Stretch Yourself

PIC02041.JPGA few months ago I was spending time with one of my very best friends, when she suddenly announced that “we” were going to get in shape together, and among her many plans for diet and exercise was one little nugget that made me cringe. “That’s it!” she said with enthusiasm, “We’re going to do 50 crunches a day every day from now on!”

I have to admit I laughed. I told her there was no way on God’s green earth that I was capable of 50 crunches. “That’s no problem!” she said, “You can work up to it! Come on, Paula – we can do this!”

I groaned a little inside, but since I’ve never been good at saying no to my friends, I finally agreed to do the crunches – and I did. I didn’t do them every day – it was 3 times a week, and it took me a week or two to build  up to 50, but eventually I got there.  And once I did, I have to admit I was kind of proud of myself.

And then one night I woke up in excruciating pain. Every muscle in my abdomen was cramping at the same time, and I couldn’t relax them enough to uncurl myself out of the fetal position. The problem, of course, was that I  had spent so much time focusing on working those muscles, but I’d never bothered to take the time to stretch them.  For a while I got away with it. They even got stronger. But eventually it all caught up with me, and the result was a night of serious pain and very little sleep as I tried to undo the damage, release the tension, and relax the muscles.

Now that’s a relatively simple anecdote – but it illustrates an important and relevant point.

You see, the crunches were a good thing. They took work and effort, and I took them seriously. They made me stronger and I found a moderate level of success in doing them. But that only took me so far before it all backfired. Because all of that effort and work was pointed in only one direction, the muscles in my body eventually rebelled. There was only so much work they could handle before they “broke” under the tension.

They needed to stretch. They needed to be pulled in unfamiliar directions, forced to move in a new way. Without that key component, all of the time and effort I’d put into working those muscles proved pointless. I hit a brick wall (or more, it hit me – in the stomach – at three in the morning).

I think that this is a truth that we can apply to our lives on a much broader level. Have you been working hard in an area of  your life and just not seeing the results that you want? Have you ever found a moderate degree of success, and wondered how you could ever manage to achieve more? I want to let you in on a little secret that’s not much of a secret – you probably need to stretch. Your life will never really be able to grow and expand until you are willing to push yourself beyond  your limits and move in a new direction.

How often have you talked yourself out of doing something new just because it wasn’t familiar? How often have you decided that it was better to stay where you were comfortable than to venture into the unknown? We do it all the time, and I think it’s because we’d rather remain firmly planted in what we know than try something that might fail; and – GET THIS – we do it even when what we know isn’t working all that well either!

The problems with this kind of thinking is that it always sets us up to fail.

Remember that the familiar things in life can only get you so far. If whatever you’re doing right now isn’t producing the results that you want in your life at the level that you want, then it’s probably time for you to venture out into some new territory. It’s time to try something different.

This isn’t to say that you need to toss aside the things that are working for you. But you can’t allow yourself to get boxed in by the familiar either. By all means, do what works – but make a point to go out and do something new at the same time!

Even the Bible encourages us to go out and to try new things:

As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or  how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 NKJV).

Isn’t that such an encouraging word? This verse is telling us that we can’t know what God plans to use in order to bless our lives, we can’t always see which of our options will produce the best results. That’s why we always need to be willing to try a little of everything. We have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit!

 

Dream Chasers is Finished!

There’s been a lot of good stuff going on in my personal and professional life over the last six weeks. That’s an awesome thing, of course, but it means that I’ve had to put off sharing some especially awesome news until now. But the wait is over, and now I’m super excited to announce that my newest book, Dream Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream is finally done and will be available for purchase this upcoming Saturday, November 15th!

Dream Chasers Cover

Isn’t it pretty? I have to give a huge thank you to my BFF/SNOO (that’s “Best Friend Forever/Support Network of One” in case you don’t know) Rashada Nunez, who put this beautiful cover together for me. She also served as a sounding board, personal cheerleader, sympathetic ear, and accountability partner through this whole process. What can I say? She’s awesome. Go check out her blog if you have the time. It’s at www.designsbyrashada.com

If you want to check out the book, the kindle edition is available for pre-orders on Amazon now. You can have a look by clicking here!

If you’re curious about the content of the book and you want to catch a sneak peek of the content, you can head over to my twitter page and respond to my latest tweet with the hashtag #amazoncart. Amazon will apparently send you a free sample, which I think is pretty cool.

Ok, that’s all. I’m done with the shameless self promotion. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Expand Your Limits

a-hill-1311057Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something, because you were already convinced that you would fail?  I do it all the time – I mean ALL the time. When I’m faced with a task that I think will be difficult, unpleasant, or even just outside of my comfort zone, I have this tendency to psych myself out before I even get started. And if I let myself do that for more than a few minutes, I know that I won’t bother starting it at all. After all, what’s the point of trying if you don’t think you’ll succeed?

