Haunted by Unrealistic Expectations

Years ago I saw a friend of mine wearing a t-shirt that read DON’T SHOULD ON ME. When I asked him about it he said “there are just too many people telling me ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that,’ and I’m just tired of it.”

The expectations of others can haunt you for the rest of your life. John Maxwell said that most people are followers. That may be true, but there also seems to be so many idealists around with a wide spectrum of concepts. So many voices attempting to direct my thoughts and actions, telling me what I should and should not do.
Over the years, I’ve had my share of people telling me what I “should” do. I have always realized that many of these expectations were unrealistic and not worth my time. But there seems to be a problem. There is a part of me that continuously doubts my own thoughts and actions. Am I to listen to those voices that continue to tell me what I should do? Am I doing all that I could be doing?
Growing up in a traditional Pentecostal family and church, I faced lots of expectations. I remember the time in my mid-teens when I was “filled” with the Holy Spirit. I felt the overwhelming power of God’s Spirit on me and spoke in tongues. Then about a month later, several church members walked up to me and asked why I am not responding as other do in the church during the services. “After all, you were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then they said something that astounded me: “You can’t just sit around like this. You should get up and respond like all the others who are filled with the Spirit.” Even at that age, I was stunned at the thought that my spirituality was being measured by the response of others.
That is just one example of the many expectations that I grew up with. These experiences have certainly impacted my thinking. This may be the reason I question myself continuously and doubt every step I take. Can I be trusted to make good decisions? Are all these expectations to be heeded?
I am reminded of the words of Paul: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). This verse has given me lots of consolation through the years. I don’t need to live in fear that I will make the wrong choices and decisions. God will do his work in me to desire and to do his will. Certainly I value instruction and guidance from others. I don’t want to neglect that. Several mentors have impacted my life tremendously through the years, and I am grateful for that.
I may be limited by my abilities, but God is capable to do his work in me. What confidence in the midst of my doubts and all the unrealistic expectations that surround me! Still, once in a while, I get back to my old way of thinking. The expectations of others and the desire to perform and to be accepted can get the best of me. It’s a great task for me to divert all the unrealistic expectations and to be free. Free to pursue what God put in my heart.
Really – I trust God to work in me both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
What are the expectations that haunt you? How do you handle them?
Share it here in the comments.

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Who Cares?

When children fall, they often have the habit of looking around for a split second. Before they get up, they want to know: “Did anyone see this great tragedy of mine?” They make a quick evaluation based upon the intensity of their pain, and the response of others. If others have noticed, then a flood of tears and the incessant cries begin as a result of the pain. The emotional response of the pain is released. If no one has noticed, then the pain and the tears are both suppressed.

This pattern is often carried into adulthood. If there is a compassionate listening ear, we are more prone to share our burdens and the pain deep within us. That becomes an opportunity for us to open ourselves up so that our inward being can be healed. Does anyone care? Is anyone concerned?

But if there is no listening ear, then it is clear that there is no opportunity to open up. Thus we suppress the hurt and pain deep within us. Unless properly dealt with, the suppressed pain and emotions stay within this individual throughout their entire lives. There are three areas where these suppressed emotions will impact the person: social, spiritual, and physical.

Socially, the suppressed emotions act as a filter. All our experiences are interpreted through this filter. The danger in this is that our pain and suppressed emotions will cause us to react in negative ways. We will appear irritated, hurtful, and illogical even in the simple aspects of daily life. Our friends and families will become the “victims” of our emotional tirades. But during that time, we will see ourselves as the victim and everyone else as our enemies. This eventually turns into a vicious cycle from which it is difficult to break out.

Spiritually, something similar happens to us. We interpret God and his work from the same perspective of our pain. Although we may not see God as our enemy (sometime we do), we are not able to draw close to him. Our relationship with God remains superficial, with only a “formal” religiosity. No intimate connection with God at all. Ultimately we end up with a “form” of godliness, but no life.

The physical results of pain and suppressed emotions can also be identified. Numerous physical ailments have been traced to emotional and stress related issues. For 17 years, my lower back pain had caused me tremendous pain, and other challenges as well. It was a long process of emotional healing which continues even now. You can read about that at this link. That process was accelerated tremendously when I understood the link between my chronic lower back pain and my emotions. It was a book by Dr. Joseph Bowles that alerted me to that connection and helped me to deal with it systematically.

So, does anyone care? Of course there are so many who care, but because of my “filter” of pain and suppressed emotions, I just haven’t noticed. Now I am on a journey — a journey of healing. This journey is three-fold:  social, spiritual, and physical. The physical is complete, but so much is lacking in other areas. The Holy Spirit is literally walking me through this process. It’s a painful process, but well worth it.

How about you? Does anyone care? What’s your journey like?

Share it here in the comments.

Is It Misfortune or Simply a Complete Mess Up?

Jack* was a man we ministered to over twenty three years ago. He was constantly in and out of jail for various crimes. He lived with his mother and tried to take care of her (whenever he was not in jail). Each time he came out of jail or out of some major trouble with the law, he would call and we would get together and talk. I would pray intently for him and he would cry as the Holy Spirit came over him bringing conviction. He badly wanted to overcome his drug and alcohol habits which were the ultimate things that separated him and his wife. He wished he could watch his children grow up through each stage in life. But with his numerous addictions, that just wasn’t possible.

Getting a job also seemed impossible for him. Seeing his blood-shot eyes and piercing gaze would put fear in most people, much less give him a job. Long gaps in his work history gave way to questions he struggled to answer. But eventually he would tell of his prison sentence – and thus the end of the interview and opportunity for the job as well.

It still remains a challenge for me to know how to deal with such people who struggle to get a basic grip on life. We know what they really need – complete freedom from their addictions and a lasting stability. But that’s what they’ve wanted all these years. And that’s what we’ve been trying to help them with as well. But how do we get them from here to there?

The hindrances for these people are numerous. They are often interconnected with a circle of friends whose basic paradigm of life revolves around escaping the troubles of life. Time and time again they struggle to make meaning of their lives. But with a lack of hope and meaning, they gravitate towards others with a similar perspective on life.

But “shouldn’t they just get their act together like everyone else?” First of all, I’m not sure how many of us really have our “act together.” Often, the primary difference between those who struggle with addictions and those who don’t may not be much. My response to problems may be the type that can easily be hidden from others. But for these, their response becomes visible for everyone to see.

We need to adopt the basic understanding that we are all on a journey through life. As a fellow traveler, we need to be patient and understanding towards those who struggle with various addictions. That understanding will be the first step towards healing.

No one is too far gone for God to reach them and to transform their lives. There is always hope. With sufficient regular support and backup, they can overcome their addictions.

Yes, I have seen the occasional miraculous transformation where the power of God does an immediate and complete work. And the person is completely delivered from their addictions. But often, the need is great for an understanding community that will walk with this person to complete freedom.

*Name changed for privacy

Please share your comments here.

Photo by Casey Serin – Creative Commons

Want Evidence for a Great Future?

Which are the dreams in your life that have never been fulfilled? Maybe they are promises of God that have never become a reality. Those promises also became your dream as well. But somehow, life seems to have led you in a different path.

After reaching a certain age, you have concluded that some of these dreams are no longer possible. You know that there is no way for circumstances to be reversed so that your dreams can be fulfilled.

Abraham was a man who faced an unfulfilled dream all his life. God called Abraham to go to the land that he would show to him. When he arrived in that land, God indicated to him that this is the land that will be given to him and his descendants. But they lived like foreigners in that land that was to be their own.
Several ancestors are mentioned in Hebrews 11 who lived with what seems to be unfulfilled promises.
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)
So, instead of fulfilled dreams, all you have is a mess. There are certain important aspects of your life where you expected progress, but all you see is brokenness, a mess.
When God called Abraham, his entire life changed because his focus changed. He set out for something greater than what his life could offer. Yes, he continued to live his life on this earth, but his ultimate aim was something greater, something beyond. That’s why he left the land of his ancestry. That’s why he was willing to sacrifice his only son.
Instead of complaining and pouting, try Abraham’s method. Keep looking forward to the better future that God has for you in his presence. Allow the struggles of this life to point you to that great future God has for you. Let it constantly remind you that this life is not the ultimate reality. But that there is an awesome future waiting for you in God’s presence.
Do you have the assurance of this great future with God? If you are not completely sure, I have a special message for you here at this link.
So, what is your evidence for a great future? Share it here in the comments section.
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How You Benefit From God’s Unfairness

I was in my late teens as I stood before the judge that day. His words were very clear and spoken directly as he looked me in the eyes: “Young man, you were caught on the radar violating the school zone speed limit by 40 miles per hour! What do you have to say for yourself?”

