Too Much Time On My Hands

What should I do with the extra time I have now in light of COVID19: This is a question I have been hearing from many these last weeks. For many people working from home, and those who unfortunately simply can’t go to work due to the governmental restrictions issued to quell the spread as quickly as possible, they are faced with more “idle time” than they have ever had.

Sure, you could binge-watch all kinds of shows on Netflix, which I know many people have been doing, but there are many other more life-giving things you could do with this nation-wide long-lasting “snow day” of sorts.

The current reality has created an opportunity for us to go deep with God and those closest to us. However, I know that the vast majority of people will not maximize this potential life-changing time because we lack the understanding and often the discipline to harness any time for the benefit of our soul.

The Apostle Paul gives us this sage advice in the letter he wrote to the church in Ephesus:

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” ~Ephesians 5:15-16

Paul is making an assumption that he feels he needs to address. People often don’t make wise choices thereby missing divine opportunities that could change their life and bless a dark world.

In the book “Ordering Your Private World, author Gordon MacDonald writes about the LAW of UNSEIZED TIME. To his thesis, he relates that there are four laws about our extra time.

LAW 1: Unseized time flows toward my weakness.

 LAW 2: Unseized time comes under the influence of the dominant people in my world.

 LAW 3: Unseized time surrenders to the demands of all emergencies.

 LAW 4: Unseized time gets invested in things that gain public acclamation.

Right now we are moving through a moment that we have never been in before. So not only are we struggling with the change, we are confused about the unknown waters our lives have drifted into. Since there is not a specific end date to all of this, most people will simply waste the gift of time they have been given, and will most likely regret it later.

LAW 1 states that unseized time flows toward my weakness. This is so important to understand. MacDonald knows that we move toward the things we use to medicate our pain, the things we do numb out from the tension, or the things that are time wasters when we have an excess.

What is the weakness in your life that you gravitate toward?

What things do you tend to use to fill available minutes or hours?

Becoming aware of this is half the battle, but not the whole battle. Knowing where your unseized time flows wakes you up to the shadow that would betray and reduce you, however, you don’t have to let that win the battle. As your awareness is ignited you realize that you now can choose differently, and think differently.

Here are some powerful quotes from MacDonald:

“If my private world is in order, it will be because I have made a daily determination to see time as God’s gift and worthy of careful investment.” (68)

“Disorganized Christians rarely enjoy intimacy with God. They certainly have intentions of pursuing that camaraderie, but it never quite gets established. No one has to tell them that time must be set aside for the purpose of Bible study and reflection, for intercession, for worship. They know all of that. They simply are not doing it. They excuse themselves, saying there is no time, but within their private worlds they know it is more a matter of organization and personal will than anything else.” (72)

“If my private world is in order, it will be because I have determined that every day will be for me a day of growth in knowledge and wisdom.” (96)

The second LAW which states: “Unseized time comes under the influence of the dominant people in my world,” is also true. I promise you that if you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else does! Other dominant people will begin influencing your time allocation. This is especially true if you are a people pleaser.

Our current crisis is an opportunity for you to seize your time and leverage it for spiritual growth in the garden of your soul. To this end, MacDonalds states: “If my private world is in order, it will be because I regularly choose to enlarge the spiritual center of my life.” (124)

Your spiritual garden needs a gardener and that is you! To tend your spiritual garden well you need to know your rhythms of maximum effectiveness, have good criteria for choosing how to use your time, and budget your time far in advance just like you would your money.

DANGER: When we allow our unseized time to flow towards our weakness we lose some valuable privileges such as:

  • We will never learn to enjoy the eternal and infinite perspective on reality that we were created to have. Our powers of judgment will be substantially curtailed.
  • If the spiritual center of our private world goes undisciplined, a second privilege we will lack will be a vital, life-giving friendship with Christ.
  • A third privilege undisciplined spirits will lose is the fear of accountability to God.
  • Letting the spiritual center fall into disrepair means, fourth, that we lose the awareness of our real size in comparison to the Creator.
  • Finally, a neglected, disordered spiritual center usually means that we have little reserve or resolve for crisis moments such as failure, humiliation, suffering, the death of a loved one, or loneliness. (129-130)

A final thought…

One more reason many don’t use their unseized time to culture the spiritual garden of their soul is because they are afraid of intimacy with God. “What if God doesn’t like me if I show up?” “Ya know, God and I have this safe distance kind of relationship where I don’t ask too much of Him and He doesn’t ask too much of me, so we just kinda let it be.” Or, “If I enter stillness, silence and God’s presence, I am just simply afraid of what might percolate up from the deep waters of my life. Things I haven’t dealt with, things I am bitter about, things I have not forgiven, or even things I have wrongly done to others.”

