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Owning Your Circumstances Requires Intentionality

“Do you want your circumstances to change, or do you want to change your circumstances?” Think about it. This is a critical question. It’s a question that our congregational care team asks when we meet with people who are undergoing some type of struggle. It’s important to discern and assess what the real needs and issues are and how we can help as a church.

Many people simply want someone else to "fix" their circumstances or problems, but they're not willing to go through the process of being equipped and mentored in order to change their circumstances. Sometimes we can find ourselves in such a deep hole financially, relationally or spiritually that we pray someone will come along and change our circumstances for us. In fact, some of our prayers are like this: "Lord, if you would just miraculously fix my marriage (or kids or job or _____), I would greatly appreciate it!" Have you noticed, however, that rarely does God swoop in with the "miracle card" and fix everything for you?

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the first two temptations were to "fix" Jesus' circumstances, and Jesus resisted both times (Luke 4:1-8). Picture the scene. When Jesus was fasting, Satan asked Him, "Are you hungry? Let me fix that for you by reminding You, Jesus, that you have the power to turn these stones to bread." One of the great lures of humanity is to have power and fame, and so Satan asked Jesus, "Do You want to have authority over all the kingdoms of the world? Let me fix that for you. Just worship me, and it will all be Yours." But Jesus doesn't fall into the trap of "letting" Satan try to fix His hunger or His fame. Sure, it would have been easier for Satan to "fix" those things for Him, but Jesus knew He had to make hard choices in doing what was right to change His circumstances (and the circumstances of our world), rather than just wanting someone to change things for Him.

So how does this apply to discipleship? Simple. Do you want someone else to "fix" you and give you "spiritual growth pills" that will miraculously change your circumstances, or are you willing to change your circumstances of spiritual growth and faith development? It's a lot easier to sit and listen to someone preach the Word rather than being equipped to study the Word. Don't get me wrong. We need to hear the Word preached. We need to gather with others to worship our Lord. But the biggest part of our spiritual growth comes when WE decide to change our circumstances rather than hoping our circumstances will somehow change.

This requires INTENTIONALITY in two areas: the positive and the negative. Concerning the positive, ask yourself what you need to do on a daily basis to grow as a follower of Christ. What are the positive things you can do such as schedule time every morning to pray and study the Bible? Make positive decisions to be pro-active concerning your spiritual growth. Commit yourself to a Life Group and an Adult Bible Fellowship group. Commit yourself to be engaged in weekly worship and service as part of the body of Christ. And, secondly, be intentional in identifying the negative things that are spiritual growth inhibitors, and then STOP DOING THEM! If watching certain movies or reading certain books drags you down spiritually, then don't watch or read them. If hanging out with certain people at certain places where you engage in certain activities isn't helpful in your relationship with Jesus, then stop hanging out with those people in those places which encourages you to do those things. This isn't a legalistic appeal. This is common sense. And I'm not encouraging you to become a monk where you're cloistered away from the real world (although that might not be a bad idea for some). The key is to let the right things come into your life (Philippians 4:8-9), and keep the wrong things out of your life (Galatians 5:16-21). This isn't rocket science, but Jesus does call it the "narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13-14). Just because something is simple to understand doesn't mean it's easy to do. Spiritual growth is hard word, but the payoff is absolutely incredible--a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and a joy that is incomprehensible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)!

I challenge you over the next few days to think and pray about your relationship with Jesus Christ and take ownership of your commitment to grow spiritually. Again, I ask, "Do you want your spiritual circumstances to change, or do you want to change your spiritual circumstances?" The choice is yours.

Original publish date – 11/15/12

Responsible = Response + Ability

I’m a conflict avoider. If I have a difficult conversation coming up with someone, I have a hard time thinking about anything else. My stomach turns. My sleep is restless. I would do just about anything to re-route my plans in order to sidestep the conflict. Maybe you’re like that as well.

In his book, Chase the Lion, Mark Batterson recounts the time he took a course called Story Seminary from the great screenwriter, Robert McKee. Of all the lessons learned, he said his biggest takeaway was this overarching observation: No conflict, no story. Every epic movie requires an epic conflict. That’s what makes the movie epic!

What’s true of movies is also true of life. “Great conflict cultivates great character” (21). Growth requires change, which necessitates conflict. Epic returns demand epic investment. These maxims can completely transform how you encounter conflict.

In the Story Seminar, McKee teaches that every storyline has defining moments, what he calls “inciting incidents.” These are points of no return—tipping points that force the characters to act or re-act, and those actions determine the ensuing plot.

These inciting incidents are either beyond your control or within your control. Either way, the one thing you can control is your reaction. There are circumstances in your life right now for which you are not responsible, but you are always “response-able.” You are able to choose how you will respond to your conflicts and circumstances.

Over the past few years I’ve had to process through a lot of conflict. Do you remember that I said I’m a conflict avoider? So, life has been filled with numerous inciting incidents, some for which I am not responsible. But I am response-able. I can choose how to turn conflict into character. And so can you.

Some of your inciting incidents are positive, like getting a new job or buying a new house. Others are negative, like losing your job or finding out you have cancer. But don’t judge the cover of your conflict too quickly. Beneath the surface, it may be that your negative incidents actually lead to great blessing, and your positive incidents could have some negative side affects.

That’s why we live by faith and not by sight. What we deem a success may lead to future failure. And the way we manage failure may lead to future success. All we can do is keep believing, keep trusting and keep moving on.

I have a note I keep posted on my desk that reads, “Let go. Learn as you go. Keep going, no matter what” (Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains). I look at it every day to remind me that whatever inciting incidents I may face, my destiny is determined more by cultivating courage than by avoiding conflict. I may not always be responsible for what happens, but I am response-able. And so are you.

In the story of your life, maybe you need to take your next step in moving forward in faith. As is often said, “You can’t steal second base if you keep your foot on first.” So, be of courage. Be response-able. Your epic challenges can lead to epic victories.

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up” (Galatians 6:9, TLB).

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