Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wrapping February up . . . .

Thanks for being with us during this first month of our tour for UNAFRAID! As we wrap up this discussion of the fear of change, I wanted to talk with you for a few moments about choosing and chasing change instead of fearing it. God’s right there with us when we decide to do that—and it can lead to some amazing improvements in our lives.

Choosing to change something about ourselves, our environment, our relationships—anything that leads to a better life—takes courage and commitment because it can be hard and often takes longer than we would like. But God always has something better in mind for us when we feel that nudge to finally *just do something* about the way things are [usually the way *we* are], and deciding to chase that change is an exciting and fulfilling goal. And it doesn’t come alone.

During all our efforts, God is busy too, pouring out more grace to guide us through, sustaining us when we’re unsure or unsteady, providing all the building materials we need for a new and wonderful addition to our temples. So as we wrap us this month’s discussion and you overcome this fear, what new building -- what new change -- will you choose and chase so that you receive grace and reflect God, so that you find great JOY in your life? Please share with the rest of us . . . .

And our partner blogger this month, Iris at Grace Alone shares some thoughts about change too -- and reminds us who the Great Architect always is when we put our toolbelts on. You can read her wonderful post here.

THANKS again for being here, please stop by Monday as we begin our next discussion, overcoming the fear of failure, and welcome partner blogger Melissa at A Familiar Path . Be well and God bless!

Monday, February 1, 2010

February, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of change

"I am the LORD, I do not change."
Malachi 3:6 NKJV

The old saying goes that change is the only constant we can count on, and while that’s not completely true, it's a constant we often fear. Because change usually means we can't count on everything we used to know, it not so gently kicks us out of any comfort zone we may have managed to create, right off the scaffolding we were so carefully navigating. And that can be scary to the point of panic.

Change means we have to adapt to new situations, often new people and new circumstances, with perhaps little warning or preparation. An unwelcome change in relationship, family, work, school, schedule or surroundings can rip out all the security and joy we felt and stop our building. The ladder staggers and the tools wriggle free from our hands as we try to get a grip on the new worksite. Sure, we have to give ourselves time to take hold of the changes we face, but our lives—our temples—suffer when these changes and our fearful responses to them paralyze us.

We see panic and loss, stress and confusion. God sees opportunity, a new page of blueprints.

I know what you're thinking, and I can agree -- it's often hard to see opportunity for anything good in a change, but it helps when we break the stealth-cloaked opportunity down into two areas -- changes within ourselves and the changes outside us -- you could call it the design behind the project and the building that others see and feel. And yes, there's joy and new blessings there waiting to be discovered amid the immediate rubble from our ladder quaking.

Every change demands action and reaction from us. To regain a little control and peace and focus, we can take the opportunity to change ourselves to better reflect God in all we do - even in response to a perhaps unwanted turn of events, because His grace that makes it all possible is not on backorder by any new developments we can't control. And what we'll learn is that positive change in ourselves -- a little self-improvement project behind the scenes, if you will -- follows because it's never too late to become a more wise, understanding and effective builder.

Some family changes in the past have allowed me [I could say forced but I won't :)] to change my behavior toward others and the situations I faced, and I have to admit that while the changes weren't easy, they were welcome, maybe by me more than anyone else, because it made it easier for me to live with me [and that's a challenge in the best of times for us control-freaky people]. Yes, the learning curve is steep in this kind of effort, but the resulting progress on your temple will be worth it.

Hopefully some of my changes in response to change will help you [and please share what you've learned as well]:

- I changed and learned to pause before offering my opinion, wanted or not, before I could blink. Usually in a period of change and uncertainty, one thing not in short supply is opinions--and loud, pushy ones at that. Learning to hold my tongue til it bled -- sometimes for a while, sometimes saying nothing at all -- is a change in myself I've come to appreciate and value because we rarely help anything by spouting off like a boiling tea-kettle [not that I was prone to do that or anything, I'm just saying . . .].

- I changed and learned to wait before making decisions until I've gathered all the information. Sky-diving to conclusions is a luxury a lot of change won't allow -- and you may be like me and decide that's a good thing. Information is power, and that power is the ability to build in the right direction and not have to tear down what you've already done because it's off center based on something you didn't know or think through carefully.

- I changed and learned to reaffirm the good before addressing the bad. This task gets lots of practice during a difficult change. Cultivate the habit of remembering what's right and noble and true and delighting in that to strengthen you for dealing with those things that aren't. It's hard training in the midst of anger, sadness, disappointment, confusion or anything else that comes with change, but it's great stability for a shaky ladder.

- I changed and learned to let go. We often resist change because it takes some power or control away from us, but guess what? When I couldn't do anything about a lot of things changing around me, I learned that I didn't have to -- and I realized that I could extend that "privilege" to other areas and decide if I really had to respond at all to all the developments around me. Sometimes, I could just step back without the world falling apart -- imagine that. Having to let go helped me learn to let go and be ok about it. This change in behavior may take you a while to master too, as it has me, but it's a revelation and liberation you'll probably appreciate the more you practice it.

