Category Archives: Sharpening the Saw

Rule for Life


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As New Year’s approaches, many of us will be establishing New Year’s resolutions.  These often help us to direct our lives in a more positive direction.  Sometimes, they come from a healthy desire to grow, and sometimes they come from guilt and shame over how we have managed our lives up to this point.  Oftentimes, we abandon our resolutions after a short time, adding to the guilt and shame that might have motivated them in the first place.  Maybe a better approach to this practice would be to establish Rules for Life.

A Rule for Life establishes a rhythm in your life.  (In fact, you could call it a “Rhythm for Life” if the word “rule” seems too legalistic.)  It is a spiritual discipline that invites the Holy Spirit to partner with you as you practice Romans 12:1-2.  A Rule for Life “[offers] your [body] as a living sacrifice” so that you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It puts you in the right place at the right time with the right heart for God to do transformation work.  Your part of the partnership is showing up with the right heart.  God does the rest.

Sometimes, we try to rush God into the few minutes that we have available for Him in our busy schedules, but my experience is that God rarely shows up when I summon Him.  He is unlikely to give in to my need for Him to be present just when I have the time.  He is a jealous God who won’t compete with the idols of work and entertainment that I choose to worship with my time.  Instead, He requires that I make Him a priority both in my time and in my behaviors.  He wants me to schedule Him into my calendar and show up ready to spend time with Him.  He wants me to choose Him in moments when I’m tempted to choose my sinful nature. God wants me to prioritize Him even when I don’t see the benefit. I am often impatient for the proof that my behaviors are making things better, but much of God’s work in my life is way below the surface.  It’s inner transformation.  If I show up regularly and choose God over evil when I am tempted, God will be faithful to reorient my soul towards Him.

Some examples of Rules for Life are:

  • Begin every day with prayer.
  • Meet with my accountability partner each week.
  • Practice a Sabbath rest.
  • Tell God thank you.
  • Stop eating before I’m full.
  • Let each person be my teacher.
  • Visit God’s creation.
  • Bounce my eyes when I feel tempted to look.
  • Spend time journaling each day.
  • Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with each person I meet.
  • Keep Christ on the throne of my heart.

Notice that these are not SMART goals.  Making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound can lead to legalistic observance.  Instead of worrying about whether you met the specific criteria of a Rule for Life, allow God to speak to you about them.  Practice the spiritual discipline of Examen at the end of each day by asking, “How did I do with my Rules for Life today?  What pleased you?  What would you have me do differently tomorrow?”  God won’t beat you up over what you didn’t do, but He will redirect where necessary and encourage you so that you have the strength and motivation to keep going.

Rules for Life can sound a lot like New Year’s resolutions, but they shouldn’t come with emotional baggage.  A Rule for Life should help you love God more.  If it makes you feel guilty because you aren’t doing it, let it go.  It shouldn’t be a legalistic practice to “earn God’s love.”  If it becomes one, you know that Satan has gotten ahold of your Rule for Life and twisted it for his purposes.  As long as you cling to it, Satan will have the power to accuse you for not living up to your commitment.  Just release it, and try to find a different Rule for Life that gives life to you. When you think about your Rule for Life, it should bring peace into your soul.  It should be time that you long for or practices that resonate with you.  Keep experimenting with different Rules for Life until you find ones that uniquely fit who you are and where you are in life.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, try establishing some new rhythms.  Make yourself more accessible to God’s good work of transformation in you.

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Filed under Daily walk, discipline, habits, sanctification, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines, Substitution

I Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry


Feeling a little stressed lately?  Time for a science lesson.

According to Dr. William Frey of the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center in Minneapolis, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling better after crying while under emotional stress.  The lacrimal gland in the eyes regulates tear secretion.  It also concentrates manganese, a necessary mineral related to moods, and tears remove this concentrated mineral from the body.

Dr. Frey’s research shows that the concentration of manganese is 30 times greater in tears than what is found in the blood.  The reason that is interesting is that autopsies of chronic depressives have revealed heavy concentrations of manganese in the brain that don’t appear in the brains of non-depressives.  As a result, manganese is believed to have a direct link to depression.  Tears clean the mineral out of the body, so tears are thought to be an effective, natural way of preventing depression from occurring.

Other studies have found that healthy people are more likely to cry and have a positive attitude toward tears than those with ulcers or colitis, two conditions thought to be stress-related.  And children who suffer from an inherited disease called familial dysautonomia have two things in common: they can’t produce tears, and they have an extremely low tolerance for emotional stress.