If this is you, know that God is love, and His love will begin to dissipate the fears in your soul. He is longing and waiting for you to slip into His presence and receive His grace. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts away all fear the Apostle John reminds us.

While our world is in COVID19 driven crisis, many have also been given a gift of time that can create the shalom we are longing to experience.

The choice is yours, don’t let your weakness win the current gift of extra time that sits before you.

3 Holiday Stress Busters

Don’t allow the season to steal your soul…

I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. This can cause some tension due to the fact that my job finds it epicenter in spiritual holidays. As a pastor for over 32 years, my holidays have been designing, creating and leading experiences that reveal and usher in a sense of divine “otherness.” This is no small enterprise in the midst of a culture that has the ability to wrap the holy with glittering consumerism that appears noble but is a whitewashed disguise.

My main motivation for creating spaces of the sacred is because I know that people are longing for it, need it desperately, yet get caught up in the busyness of life. They are doing the best they can and need all the help they can get.

Advertisers are convincing our kids that they NEED the latest, greatest and flashiest tech toys. They believe the lie that they are nothing, and no one will like them if that newest thing isn’t theirs. We are promised a better life, better sex, better relationships, and better health if we would just buy their product. Then, oh yes then you will become one of the beautiful people using their products.

So….we spend money we don’t have going into debt for things that cannot deliver their promise in order to impress people we don’t even like. Before you know it, the holiday is over and you are simply left with the credit card debt, right?

Stress comes at you like a scud missile from multiple angles.

  • family stress…
  • work stress…
  • financial stress…
  • health stress…
  • time stress…
  • kid stress…
  • work stress…
  • school stress…
  • political stress…
  • legal stress…

The American Institute of Stress (yes it’s a real thing!) recently published and article detailing 42 key workplace stressors. You can read the article here. In the article, author Milja Milenkovic stated a number of eye opening stats. For example:

* 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
* US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
* Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
* Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

Gallup also note that “Americans are among the most stressed out populations in the world. Drawing from Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, over half of the American population experience stress during the day. This is 20% higher than the world average of 35%. According to these stress stats, the US is getting closer and closer to Greece, whose population has been the most stressed out in the world since 2012, with 59% of Greeks experiencing stress daily.”

No wonder we don’t see, feel or enter into the spaces of the sacred during the holidays.

We are too stuck in the muck of this kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.

That is why I love creating spaces and experiences that take you out of the kingdom of commodity, productivity, and empire and portal you to the kingdom you were created to live in, but the stresses of the world keep you from finding the doorway.

While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to win the battle for your soul.
While stress in inevitable, it doesn’t have to choke out the holy.
While stress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be your way of life.

Instead…

Here are three practices I use to stay centered in the midst of cultural chaos in order to stay connected to Trinity.

Meditation.
In the story about Jesus that was written by Luke, we learn that meditation was a regular practice in Jesus’ life. It was a discipline that kept him centered and able to hear the voice of the Father.
“News about Jesus spread even more.  Crowds came to hear him and to be healed . . . but Jesus often slipped away to be alone so he could pray.”  Luke 5:15‑16 (NCV)

Prayer and meditation are great stress relievers. Prayer is talking to God with your mind, and meditation is talking to God with your heart. I see prayer and meditation like pressure relief valves or decompression chambers. When your brain runs out of words as you release the burden, meditation picks up the conversation with groans that are too deep for words.

I think it was Pascal, the famous philosopher who once said, “Most of man’s problems come from his inability to sit still.”  The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

The busier you are, the more you need to practice the stillness of meditation. If you are thinking right now, “Hey Monty, I am way too busy to slow down and meditate, that would be nice, but I just don’t have the time!” I get it, I really do, but you are choosing the kingdom of chaos and stress when you could be finding the peace of God amid all your craziness.

The busier I get, the more I meditate. When I stop, pause, and meditate, the stillness and silence allow my body to catch up with my brain. It is here that the assailing thoughts that jump around in my mind like rabid monkeys on vacation slow down enough to pray and listen to God. I have found that this alone is the most significant stress reducer in my life. Prayer and Meditation remind me that I am not God, I am not in control of the world, and God is far more capable than I am of running things…what a relief.

As a person with busy-brain-syndrome, I have found that the best way to move into a time of stillness is through reading. I will start with a compelling devotional book. The words help me focus and eliminate brain chatter. Books become a powerful tool to slow my thoughts, heart-rate, and breathing, so my prayer time is thick with God’s presence. His presence slowly reduces the stress I carry as I trust Him with all my stuff & things.

