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Formulas for Life

All of us have patterns in our lives. Some of those patterns have the ability to hurt us, and the people around us, deeply. There is a way to break these patterns.

I spent time running this past summer. I have tried to stay consistent since January 2005, although I upped the ante a bit in the summer and ran every day.

One day, when we were in Northern Idaho, I wanted to try a new trail. It was great, fun and exciting … for the first 100 feet or so. The terrain on the new trail changed soon after I began and I started running over roots and rocks, dodging branches and jumping logs! It was nearly impossible to set any kind of steady pace. After just a few feet, I found myself wanting the open road again where I could see clearly ahead and where I did not have to worry about roots or rocks and things that could tangle me up.

This incident reminded me of a poem. It's called:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
Chapter 1 I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in . . .
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2 I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again . . .
It … takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3 I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in; it's a habit . . .
I get out …
Chapter 4 I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter 5 I walk down another street.

I've noticed that I sometimes step into the same mud puddle over and over in my life and I make the same mistakes over and over again. I have realized that there are some negative cycles that can be very damaging if they get out of control. One day, I wrote out both the good and bad patterns and rhythms I saw in my life. These patterns can be summed up in a few phrases: "Bigger is better." "More is good." "Busier is best." "Pleasure is comforting." "Adventure is fulfilling." "Experience is best." "Immediate is great."

These patterns are sometimes positive, and sometimes they can be negative. For example, I enjoy a full day. I like to crunch in about three extra things in the day just to see if I can get them done. It's kind of fun. But, sometimes, I ride that edge too much and then the pressure mounts. The time crunch occurs and all it takes is one extra construction project or one speed trap and, all of a sudden, I'm not having any fun and neither is my kid, who is late for soccer.

This past summer had a classic vacation story. I woke up one morning, and said to my family, "Let's drive to Montana and see the country around Missoula." So, we packed some lunch and off we went. Adventure. Nature. Shopping. Restaurants. 170 miles from home. Awesome. But, then it's 10 p.m. and I suddenly look at my family and they are whipped. And, we've got a three hour drive still ahead of us. The adventure was not nearly as exciting for Pam and the kids as it was for me. They slept, I drove and it began to rain.

Now, as it turns out, these two examples—running on a new trail and my family road trip – were not life threatening, just a little uncomfortable. I certainly have more destructive patterns of behaviour. But my point is, that all of us have these patterns and if we really take a good look at them, some of those patterns have the ability to hurt us, sometimes deeply, and the people around us.

So, here's what I'm learning or trying to learn about negative cycles in my life. Here are some quotes from my black journal book about mud puddles.

Wisdom For My Life

If you don't know how you got into the cycle, you won't be able to find your way out.

If you don't know why you did it, you won't be able to change your motivation.

If you are determined to only learn the hard way, you will find it hard to learn.

If you can connect the dots and see the relationship between cause and effect you will be free from much unnecessary pain that mud puddles can create in life.

Never see your circumstances as isolated from your actions. Quit blaming. If you are in the mud, you are the one who walked in there.

But, the question is, "How do I get out of the mud puddle once I'm in?" Or, better yet, "How do I prevent myself from getting into the mud puddle?" I believe there is a formula for answering these questions. That formula is best captured in one word … insight.

Insight is not just a human skill that we can hone. It's a supernatural gift …

Insight is the ability to see and understand life clearly and the ability to see and understand the inner nature of things. Insight is what allows us to read other people and situations with wisdom. Insight is what makes our intuition and truth line-up on the same plane. And it's what allows us to make right decisions and right choices in our lives and in our families. If we live without insight, we may come to live with great regret. Insight is a rare gift from God and a blessing. It's rare because it takes a lifetime to develop and few of us find it. It's a blessing because I believe God alone has the ability to multiply it in our lives. Insight is not just a human skill that we can hone. It's a supernatural gift given to us by God's grace and mercy.

Insight is not a genetic thing or a birthright. It's not a chance thing, either. It's not as if you wake up one morning and all of a sudden you have great insight. No. Insight gets developed in our lives by God's grace and by us choosing it.

