I have not been writing much lately, as I seem to be going through a season of being challenged in recent months. If you are a person who likes to grow, you will understand the importance of being challenged in your life. From what I have learned, a person can only get so far doing things the way they have always done them. Eventually you will hit a plateau or the proverbial glass ceiling. I have found myself being challenged on multiple fronts recently, letting me know that the staleness I had been feeling in recent months was because I was plateauing. God has been challenging me in my way of thinking, in caring for my physical body, in my relationships, and in my spiritual life. None of this has been comfortable for me. I have spent some days feeling downright miserable, but I know that God has a plan and a purpose…He doesn’t waste any of our pain or discomfort.
In my way of thinking, I have been challenged in my initial response to situations that arise. I have a tendency to think that I have all of the solutions to stuff, you know, kind of a know-it-all. I have come to realize that I don’t have all of the answers. What I do have is a lot of opinions. Opinions are not a bad thing. In fact, we all have them, but having an opinion and constantly voicing that opinion are two different things. I have been challenged to hold my opinion until asked for it, unless it is in an area of direct influence in my life. In other words, if it’s not mine, I don’t need to speak on it, unless the person it does belong to asks for my thoughts. This may seem like common sense, but if you are a person with lots of opinions, this can be much more difficult than you think.
In caring for my physical body, I have been challenged in finding a balance between doing/consuming what is best for me versus what makes me feel good. Again, this may sound like common sense, but it is more difficult than it seems…at least for me. I love food, I love to cook it and eat it. I also enjoy exercising. I am one of those crazy people who loves to lift weights. On a side note, I hate cardio! I do it but I hate it…people who love cardio are just weird to me. Back to the point, I know that I can never out exercise a bad diet, but believe me, I have tried to do it. Balance and moderation are keys to healthy living, but I have struggled with both, to the point where God has been challenging to care for myself and take better care of the body He has given me. How can we accomplish what God designed us for if we are constantly in self-inflicted health battles?
In my relationships I have been challenged to view them in their proper context and for their actual purpose. God has put people in my life, in my sphere of influence, not because of what they can do for me, but because of what He can do through me in their lives and through them in my life. The chief purpose of all of our relationships is for God to be glorified through them, not for us to be satisfied through them. Our satisfaction should come from our relationship with the One we are trying to bring glory to. Often, we get that out of order and place unfair expectations on people. Consequently, we place a weight on them that they were never designed to carry.
In my spiritual life, I have been challenged to be more focused on spending time with God, reading my Bible and praying. I have been challenged to live like Christ, to love what He loves, to do what He would do, to pursue what He would pursue. Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to bring glory to the Father. Jesus died on the cross to bring glory to the Father. Jesus told His disciples that whatever they asked in His name, He would do so the Father would be glorified in the Son. Jesus’ entire purpose was to bring glory to God. If am I to live a Christ-like life, then that should be my purpose also, to bring glory to God. I need to live a God-centered life, not a people-centered life.
One overarching lesson that I have learned through all of this is that you get out what you put in. Again, this may sound like common sense to you, it is to me, but that doesn’t mean that I was living by it. In every area of life, in our thinking, in our physical bodies, in our relationships, in our finances, and in our spiritual lives, we get out what we put in. We cannot expect to fill ourselves with bad but get good in return. I challenge you to find a person that fills their head with bad stuff, but lives an emotionally healthy life. I challenge you to find a person who eats junk food all day, every day, but performs like a world-class athlete. I challenge you to find a successful marriage where the husband and wife cheat, don’t communicate, and argue all the time. I challenge you to find a spiritually mature person who doesn’t spend time with God and who is more focused on their personal life than they are on God. You get out what you put in. I think that is what Paul was telling the church at Philippi when he said, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)
I appreciate being challenged, it causes me to evaluate where I am and determine how to get to where I want to be. It is also a necessary part of personal growth. For me, the areas I identified earlier are all hindrances to me moving to the next step in my journey. Don’t forsake the challenges in your life. Jesus said that God prunes every tree that bears fruit so it can bear more fruit (John 15:2). James said to count it all joy when we face various trials because those trials test our faith and produce patience in our lives (James 1:2-3). No one likes to be challenged, but don’t forsake the challenges in your life and don’t underestimate their value. They identify areas of potential growth for you. If you want to grow, if you want to accomplish all that you were put here to accomplish, embrace the challenges, keep your eyes focused on Jesus (not on your circumstances), and remember that you get out what you put in.