Photo by Ed Bierman Creative Commons
I stood there like a wet puppy wondering what to say—maybe I should have borrowed the money and paid the hefty fine. I could have avoided this humiliation before all these people. Then I replied, “your honor, I just didn’t notice that it was a school zone. I’m sorry, it was not a deliberate act on my part to violate the law.” The reply from the judge came quickly: “young man, are you trying to tell me that you did not see those brightly colored boards and flashing lights? That’s absurd.” After that, I was at a loss for words as I stammered and said “sir, I was in a hurry trying to get to work after my classes. Maybe my mind was not entirely on the road.” Then the judge sat there just shuffling papers and scribbling some notes. I stood there shuffling my feet and wondering what will happen next. Then again he caught my eyes and with a look of frustration he said “you can go now. Let’s see what can be done.”
As I stepped out of the courtroom, a policeman directed me down the hallway to a desk. The lady at the desk asked my name and told me the amount I was to pay. To my surprise it was less than half of the original fine! I walked out of that court feeling much lighter than when I walked in. That lady’s voice continued to ring in my ears. I still couldn’t believe it. I was clearly guilty, yet I walked out of there paying less than half of what I owed.
On my way back, I wondered what that judge must have been thinking. Maybe he was thinking “oh, here’s another teenager who thinks he owns the road when he gets behind the steering wheel.” Maybe he felt sorry for me? But I didn’t tell him about my financial situation. I didn’t tell him that I was working during the nights to pay my college expenses and barely making it. But the look on his face tells me that he must have know much more than I told him. I did not ask him to reduce the amount since I knew I was guilty. But he reduced it anyway.
I love the words of Job “…know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (Job 11:6c ESV). I knew that I was guilty even though I didn’t recognize that school zone. I had no idea that the judge would reduce my fine so much. I simply thought I should try. Our God is much more merciful than we can imagine. When we come before God and admit our guilt, he forgives and restores us to a proper relationship with him.
Maybe you don’t have a relationship with God, or you don’t know what that means. I have a clear explanation for you at this link. For us, the difference is that the judge is our merciful savior. He made the provision for our pardon even before we ask him.
So, go ahead – go to the merciful Judge.   He’s not really fair regarding your sins, so he’ll forgive you.
Leave your comments here.

Cornered by God

What is that one thing that irritates you beyond all limits? I mean really, it gets under your skin and troubles you. You just can’t shake it off. You’ve tried, made decisions, made confessions, and even begged God, but this one thing does not change at all.

Maybe its something regarding your behavior or certain habits that just don’t seem to go away. Or it maybe its that relationship that is so difficult. It could be the job or the career that you’ve selected. You jumped into it years ago for various reasons, but now it seems just meaningless.
You need to identify that one thing. Oh, yes, for some of you, there is no need to try to identify it. It just has a huge place in your daily life that you can’t miss it. It’s just right in your face all the time.
You wonder if God doesn’t care, if he is not at all concerned about your struggles. Sometimes you wonder if God did it! Maybe he is the one who brought you into this mess and caused all this brokenness in your life. You are in this situation because you decided to obey him and to follow his ways.
Ultimately you feel cornered, with no place to turn. You have tried to “change” the people around you, but you realize that its impossible. Then you recognize that the problem lies with you. You are the one who needs to change. But you have come to the realization that you can’t change yourself either. Yes, you realize that you surely are cornered. Maybe cornered by God, but surely cornered by your own brokenness.
This utter helplessness and brokenness you feel is the very reason Jesus died on the cross. Whether this situation was caused by your sin or the result of the actions of others, the cross is the only answer. But then, you may feel that God is the cause for your plight, and you just can’t make sense of the situation you are in. Still, the answer is the cross. Go to him and ask him to help you sort out this entire mess you are in. He will enlighten your mind and soothe your emotions.
So, what is that one thing that disturbs you the most? I don’t believe you can make any sense of the situation by thinking it through. Just go “to the foot of the cross” with all your brokenness. He will place his hands on you. Everything still may not make any sense, but his presence will be enough.
It is difficult to describe the experience of calmness in the midst of the storm. But that is exactly what you will feel. The Holy Spirit will fill you with the realization that God is surely in control of everything in your life that you have no control over.
So, do you still feel cornered by God? Job did too. Listen to his lament: “Yet these thing you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. If I sin, you watch me and do not acquit me of my iniquity. If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look on my affliction. And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me down like a lion and work wonders against me. You renew your witnesses against me and increase your vexation towards me; you bring fresh troops against me (Job 10:13-17 ESV).
Do you have a lament to share?
You can express that in the comments here.
Photo by r_stephen  Creative Commons

