I read a book in December, a seemingly simple Christmas novel, that convicted me as much as anything ever has outside the Bible. In it, a woman experiences being ignored in her public agony, and it changes her forever.
Without going into the book’s details, let me just say that everything centers around a few words she writes, a prayer. I have it on my wall, and I’ve prayed it many times since finishing the book.
Give me eyes to see what isn’t shown,
Ears to hear what isn’t said,
Hands to do what You want,
And the courage to not walk away.
This prayer has helped me as I’ve tried to be more sensitive to those around me in the past few weeks. I’ve never been the most observant person, taking the pictures people present at face value most of the time, but I’m trying to really watch and listen, especially for that still, small voice.
And then, today, I was tested. I was in the fast food drive through and saw a man who had fallen and was trying to get up. I didn’t want to get out of line and go help him, hoped the line would hurry and I could just swing back by after getting my food to make sure he’d managed it. After all, I was a woman, and alone, and…
Hey, I’m just being transparent here. The first time I heard God whisper, “and the courage to not walk away,” I ignored Him. (Yes! I know!) I kept my eyes on the man through hearing those words yet again – as the line didn’t move an inch. And then, after watching him almost get up only to fall back down, I got out of line.
I knew going in that he was most likely drunk. I knew when he spoke that he surely was. Still, I kept hearing “and the courage to not walk away.” I called another man over and together we helped him stand. I picked up his dropped bag to hand it over and knew exactly what I was smelling on his breath.
We got him up and helped him brace himself. The other man left after getting assurances that he didn’t want us to call 911. I stayed, because I knew it wasn’t over.
I didn’t do any great thing. I let him talk. I listened. I prayed for him. I didn’t offer to buy him a meal or take him anywhere. I just… I just acknowledged his humanity and the fact that even if you’re homeless you are worthy of being treated as a human being.
I got back in my car, went to order (no line-imagine that) and headed home nearly in tears, shame-filled tears. Only weeks ago, I’d have just prayed a quick, “Send him help” prayer and then shut my ears in case I was the help God wanted to send. Even today, I almost didn’t have the courage to not walk away.
And that knowledge hurts.
I’m going to keep praying that prayer, asking God to help me become more like Him. I hope that if I pass by you and you are hurting I have the courage to stop and at least listen. If I fail, please forgive me, and pray with me that I do have the courage next time.
I am being careful what I pray for, because it’s what I want.
The novel is A Cinderella Christmas, by Amanda Tru
Consistency doesn’t just happen; it requires deliberation, conscious action, forethought, planning… and the greater the number of areas that require work, the more your plan demands just the right tool. For me, for 2020, it appears that The Christian Planner is that tool.
I love planners and have used a wide variety of styles through the years. I have one that works great for the office, but this is the first I’ve found that seems to genuinely provide for every area of my personal life. Of course, since it does, there’s a lot to it. Are you ready?
Before I jump in, let me point out that planners are tools, not taskmasters. I’ve seen people look at this planner and be instantly overwhelmed, fearing they will use it improperly. You can’t. At least, I can’t imagine how you could. Since this will be a long review anyway, I’ll share some of how I’m currently using mine, but know that the way I use it will almost surely change as we move through time. That’s the beauty of it; as a tool, it has to do what I tell it to.
Open the (very nice) box and you discover a leather-like, hardcover book. Mine is purple, and it’s a little over 7” by 10” by 1” thick. Because of its size, some opt to keep it at home on their desks. I’m currently carrying it with me everywhere, having decided that my immediate future will be filled with larger purses.
An elastic strap holds it closed. Open the cover and one of the first pages you’ll see is the welcome page. It provides excellent suggestions for how to use the planner, but remember that this planner is all about what works for you.
The next two-page spread is your vision board, which also includes a small area for your “2020,” “Next 5 Years,” and “Lifetime” Bucket Lists. Don’t let the Vision Board intimidate you. Roughly, it’s a place for you to record your vision for the coming year – your goals, your dreams, etc. In my case, it’s super simple and non-traditional. God told me that my word for the year is “Consistency,” so that word alone takes up nearly half the space. The other half is a reminder of specific things I’m working on as I grow in Him. I’ve hardly even touched the Bucket List.
Flip another page and you find two charts, which I’m only just beginning to fill in. These are your Healthy Habit Goals, things you plan to focus on “Daily/Often,” “1-3 Times a Week,” “1-3 Times a Month,” and “1-3 Times a Year,” as well as your “2020 Goals.” Habakkuk told us to record the vision…or was it God who told him? Regardless, you are more likely to accomplish a goal when you record it and keep it in front of you. So, here they are.