Concentration is the second principle that helps reduce stress. Concentration is the choice to focus on what is essential. A-billion-and-one options encamp us every minute of the day. If you are not purposeful in your choices, someone else will be choosing for you.

What are your priorities this season?
What are you trying to accomplish during the holidays?
What good thing do you need to say no to?

The holiday season comes with options, events, opportunities, etc. The buffet of choices are all pretty much good, but serve as distractions from what is best!

Jesus models a life of meditation and concentration. He slowed down to tend his soul, but he was also focused on his ultimate goal. Luke reveals this character trait: “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily onward toward Jerusalem with an iron will.” (9:51)

If you don’t determine what your priorities are, the overwhelming nature of the season will determine and control you. Other people’s wants and needs and plans for your life will overtake what your soul desires. You know it’s true that when we allow everyone else to determine what we do, resentment pitches a tent, moves in, and has a heyday!

Determine to choose what you will focus on and then create a plan to navigate the season according to those priorities. Some people may get their knickers in a twist when they realize they can’t control you, but you will sleep with a smile.

The third practice is to Delegate. This one might be the hardest for many of us. We have believed the lie that “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” I think that mantra is the enemy’s greatest lie and instigator of unnecessary stress.

When we believe that we have to do it all ourselves, stress smiles and is poised to pounce. We think, “I am Atlas, I hold up the world!” or we take the martyrs route and sigh, “I’m the only one who does what needs to get done.”

We are in for a rude awakening when we realize that the world goes on its merry way with or without us. We lose a job, and no one calls. We say “no” to leading a project, and they fill the role quickly without blinking an eye. Honestly, we think we are indispensable but, truth-be-told, we are not.

Sometimes this is precisely why we fill our schedule with so many events that are robbing us of what we honestly want. The fear of not been needed, seen, or relevant is the real reason we stack our days with tasks that we end up resenting. The sad truth is that we create our reality.

So instead of being Wonder Woman or Superman this season, choose to ask for help and delegate some things to your friends and family. When you entrust other people with things that need to be accomplished, you are empowering them with one of the most powerful, healing, and life-giving gifts of all, to be needed.

This is your year to beat Holiday stress, so make the decision today to meditate, concentrate and delegate.

May this Christmas season respark joy as you find the space to breathe in her beauty.

Room 712

Thin spaces and Divine wrestling matches

Last week I was doing some work at my Planet Changer Uganda office located in Seeta, just outside the capital of Kampala. I knew it was going to be a busy week as I was picking up supplies with our Uganda director Moses and his wife Bena.

We needed bunk beds, mattresses, sheets, chairs and a handful of other supplies to get the rooms at the office ready for a team from SVA Church. They will be coming in January to help with water testing, GPS tagging of completed water systems and conduct community health and sanitation surveys.

As there was not a bed for me yet, I stayed at a nearby hotel, this would be my basecamp for accomplishing the long to-do list. While I was looking forward to some alone time with God while savoring some amazing Ugandan tea in the mornings, my experience ran on the twin rails of beauty and struggle.

Behind the door of room 712 I passed into a divine portal where I was about to wrestle everyday for a week.

While no place is truly holier than another, as God is found everywhere and within you, during my prayer, meditation and sleep time I entered into a thin space. A thin space is the Celtic way of expressing that you have experienced the presence of God in such a real and intimate way that the veil between the here-and-now and the presence of God is as thin as translucent paper. Room 712 became for me a Jabbok river of sorts confronting my greater and lesser angels.

In the morning, while I read, prayed and meditated, God’s presence was so tangible my entire body was humming with the energy of creation.

It was amazing…
A place I didn’t want to leave…
Like Peter, I said, “Let’s build three shelters and stay here!” when he experienced the transfiguration of Jesus right before his eyes.

I felt as if I might float away, I even checked once or twice to make sure I was still sitting in my chair! I wondered if I might float right into His throne room on the waves of His love and light.

However, while I slept, we wrestled for control of things I felt I might lose, things I might gain. My mind wouldn’t settle, I felt the weight of my thoughts on my chest like a cement blanket.

Was I jacob at the Jabbok river wrestling with the man who was really God? Would I cling until He blessed me? Who was I, and why did the night spaces become an MMA ring? Was I jacob or Monty or pastor or activist or or or. If I follow His lead and surrender all, who will I become? Will I like me? Will others like me?

While my mind worked to control scenario after scenario crashing through my mind, in the tumultuous silence I finally heard what my soul needed most: “I love you, You are mine.”

And that is exactly what I needed to hear.