Even though we may not be able to change the changes that frighten us, we can make some changes of our own, on the outside, that help in dealing with them:

- Change your schedule to make whatever's required of you easier -- let chores or other responsibilities go or allow yourself more time for projects. The point is to realize new limitations and don't put any more stress on yourself than the situation demands. With a narrower focus, you'll be less overwhelmed and afraid.

- Set or reset boundaries. Big changes in our lives can leave us vulnerable -- one thing we don't need is others, those involved in the change or not, intruding on the building we're trying to salvage under the difficult circumstances. We can't let others take advantage of our blind side while we're down, sabotage our work or put up roadblocks in our way. Choose to protect yourself.

- Along with that last point, minimize contact with people who stress you as much as you can. I know that may be hard to do, but realize the choices you have and make the best ones to help continue your building. Spend time with people who will build with you and steer clear of the rest.

- Keep good records. Stress and new responsibilities make a mess of our memories, so good documentation will put your mind at ease so that you can focus on building, not on trying to remember [or argue about with others] what someone said or what day something happened.

All of these points are meant to help you respond in an active, grace-guided way to the fear you feel. God is about continuing to build despite the storms around us. And when we're armed with a prayer every breath and a strategy for building instead of a scary burden of anxiety, we can face the change coming our way and deal with it with a loaded toolbelt instead of hiding from it under a tarp. Through any change, we can build as we go and keep our focus on the joy God will restore to us as we keep swinging that hammer, trusting God to never change.

Please think about these questions and if you will, respond for our other builders here:

-What change are you facing now? What has your response been – to fear or to build?
-How have you overcome a fear of change in the past, or what have you learned from your fear in the past that helps you now when change happens?
-Why do you think we fear change so, and how do you think God wants us to respond to it in our lives?

REMEMBER: Nothing surprises God and He already knows everything you need to deal with the changes in your life. Help Him -- grab a hammer.

Overcome the fear of change and build with JOY -- God's waiting, blueprints in hand. No matter what the change, God is beside us, and our temples remain. Trusting Him and trusting that makes us unafraid.

Read below or download the study of Ruth for yourself or your group.

From the book . . .

Here’s an excerpt from UNAFRAID: Living God’s Plan on a Ladder and a Promise that might help you a bit more as you face fearful changes, because you will manage your life changes well with the grace of God – trust Him to be there. I’ll post more excerpts as we go along.

Chapter 18
Building from the bottom up

Why is it so scary to build that trust God promises He’ll honor? Why do we live the “suspenders and a belt” philosophy so often, guarding ourselves in the event God gets lost on His way to help us? Why are we apt to watch Him like a new employee who can’t be trusted with the keys to the vault? Why do His promises look like high-priced menu items we can’t afford? Regardless of our reasons, there’s one way to grab a hammer and build from the bottom up: practice.

God’s temple of our lives is just like the temple the Hebrews built. It starts on the ground, not twenty stories high. It starts where you can reach the work flat-footed. Then as winds and rains and fear and doubt come, you have to make the decision to keep going or to stop. And every time you keep going up, the ground gets a little farther away. Then the fierce winds may make you sway a little more, and it may be harder to feel stable and secure, but with practice—with the choice to keep on building—you master that level and move on.

And when we choose to keep building, even a little afraid when our jobsite’s a total mess, we do that in trust in God. We trust Him for our strength and ability and for His control over everything that’s ours and everything that isn’t. We trust Him when we’re standing on the ground and then we’re stabilized and energized to trust Him on the roof, where the work is much greater but so is the view.

That’s our work, our daily work, to know and practice real trust that comes from knowing and believing our God who makes promises to keep, who designs our lives to the finest point, and who stands always beside us on the ladder as we build. High or low, He is all we see.

Speaking with a stable trust

Let’s take a moment to look at a story we’ll look at again at the end of our book. This story is the perfect and timeless illustration of God’s vision and provision and our part in His work.

As Jesus and His disciples were sitting on a mountainside, lots and lots of people came to see Him. After a long walk, they were hungry for more than His words. Jesus asks Philip “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5).

We can see this experience as an exercise, a trust-stretcher, because Jesus knew exactly what He was going to do before He asked. Philip’s response was probably like ours is very often when we’re faced with a surprising challenge—focused on what he could see and touch and limited to what his humanness could (or couldn’t) imagine or achieve.

Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” [John 6:7]

Well, isn’t he a ray of sunshine and possibility. And we can be just like him sometimes, or maybe that’s just me. But we know the story doesn’t end with Philip’s charming voice of optimism. Andrew speaks up and teaches us with his great example what it means to trust our Lord no matter what the world looks like.

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” he asks (John 6:9) And of course, Jesus takes it from there.
Oh, I want to be Andrew! So calm and sure, focusing on what they have instead of what they don’t. He’s claiming every promise he’s ever heard from Jesus to come true right there, on the grass, hungry, just waiting to see what happens next knowing Jesus is in control.