2020 and 2021 Yearly Calendars, with holidays listed, are on the next two-page spread, and then you get to your two-page January 2020 calendar. The calendar set-up is pretty basic, but I like it. The week starts on Sunday, and there’s a column to the left of the calendar. A lot of people decorate this column, which is great, but I use it for my monthly To-Do list and clarification of calendar notes. Also on this page, you have areas set aside for…
Reflection: What blessings came into my life last month? What accomplishments am I proud of?
Action: How can I demonstrate my love for God and for others this month?
For January, my action includes a poem I read recently that particularly convicted me, and encourages me to stay open and sensitive to the needs of those around me.
Still with me? It’s about to get GOOD! Everything from here until the back of the book is repeated for every week of the year.
Next is two of my favorite pages: The Weekly Devotional Pages
The area on the left is reserved for Sermon Notes. Some people take their notes in church and then copy them over. I take my notes right there on the page. Also, since we have a midweek service. I drew a line down the center of this page so that I have two columns—one for each service’s notes.
This is one of my favorite features because, in the past, I’ve often forgotten all about the service within just a couple of days. I’ve years’ worth of sermon notebooks scattered all over, but this actually puts the notes in my hand and keeps them there all year. It gives me an open opportunity to go back over those notes repeatedly in coming week and months. It was, in truth, this that drew me to this planner.
Reflection and Action also appear here, but in reference to the past and coming week, specifically. You also have an area that is labeled “Bible Study Notes * Sketch * Prepare.” This is another area in which I deviate from the expected. One of my “consistency” goals is to write more. That being the case, my current plan calls for me using this area to write blog posts and whatever else comes to mind that week. The consistency goal, of course, is for it to never be left blank.
Now the weekly pages. Each one-week, two-pages spread consists of eight columns, the first of which many people decorate, but as is true with the monthly calendar, I use it for my To Do List. My appointments are all on the monthly calendar, and I see no need to duplicate them here. Instead, I use this as a daily record. I may record accomplishments, details of important phone calls, comments made by friends, things God spoke to me that day…whatever strikes me as being appropriate.
At the bottom of these two pages, are “My Space,” which is there for you to use in any way you choose, and the “Daily Healthy Habit Tracker.” This second one is cool. If you like checking off To Do lists as much as I do, you’ll use this. There is space to record nine different habits that you want to establish or reinforce in your life, and there are delightful little checkboxes for every day of the week under each. I’m three days into the week, and I’m already seeing clearly where I’ve made progress…and where I haven’t. You label these as you wish, and can change them every week if you like. I like.
Behind the calendars, the book ends with a dozen or so blank pages. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be using these, but after I discovered the Christian Planner Family group on Facebook, and saw how others were using their pages, I started filling them up.
To give you ideas…
Currently, I have a two-page spread showing all of the books of the Bible broken down into chapters. I highlight each chapter as I read it. Considering how often you read a chapter here and a chapter there, use this chart and you may discover that you actually read more of the Bible than you thought.
I covered the next two pages with scrapbook paper to make them stand out a little more. Here I keep post-it notes with prayer requests that I’m currently focusing on. One of my “consistency” items is to be more focused about interceding on behalf of others; that’s where this part of the tool comes into play.
A hand-drawn bookcase follows. As I read non-Bible books through the year, I will record their titles on the book spines in this drawing. I left the facing page blank just in case I end up reading more than I currently anticipate.
A budget spreadsheet takes up the following two pages. Yes, with such personal stuff in it I’ll be guarding this book, but I think I might finally have found a way to handle my budget that actually works for me. We shall see.
And there you are, having glimpsed one of the tools I hope will help me make the changes I want to see in me in 2020. If you’re interested in learning more, head over to The Christian Planner Family group on Facebook. It’s a wonderful community filled with Christians who support, encourage, educate, and in general focus on loving the brethren. Because it’s the group for this publisher, the focus is this planner, but you definitely don’t have to use the planner to benefit from the group.
5 For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises],
employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
6 And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
7 And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
8 For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
For this very reason
Verse 4 of this chapter discusses that God has given us precious and exceedingly great promises so that we can “escape from the moral decay of the world” and “become sharers of the divine nature.” It is for this reason that we do all that the following verses call for us to do.
adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort
Yes, we have the divine promises and they were given to us for a reason, but they are like tools—to accomplish what they were made to do, they require our efforts. And God isn’t just calling for a little effort here, but for us to employ “every effort.” The King James Version says, “giving all diligence.”
