Which Economy Are You Living In?

When I was a kid, our currency was POGS. We’d trade and sell on the market at recess, and it was dog-eat-dog (unless you had a Batman slammer, then you played for keeps).  But we weren’t ruled by a single standard economy. There were always our Beanie Baby investments to fall back on.

The King of the Playground

The King of the Playground

I had Grunt…GRUNT! It was only because mom got him on the front side of the Beanie Baby Bubble™. And like some stupid kid who just wants to play with the toy, I ripped Grunt’s tag off when she brought him home. So, you can imagine the horror I experienced when I found out that there was a new thing called the “internet” where crazy moms were buying Grunt (with the tag) for $250.  “TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS?!” I collapsed in an ocean of tears. In 1994, $250 was Richie-Rich level money…at least to a third grader. I could have sold Grunt and built a roller-coaster in my back yard.

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This Grunt belonged to a more fiscally responsible 3rd grader who bought the plastic tag protector. 

About two years later the Beanie Baby Bubble™ burst and now we all have trash bags full of worthless toys (that we secretly hold on to because they will still be worth millions one day).

That’s what’s so interesting about economies. They can collapse overnight – especially when they are built on shaky foundations. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about two Kingdoms with two very different economies.  One can collapse overnight and the other has outlasted every superpower on Earth.

They are not recognized by their value statements, but by their GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Every economy produces something, and these Kingdoms are no different. According to Jesus, there are two Gross Domestic Products that characterize The Kingdom of the World and The Kingdom of God.

THE KINGDOM OF THE WORLD

GDP #1: WORRY

The word “anxiety” is used six times in Matthew 6, then Christ commands us not to be worried about our lives. Most times, we see anxiety as something out of our control, but the Greek word is in the imperative.

“Worry is believing that God won’t get it right, and bitterness is believing He didn’t.” – Tim Keller

Jesus wouldn’t call us to something His Spirit hasn’t empowered us to do. So, if your life is characterized by worry or anxiety right, don’t lose hope.

GDP #2: SIN

He said that the eyes are the lamp of the body. If our eyes are healthy, we will be healthy. If our eyes are pursuing darkness, we will be full of darkness. And, when the good things in us are dark…it’s really bad (vs. 22-23). In short, when we seek the Kingdom of the World, our lives produce worry and sin in mass.

UNTIL YOU PURSUE THE RIGHT THINGS FIRST,
EXHAUSTING THINGS WILL PURSUE YOU FAST.

That’s the revolutionary economic concept Jesus was teaching. You have exhausting stuff speeding your way, and change happens only when you pursue the right economy.

MATTHEW 6:33
“But SEEK FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

GDP #1: HOLINESS

When we value what Heaven values, we will pursue holiness and prayer and people and worship and intimacy with God.

GDP #2: HARMONY

Food, clothing, and money are good things, but, as Jesus said, isn’t life more than these things? When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God first, then He brings our finances and relationships and physical needs into harmony with His will.

Jesus’ message is not “STAY AWAY FROM THESE THINGS!” Instead it’s, “PURSUE THIS THING.” When we are pursuing the Kingdom of God, we are naturally going to steer away from sin and worry. So, if you feel driven those things, maybe it’s because you are not seeking the Kingdom first today.

Every morning you and I are faced with the choice of the two Kingdoms, and our lives’ GDP will reflect that decision. If you’re like me, some days I choose wrongly and it catches up fast. That’s when I run to Matthew 6:33, repent, and remember the millions of Beanie Babies sitting in dumpsters.

Be Picky About Reading

If you don’t get excited about books, you’re reading the wrong ones. That’s why I love a good recommendation list. Someone else already rolled the dice for me to see if a book is worth the time and effort.

So, if you haven’t decided what you’ll be reading next, here are some that paid off:

INTERESTED IN CULTURE?

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The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth
MIKE COSPER

This is a book about why you should watch more television (and how to watch it better). By using modern examples from the screen, Cosper shows us why fiction is never truly fictional.

“We weep when Harry Potter rises from the dead, lifted by a deeper and older magic than even the most powerful wizard in the world can conjure: love. Then the theater lights lift and we return to the harsh daylight of the real world. We can hear these stories of life, death, and resurrection, knowing in our hearts that it really did happen.” [p.196]

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The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students
ALLAN BLOOM

In the mid 1980’s, Allan Bloom decided that he would write the most prophetic book on American education ever published, then make it as dry as humanly possible. It’s brilliant, pointed, groundbreaking, and excruciatingly slow. But, if you’re a teacher, student, or somewhere in between, it’s a must read.

