This month marks the 106th anniversary of the first electric traffic system installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914. Four sets of red and green lights told drivers when to stop and go. The Cleveland Automobile Club praised the system, saying they expected that it was “destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets.”
Ever wish for a few traffic lights to handle the congested traffic in your life? I have. Some days are over-filled with commitments and activities to the point of sheer exhaustion. And then I wonder how I allowed it to happen. Even now, I seem to spend more time in video-conference meetings than I ever did in physical meetings before the pandemic!
The problem is not that I don’t have traffic signs and traffic lights in my life. The problem is that I don’t always pay attention to them, both in my personal life and in my writing life. For me, those traffic lights include:
Daily quiet time
If I fail to start with a quiet time set aside to spend time with the Lord, I’m in big trouble before my day begins. Tuning my spirit to listen to His Holy Spirit is the best way for me to proceed into a daily routine that’s often far from routine. Someone once said, “If I’m too busy to spend time with God, then I’m too busy!”
Reading and studying the Bible
While this is part of my quiet time, it’s more than just reading a few verses in the morning. It’s application, too. As I study the Bible, I learn biblical principles that help me make wise decisions – including decisions about how I spend my time.
Setting healthy boundaries
I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. I want to be liked, so I will say yes when I should say no. And that gets me into trouble. Setting healthy boundaries – aka, knowing when to say no – is not easy for me. But if I start my day right with that daily quiet time, it’s easier (though never easy!) to follow the Lord’s leading.
Wise time stewardship
Ever feel as though you never have enough time to write? I do. Yet I know the traps that can drain my time faster than a bullet train. Social media is one that pulls at me. But it has an off button. And I need to click that button more often than I do. That’s just plain old self-control. No excuses!
Traffic lights can’t help manage traffic if drivers don’t pay attention to them. We all know of accidents caused by people who’ve run a red light or raced through a yellow one. The same is true in life. So my commitment today is to follow the traffic signals God has placed in my own life.
How about you? What are the traffic lights in your life?
What are the traffic lights in your writing life?
’Tis the season of graduations…and graduation speeches. And almost every speech will encourage the graduates in their pursuit of success.
Let’s face it. No one wakes up thinking, today I will strive to be a failure. Yet we often search for the key to a successful life in all the wrong places. For the Christian, the key to real success is a simple, four-part instruction found—where else?— the Bible.
Second Corinthians 5:7-10 (NIV) tells us:
“For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
The answer to a successful life is all there, spelled out in easy-to-follow details:
Live by faith
“For we live by faith, not by sight.”
Everyone lives by faith in something. Even if you consider yourself to be an atheist, you still live by faith. When you set your alarm clock to wake up at a certain time, you have faith it will work. When you flip the light switch, you have faith the light will turn on without sparking a fire inside your walls. And when you place the key in your car’s ignition, you have faith the car will start.
According to the Bible, the first key to success is found in living by faith. And the object of our faith is the Lord who created us to glorify His name.
With an eternal perspective
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Is this life all there is? Is this the best life we can expect? Even if we don’t believe that, we often live as if we do. We make the pursuit of comfort and convenience a priority. But everything about this life is temporary. Every earthly pursuit will fade into the obscurity of extinction.
Doesn’t it make sense to maintain a perspective that values things that will last? That’s true success. Anything less will fail because it will pass away.
With a right goal
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
Advice on obtaining success usually mandates the inclusion of goals. In last month’s post, I mentioned S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. So how does the apostle Paul’s goal to please the Lord fit with the S.M.A.R.T. model?
Specific: we’re to please the Lord first, before we please ourselves or other people. And God lays out the details of what this looks like in His instruction book for life: the Bible. This leads us to…
Measurable: How do you know if you’re succeeding? The commands and exhortations in Scripture describe how we are to live. And they become our standard. More on this when we look at the next verse.
Achievable: Is it possible to please the Lord? Yes, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Which leads us to…
Realistic: What’s the point of having goals if they’re not realistic and relevant to who you are and what you hope to achieve? Since Christians are children of God, our goals are those that please our heavenly Father and are realistic by His standards, not necessarily ours!
Timely: Is there an end date in mind? We are all limited to a finite number of years, giving all of us an end date for living in a way that will please God. So, since none of us know when we will cease to be time-bound, let’s take every opportunity to please our heavenly Father in the days we do have.
Using a right standard of measure
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Here is the final measure of our success: the final evaluation. What have we done with the life given to us? The ultimate Judge is Jesus Christ, who will determine if the things we have accomplished have eternal value (I Corinthians 3:12).
There’s no need to read thousands of books on the subject of success. And you can spare yourself the need to compare the graduation messages of hundreds of thousands of speakers. The key to real success is living by faith, longing to be with the Lord, desiring to please Him, and doing it all in view of the judgment seat of Christ.
As writers, we tend to measure our success by the world’s standards, such as amount of advance or number of sales. But God’s standard is less concerned with those metrics and more concerned with obedience, changed lives, and the desire to please our heavenly Father. So how does your definition of a successful life stack up against the apostle Paul’s definition?
Is there a graduate—or a writer—in your life who needs to hear this? Or maybe this message is for you!
Think back to the resolutions or goals you set in January. Less than 5 months ago, yet it feels like years have passed! Did you write them down? Do you remember what they were…or would you rather forget?
How well have you done with your goals? Perhaps you haven’t thought about them for months. Maybe you recall them but just gave up. Maybe you’re one of the few pleased with your progression, but want to do even better.
We’ve all been enmeshed in a giant “pause.” Terms such as shelter in place, quarantine, and social distancing have wreaked havoc with our plans and our goals for 2020. If you’re anything like me, you may have thought that staying home would give you extra time to work on your manuscript. But for many of us, the disruptions to our routines, combined with new concerns such as homeschooling children or where to buy toilet paper have shattered our hopes to get that book finished.
Whether you’re focusing on your own goals or encouraging others, this is the perfect month to talk about it because May is National Recommitment Month. It’s a time to review the resolutions you made or the goals you set.
Your goals might be related to physical health, such as diet, exercise, or conquering a habit or addiction. Or they might be relationship-oriented, focusing on issues of forgiveness and restoration. Perhaps your objectives are in the financial realm, such as managing debt or exploring new investments. Maybe you set a goal of tackling a new challenge, one you’ve never attempted before. And of course, they can be writing-related.
Regardless of what your goals are, here are five ways you can encourage yourself and others to recommit.
1. Avoid guilt trips
As we move through the month of May, we’re approaching the halfway point of the year. Our natural inclination is to beat ourselves up for failing to meet our goals or accomplish our resolutions.
Maybe with the strain of juggling work-from-home demands, family responsibilities, and home-schooling in addition to all your usual activities has forced your writing onto a back burner.
Perhaps you’re lacking motivation because the pandemic hit just as you were approaching the “sagging middle” of your novel. You haven’t picked it up again because, frankly, you’re not certain of how to progress the story.
Maybe you’re struggling because your objectives are tasks you have to do, not items you want to do. The right motive makes a remarkable difference in accomplishing goals. You may need to tweak your objectives to examine them in light of the things you want to do. How can the objectives you have to complete help you accomplish the aims you want to complete?
Perhaps the toll of caring for ill loved ones or sadly, the tragedy of losing loved ones in this pandemic, has consumed your emotional energy and depleted your creative drive.
Regardless of why you’ve stalled in your writing, don’t beat yourself up. If you didn’t achieve your objectives today, remember tomorrow’s a new day.
2. Define success
Perhaps you haven’t made progress because your goals are too vague. Finish my story. Market my book. Develop my writing skills. Even if you accomplished these goals, how would you define success?
Re-examine and tweak your objectives to make them SMART. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Assembling SMART goals will make it easier for you to both define success and achieve it.
3. Take one day at a time
Have you ever been asked how one eats an elephant? The answer is simple: one bite at a time.
When it comes to your goals, there may be days when you feel as if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Are your resolutions overly ambitious? Once you’ve established SMART goals, you can develop interim action steps and benchmarks.
As the saying goes, “nothing succeeds like success.” So create objectives that enable smaller successes on your way to accomplishing the final goal.
The more worthwhile the objective, the more effort it will require and the longer it will take to accomplish. The question to ask may not be whether you’ve achieved your goal. The better question to ask may be, are you making progress toward your goal?
Don’t be discouraged…and keep chewing, one bite at a time!
4. Encourage accountability
When John Donne penned the words of the poem, “No Man Is an Island,” he could not have realized the impact his work would continue to have almost 400 years later.
We need each other. We need love, fellowship, and encouragement. With regard to our goals and objectives, we also need accountability partners and prayer partners. Being transparent makes us vulnerable, which can be scary. But if we refuse vulnerability, we’ll cheat ourselves out of the support we need to achieve our objectives.
With whom have you shared your writing goals? Have you given them permission to ask you about your progress? Have you scheduled specific times to meet for accountability?
Who will you ask to pray for you as you recommit to your resolutions? What a privilege it is to know you and your goals are being brought before God’s throne on a regular basis!
5. Reward yourself
Celebrate your successes. Reward yourself each time you reach a new benchmark. Be alert to even the smallest achievements, which are often lost in the shuffle of our day-to-day commitments, and certainly in our Coronavirus-sensitive environment.
Those achievements do not always come in a way you might expect. Sometimes they come in the form of dogged perseverance. Other times they will appear, not in standing firm, but knowing when to retreat and regroup before you try again.
The important thing is to identify progress…and celebrate it.
As we recognize National Recommitment Month, what resolutions, goals, or objectives will you recommit to?
When I was 14 years old, I won the grand prize in a contest: a set of encyclopedias. I know—not very exciting, is it? But this was in the ancient days before computers, personal or otherwise. You’d have thought I won London’s crown jewels!
I was so proud of that prize. It replaced the 25-year-old encyclopedias my parents owned. This new set included photos and up-to-date entries. Don’t laugh—I stayed up nights just reading about various subjects for the pure joy of learning. Yes, I was a bookworm…or nerd…or geek…or whatever it’s called today.
Those encyclopedias took me through high school and into college. Back then, computers were the size of a room and programming really was a foreign language. As personal computing evolved, so did access to information. Eventually we were no longer restricted to physical books, or even a physical library, to satisfy our hunger for information.
The internet became the new frontier – the digital equivalent of the wild west. And search engines became our railroad for traveling this frontier. Search engines changed the way we access information. Lycos, Google, Dogpile, Ask Jeeves (which morphed into Ask.com), and Bing were just a few of the sites that helped us retrieve data from the World Wide Web. Their names were as creative and varied as the information they provided.
Still, information takes us only so far. The bigger question is, how are we using the information? Interpretation and application determine if the information becomes truly helpful, or if it remains an info dump or even a temptation swamp we wade through each time we turn on the laptop. Two potential quagmires readily come to mind:
With all the blogs, tweets, networks, websites, and search engines out there, it’s way too easy to allow the information overload to sap our energy, drain our time, and influence our values as we passively take it all in.
Discernment is not a word we often hear these days. Yet, discernment is exactly what we need to process the information that’s so readily available. Depending on your perspective, search engine filters are either a necessary moral protection or a restriction on free speech. Still, even with the use of filters, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and minds by guarding our eyes and ears.
As writers, we also have a responsibility to be discerning in our research. Information is readily accessible for our writing needs, but just because we find data online doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Googling our questions is easy. Discerning how we use what we learn is more difficult. Whether we write books, magazine articles, blogs, or devotions, readers view us as having implied authority. We have a responsibility to investigate the accuracy of our research before we use it. As we’ve all heard, “Google, but verify!”
Each time I turn on the computer, the Holy Spirit calls me to be aware of the fine line between gaining knowledge and losing myself, both as an individual and as a writer. How about you?
What are you doing to guard both your heart and your credibility when you use the internet?