Half-hearted participants need not apply!
in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy)
So we employ every effort in exercising our faith. Ministers often compare faith to a muscle and it seems God surely uses it in this way here. Faith is something that we must exercise continually if it is to become stronger. Most think of exercising their faith for things—cars, jobs, etc.—but God says clearly that there is one thing so important that we are to put forth every effort to exercise our faith to develop it…and that is virtue—excellence, resolution, Christian energy. One might ask why it takes faith to develop such virtue, but most probably wouldn’t question once they’d really thought about it. It does take a definite effort in exercising my faith for me to develop this virtue, this excellence, this resolution, this Christian energy, this (according to the New Living Translation) moral excellence. In my head, it see it as a simple decision, but in practice, when faced with certain choices, it takes an active effort of faith to take the step in the right direction instead of the wrong one.
and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
So virtue is like a muscle too, in that to develop properly it must be exercised, and as we exercise it we develop knowledge.
Since this selection is specifically leading us into avoiding the moral decay of the world and becoming sharers of the divine nature, we can be pretty sure the knowledge referred to here has nothing to do with worldly knowledge, but rather with spiritual knowledge. In fact, the New Living Translation says, “A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better.”
So as we exercise virtue, living lives of moral excellence, we come to know God better. Now there is a motivator!
And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control,
So one of the natural results of growing in the knowledge of God or, perhaps more accurately, one of the first things we see we must develop as we come to know God better, is self-control.
Self-control is a big issue among Christians today. We all seem to be continually working on self-control in one area or another, be it eating too much, cursing, losing our temper, judging others…whatever. Many who have little self-control despise their own weakness, but do not know how to combat it. Here God gives the answer.
Exercise your faith to develop moral excellence (virtue), exercise this moral excellence and get to know God better, and develop/exercise this knowledge of God.
Consider how a man, though he seems to have little control of his tongue, actively tries to limit his cursing when in the presence of a dear friend who is offended by his bad habit. The more time he spends with this friend, exercising his knowledge of the friend, the less he curses. So do we also, as we actively seek to grow in the knowledge of God, spending time with Him (an absolute necessity if we are to know Him), find it easier to control ourselves. As the New Living Translation puts it, “Knowing God leads to self-control.”
So, since one thing leads to another, where does self-control lead?
and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance),
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the literal meaning of the original word is “cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy.”
It is tremendous to realize that exercising self-control actually leads to developing cheerful or hopeful endurance, to developing constancy. I love that it is not endurance alone, which can be a miserable thing, but is endurance that is cheerful or hopeful – both of which, by the way, are characteristics of God. So as we come to know God better, He rubs off on us, yes?
And constancy! Someone who is constant is the same at all times, unwavering. This reminds me of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Constancy is definitely an attribute of God.
and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
Ah…now we are getting truly close to being genuine partakers in the nature of God. Surely knowing that we can reach this place is sufficient motivation to encourage one to exercise faith to develop virtue. It is easy to see that as we grow in this process, this absolutely necessary process, the moral decay of the world becomes less and less appealing. It is easy to escape a trap when you are headed swiftly away from it.
And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection,
Brotherly love is love for other Christians and it saddens me to see it so far down on this list. It does not surprise me, however, for the God kind of love cannot really operate where there is no virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, or constancy.
Indeed, the low level of brotherly love found in some churches is a sure sign that at least part of the body of Christ is not working their way through this process of growth. All too many don’t know God as well as they likely think they do. Far too many exhibit the symptoms listed later, in verse 9.
and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
And here it is…perhaps the hardest of all. If we are to be sharers of the divine nature of God, who is love, we must love. If we love, truly love, those who surround us—ALL those whom God loves—we must be willing to lay down our selves and share HIM with them.
On the surface, this is obvious. In practice, how often do I do it? I must confess that I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.
Jesus, motivated by love, laid down His life for all of us, from the best to the worst. Who are we to claim the right to do less? If we are afraid to witness we don’t love enough, because perfect love casts out fear. That is a humbling thought.
For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
I also like the New Living Translation here. “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want to be productive and useful. I don’t want God to refer to me as being idle or unfruitful! He paid an unimaginable price for my salvation; even if there were no promise attached, I would owe it to Him to use what He has given me.
For whoever lacks these qualities is blind,
I have known Christians like this, people who could not recognize a spiritual truth if you put it in front of their noses. Obviously, according to this passage, the only cure for this spiritual blindness is to start making every effort to exercise their faith to develop divine virtue.
[spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him,
Spiritually speaking, this is exceedingly dangerous. God can show us many things ahead of time if we have the eyes to see them. The shortsighted person does not have this benefit.
and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
And he who is oblivious to the fact that he was cleansed from his old sin is far too likely to return to it. Down that path lies the moral decay of the world and a complete inability to be a sharer in the divine nature. This should never be the condition of one who has been called out as a child of God, but for too many, for those who refuse to make the efforts God calls for us to make, it is inevitable. He says so.