Andrew speaks with the authority of a stable disciple. “Let’s trust Him. Let’s look at what we have and trust our Lord to do the best He can with it,” he’s saying. That’s all we need to remember. Impossible situations surround us all the time, and some of us are masters at finding and creating the chaos in even the not so tragic circumstances. Again, maybe just me.

But God says the solution remains the same -- Trust Me. He’s saying trust Me and work with Me and the bounty will be more than enough. I promise. Everything we need is dependant on one thing—where our focus and trust lies—and everything else follows. He says, “Focus on Me, no matter what you see.”

When the Israelites behaved with the mindset of Andrew, they finished their work. They rebuilt the temple unafraid, with the trust they built on the promises of God.

Let’s take a closer look now at how we keep building high a temple of our own, on that same trust of the same loving God. Some things never change.

Read below or download the study of Ruth for yourself or your group.

A brief study of Ruth . . .

You may be familiar with the story of Ruth, the woman from Moab who resettled in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi after Ruth’s husband, Naomi’s son, died. It made sense for Naomi to return to her homeland with no husband or son to help care for her, but Ruth didn’t have to go with her. She could have stayed in her homeland, but her loyalty and affection for Naomi caused her to go. We could also say it was God’s plan that created their alliance and strengthened their attachment, and we wouldn’t be wrong.

Still, it had to be frightening for Ruth to go to the land of Judah, where people from her homeland of Moab weren’t always welcome. She was going to a strange place with no husband, no father, no idea of what lay ahead, but she faced the change with trust in the person closest to her and a willingness to adapt to a new life, perhaps even joy at what might await her.

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God,” Ruth told Naomi [Ruth 1:16].

So despite her fear or anxiety or anything else, Ruth chose to “build” a new life. Sometimes we have to build a whole new life after a big change today. Sometimes we have to go to new places or accept new situations, perhaps with few people to trust or little information about what’s going to happen. Still, we can follow Ruth’s example and build instead of fear.

Ruth began her new life with what was right in front of her – work that could be described at best as menial and at worst as demeaning, but it was work she did with her usual attitude of trust and unselfishness.

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to leg me do it.” Naomi replied,
“All right, my daughter, go ahead.” [Ruth 2:2]

Those who had no means of support (such as widows) could pick up any grain left in the fields after the harvesters had cut the wheat and barley stalks. It was perhaps the only food some of them had, and it wasn’t easy work, but Ruth accepted this work with honor and saw no shame in it [Ruth 2:7].

Our changes may demand that we adapt to activities or behavior we wouldn’t choose, but we can try to see everything as working toward God’s plan somehow – and I know that’s hard sometimes – but every bit of “grain we harvest” today may play a bigger role tomorrow than we could have ever imagined. Doing what’s in front of us with trust today – unafraid – means building bigger and better no matter what changes in our lives.

Despite a new home and new countrymen and no guarantee of their acceptance, Ruth built with trust and loyalty, and the floors of her temple kept going up whether she realized the significance of it or not. She remained humble and open to the circumstances around her, taking one day at a time and doing what she could to manage her change, nothing more. Her courage didn’t go unnoticed. Boaz, the owner of the field she was gleaning from, was impressed by her character, and his attention didn’t blemish her integrity.

“What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” [Ruth 2:10-13]

The story continues when Naomi explains to Ruth that Boaz is their “family redeemer,” which meant that he could marry Ruth so that she would be taken care of, because Naomi had no other living sons. The custom may sound strange to us, but in their time, it meant security and perhaps the difference between life and death for widows who inherited nothing to live on. Perhaps the custom could also have been abused in some case, but not this one. Full of integrity himself, Boaz followed all protocol and eventually married Ruth, perhaps building one of the biggest floors of their temples—Ruth gave birth to Obed, David’s grandfather.

God planned it, they built it.

We see that Ruth’s building, based on her integrity, honor, loyalty and courage, supported so much more, and from her life we see the potential for ours. All our temples (lives) intersect in ways we will probably never know, and some of the changes that come our way and frighten us the most may be the most necessary building opportunities we have.

It helps us to keep building unafraid when we understand that every effort we make and every height we reach impacts the future and the temples of those around us. Maybe you’re benefiting now from someone who overcame her fear of change to build with joy. Or maybe you’re the builder who’s touching others.

Either way, know that you can trust the work you see in front of you, and you can find the joy in a new page of blueprints when you trust that God is working with a plan that fits the best use of your life, just like He did with Ruth.

How could she have known what joys and blessings were in store for her when she embraced a monumental change in her life and never let go of the hammer in her hand? And knowing her story and God’s faithfulness to be here with us when we’re facing change, how can we not do the same?

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~o

What are some ways you can identify with Ruth?

What can you learn from her to guide you in your building today?

How will you help God as He continues to build bigger temples in your life?

o ~ o ~o

Download this study in pdf for easy printing for yourself or your group:
Go here.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.