But here’s the thing – every once in a while I decide that I’m just going to go ahead and do the thing I don’t want to do. Even though I’m dreading it, even though I’m SURE it’s going to be a disaster, I will occasionally find the backbone to face my fears and do it anyway.

Do you know what happens when I do? Normally the thing that I was dreading ends up not being nearly so bad as I’d imagined. I don’t always succeed, but I certainly succeed WAY more often than I would if I didn’t try. And sometimes I surprise myself with how easily I take to the the things that I’d once imagined impossible. Sometimes, moving outside of my comfort zone, I unexpectedly thrive.

That got me thinking recently about the limitations that we put onto our dreams. I realized that there are probably a lot of dreams out there that are abandoned before they’re even attempted, because they require the dreamer to take a step or two out into the unknown – to try something risky, to venture outside of their normal experiences, or to do something that they don’t think they can do. When people are faced with those kind of obstacles, those limitations, they can be quick to run for cover, and to give up before they’ve even begun.

But what we don’t realize about these limitations, is that we’re the ones imposing them on ourselves. We’re the ones who are guaranteeing our own failure, simply by refusing to try. After all, it’s not like God’s put limits on us. He said that we can do ALL THINGS when He is our strength (Philippians 4:19).

So what does “ALL THINGS” mean to us in this context? It certainly has some restrictions – if Jesus is our source of strength, then we can’t expect to do things that are contrary to His character or against His nature. But beyond that, where is the boundary? Where is the limit in a promise like that?

I don’t think that there is a limit – or if there is, it exist much further out than most of us dare to venture. In other words – we can accomplish so much MORE than we give ourselves credit for. The reason we don’t accomplish those things is because we don’t bother to try, or if we do try, we cringe back at the first sign of failure.

For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. Proverbs 24:16

Here’s the crazy thing about our failures – the Bible says that they aren’t permanent. Presuming that we’re working in righteousness instead of wickedness (presuming that we are leaning on Jesus, listening to His voice, and doing our best to follow after His will) we can fall down all the time, and get back up like nothing happened. We can keep moving forward, keep pushing our limits, keep venturing into the unknown. We don’t have to be afraid!

So is there anything in your life that you’ve talked yourself out of doing? Is there something that you want to achieve that you’ve been unwilling to push for? Have you convinced yourself that you’re a failure just because you fell down a couple of times? Well don’t stand for that lie any longer! Pick yourself up, put aside your fear, and move out into the unknown. If you’re willing to expand the limits that you’ve put on your life, who knows how far God can take you!

You Can Have Both!

stone-tower-1390084I’m going to start this post with a general observation. I’m not looking to spark a debate or touch a nerve. But I have noticed that a lot of Christians tend to feel hesitant about asking God to help them fulfill their dreams because those dreams include success, prosperity, wealth, or something else of worldly value, and they aren’t sure that God really wants them to have those things.

But here’s the thing – God doesn’t turn his nose up at blessing His people. He doesn’t mind making them successful or wealthy. He did it all through the Bible, and He’s still doing it today.

Take Isaac for example. When we think of Isaac, we tend to define him in spiritual terms. He was one of the patriarchs of Israel. He was Abraham’s son – the son of promise. He was the one that God saved from being sacrificed. He was the father of Jacob and Essau – the one who proclaimed a powerful blessing over Jacob.

But look at what else the Bible tells us about Isaac’s life:

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him (Genesis 26:12-14).

This verse tells us that the Lord blessed Isaac with material blessings. In fact, God kept blessing him until he got so rich that the people around him started to envy him! Isaac was insanely prosperous. He had stuff. He had servants. He had a very successful life. Now that’s generally what we think of when we think of Isaac, but it was a very real part of his existence.

Why do you think that’s in the Bible? And why do you think that we don’t typically take notice of it?

Well, to answer the first question – I believe that this is in the Bible because it is a facet of the blessings of God. Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us that God is the one who gives us the power to get wealth. Why would He empower us to go out and get something that He doesn’t want us to have? That’s just silly.

But in answer to the second question I would say this – I think that part of the reason that we don’t generally notice the fact that Isaac was a wealthy, prosperous, and successful man is because that’s not what was important about his life. The important things were the ones that left an eternal spiritual difference. Those are the things that last through the centuries. They’re the things that are worth remembering and striving for.