Insight is a choice and it grows within us, as we make choices in our lives and as we walk with Jesus. These choices create amazing things that shine light on the path ahead of us and stops negative patterns of behaviour from overtaking our lives. Proverbs 2:2-5,9-11 says:

Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.

There are three words that can be gleaned from this passage to help us become more insightful human beings. They are Discipline, Discernment, and Discretion. Discipline is training that produces self-control so we do not fall into a mud puddle. Discernment is the ability to see a mud puddle before it comes. Discretion is the ability to act cautiously when approaching a mud puddle. These three words are keys to the secrets to life which often are not very complicated. But, the secrets are difficult to fully experience in life.

Most of us know that choosing to eat well would make a huge difference in our health and in the aging process. We know that good daily food choices can dramatically change our quality of life for the better. But, so many of us are caught up in a negative cycle with food. We eat because we think food will make us happy or we eat because we don't have anything better to do or we eat because we have an abundance of food in Canada. But, how often do we eat with the nurture and care of our bodies in mind? We often forget that discipline, discretion and discernment with food will get us out of some destructive negative health cycles. To be aware of our eating patterns and to act on that awareness is insight. Often, insight is all about prevention.

Let's examine another example. In our culture, we have a "buy now, pay later" mentality. To talk about discretion, discernment and discipline in a consumer-based society is a lot like swimming up stream. That new SUV or bigger T.V. or grander home or great business deal just loses its shine when payments are strapped to your back and you become enslaved by debt. The Bible makes some great statements about money. In fact, it talks more about money and how it affects us than it does about almost anything else.

The Bible says that money and material things actually belong to God. He is the owner and giver of life and He owns and gives everything, including our pay cheques. Our role as human beings in creation is to manage or be good stewards of God's resources. We have the responsibility of managing God's stuff so we can make a difference for good with what we've been blessed with. Giving money, being generous and using God's resources to bless others should be our #1 priority. But, what often happens is that we forget discipline, discretion and discernment and instead we become good consumers rather than good stewards. We become great at buying on instant credit to satisfy our selfish desires. We then end up with a huge debt that requires so much of our cash flow that we can't give to things that are truly important. The truth of the matter is that it's not wise and it's not what God desires for our lives. He knows how much our heart shrivels when we are not practicing generosity and He knows how pointless it is to pursue money for selfish gain. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (NIV) said:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

The "formula" of discipline, discernment and discretion works in every area of life, whether that be your time schedule, your friendships and relationships, or your daily tasks. My bet is that following the "formula" for a short time will see a huge pay off in your life.

Can you imagine this "formula" working in your spiritual life, as well? Imagine if you made some very small but significant disciplined choices to develop your soul. What if you just took 30 minutes every morning (or whenever) to explore and invest and develop your spirit. You could learn to worship or you could study God's Word or you could simply sit and let God have a bigger piece of your mind and heart and life. A short, daily spiritual routine of 30 minutes emphasizing discipline, discernment and discretion over a year can make such difference of lasting eternal proportions.

In a certain part of Malaysia, a specific kind of bamboo is grown that is very valuable. The farmers who grow it know all about the wisdom and patience and discipline that it takes to produce the results they desire. In the first year, they plant the seed, water and fertilize. Nothing visible happens in the first year. In the second year, they continue to carefully water and fertilize all year. Nothing visible happens in the second year, either. In the third year, more water and fertilizer are needed, yet nothing happens. There is absolutely no visible evidence that the three years of work are even close to being successful. The fourth year comes around and water and fertilizer must still be applied, in the right amounts and at the right time. But you guessed it. Nothing happens. In the fifth year, the farmers diligently water and fertilize. And, suddenly, the bamboo grows ninety feet in thirty days. Not nine inches in thirty days, not nine feet in thirty days but ninety feet in thirty days! From zero to the height of a nine story building in thirty days. This is what happens with small steps of obedience, small actions of discipline and small steps of faith. These steps produce amazing results over time.

There is great regret in life when we stay on the same street trying to get around the same mud puddles. But, there is great reward in walking on a completely different path called insight. Proverbs 4:18, 25 - 27a, says, "The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day."

Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only those ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left and the blessings will flow.

Rev. Dean Angell is Lead Pastor at Lakeview Free Methodist Church in Saskatoon, SK.

Originally published in Mosaic, March 2006.




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