But if you don’t feel much like crying, try a good laugh.

Laughter helps to lower the potent stress hormone cortisol, which can cause bone loss and suppress the immune system.  Laughter also increases the production of endorphins, which combat fatigue and depression. Laughter can in the long-term reduce blood pressure and slow heart rate, as well, leaving you feeling calm and peaceful.

Adults tend to take things (and themselves) too seriously.  How often do you hear of a child with stress-related disorders?  Hopefully not too often.  Laughter may be the reason.  Studies show that children laugh on the average 400 times per day. Adults, by contrast, only laugh an average of fifteen times per day!  We’ve got some catching up to do!

So, if you want to reduce your stress level, run to the video store tonight and check out a movie that will make you laugh until you cry.

(S – Center for Traditional Medicine, 560 First Street, Suite 204, Lake Oswego, Oregon 97034, 503-636-2734, http://www.myctm.org/NP08.html)

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Filed under Attitude, brain, discomfort, emotions, fatigue, funny, health, humor, pressure, Sharpening the Saw, Suffering

Fire Fighting


If you were to analyze what firemen do during the course of the year, what percentage of their time do you suppose would be devoted to actually fighting fires?  Would you believe me if I told you that it’s actually only 2% of their time?

So what do they do with all their time?  True, a good deal of their time is spent sitting around the fire station, but that’s necessary so that they can be available in the event of an emergency.  The rest of their time is spent in fire prevention.  I found a fireman’s job description on the web.  Here are some of their typical responsibilities:

  • Cleaning, preparing and testing hoses, fire trucks and other equipment
  • Testing water flow on fire hydrants
  • Determining what caused fires that couldn’t be prevented
  • Holding fire prevention workshops
  • Inspecting buildings, sprinkler systems and extinguishers
  • Speaking to children about fire prevention
  • Participating in fire drills
  • Attending training classes in fire fighting, first-aid, and related subjects

Spending all that time on prevention helps reduce the number of fires they are called to put out.  Plus, lives and property are saved.  No matter how much time or money they have to invest in fire prevention, it has to be cheaper than the cost of the fire fighting and destruction that occurs when fires aren’t prevented.

Many of us spend a greater percentage of our time and efforts putting out fires than the typical fireman.  Could it be that many of the fires that erupt in our schedules are a result of poor fire prevention?  Maybe we are not spending enough time in planning and preparation.  Maybe we’ve allowed key relationships to suffer from lack of attention.  Maybe we’re so tired from fighting those fires that we don’t feel we have anything left to invest in learning how to prevent them.  Maybe we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that we will always have to spend most of our time fighting fires.

The truth is that most of our fires are preventable.  But like the firemen, we have to get ahead of them.  We have to learn the most common sources of our fires and put plans in place to prevent them.  We have to educate ourselves about how much the fires are costing us in emotional and physical stress, missed opportunities, unfulfilled commitments and quality.  It’s time to stop playing productivity pyromania.  As Benjamin Franklin (the founder of the first volunteer fire department, inventor of the lighting rod and fire insurance) once said,  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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Filed under Challenges, creativity, Decision Making, delayed gratification, learned helplessness, performance, planning, Preparation, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Problem Solving, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks


Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”


“More than the dog.”

 

Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

It Was the Shoes!


It was 2006, and Kevin Mench was inching up on the competition.  The Texas Rangers right-fielder found out mid-April that he had been wearing the wrong size shoes for years.  “Shrek” (as he was known by his teammates at the time because of his size 8 head) wears a size 12 1/2” shoe, but he had been cramming into size 12” sneakers since he was fifteen.

The revelation came after a recurring sprained toe forced him to miss five games early in the year.  The ball club sent him to a foot specialist, who quickly diagnosed what was cramping Mench’s style.  After the minor correction to his footwear, Mench began to pick up his pace.  Having failed to drive in a single run during the first ten games of the season, Mench drove in 27 immediately following the half-inch upgrade.  Even better, during the same timeframe, he dinged ten home runs (seven of them in a row and two for grand slams).

People change.  Circumstances change.  Maybe yesterday’s “perfect fit” for your team is now confining to them.  Some team members may have outgrown their jobs and need new challenges.  We know from data gathered by the Hay Group (from 500,000 exit interviews) that the most common reason your top hitters will go into free agency (how much mileage can I get from this metaphor?) is because they don’t have enough learning opportunities to develop their skills.  But give them some growing room, and watch them start to hit for the stadium lights.