The point that I’m trying to make is this: the fact that your dream involves a success, prosperity, or power does not make it a bad thing. God wants to give you those things. But those things are not what make your dream worthwhile. Your dream is worthwhile, because in God’s hands, it can leave a permanent spiritual impact on this world.

Don’t ever forget that. Your dream belongs to God first – and He intends to use it for His glory. If you’ll give your dream to Him, He will help you to achieve it. He’ll bless you too, with all of those material things that your dream comes with. But those are merely side-benefits of your much greater blessing – the blessing of being used to build His kingdom

Financial prosperity and spiritual success – you can have them both. God will give them to you gladly. But never forget which one is important.

Move Forward

or, What To Do When You Get Stuck

In the process of chasing after our dreams, goals, or aspirations, we will inevitably come to a point where we feel stuck. Even if we’re doing our best to follow God’s lead and to obey His voice, we may still encounter moments where things are looking grim and we don’t see a way out.

Ever feel like that? Ever feel like you’ve hit a dead end or backed yourself into a corner? Ever look for a way out and realize that all of your options look terrible?

I’ve been there – and so have countless men and women before us. So what are we supposed to do when we’re trying to get ahead only to find that we have nowhere left to go?

Well let’s look at a group of people who found themselves in this very scenario, in the most literal way ever! When the Israelites first escaped from Egypt, they left with singing and dancing and rejoicing. After 400 years of bondage, they had suddenly and miraculously been set free. The dream that had once seemed so impossible had instantly become very real. They were literally walking their way into their freedom. They had every reason to rejoice. And then just as suddenly, everything went terribly wrong. Their journey brought them to the shores of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit behind them, chasing them down to punish them and drag them back into captivity.

Stuck between a sea and an army, the Isralites started to panic. They had nowhere to go, no way out of the problem that they’d suddenly encountered. They were stuck, and it was scary. So Moses spoke to the people in order to calm their fears:

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:13-15).

Moses told the people not to be afraid. He promised them that God was going to fight their battles for them. He explained that their enemies would be defeated. He got all of that right. But he messed up on one important detail.

You see, Moses told the people to stand still and watch what God would do on their behalf. But in the very next verse God corrected him. He said, “Why are you praying? Why are you asking for help? You need to be MOVING FORWARD!” God didn’t want the people to stand still. He wanted them to take a step of faith. Even though there was an ocean in front of them, even though the way was impassible, God told the people not to stop!

That is a frankly extraordinary commandment! I wonder what the people thought when they heard it. It’s not like they knew that the sea was going to split before them. Nothing like that had ever happened before! Nevertheless, they had the faith to march right up to the water’s edge. They obeyed God, and moved forward, despite the dangers of the situation, and God suddenly performed a miracle greater than anything the world had ever seen!

You might be facing a situation that feels a little like the one the Israelites faced all those years ago. Things might be looking helpless. There may not be any “good” options. But if you’ll keep following after God, if you’ll keep pressing forward, and if you’ll put your trust in Him, He will perform miracles that will shock and amaze you.

So don’t get stuck. Don’t stop moving. Don’t allow fear to paralyze you! God is ready to move on your behalf, but He’s waiting for you to move first!

Improvement is Impressive

As a natural part of my latest book writing effort (Dream Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream) I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what stops people from running after their dreams. One of the biggest obstacles that I’ve noticed is how intimidating it can be to look at the sheer amount of work, effort, or time that would be required. We look at where we are, compare it to where we want to go, and throw our hands up in despair before we even start. Or even worse, we start along the journey to our dreams, but get discouraged and give up when we see other people advancing faster than we are.

But the thing is that the road to attaining our dreams is just that – it’s a road, a journey. And like any journey, the farther you want to go, the longer it can take to get there. That’s easy to say, and harder to remember – especially in this instant-gratification culture that we live in. So to help myself stay motivated and moving forward, I’ve developed a new motto: Improvement is Impressive.

Let me give an example of what I mean. I have always been the least athletic person in a very athletic family. My family is full of triathletes, marathon runners, martial artists, and general jocks. Christmas get-togethers, as you can imagine, involves a lot of chitchat about training regimes, upcoming events, and sports injuries – none of which applies to my life. They talk about doing things that I just can’t imagine enduring. I have one cousin who runs 10 or 12 miles at a clip in order to train for her next marathon.

But when I recently decided to get myself back into some semblance of fitness, I started by walking. Walking is a very effective way to ease yourself into exercise, but it’s not exactly glamourous. It’s slow, low impact, and time consuming. It’s just not an impressive achievement – especially not compared to the incredible things my family does on a regular basis.

