Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Zero In

If you've been following along in the process, you know now that the steps of optimizing your day build upon one another.  Today's action is no different.  Up to this point, we've said a quick word of prayer to dedicate ourselves and our day to the Lord.  We've given thanks for a particular thing.  We've read and meditated on Scripture, and we've written down some of our innermost thoughts.  Now, we're going to take all of that and zero in on how each of those things can impact our day by asking ourselves this question:  "Armed with the knowledge I've gained this morning and the thoughts the Lord has laid on my heart, in what specific ways can I serve the Lord today?"

Remember, the key here is to zero in, which means we're not going to give a general answer like, "I will strive to do good and resist temptation."  No, that's not going to do it.  At this point, you need to look at your day, your agenda, your plans for that single day, and set actionable goals to serve God in specific ways based on your daily schedule.  For example, let's say your reading and meditation this morning involved a passage about praise, and the Lord laid it on your heart that you need to worship Him more.  Then, you look at your daily schedule and find that many of the things on it are things that cause you to grumble and complain.  Right there, you can stop and say, "I am deciding right now to find something to praise God for during these tough spots in my day.  I won't gripe or whine but will keep my heart focused on God and how worthy He is of my praise."

Or perhaps you look at your schedule and see that you're expected to spend the majority of the day around someone who gets on your nerves.  Decide that you're going to do your best (God working in and through you) to show the love of God to that person and to bestow grace on that person even though you may not think they deserve it because you are reminded that God shows you grace each and every day when you don't deserve it.

As a final example, I'll share with you what the Lord laid on my heart Sunday morning during my optimization.  He's been working in my heart about giving more and expecting less, so Sunday morning, as I looked at my busy day, filled mostly with church activities, I made a decision.  I was going to serve the Lord with gladness, giving unto others as much as I could and expecting nothing in return.  Anytime during the day that I began to feel overwhelmed or grouchy, the Lord brought to mind my goal, and I thanked Him and continued the service without ill feelings.  The difference was phenomenal, and it felt so good to do for others with a right spirit instead of "grudgingly or of necessity." (II Corinthians 9:7)

I don't know what your days may hold, and I can't say what the Lord will impress on your heart.  But whatever it is, be specific.  The more specific you are, the more likely that goal will stick with you throughout the day and be imprinted on your heart and mind.  And don't kill yourself trying to come up with something.  Honestly, I can't think of a single time when I looked at my schedule and God didn't immediately point out some area where I could "zero in" on my service to Him.  The process takes a couple of minutes, but the impact will last throughout the entire day.

Philippians 2:12 tells us, Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This passage is not saying that we have to work for our salvation.  It is saying that God has done a good work in us, and we need to let it work its way to the outside so that others can see.  In other words, we work because we're saved.  Zeroing in is taking the message that God put in our hearts and putting it into action throughout our day.  It's good to know the things of God, but it's even better to do them.  That's what this step is all about.

In what specific ways can you serve God today?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Inscribe

We're nearing the end of our morning optimization process, and from the feedback I've been given, it is helping others as much as it's helping me.  That's awesome to know!  Yesterday, we spoke about meditating on the things that we've read in God's Word.  Today, I want to go a step further, and some of you may not like this part, but please bear with me.

The second "I" in optimization stands for "inscribe," which is another word for write.  Yes, I'm talking about journaling.  The fact of the matter is that some of the most successful and productive people on the planet use a journal.  It's the truth!  Well, I think that we, as Christians, ought to seek to be just as successful and productive in our daily walk with Christ, so journaling is a definite must.

I know what some of you are saying.  "Sure, Dana, that's easy for you to say.  You're a writer.  I can't write.  I don't like to write.  My spelling and grammar are horrible!"  I'm not talking about writing a book here, and it doesn't matter what your spelling and grammar are like because no one is going to read this but you.  It's your private journal, and what it contains is between you and God.

So, the first thing you'll want to do is decide on a medium for your journal.  You can use a plain spiral notebook, a fancy leather journal, or if you're more comfortable with a keyboard, you can set up a private blog for your morning thoughts.  It doesn't matter.  What is important is that you're happy with the setup.  For me, I spend enough time at the computer as it is, so I have a lovely, leather journal with lined pages that suits me just fine.

Once you've chosen your journaling method, make a commitment to write/type something in it every single morning.  So, what are you supposed to write during this time?  Anything!  You can write down the Bible verse that you read that morning or the thoughts you were meditating on.  You can write out your worries and fears as a way of getting them out of your heart and mind and then commit them to God.  Write down what you're feeling.  Write down what God lays on your heart.  Write down what you're thankful for.

