Self-Discipline

A friend recently sent me an article on why self-disciplined people are happier than and not as deprived as some people think.

Psychologically speaking, the immediacy of a short-term (small) reinforcement is infinitely more powerful and reinforcing than a long-term (enormous) negative consequence.  Hence the reason why smokers don’t quit smoking, at least not very easily: the immediacy of the (relatively small) “fix” from the cigarette is much more powerful than the (enormous) long-term negative consequence of poor health, lung cancer, etc.

“Discipline,” the way I have always defined it, is being able to place higher value on the long-term reinforcement (e.g. living a long, healthy life with clear lungs) and lower value on the “pain” of forgoing the immediate reinforcement.  I am thankful that I am “disciplined,” as it were, because like the article said, I think in the long run I am happier and healthier and avoid certain problems.  I feel like this is just the way God wired me, it isn’t something I make an effort to do, per se.  That’s why it is a bit strange when people tell me that I am disciplined as if it is a compliment, because to me, it’s just the way I am wired and it comes naturally to me.

In contrast, while there is debate as to whether there is truly an “addictive personality,” in my mind, the characteristically defining feature of an addictive personality is the inability or at least the extreme difficulty of weighing the future consequence into the equation at all.  The power of the immediate reinforcement is even greater than for the average person, and the long-term negative consequence just doesn’t exist.  I have read that an addict has a different concept of time than the average person, that for the addict, nearly all thinking is about the present or very near future.  Delays and the distant future have no place in an addict’s mind.  There is a great misunderstanding about addiction: addiction has little to do with substance abuse (the behavior) and nearly everything to do with thinking and psychology.  Thus, someone can be clean from drug use but still an addict, because of his/her pattern of thinking.

Some people say I am disciplined because I eat very healthy and I exercise every day.  In part, it is because I place a higher value on the long-term positive benefits, but there are also short-term and more immediate benefits, as well.  If there weren’t, I don’t think I would stick with it.  For instance, it’s just simpler to eat the same thing every day, it’s less of a hassle.  I enjoy the feeling of having my endorphins kicking around in my body when I exercise, I like being able to sleep more soundly and restfully, I like the feeling of being physically active after a long day in front of my computer.

Incidentally, I have heard it said, and now I truly believe that there is such a thing as a sugar addiction.  For a few months, my husband brought home a lot of sweets (apple pie, brownies), and I started eating some of those sweets in the evenings.  I’m not even sure why I ate them, just because they were there, I guess.  He finally said he wanted to cut back, so he stopped bringing home these types of sweets.  For a week or two, I experienced a sugar craving each evening.  Eventually, the craving subsided, but it was weird because I don’t even like sweets all that much, but I saw how I became addicted to the sugar.

Margin

Margin is defined in the dictionary as, “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.”  Margin is space in our lives.  The white space that borders the text in your notebook, textbook, or Bible can be used to add extra thoughts and notes, unless you are prone to neuroses about actually (gasp) marking in a book.  Margin is your extra space to use in times of necessity or desire.  In the same way, margin is the space in our lives that holds a reserve of extra energy, time, or resources.

As I remarked to someone last week that I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, she replied, “it’s really not that bad.”  While her statement was invalidating, in many ways, there is truth in that statement.  I could easily name dozens of maladies or circumstances that would seem much worse.

The challenge is not that our hectic schedule is “bad,” per se, but it is more so that we have no margin in our lives.  Because of our current circumstances, namely that my husband does not have a drivers’ license and works an hour away from where we live, my husband and I daily use all our time and energy primarily just getting to and from our respective full-time jobs.  We are away from home 15 hours a day on weekdays, and weekends are only slightly less hectic.   Because of our work schedules and other necessary obligations, our lives do not currently allow for a Sabbath day of rest.

When nothing unexpected arises, we can manage to get through each day.  We both feel constantly depleted and exhausted, yet life goes on; we get to work, we do our jobs, we come home, we eat, we sleep.  However, when circumstances require us to give extra time, energy, or attention to something out of the ordinary, everything suddenly seems completely overwhelming.  When I do not get a good night’s sleep, when I feel sick, when there is a traffic accident, when we must travel somewhere out of the way, it feels like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I remember learning in a stress management course in graduate school that crisis occurs at the point when the external stressors and life demands exceed our internal coping resources (e.g. time, energy, financial resources).

 

A friend encouraged me today and said that she senses God’s presence the most when she has just passed that manageable state.  As I teeter on the edge of barely coping and complete meltdown, I sense God’s presence upholding me and sustaining me.  What feels like a crisis is opportunity for God to take over and uphold me with his grace.  I realize again that I cannot do this in my own strength.  Every day I am reminded that it is by His grace that we have jobs, transportation, and provision.

I am thankful that the Lord sustains me, and I am so blessed by my husband and our time together.

Grace is Sufficient

What are you gonna say to God

When all you do is pray to God

To take the thorn away?

And all you hear Him say is:

My grace, My grace

My grace is sufficient

My grace is sufficient

“Grace is sufficient” – Shane and Shane

I woke up this morning, like most mornings these days, feeling utterly exhausted.  I said a quick prayer to God asking Him to give me the strength, motivation, and energy to get me through the day, and thanking Him that He is faithful to do this every day.

Overall, I am extremely blessed.  I have a strong relationship with God and am blessed with a deep faith in His promises to provide for all my needs.  I have an amazing husband who loves me far more than I deserve.  I have shelter and a warm bed, plenty of food, a reliable car, a job I enjoy, good health, and dear friends.

Yet we all have struggles and difficulties, and mine right now is constant exhaustion as a result of the demands on my time.  Of course, what I often perceive as “my” time is in reality God’s time that He has stewarded to me to use for His glory and for my spiritual growth.  He is teaching me to humble myself before Him as I spend this time His way, not my way.  And while it is painful at times, death must take place in order for life to flourish.  (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24)

As an introvert, I like to have a lot of quiet time at home in order to feel both physically and mentally refreshed and recharged.  But because of my husband’s and my schedule, that is not possible during this season of our life. I arise at 5:00 am and am away from home until 8:00 pm every weeknight, and weekends are nearly as hectic.  Most weeks, out of necessity, we do not have a Sabbath or a day of rest.  I think of my friends who have babies or young children and I cannot even fathom the exhaustion of being a mom.  I have newfound respect and admiration for my friends who are young mothers, as their job lasts from 5:00 am to 4:59 am every day.

I have been thinking lately about how easy it is for us to feel that we will be satisfied with things other than Jesus.  It is easy to think that I “need” more money, nicer stuff, uncomplicated relationships.  It is tempting to think that life would be better if I had more free time, or that I need more sleep.  Yet God’s grace is sufficient.  All I need is Him.  Literally, God’s grace is sufficient.

No matter what the struggle, all I need is Him.

Ultimately, the “good” things in my life do not point me towards my need for God.  I thank God for the blessings, but ultimately, if I had no struggle, it would be frighteningly easy to think I had it all together, that *I* was enough.  It is the hardship that reminds me that I desperately need God.  In my exhaustion, I want to feast on Him, I want to know Him better, I want to serve in His name, I want to sing praises to Him, I want to call out to Him for help.

I have good health and great friends.  Praise His name.

I am exhausted.  Praise His name.

I have food and shelter.  Praise His name.

I am struggling financially.  Praise His name.

I have an amazing husband who is my best friend.  Praise His name.

I long for more rest.  Praise His name.

I am His.  Praise His name.

Hardship

As a result of recent events in our lives, my husband now needs a ride to and from work each day, which is about an hour from where we live (and an hour from where I work).   This means a 2 hour drive, both morning and evening, 5 days a week.  Suddenly, I feel as though life has given me an extra 20-hour a week job, unpaid.

Like most people, I immediately wanted to grumble and complain and vent to my friends.  I wanted validation and sympathy.  I wanted to wallow in self-pity.  Fortunately, I have a few great friends who listened and gave me the sympathy I was looking for and helped to encourage me.  A little validation goes a long way.

Those friends must be praying for me, because within just a couple of days, I really don’t feel a lot of self-pity anymore.  Maybe a little.  As I was driving to work this morning, I spent time thinking about all of the blessings in what seems like hardship.  First and foremost, I know that God is working all things for good in my life, that He supplies all my needs, and that this is a blessing meant for my sanctification and to draw me closer to Him.  I trust in God for His goodness, knowing He is completely sovereign, so I trust His plan for me, even when it doesn’t seem pleasant on the surface.  I can admit the struggle and difficulty but also know that good will come of it.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my husband.  I believe it will draw us closer together.  I am thankful for a reliable car that gets good gas mileage, and for God’s protection over me during all the driving I have done over the past year in general.  I enjoy listening to the Bible while driving, and I like listening to sermons, as they take my mind off the stress of traffic, and now I will have more time to do those things.  I hope that my husband and I can listen to sermons together as encouragement in the morning.

I offer my time in the car to God as a sacrifice.  I offer my life as a sacrifice to Him.  My agenda never mattered to begin with; He has always been the author of my life.  My plans are laughable.  What I think is the best use of my time is but dust.  His plan for my time and for my life brings life.

As I have experienced God’s provision and the way He works things out, the way He answers prayers, I realize that number one, I am not in control anyway, and number two, He will supply all my needs and He will work all things together for my good.

I was reading a devotional this morning about being overwhelmed not so much by the sheer amount of things we have on our “to do” lists, but more so being overwhelmed by the anxiety and worry about those items.  This observation resonated with me.  Each day is an opportunity to serve and minister to those around me (first and foremost, my husband).  I can focus on today or this hour and feel it is a manageable chunk.  If I think too much about the next week, the next month, the next year, I get overwhelmed, thinking there is no way I can do this or that.

God’s mercies are new each day, and He gives us what we need for today.  I would love if He could just put a few million dollars in my bank account (literally and metaphorically), but then I would not need to rely on Him daily for my needs.  I would start to rely on myself and forget that I need Him.  The consequences would be disastrous, or meaningless and wasteful at best.

The reason for my faith, the reason behind my joy and peace in the midst of hardship is. . . through hardship and trials.  In God’s mercy, He has allowed trials and difficulty in my life.  As God has walked me through trials and hardship, I have grown closer to Him.  As I have experienced His love for me, His mercy, His goodness, His provision, and His patience with me during the trials in my life, I have grown as a person.  I have experienced more of the fruit of the Spirit growing in me (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.).

I do not know what God has in store for me, but I will seek Him, trusting that His plan is wonderful.

Psalm 105:4

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Thinking on Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7)

A friend asked me what I thought “fear of the Lord” means in Proverbs 1:7:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Many of us will know the textbook answer, but often it is good to think on what we already know, to continually remind ourselves of the Gospel (as Paul reminded believers of the Gospel in 1 Cor 15: 1-2: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.”)

I looked at several different translations of the Bible, all of which used the word “fear” but The Message version says “the first step in learning is bowing down to God.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary uses the word “reverence.”

I don’t ever read “fear of God” as the emotion we experience as we are afraid of something or anxious.  This type of emotional fear is not of God.  In the same way, I don’t see “love for God” as a warm, fuzzy emotion.  “Fear” and “love” are much deeper and are more evidenced by our attitude towards God and our behaviors than some fleeting emotion.

“Bowing down” implies making oneself less than, humble to, obedient to [God].  “Reverence” and “respect” imply working from the basic assumption that God is smarter that us, bigger than us, and more of an authority than us, so that even when we don’t “get” his law or “get” what He is doing, we work from the assumption that it is we who are flawed in our perceptions, not Him.  Thus we seek to follow Him and seek to know Him better.

I am reminded of Phil 2:7-8

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death —

even death on a cross!

It is true that my obedience or submitting myself to God’s law does not make Him love me any more.  Rather, I love Him (because He first loved me) so I act in obedience (and because He gives me the grace to do so).  Yet the more I grow in maturity, the more experience I have with obedience yielding good results (in general, the fruit of the Spirit – joy, peace, etc.).  Thus I am more likely to want to be obedient in the future.  My past obedience leads (not to God loving me more but) to increased knowledge of God and increased awareness of how He is working in me, how he is using my obedience in my life.

I think that knowledge of God and His character is synonymous with love for God (and maybe even love for His law/ obedience to it).

Fearing God, which seems to entail bowing down before Him in obedience and submission, leads to knowledge of His character and His love for me.

I do not learn God’s character or grow closer to Him by disobedience (“fools despise wisdom and instruction”).  A fool (or an unbeliever or someone who wishes to go his own way) does not learn about God’s character and His goodness.  A fool is blind to these things and does not get to experience the fruit of God’s love.  The fool does not get to experience deeper relationship with or knowledge of God.