So how do I keep myself motivated? By reminding myself that my improvement is what’s most impressive. That’s something that I can push for – something that’s quickly and repeatedly attainable. I can’t get myself out of the house with thoughts of the marathon I’m nowhere near running – not on a regular basis. I can’t push myself to run 10 miles when I’m still getting used to walking 5. But what I can do, what will keep me dedicated, is the idea that I can do better today than I did yesterday. I can improve my time, my speed, or my distance. I can take advantage of the day and use it to get a little bit better. If I commit to doing that every day, it will eventually take me where I want to go.

This idea is something that we can apply to any area where we want to see change. We may not be able to do it all at once. We may not even be sure that we can ever get it all done. We may be so far behind our peers that we can’t imagine catching up, let alone soaring on to new heights. But if we take our eyes off of the impossible distance that we still have to travel, and focus instead on the steps that lay right in front of us, we will find it much easier to take that first step.

So no matter what your dream looks like, find a way to move forward today. You don’t have to take great strides. Baby steps will do. But make it a point to improve yourself today, and then do it again tomorrow. Improvement is an impressive thing.

Are Dreams God-Given?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve decided to start covering material here that prove more relevant to the people who read my books. Specifically I’m interested in covering topics that, while directly related to my book topics, was not addressed directly in the books themselves.

So with that in mind, I want to talk about dreams – not the dreams you have in your sleep, but the dreams (goals, aspirations, and desires) that you have in your heart. It’s actually the focus of my soon-to-be-released 5th book, Dream-Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream. But I realized recently that one of the assumptions that I made when my book was that most people would presume their dreams to be a good and God-given thing, something worthy of pursuit.

Of course I recognize that most people who would willingly purchase a book with a title like mine can be presumed to have some interest in successfully achieving their dreams. But since I have a little more latitude in this blog than I do in a manuscript, let’s take the time to answer the questions.

Are dreams godly? Are they God-inspired, God-given? Does God want His people to pursue their dreams?

I believe that the answer to each of these questions is YES. Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule, or that it’s possible to pursue dreams that run contrary to God’s will; but I believe that Christians as a whole are far too tentative about reaching out for the things they dream of achieving, because they don’t necessarily believe that God wants them to succeed.

But here’s the deal, when God first created mankind in the garden of Eden, He pronounced a blessing over them, and that blessing came with a commandment (Genesis 1:28). He told them to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it. Then He gave them dominion. This is a point that I touch on in the book – that from the beginning of our existence as a species, God spoke His intent over us – that we should flourish and thrive.

That same intent is clear in the promise that He made Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2. He promised to make Abraham great. He desired to expand him, to bless him, and to help him achieve prominence in the world.

God did the same thing for Isaac, for Jacob, for Joseph, for Moses, for Joshua and Caleb, for Gideon, for Deborah, for David, for Solomon, for Jabez, for Esther, for Isaiah, for Nehemiah, and for countless kings and prophets. He took people out of obscurity, out of ordinary lives, and He pushed them to achieve greatness. Some of these people were hungry to chase after the purposes that God had placed over their lives, while others took some convincing. But each one of them was placed in their point in history for a specific purpose, to achieve something great.

In fact, if you read through the Bible you will find that the only times that God cast people down and thwarted their dreams were when they either 1) attempted to fulfill them in their own strength and for their own glory, 2) attempted to fulfill them in direct disobedience to God or His laws, or 3) attempted to fulfill them to the detriment of God’s people. The men who built the Tower of Babel, the wicked kings of Israel, and enemies of Israel all stand of examples of this truth.

But for the people of God, the ones who loved Him with all of their hearts, His pattern was (and has always been) to bless their efforts, to make their way prosperous, and to give them success. And the thing about this success that He gave to them is that it was never entirely “spiritual.” It always came with natural benefits as well. The men and women who pursued their dreams, who followed after God’s higher calling, ended up prosperous, powerful, and famous. Those weren’t their primary goals – their first desire was always to obey and honor God – but it can’t be denied that they reaped incredible natural benefits.

I believe that the truth that is so prominently displayed in the stories of the Bible is still actively in effect in our lives as Christians today. I believe that God has purposely planted us in this time and in this place so that we can be used to glorify and honor His name. Furthermore, I believe that the honor and the glory that He’s looking for from us doesn’t come from living out our lives in quiet obscurity. I believe that, just like the many men and women of the Bible, we are meant to make a violent impact on the world around us. We are meant to stand out, to be successful, to achieve impossible things. I believe it, because it is exactly what Jesus told us about our own potential:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:12-13).

So if you have a dream in your heart, don’t dismiss it as trivial in the sight of God. Don’t assume that it is in conflict with His plan for your life. If you are willing to do things God’s way, to follow His direction, and to honor Him with your efforts, you have every reason to expect that He will make you a great success.