Take new measurements on each of your team members on a regular basis.  You may be surprised at how much they’ve grown!

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Filed under Change, leadership, learned helplessness, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw

Find Your Cadence


I once met a friend at a park for a lesson on how to get into cycling as a way of keeping healthy.  It was my one and only lesson (because exercise is a synonym for pain in my dictionary), but I learned something important that I have totally failed to apply during the many years since.  Seeing my lack of experience right off, he gave me a piece of advice:

“Find your cadence.”

He went on to explain that I was jerking the pedals in a very inconsistent pattern.  They key to burning calories efficiently and without injury is having a smooth, consistent motion at a relatively swift pace (more than 50-60 revolutions per minute).

Honestly, I haven’t thought about his advice much since then.  I rarely get on a bike.  (Who has the time?)  But I thought about it this morning as I was walking back from taking the kids to school.

My life is often an off-balance, inconsistent, jerking-the-pedals kind of mess.  I’ve always prided myself in being a spontaneous, hands-off-the-handlebars kind of person (INFP for those of you who are familiar with Myers-Briggs).  I hate to be scheduled; I hate routine; I like to stay up to all hours of the night…I just love the enormous possibility of a day free from obligations.

But as the years have gone by (I’m 39), living la vida loca is starting to take its toll in repetitive stress injuries.  My body now pays triple what it used to cost me to stay up past midnight.  I never feel like exercising.  I’m always tired.  I’m hopelessly behind on my to-do list, and my spiritual disciplines are somewhat undisciplined.

I find that I’m always trying to play catch-up….in my finances, in my relationships, in my work, in my spiritual life…so I take the turns of life at breakneck speeds and load my bicycle down with all kinds of good intentions.  Then every once in a while, I crash with an illness that lays me out until my body can repair the damage I’ve done.  This is no way for a mature, father of three and husband of one to live.

So, what occurred to me as I walked home this morning is that I need to find my cadence.  In other words, I need to find the rhythm and the pace that I can sustain long-term, and I need to stick to it.  I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at this for years, but I’ve lacked the discipline to keep it up and I’m pretty sure that Satan has been doing his best to interrupt my cadence whenever possible by throwing hazards on the road right before I get there.

The key to this working, I’ve realized, is that I need to select a lower gear.  I’m wearing myself out trying to pedal at top speed in a gear that’s too hard for me.  I need to stop trying to do so much that I’m always behind.  I need to forgive myself for what I didn’t accomplish yesterday.  I need to stop trying to catch up and just start fresh wherever I’m at.  Most of all, I need to listen to the messages my body is sending me and get more sleep so that I’ll have the energy to handle whatever challenges the day brings.  Rhythm and rest.

This is more journal than blog.  My apologies.  Hope that maybe it helps you find your own cadence.

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Filed under commitment, Daily walk, discipline, habits, health, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines

Sharpening the Saw


Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a large tree.

“What are doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the exhausted reply. “I am cutting down this tree.”

“You look exhausted. How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours now,” he returns, “and I am beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes, and while you’re sitting down, sharpen that saw?” you inquire with concern. “I’m sure that it would go easier.”
“I don’t have time for that,” the man says. “I’m too busy sawing down this tree.”

Sounds ridiculous, right? Everyone knows sharper saws accomplish the task with much less effort.

Not so fast… we are all guilty of failing to sharpen our saws. Your “saw” is your set of resources that you use to be productive. Stephen Covey groups these resources into four categories: Physical, Social/Emotional, Mental and Spiritual. When you fail to sharpen the saw in one of these categories, your productivity will suffer.

For example, when you fail to sharpen your Physical saw by getting enough sleep, you aren’t as “sharp.” It’s harder to think conceptually and make decisions. The longer you go without sharpening this saw, the more mistakes you make.

When you fail to sharpen your Mental saw by attending training, reading books and learning new ways of doing things, you become less effective in your ministry. Others, who have more relevant knowledge, begin to outpace you.

It’s okay to take a break, and it’s okay to invest some time, energy and resources into yourself.  Why not set some daily goals to incorporate a few saw sharpening habits regularly in the coming year?

If the ax is dull,

And one does not sharpen the edge,

Then he must use more strength;

But wisdom brings success.

(Ecclesiastes 10:10)

(S – Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People )

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Filed under growth, habits, learning, planning, Preparation, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines