As a new season approaches, we all have a tendency to re-evaluate our lives. We think more closely about what we eat, what we do, how hard we work, and how often we pray. In the fall, we are focused on back-to-school if we have kids, or getting the house ready for the cold months. In the winter, we get more spiritual because the colder weather forces introspection and time with ourselves. In the spring and summer, we worry about getting fit for the warm weather and making sure our work schedules are in order to allow for vacation or extra money as needed. The seasons are cyclical in many ways, and for us as Christians, they represent different things at different times in our spiritual year.
I’ve been talking and advocating a lot about my “living strong” in faith and spirituality lately. I’ve been firm in my directives to stay focused and to remain stronger than the enemy, and I’ve waxed a bit poetic in my suggestions to look inside and to get to know ourselves better. Of course, I mean it all, and, as I write this post, I feel a certain urgency to remind everyone to tap into our strengths as this season of warm weather and more relaxed schedules approaches. I urge us all to dig deep and vow to remain rooted in faith and discipline. With relaxed days approaching, we need to make sure that we still live strong in all that we do.
In the shadow of the Memorial Day celebration, we find ourselves feeling nostalgic and thankful. This is a good thing. These are feelings that we need to tap into for our continued strength in our faith journeys and in our journeys to success in life. It is important to understand that this type of rest and reflection is important and productive, whereas simple inaction and permanent movement from the path of the disciplines we readily impose on ourselves is not. Straying too far from our goals and from our daily initiatives is dangerous; such behavior can open the door to idleness and laziness. If we allow appropriate rest and reflection or applied introspection and restful analysis to our daily disciplines, we can see enhanced results as opposed to inaction.
Living strong, or keeping that reserve of fortitude and resilience close at hand, is imperative to staying the path regarding faith and discipline. God wants us to rest; even He rested on the 7th day. He does not want us to lose sight of our goals, however, nor does he want us to lose our drive to create lives that are constantly improving. Knowing ourselves and knowing what we need to replenish in this time of both reflection and preparation is key to maintaining what we need personally, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually, to succeed in our daily lives.
In our modern world, we hear the term “live strong” all the time. We often associate it with being committed to an athletic or fitness accomplishment. Sometimes, our mind will make the jump to living strong for our family or our kids—taking this “I can do this” mentality into our work environment or our personal lives. But, do we “live strong” all the time? Do we even know what that means? Certainly, one person’s definition of the term or phrase is different than another’s. In some worlds, living strong is being fit, eating right, rising up the corporate ladder, or getting your kids into the right school. In other worlds, living strong means just surviving—getting food on the table, avoiding illness, taking odd jobs to make some money, or getting back on track after a lifetime of mistakes or problems. All in all, we always have to be ready for when we are tested in any way and in any capacity. Life will show us many enemies, and we need to have the fortitude to stand up to them.
How do we live strong in our daily lives? Do we get up and go in for a morning workout everyday? Do we provide examples for our children daily by showing how to give back to the community in our actions and words? Do we pray daily? Do we make sure that the elderly in our lives eat right and are visited regularly by loved ones? Do we reach out to those who might be lonely or sick? Do we test ourselves in our faith and our disciplines in belief systems and values daily?
I’m guessing that, even if you all answered “yes” to working out, taking care of loved ones, and giving back to the community, you did not answer that way to the last one—testing yourself in faith and values daily. Not many of us do this, yet this is how we make ourselves vulnerable to attack and to weakness.
How exactly are we supposed to test ourselves in this way? I think that answer would be different for each of us. I do know this, however: establishing ourselves solidly in values, beliefs, and disciplines is the first step in any faith journey. We must know what we want to accomplish, generally in life, and we must understand our own strengths and weaknesses. If we have a tendency to spend too much money, we need to apply more discipline to that area in our lives. If we are good at school, we need to tap into that ability and make it work for us and our future goals. Above all of this, we need to understand that we are not invincible and that we are the products of our family, friends, community, and environment. We need to give thanks when appropriate, and we need to re-evaluate and change when appropriate.
It isn’t always easy to scrutinize ourselves and our lives objectively. In order to even approach doing this, we need to remain humble and without erroneous ego. We need to think of others and treat them as we would want to be treated ourselves. And, we need to trust in God’s plan for us and show Him daily how we can live up to His expectations for us. Is this always easy? No. In fact, it can be very trying to constantly think of how God would want us to act. When we are faced with challenges, work, difficult people, and dishonesty, it is easy to fall back on complaining or developing bad attitudes. When we are blind-sided by illness or financial trouble, it is easy to blame God or to forsake Him. In these trying times, we need to look inside and find that inner strength that we all have. We need to question why we want to reach certain goals, and we need to remember how we got to where we are in life in the first place. Sometimes, it is the love of family—pies from grandma, a warm home provided by parents, and love from lifetime friends. Other times, it is hardship—absent parents, siblings in trouble with the law, or the uncertainty of a financially distraught family life. Either way, it shapes us, and our experiences can help shape our responses in life. Using the fortitude born of a difficult life can help us achieve success as can the calm approach of someone who has lived a comfortable life. At the core of our journey to success and offsetting the enemy is our sense of self and our sense of God. We need to tap into both.
I’ve said before that the enemy’s strategy is to cloud our thinking in our everyday lives. How many of you know what I mean when I say “the enemy”? Do you think of what you learned in church as a kid? Do you picture the devil coming to get you if you lie to your parents or push someone on the playground? Do you picture demons that come after you in the night or demons in the form of drugs, alcohol, depression or other hard to overcome issues? I think we all have our own picture or image of what we think is the “enemy,”the dark side of human nature, the opposite of God.
Do we ever think of the enemy as people we know? Do we even let our minds wander to the fact that the enemy can be deep within ourselves as well? Maybe the enemy comes out when we feel challenged or when a friend of ours is feeling jealous or even when a seemingly benign stranger sees us doing something on the road and “road rage” kicks in. All of these scenarios can be pretty uneventful, passing issues that hardly affect us. They can, however, escalate, and, suddenly the road rage incident causes someone to get hurt – or the jealous friend acts in a way that causes irreparable damage or we convince ourselves to behave in a way that changes the course of our lives.
I’ve said before that the enemy’s strategy in your life is to cloud your judgment or corrupt your thinking. I said in a previous blog post and in my book that in our lives, we’ve all fallen prey to friends who coerce us to do something against our better judgment. I also need to point out that maybe we’ve been involved in relationships and, suddenly, find that our lifestyle is one we no longer recognize or maybe we replay our actions and behaviors in a certain situation and find that we are not proud of what we did and that, further, we are worried about the repercussions of what we’ve done.
Once the enemy – in whatever form – gets inside our heads or the threat of the enemy allows us to weaken at all, we can start down dangerous paths. The enemy will make us question our own judgments, will injure us so badly that we can’t trust our own emotions, and will use guilt to chip away at our defenses and tap into our vulnerabilities. This is how the enemy permeates the minds of otherwise intelligent and secure people and moves through groups of friends, families, or communities, coercing and moving people to behave in ways that they normally would not. Sometimes, good intentions go horribly wrong, as we’ve seen in recent events in our own society. Peaceful protests and vigils turn to rioting and violence. Emotions are corrupted by selfish motivations. The root of the issue is clouded with vulnerabilities, hurt feelings, and fear.
We all have different goals in life; some are big, and some are small. We all share the same goal to move forward in life in a positive way; However, this may be interpreted in different ways. The family man may want success in his career. The single mother may want a more fulfilling personal life and a good relationship with her kids. The college age boy may want to do well in school and pursue a sport of some kind. None of us can move forward if we let the enemy decide for us what direction we take. We have to be stronger than that. We have to be prepared for whatever life sends us. We need to secure our “Armor of God” and offset the attacks that the enemy – again, however we perceive it – will, most certainly, unleash on us.
“You have to know the rules to break the rules” a friend once told me. A proponent of being disciplined and practiced in order to lead people into social advocacy and non-violent protest, he was a charismatic and unique individual with an aura of hope around him. And, yes, I agreed with him, in part, but I always felt that, in his quest to show quiet restraint and strength without overt fortitude in the face of those who opposed him, while noble and admirable in so many ways, kept him from achieving true success. And, I don’t mean success in life, in general – I mean, success more in line with knowing himself and his fortitude in the face of the enemy. And, I don’t mean that quiet restraint and strength born of learning the rules and applying them is at all a bad thing; I just mean that I always thought that he should show off this anchor he had inside – this fortress of discipline, faith, and self-awareness. What good are all these qualities if we don’t use them, visibly, as God wants us to, in faith and in daily life?
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s scheme. (NIV)
And, if we take the meaning more modern day, it means:
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.
So what DOES it mean to “live strong”? To live strong in God, in life, or in any way that we want to interpret it? Previously I said, too, that this friend of mine was a born leader in terms of initiating and successfully implementing non-violent protests and advocacy for those without a voice. And, this IS strength, isn’t it? Particularly in these days of violent protests and volatility when the stresses of daily life and the social, professional, or emotional injustices that plague all of us on occasion rear their ugly heads. This ability to negotiate or to bring people together to a resolution is strength. Strength is also simply recognizing our abilities and knowing when to use them.
In my book, I say that we can’t allow people to coerce us into doing something that we do not want to do. Instead, we should use our strength and our sense of self and faith to make sure that what we do is productive and helpful to others, to God, and to our own families and communities. Also in my book, I use the apostle, Paul, as an example of how to live and why we need to tap into this strength – this Armor of God. The enemy will attack us when we aren’t expecting it through self-doubt, fear, and unwanted change, to name a few avenues. Other times, we can see it coming in the way of violence, crime, and unbearable injustices as is the case, very recently, with the issues in Baltimore.
I say this distinctly in my book, and I firmly believe it: We often allow others, sometimes friends – sometimes strangers, to coerce us into doing things that are against our better judgment. This, too, can be an attack of sorts. If we aren’t tapped into our strength, we won’t know how to offset the coercion. On a similar note and to my point earlier that my friend needed to talk more about his fortitude and his ability to make things happen, wearing the Armor of God and living in the way that God’s protection provides us, will offset the challenge in some cases. No one wants to mess with someone who wears and lives the Armor of God – who touts his or her faith and truly believes it – or who finds discipline within and is not afraid to tap into it now and then.
Take today to talk about your faith, friends. Take this week to polish up your Armor of God. And take this month to put behind you the anger and fear that the enemy creates in order to live strong with other people in a productive and faithful world.