Guilt and Innocence

I was just nine years old as I stood on an over-pass above the highway throwing empty beer cans into the highway. Some of the cans bounced off the cars and then was crushed by other vehicles that followed. Other cans I threw fell right in front of the cars and was immediately crushed. Some just fell between the wheels and was only crushed several cars later as the wind blew the cans around. After throwing each can I stood there intently watching its movements until it was finally crushed.  

It was a fun and exhilarating experience for me as I threw each can over the fence until a man walked by who started yelling at me. He said something about damaging the cars and what a nuisance kids are these days.  I remember as I heard that man’s voice, I had two objections to his reaction. First, I did not see any damage to the vehicles as the beer cans bounced off the vehicles. Those vehicles just simply drove on.  Second, he used the word “kids” in plural. There was no one else with me as I accomplished this task. After some more yelling the man just walked away after giving me a warning. Then I threw one more can and ran in the other direction as I saw that man turning around to me.  

Maybe I was just a product of my environment growing up in the Bronx. As that man spoke to me, I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As much as I could see, I was not doing any damage at all. Yet that man seemed to be so irritated.

There was a man in the Bible who was quite righteous in his ways. This was attested by God and he surely thought well of himself. But in his most gruesome situation, he had second thoughts and said: “Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse” (Job 9:20 ESV). In his own mind he seemed to be blameless, but in light of the holiness of God, he realized that he had no chance.

Just like my experience at the age of nine, we simply don’t recognize our own sinfulness. Through the years, we become “acceptable” to most people, and those are the people we spend most of our time with. Thus we loose that critical element in our relationships and we are not able to recognize our own faults.

Among many things, there are two factors that help us to have that critical element. Involvement in small groups, and meditation of the Bible. In a small group based on relationships, the chances are greater for the rough edges in our personalities to begin to rub against each other. This will result in some form conflict that eventually needs to be resolved within the small group experience. In a loving and accepting group, one has the freedom to open up and share weaknesses.  Along with this, a daily reading and meditation of the Bible has great value. While we read, meditate, and pray, the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to work within us.  He will highlight and convict us regarding those things that needs correction.

We may be innocent in our own eyes, but before God, we stand guilty.

So, do you have any stories of “innocence” to share?

Leave your comments here.

Photo by Doug Kerr

Has Life Broken You?

While I was a college student I took classes in Psychology as well as counselling.  In one of those classes, we had to do a test to analyze our emotional and mental temperament. There was a questionnaire with lots of topics and a list of life experiences for which each experience was given a number according to its intensity. The purpose was to grade the effect of difficult life experiences on an individual. When I filled up that page at the age of 20, the totals were quite large. According to those numbers I should have been an emotional wreck many times over.
Through the years I remembered that test many times.  Especially when I experienced excruciating pain as a result of the pressures in life.  For a long time that pain was emotional, then for about seventeen years it became increasingly physical.
The emotional pain was mostly ignored due to a strong will that allowed me to move on.  I was aware of that pain, but I never allowed it to inhibit me in any way.  When the pain became physical, I was still able to ignore it until I was bedridden.  Now that changed everything.  Every movement of my body caused me excruciating pain.

It was in my late teens that I heard the saying: “Life is not out to break you but to make you.”  This statement has helped me tremendously over the ears as I faced numerous struggles in life.  I would remember the words of Jesus: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

When the pain became physical and I was bed-ridden for months at a time, I began to question my own perspectives.  “Maybe life is out to break me, not to make me.”  I helped so many others to find hope, but I ended up in a hopeless situation.

Through numerous tragedies in her life, Lee Ezell in her book, Finding Hope When Life’s Not Fair, says: “…it may be way too early to judge whether or not this catastrophe in your life will ultimately be devastating.  Perhaps you will soon see how God is working it into His plan for you!  Both the good and the bad may be woven together into the beautiful tapestry of our life.”

So what if you think life is out to break you, not make you?  Remember that Jesus has overcome the world and he offers us his peace.  If you can wait long enough, he works it out in our lives so that it becomes something beautiful in his eyes, either here on earth or beyond.

