Focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you

I woke up on Monday morning in a horrible mood. Do you ever just have mornings like that? Where you wake up and you just can’t cheer up? No matter how you try, you just stay in the dumps.

I hate those mornings. Fortunately, they’re few and far between. But when you have a morning like that, is there a way to get back on track?

1302654_51792540Today’s verses are Genesis 39:19-23.

Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

I don’t think there’s anyone in the Bible who had more reason to sulk and stew than Joseph. Sold into slavery by his own brothers, shipped to a foreign land, falsely accused, thrown in prison and forgotten–Joseph never did anything to deserve that kind of treatment. But he never gave up, and he always kept focused on living his life for God. How did he do it? He worked.

He worked for Potiphar before Potiphar’s wife lied about him. Then he worked for the warden of the prison. I’m sure he mourned, yes, and I’m sure he asked God why he had to go through all of this, but he didn’t ever sink into that black hole of self-pity.

When I’m in a bad mood, I find the best way to get out of it is to stop focusing on myself. Sure, it’s important to identify why you’re upset, because if there’s something really wrong, you should change it or fix it. But if you’re in the middle of circumstances that you can’t change, focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you.

Instead, try focusing on what you can do to help people around you. Or, focus on what you need to accomplish in a day. No matter who you are, you’ve got goals you want to achieve. Instead of expending your energy on thinking about what’s keeping you in place, start working on all the things you need to get done in order to start moving again.

For me, there’s nothing more uplifting than making a list and checking items off of it. Maybe that’s my tiny bit of Type A showing, but it’s true. Or if that doesn’t work, set aside some specific time to do something that will cheer you up. Read a book and get your mind off the problem. Bake some cookies and take them to people you care about. If the weather is nice, go outside and walk or ride your bike. If the weather is bad, play a game inside or read a book.

Just stop focusing on the problem.

That’s not to say that you should live in denial. No, if there’s a serious issue going on, you should deal with it. But how many of us really live with serious issues in our lives? Most of the time, if it’s serious enough, we’ll do something about it.

Most of us just live with annoyances. Most of us just grin and bear it. The long hours. The lack of appreciation. The disrespect or the minimal acknowledgement. The coworker who drives you nuts. That small group leader who totally gets under your skin. The hypocrite you have to ride next to on the bus.

And when you’re in a bad mood, they all seem to gang up on you, don’t they? It’s like everyone is out to get you. Everyone has made it their mission in life to ruin your day. And the rational part of your mind knows that’s not true. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

So set up times in your day to sit and think about something else. When you catch yourself focusing on it or stewing on it, do something else. Get up and go visit with a coworker you haven’t talked to in a while. Ask someone if they want a refill on their cup of coffee. Do something productive like cleaning out a cabinet or washing dishes. Or turn on some music and sing or dance or whatever.

If you can get your focus off of what’s dragging you down, you might be surprised to find that you’re not in as bad a mood as you first thought.

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

God will use someone, but it doesn’t have to be you.

Selfless people are heroes. And I find it ironic that the most selfless people I know aren’t wealthy or famous or powerful. Some of them are, but most of them are normal, average people with limited resources. But limited resources don’t stop them from being willing to give everything they have to help someone else.

I was thinking about being selfless this morning, and the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath came to my mind. It’s a relatively long passage, but it’s a good read.

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 17:8-16.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

This poor widow really had nothing. She had herself, she had her son, and she had enough food left for one meal before they starved to death. Put yourself in her shoes. What would you have done if some crazy, wild-eyed preacher walked out of the wilderness into your home and asked that you feed him before you eat your last meal.

I’d like to think my reaction would be as mild as the woman’s, but I don’t think it would be. If I were in her shoes, I think I might have told him to buzz off and let us starve to death in peace. But that’s not what the widow in this story did.

I’ve often wondered why the woman didn’t hesitate. From what I know of Elijah, he wouldn’t have looked clean-cut and appropriate. Actually, when he came to Zarephath, he had just come from living in the wilderness and being fed by ravens. This was at a time of drought and famine in Israel, due to the evil King Ahab. Everyone was starving. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think that the woman would have heard of Elijah. This was before the events on Mt. Caramel.

But something convinced her to listen to him. Maybe she believed him. Maybe she felt like she didn’t have a choice. Maybe she thought it didn’t matter. Personally, I like to think that she was selfless. Why else would God have chosen her to be the one to feed Elijah? Because that’s what happened. God used this poor widow to provide for His prophet, and as a result, the widow and her son had plenty to eat too.

What would have happened if she had refused to do as Elijah asked? Well, she and her son would have starved. And God would have used someone else to provide for Elijah.

And I guess that’s the point I’m making this morning. We all have limited resources (until we start drawing on what God has made available to us), and we all face a choice about what to do with those resources. And it never fails that the less someone has, the more they are willing to share and vice versa. Granted, I know some very wealthy people who are very generous with their finances, but they seem to be the exceptions.

When it comes right down to it, if you are a follower of Christ, you have a calling to help others, not necessarily wild-eyed preacher types but maybe it’s your next door neighbor. Maybe it’s your friend at school. Maybe it’s a coworker who needs a ride to the airport. And it doesn’t have to be a financial need either. Maybe it’s time someone is asking for. Or clothes. Or shelter. Or just a listening ear.

Someone in your life needs something from you. God has put that person in your life for a reason, and you have a choice to help them in spite of the cost to you personally or to ignore them and put yourself first. You can do either. That choice is up to you. But before you make that choice remember the story of this poor widow in Zarephath. She had a choice too, eat her last meal or share it with a crazy preacher who claimed God would provide for them both.

God didn’t have to use her. He could have used anyone. But in taking care of Elijah, God wanted to bless someone else too. And that’s what happens when you use your resources to help someone else. Not only do you help them, but God helps you at the same time.

You can’t out-give God. You can’t give Him so much that He can’t pay you back. Don’t believe me? Try it. This widow did, and she realized the benefit of serving God far outweighs the instant gratification of serving herself.

God will use someone. It doesn’t have to be you. But you’ll be much better off if it is.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Love in spite of success

Life is backward. Have you noticed that? Not like Benjamin Button backwards, but so many times we think we know everything there is so know and we discover that we really know nothing at all. We think anger will solve a problem when we really need to be kind. We think our knowledge will solve an issue when we really need to trust someone else. We think we have reason to mourn when really we have reason to rejoice.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

The fact that Scripture has to tell us to do this is evidence of how screwed up the world is. You’d think this would be common sense, wouldn’t you? When someone is happy, be happy for them. When someone is sad, be sad with them. But so many times, this isn’t what we do.

I’ve seen people who are supposed to love each other fall apart because one of them succeeds and the other fails. I’ve watched friendships deteriorate over this. And I don’t understand. Because if we love each other, we should be happy for each other. We should rejoice when the people we love experience success or see their dreams come true.

But so many times, it doesn’t happen that way. When someone we love succeeds, we get jealous. We feel envious of our friends who we love because they have found something we haven’t yet. Or because they have achieved something we feel they don’t deserve, and we get angry because we feel like we do deserve it. And when friends can’t support each other, the friendship falls apart.

Why is that?

The whole chapter of Romans 12 is about how to live. And for me, the main verse is Romans 12:9.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

If you really love someone, it doesn’t matter what happens between you, you will always love them. If you love someone with the kind of love that God has for us, it won’t matter if your friend fails or succeeds, you can’t love them more or less.

For me, this is one of the big tests of love. Because it’s easy to love someone when they fail. Maybe that’s just me speaking. But that’s the way it works for me. When someone stumbles or falls and they need help, it’s easy for me to love them. But what happens when they succeed? What happens when they achieve everything you wanted for yourself and you get left behind?

Can I love someone even if they get everything I wanted? Can I love someone when I’m struggling to make it from day-to-day and they get to move on to bigger and better things?

Rejoicing for a friend who has achieved your dreams while you have to stand still is difficult … unless you love them. And then you are so deliriously happy for them that you hardly even realize that the world is telling you to pout.

So how do you get that kind of love?

You choose it.

Love isn’t some flowery ethereal concept floating around in the void. It’s not a feeling that just swells within you. It’s a choice. And choices aren’t easy to make, but once you make them, you have something to stand on.

Sometimes that kind of love doesn’t make sense, but that’s the kind of love we are supposed to have. Not pretend love. Not fair-weather love. Not convenient love. Real love, that loves in spite of failures or successes.