Faith and the INTJ: Part 2

Someone wrote this comment on one of my blog posts: “Sorry to inform you, but there is no way you can be an INTJ if you’re religious. Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart. Hence, why you cannot be an INTJ if you believe a magic man in the sky created the universe in a week.”

Read Part 1 of my response.  This is Part 2.

It is true that I did not arrive at “Jesus Christ = Lord and Savior” by logic.  I arrived at Jesus Christ through Jesus Christ alone.

Which brings me to the second part of the commenter’s post.  “Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart.”

I assure you that I am an INTJ.  Am I smart?  I suppose it depends how you define smart.  My IQ is high enough to garner acceptance into Mensa, which I did join several years ago.  Am I logical?  Ugh, I cannot get away from logical analysis of even the most mundane or trivial issues.  Case in point: this blog post.

Proverbs 3: 5 reads

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

God says that we are not to lean on our own understanding.  Why?  Because who are we to think that we, who live in one place at one time understand or know more than the God of the universe who is everywhere and outside of time (thus seeing all of time at once)?  As Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church, puts it: you can watch one millisecond of a movie (what our lives would amount to if all of history were condensed into one hour), and I will watch the entire movie, and we can then argue about what the movie is about.  Our own understanding is limited.  We do not know what is going on in our neighbor’s home right now, much less our neighborhood, much less our city, much less our country, much less the universe.

Proverbs 16:25

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

Much of what seems logical or “right” to us is fallible.  Since sin is, in large part, blindness to our own sin, we can barely see beyond our own logic and opinions, and the arguably skewed worldview of our current culture and society.  Our limited position in time and space influence what is logically right to us.  I may look at a Styrofoam from the side and see a trapezoid shape.  You may look at it from directly overhead and see a circle.  Who is “right”?  Logic led us both to different conclusions.  Again, we are limited in time and space and thus cannot know all.

Arguably, an aspect of intelligence is the realization that there is much we do not know.

Incidentally, we all have faith.

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

We all have confidence in and assurance about what we do not see.  We have confidence that our car will start when we turn the ignition, though we are not looking at its inner workings to know if something is broken or the engine is missing.  We have assurance that we will not float into the air as we walk about, though we cannot see gravity itself.  Faith as defined in Hebrews 11 applies to all of humanity and does not exclude any of the personality types.

 

Faith and the INTJ

Someone wrote this comment on one of my blog posts: “Sorry to inform you, but there is no way you can be an INTJ if you’re religious. Note that INTJ’s are logical, religious beliefs are not logical, also INTJ’s are smart, religious people are not smart. Hence, why you cannot be an INTJ if you believe a magic man in the sky created the universe in a week.”

This is one of my most favorite comments that I have ever received on my blog.  Firstly, it sounds like a typical INTJ comment, dry and matter-of-fact but tinged with a sense of irony and drollness.  For that reason, it made me chuckle.  Secondly, it reminds me of a time when I thought the same way and of my journey from unbelief to faith.

Let’s break it down.  “There is no way you can be an INTJ if you are religious.”

“Religious” is a tricky word.  In the church I attended as a child, ritual and moralism were predominate themes.  I believed that the people who attended my church by choice (this excluded myself, as I was forced/bribed into going by my parents) were lemmings who shelved their brains in order to get cheap comfort through a systematic and predictable pattern of standing-sitting-kneeling and responsive reading.  At the time, I viewed faith as synonymous with religiosity.  I do not consider myself religious in the sense that I do not take comfort in moralism or ritual.  My faith is not based upon going through the motions, nor do I believe these things draw me closer to God or earn favor with Him.

My faith is based solely on the saving work of Christ Jesus.  I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that all of it is true.  Defending that claim is a discussion for another day.  So let’s look at Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.

I have been saved (meaning that God has drawn me into a personal relationship with Himself) based on grace (His free gift to me) through the saving work of Jesus Christ (who lived the sinless life I should have lived and died the wretched death that I deserved to die).  None of this is based on anything about me – not what I do, what I think, what I say, who I am.

Therefore, it is true that I did not arrive at “Jesus Christ = Lord and Savior” by logic.  I arrived at Jesus Christ through Jesus Christ alone.  Adding anything to Christ turns the issue and my faith into what I would consider “religious” (which I loosely define as moralistic behaviors that often accompany faith).  Religion has nothing to do with my faith.  Or my Myers-Briggs personality type.

Stay tuned for Part 2.