing.
  3. There’s more prayer surrounding me. To be honest, my prayer level hasn’t changed much, but our church’s prayer level – especially for our congregation’s staff – keeps rising! (Come try our Wednesday evening prayer group.)

And then suddenly … Wow! I realized that last week I went to lots of websites to come up with last Sunday’s simplification tips like “Eat Better, Exercise More, Pray More,” and it was precisely those three things that have been improving my mental health this fall!

And here’s the thing … indeed, here’s why “doing more” (exercise more and pray more, along with healthy eating) is a simplification tool … When we’re healthier, we have the capacity to deal with more stress. Or to put that another way, health simplifies our lives. In other words, if I don’t have the capacity to do one thing, then I’m routinely overwhelmed. But if I have the health, the mood, and the capacity to do ten things … then … well, I probably still shouldn’t do more than six or seven, but I’m operating within my margin.

Are you within your margin? Maybe it’s time to take up better eating, exercising, and praying!

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who truly needs the light –

it improves my mood

(including my spiritual mood)

 

Slower Speed, Less Noise

Slow Down

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself … – Psalm 37:7

Do any of you remember when the nationwide speed limit was 55 mph? After an oil crisis and long gas lines at the pumps, slower interstate speeds were put in place to save gas. The rationale: You burn less traveling more slowly.

When the speed limit was finally raised back to 65 mph, there was an interesting side effect: The noise levels from the freeways doubled. Think about that. Raising the speed limit by just 10 mph – 18% – doubled the noise!

That’s the way it is with busy lives. Increasing our activities is not simply an incrementally additive process. Have you ever said, “I know we’re busy, but what’s one more little thing?” But here’s what you need to know for sanity’s sake: A little additional stress doesn’t compound at a simple additive rate; stress is exponential. An 18% increase in activity can double the stress and noise and chaos in our life.

I guess President Carter was right: You burn less traveling more slowly.  

But most people that I know today don’t say they’re going 55 mph … or even 65 mph. Most feel like they’re just trying to hang onto the steering wheel at 100 mph. Life is busy. Crazy. Exhausting. Chaos.

And then what happens when something unexpected comes up? Somebody gets sick … Grandma breaks her hip. Can you take a few days to go and help her … Your job demands overtime … The car dies and you have to figure out how to get by for a while with one less vehicle. Do you have the margin to handle the extra stress? And it’s not just time; it’s money too. What happens when the water heater breaks or the transmission goes out?

We’re trying to hang on at 100 mph while life is rushing at us at another 100 mph. How true is it in your life that we need to pump the brakes before something breaks?

I told you last Sunday that slowing down is a three step process: DESIRE, DECIDE, DETERMINE.

  • If you want to slow down, you first have to DESIRE peace more than you desire all the chaos that you’ve chosen and keep perpetuating. How big is your desire?
  • Second, you have to DECIDE what you’re going to stop. Something’s got to give. And to give up something, you’re going to first have to prioritize. What do you really value? Which activity(s) don’t fit my highest goals?
  • Finally, you have to DETERMINE that you’re going to stick to it. If you say I’m going to digitally declutter and limit the use of my phone, then you’ll need determination when you habitually reach to pick that phone up. If you say I’m going to do devotions each morning, then you may have to be disciplined each night to set the alarm fifteen minutes early (and if you’re like me, not hit the snooze button when morning comes). What is it for you? Most say it takes 21 days to form a habit and 60 to cement it into our being. Will you be that determined?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who wants to

take his foot off

the accelerator

Tips for Simplicity

tis a gift square

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ …and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ – Matthew 22:36-39

Jesus simplified. Instead of 613 Jewish Laws (or even 10 commandments), he simplified it down to 2. And it’s really one: Love! Because, for example, if we love neighbor, will we kill him or steal from him? No. It was brilliant simplification.

Our theme for this season is simplification. I asked yesterday if could share with us helpful ways that you’ve found to simplify. Here’s some of your advice …