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending.” [p. 25]

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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
MICHAEL O. EMERSON & CHRISTIAN SMITH

Though filled with statistics and extensive research (making it a little tedious at times), Emerson and Smith’s findings revealed my own cultural blind spots in the Bible Belt, and gave tools to engage racial reconciliation realistically.

“White conservative Protestants are significantly less likely to explain racial inequality in structural [or systemic] terms. It [also] appears that they are more individualistic and less structural in their explanations of black-white inequality than other whites…” [p. 96]

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J.D. VANCE

This is the story of what being a statistic feels like. Studies have shown that growing up in relational and financial poverty has marked much of our society’s unhealth, but Vance’s experience brings it to light in ways that you will identify with and recognize far more than expected.

“Whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, ‘The feeling that our choices don’t matter’.”

INTERESTED IN HISTORY?

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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
STEVEN JOHNSON

An entire war was fought over the color purple. (Meaning actual human beings died in that last sentence. You read it super fast, but they died super dead. Over the color purple.) Also, chess reshaped most of the class structure of Western Europe. Nobody died but it was still really interesting. Play needn’t be a luxury, but intuitive to create and innovate. We have to turn off that part of us in order to drone through the mundane. I learned all of that and more reading this fun, fascinating book.

“You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun.” [p. 15]

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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour
JAMES D. HORNFISCHER 

If you love boring facts about World War II, run away as fast as you can. This book is better than any thriller movie I’ve ever seen…or even heard of.  The fact that it actually happened is simply a bonus. It’s so good that I don’t have a quote for you because I let someone borrow my copy.

INTERESTED IN LEADERSHIP?

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The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting Things Done
PETER F. DRUCKER

Drucker wrote this in the 1960’s and people are still saying it’s ahead of the times. He was the first to coin the idea of a “knowledge worker.” If you lead in any capacity and haven’t read it, this one’s for you.

“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events. And without check-ins to reexamine the plan as events unfold, the executive has no way of knowing which events really matter and which are only noise.”

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Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
SIMON SINEK 

For those of you who have trouble answering the question, “Why exactly do you do what you do?” Take two days and gain Sinek’s insights on how to inspire yourself and those around you by bringing clear purpose to your career.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

INTERESTED IN FICTION?

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The Daughter of Time
JOSEPHINE TEY

If Sherlock Holmes were a bit wittier and far more smug, then he would be Josephine Tey. In this 1951 novel, she keeps you enamored with a detective who sits on a hospital bed for 200 pages solving a mystery that happened 600 years ago. There’s a reason she has been called the “Greatest Mystery Writer” by the New York Times.

“The truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper, the sale of a house, the price of a ring.”

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Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians
BRANDON SANDERSON 

I’m not going to try to convince you that this is on the same level as Josephine Tey. Read the title and make a judgment call.

“So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them you don’t read ‘fantasy,’ because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world.”

INTERESTED IN SPIRITUAL GROWTH?

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Knowing God
J.I. PACKER

Theology, in it’s purest form, should stir your heart and expand your mind to love Christ more deeply. Packer (a masterful theologian) guides the experience better than almost anyone. It’s practical and approachable. He swims deep but let’s you wear floaties.

“You can have all the right notions [about God] in your head, without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer.”

Whatever you pick this summer, just make sure you pick something. And be picky.

The Critical Heart Stops Beating

Cranky three-year-olds have a lot in common with critical people. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a tired child, it’s always frustrating and sometimes hilarious. Nothing makes anything better.

Also, anything makes everything worse.

It’s because the issue causing all the ruckus is never the real problem. He’s not mad because his rocket ship was left in the living room. He’s mad because he’s tired and his sinful flesh is on full display. The rocket ship just happens to be the focus of his fussing at the moment. When you bring him the toy, he’ll shift his fussing to something else.

The critical heart beats like this as well.

Matthew 11:16-19
And Jesus said, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

When Jesus was looking for a good description of the critical heart, he compared it to a bunch of fussy kids. Back in those days, young children would play wedding or funeral in the marketplace. When the kids would play wedding, they pretended to perform music and danced while the “bride and groom” said their vows. Everyone was invited.

But the fussy kids didn’t want to play that game. All they wanted to do was stew in a huff.

So, the others changed the game to funeral (a little morbid, but it was what they knew). Well, the fussy kids didn’t want to play that game, either. These religious people, with their critical hearts, were acting the same way.

Jesus revealed that this was not about him or John the Baptist. It was a heart issue. Their hearts were weary, heavy laden, and on full display. So, Jesus offered rest for their souls, but they got critical instead; making it seem like this was someone else’s fault. In short, they missed the gospel.

This can happen to all of us. If I get critical (like when I see everything else around me as the problem), then I am in the most need of rest in Christ. The answer is almost never found in what I’m criticizing anyway. You can solve that “problem” and I’ll find another one to cast my cares upon. A critical heart is nothing more than the reflection of a weary soul.

In those moments, choose your next step carefully. Instead of growing cynical, embrace being led beside still waters and take the light yoke of a burden-carrying Savior (Psalm 23, Matthew 11:29).

Then go play with the other kids.

Garth, Elvis, and the King

The smell of the Jungle Room is something people would kill to have known 40 years ago. “I went to GRACELAND!” they’d say while readjusting their layers of clunky jewelry. There was a time when the king sold out stadiums to screaming fans. People would (literally) faint at the sight of him, and I was standing in his kitchen.

We toured the grounds the morning after we saw Garth Brooks play to a packed house at the FedEx Forum. His concert, while amazing, struck me differently as I stood over Elvis’ grave that next day. There buried next to his pool was a man who knew the fame and the sound of adoring fans; nothing separating us but four decades. Yet there were fingerprints of regret on every surface of his house.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:26

Even though he had everything money and fame could offer, Elvis was an overall tortured individual. His life (coupled with Garth’s concert the night before) stood as a clear reminder that the bright and shiny things of this world don’t last very long. They will always let us down.

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

If whatever concerns you today is not something that will concern you 1,000 years from now, it’s probably not that important. So, as you read this, commit to walk in step with a King and Kingdom that will last forever (Matthew 6:33). 

And if a moment comes where this world seems brighter or shinier than the Kingdom of Heaven, just go to the musty Jungle Room and take a deep breath. 

What Our Hobbies Say About Us

Creativity is the corner where work and wonder meet. My wife finds it best in her garden. Even as she fusses over the thievery of squirrels or a sluggish tomato crop, turning over dirt and experiencing every stage of life does something unique to her soul.  As she creates and nurtures, the reflection of her nurturing Creator can be seen.

That’s why hobbies are so important.

But we need a new word for “hobbies.” Most hear it and think, “a luxury meant for people who aren’t as busy as I am.” So, let’s rewrite the definition more clearly.

Hobbies: something you do because you love it, not because you need it.

That’ll work for now. When you do something simply because you love it, the creative part of God in us shines forth. Hobbies aren’t necessary for survival per se. We don’t need music, yet there are artifacts from 6,000+ years ago of animal bones shaped into flutes by men and women.

Aeons before early humans started imagining writing or agriculture, they were crafting tools for making music…the most abstract of the arts. No one likes a hit record because it sounds like the natural world. We like music because it sounds like music – because it sounds different.

Steven Johnson
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

When our ancestors were huddled around a fire trying to stay warm, they also created by singing and dancing and inventing. It’s always been that way. Like a signet ring on wax, we are all stamped into the image of our Creator.

Wonder and fun and creativity are a part of the abundant life Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Whereas some try to find their refuge within recreation itself, Christians get to experience all of creation with the Refuge Himself. Life in Christ simply brings life to everything else.

So, if life is too frantic to do (or discover) something you love, you are not being productive. You’re surviving. Productivity means producing, and that requires creativity and wonder – a hobby. Something that creates a spark in you when talking about it with other people.

What creates a spark in you?

Take roasting coffee, for example. I can bore the brains out of most people talking about the nuances and chemistry that happens when a coffee bean hits “first crack” in my drum roaster, yet it’s fascinating. A lot of my friends prefer grabbing their store-bought Keurig cups on their way out the door, but they don’t love coffee like I do. There’s a wonder to it that sparks the creative part of my heart.

Every morning, as I brew a pour-over, I imagine someone in Japan or Ethiopia or Brazil (other coffee-crazed countries) doing the same thing. In a huge world where my little life can almost feel swallowed up by insignificance, it reminds me that we are connected as people. I may not understand their language or culture, but a hot drink made with carefully burned cherry seeds shows our common humanity. One created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ. In other words, a connected life filled with significance.

I love it so much I don’t even care how ridiculous it is that I’m blogging about coffee right now (which, by definition, is basically the most Millennial thing someone can do).

You may find the same sort of wonder in golf or beekeeping or fishing or stamp collecting. Or perhaps it’s time for you to discover something new altogether. Whatever it is, don’t add it to your schedule because you need to be “well-rounded.” Do it because of the wonder and excitement it sparks in your heart. Remember, Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

What is something you do because you love it, not because you need it? I’d like to hear about it – post in the comments below!

Why Our Future Matters This Week

Even though they had to make it in 1989, Back to the Future (Part II) got 2015 almost exactly right. This single screenshot captures it perfectly:

back-to-the-future-2-picture3

How did Steven Spielberg know we’d be wearing rifle-bullet chokers and painting our faces to look like a circuit board? Self-fulfilling prophecy I guess. Either way, for Marty McFly, the future has come and gone. What was once unknown is now in history books.

The future is often different than we predict, but not always.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

If you travelled back in time to last spring, you could bet the house that Chicago would win the World Series. Even when they lost games, you wouldn’t be biting your nails like the other Cubs fans.  “Just wait,” you’d tell them.

In the same way, when our eyes are fixed on “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” we are betting on a sure thing. Our perspective changes everything. Lives fixed on “the things that are unseen” have certain, unmistakable characteristics.

Suffering is counted as light and momentary.

The most effective medicine to alleviate pain is comparison. Hurt may run deep and be intense at times, but when measured against a painless, joy-filled eternity, it is a blip.

For more, see “Stopping Storms”

Value is measured in life-transformation.

Careers and commercial success can be good things, but they have a shelf life. Those who focus on eternity care most about people (because people are the only things that will last for eternity). Their system uses a different kind of currency.

Current events are leveraged for evangelism.

The racial and political temperature in our country seems close to boiling point, and, with MLK Day falling the same week as President Trump’s inauguration, there is no shortage of social commentary about it. If you listen closely, however, everyone’s conclusion is the same: “We long for a better country.” That’s because there is a better country, but it’s a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). Every other place will disappoint. So, we tell them about the Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ.

Where are your eyes set today? Is life a little dizzying?  Do not lose heart. Just wait, the future is a sure thing.

The War on Christmas

Describing “happy holidays” as a “war on Christmas” is sort of like comparing a fight at recess to D-Day. The scope doesn’t compare. Don’t get me wrong – there is a war on Christmas. I’m just not convinced that it started in the North Pole and is funded by Macy’s.

Colossians 1:15
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Immanuel – (Hebrew) “God is with us.”

Each December we think about this moment. My family even has little ceramic reenactments of it around the house. Nativity scenes of Joseph, Mary, and shepherds gathered around the Baby.

What you don’t see, however, is what was out in the darkness. The Ancient Serpent peering from the cold as he heard the declaration of war. He knew, more than anyone else, that the whimpers coming from the swaddled Nazarene was the same Voice that spoke the cosmos into existence. Those kicking feet, though vulnerable and small, were there to crush his head.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

These are not nostalgic words we croon into the air once a year. It is our fist-pumping battle cry to the forces of darkness. Our King has come to bring peace on Earth and war to sin.

So, don’t get swept away when the White House calls it a “Holiday Tree.” The stable at Bethlehem has more in common with the beaches of Normandy than with Christmas ornaments anyway.

The Thrill of Hope

I used to think only nerds got goosebumps during Star Wars, but even this scene from the recent Episode VII got me:

One idea unites every character in these movies – hope. The belief that there is Something More. Something with the power to make everything right again. They’re just like you and me.

It’s our shared thirst for hope (not an affinity for Star Wars geekdom) that makes everyone lean in and listen to Han Solo. Deep down – some deeper than others – we believe that hope exists. No matter how badly we want to give it up, there’s a gnatty little question that won’t leave us alone:

What if all this…
a created universe – a loving God who rules over it – a Savior – an empty tomb…what if it were all actually true?

Unlike Han Solo, the Apostle John was a real person and lived on the Earth, but (just like Han Solo) he saw and experienced Something that gave others hope.

John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Underneath the presents and lights and family feasts, there waits Something More. A non-religious person might describe it as “the spirit of Christmas” but they are only seeing It in part. The Spirit of Christmas dwelt among us and has a name.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born

“O Holy Night”

So, lean in and listen as John tells us, “all of it…the whole thing…it’s true.”

How Is Your Heart? (Foundation Inspection Included)

When significant cracks begin to show up on the walls of a house, it is a symptom of foundation problems. There are two options homeowners have:

  1. Patch and paint over the wall so people don’t notice.
  2. Spend time and money repairing the foundation.

The first option is certainly the easiest (and most tempting). It fails, however, to stop the cracks from coming back.  The truest solution requires pouring a sound foundation.

Like a house, your heart shows cracks as well.  “Why is ______________ consistently a problem in my life?” you may ask. Perhaps it is because you have slapped on a patch rather than addressed the foundation.

It’s easier to convince ourselves that heart issues are due to busy schedules or anxious seasons of life.  We attempt to paint over it with time-management strategies or simply wait for the season to change when, in reality, the foundation is off.  Read the words of Jesus,

Matthew 7:24-27
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

If our life is built on sand, when the storms get strong enough, the walls will crash down around us. It’s better to stop and take a quick look at our house before that time comes.

Do an Inspection

The following short exercise will help you look closer at life’s foundation. Take your time answering the following:

(Pick which choice best describes you)

As I do this exercise, my mind is focused on…

  1. Being courageously honest no matter what it reveals about my life.
  2. What someone will think if they knew my answers.

What brings me a greater sense of self-worth?

  1. Being loved by God.
  2. Being known as an expert at what I do.

When it comes to rest,

  1. I find that disconnecting from weekly pressures and expectations comes easily.
  2. I find it nearly impossible to not think about work or to-do lists all the time.

When someone is better than me at something,

  1. I can celebrate them.
  2. I feel threatened or insecure.

I feel like my daily choices are motivated by…

  1. Power, love and self-control.
  2. Fear and selfishness.

When I read Scripture,

  1. I am refreshed and inspired.
  2. I feel like more things get added to my spiritual “to-do” list.

I obey God…

  1. Because I love Him.
  2. So He won’t hurt or punish me.

Admit Your Need

Perhaps you are beginning to see places in your heart that need repair. So, how do we move from Answer Two to Answer One? And how can we guard ourselves from going back? There’s hope that your life can be built on the sustaining work of Jesus Christ. For today, as a next step, simply admit in prayer that you need help,

Father God,
There are places in my life that need to be reshaped by the work of Your Spirit. I am enslaved to things in ways You never intended. Would You help me experience freedom more fully? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Repentance Brings Freedom

Many times, our areas of weakness stem from lack of faith.  Repentance is a dual-motion activity: turn away from sin and towards Christ. The example of the father in Mark 9:24 serves us well.  In a moment of doubt, he turned toward Jesus and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Turn to the Lord right now and ask Him to fill you with faith in the truths of His Word (even in the midst of doubts or uncertainty). Don’t patch it. Build your house on something better.

 

Do You Push Reset Each Morning?

How I start the day can determine more about the way it goes than just about anything else. I’m not talking about my devotional life per se (though one’s day is certainly affected by it). Instead, I’m focusing on how someone starts.

What is your waking thought? What do you do first thing every morning? Have you thought about it much?

Colossians 3:2
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

I have to push this reset button on my mind each day. Its default mode is set to “earthly things,” and will stay there all day if I let it.

Here are the two ways I press reset:

A VERY SPECIFIC PRAYER

The first thought out of my mind is always the same request to God:

Father, today, expand my mind to think more like Jesus, expand my heart to love more like Jesus, and help me be unashamed of the Gospel.

Then I look at my phone. Not to check email or social media, but to see my Prayer Notebook prompt. This app allows you to set reminders on your phone to pray for specific people and moments. It also keeps track of how God has answered prayers over time. I look at my prompt, pray for whoever is on it, and get ready for the day.

LISTENING TO SCRIPTURE

This is something I’ve only discovered recently, but have grown to love. Listening to Scripture on my phone helps focus my mind on things above (checkout the YouVersion app). Slowing down to write notes in a journal is good for me, too. But there’s something refreshing about hearing the Bible read out loud.

If I don’t start the day well, it tends to get cranky fast. I’ve also noticed that my morning routine thrives on subtle variety. So, I try to throw new things in the mix.

Begin thinking through your morning moments. I’d love to know what you’ve found to help. Leave a comment at the bottom with an idea or observation. It may guide other people to hit reset better. One of my favorites is an observation John Piper made:

“I feel like I wake up and have to get saved again every single morning.

How do you push reset?