It's entirely up to you, but there's something about journaling that helps clear the mind.  It's actually a little weird how it works.  I've found that if I write down the negative things I'm feeling, it gets it out of my system like I've poured them out onto the page.  Then I don't feel the power of them anymore. But, when I write down something positive (like what I'm thankful for or my daily verse), the writing process reinforces that thought in my brain, making it easier to access throughout the day.  Strange, huh?  But, honestly, this is what I've discovered about journaling, so I urge you to give it a try.

If you're stumped at first and don't know what to write, try jotting down what you're thankful for or your daily verse.  You may find that the words start spilling out from there.  Another thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't matter how much you write each day as long as you write something.  It can be a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or more.  And what you write today doesn't have to be the same thing that you wrote yesterday.  Perhaps yesterday you wrote down some thoughts that were weighing heavy on your mind.  You don't have to do that again today if you don't want to.  Today you could inscribe your meditations.  There is so much freedom here, and it can be an enjoyable process if you'll allow it to be.

On Monday, we'll talk about another step in the process, and it, too, may be something you want to write about, so you see, the possibilities are endless.  Before then, decide on your journaling method and pour your thoughts onto paper (or computer).  Come on, give it a try!

My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. - Psalm 45:1

Friday, August 26, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Meditation

So far, we've discussed the first four steps of optimizing our day:  oil pulling, prayer, thanksgiving, and illumination.  Today's action, meditation, picks up where yesterday's left off.  We spoke in yesterday's post about reading a passage from the Word of God or your favorite devotional (which should be based on the Word of God). Today we're going to take the reading a step further and meditate on it.

Meditation is the act of thinking or pondering.  It goes beyond just reading the words and allows the message of those words to penetrate the mind and heart.  One of the most familiar illustrations of meditation is that of a cow chewing its cud.  To meditate on a portion of Scripture essentially means to chew on it and chew on it and chew on it until you get all the "goody" out of it.

Here are a few questions you can ask to help you meditate on your reading:

(1) What did I just read?  (Summarize)
(2) What is this passage saying in general? (What is the interpretation?)
(3) What is this passage saying to me?  (What is the application?)
(4) How can this passage give me strength or encouragement in my daily walk with the Lord?
(5) Is there anything else I can glean from this Scripture?
(6) Are there any other related verses that come to my mind?
(7) What does this passage tell me about God?

Don't feel that you need to answer every question or that you're limited to those seven questions.  The point is to allow the Scripture to become more than words.  The Bible is alive, and it can work powerfully in our lives if we let it.  Ponder the verses.  Take them to heart.  Allow God to speak to you through them.  You may be amazed at what you see!

I haven't counted them, but I think it's safe to say there are probably hundreds of verses about meditation in the Bible, but I want to share with you one of my favorites.  Psalm 143:5 says, I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.  That's just so poetic, and as the creative type, I love the word "muse."  As a verb, it means "meditate, ponder, contemplate, chew on," but as a noun, it means "inspiration."  How appropriate!  When we spend time meditating on the Word of God, it inspires us to live out our days for His glory.  It inspires us to focus on Him, who He is, and what He's done.  That inspiration can linger with us throughout the day because we took a few moments to hide the Word of God in our hearts.

It's exciting, isn't it?  But before you get too carried away, let me remind you that we're not done yet.  There's more to come, and just as it has been with each step, the next one builds off of this one which is why it's important to do these in order.  Oh, and by the way, you should still be doing your oil pulling at this point.  Remember, you should be doing it all the way up to the final step.  Fortunately, you can chew on the Scriptures while still swishing your oil.

Until tomorrow. . .

My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. - Psalm 104:34

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Illumination

Let's talk today about the fourth step in optimizing our mornings, and that step is illumination.  To illuminate something is to shed light on it, and that is exactly what we'll be doing each morning.  While we're doing our oil pulling and after our moments of prayer and thanksgiving, we're going to add some light to our day by reading a short passage in the Word of God.  After all, Psalm 119:105 says, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Keep in mind that, just like your morning prayer, this is not your primary devotion time.  You can accomplish that later in the day.  This is just something short to, once again, get your focus on God.  It can be a verse, a short passage or even a short devotional that brings out an application from a portion of Scripture.  The idea is to bring your morning awareness to God and how magnificent He is.    We're not reading to check this off our to-do list.  We're reading to hear what God has to say to us.  So, pay attention.  What you read is up to you, but here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

Psalm 23 - Read one verse per day, or read the entire passage for several days in a row to let it sink in.