How have you handled your situations where you felt that life is out to break you, not make you?  Do you have suggestions for others in the same situation?

Leave your comments below.

Photo credit michael pollak Creative Commons.

A Surprising View of Leadership Development

Jesus only spent three and a half years with his disciples. He developed them and trained them to do the tasks he did. After his departure they were to carry on the work through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had complete trust in the Holy Spirit to guide his disciples.
In my years of teaching in a seminary and pastoring, I have been involved in training and developing people for ministry. This, I have found to be quite a challenging task as the people come from various backgrounds.
There is often a huge gap between my expectations and theirs. When tasks are assigned, and goals are set, I remind myself that my expectations may not always be met. Their growth and development as leaders may be well below my ideal for them. I know they could do better.
Jesus expressed a similar frustration when he said “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you…” (Matthew 17:17 ESV). Jesus knew that his time with the disciples was limited, so he wanted to make sure they were prepared to carry on the work he began. But the performance and the responses of the disciples were certainly not according to his expectations.
In such a disheartening situation, Jesus expressed unwavering trust in the Holy Spirit and his disciples. He told his disciples that they will do the works that he did, and even greater things will be accomplished through them (John 14:12 ESV). Then he promises them the Holy Spirit who would remain with them forever (John 14:16 ESV). He also said that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things that Jesus taught them (John 14:26 ESV).
These words of Jesus were not a blind “shot in the dark” just to give them a positive feeling. Rather it was a definite trust in the Holy Spirit to teach, empower, and guide the disciples. Jesus completed the task, and now it was up to the Holy Spirit to carry them further.
Jesus’ approach to training the disciples was expressed systematically by John Maxwell in his book Developing The Leaders Around You. He gave a clear five step approach: Model, Mentor, monitor, motivate and multiply. Jesus initially modeled the tasks while the disciples observed. Then he mentored them and taught them what to do. Then Jesus monitored their performance and asked questions regarding their experiences. He also provided motivation for them to do the tasks on their own by sending them out two by two to all the villages and towns that Jesus would visit. Finally he asked them to multiply themselves by making disciples.
What a great approach and an awesome trust in the Holy Spirit and the disciples. So those of you who are in the process of developing leaders, we have an important lesson to learn from Jesus’ attitude towards leadership development: Relax and trust the Holy Spirit.
Tell us about your leadership development experiences.
Leave your comments here.
Photo by TheMinuteIdea. Creative Commons.

What Are You "Made" For?

There was an elderly couple in our church who were in their mid eighties.  Once I asked this gentleman how he is doing physically, and how he gets around town.  His reply caught my attention: “Physically I am fine.  If I need to go somewhere close, I walk. Otherwise I ride my bicycle.”  At that time our church met on the second floor of a hotel, and he refused to take the elevator (lift).  He also would not allow anyone to help him down the stairs.  He was determined to go up and down the stairs alone, without any assistance.  
I appreciated his bravery and resoluteness   In fact, even after his wife died, he lived alone in the house till the end.  He was determined that he should not be a burden to  anyone in his later years.  When asked about physical ailments, pain, and other challenges, his response was resolute.  “Yes, the challenges are there, but I can’t dwell on those things.  I’ve got to move on.”

His wife had similar characteristics as well.  Even while she battled cancer, she was determined to remain standing during the entire worship time.  It was her own way of expressing her heart’s gratitude to what God has done in her family through the years.

Growing older doesn’t have to be a scary and difficult situation.  Sure, as you move up in years, you’ll have more physical limitations. But instead of being discouraged, it should be a time to re-focus your approach.

Several years ago I wrote a blog post called Has Life Begun? I had just turned forty that day, and wanted to share some of my thoughts.  The most significant idea for me was that I wanted to focus my time and energy on things I am “made” for.  The idea is to focus on the core of what you do, the most essential matters only.  Let all other things have a secondary status.

When you try to do everything as before, the situation becomes problematic.  You just may not have the energy or stamina as in your earlier years.  Make your goals more realistic with the primary focus on the essentials.  These essentials are in effect what you are “made” for.

All the experiences you’ve had over the years have built you and prepared you for the important task of focusing on your essentials.  Now, it is time to narrow your focus and put in your best.  Your later years can be the most strategic and productive.

What are the things you feel you are “made” for?

Please leave your comments here.

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mcohen.chromiste Creative Commons
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