  • DIGITALLY DECLUTTERING: A while back I closed down my Facebook and don’t do twitter or snapchats so I don’t get caught up in comparison hell and digital gossip.
  • SETTLE FOR GOOD ENOUGH: Rather than feeling guilty about what we didn’t accomplish, we try to celebrate what we did get done. Our phrase is “better than nothing.”
  • DIGITALLY DECLUTTERING and CLARIFY YOUR MOST IMPORTANT: By reading the Bible and avoiding the news I’m learning to replace my fear with faith!
  • PHYSICALLY DECLUTTERING: I find myself looking stuff and thinking I might need this one day … or about how much money I spent on it, how can I get rid of it … so I end up talking myself into keeping it. Now, with a small chance of us having to move, I find myself asking, if I move, am I going to take this with me? Usually the answer is no. (Good perspective, even if you’re not thinking of moving.)
  • PHYSICALLY DECLUTTERING: Several years ago my wife helped me de-clutter my closet. She put a twist-tie on each of the hangers in my closet. As I wore a shirt or pants I removed the twisty from the hanger. In 6 months when I looked inside the closet. Any hanger that had a twisty on it meant that I had not worn that item in the last 6 months. Time to get rid of it. (And he continues …)
  • SPIRITUALLY DECLUTTERING: I also wanted to de-clutter my inside life. I wanted peace in the chaos and have found it.  It may have started 10 years ago. I started daily being involved in a Read the Bible in a year program. (Log on or get the app.) My world is just as hectic as it was years ago, but I am at peace. The daily reading of God’s Word has made a huge change in my heart.  I am amazed at how many days each week the readings are just what I needed to hear for that day.  If God’s Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path, I don’t need to see 10-20 feet down the path. Daily Bible reading helps me see where to place my next footstep. That’s all I really need. This one act of daily reading God’s Word is my #1 simplifier in my life.
  • PRIORITIZE: I love the power of three. I set three main tasks for the day. If I get to more great, but if I get those three things done I feel empowered.
  • SIMPLIFY SIMPLIFICATION: De-clutter is and has been huge for me – especially when my mother passed and her house ended up inside mine – but I refuse to overwhelm myself trying to simplify. Rather than stressing over simplification, I remember the phrase, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.” Lean to enjoy the time. Look forward to the small goals being met, to standing back and looking at what you’ve done in an hour or two or in a weekend.  Don’t become overwhelmed trying to simplify.
  • CLARIFY YOUR MOST IMPORTANT: To prioritize my time and do what is most important, willing to leave undone those things that I’d like to do but are not at the top of the list. Make a determined effort to know what is really important.
  • DIGITALLY DECLUTTER: Turning off computer and email a half hour before I go to bed. I need time away from the screen before sleep!
  • CLARIFY YOUR MOST IMPORTANT: Scripture indicates that my life should be a song to God. Before I make a purchase or begin a project, I’ve begun to ask myself “Who am I writing this song to— myself or my Savior?”  Though I stumble quite a bit on this one, I find that when I’m composing to Him my decisions lead to a whole less cluttered life.
  • SIMPLE CHRISTMAS: We stopped buying and giving Christmas gifts a few years ago. It saves money and time and stress. Our children know this and are fine as it minimizes their stress as well (since they don’t have to spend the time, money, and stress to buy for us either).
  • CLARIFY YOUR MOST IMPORTANT: Before I rush into projects and just always say, “Yes,” I’m refocusing on the question: “Related to Eternity, how important is this?”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who seeks to

simplify by loving

First Steps for Simplicity

In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. – Mark 1:35

Yesterday we started the theme of simplicity. Here’s today’s question:

What tips for simplicity have you tried that have worked for you?

Yesterday’s question was, “What first steps will you choose to take?” At the bottom are the first dozen responses I received by 8:30am. There’s obviously a hunger for this!!!

Some of these responses, however, also began to offer tips – today’s questions. These are tips from people who are weeks, months, or years ahead of us … and are enjoying the fruit. Enjoy reading these tips for a simpler life:

  • This has been a big year for change: The phrase “I don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve” has changed to “What’s the next step?” I dropped 15 pounds by a change of menu (and ingredients). I’m focusing more on the big things – God, family, and surprisingly Me! I’m deciding to keep only the necessities. Stress has not evaporated – just the frantic attitude toward it.
  • I actually started this simplify habit a few weeks ago that comes under routines. My shirts are in a stack in my dresser. Whatever shirt is on top is the one I wear that day. Shirts out of the washer go to the bottom of the stack. No more standing in front of my clothes wondering what to wear. (I responded: I love this! And if you get to a shirt you really don’t want to wear, maybe that’s a shirt to declutter.)
  • Finally, in our verse for today, Jesus showed us how he typically began his days:  “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Notice, our Lord had a set time (very early) and a set place (quiet and deserted), and if the Son of God needed to talk to the Father each day, how much more do we mere mortals need that time of communion!

So how are you resolving to simplify? Here are the first handful of responses I got …

  • Emotionally declutter by watching less negative news.
  • Prayer & Prioritize: “Lord, what do You want me to do today?  Fill me – over-fill me – with Your Holy Spirit. And allow me to follow.”
  • Declutter … now that it is cool enough in the garage to clean it out.
  • Start a good habit of walking my neighborhood and eating cleaner.
  • Evaluate our plans, all the shopping trips, packing a schedule full, running errands, etc.
  • Eat better, Exercise more, Pray more and Declutter as I think they go hand in hand.
  • Declutter and quit overthinking.
  • I need to turn the TV off and read the Bible like I used to.

Noticing any themes?

Anyway, that leaves us with two questions and get back to me with either (and you can keep refining the first one until a habit is shaped and formed) …

  1. What are you resolving to simplify?
  2. What tips do you have for simplifying that are working for you now (or in the past)?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who knows that

getting to simplicity

is not simple

… but it’s worth it