I’m not good at waiting

Here’s the thing – I’m not very good at waiting. I’m good at tasks, at procedures, and at anything that resembles measurable progress. Waiting … not so much. 

And that’s what makes this particular part of the book-writing process so incredibly difficult for me. My first draft is done. I’ve read through and edited it twice. I’ve sent it out to a small group of readers to get their initial reactions, and now I’m stuck (say it with me now) waiting!

This waiting period comes with a strange mix of emotions. After working for months to complete a draft, I’ve just recently gone back to read the whole thing from beginning to end. The excitement to see the complete (if not polished) work in front of me makes me want to hit “publish” already and get it out there. I’m excited to see my work in print, and I can’t wait to share it.

But on the other hand there is a nagging, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that this book isn’t going to be any good, that I’m going to discover that it needs a complete overhaul or a from-scratch rewrite. The lack (so far) of feedback from my beta readers has me on pins and needles. I’m  half-hoping that their response will be filled with nothing but praise and jubilation, and simultaneously half-convinced that they’ll discover major flaws, gaps, and problems that I, as an author, lack the perspective to notice.

And in the meantime I’m stuck waiting, which (I may have already mentioned this,) I’m not good at doing. So here’s a list of productive, useful things that I can start doing now in order to keep myself busy while I wait:

  • Create a list of things to do to keep myself busy while I wait
  • Start writing the blurb for the back of the book
  • Put together a media kit
  • Begin laying out and designing the book’s interior (using the current draft – I’ll swap it out for a final draft in the end)
  • Assemble and organize my front matter
  • Write my preface
  • Touch base with my cover designer, start talking about working on a mock-up
  • Work on the 3 other writing projects that I’ve put on the back burner while I’ve focused on Dream-Chasers
  • Assemble a list of people who should get a copy of the book once it’s published. Start collecting mailing addresses for them.

What do you do to kill the time? Is there anything I’m missing? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

Chasing Dreams

A week or two ago I finally finished the first draft of the book I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year. The book is about what it means as a Christian to chase a dream. Specifically it looks at the lives of the dream-chasers in the Bible to learn a little bit about what works (and what doesn’t) when you’re chasing a dream that been put in your heart by God.

The book, of course, is nowhere near ready to publish. I’ve just started sending chapters out to a few beta readers to get their initial feedback before I buckle down and start editing (btw – I’m always looking for more feedback, so let me know if you want to read a sample). But something rather remarkable happened a few days ago. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I was suddenly jolted back awake, and God told me very clearly “You need to change the name of the book. Call it ‘Dream Chasers.‘”

I realized as He spoke that He was exactly right. I’d had a few other working titles since I started this project, but none of them hit the nail on the head the way this did. 

Because the truth is that everyone has dreams … EVERYONE. Everyone has something that they want to achieve or attain. We were made to fill this earth, to have dominion over it, and to subdue it. It is, therefore, in our nature to want to expand and achieve, to reach for something better.

However, there is a vast difference between a dreamer and a dream chaser. We all have dreams, but there are precious few of us who are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to chase those dreams down. It takes a special drive and an unflagging character to push and to strive to achieve a dream, no matter what the opposition looks like, no matter how impossible it seems. But it precisely those people who have the character to chase their dreams, and to do it God’s way, that end up finding their success! You cannot become a failure until you’ve stopped trying. As long as you are pushing forward, as long as you are chasing after your dreams then every setback, every failed attempt is nothing more than a prelude to your success.

Do you have a dream? Do you want to see it become a reality? Me too. Let’s go out there and chase them together!

Shifting Focus

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to spend a little time being real in this post.

I’ve been having some problems lately with my blog. It’s not that I’ve had a problem writing it – I’ve loved it 🙂 But I’ve realized recently that what I’m writing here, while relevant and interesting, has been incomplete.

The thing is, I’m not just a writer. I’m a Christian writer. Specifically, I write about Christian themes and topics. All of my books have been directly related to my faith, and to the things that God has been working on in my own life. But in that regard, my blog has felt like it’s wandered farther and farther off from my reality. God is the center of my life, but He hasn’t been central to my writing here. In fact, the things I discuss here seem to have little to do with the themes that are constantly running through my heart and head …

So I’m just writing this post as a bit of a heads-up. The tone and focus of my future musings on this sight are going to be shifting. It’s not that I won’t be writing about writing or blogging or book production or publishing or anything like that. I certainly will be. But I’ll be mixing a lot more of the spiritual in with the practical, if that makes any sense.