The Names of God - Focus each day on reading a passage about a particular name or character trait of God.  For example, in Psalm 23, He is our Shepherd.  In Genesis 17, we see Him as El-Shaddai (God Almighty).  Genesis 22 portrays God as Jehovah-Jireh (God the provider).  You can find a list of these names and passages online or purchase a book that has them. Each day, read the passage or passages related to a particular name or attribute and allow the light of Who God is to shine down on you.

The book of Psalms - Most of the psalms are pretty short, and all of them have something that will bless your socks off if you'll take the time to read through them attentively.

The Gospels - The first four books of the New Testament are filled with fantastic stories of Who God is and what He's capable of.  Read a chapter at a time, or if you have a study Bible, the chapters will be divided into individual stories that you can read on a daily basis.

There's a Verse for That - Please forgive the shameless plug, but if you want to focus on verses by topic, you might enjoy using this book as a guide.  It includes verses for varying circumstances like when you're feeling alone, afraid, discouraged or confused.  Read one verse or a few until something jumps out at you.  You can get the ebook version of this book for free on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online retailers.

Giggles and Grace Devotional Series - While I'm doing shameless plugs, I might as well mention this series as well.  If you're not familiar with these books, they are full of short devotionals that focus on a verse and an application of that verse.  Most of these devotions can be read in less than five minutes.

Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado - This is similar to the Giggles and Grace books, only the devotions are even shorter and, as a whole, there is less humor.  It makes for a great morning devotional read.

These are just a few ideas.  I'm sure you probably have others.  Perhaps you have a devotional guide by your favorite author, or maybe you want to read my daily devotional blog for your morning reading.  That's fine.  The idea is to read something that will bring light and encouragement to your day and help bring (and keep) your focus on God.  Tomorrow, we'll take this reading a step further, so be sure to check tomorrow's post.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. - Romans 15:4

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Thanksgiving

If you haven't been keeping up with the posts, you may want to go back and read the past three posts on "Optimizing Your Day."  Today, we're picking up with step three which is Thanksgiving.  Remember that you can continue doing your oil pulling during this time.  In fact, I recommend you do because the longer you swish, the more benefits you'll see.

I don't need to explain to you what thanksgiving is.  We all know that we should be grateful for the many blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us.  But I do want to impress upon you the importance of beginning your day with gratitude.  There will be many things during the day that will make you want to fuss, gripe, or maybe even cry.  That's just life.  But by beginning your day with a focus on your blessings, it's much easier to overlook or deal with life's frustrations.  By starting off with gratitude, we can circumvent that mindset that cries out, "Nothing good ever happens to me!"

There are so many things to be thankful for, and throughout the course of the day, we should try to thank the Lord for as many things as we can, whether it be the close parking space on a rainy day or the good report at the doctor's office.  Big things.  Little things.  We do need to pay attention to how much God is doing in our lives.

But during your morning optimization, it is important to narrow your thanks down to one thing, preferably different than the days before.  The reason for this is because it's easy for us to generalize things in our minds and actually to allow the thoughts to pass through our minds without really taking them in.  In a sense, we begin to recite a list.  "I'm thankful for my salvation and my family and my house and my church and. . ."  But as we're reciting, are we giving thanks for those things, or are we simply stating the facts because we know we should be thankful for all those things?  By narrowing it down to one thing per day, we force our minds to think about and focus on that one thing.  Why am I thankful for this?  How has it impacted my life?  How can I use this blessing to impact the lives of others?  Do you see how difficult it would be to do that with an entire list?

So, for your morning optimization, pick one thing for which you are truly grateful.  As strange as it may seem, I've found that there's usually something specific on my heart that I want to thank the Lord for.  I don't have to think about it.  It's almost like I woke up with it on my mind.  For example, this morning I woke up remembering that one of my big book promotions went well yesterday, and my book surpassed two of the top authors in the field.  That excited me when I saw the results last night, so naturally, when I awoke this morning, those happy thoughts were still with me.  So, during my thanksgiving time this morning, I praised the Lord for the high rankings on my book and for all the people who, I hope, will receive a blessing from said book.

What you choose to thank the Lord for is entirely up to you, but I think that you, too, will find that the Lord will place something on your heart.  It doesn't have to be a big thing.  In fact, it may seem very insignificant, especially to someone else, but that doesn't matter.  If it's important to you, it's important to God, so thank Him for it.  Fill your heart with gratitude for Who He is and what He's done!  And when you've done that, you can move onto the next step which we'll discuss tomorrow, Lord willing.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. - Psalm 100:4